(Story art pending! And all other Lisa Stenton stories are now considered non-canon. Treat this as the first time you’re seeing this character.)
A lot of creative people might tell you that beginning is the hardest part. Back in high school I had a few writer friends that would say that, at least. Honestly, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Beginning is easy. You get a blank page (or a canvas in my case), and you just put down whatever’s on your mind. Doesn’t matter if it’s bad. You just get it done and draw whatever’s on your mind the next day. Super simple.
Not that that philosophy has ever gotten me anywhere. I’d like to think I’m a good artist. I’ve thought about trying to sell some of my stuff online, but nothing’s ever as good as I want it to be. I was hoping today’s piece — a girl in a dress looking out across a creek — would be the first of many masterpieces.
But then I made the mistake of leaving a mostly finished project unprotected while I took a bathroom break. And when I got back, my cat was lazily strolling about my desk, where my canvas lay (I had always preferred painting on a flat picture rather than an easel). With my luck, he had stepped in the oils first.
Unfortunately, a trail of pink paw prints don’t really make sense over a landscape painting.
“Whimsy!” I yelled, shoulders drooping in dismay. “Come on, get down! Down!” I snapped twice, spurring him into motion.
The cat jumped off the desk and onto the tile. He didn’t seem to mind that he had ruined a good three hours of work. Whoever coined the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ was right. I was going to murder him.
But not before he continued to destroy my apartment. Because while the area immediately around my desk was tile, everything else was carpet, and as soon as I realized my mistake, I scrambled after him.
He subsequently turned into a blur of blackness, zooming across the place. I felt like I was chasing my own shadow.
Two minutes, a ruined shirt, and a significantly more pink apartment later, I had managed to put him in the bathroom where the amount of havoc he could wreak was lessened. I exhaled slowly, burying my face in my hands. This was going to take all day to clean, if not longer.
I took off my cap and changed into a new shirt. Ruined as it may have been, I didn’t want to worsen the problem as I was cleaning. My leggings had gotten paint on them, too, but it was sparse enough to ignore.
Clean shirt and cap back on, I was ready to get back to work. Maybe not the work I wanted to be doing right then, but some days just don’t go your way. If anything, I wanted to strangle Whimsy, who was incessantly meowing and scratching at the bathroom door.
I would never willingly hurt him. But on days like today, I really wanted to.
“Alright Google,” I mumbled under my breath, pulling open my laptop as I sat back down at the desk. “Please tell me oil isn’t a nightmare to get out of carpet.”
Google didn’t have good news for me. But even while I was cursing how bad today was going, I still thanked Google for being such an invaluable resource when you lived alone. Well, if you don’t count a demon cat. Who was still meowing and scratching.
I had been on my knees in the hallway, painstakingly dabbing soapy water at the paint stains for five minutes when I heard something else. The sound of shuffling like… hangers sliding in my closet.
That wasn’t my cat.
I stopped what I was doing to listen more closely. I had had a rat problem a few weeks ago. That was a nightmare to fix. Were they back?
The crash of a box falling over and a grunt of pain told me that the party in my closet was definitely not rodent-based.
There was somebody in my house.
Whimsy was still meowing, but that seemed less important now. What did I have to defend myself?
And how had an intruder gotten into my closet? Had he been there all night? My heart leaped into my throat as I thought about opening the door to change my shirt and not seeing something — someone — staring at me.
I crept into the kitchen and found an iron pan. I could hear my heart pounding over my cat. I could run. Call the police. Why hadn’t that been my first thought?
Three knocks came from my closet door. Steady and almost… polite.
I stopped again. What in the world? Everything was still for a moment. Even Whimsy.
Three more knocks.
I took a deep breath. Breaking and entering via closet was probably a new one, but we all die someday. Slowly, silently, I stepped into my room, pan at the ready. This was probably the most use it had seen in months. I should really learn how to cook something more complicated than eggs.
Holding the pan close to my chest like a shield, I extended my left hand out to open the closet door. I had no idea if bullets could go through cast iron, but if they could, they probably wouldn’t have enough force left to kill me, too.
My hand touched the crevice-like handle, and I slid the door open, preparing to strike.
As soon as the closet opened, a dark, humanoid sized shape stepped into the room. I jumped back in surprise, but whatever it was didn’t seem to be aggressive.
The figure was tall. Over a foot taller than me (but then, at an even five feet, everything was taller than me). They were shrouded by a long cloak that covered head to toe. White at the bottom, then slowly fading into black at the hood. I couldn’t see their face — it was mostly covered by what looked like the top half of an authentic skull of some sort. Maybe canine. It didn’t have a jaw, though, so I could see the person’s lips underneath.
The figure turned to me, and I could see their eyes through the sockets of the skull. They seemed human, but I didn’t have a clue what was going on anymore. “Greetings,” he said. Definitely a male voice. “I’m looking for Merideth Stenton.”
That was my mother’s name. I gulped. “What the hell? Where did you come from? Get out of my house!”
“Whatever do you mean? You left your Passway open. There aren’t even any locks on it.”
He looked back towards the closet, then back to me. His posture could only be described as ‘bewildered’, which I’m sure mirrored my own, only on a way smaller scale. “Are you Wizened?” he asked.
“Am I what?”
He shook his head. “That answers that. Look, nevermind. Does Merideth live here or not?”
“No, she doesn’t. But I hardly see how that matters when you’re intruding on another person’s property!”
