Chapter 1

by Geron Kees

The Odd, Onward Door

© 2017 Geron Kees All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction and depicts sexual activities between minors. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation. Please observe the laws of your jurisdiction with regards to reading this material.

If you are not 18, you shouldn't be reading this at all. Go find a boyfriend and talk stuff over with him.

Derry Hamlyn stood on tiptoe to see across the field of Indiangrass, looking for some telltale sign as to where his friend, Caleb Jameson, might be hiding. At fifteen, Derry was tall enough - taller than Caleb by an inch - to see across the waving grass; but only just, for the grass was tall, too, and wide and deep, spreading as far as the eye could see across the rolling New York countryside. It was the perfect place to hide. The gentle summer breezes moving eastward across the summer-blue, cloud-flecked sky pushed the grass in lazy waves that perfectly disguised other movement, and for all Derry knew, Caleb could be clear to Long Lake by now.

Or not.

Even as Derry pushed himself up on his toes again to take another look there was a faint sound to one side, and then an explosion of movement in the grass, and Caleb leaped out at him, his face set in a devilish grin. Derry flinched, raised his hands instinctively to protect himself from his friend's lunge, and then burst into laughter as Caleb grabbed him and whirled him around. They fell into the depths of the grass together, rolled among the dense ground cover and then stopped, Caleb laying partly atop Derry, a huge smile on his face. He looked down at his friend, then dropped his head and quickly kissed him.

Derry returned the grin, pushed his head up and kissed his best friend back. It was a part of their lives now to share such closeness - a secret part, yes - but still a part that was wonderful and warm. Caleb - or Cally, as Derry called him - had proved to be as exciting a companion as Derry could ever have dreamed of finding.

"Surprised you," Cally said, slightly breathless from laughter.

"I could smell you, I just couldn't see you," Derry replied, grinning.

Cally smiled, and rubbed his face gently against Derry's. "Mmm. I can smell you, too."

Derry nodded, pushing back with his own face, inhaling the pleasant scent of Cally's skin, feeling the light traces of sweat between them.

"I found something I want you to see," Cally said then, lifting his head. His grin turned into a frown. "Something weird, over by the woods."

"Weirder than you?" Derry asked, still grinning. "I don't believe it."

Cally sighed, and offered another quick kiss. "I'm serious. There's something strange there."

Derry realized then that his friend wasn't playing. Cally had a great sense of humor, but he could switch very quickly to his more sober side, and not always be apparent about it at first. Derry nodded. "So...what is it?"

"I don't know. Kind of a mound in the earth. I mean...it looks like the rest of the hill, until you look at it from just the right angle. Then you can see that something is there."

Derry grinned, and jumped to his feet, pulling at Cally in the process. "Well, show me!"

Cally laughed, bolted upright, and took off running, and Derry immediately gave chase. His bare feet, toughened by a month of summer's contact with the ground, found their way through the grasses easily as the boys crossed the great open field and then entered the tree line at its edge. Cally slowed then, searching the ground ahead of them, and finding a pressed-down spot in the undergrowth and leading Derry into it.

"You came all this way?" Derry asked, amazed. "While I was standing there looking for you in the grass, you were over here in the trees?"

Cally tossed a grin over his shoulder. "I was circling around so that I could surprise you. I did that, remember?"

Derry laughed. "Yeah. You did. You sure took the long way around to do it, though."

"Well, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have discovered this."

Cally stopped, and now Derry stopped, too. He looked about them, but could see nothing unusual at all. They were at the base of a small hill that rose up in the woods, which was covered with small plants, but no trees. These little hills were a common feature thereabouts. Derry's grandfather, whose land this was, called them 'knobs', and generally viewed them as irritants where they appeared in the fields, because they blocked the progress of his tractors. Derry had read that this portion of the state was cave country, and that sometimes these knobs appeared above limestone formations holding caverns. When Derry was younger he had dug into a few of the knobs closer to the house, in the hope of finding a way into the earth below; but the only result had been hours of labor and a hole in the ground that went nowhere. His grandfather had finally commanded him to stop making holes unless he intended to fill them back in, and that pretty much ended that exploration.

This hill seemed much like the others that Derry had examined, save for the fact that it was here among the trees and not out among the grasses. He ran his eyes over it, then looked at Cally and shrugged. "I don't see anything unusual."

Cally tossed his head to one side. "Come on around here."

He led Derry around the base of the hill, then stopped. "Now look up."

Derry reexamined the hill now, his eyes roving across the top of it. It did look amazingly regular in its roundness, but so what? Some of the other knobs he had seen were also surprising in their geometric perfection. Nature was every bit as competent as men to make things of amazing symmetry. She just chose not to do so with the boring regularity that her offspring seemed to favor.

Cally could obviously see the doubt in Derry's eyes. "I know - it's really round, but it's still just a hill, right?" He nodded. "But then I saw this."

He took Derry by the hand and led him further around the base of the hill. Derry could see where his friend had come through here before, but likely, no one else had in the longest of times. While Derry felt he had been every place a boy could go on his grandfather's land since he had started walking, he knew that the reality was that he and his friends had always largely stuck to established trails and not wandered about in the places where poison ivy and poison sumac dwelled. Some of his grandfather's woods were seriously overgrown at the ground level, and great care was needed to pass through them. Others, more regularly visited and used by the family over the years, were more easily passable. This particular area was of the former variety, and Derry now looked anxiously about, hoping that he and Cally had not already walked through some of the poison weeds.

Cally saw him peering about and laughed. "I looked when I came through before. I don't want a rash any more than you do."

Derry felt some relief at that. "I wouldn't worry so much if I had long pants and shoes on."

Cally nodded, and drew Derry to a stop. "Look."

He pointed to the ground, where a large rock lay, dirt-side up. Next to it, and slightly uphill, there was a hole of equal size, and it was obvious that the rock had been dislodged from its ancient resting place and rolled.

Derry settled to a squat and examined the rock. It was a large one, probably at least twenty pounds in weight. The side now facing up was encrusted in still-moist earth and the tiny rootlets of growing things. But it appeared to be just a rock. A big one, but big rocks were everywhere on his grandfather's acreage.

Cally squatted beside him. "What do you think?"

"What made you turn it over?" Derry asked, curious now.

"I didn't mean to. I stepped on it as I was coming through here and it came loose. I nearly fell on my ass."

Derry couldn't help grinning, feeling that it would be a damn shame for any harm to come to his boyfriend's especially pleasantly-curved butt. Cally broke out into a laugh, perhaps reading Derry's mind, and gave him a fond a little nudge. "Leave my cheeks out of this."

Derry grinned and nodded. "Until later, anyway." He indicated the rock with a wave of his hand. "I don't see anything special about it, though."

Cally rolled his eyes. "Not the rock, dum dum. The hole. Look in the hole."

Derry bent and looked within the cradle that had been the rock's resting place. There was dirt there, that looked like it had been disturbed, but otherwise he could see nothing...or, wait. He peered closer, finally seeing what Cally meant.

There was dirt there, yes. But underneath it was a very regular-looking surface, that looked like more rock. But it looked smooth.

"Touch it," Cally whispered.

Derry extended a hand, lowered his fingers into the hole, stopped short of touching that odd surface within. Something about it disturbed him. Cally saw his hesitation, grunted, and placed a hand upon Derry's own and pushed gently until Derry's fingers touched down.

The surface was cold. Maybe chilled would be a better word. But that was to be expected of anything under the surface. There was a surprising difference in temperature between the topsoil and the dirt a mere six inches down.

But smooth?

"What is it?" Derry asked.

"You tell me."

Derry rubbed his fingertips over the surface now, feeling the amazing regularity of it as his fingers brushed the dirt covering it downward. "I don't know."

Cally reached into the hole again and pulled at the edges, revealing more of the smooth surface beneath. Derry viewed that with shock, his eyes suddenly moving upward and his gaze running over the oddly even crest of the little knob. "You think the whole thing's like this...under the dirt?" Derry asked, a combination of thrill and unease passing through him at the same time.

Cally looked startled, as though the notion stunned him - but at the same time, Derry could see that the idea was not new to his friend. Cally was just a little shocked to hear it voiced out loud.

The other boy gave a slow nod. "Kinda scary to think that, but yeah, I was wondering if the whole hill was like this."

Derry blinked again. "Like someone made it."

Cally just nodded.

For a moment Derry's mind seemed to balk at the idea; but then, he remembered things he had read over the years, and a new idea took hold. "Maybe it's Indian. Oneida, or Mohawk. I read once that they left mounds all over the state." He looked up at the perfect curve of the hill above them. "Maybe this is one of them."

Cally looked doubtful. "Indians? Why would they make mounds?"

"They buried people in them," Derry explained.

Cally shook his head. "I've heard of those. But they're dirt mounds, not mounds made of stone - aren't they?"

Derry shrugged. "I dunno. Who knows what they could do?"

Cally digested that, and finally shook his head. "I don't think they could make a whole hill out of polished stone, Derry. Indians were kinda low-tech back then."

Derry actually agreed with that. But then what?

"You think it's hollow? Maybe there's a way in."

Derry patted the smooth surface at the bottom of the hole again, and was certain that there was no easy way of going through it. Whatever it was made of, It simply felt dense and tough, not something you were going to make a hole in with a pick and shovel.

Cally jumped to his feet, and Derry followed. "Let's walk around it," Cally suggested, starting off.

"Watch for poison ivy," Derry commanded, not wanting to spend the next few weeks in misery.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Come on."

They circled the hill slowly, and as they did so it became even more apparent in Derry's mind that the little knob was amazingly hemispherical in shape. That it was somehow a made thing was becoming clear to him. But...made when? And by whom?

The earth that covered it could not be very deep, which would explain the reason that only small ground covering foliage grew upon it, and no trees. And despite the fact that it was a hill itself, there was higher ground beyond the knob, and rainwater would tend to wash down and around - maybe even over - the little hill, if there was enough of it. How long would it take for the earth to cover such a mound in dirt to six or eight inches in depth? Certainly not overnight. Trees would grow and die, whole forests rot away and be reborn; the winds would blow and the rains would come and go; it would take a very long time, indeed. But how long?

Five hundred years? A thousand?

There were many places in the world where the ancient works of men had been dug up after thousands of years of hiding beneath the soil. Sometimes, those sites were quite deep. And quite ancient. But still, they were the works of men. The creepy feeling that Derry had been trying not to acknowledge - that the mound might not be the work of men - began to fade. He grinned. The ancients had shown themselves to be extremely clever engineers. The great pyramids of the Egyptians at Giza had originally been sheathed in a covering of white limestone, polished and smoothed nearly to perfection. Much of the casings had been cannibalized over several thousand years by the locals to construct other buildings, resulting in the lumpy, stepped appearance of the pyramids today.

