Tyler imagined himself falling, but there was nowhere to fall, not when there was a floor under his feet and walls bracing him on either side. He couldn’t see anything, but his surroundings couldn’t have felt more solid.
He turned around, the door to his mother’s old room framed with daylight. It was easy enough to go back.
“Dad?” he said, but he couldn’t hear himself speak. “Dad?” he shouted, his voice muted as if sound were dispersed in all directions. The enclosed space should have produced an echo.
On the other side, ten feet away, was another doorway framed by light, a portion blocked by someone or something. Tyler approached.
“Dad?” he asked. His father’s silhouette was clear, but the details were indistinct.
“I can’t go,” said West, his voice barely audible.
“I assume we can go together,” said Tyler.
“I mean I don’t know if I want to go.”
“The others walked through that door?” asked Tyler.
“Yes,” replied West.
“Why’s it so dark?”
“The true light hides in the dark. The sun blinds us, demanding our worship when everything that holds the worlds together can’t be seen.”
“You don’t need faith if you can see what others can’t see. But I have no faith, Tyler. I don’t believe in anything, except the certainty of death. And that’s what that door there means. It means I die.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Tyler, kneeling next to West in the dark.
“You know he’s out here somewhere?” noted West.
“He fell between worlds. Can’t you hear him?”
Tyler listened, his ear to the wall. But he heard nothing.
“He’ll find his way back,” concluded West. “He feeds on possibility, and in the darkness, everything is possible. How could he not find a way?”
It wasn’t what Tyler wanted to hear. He was done with prophecies and the megalomaniacs who turned those prophecies to selfish purposes.
“He knows you’re here. He’s listening. Waiting.”
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Are you sure you’re Ozymandias?” asked West.
“I never said I was,” replied Tyler, irked that West could even imply he’d arrogated some divine right for himself.
“You’re probably immune to the lies.”
“If he wants it so badly, who are we to stop him?” asked Tyler.
“You did before.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Then it was the darkness that showed you how, and the Queen of the dark who guided your hand and opened your mind.”
“La Reina? And what is she?”
“An angel,” answered West. “But you don’t believe in them anymore than I do. But Vi believes. Vivian, or Vibiana, as some call her because she once spent so much time in that church, talking to divinities, channeling the light that hides in the dark.”
“But she can’t leave the house.”
“It was decided for her. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know.”
What was Grandma Vi’s connection with St. Vibiana? Was there some meaning in the similarity of names?
“She talked to la Reina,” said West. “That’s all I know.”
So did Laurel, Tyler realized. He, himself, couldn’t believe what he couldn’t see. And he never saw la Reina, only her reflection in the light. Perhaps she could more easily be seen in the dark?
“Now what?” asked Tyler.
“I go back?” asked West, turning to the door to Vi’s house.
“But you belong out there,” replied Tyler, turning to the other door.
“And what if I go back? I’ll be seventy. It will all be over.”
“You don’t look seventy,” said Tyler, unable to see West’s face in the dark.
“My hair was grey when I walked in here. It’s my vanity. Even if I could go where I pleased, there’s no escaping who I am.”
“I thought you wanted to go back” asked Tyler.
“I’ve stepped in here many times. This was the first time I could see the door. And I can’t do it. I can’t go back, not when I don’t know what I’ll find.”
“You came here,” said Tyler.
“I was blind. Now I can see the possibilities. And I could just as easily go back to 1977 as… when did you get here?”
“2015,” answered Tyler, wondering if he’d go back to Los Angeles as he’d left it, or would there be significant passage of time?
“If I go back to 1977, I’ll go back to your mother, if she’d have me back, and we’ll all live together.”
“Sure,” answered Tyler. It had once been his dearest wish, to find his father and for them to find happiness, in each other and as his parents.
“And if I do, you’ll grow up happy and you’ll have no reason to look for Two Cities when they need you there. That world is like a shadow, and when the sun is gone, so too will Two Cities vanish.”
“The sun?” asked Tyler.”I thought power was in the dark?”
“The ideas are in the dark, but the sun gives them something to do. And when it’s gone, there’ll be nothing left to do.”
“I did nothing,” answered Tyler, wishing he could clear his head of all this conjecture.
