I’m tickled pink to have won first prize in The Cult Of Me’s July Short story competition.
Many thanks to Michael and check out all the fabulous stories on his website: http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/july-short-fiction-contest-winners.html
(The Extended Version)
When I was a boy, I lived with my father in a very strange house.
Our house was a huge gothic mansion, filled of white marble and black ebony sculptures. A magnificent spiral staircase dominated the centre of the house. It spiralled upward as far as the eye could see, and downward; deep into the bowels of the earth.
My father warned me regularly never to step upon the staircase. “It’s only to be used by our guests,” he warned.
We had a lot of guests. They arrived at all times of the day and night.
My father’s job was to open the front door and direct them to the staircase. I never saw any of the guests leave, so they must still be up there, or hiding in the cellar.
We lived only on the ground floor, but it was such a large mansion that there was plenty of room for the two of us.
One day, while I was at school, the teacher asked the class what our parents did for a living. The pupils took turns revealing their parents’ careers. Some were postmen, nurses; there was even an author. Finally, it was my turn.
I stood before the blackboard and spoke, “I don’t know much about my mother,” I explained. “She died when I was a baby, but my daddy has a very important job. He’s the Gatekeeper.”
“A gatekeeper,” my teacher corrected.
“No. He’s quite adamant about that. He assures me that he’s … The Gatekeeper.”
“So, he opens gates? That doesn’t sound too important,” teased Edmund, the class joker. The class all laughed, but I frowned.
“We don’t actually have any gates,” I admitted.
“Then how is he a gatekeeper?”
“The Gatekeeper,” I corrected absently. “I don’t really know. I’ll have to ask him.”
Arriving home, I accosted my father. “Why are you called The Gatekeeper, Daddy, if we don’t have any gates?”
He took me by the hand and led me around to the front of the house where the great black double doors stood firmly shut. In his spare time, my father polished them until they shone brightly in the sun. They were filled with demonic figures, carved into the black ebony. I’d always felt a little queasy whenever I looked at them.
We weren’t allowed to use these doors. They were only for our guests. My father and I only ever used the tradesmen’s entrance, around the side of the house.
“These are ‘The Gates’,” he explained. “Everyone comes to them eventually. It’s my job to open them, and one day it’ll be yours, too.”
Emboldened, I asked, “Where do our guests go?”
“That all depends, son. Some go up the stairs and find Heaven, while others descend into whatever Hell awaits them.”
Confused, I asked, “Isn’t there only one Hell?”
“Hell is filled with a man’s fears, so everyone has a different Hell.”
“Do you guide them on their journey?”
“No, son, I don’t. Each man must find his own path.”
I never gave much thought to the idea of taking over the family business, it was an unsaid expectation. I’d always tried to avoid thinking about it too much as it brought up many unanswered questions.
I was busy studying for my final exams, and planning which University to go to, when I heard the persistent pounding on the front door. “Dad!” I yelled, “the door!”
The pounding continued unabated. I tried to focus on my text book, but it was no use. Whoever was at the door would not go away, and my father wasn’t answering it.
This was strange as he could always sense when someone was going to arrive, and he’d always be there to answer the door. He took his job very seriously.
“Dad … the door!” I shouted.
The front door rattled in response.
In frustration, I rose and threw my book on the bed. “Hang on!” I yelled.
I hurried down the corridor, passed the spiral staircase and paused before the door.
Doubt crept over me. Would it even open for me?
On one previous occasion I’d tried to open the door, but it had remained shut. I had been eleven at the time, and curiosity had gotten the better of me. I’d turned the handle and pulled, but it hadn’t budged.
“Leave it!” my father hissed, appearing as if by magic behind me. “It won’t open for you … not yet.”
“Is it locked?” I asked.
“Sort of …” was his reply.
The banging had become persistent now. Whoever was knocking was not going away. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses would’ve given up by now.
I considered ignoring it.
What would happen if the dead couldn’t get to Heaven or Hell? Would their souls be trapped in limbo for eternity? I didn’t know.
The banging continued and with one final look down the corridor I reached for the doorknob.
I faint tingling sensation pulsed up my arm as I touched to brass handle. That hadn’t happened the last time I’d tried to open the door. The tingling passed through my body and left me feeling light-headed. Nervously, I twisted the knob and pulled the door.
To my surprise, the door swung silently open.
“Praise the heavens! I thought you’d never answer!”
The voice sent a cold shiver down my spine.
“Dad!” I gasped, looking at the apparition before me. With a mournful look, he walked passed me and started to ascended the staircase.
“Wait!” I called, trying to follow.
As my foot touched the first step, a coldness enveloped me, casting me backwards. I was not permitted to follow him.
“Dad!” I cried.
He stopped, halfway up to the first landing and looked back for an instance, “You’ll be fine,” he assured, before continuing his journey.
I stood there for some time, too stunned to move. Eventually, the spell was broken by the shrill ring of my ringtone, “Hello!”
The lady on the other end of the line asked my name and identified herself as a doctor at the nearby hospital, “Could you come down here?” she asked.
“I’m a little busy right now,” I protested.
“Look, I can’t discuss this over the phone, but it is important.”
“It’s about my father, isn’t it?” I asked.
There was a long pause from the other end of the line.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“I really can’t discuss …”
“I’ll be right over.”
Many thoughts went through my brain as I cycled over to the hospital. Was this how my father inherited the family business, with a visit from a ghostly apparition?
Did my mother knock on the door on the day that I was born?
Now that I’d taken over the family business, who exactly was my employer … Who paid my wages?