But once, they had been magnificent. And they were built by men.

There was a slight depression in the ground ahead of them, but Derry paid no attention to it until he and Cally both stepped into it.

Crack! There was the sudden sound from beneath their feet of something breaking, followed by a sickening lurch, and then a general sagging of the soil underfoot.

And then they were falling. The ground gave away, and they plummeted into the earth below.

Or so it seemed in that instant. Derry let out a yell and grabbed at Cally, but he no sooner pulled the other boy close when they stopped moving with a jarring bounce, which caused them both to sit down hard. The earth had collapsed downward a distance of maybe three feet, and then stopped.

"Oh, shit!" Cally yelled, hugging Derry to him. "Are you okay?"

Derry nodded, squeezing the other boy to him just as fiercely. "Are you?"

"Yeah. Scared the crap out of me, though."

"Me, too." Derry laughed then. "You should see your face."

Cally snorted, but his eyes held humor now. "What happened?"

Derry shrugged, easing his grip on his friend. "I don't know. Something gave away."

They carefully climbed out of the hole. The process was accompanied by more alarming creaks and groans from beneath them, along with movement that firmly suggested that there was still some space beneath them, under whatever they had been standing upon.

They reached ground level, stood up, brushed each other off, and examined the hole before them. It was long and fairly narrow, and the ends of timbers now protruded from the dirt along the edges. Derry stooped and examined them, noting the moist, soggy appearance of rotten wood at the edges, with dryer, more brittle wood further in.

"Spent," he pronounced. "This is a cover of some kind. Must have been here a long time, to be this far gone. It was even sagging under the weight of the dirt on it. I saw the depression before we stepped into it, but couldn't tell what it was."

"We're lucky we didn't fall through," Cally said. "No telling how deep it is underneath."

Derry grinned, and grabbed at the end of one of the stouter timbers. "Sure there is. Help me lift."

Cally gave a little laugh, but bent down and also grabbed a timber. They tried to stand, lifting as they did so, and both of them grunted under the unexpected weight.

"Must be a ton of dirt on this!" Cally exclaimed, through gritted teeth.

Derry strained with all of his might, and slowly the timber rose upwards. As it came up so did the ground they had fallen into; and as the soil slid to one side the load lessened, until finally Derry could peer beneath the wooden cover.

"There's steps!" he yelled, redoubling his efforts.

It was apparent now what had happened. The cover had collapsed until some central timber had encountered a step a short way down the flight. It had been enough to stop their plunge, but also explained the wobbly sense that there was more open space underneath them.

Cally yelled, strained, looked downward. Where he was standing, there was a step only about three feet down. "Hold onto it, Derry! If I can get underneath, we can tip the cover over!"

Derry strained, nodded, and groaned as the load increased. Cally slid down into the stairwell, got underneath the cover, and started to push upwards again. More dirt slid off as the cover stood up now, until it was light enough that Derry could jump down into the stairwell and push from below, too. The cover soon stood perpendicular, and the boys leaned forward, gave a last mighty heave, and the cover fell over into the weeds, accompanied by a small burst of dust and debris, which sprinkled down onto the steps at their feet.

The stairs were uncovered.

Derry looked down them, could see now a short landing at the base of the steps, confronting the dark, rounded shape of a doorway that led beneath the bulk of the mound.

The way inside had been found.

Derry looked at Cally, who was grinning. "We're gonna at least look, aren't we?" Derry asked his friend.

"Hell, yeah." Cally's grin expanded. "Try to hold me back."

Derry put out a hand and did just that. "Wait. We can look, and see what can be seen. But if we're gonna go inside some dark hole, I say we go back to my house first and get a flashlight."

Cally nodded, but his eyes held delight. "I'll go for that. I'm not crawling around in the dark with any skeletons or mummies, I can tell you that now."

They headed slowly down the steps. Around them, in the woods, birds called to each other, totally unaware that anything unusual was happening below. In fact, the summer day did not seem to acknowledge in any way that the lives of Derry and Cally were about to change forever.

They reached the bottom of the stairs, and approached the dark doorway. But...it did not look like an open doorway at all, where one could see light scattered within, gradually fading to darkness. It simply was blackness, there across the threshold, so solidly dark, in fact, that Derry could only suspect a closed door painted the deepest black he had ever encountered. He frowned, and put out a hand to feel it as he approached.

But there was no door.

With nothing there to impede his progress, his hand simply disappeared, and then his arm right up to the elbow, as if it had been neatly severed from his body. Cally gave out a yell of alarm, and Derry snatched his hand back - only to find it still there, fingers and all.

"What the hell was that?" Cally demanded, grabbing Derry's arm and examining it closely. "What did you feel?"

"Nothing. I didn't feel anything. It was like nothing was there."

Cally released Derry's arm and stared at the blackness, frowning. "That was creepy. Um...hold on a second."

Cally turned and raced back up the steps, only to return moments later with a length of slender branch, perhaps three feet long, with a small tuft of leaves at one end. He squeezed past Derry, and held the branch out before him. "Now let's see this again."

Cally pushed the tufted end of the branch at the doorway, and the darkness ate the branch without so much as a murmur of effort. Cally pushed the branch all the way in, almost to where his fingers gripped it, and then he slowly withdrew it again, until it was all out. They examined it then, and could see no change in the branch whatsoever.

"I could already tell you it didn't hurt anything." Derry said then. He held up his hand. "Everything still works."

"'Cept your head," Cally kidded, handing Derry the branch.

Derry sighed, took the branch and tossed it up out of the stairwell. "Now, what?"

"Now this," Cally answered, and before Derry could stop him, his friend was leaning his head into the blackness of the doorway. Cally's head disappeared, looking to have been severed cleanly from his neck. Derry grabbed his boyfriend and yanked him back, and Cally reemerged, looking none the worse for wear.

"I didn't feel a thing, Derry. Just like you said." Cally's eyes held wonder. "There's a kind of hallway inside, and it's light enough to see." His eyes fastened on Derry's. "I think we should go in."

The smallest trace of fear clutched at Derry, and now he realized he had been hoping that the strange cloak about the doorway of the mound would keep them from going within. The strangeness of that doorway was not lost on Derry. He didn't believe in magic - not really; but that some force was at work here that was neither plain nor easily understood was certain.

"Indians didn't make this," Derry said, sure of that fact now.

Cally compressed his lips, licked them and nodded. "No. I don't think so."

Derry nodded. "Okay. Here - take my hand. I'm going to step through the black. If I squeeze your hand, pull me out, and hurry up about it."

Cally looked stubborn. "Why should you go first? I have just as much right to be vaporized as you do."

Derry laughed, feeling some of the tension leave him. The feeling that that was not going to happen to either of them was strong. He could see just the smallest bit of worry in Cally's eyes, and he realized now that that worry was for him. Cally was worried that something might happen to Derry.

Derry leaned forward, quickly deposited a kiss on Cally's lips. "You're sweet, and I love you."

And then he turned and stepped through the doorway.

It was like stepping through any doorway. Almost. Suddenly he was in a hallway, that turned right from the door and followed the curve of the mound above around and out of sight. The light seemed to come from everywhere - the walls, the curving ceiling, and the floor beneath his feet. It was soft, totally lacking in the glare of electric lighting, but afforded enough light to see by. The hallway looked clean, the walls and floor smooth and unmarked by time - scarcely what one would expect to find inside a long-buried mound found in the forest. Even the air smelled fresh and clean, without the slightest hint of the mustiness that time could bring.

Derry turned and stuck his head back through the dark. Cally started, but then grinned at him. "You don't look dead."

Derry grinned. "I'm not. Let go of my hand for a minute, okay?"

"Why?"

Derry sighed. "I want to make sure I can still get back through the dark without any connection to the outside. We'd be in some real shit if we both came in and then couldn't get back out again."

Cally's eyebrows went up. Obviously, he hadn't thought of that possibility. "What if you can't get back out?"

Derry grinned. "Then you'll be out here to go for help."

He could see that Cally didn't like that idea. "I don't know, Derry. Maybe you'd better not."

Derry sighed. "Come on, man. If I don't come right back out, stick your hand through, I'll grab it, and you can pull me."

"Oh. Okay." He could see that Cally still was not reassured; but the other boy nodded and released his hand. "Go in, and come right back out again."

Derry nodded, and pulled back through the dark. He immediately leaned forward again, and was once again outside from the waist up. "We're cool. Come on in."

Cally grinned, and Derry stepped back as his friend moved forward. Briefly, they were separated by the odd blackness; but then Cally was coming through, looking quite like a magician walking through a wall.

Derry laughed as his friend moved to stand next to him. "That is just awesome, the way that works. It looked like you just stepped through a closed door.

Cally gave him a little shove, and then just as quickly pulled him closer. "I was a little worried about you."

Derry was touched. "I'm okay. I'm not leaving you. Promise."

Cally grinned. "Let's see where this hallway goes, huh?"

They followed the hallway around the curve, finding no doorways or other openings in either wall. There was a sound-deadening quality to the place that silenced their footfalls, even though their bare feet made little sound against the smooth floor. Even their whispered conversation sounded mute, as if the smooth walls contained no power to echo their words about. It was somehow eerier in Derry's mind than if their voices had reverberated, and again he felt that slightly cold feeling at the bottom of his heart. He half expected to see some ghostly form materialize around the curved hallway ahead.

But nothing like that happened. Derry was just estimating that they had circled halfway around the mound when the hallway before them suddenly ended up ahead. They looked at each other, somehow sure that this was not all there was to this place, and sure enough, as they neared the wall they became aware of an opening to their left. They drew up to it, and peered around the edge of the opening.

A large, circular room lay beyond, lit by the same soft luminescence that pervaded the hallway.

Over by the far wall stood three tall, elliptical frames, their lower halves rooted firmly in the floor. The center frame looked directly at them, while the frames to either side were slightly angled to conform to the curve of the wall. Each frame held within its bounds an area of total darkness, just like the one that had cloaked the doorway into the mound.

To either side of the outer frames, racks of shelves laden with all manner of things stood, as well as the quite familiar shapes of several chairs, and a table. It was totally at odds to what Derry had expected to find, which had varied in his mind from elves manufacturing shoes to alien visitors plotting the overthrow of the planet.

There was no one there, and no place to hide that he could see. The room was totally silent save for the sounds they themselves made, and as he looked about, the small fear that had been building inside Derry began to evaporate away.