“I’ll be out in a moment, I assure you. I have places to be.” He touched a gloved hand to his chin, muttering something under his breath. I was used to looking up to people, but this guy was intimidating on an entirely different level. He obviously wasn’t deranged, but if he did attack me, I doubted a pan would make much difference. I doubted he would at this point, but I held it firm just in case.
“Does she live nearby?” he asked. “I was just running an errand for her. Fulfilling a debt, you see.”
I slowly shook my head. He seemed genuine, but that was only because everything about him was so vague and confusing that pinning anything about him down was tough. I felt comfortable giving him a little bit, though. “She moved to London a few months ago.”
“Oh, I know where she lives.” He made a grunting sound, like he was annoyed, or maybe confused.“But you’re saying this isn’t London?”
Okay, maybe he was deranged. “No? This is Wilbridge, California.”
“Hm. That damn nymph must have given me an outdated map,” he said to himself, so quiet I must have misheard him. Then to me, “Well, that’s a pity. I was hoping to give her something. You must be her sister, then.”
How old did he think I was? Then again, dressed in some throwaway clothes and sporting a ponytail as I was, I probably didn’t look particularly alluring. “What? No. Merideth is my mom.”
“Divine spirits above, they actually did it,” he said, a note of awe in his voice.
“Excuse me? Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but you have to go. You’re breaking and entering.”
He looked around my room as if he had just realized where he was. It was a mess, but then, I hadn’t been expecting company. “You’re quite attached to this ‘intruding’ idea, but I understand. My apologies for dropping in so suddenly. By the by, you really shouldn’t put boxes right in front of your Passway. Or at least put a light in there so people can see where they’re going.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t have people inside my closet very often.”
He didn’t seem to pick up on my sarcasm. “Right. I’ll have to ask Merideth about that when I see her. Why open a Passway if your daughter isn’t Wizened?” He seemed to be talking more to himself than me at this point.
“I still have no idea what you’re talking about. Dude, get out of my house! Through the front door, preferably.” I never thought I’d have to direct somebody on how to leave my apartment.
He raised his hands from his cloak, and I noticed he had an actual sword strapped to the belt of his slacks. “Alright, alright. Really, though, your Passway would be far more accommodating an exit. I’ll try not to knock anything over this time.”
“What? No! You haven’t made any sense since the moment you walked into my bedroom. Through my closet, I might add! Now get you and your stupid sword out of my house before I call the police!”
“Oh, my, you really are serious. I suppose I had best get going then… Are you sure about the closet?”
“Get OUT!” I shouted, pointing down the hallway with my pan. I had no idea where this courage had come from but his mannerisms had diffused any fear I had of him.
“Of course. My apologies, once again. If you see Merideth any time soon, tell her the Scavengers are looking for her. And give her this.” He stuck a hand into his coat and pulled out a red Sharpie. Not daring to come nearer, he placed it neatly on top of my bed and hurried down the hall, rounding the corner. I was still standing in the same spot when I heard the door, then the screen door, open and close without another word. After a few moments, I followed in his footsteps into the living room to make sure he had gone, and the apartment was silent once again. Even Whimsy.
“Well,” I breathed. “That just happened.”
The house was still a mess, but going back to cleaning after that guy showed up seemed… wrong, somehow.
I put the iron pan on the counter in the kitchen and returned to the bedroom to find the Sharpie he had left. It seemed normal, and even if black was by far the most common color, I was pretty sure the markers came in different colors. In any case, it didn’t seem to be like… a bomb or anything. I even tested it out on a piece of notebook paper. Just… an ordinary marker.
I frowned. Some guy found his way into my closet, looking for my mom, to give her this? And what was all that talk about ‘Passways’ and ‘Wizeneds’?
Suspicious, I crept towards my closet, which was still open. Opening it up, I saw the toppled boxes on the ground. Useless junk my parents wanted me to keep, so I wasn’t too broken up about it. I pushed the clothes out of the way and rearranged the boxes and, despite myself, stepped into my closet.
I don’t know what I expected. Some demon pulling me into another dimension? A letter that told me I had been accepted into Hogwarts?
Nothing happened. It was dark, obviously. I couldn’t blame the guy for knocking over some boxes. But where had he come from?
I don’t know what happened exactly, but I think the hem of my shirt got caught somewhere. On the door, on one of the lopsided boxes. Either way, I found myself plummeting to the floor, and on the way down my hand found the distinct sensation of cold steel.
My elbow scraped the wall, and I hit my head pretty good. I’m glad my closet had carpeting. With a groan of pain I felt my way up the far wall, and I felt the cold steel again.
It was unmistakably a door handle.
My heart skipped a beat.
I got up on my knees and inspected the wall. The door was small; probably less than four feet high, and it connected almost seamlessly with what should have been the wall of the closet.
Now, I love horror movies as much as the next person. Okay, maybe that’s not true. I get queasy if anything gets too graphic. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I like suspense. Like everybody else, I get really mad when the girl goes in the attic alone, or you know, whatever. It was plain suicide, right?
Well, I wasn’t about to leave my closet and not open the door. For one I don’t think I would have been able to sleep again knowing that something worse might come from the other side. Plus… it didn’t make any sense. Where could this door possibly lead?
With a deep breath and a pounding chest, I pushed the door handle down and out.
And on the other side was a world of color. Light flooded into the closet. Sunflower yellows and royal blues and cherry reds. It was then that I realized that the light was literally, somehow, flooding into my closet. Mixes of colors flowed slowly out onto the carpet where the closet’s wall should have been.
It was paint.
Now this was something that I had to investigate. I stepped in.
(Read Pt. 2/2 here!)