PROBABLY SORT-OF SAFE

Chapter 1: A Lonely Boy Named Lim

There once was a lonely boy named Lim.

An inauspicious start, maybe, but before you can understand the magic, you must first appreciate the mundane.

So, before we turn our attention to the doors between worlds, to the creatures with junk yards for bodies, to the monsters in the shadows, to the man in the lightning, to the secret orders that have operated since the beginning of time, to the threat that will attempt to destroy our reality, all realities, a threat as old as time itself and twice as angry…

Before any of that, there is this:

There once was a lonely boy named Lim, and one winter day he went for a walk in the woods.

He was a small boy, smaller than most his age. He had dark hair and pale skin, paler now in the winter months than it had been earlier in the year. He had been sent outside by his mother, who had grown tired of seeing the images of the TV reflected in the boy’s icy skin.

Lim glanced around the forest, a dull anger pounding in his stomach and a vague dissatisfaction draping a thick blanket over his every sensation.

Stupid boring trees.

Stupid boring season.

Stupid boring world.

With each snow-covered patch of ground that he passed, his mood grew worse and worse.

In spring, he knew, the woods were great fun. There would be rocks to overturn to better discover the hideous creatures toiling in the muck. And there would be trees that were fine to climb and swing from, not to mention a ground that was soft, warm and inviting, the better to catch you when one of those tree branches snapped.

The winter might not even have been so bad had Charlie been there. They would have torn up the forest in a crazed pursuit of louder laughs and wilder cries of excitement and terror and excited terror.

For two ten-year-old boys, the woods in winter could be amazing. Two boys could have built snow forts, and then destroyed those snow forts. Two boys could have constructed a massive snowman and then taken turns to launch flying kicks into every part of the poor snowman’s body, with bonus points for smacking him square in the head. Two boys could have delighted in the sound a snowball makes when it connects dead-center with your best friend’s face.

But there weren’t two ten-year-old boys in the woods that day. There was only one. Only Lim.

It was even worse than last winter. That had been the winter when he and Mom had first arrived in town. Back then the constant, total isolation had been all that he’d ever known, and Lim had become used to it. It had been in the summer that he had met Charlie, the other boy nestled in a quiet nook of the town library that Lim had considered to be his own patch of land. After that, life had become good. To go from that height to these lows was almost too much for any boy to bear.

His breath formed crystals in the still air.

But, he considered, maybe Charlie would not have made much difference after all. Perhaps, even if Charlie had been there, Lim would still be here. Cold and miserable and alone. Winter brought that out of him anyway, and in the past few years the various calamities of his life had all seen fit to occur in winter months.

‘Winter,’ Lim thought, ‘is when I least want to be alone, and it is when I most frequently am.’

Mom had banished him from the warm glow of his television and the soft embrace of the sofa. He imagined her now, lying on his sofa, watching all her own stupid, boring shows. And probably eating his favorite snacks, smacking her lips with the triumph of having outcast her child into the frigid wastes.

Left with nothing else to do, he had decided to wander into the woods which bordered his house. He normally loved the forest, delighting in the living silence you can only find in nature. Before Charlie, the great unknown that lay between the tree trunks had been his passion.

But now…now the silent black trunks were just another reminder of how little there was in the world to inspire or excite.

His breath gushed into the darkening air, carrying his voice into the boughs of the trees and then even higher up, above the pointed tip of each tree and into the sky.

Lim remembered how, as a little kid, he had once asked his mother if it was the tops of trees which held the blue sky in its place.

“Don’t be silly Lim,” Mom had said.

‘Silly Lim,’ he thought. ‘Silly kid.’

Walking through this dead world beneath that shrouded sky, Lim began to wish for something silly and strange to happen. For something, anything, to come along and replace these short bleak days that made up his life.

“Something new,” he whispered aloud. “Bring me something new.”

And these words, they too were carried upwards into the gathering twilight, wrapped in thin streams of white mist.

For something that had, until that very moment, never existed before, the door was quite firm, quite thick and hurt quite a bit when he collided with it.

Lim fell backwards into the snow. He sat up, rubbing his forehead.

A second ago there had been no door standing right in front of him. Now there was one.

The door was black and suffused in starlight. It did not seem possible for such a surface to be solid. The frame surrounding the door seemed thin, almost out of focus. It reminded Lim of old photographs, where each image was overlaid with a sheen of fuzz.

He stood up quickly, not taking his eyes off the entryway. He approached the door. Half of him was expected the door to fling open, to reveal a howling, seven-headed flaming lizard-bug that would snatch him up for dinner. The other half of him was quite sure that the door was going to slip away should he so much as blink.

Lim was not sure which one would have been worse.

The door did not open. Nor did it leave. It stood, stood in an empty space in the middle of a clearing in the forest, as if this had forever been its only location.

The boy circled the door. He came to a stop in front of it, and pulled off one of his gloves. He touched one cold hand to its surface.

It was warm. And the grains between his fingers were as soft and familiar as the ones from his own bedroom door.

Now that he was close to it, Lim could see that it was nothing more than an ordinary door. What he’d thought was ‘starlight’ was only flecks of paint. And the not-quite-there sensation from earlier had been a mere trick of the light.

He could see these things. But he did not, not for one instant, believe them to be true.

“You’re trying to trick me,” the boy said to the door. “You’re something weird, pretending to be something normal so that you’ll be left alone. Not a chance.”

Through his fingertips, he could feel the vibrations of giant machines, machines which had been running since the dawn of time and would continue on with their work until long after the final clock had stopped in its place.

The doorknob was a round thing that had been polished to the perfect-yellow of a noon day sun.

It would not budge.

Lim put all his weight on it in one direction, and then again in the other. The knob would not turn so much as a fraction.

It was then that he spotted the keyhole. He began to search the area for some sign of the key that would fit. But the dark had spread too far and it was all but useless to search. He knew he would have to come out the next day and continue his hunt. But then he remembered that he would have school tomorrow. Once again, he would have next to no time before the night would close in.

Frustrated, he continued to walk around the door. There were no flaws and no secret latches or special drawings and instructions.

There was only the door.

Mom was calling.

Lim began the trek back. He spared one last look behind, just to be sure that the door was still there, and was still still.

It was.

And with a little distance between him and it, the door had relaxed and returned to its strange state. The black was the same black of the deepest ocean or the darkest space, and seemed to inhale the light and air around it. The white paint was again as stars, and shimmered with a fluid energy.

“I’ll be back,” said Lim. “And when I do, I’m going to get you open. Just you wait.”

TO BE CONTINUED