The inscription on the door nagged at him like an itch beneath his skull that was impossible to scratch. HERE IS ALL WE BURIED AND SOME OF WHAT WE LOST. It had been Dora’s idea to carve the words into the door, of that he was certain, but their full meaning was lost on him. For so long he associated them with foreboding, with the ticking of time bombs and spontaneous funeral pyres. The march to the inevitable.
But all of that was housed in the first half of the phrase. It was the latter half which he felt drawn to in these lighter moments. Perhaps he had not known Dora as well as he thought—if he had, then there wouldn’t any mystery to what she wrote.
Dora. Her bones were still down there. Her ring, too. One, a brand on the present. The other, a reminder of all she was in life.
The funeral was an empty coffin affair.
The Saint knew this. The Saint knew all that Jacob knew and relished it. While the priest spoke about grief and heaven and peace for the living, the Saint climbed on top of the coffin. Rapped it with a closed fist, as if knocking on a door. When the coffin did not open, it turned to Jacob and tapped the hole in its head.
Jacob watched the display; he did not weep, he did not rage. He simply stood up and walked away. A few went after him. Pleaded. Consoled. But they soon realized he could not be consoled, not with their sympathies and platitudes, and they turned away from him. The only one that remained with Jacob was the Saint.
They walked side by side for a long time.
They walked into a city, overcrowded with people struggling to earn their bread. They entered a tall building, the one where Jacob worked, and climbed to its rooftop.
They stood on its edge and gazed down at the bustling throng.
“Do you see them, Jacob?” the Saint asked.
“They don’t see you.”
“Just like they never saw Dora.”
“Yes,” Jacob whispered.
“Even those mourning today will forget her. You will, too, Jacob.”
He stopped. Took a step back from the ledge.
“No,” he said, and tried to believe it.
“Yes. That’s why you need to come with me now—leave while she’s fresh in your mind. Once she fades from memory, you will be alone. She was everything.” The Saint pointed to the crowd below. “And they are not for you.”
Jacob looked at the Saint’s outstretched hand. Felt himself reach for it, like metal drawn to a magnet. A heady aroma engulfed him. Made his eyes heavy.
A flash, like sunlight glinting off metal accompanied with familiarity and a feeling Jacob could not describe. He blinked a few times. Stumbled backward. And once again, Jacob fled.
“You can’t run forever, darling,” the Saint called. “We will have our reckoning!”
It was as the Saint said—there must be a reckoning. A decisive choice. An end to the purgatory which Jacob had constructed for himself, day by day, year by year. He stood in front of the iron door, the Saint by his side, and wondered how it had taken him so long to realize this. He still did not know what path would beckon him—he suspected he would not know until he was in the midst of the moment which would define all that he was. All that he might be.
Jacob traced his hand over the inscription. Read it out loud.
“It means nothing,” the Saint said. “Dora loved dramatics.”
“Don’t talk about her.”
“There’s nothing dramatic about what she did. About what you will do.”
“Don’t. Just don’t.”
The Saint bowed. “As you wish, Jacob. Shall we go?”
Jacob said nothing; he simply opened the door. Easy, he thought. It’s easier to open than I remember. They descended, Jacob leading, the Saint close behind.
The bones were where he had left them. The ring, too, and its paltry glow. Jacob stood over the bones, and the thing stood in front of Jacob, hand outstretched.
“It’s time,” the Saint said. “Let us go together.”
“Wait. Wait a moment.”
The Saint shrugged.
He looked at Dora’s bones. Looked at the ring which had once meant everything to both of them. The glow which emanated from it had a warmth to it, barely perceptible in the surrounding cold. It was a warmth he recognized, one he had not felt in a long time.
“Here is all that we buried,” Jacob said, “and some of what we lost.”
He slipped the ring on his finger and thrust it toward the Saint.
It drew back, shielded its face. Let out a screech that sent Jacob’s teeth to chattering. And despite the pain, despite the frost, Jacob was sure he had won.
Then the Saint began to laugh, softly, the way the intelligent laugh at fools.
The smoke from the hole in its head drifted toward Jacob, curled around his finger in a serpentine movement. The faint light in the ring flickered, then faded. The ring crumbled to ash. Jacob howled.
“Did you think what she stored here was for you?” the Saint hissed. “No. It was for her, and it was not enough.”
The Saint said no more, only waited with its hand outstretched. Convulsions racked him. Infantile sobs made it hard to breathe. He gravitated toward the deathly pale hand, felt a deep longing to clasp it in his own.
But he did not.
He met the gesture of beckoning with a closed fist.
This was not the path Jacob wanted to take. This was the path he feared. This was the path of most resistance.
But Dora had said only some of what they lost was locked away here. That meant there was more left.
If even a fraction of that warmth, that life, existed somewhere, he could not leave it behind, not without struggle. He had to believe that the rest was waiting, shining in the bleak corners of existence. And that meant he was destined to search everywhere, even inside himself. Even in the places where demons grin in the dark.
About The Author
Blake Johnson writes a lot of fiction. Sometimes he eats and sleeps, too. He grew up in Maine, but recently moved to Florida where he is carefully searching for a literary agent to represent his latest novel.
You can often find him hanging out in the Twitterverse under the handle @bjohnsonauthor. You can also see more of his work on his website.