|Photo courtesy of Pamela Enos|
The Emerald Shadows
March 4, 2012
A Short Story by Michael R. DeCamp
The woman stood at the end of her pier staring out over the now calm waters of Whistler’s Lake; the slight chill in the air raising goose bumps on her arms and legs. The sun was shining brightly and through the mist of her exhaled breath, she could see ducks paddling in and out of the reeds along the shore. Despite the heavy storms of the previous evening, everything looked normal enough this morning; everything that is except for the wooden door floating in the placid ripples about thirty feet off the end of the dock.
The door, frame and all, looked as if it belonged there. It seemed as if it was simply part of the normal order of things, and that there was a hidden chamber underneath, sort of a natural portal to another watery realm.
Curiosity. That’s what the image evoked in the mind of the middle-aged woman as she stood there staring and her light blue nightgown flapped lightly in the wind. It seemed odd to her that the door would be in that place. How could it have come to be there? There did not seem to be any other debris nearby, and yet there it was. Stationary in the water just a few feet away; locked in place as if God Himself had hung it there.
She had always been prone to curiosity. If she had been a cat, she would have used up her nine lives before she exited her teens. At times it tended to dominate her and threaten to drive her over the edge. Times like when a friend would start to share some meaty gossip, but then would say: “Oh, I can’t tell you. It wouldn’t be right.” Those times drove her nearly mad.
Now, that curiosity seemed to swell with each ripple that flowed up to the doorframe. However, unlike the tiny waves that dissipated when they reached the hinged portal, her curiosity only continued to blossom. A bud of wonder formed, then began to open, until when in full bloom, she finally determined that she simply had to take a closer look.
On her right, rocking gently against the aluminum framework of the pier was her old rowboat. She walked over and looked inside at the collection of oars, lifejackets, and dirty water gathered in the bottom of the small vessel. She really ought to go back inside and put on some better clothes, but she just could not bring herself to turn around. She was drawn to the door like mouse to a piece of cheese, or a moth to a porch light in the summer.
She stepped down onto one of the seats, careful not to lose one of her matching, light blue house-slippers; holding onto a mildly rotted wooden support post for balance. Once aboard, she stepped on down into the boat, soaking her slippers in the dirty mixture of rain and lake water in the bottom, and sat down onto the seat. After untying the line from the mooring and fixing the oars into their mating hardware along the port and starboard sides of the boat, she pushed off and began to row quietly toward the strange door that seemed to be beckoning for her attention.
In a few minutes, she found herself along side the door. As was the norm with a row boat, she had paddled facing the stern with the bow of the boat at her back and she had come up along side the door with its knob on her right along the port side of the boat.
Now that she was upon it, she could see that it was a plain sort of door commonly used for bedrooms or closets with no ornamentation at all. There was nothing to visually stimulate the kind of essence of intrigue that she was feeling as she looked upon its oak laminate finish save one spot that had been crushed inward. The knob was simple as well; a plain, round brass knob. No lock.
It is an odd thing about closed doors. They seem to beg to be opened. It harkens back to the days of your youth when your parents would take you on a visit to some seemingly ancient relative in an even more ancient old house with lots of old, six-panel doors, layered thick with paint, that just called out to be opened. A weird mixture of fear and curiosity would tug at your mind until you could sneak a peak only to find a pantry full of canning jars and cereal boxes.
This door in the lake evoked that same sort of feeling. The woman knew that logically the only thing under the door was more water, but the mere fact that it was floating there still latched in its frame seemed to demand that the knob be turned and the door pulled open on its hinges. She had no choice. She had to do it. She had to open that door and look inside. It was calling to her. There was a pressure from inside pushing her to sneak a peak.
Slowly, with a trepidation that she could not understand, she leaned over the edge of the boat and turned the knob. It clicked and popped free of the latch. It took a bit more strength than she expected to pull the door open because she was leaning at an odd angle over the rim of the boat; pulling up with her right hand while trying to maintain her balance in the rocking boat with her left. With much effort, she managed to pull the door free and fling it open.
The door stopped, frozen in place when perpendicular to the water revealing within the framework an emerald staircase that descended deep into the heart of the lake. The sun was just high enough that she could see down quite a distance, but she could not see the bottom. The light faded away after maybe ten steps and the shadows of the deep took over.
If a closed door whispers feelings of curiosity and fear, a shadowed staircase to somewhere unknown screams the same and more. She simply could not ignore its call. She had to know. She had to know what was down there, and how could it have come to be. She trembled with fear, but her curiosity drove her forward.
Tilting the boat to the side, she slid overboard and onto the top step and let the vessel float away. Down she stepped. One step. Two. Three more steps. Soon her head was even with the surface of the lake. She was amazed at the weirdness of the situation. She could look down into the darkness of the portal that should not exist, and at the same time she could look out over the waters of the lake; at all the beauty that was her home. The ducks. The water lilies. The roses, lilacs, and peonies that she so delicately cared for each spring.
Should she keep going, she wondered. Or, should she ignore the longing to further descend into the darkness below?
She loved the world above, but it had lost much of its luster when her husband had passed. Her children were grown and had moved away. All that was left for her were the flowers, the ducks,…and…the lake. So little to satisfy an intense curiosity.
Now, the lake was calling to her. It was as if she could hear her name echoing up the emerald steps. “Maaaaggie. Maaaaggie. Come down, Maggie. Come down.”
She looked around at the sunshine reflecting off the rippled water one more time, and then stepped down. One more step. Two more. She glanced up at the sky as she took a third, smiled as a bird soared overhead, and then turned back toward the darkness as the door smoothly swung shut sealing her inside the emerald shadows.
Each day now, they wheel her out to the end of the pier to sit in the sun and stare blankly over the water; hopeful that the lake will free her mind and let her come back. But, she cannot see the ducks or the flowers or the bright rays of the sun reflecting off of the calm waters. All she can see is the swirling, twirling, whirling emerald shadows, and she is captivated by the intensity of the images as each is more intriguing than the last.