They were alone.

"What the hell is this?" Cally asked, sounding disappointed. "It looks like the storeroom at my father's shop." Cally's dad owned the machine shop in town, and Derry had to smile at the comparison. The inside of the mound looked very much like the storeroom, with the notable exceptions of the frameworks filled with darkness.

"What about them?" Derry asked, pointing at the ellipses. "They can't be more doors."

Cally shrugged. "Why not? They look a lot like the one we came through to get here."

Derry shook his head. "They can't be doors. Where would they go? I mean, the wall behind those frames is the inner wall of the hallway we walked around. If you went through that wall, you'd just be back where we started."

Cally frowned. "Oh, yeah. I see what you mean."

He started across the room, and Derry followed him. They came to stand before the center framework, with the canted frames of the other two to each side of them.

"Heck, they're not even in the wall, Derry. Look."

But Derry could already see that his friend was right. The frameworks, which looked a part of the wall from the other side of the room, now could be seen to be standing about two feet away from the back wall. Derry moved to an end one and carefully looked behind it. The back looked exactly the same as the front, a great half-elliptical frame filled with blackness.

He went back to stand next to Cally. "They do look like doors, anyway."

Cally grinned, and stepped towards the center one, extending an arm in the process. "One way to find out."

Derry reacted without thinking. He lunged forward and grabbed his friend, and stopped him before he could stick his hand into the blackness.

"What'd you do that for?" Cally complained, looking irritated. "I was just gonna see --"

"I know what you were gonna do," Derry said, cutting him off. "Don't you think it's a little crazy, sticking your arm in before we test it?" He waved a hand at the three frames. "These aren't in some wall. These might be something totally different than the way we came in." He shook his head. "They don't go anywhere, Cally. What if it's something else here? Something dangerous?"

Cally compressed his lips, but then nodded. "Okay, that's smart. I guess we should test it first. " He grinned then. "Thanks."

Derry rolled his eyes and sighed. "You're gonna scare me to death, if nothing else."

Cally laughed, but looked sympathetic. He grabbed Derry's hand and pulled him back the way they had come. They trotted back around the outer hallway, out through the black door, and up the steps to the woods. There they gathered a few more branches, breaking them directly off of small trees so that the leaves would be fresh. Then they carried their load back down the steps, and around to the room with the three doors. That Derry was starting to think of them as doors was telling; he now thought that they were doors of some sort - just not doors like the one by which they had entered the mound.

Inside the circular room again, they laid the branches on the floor, and Cally grabbed one up from the pile and approached the left hand doorway with it. "Ready?"

Derry went to stand beside him, nodding. "Go ahead."

Cally grinned, and pushed the leafy end of the branch at the blackness within the frame. Once again, the branch disappeared within, plainly revealing that this was indeed another doorway of some sort. Cally pushed it in until his fingers were about six inches from the blackness, and held it there.

"Hold it like that for a minute," Derry suggested, unable not to grin. "Just remember to let go if something grabs it and pulls."

Cally's eyes widened, but he nodded. They stood silently for a minute, until Derry began to feel foolish. Clearly, nothing was going to happen. "I guess you can pull it back now."

But Cally didn't move. Instead, he turned to look at Derry, his eyes puzzled. "Something's happening. The branch feels...it feels cold." The puzzled look suddenly changed to one of alarm, and then Cally was stepping back, drawing the branch back to him. The end of it no sooner cleared the blackness within the doorway before Cally released it with a startled squeak, shook his hand, and clutched it to his breast. "Damn, that's cold!"

Derry stared at the branch where it now lay on the floor. The leafy end, green with life only moments before, was blackened, crisp, and covered with frost. Even as he watched, the crystals of ice turned to water and formed a pool underneath the end of the branch. Derry looked up at the doorway, full of blackness, and knew then that it was not a place they wanted to go.

Cally turned to him, looking distressed. "That could have been my arm, Derry. Thanks."

Derry just nodded. Cally had been about to put his arm through the center doorway, not the left one - but the results might have been the same. "We'll be more careful now, okay?"

"Fuckin' right, we will," Cally answered, nodding. Yet he swallowed, squeezed his fingers together one more time on the chilled hand, and then bent and drew up another branch. "We'll try the center one now."

This time, after the branch had been held through the darkness for a full minute, Cally was unreactive. He just shrugged when Derry looked at him. "Don't feel a thing."

"Okay. Bring it back."

Cally nodded, and slowly pulled the branch back to them. It reemerged, looking exactly as it had done before it had gone through. They examined it, touched it, could find no change in it at all.

"Okay, put that one on the floor and get a new one for the last door."

Cally nodded, exchanged the just-used branch for a fresh one.

The right-hand door proved to be just like the middle door. The branch returned looking unaffected.

But Derry was thinking now. "This is like the movies, Cally. We have something on the other side of these doors that we can't see or test, and that might be dangerous for us. The one door with the ice was enough for me. I don't think we should just stick a hand through this time."

Cally frowned. "The branches came back okay."

"Yeah, but that just means the temperature is pretty close on the other side. What if there's no air to breathe, or something even worse? We wouldn't know until we walked through."

Cally made a face. "Too late then, huh?" He frowned. "What we need is a way to see the other side first."

"We could stick a camera through, somehow." Derry nodded. "Yeah. That would let us see. But we still wouldn't know if the air was good."

Cally rolled his eyes. "This isn't Star Wars, Derry. You talk like it was an alien world on the other side."

Derry did not laugh. "Think about it, Cally. That door with the ice - whatever is on the other side of that blackness is so cold it froze that branch in a minute. The only place like that on Earth right now would be the south pole. So at the very least, it goes somewhere pretty far away. It doesn't have to be another planet. We could die at the south pole without even leaving Earth."

Cally looked at him askance. "For all we know that doorway leads to the dry ice freezer at MacDonough's Meats in town. It doesn't even have to be the south pole, Derry."

Derry finally allowed a smile. "You just made my point. We don't know where it goes."

The lighthearted look on Cally's face slowly went to a frown. "Okay, okay. I guess we need to see what's on the other side of these doors first."

"Okay, we'll work on that." Derry pulled his cell out and looked at the time. "We got all afternoon for this. I say we go back to my house for now and see what we can think up."

Cally nodded. "Okay. But first, let's see what's on all these shelves."

The walked around the room, examining the items on the shelves. Much of it consisted of closed gray cases large enough to store almost anything. The cases all seemed to be locked, and how to open those locks was not immediately evident.

There were also rows of things that looked strangely like canned and packaged foods, except the cans were not metal, the packages were hard and unyielding, and the labels were not readable.

"What language is that?" Cally asked in a hushed voice, obviously a little subdued by plain evidence that this wasn't just some secret government place that had been somehow forgotten about.

Derry shook his head, gazing at the odd symbols that marched across the face of the can. That they were an alphabet of some sort seemed clear. The symbols varied, and repeated in the sequences of words written there; but what language this was, and what the words meant, was impossible to know. Derry was no language expert, but he loved to read, and he had seen examples of other earthly alphabets. Nothing on the face of the can looked familiar.

Cally was quiet as he examined the cans. "Doesn't look like anything I've ever seen."

"No."

"What do you think it means?"

Derry shook his head. "I don't know." He looked around the room. "We'll just have to figure it out as we go along."

Cally put out a hand, laid it on Derry's arm. "Are we gonna tell anyone about this place?"

Derry bit at his lip, thinking. If he told mom and grandad, they might call someone. Derry just knew that something like this could not be kept a secret once it got out. And once it got out, the last people anyone would be letting inside the mound would be a pair of fifteen year-old boys, even if they had been the ones to find the place first.

"If we tell people, they'll keep us out of this place. We won't get to explore it."

Cally nodded. "I know. I was thinking the same thing."

That made it easier. "Well," Derry said, smiling now, "then we just keep quiet about it for the time being."

"Okay."

Derry grinned. "I was thinking something else this place would be good for."

He stepped over to Cally, put an arm around him and pulled him close. Cally came eagerly, a smile spreading across his face. "Yeah? What would that be?"

Derry kissed him, and dropped a hand down to explore his boyfriend below the waistline, to which Cally made appreciative noises. "Mmm. I could get into this. Only --" Cally turned his head suddenly and looked over at the black veils cloaking the three doors. "Only, what if you just can't see through the doors from this side? What if --" He suddenly grinned at Derry. "What if there's someone on the other side, watching us?"

Derry laughed. "Well, if he's behind the left door, he's a popsicle, so we don't have to worry about him." He shook his head. "I kinda feel like, if there had been anyone there behind the other doors, they'd have grabbed hold of one of those branches to let us know. Right?"

"Maybe," Cally admitted. His eyes held mischief now. "Maybe not. Maybe they're pervs, and they just want to watch without us knowing."

Derry smiled, closed his eyes, and leaned his cheek against Cally's. "Want to watch what?" he whispered.

Cally lowered a hand and began to mimic Derry's explorations. Derry sighed, loving every bit of the touch. "Oh. That."

They sank to the floor, and were soon lost in each other's embraces.


"My phone doesn't work," Derry said, after they had dressed again. He'd pulled it out to check the time, and to see if there had been any texts or calls while he was silent. But the signal strength meter clearly showed that he had no connection to the outside world.

Cally pulled out his phone and checked it, and frowned. "Mine's out, too. No bars at all." He looked up at Derry. "Because we're inside this place?"

Derry frowned. There were parts of his grandfather's land with poor reception, but he had never found a place with no reception at all. "Maybe." He glanced over at the doors full of blackness, and tossed his head at the exit hallway. "Let's go. We need to figure a way to see what's on the other side of those doors, anyway."

They followed the hallway back around and exited the mound. At the top of the steps, Cally paused. "Somebody covered this up once. Looks like a long time ago. They didn't want it found."

"Yeah. I thought about that, too. Do you think we should cover it again?"

Cally frowned. "Well, if we're gonna be coming and going, something with a ton of dirt on top of it would just be a pain. If we want to cover the steps, it has to be something easier to deal with."

Derry looked at the length of the stairwell, then around at the surrounding woods. "No one comes this way, ever, as far as I know. But...you never know. I think it should be covered, just in case." He grinned, a sudden idea forming in his mind. "I might have just the thing at the house. Let's go."

The made their way carefully back to the edge of the field. It wouldn't do to leave a path that others could easily follow, and even though Derry's grandfather no longer worked the land, he still had a tendency to walk around it and inspect things fairly regularly. He had just done that the other day, in fact. Derry had no idea if his grandfather came into this part of the woods or not, but they couldn't risk the mound being discovered - at least before they had a chance to explore it.

