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The Door (a short story using an ordinarily inanimate object as a character - written on a whim)

Updated on December 22, 2014

Jane noticed the door for the first time when she was six years old. She was staying with her father that weekend in his cottage in the Cotswolds near Tewksbury. Her mother was attending the funeral of Jane’s Grandmother in a medieval church on the outskirts of Birmingham. Her mum had taken her there once, but she’d cried the whole time and complained of the smell. Jane had never really known her Grandmother – though in later life she could never remember why.

Jane’s dad had taken her on a walk along the banks of the Avon that day. They fed bread to the geese and ducks on the murky waters and laughed at the rowers in their Lycra as they raced by. The air was hot and damp. Jane was humming a tuneless tune from her perch on her father’s shoulders. Her little legs could only carry her so far before she got tired.

The door saw her before she saw it. At least, that is how it seemed to her these days in moments of recollection. She had been chuckling at the honking struggle of a signet taking flight – all splashes and rapid thwap thwapping of young wings hitting the choppy water.

Jane cooed in delight as the young bird finally lurched unevenly into the cloudy bright sky. The sun’s heat beat smoothly through the thick vapour and warmed her skin. It was then that she felt it’s gaze for the first time. Her smile slipped and her little head turned. On the far bank of the river about a hundred yards into the sheep field that resided there, she saw the door. It was an old door of thick oak panels with a big brass knocker sat squarely in its middle beneath which sat a letterbox that was long rusted shut. The door had been painted red once, but this had mostly peeled away leaving only aged russet patches here and there. It looked so out of place, standing there in the field like that. It held itself proudly, as if unable to admit that there was no hallway beyond it, only more grass and more sheep.

‘There’s a door watching me’ Jane told her father quietly. She didn’t want to speak any louder lest the wind carry her words and the door might find out she had noticed it. She had a feeling that that would not be good.

‘Hmm?’ her father had replied and followed the trajectory of her pointing finger. ‘That’s just a field, sweetie’ reassured her dad in that unintentionally patronising way parents have for speaking to their very young children. Jane didn’t argue with him. She could see the door. She wasn’t that surprised that her father couldn’t. The way it gazed at her was too personal. She thought maybe only she could see it – but the sheep stayed away from it so that couldn’t be true. There was a ring of solitude about the old door. It didn’t seem to court the company of the sheep, and they for their part ignored it completely.

Jane saw the door many times in her dreams over the following years. Often in the dreams she couldn’t remember where she had first seen it. Always it stood without support, alone in the landscape.

Jane flew through primary school and finished secondary school with four A stars. She was accepted onto a psychology course at Durham University. Her mother passed away in her second year after a long battle with cancer. The door appeared to her again on the day that she heard the news.

It was waiting for her at the bus stop for her.

At first, she hadn’t been sure. The tears for her mother were still blurring her vision and she was shaking with cold and misery. Her boyfriend of the time had his arm about her shoulder as he walked her to the bus stop, but the warmth of his touch was unfelt. He could have been a thousand miles away.

Jane’s feet stopped dead in their tracks and she stared ahead. Vaguely she was aware that her boyfriend was making noises that could have been words, she wasn’t too sure. She only had attention enough for the freestanding door at the bus stop ahead. It looked like it had had a paint job some time ago – it was in need of a fresh coat but it was an improvement on the way it had been. Maybe that’s why it was unashamed to come so close this time.

‘I want to walk’ she told her boyfriend, and guided him around the stop firmly. He didn’t argue – not with her in mourning as she was. He cared about her. Jane loved that about him… that he cared that is. It wasn’t enough though. She’d known she was going to leave him for some time – she just wasn’t sure how. She felt the door watching her go, longingly. It didn’t need a voice to express its invitation. It was a bolder creature than it had been.

When she was thirty, Jane got married to an Estate Agent from Pityme and they moved into a well-appointed flat overlooking the Quayside in Newcastle Upon Tyne. They had a nice group of friends and holidayed in the South of France. Not long after the wedding Jane fell pregnant with twins, Alice and Tim.

