“You can’t be serious.”
“Nope, that’s it.”
“That can’t be the Gate. It’s an office door. A lawyer door.”
“That aint no law room.” McGregor spat into the pine needles, thin and brown and crisp. The door was in the middle of a forest, like an island lost, misplaced. Stark light spilled through slats, illuminating bark and fern.
Peter scratched the stubble on his chin. McGregor was chewing on a carrot. As a guide, he was supposed to be the best, though definitely eccentric. His walking stick was a garden hoe, and he sang show tunes as they hiked. And now, this door?
“This can’t be it.” Peter muttered.
“Suit yerself.” McGregor started on a wedge of cabbage. How did he keep those damn veggies fresh?
Peter ran grimy hands through sweat-stuck hair. He sat down, wincing as he unlaced his boots. His feet were fish-white, blistered. Exhausted from the searching, he reached inside his pocket for the comfort of a worn brass button. His mother’s. Maybe it was better she was dead. She’d missed the crazed trajectory of his life, the rocket-rise and epic crash, from high-price lawyer to heroin addict all in the space of a blink.
She was the reason he’d started for the Gate.
“You sure that’s it?”
McGregor’s eyes were bloodshot, rheumy. “What you come here for, boy? If it’s redemption, then walk through. But if you’re just a gonna sit there like a scared rabbit, well, I got stuff to do.”
Peter closed his eyes. Redemption? What a joke. He had no idea why he still chased the Gate. Maybe just to prove it false. Ha! That had worked out well. What next?
Rain fell, cold and dreary. It made him sneeze and open up his eyes. The old man was gone, with his veggies and his hoe. Just disappeared, like that.
The light spilling through the door grew brighter, casting shadows from above. It was a blunt light, bald and somehow heavy, as if it had a certain gravity of its own. He peered between the slats. On the other side, a white cat perched near water, a flash of golden-orange between its paws.
Peter dropped the button as if he were the fish, trapped and gasping. It was his mother’s button, the one he’d ripped off when, drunk and crazed, he’d knocked her down and down and down the stairs. She’d landed in a broken heap, jet-dark tea pooled all around her. Now he watched the button fly right through the Gate as if there were no barrier.
The white cat waited, paws around the fish. Forward or back? On bare feet, Peter hobbled to the doorway, reached out for the knob and turned it. A long sigh rustled ferns and needles. He stepped across the threshold, and felt the button in his palm again. It blinked up at him, an orangey-gold. Peter gasped, washed through with grief and gratitude simultaneous, as if he’d gotten home, at last.
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