As they stepped into the field again, Derry pulled out his phone. The signal looked good now. "I guess the mound cuts out the connection somehow," he decided. "That kind of sucks, because I was thinking of an idea to see past the blackness of those doors." He considered that, then nodded to himself. "No, it'll still work."

Cally looked interested. "Yeah? What?"

Derry grinned at him. "You remember that dumb selfie wand my mom got me for Christmas?"

Cally laughed. "The one that pulls out in sections to make it longer? Yeah, I remember it."

It was a gimmick, really, made by some smart guy to capitalize on the selfie phenomenon. You clipped your phone into a holder at the end of the thing, then pulled it out - it telescoped into three sections - and then you could take selfies of yourself from several feet away. Selfies of yourself holding a selfie wand, that is.

Derry nodded. "I was thinking I could clip my phone in it, pull out the wand, and stick it through one of those black doors, and share the video on your phone through the cloud. But if we can't connect to each other, we can't do that." He smiled. "Just have to do it old fashioned, and record the video on the phone, then pull it out and rerun it."

Cally rolled his eyes. "Well, duh. I would have thought of that first, before sharing the video, anyway."

"That's cause you're low-tech at heart," Derry kidded.

Cally looked around the tall grasses, but they were quite alone in the vast field. He danced around, pushed his crotch against Derry's butt, and grabbed Derry's hips and banged their bodies together. "I'll low-tech you right in the butt, if you don't shut up."

Derry wiggled his cheeks suggestively against his boyfriend and laughed. "It's not your turn. But I'll keep it in mind for the next time it is."

Cally laughed, came back to Derry's side and put an arm around him. "You sure make me happy, Derry."

Derry sighed and put an arm around Cally and drew him close. "Get mad at me if I said I loved you?"

"I guess not," Cally returned, trying to frown, but unable to hide the smile underneath of it. "If you're into all that gay stuff."

Derry laughed. "Aren't we gay?" he whispered, leaning closer.

"You are. I'm just a guy in love with a gay guy."

Derry laughed again, and laid a fierce kiss onto Cally's cheek. "I'll take what I can get, I guess."

Cally grunted, but his arm tightened around Derry as they moved on.

They had the sense to separate long before they got within sight of Derry's house. Derry never knew when his grandfather would be out and about, or sitting out on the front porch. And Derry's mom, who sold real estate, could show up at any odd hour of the workday. Derry hadn't worked up the nerve to tell his mom about him and Cally yet. His feeling was that she would accept it, and they would go on.

His grandfather he wasn't so sure about. He was old - like sixty - although it was kind of hard to tell, the way he acted sometimes. He was a lot of fun, really, always cutting up and playing around with Derry. He was more like a friend than a grandfather, sometimes.

And Derry had always figured that coming out to his friends would be the hardest part of being gay. Derry had never heard his grandfather say anything specifically bad about gays, but he had never had any sense that the man was exactly in love with the idea of them, either. Derry did know that his granddad loved him; it was visible in the man's eyes when he spoke to Derry, and apparent in every action he took with regards to his grandson's life. Ever since Derry's dad had died when he was four, Derry's grandad had been there for Derry and his mom. It was a relationship that worked for all of them, and Derry was not of a mind to upset things if he didn't have to. Keeping his relationship with Cally a secret was something that rubbed against his natural inclination to include his mom and grandad in his life; but it was a secret he felt best kept in order not to upset the peace that they all lived by. For now, anyway.

The tall grass ended and they crossed a bit of garden still waiting its summer planting of beets and green onions, and moved onto the green lawn about the big old Victorian house that was the only home that Derry had really ever known. It perched atop a small hillock, surrounded by a spread of graceful old red oaks, resplendent in its fresh coat of white paint and scarlet trim. Grandad took good care of the place, no doubt, and Derry was more than a little proud to live in such a fine house.

Cally, who lived across the distant state road at the end of the long driveway, also lived in a big old house, and it, too was quite splendid. Both houses had once been the centers of working farms, and both houses seemed quite satisfied to spend their retirement years as homes to people that loved them. Both homes commanded large plots of land, and both homes had been in the same families for more than a hundred years.

They crossed the lawn and bounded up the steps to the screen door, went inside, and then bounded up the staircase to the second floor. Cally followed Derry as they went down the hallway and around to Derry's room. They'd no sooner gone inside when Derry heard is grandfather's voice calling up the stairwell.

"Derry? Was that you? Or a heard of elephants?"

Derry grinned at Cally, and went back into the hallway. "It's me and Cally, granddad. Sorry. Hope we didn't wake you up."

"Wake me?" the man's voice floated back, sounding surprised. "Who sleeps at this time of the day?"

Derry laughed at that. More then once, before school had let out for the summer, Derry had come home on the bus and found his granddad asleep in the wicker rocker on the front porch, or on the couch in the back den. Derry's granddad still got up with the sun - but he didn't always make it through the whole day without a little afternoon nap. If he got caught at it, he would snort and just say he'd been resting his eyes. But Derry had heard him snoring away more than once, and had never been fooled by the denials.

What the heck? Granddad had worked hard since he was not much older than Derry was now. The man had every right to take a nap in the afternoon if he felt like he needed one.

"Did you eat lunch?" granddad called again. "There's chicken for sandwiches in the refrigerator, if you guys are hungry."

"Okay, granddad. Thanks!"

Derry went back into the bedroom and pushed the door to, but didn't latch it. They weren't going to be there long enough for privacy to be an issue.

Derry went to his closet and dug out the selfie wand. Besides being a little gimmicky to use, the wand was a color that was suspiciously pink, and Derry had always suspected that the thing was meant to be used by some girl in taking pictures of her and her friends in their latest new clothing. Derry might be gay, but carrying around stuff that was pink was just a little too gay for his tastes.

But now the device might actually prove useful. Derry dug out his cell and clipped it into the holder at the end and tightened the clamp, plugged in the cable, and then turned the holder around on its swivel so that it faced away from the handle. Then he pulled the wand out to it's full three feet of extension, and pointed the lens at Cally. "What do ya think?"

Cally shrugged. "Looks to me like it will work fine. How much video will your phone record?"

Derry shrugged. "It'll be enough. I don't have a ton of apps or pictures on it. A couple of minutes is all we really need to see what's there. I have more than enough memory for that."

"Cool. Wanna grab one of those sandwiches your grandpap was talking about? On the way out, I mean?" Cally patted his stomach. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."

Derry laughed. "Me, either. We can do that...oh. Remind me we need to go to the barn before we head back to the mound."

"Okay."

Derry retrieved his cell and put it back in the pocket of his shorts, collapsed the selfie wand and tied the wrist loop at the end of its handle to his belt, and then motioned for Cally to follow him downstairs.

Derry's granddad was in the kitchen brewing coffee. He was a big man, with dark brown hair shot with gray, and a mustache that always seemed to be fighting with the rest of his face for dominance. He had pleasant blue eyes and a smile that said he meant every word of it when he showed it to you.

"Hey, fellas. What's up, Cally?"

"Not much, Mr. Hamlyn. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm good. How's your dad doing these days? And your mom?"

"They're good." Cally grinned. "I'll tell them you asked."

Derry's granddad nodded. "Okey dokey. So...what are you two up to? See you're both absorbing a lot of sun. That'll catch up with you by the time you're my age, if you aren't careful. Derry, are you using sunscreen?"

Derry rolled his eyes. "Granddad, you sound like mom. Do you want to sound like mom?"

His grandfather laughed. "Nope, not me. Forget I asked. Look like a prune when you're old, if you want. It's no skin off my teeth."

Cally smiled. "We're both wearing sunscreen, Mr. Hamlyn. Derry's just kidding you."

Derry opened the refrigerator and looked over the shelves. "You said there was chicken. I don't see any chicken."

His grandfather laughed. "In that big bowl on the top shelf that says 'chicken' on it."

"Oh. Well, why didn't you say?" But Derry was grinning. He and his granddad always played like this. He grabbed the big Tupperware bowl and carried it over to the counter.

"Be careful when you open that lid," his granddad said, straight-faced. "It's not dead yet, and that was that ornery hen with the big white flash on her breast."

Derry feigned horror. "You killed Winona? She was my favorite hen!"

"She was talking bad about you, Derry. It had to be done for the good of all of us."

Derry looked forlorn. "She owed me money, granddad. Now I'll never get it back."

Cally's eyes were wide, and going back and forth between Derry and his grandfather, and the expression on the boy's face made it obvious he didn't know if what he was hearing was serious or not. Derry and his granddad both looked at each other and started laughing.

Cally made a face, realizing he'd been had. "Aw, you guys suck. I was almost starting to believe you had a talking chicken."

They all laughed. Derry grabbed a loaf of bread from the pantry and a jar of mayonnaise from the fridge, and got to work making sandwiches. "You want one, granddad?"

"Nah. I had soup for lunch today. You know us old people. Chicken's hard on the teeth."

"You're not supposed to eat the bones is why, granddad. I keep telling you."

Derry's granddad gave himself a little smack on the forehead. "That's right. I'll remember next time, Fred."

"My name's Hank, granddad," Derry said. "You forgot again."

Cally finally waved his hands in the air. "Will you two cut it out! I'm starting to feel like I'm the crazy one here."

"Was there ever any doubt?" Derry's granddad asked, grinning. "I mean, you're the one that hangs out with Hank here."

Derry laughed, but nodded his head. "Okay, we'll cool it. We were just having fun with you, Cally."

Cally made a face, but couldn't hide his smile. "You guys are nuts."

Derry's granddad smiled. "Seriously now, what have you guys been up to today? Pretty out, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," Derry agreed. "Me and Cally have just been running around the fields more or less, enjoying the sunshine."

"Good day for it. Wish I could just run around and enjoy the day. I have to fix that fence over by the side of the house again. The red keeps running through it. That darn horse hates fences."

"I don't blame him one bit, granddad. You don't ride him enough anymore. He's probably just bored."

"Yeah, I know." Derry's grandad brightened. "Hey, there's an idea. I'll get the saddle on him and take him for a run to the river and back."

Derry grinned. "There you go."

The older man looked pleased with himself. "You guys going back out again?"

Derry nodded. "Just as soon as I get these sandwiches made."

"Lock the front door when you go," Derry's granddad said. "I'll be gone an hour or so. I doubt your mom will be back until dinner. She's showing that place out in Cooper again." He turned to go, heading for the back door. "There's some drinks in the fridge. Leave the beer - that's mine."

He went out, letting the back screen door slam behind him.

Cally looked at Derry. "You two are crazy."