When the twins were three Jane began to dream of the door again.

Alice became ill in July that year. The doctors took blood and hair samples and put her in big machines that were loud and made her cry. Jane hated those doctors in their cold white coats with their know-it-all tones and patronising jargon. They mouthed caring platitudes but cared more in the end about their professional records than the fact they didn’t have a clue what was wrong with her.

The door appeared in the hospital on that final occasion. Jane knew it was there without turning her tear-sore eyes from the bed where her daughter lay in a sleep so close to death it might as well have been.

‘I thought you might come’ she said finally. The door said nothing. Jane raised her eyes at last, and took in the glossy red paint and the shining brass of its new knocker and handle. Even the letterbox had been polished to a shine. Without moving, it seemed to smile softly. It wasn’t scary. Jane knew there was no sense in fearing it any longer. There was a decision to be made – but this kind of choice was no choice at all. She took a step away from the bedside then paused and looked back one last time back at the sleeping face of her daughter. Her heart swelled with love and determination. Already Alice seemed to be breathing more steadily. Colour flushed back into her cheeks. Jane smiled and blinking through the tears turned at the sound of a latch clanking open. The door opened silently. Jane’s smile deepened at what she saw on the other side. Drying her tears she took a breath and stepped through to the other side.


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    • rjbatty profile image


      4 years ago from Irvine

      Dan: It's not so much that your tale is not to my taste. In your title, you indicate that you are presenting a short story. Adding the word "whimsy" doesn't exonerate anyone from adhering to the established rules of short story writing.

      You can write a short story that is whimsical, and that's fine, but you really cannot dodge the basic mechanics. A story can be left open-ended, i.e., subject to interpretation, but that isn't the same as presenting a premise ... and not much else.

      Being a fiction writer myself, I've come up with dozens of short stories (most of which I suppose are truly flawed), but for every story I complete, I come up with dozens of others I never end up writing. Why -- because they are basically just kernels. I can come up with all sorts of unique ideas/perspectives but am unable to translate them into full stories -- with a beginning, middle and end.

      Like your story, "The Door," I can conjure up lots of vignettes -- interesting scenes, interesting characters (hopefully), unique environments, etc., but other than presenting a series of snapshots -- even snapshots that seem to evolve -- I'm usually dissuaded from writing because I cannot come up with unique endings.

      While in attendance at UCLA's writing class, the professor admitted that coming up with a unique ending to a short story was a daunting task -- in great part because so much great stuff had already been written ... and were there really any unique perspectives left dealing with human emotions? The professor, jokingly, said, "No," then feigned a move to run out the door.

      You might find it interesting that only last night my wife and I were discussing how many of Chekov's short stories don't really qualify as short stories but are more like vignettes. Maybe that's what we can turn to as an alternative. I don't know. Maybe we need a new genre.

      I was heavily influenced by the Russian writers, thus, my own stuff tends to be "dour" in many respects. I happen to think that even the Russian masters did not thoroughly cover the field of human emotions when it comes to the ambiguity of coping with despair, uncertainty and many of the adjectives we now find common in describing the lexicon of depression, e.g., anxiety, panic, or just plainly being unmotivated.

      I recently created a kernel in my mind during one sleeplessness night that centered around a character who was fear-ridden, forced into a survival mode but crippled by a lack of motivation. I think I could bring this character to life as well as his surroundings, but then you run into the other problem, which is -- who would want to read such a thing?

      "Normal" people read to be entertained, exhilarated, enthralled, not to be immersed in a low-action psychosis. It doesn't sell.

      Writing fiction is hard.

      Here on HubPages you can get away with writing "a piece of whimsy written for personal pleasure." But, if you are at all concerned about writing for the larger market, we both have to pay attention to the rules -- like it or not.