“You were meant to be here. Who I am to go back and change that? And the longer I sit here in the dark, the more I realize that everything is as it should be. You and me, and the choices we made.”
“Then what are we supposed to do now?” asked Tyler, realizing how little he knew for someone assumed to be divine. Was it his own megalomania that permitted the thought to cross his mind, the thought that destiny made him special.
“There’s the rub,” Replied West. “Door number 1 or door number 2. It’s your choice as well as mine. And whatever you think you’ll find might be far removed from the reality, whatever that is.”
What reason did Tyler have to return? There was his graphic novel. But it was nowhere near as interesting as Two Cities. How could he feel motivated to while away his creative hours drawing zombies and other denizens of a dead world?
Tyler remembered his mother. It was why Vi told him to go. He had to see her and, presumably, tell her everything that happened.
“And what if you walk through that door,” suggested Tyler, “and you’re 70. Will you still see my mother?”
“Lillian won’t see me,” concluded West. “Not now.”
“Is this what you do?” asked Tyler, losing patience with his father. “Make excuses? I mean if everything as it should be, then whatever door we take was the door we were always meant to take, and we have nothing to fault ourselves for, whatever happens.”
West said nothing, his breathing suddenly audible.
“Then we step out together,” decided West. “Whatever happens, we’re together.”
It was all Tyler wanted, to pull of the impossible, or what once seemed impossible. And nothing would have seemed more impossible than seeing his father and his father asking him to stay close.
Would he have run away, like he did when his mother took him home, telling him he’d never see his grandmother again because she was a dangerous influence. What had Grandma Vi done to frighten his mother?
Tyler didn’t even realize West had stood up and walked to the other door, until it opened, light blinding as he found his feet and stumbled out.
But the moment Tyler walked into the unfurnished bedroom, West had disappeared. Where had he gone? Had he only imagined him?
If Ms. Van were a real person, she no longer lived in the one bedroom apartment, which was completely unfurnished; and yet, it had been cleaned recently, hardwood floors a glimmer and walls unblemished, not a speck of dust to be found. The amenities were decidedly modern, a microwave blinking forty seven seconds. He turned it off.
Who cleaned the apartment? Was it his grandmother, or was there someone in this world who ensured it remained uninhabited, a portal for those who needed to pass from one world to another. Yes, it had to have been his grandmother. But why had she chosen the name Ms. Van? And why hadn’t she invited him into Two Cities herself?
“Hello?” he called out, in case he overlooked someone when he walked from the bedroom to the kitchen. “Dad?” he asked. Had his father been right to fear the door?
Tyler approached the front door. It was already ajar. Peering out, he saw Laurel’s front door. What if she were inside? What if her disappearance and rescue had been a dream? What if life was once again a box, without hope of escape?
He stepped into the hallway and knocked. The door was unlocked and he opened it.
He called her name. “Laurel?” But there was no answer. Her apartment was just as he’d left it. Was she still back in Two Cities, or was she somewhere living an unremarkable life?
He was beginning to doubt what he’d seen in Two Cities; and what would happen when he decided it never really happened? Would he forget everything?
His purpose was to remember, and to find his mother. He didn’t know what to tell her, but maybe she had something to tell him.
“Laurel?” he asked one last time, peering into her bedroom, her bed made up and everything tidied as if she wasn’t expected to return right away; as if she’d gone on a long trip, a very long trip.
He returned to the living room. A card had been left on the coffee table. He retrieved it. It was empty but for one handwritten word: “Remember.”
And Tyler remembered the future. And he remembered himself on an airplane to Flagstaff. And he remembered the surprise on his mother’s face when he appeared at her doorstep. And he remembered her anger at being ambushed. He remembered everything as he expected it. But what he couldn’t remember was their unexpected conversation when he told her about Two Cities and about seeing his grandmother again.
If only he could remember what surprised him. But the future was just as much her doing as his, and there could be no telling what others expected from it.
But none of that happened yet. What did happen was the appearance of an old woman, likely in her nineties, her back doubled over as she used the wall to guide her movement. Was it Ms. Van?
She turned to Tyler, revealing a face he almost recognized, the face of his grandmother, Vi.