Derry laughed. "We're just playing. My mom says that granddad is in his second childhood. He's just having fun. He's cool."

Cally nodded. "Yeah. My granddad just sits around and watches old movies on the TV. He's not as fun as your granddad."

Derry cast a fond look at the back screen door. "My granddad's a one-of-a-kind."

Over on the counter, the Mr. Coffee gave a little snort and started squirting brew into the pot below. Derry looked over at it and shook his head, smiling. "Well, it'll be there for him when he gets back."

Derry finished making the sandwiches, handed one to Cally, put everything away, and then dug out a couple of lemonades from the refrigerator. "Come on. Barn is next. Oh...wait a sec.""

Derry ran to the front door, locked it, and returned to the kitchen. They went out the back door, and Derry pulled the big door shut, but left it unlocked. As far as they were from the road, the idea that someone might come along and go in was just ridiculous. The nearest town was a drive, not a walk, and no one was coming out this way just for the drive.

They crossed the backyard just as Derry's grandfather came out of the stable riding the red, who looked full of fire and delighted to be going out. The older man waved, and then gave the animal a gentle squeeze with his legs and an encouraging whistle, and off they went.

Derry went around to the side of the barn and went in through the shop door. Cally eyeballed the place, even though he had been inside many times before. There was, it was said, at least one example of every tool every made in this shop, and Cally believed every word of it. He had been present when Derry's grandfather had crafted all sorts of cool stuff, from axles for their go-cart racer in sixth grade to frame parts for the neighbor's tractors. The man was a plain wizard with tools, and still made stuff out here for the house and the stables, and of course did all the work that kept their various vehicles running.

Derry passed through the shop without so much as a peek at the awesome stuff in it. He was used to it, and it was no big deal. He set his drink down, went on into the storage area, went up to a cabinet, opened the door and dug inside. A moment later he reemerged with what looked like a large rolled up tarp - except that it was camouflage-colored.

Cally gave a little laugh, coming closer. "Hey, isn't that your old tent?"

Derry nodded, grinning. "Yeah. I figured if we opened it up, it'll be long enough to cover that stairwell. We can stake it in place and throw some branches and stuff on top. Nobody's ever gonna get close enough to see what it is."

Cally reached out and fingered the material, smiling. "I remember all the times we slept out in this thing." The smile turned to a grin, and he leaned forward, lowering his voice. "You kissed me for the first time in this tent."

Derry sighed. "Actually, it was you that kissed me. But...yeah. We'll be careful with it. I don't want to tear it up."

Derry closed his mouth on his sandwich and let the thing hang there for second while he got the rolled up tent under one arm. Then he grabbed the sandwich, bit into it, and grinned. "Come on."

As they passed through the shop again, Derry retrieved his lemonade, and then they picked up a half dozen short wooden stakes from a mound of them in a bin, tucked them under what arm space was available, juggling sandwiches and drinks, and headed outside. They crossed the lawn again, and then the tall grass, which moved gently out of the way as they passed. The sun looked down, warm and summer golden, and unconcerned with the boy's plans.

No one had been near the mound, of that they were certain. They sat on the edge of the stairwell a moment and finished their sandwiches and drinks.

"We're not gonna cover the whole thing, are we?" Cally asked.

Derry shook his head. "Now that I see it again, I don't think the tent will be quite long enough. That's okay. If it's just mostly hidden, someone could walk right by and not see it."

The first thing they did was clean off the old wooden cover and break it up. It had been constructed of rough-hewn wood lengths and thick laths nailed across the supports, but was so rotten that it proved easy enough to break up. They laid the wood on the ground among some brush and covered it with leaves and dead branches, and then spread out the dirt that had been on top of the cover and spread leaves over that. One thing there was plenty of in the woods were dead leaves.

Then they laid out the tent and used a rock to stake one end down by the mound, and rolled the material along the sides, staking it midway, then at the other end, as far as it would go. There was a space about three feet long at the head of the stairwell left uncovered, but that was just enough room for them to duck underneath and get down the steps. After that, they walked back ten feet and looked at their handiwork.

"Shit, you can't see it now, and it's not even covered," Cally said, grinning.

Next they went around and found some branches and carried them back and laid them across the stairwell where it was covered by the tent, then found some low brush and added that, too, and finished with a liberal covering of dried leaves. They were careful to go off a ways to get the cover, so that no one's attention would be drawn to the fact that someone had scavenged stuff near the mound. In combination with what was already growing on both sides of the stairwell, the entry was now invisible even to someone walking by a few feet away.

"What about the rain?" Cally asked suddenly. He looked at Derry and stuck out his bottom lip. "That old cover couldn't have been water tight. I'm just realizing how clean those steps were, for having been hidden away like that for years. Kinda weird, huh?"

Derry had not though of that himself. That the entry to the mound was still so spotless after years of concealment did seem pretty odd, now that he thought of it. He shrugged. "Maybe elves come and vacuum it twice a week."

Cally rolled his eyes. "If we see elves on the other side of those doors, I'm going home and going right to bed."

Derry poked him, laughing, and headed back to the stairs. "Ready to see what's on the other side of those doors?"

"Yep. Lead on, McGruff."

Derry just sighed at that. They could apologize to Shakespeare later.

They ducked through the opening they'd left, and carefully picked their way down the stairs. It was much darker there now, with only scant light coming in through the opening they'd left at the head of the stairs. Derry couldn't even see the blackness that filled the doorway at the landing, and stepped right through it into the softly-lit hallway before he even realized he was there.

"Whoa. That's a little startling," Cally said, coming through right behind Derry and bumping into him.

"Makes it a little creepier, yeah," Derry agreed. He headed off around the hallway, and Cally fell in beside him.

Nothing had changed inside the center room with the three doors. It made Derry wonder how long the place had stood, just as it was. And who the visitor had been who had covered the stairway. Hidden it, in fact.

"Wonder who made that cover?" Derry mused, aloud. "It was pretty rotten, but that doesn't mean anything. Untreated wood doesn't last but so long outside."

"It was old wood," Cally pointed out. "I mean, unfinished. Like what our barn is made out of. And that's eighty years old."

"Could have been anybody, I guess. Though eighty years ago this was still our land - my granddad's father's land." Derry shook his head. "Whoever it was, they kept it a secret."

"Yep. I see why they did. If the government learned about this, they'd just move in and steal your land right away from you."

Derry nodded. He had a poor view of government, passed down from his granddad. "Thieves, liars, and more thieves," granddad often said. "Pick your pocket clean and then rob your house when you're not looking. And that's on a good day."

A lot of people in these parts held a similar view. Heck. A lot of people everywhere held a similar view.

"Whoever covered that stairway meant to hide the place for good. It wasn't just disguised, it was buried. That means they weren't trying to come back and visit."

Cally nodded. "In a way that's cool. They just left it for us to do the exploring."

Derry laughed, and his eyes went back to the three doors. What made them work?

"You think these doors use power?" he wondered, looking at Cally. "I mean, like some of those gateways in the movies?"

Cally shrugged. "I don't know. If they do, there must be something here that runs them."

Derry considered that. "Have to be something that runs a long time. Maybe like atomic power or something?" He grinned then. "Maybe zero-point energy. That would be way cooler."

Cally rolled his eyes. "Let's just see what's on the other side of the doors, okay, geekboy?"

Derry laughed, and stuck out his tongue. Sometimes Cally seemed as technologically intolerant as a caveman. Derry untied the selfie wand from his belt loop and fished his phone out of his pocket. He set the cell into the clamp on the end and tightened it in place, and connected the cable. "How about just one minute at first?"

"Sounds good to me. Want to do the center door first?"

Derry nodded. "Then the right one. I don't know about the left one. I don't want to trash my phone."

Cally frowned. "I'll bet a couple of seconds wouldn't hurt it."

"Maybe. Maybe we can use your phone for that door."

Cally laughed, and held up his hands. "Let's just do it."

Derry pulled the wand out to its longest length, then set the phone to start recording, and walked to the center door and slowly pushed the wand through. Cally pulled out his own phone and watched the seconds tick by on the clock, while Derry just stared at the point where the wand disappeared into the blackness.

His cell was now on the other side.

Derry moved the wand slowly from side to side, so as to get a good view of what was on the other side. Then he moved it up and down. Then he looked over at Cally.

A minute seems like a long time, when you're actually waiting on it. Derry kept letting his eyes slide over to Cally, thinking surely that one minute finally had gone by. But his friend just stood there, watching the screen on his own phone.

Derry was about to say something when Cally looked up at him. "Five seconds. Four...three...two...one. Okay."

Derry backed up slowly, watching as the wand emerged. He halfway expected the phone to be toast, or just gone - but it emerged from the blackness looking just like it always had.

The boys moved away from the three doors, over to where two of the chairs stood, and sat down next to each other. Derry laid a finger quickly against the phone's case, but it felt neither cold nor hot - room temperature, just like where they were. He stopped the recording and saved the file, then looked over at his friend. "Ready?"

Cally nodded, and they hunched together so that they could both see the screen. Derry started the file, and an image of the camera facing the blackness of the doorway appeared on the screen, then began to move forward.

The phone pierced the blackness, and then they were looking at another room. It was different from the one they were in. It was larger, for one thing, with a high ceiling and walls that were gray. Across from them there was another row of black-cloaked doors, five in a row. Actually, several rows of doors, he could see, as the camera panned slowly to the left. The camera reached the end of its arc at yet another row of doors, and then began to move back the other way. All the doors they could see were filled with blackness. And when the phone moved the the other way, to the right, more rows of five doors appeared, and finally a hallway, which pierced the wall of the room and ambled off into the distance.

"That looks like it goes someplace," Cally said immediately.

Derry smiled at that, but didn't comment. He watched next as the phone turned its eye at the ceiling - one at least twice as high as the one there in the mound - and then came back down to examine the polished floor. And then the phone pulled back, and the door on this side came back into view.

Derry took a deep breath. Beyond this door, were many more doors. What were they? Where did they go?

"This is some kind of transportation system," Cally said, shaking his head. "Who knows where all those other doors go?"

Derry gave a little surprised laugh. Just when he thought that Cally wasn't on the same page with him, there he was, in capital letters. Derry leaned over and put an arm around his boyfriend's shoulders, and pressed his face against Cally's cheek. "I'm so glad you're with me on this."

He felt Cally nod, and then the other boy's arm encircle him. "I know. It'd really be scary to do this alone, wouldn't it?"

Derry pulled back and looked at him. "Do what?"

Cally stared at him, and licked his lips. "We're going, aren't we? To take a look?"

