There is always a key. The key can be any number of things, it could be an apple with a snakebite, it could be an elfshot arrowhead, a mushroom, a rabbit tumbling down, the back of a closet, an alleyway, a door in a house that appears out of nowhere (and leads to a labyrinth in the heart of the sun). It could be an actual key, many times it’s a book, a wedding ring, an egg (covered in blood on return), and other times it’s a dagger, a mirror, a bowl of water, a candle, a chalk, a bell ringing only at midnight…
Sometimes we hear voices, indicating that the door is there, just there, out of reach. We can smell summer and jasmine, or feel the cold breath of winter on our bones. Something is not right, the area is changing, it’s bigger on the inside, and we crawl in, underground. We say the right phrases, we know the right locations, and somehow, this place ceases to be our world, and shifts over to someplace else.
Sometimes, things crawl through the portal when we don’t close it properly. In the morning we find muddy hoofprints on the ceiling, bits of dead leaves in the fireplace, scratching in a strange language on the wood of doors. Sometimes there are trails of food, left behind. And other times, darker times, you find fingers, maybe some bones, maybe a drop of blood and the whispers of a curse still hanging in the air.
Our world for a moment ceases to be our world and becomes other. It’s an interesting thought, and I remember as a kid wandering around the woods near my house. That place became a portal of mine, a distinct doorway to a land of elsewhere. I found things back there, found the remains of houses, found stone arches without buildings to prop them up. Circling mounds, with ponds in the center of them, and sometimes, sometimes, whispers elsewhere. There was one time I stumbled upon a waterfall, never to find it again.
That was a private place for me, and still special when I think back on it, because in there- in that wild untamed place- there was something else that I still can’t put my finger on.
At night, mist would roll in and fireflies would come out by the thousands. There was a creek and a bridge, and railroad tracks that marked the start of this world and the world of the elsewhere. Some day I want to show my kids this place, with it’s rotting old buildings hidden from view, and industrial complexes overgrown with weeds and vines and tongues of rust. I hope it will keep the magic I saw- that place was a Narnia of sorts, an elfland an Oz a FairyLand. It held mystical powers, and I would make circles in the dirt and design my own spells, and when I was done I would destroy it, leaving no evidence.
I think I took my wife back there a few times, back when we were first dating. I don’t know if she saw what I saw in those woods. I don’t know if she felt the breath of fairyland breathing, or could hear the whispering cold words of the fair folk when the trains would rumble on past. It was hard for me to tell, like it always was, hard for me to see if others could see what I saw there. I was worried that her not seeing it, that her not feeling what I felt would taint it somehow, would drive the magic from it and leave it barren and empty and void of wonder.
Was this escape? I don’t know, I was never escaping from anything when I went there, I went there to find something, but what? I think part of myself, part of my bone, my blood, bits of flesh torn with brambles, mud from barefeet washed in creekwater, leaving bits of me behind. Maybe my heart is buried there and I don’t even know it, and someday will find it again, and devour it, and glow with the light of a burning sun.
Doors are like that, portal are like that. They tunnel further into ourselves, not escaping things, but exploring them, digging down into the truth of it, until we finally grasp and sever the head of our minotaurs, and from the neck instead of blood hundreds of bullfinches fly out and sing in the branches above.