    • Dan Barfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Barfield 

      4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      My feelings are not hurt rjbatty :) I respect that this style is not to your taste, however I do disagree. I certainly don't believe the author "owes" the reader anything when (as I'd hoped to make clear in the title) this is a piece of whimsy written for personal pleasure. Not everything needs to have purpose either for that matter. I enjoyed writing it - and I am personally a fan of implied endings (not that I employ the method often at all). Do you read much fantasy short-form rjbatty? Who are your favoured authors of this vein?

    • rjbatty profile image


      4 years ago from Irvine

      If this were a movie, my wife would throw open her hands and say, "What was the purpose of that?" She does this with about every other film, so don't have hurt feelings. But, I'm not a fan of open-ended storylines. My own belief is that the author owes it to his readership to provide full context and meaning. Lacking this seems like a cop-out. Leaving endings to the "imagination" of the reader just seems lazy. It suggests that the author has no real idea himself about how to end his story so just leaves it hanging. You may have a concept, but that doesn't translate into a complete and satisfying short story. Sorry to seem so negative, but fiction writing is really hard. You really need a beginning, a middle and an end. If you don't have an end, you don't really have a story -- it's just a thought-bubble, something that could lead to a story but lacks the discipline of committing to something conclusive -- and this makes all the difference. Anyone can come up with a "what if" scenario, but that isn't real craftsmanship.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Great story. Did Jane have to 'pass over' in order to save Alice's life? What became of Alice? I'd love to see this story continue.

    • Dan Barfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Barfield 

      7 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thank you so much for the kind words Shanders! Much appreciated :)

    • Shanders profile image

      Shannon Anders 

      7 years ago from Port Huron, Michigan

      I wasn't sure what to espect when I started reading this, but was pleasantly surprised at this beautifully written short story. The descriptive qualities are fantastic, you can really feel the character's angst in the presence of the door. Really enjoyed this.

    • Dan Barfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Barfield 

      7 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thanks for the comment Mr Archer! I like to think I am becoming more profficient with my words. It is a case of constant reappraisal and learning I think. I am just as happy hearing critique as I am compliments now... though it took me a while to learn to swallow my pride :)

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 

      7 years ago from Missouri

      Nicely done. I enjoyed this, and feel you have a talent for the written word.

    • Dan Barfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Barfield 

      7 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thank you for your comment and thank you for reading. This story kind of grew out of my mind in a very organic way. I had no specific intentions with it... but with each scene it was almost as if the story drew me on and let me know what words were expected. It was an eerie thing to write... but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I'm glad this affected you in some way - and I'd be more than happy for you to share this on your page... In fact, I'd be honored. :)

    • profile image

      Elaine Fischer 

      7 years ago

      Hello Dan, 1/30/13

      I really enjoyed your story, not for entertainment value, instead as an open minded individual, who enjoys short stories. This particular story left me feeling melancholy. I was saddened at first, but then as a Mother, I lost the sad feelings, and realized that I would have done the same exact thing. At the thought of her checks turning pink and the color returning would have made this sacrifice of mine non significant. On the flip side, I thought for moment that it was also like selling your soul to the devil, a life for a life. It appeared her whole purpose in life was waiting to die! So if your intention on a spear of a moment whim on writing this story, made you proud of yourself, then it goes without saying your intentions were meant. The story contained a lot more depth than perhaps you intended. What do I know, I'm not a writer, and I can't spell worth beans, but I did however enjoy your whim. Thanks for sharing your work... Elaine Fischer aka, "Inspirations". I would like to share your story on my page and see what kind of reaction, it gets, either good or bad.

    • Dan Barfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Barfield 

      7 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thanks for the comment alancaster149 - sorry it took so long to reply - I completely forgot. Yes that was it for Jane and her daughter survived. I'm quite proud of this little story - the idea was to stretch myself by writing a story based around something innocuous... i.e. a door. I will do more experimenting along these lines. It appeals to my inner odd-ball. :)

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting. Weird as well, but interesting. I take it when Jane went through the door that was it for her, but the girl survived.

      There's a song, 'Green door, what's that secret you're keeping...?' Maybe they just got the colour wrong.


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