There was a trace of fear in Cally's eyes, but much more wonder. And excitement.

Derry nodded, a smile spreading across his face. "Yeah. We're going. But we can't just go through now. We need to set something up where we can be gone for a day. Like an overnight camp out. We've done that enough times before that no one will think anything of it. Okay?"

Cally nodded. "That's a good idea. How about tonight?"

"How about tomorrow night? We need time to think about this and be ready."

Cally nodded again, more slowly, his impatience showing now. "Okay." He grinned. "Now let's look at that other door."

They repeated the process with the cell phone on the right-hand door. Derry pushed the phone through, moved it slowly side to side, than slowly up and down. Cally timed it at a minute, and then they withdrew the phone.

They went back to the chairs again and huddled together to look at the screen. The file started, the black door approached, and then the camera was through.

It was another room. The far wall was much closer this time, and the room seemed barren. There were no other doors visible. In fact, there seemed to be nothing there at all but an empty room...wait.

As the camera moved slowly to the right, something came into view. At first glance it appeared to be a giant TV screen, but then with a start Derry realized it was a window. A large window.

Framed within, beyond the glass, an amber-hued late-evening sky hung behind towers of stone. The towers seemed natural, but they also seemed to be full of holes, from which flowed forth the steady yellow light of fires or lanterns. All about the towers fluttered birds. Or...were they birds? The wingspan of the creatures seemed enormous, and as they darted about the darkening sky, Derry was certain he could see the unmistakeable forms of legs hanging beneath the long bodies. But not the legs of birds. These looked rather like the legs of men.

Derry paused the image, and he and Cally stared at it.

"Are those people?" Cally whispered. "People with...wings?"

Derry shook his head. "I don't know. It's too dark to really see. But...it looks like...maybe."

They started the file again, watched as the camera panned left. A great door set into the stone wall came into view, but this one looked to be of stout wood braced with iron, through which the heads of rivets seemed to show. The camera then looked up at the low ceiling, then the rough stone floor, and then slowly pulled out and was back with them in the mound.

Derry and Cally both sat in silence for a moment after the file was done.

"That's not on Earth," Cally finally said.

Derry could only nod. "No. I think you're right."

Cally shook his head. "That room seems safe enough. Empty. I don't know if I'd want to go through that big iron door, though."

"No. I think we should try the middle door first. Then think about the door with the stone towers. And the...the birds."

Cally suddenly jumped to his feet, grinning. "Do you know what we have, Derry? A way to go to another world!"

Derry nodded. "So it would seem."

Cally's face fell. "Well, you don't seem very excited about it."

Derry stood up, and put his hands on Cally's waist. "I am. I am excited, Cally. But...I'm also a little scared. What we're thinking about doing is dangerous. All kinds of shit could happen." He leaned forward and looked into his boyfriend's eyes. "If we go...we might not get back."

Cally licked his lips. "I don't want that to happen."

"No. Me, either. So we have to think about this and be very, very careful. Okay?"

Cally watched him a moment, and then a small smile crept onto his face. "We're still going to look?"

Derry rubbed at his nose, but nodded. "Yeah. You want to, don't you?"

"Sure. Um, if you do."

Derry suddenly laughed. "I love you."

Cally frowned, but then nodded. "Yeah. I love you, too, Derry. So we'll be super careful, okay?"

Derry sighed and looked over at the last door. "I would like to know what's on the other side of that one."

Cally offered his cell phone. "Wanna use mine?"

Derry smiled. "Nah. Mine's already ready to go. I'll just stick it in and pull it out real fast."

They approached the left door, and Derry started his phone recording. "Five seconds. Probably ruin it, but maybe not."

He sighed out a here goes nothin'! and pushed the cell phone through, and moved it quickly back and forth, up and down. "One...two...three...four...five."

Derry drew the phone back quickly, fearing what he might see. But the phone was still there, and still working. Daintily, he slid his fingers up the wand, until he was sure he was touching a part that had gone through. It was cool to the touch - cooler than it had any right to be - but not so cold that it was uncomfortable. Apparently, whatever was on the other side needed more than five seconds to do its dirty work.

They returned to the chairs and sat, and Derry restarted the file.

This time, when the cell pierced the dark veil, what was there was impossible to see. Derry had moved the camera so quickly that everything seemed a blur. The five seconds of footage was over so fast that they could not tell what they were looking at.

"I'll have to do it again, but not move the camera."

So they went back to the door, and repeated the process. This time they left the phone through for ten seconds, seeing as it had survived the first attempt with nothing but a brief chill. This time, Derry held the wand steady, and then withdrew it as Cally called time.

They peered at the small screen as the file ran. Spread out before the lens was a large room. But whatever was in it was hidden by a layer of cold, blue snow, offering only the odd mound here and there to even indicate that things were buried there.

The far wall was a giant piece of glass, or something similar to it. Right in the center of the glass was a huge impact star, from which cracks spread outward in every direction. The center of the star was a hole, which apparently went all the way through. Beyond the glass was a dark landscape, also covered in snow, with the jagged forms of rocks sticking up here and there, and what looked like a ridge of mountains way off to the left. The pale blue sky swirled with more snow, except for one spot, where a smear of blackness showed through, and a tiny, brilliant dot that could only be a far distant sun.

Derry let the file run and end, and then looked at Cally. "If we had just stepped through, we'd probably have been hurt really badly. And if we hadn't been able to step right back, we'd be dead."

Cally frowned. "That's really stupid."

Derry blinked. "You don't think that place could kill us?"

"No. I mean it could kill us. So why is that door open to a place that is so dangerous? You'd think anybody that could make technology like this would childproof it, right?"

Derry grinned. "You have a point. But we've just seen that that door is open."

"Is it?" Cally said, getting to his feet. He walked over to the left-hand door and examined it. Derry followed quickly, aware of his friend's tendency to sometimes act before thinking things through.

"What are you doing, Cally?"

"Trying something." Cally extended his index finger like he was pointing at something, and moved it towards the field of darkness in the door.

Derry immediately reached out and grabbed his friend's arm. "Are you nuts? That place will freeze your hand right off!"

Cally shook his head willfully. "I'm not sticking my hand through. Just the tip of this finger, and just for a single second." He looked over at Derry. "What can happen? I'll get frostbite on my fingertip. Now take your hand off."

Derry went to stand behind Cally and put his arms around his waist. "Something happens and I'm pulling you right back."

"Okay. Now be quiet a minute."

Derry watched over Cally's shoulder as the fingertip went right up to the darkness...and then stopped.

"What are you doing?" Derry whispered, after a moment.

Cally pulled his finger back, pushed it forward with more speed. It reached the darkness, and simply stopped.

"It won't go through," Cally said.

Derry released his boyfriend and moved to stand next to him. "It won't?"

Cally splayed his fingers and attempted to push his whole hand through the blackness; but it reached the surface and was stopped cold.

Derry reached out a hand and touched the darkness. It felt solid, just like a wall. He formed a fist and rapped on it, feeling its solidity, though the action generated no sound of impact.

"Oh, shit." Derry breathed. "That's really weird."

Cally blew a sigh through his nose. "No, that's really great! Don't you get what that means? It means we can't accidentally go through a door that will hurt us. There is some kind of protection there."

Derry stepped forward, laid both hands flat on the darkness, and pushed hard.

It was like pushing against a concrete wall.

Derry looked at Cally. "It means that gear will go through, but living stuff can't. Look, but don't touch."

"The branch went through. Remember?"

Derry frowned at that blow to his theory. "Oh, yeah. Well...it must know the difference between people and a tree branch."

Cally nodded. "Yeah. That's cool, isn't it?"

"Maybe. But what if the other doors are the same way? That means we won't be going anywhere, Cally."

Disappointment flashed across Cally's face, and he backed up a step and looked at the center door. "One way to find out."

Before Derry could stop him, Cally whirled his hand through an arc aimed squarely at the center door. The hand reached the darkness, passed through, and came right back out again on the other leg of the arc.

Cally grinned. "I guess that door is safe."

Derry clenched his teeth, but just nodded.

Cally came closer, stuck his face near Derry's. "Stop worrying about me. I'll be okay."

Derry looked into his boyfriend's eyes, saw only excitement and happiness there. His irritation at Cally's reckless act slowly faded, and he leaned forward and kissed the other boy.

"Sleep over at my house tonight?" Derry asked. "We'll make plans. I'll tell my mom and granddad that you and me are sleeping out under the stars tomorrow night."

Cally nodded. "Yeah, I'll sleep over. That'll be cool."

Derry nodded, unclamped his phone from the selfie wand and returned it to his pocket. Then he collapsed the wand and tied the wrist loop to his belt.

"Come on. We should be getting back. You can eat dinner at my place, too."

Cally looked delighted. "I'm gonna sleep in your bed with you tonight," he whispered, his eyes alight.

"We've done it before," Derry said, squinting.

Cally grinned. "But tonight is your turn."

Derry's eyebrows went up. "Oh, yeah." He smiled. "Cool."

They started back for the exit hallway, and there Cally stopped. He turned and looked back at the three doors. "I just thought of something."

Derry smiled. "There's something new."

Cally grinned at him and gave him a little push. "Keep it up, geekboy. I'll squeeze your peter off tonight if you don't shut up." He turned and flexed the big muscles in his buttocks just to show he meant business.

Derry laughed. "Ooh, I'll bet that feels good!"

Cally gave him a little pout, and Derry stepped forward and touched his arm. "What did you think of?"

Cally turned back to look at the darkened doorways. "That tomorrow night, we really will be out under the stars."

Derry smiled, and nodded slowly. "Maybe. Maybe you're right. Let's go."

He put his arm around Cally's shoulders, and they left the room together.


"Have some more roast beef, Cal," granddad said, waving a hand at the platter in the center of the table. "Don't be bashful. Eat up."

Derry's mom smiled at him, too. "There's plenty, honey. Help yourself."

Cally grinned around a mouthful of Lima beans. "Thanks. I'm starting to get stuffed."

Derry nodded. "Good dinner, granddad. The roast beef was really tender."

Derry's mom usually cooked the evening meal, but when she was going to be late showing a property, granddad filled in very nicely. There didn't seem to be a lot that the man couldn't do, if he put his mind to it.

"It was cheap, too. Got a four pound chuck roast for ten bucks. That's pretty good, considering the way prices on meat have been lately."

Derry's mom nodded, her eyes bright. "You're a better shopper than I am, dad. Maybe you should do the shopping all the time."

Granddad rolled his eyes. "You're not getting me that easy, little miss. They're are some crazy old people in that market. They all have glasses on that are at least an inch thick, and they don't pay attention to anything or anyone. I was nearly run down by a weaving widower blindly pushing a cart, more than once."

Everyone laughed. Granddad was known for his no-love-lost policy when it came to shopping. He did it to help out, and because he wanted to eat like the rest of them. But he didn't much like it.

"You guys are sleeping in tonight?" Derry's mom asked, knowing when to change the subject. "Or outside?"

"We'll be in my room tonight," Derry returned. "We thought we'd camp out tomorrow night, but haven't decided where yet."

"There's that good spot down by the river," granddad said. "Nice stone ledge you can build a fire on. "

Derry shrugged. "Mosquitoes are murder down by the river this time of year, granddad. We'll figure a spot."

"Oh. I didn't think of that. Well, just be careful where you build a fire, okay? It's been more than a week since we've had any rain, and I've noticed that things are getting pretty dry."

"We'll be careful, Mr. Hamlyn," Cally promised.

Granddad nodded. "Way this summer is going, it'll be fall before you know it. I just can't figure out when these years started going by so fast."

Derry's mom laughed. "I've been noticing that, too, lately. I hope it's not a sign I'm getting old."

Granddad made a slightly rude noise. "I've got shoes in my closet that are older than you, honey. You're not even forty yet. Wait until you hit sixty. That's when the party starts."

Derry's mom tsked. "Oh, dad, you're in really good shape. There's nothing wrong with you, and you can outwork all these young guys any day of the week."

Grandad grinned at that. "I can hold my own, I guess."

Derry smiled. "You've had a really good life so far, haven't you, granddad?"

The man smiled in return. "Well...yes. I have some very special people in it, and that helps a lot."

Derry understood that he was included in that assessment, and grinned. "You've done a lot of things in your life, granddad. I just hope my life will be as interesting and fun as yours."

Granddad smiled at that, and sighed. "My life has been good." He seemed to consider that, and nodded. "When I was your age, Derry, my dad used to say that life is like a hallway lined with doors. Some doors lead forward in life, some lead back. Sometimes, you don't know which door you're opening when you grab hold of the knob."

Derry and Cally looked at each other, both thinking about the strange doorways hidden inside the mound. Derry nodded, turning his gaze back to his granddad. "That's pretty smart. I can see how that would be, too. Some doors, you never know where they will take you."

Granddad gave a little sigh. "I remember thinking as a boy that it would be a lot easier in life if each of those doors had a sign by it, that let you know what you were in for if you opened it." He shook his head. "Life isn't like that, though. There's risk in every door you chance to open."

It was an unsettling conversation now, and Derry wanted to move away from it. "Maybe it's better, not knowing."

Granddad gave a little shrug. "Derry, most of the time you don't know, and that's where all the surprises in life come from. But sometimes...sometimes there is just something about a door...some strange sense you get, where you know that if you open it, magic things might happen. Some doors, you just know that if you go through them, they will advance your life in leaps and bounds." He smiled. "Move you forward. It's that odd, onward door that can change your life. Knowing that door when you see it - that's the trick."

Derry looked at Cally again. The other boy looked a little pensive; but then he grinned. "Sounds like an adventure to me, Mr. Hamlyn."

Granddad smiled. "That's a good way to look at it, Cal. An adventure. Not enough of that particular animal in most people's lives." He made another almost rude noise, his eyes moving sideways to take in Derry's mom. "Won't find any adventure down at the supermarket, I can tell you that. Just maniac old ladies running carts into you."

Derry's mom sighed. "I get the message. I'll do the shopping next week, I promise."

"You sell the Istwhistle place yet?" Derry asked, glad to change the subject away from doors.

His mom huffed. "I waited all afternoon for that yo yo who made the appointment to show up, and he called at five o'clock and said something had come up and he was still in Booneville, and could he reschedule? So the answer to that is no, I have not sold the Istwhistle place yet. And I'm not going to sell it, as long as the potential buyers are all idiots."

Granddad shook his head. "That's not fair, honey. Maybe the guy is just busy."

Derry's mom's eyebrows went up. "Excuse me! His appointment was for two, and I asked him to let me know by three if he couldn't make it. He waited until five to let me know. That's just wasting my time, dad..."

Derry grinned at Cally, and then at his mom. "Can we be excused?"

His mom was about to say more, but her eyes bounced over to briefly smile at Derry. "Sure. Take your dishes to the kitchen, okay? I think someone left some ice cream sandwiches in the freezer, too."

"Thanks, mom. Thanks for the great dinner, granddad."

"Yeah. It was delicious. Thanks," Cally put in.

"All part of the service, fellas." Granddad's eyes went back to his daughter's. "Honey, sometimes people have lives, you know, and..."

Derry got up, grabbing his plate and glass, and motioned for Cally to follow.

They rinsed their tableware and stuck them in the dishwasher, then went to the freezer to investigate the matter of ice cream sandwiches. To their delight, there was a whole box of them, and Derry handed one to Cally and then took one for himself.

"That was a magic door, huh?" Cally kidded, grinning, indicating the freezer door as Derry pushed it closed.

"Don't you start," Derry said softly. "That conversation with granddad creeped me out enough."

"Why? He wasn't talking about our doors."

"I know. It just...it was just weird."

They headed upstairs and down the hall to Derry's room, and shut the door. Derry kicked back on the bed and Cally sat in Derry's rocker as they ate their ice cream. "You think what we're planning is stupid?" Derry suddenly asked.

Cally paused in mid lick. "No. I think it's cool. Who wouldn't check out something like this?" He shook his head. "Derry this kind of stuff only happens once. If we don't try it out now, we never will."

Derry considered that, and realized it was true. If they continued to look for reasons to put off going, they would eventually find one that was good enough to accomplish just that result.

"I wonder where that place is - the one with the stone towers and the bird guys flying around?"

Cally shook his head. "Even if we go and see, we'll probably never know where in the sky we've been."

Derry looked over at his boyfriend. "You think we'll be going to another planet?"

"I don't think there's any place like that on Earth," Cally said.

Derry nodded. "I keep thinking about that cover over the steps into the mound. Someone put that there a long time ago to hide that place. That means someone else knows about it."

"They're probably dead, Derry. That wood was old."

Derry nodded. "Maybe. Yeah, probably."

They finished their ice cream, and Cally got up from the rocker and went and locked the bedroom door. He kicked his shoes off, and came back to the bed and carefully laid down on top of Derry. Cally hugged him mightily, and pushed his face into Derry's cheek and kissed him. "I love you," he said softly. "I wouldn't dream of going off to the stars with anybody else."

Derry laughed at that, but wrapped the other boy in his arms and hugged him tightly. "Me, either. I'm just a little scared, is all."

Cally pulled back and looked at Derry. "Well, shit, so am I. That's what's so cool. It wouldn't be fun if it was like walking down to the river for a swim."

"I think swimming in the river is a blast," Derry returned.

"You know what I mean. If it was that simple, it wouldn't be so exciting."

"Yeah. I know." Derry nodded. "We have to plan this carefully. We'll take our packs and our sleeping bags, and anything we think we can use. Let's think about it first, okay?"

"Okay, geekboy. I can't wait to see what you think is important to take planet-hopping. It's not like anyone has ever done it before."

Derry shook his head. "Someone has done it, Cally. The people that built the doors have done it."

"Yeah, but it was probably like taking a bus to them. It wasn't exploration, Derry. They knew where they were going."

"Well, it is exploration for us. So we need to take everything we can think of."

Cally laughed softly. "I can just see the faces of those bird guys now, when we come through, so heavily loaded with shit that we fall right on our faces on their side of the door."

Derry rolled his eyes, but immediately realized that Cally had a point. If they were burdened by too much stuff, it would limit their movement. And they might need to move very quickly, too.

"Okay. Just what will fit in our packs. We'll leave our sleeping bags in the mound."

"Why take them at all?" Cally asked. "That's just extra shit we have to carry."

"We're supposed to be sleeping out, right? If we don't take bags, it will look a little suspicious."

"Oh...yeah, right."

Derry suddenly pushed his head forward and grabbed Cally's earlobe between his lips, and ran his tongue along the backside. Cally grinned and squeezed his eyes shut. "That tickles!" he whispered.

"You want me to stop?"

"No."

Derry smiled. He'd thought not. He played with Cally's earlobe a while, and then carefully kissed every inch of the other boy's face. Cally smiled the whole time - when he wasn't kissing Derry back.

Derry got up and put a movie in, and turned down the lights. They laid together in the bed and kind of watched Jurassic Park, and kind of held each other, and kind of touched each other quite a lot.

Along about ten, granddad went by the door and called goodnight, followed a few moments later by Derry's mom. They could surely hear the movie - Derry had left it just loud enough to be heard in the hall with the door shut. Derry knew that neither of them would think of opening the door. Derry was old enough now for some privacy, and he got it, no strings attached.

He aimed the remote at the TV and turned the volume down now that granddad and mom had gone to their rooms, and he and Cally undressed each other and made love. The window in the back wall let in the moonlight, and the same window brought the faint sounds of the night to their ears. They were peaceful sounds, and the perfect companions for what Derry and Cally were doing together, exploring the beauty of each other's bodies. Derry could hardly get enough of that these days - the wonder of touching another person like that.

The wonder of being in love with someone.

It was late when they finished, and the boys crawled under a light sheet and tangled themselves together, and whispered about doorways and stars and the deep reaches of space, until their eyes grew heavy, and they both fell asleep.


"How do I look?" Derry asked, putting his hands on his hips and grinning mightily.

"Like Captain Geekazoid about to take on the Turdatrons," Cally said, laughing.

Derry laughed, too, and peeled off the goggles and dropped them back on the tool bench. "Can't see a real reason to take them, anyway."

They were in the shop, looking over the tools and stuff. There was simply so much there that it was difficult not to see a use for everything. So far, they'd picked out a small Buck knife in a sheath for each of them, a powerful LED flashlight for each of them, a scratch awl, a pair of diagonal side cutters, a screwdriver, a small hammer, a measuring tape, a small keyhole saw, a spool of strong twine, and a shiny metal hand mirror. These items were divided and went into their small backpacks along with a lightweight thermal blanket each, a canteen of water, waterproof containers of camp matches, a compass each, and a small first aid kit taken from its mount on the shop wall. And of course Derry put the selfie wand in his pack, in case they needed to see what was on the other side of more doorways.

Derry also found a small can of white spray paint, and tossed it into his pack, with the half-formed idea that they might need a way to mark their trail back.

"I think that's enough," he finally said, hefting his pack. It wasn't too heavy or cumbersome, and he didn't wish to make it so. He shrugged. "I still feel like I can run if I have to."

Cally's eyebrows raised at that. "You think we'll have to?"

"No. Let's just say I don't expect it, but I sure as hell want to be able to do it if I have to."

Cally nodded. "Makes sense, oh wise one."

Derry laughed, and gave his friend a fond pat on the arm. "My mom made us some sandwiches. We'll take them along."

"How we gonna do that? Don't they have to be kept cool?"

"Yeah. They're in a little cooler. We'll eat right before we try a door, and leave the cooler in the mound with the sleeping bags."

The exited the barn into the early afternoon sun. Granddad was over on the side lawn on the little tractor, mowing. He looked up and saw them, and waved. The boys waved back.

"I like your granddad," Cally said. "He doesn't really seem like an old guy."

Derry grinned at that. "Well, most of the time he doesn't. Sometimes he does."

Cally laughed. "Shit. My granddad acts like just walking around is something that has to be planned first. Your granddad does all sorts of stuff."

"Well, I guess. But your granddad is seventy. Mine is just sixty. Ten years is a lot when you're old."

"Ten years is a lot when you're young, too," Cally pointed out. "That's the difference between our ages and some five year old drooler."

Derry laughed. "Five year-olds don't drool."

"You never met my cousin Sarah."

Derry sighed patiently. "My mom says that ten years isn't that much when you're middle-aged. She said that between twenty-five and forth-five people are a lot alike. So I guess it's just when you're young and old that a few years make a difference."

Cally leaned closer. "I'd rather be young than old."

"No shit, Sherlock." But Derry grinned. "Being older is pretty cool, too, from what I've seen. You and me both will get there someday."

"Yeah. But not until we're old."

Derry rolled his eyes, but didn't say any more as they trudged back to the house.

They'd left their sleeping bags on the kitchen table, next to the small cooler holding their sandwiches. Derry's mom was off trying to show another house, but had kissed him before she had left that morning and told him to have a good time. Both she and granddad knew that they would be camping out all night and would not be back until the next day. They'd sort of promised not to leave the property, but as granddad had almost nine hundred acres, that was saying something. But it made the adults happy. Derry and Cally had done this many times, and now it was routine.

They ate some chips in the kitchen and drank some lemonade before setting out. They'd already had lunch but felt it couldn't hurt to eat a little more.

Then they donned their packs and grabbed their sleeping bags, and Derry picked up the small cooler. It would be too much to carry if they were going exploring, but they would be leaving the bags and the cooler inside the mound. Derry felt a small flutter in his stomach at the idea that they were finally on their way.

They circled around the house and waved at granddad again to indicate that they were leaving. He grinned at them and gave them the thumbs up, and Derry had just the smallest suspicion that granddad wished he was going camping with them. In truth, had they really been going to camp out, it would have been fun to have the man along, and Derry decided right there that he would ask his granddad if he wanted to go with them the next time they really planned to sleep out under the stars.

They crossed the lawn and entered the field of Indiangrass, and headed out across the valley. It was another warm day, and the breeze once again moved the grass in waves that seemed to give it life beyond that of just a field of plants stuck in the ground. The field looked restless, like the ocean looked restless, and Derry could almost imagine a giant shark popping up before them, looking for lunch.

The house was long out of sight when they reached the edge of the woods, and found the way in that led to the mound. They were careful not to kick up the ground or undergrowth and so leave a trail, and when they got to the overturned rock Derry carefully rolled it back into its hole and gently packed the earth back around it.

The tent cover over the stairwell was undisturbed, and they ducked beneath it and made their way carefully down the dim steps, until they once again popped through the blacked out doorway into the softly lit hall beyond.

Derry stopped then, and turned to look back at the entry.

"What's the matter?" Cally asked, turning to look, too.

"I just had a thought," Derry said, looking at his boyfriend. "I wonder if we're really inside the mound."

Cally squinted at him. "Of course we are. Where the heck else would we be?"

Derry licked his lips. "Well, I agree we're inside something that's round like the mound, and it probably is a mound. I just wonder...I wonder if it's the same mound that's there in the woods?"

Cally understood then that Derry was serious. He looked around the hallway a moment, then back at Derry. "I don't get you."

Derry scratched his head. "The door we just came through looks just like the three doors inside. But they all go to other places. They're like gates...um, star gates." Derry pointed at the doorway they had just come through. "How do we know that isn't one, too?"

Cally's eyes widened. "Oh, I see." He looked around the hallway again. "You're saying we might not be under the mound in the woods, but somewhere else."

"Yeah. We come in through that doorway, and we're here. But...where's here?"

Cally shook his head. "I don't know, Derry. We saw the mound from outside." He waved a hand at the walls of the hallway. "See, it's round in here, just like the mound."

Derry nodded. "Maybe. Maybe I'm just thinking too much. Maybe the black over the entry here is just to keep the bugs out." He sighed. "I was just wondering."

But they were silent as they moved on down the hallway.

The center room looked just as they left it. A quick test showed the left-hand door still closed to them. That was a relief, as they took that to mean that they would not be allowed to go through a door to any place that might instantly suck the life out of them. But Derry wasn't about to stake his life on any of it, and once again spoke up for caution in their experiments.

Cally nodded, grinning. "We'll be careful. I won't let you do anything stupid."

Derry laughed. "Gee, thanks."

They sat and ate a sandwich each, and looked at the doors and decided which one to try first. Derry wanted to examine the place with the other doors, while Cally wanted to go straight to the place of the birdmen. But it didn't take much to change his mind, once Derry pointed out that there might be doors to even more fascinating places to be found elsewhere.

Derry tossed his sleeping bag on the table by the chairs and Cally followed suit with his own. The cooler Derry left by his bag. They would surely be hungry when they got back from a few hours of adventuring. Derry took a last look at the shelves of what he now thought of as supplies, arranged about the mound's center room. "I sure wish I knew what these were for," he said, picking up one of the can-like containers and examining the odd printing on its face.

"It could be a can of dog food, for all we know," Cally said, shrugging. "We'll never know, unless we somehow learn to read that writing."

"Or open the can," Derry returned, spying a small indentation on the lid he had not noticed before. It looked just right to push a thumb into.

He took the can back to the table and set it there, and pushed his thumb into the depression. The can made a small noise, the lid popped up, and steam rolled out of the inside. A hot and spicy aroma immediately filled the room - something between a sirloin steak and a Mexican fajita.

"Whoa," Cally said, coming closer to peer at the can. "That actually smells good."

Derry nodded. It did smell quite good. The inside of the can contained what looked like a stew, though what might be vegetables and meat were not quite like anything he had ever seen before.

"Food supplies," he decided, looking back at the shelved cans. "Lunch for weary travelers."

"Must have been free," Cally offered, "because there doesn't seem to be any way to pay for the stuff."

Derry nodded, and went back to the shelves and retrieved another can.

"Come on, Derry," Cally said then. "You're not going to play with that stuff now, are ya? Let's get this show on the road!"

Derry nodded, instead placing the new can into his back pack. It wouldn't add much weight, and might prove itself useful.

"I was thinking we could show this to anyone we might meet," he said, sliding his arms into the pack's straps. "Maybe we'll meet someone that can read it. It might just show them we came from someplace familiar." He centered the pack between his shoulder blades, pulled the front straps together, and fastened the buckle that linked them together.

They checked each other's packs a last time, then went and stood before the center gate.

"Maybe we should look first," Derry said suddenly. "What if someone's there this time?"

Cally sighed. "Come on, Derry, stop stalling. Let's just go, okay? The people that made these doors are probably all dead now."

Derry nodded, holding up a hand. "Okay, okay. But just step through and stop, right? And be prepared to jump back if anything happens."

"I will, okay? Now let's just go!"

They joined hands, and stepped through the doorway together.

It was just like entering the mound. One moment they were before the door, and the next they were in a large room, with rows of doors everywhere about its interior. A barely audible hum filled the air, and again the lighting was more than ample to see by, but seemed to come from everywhere about them.

"Cool!" Cally breathed, grinning. "Wonder where we are?"

Derry turned and examined the door they had just emerged from. Unlike on their own side, where the door had been in the center, the door they had emerged from was at the right end of a series of five doors, all standing in a straight line. He glanced around, and quickly counted two dozen more sets of five doors each, spaced about the room. A hallway led off to the right, wider and taller than the hallway leading into their mound. But it, too, seemed to vanish around a curve a short way inside.

Derry set his pack on the ground and fished out the can of spray paint. He turned and bent down and sprayed a quick arrowhead on the stone floor, pointing at their door. "So we know we have the right one," he said to Cally, who had watched him in silence.

"No argument from me. With all these doors here, it's the safest thing to do."

The doors had a small platform before them, which was one step up from the floor that ran between groups of doors. They walked out and stepped down onto the floor. Derry turned in a circle, slowly, taking in the room in which they stood. It was large, but the only way out of it besides the doors themselves seemed to be the hallway off to their right.

"That way?" Derry asked, pointing

Cally nodded. "Lead on, MacGruff."

Derry grinned and shook his head, but started off in the direction of the hallway. Cally fell into step with him, reached over, and took Derry's hand in his. Derry just smiled, and squeezed his boyfriend's fingers.

The hallway was not long, and deposited them on a landing above a great round room that was itself filled with more sequences of doors. An enormous room, that stretched out below them, like looking across the expanse of a dozen indoor football stadiums from high up in the seats.

But what stopped them in their tracks, and took their breath away, was the great domed ceiling, as transparent as glass. It looked out upon star-filled space, and upon another world, hanging above them in that greatest of nights; a great, banded giant of a planet, looking like every picture of Saturn that Derry had ever seen.

Because this planet had a ring, every bit as wide and beautiful as Saturn's own, comprised of many smaller rings, each one nested inside the other, some darker in color, some lighter. There was the faintest sense of motion from the planet, as if the great bands that girded it turned slowly above its surface.

It could have been Saturn, but it plainly was not. For when Derry turned his head to the left, a star could be seen - a sun - distant, the size of a basketball, but absolutely red in color.

"The sun is red," Cally said softly, staring.

Derry nodded slowly. "That's 'cause it's not our sun, Cally."

They stared at the distant orb, and apparently were able to do that due to some filtering agent within the material of the skydome itself. Surely to gaze upon a naked sun so close by would be impossible, otherwise.

Derry swallowed hard. "Either this giant planet is close in to the star in its orbit, or that is one very big sun."

Cally gave a little laugh. "Always the geekboy, aren't you?" But he put an arm around Derry's shoulders, and pulled him close. "First time I ever stood under a red sun with you, Derry. I want to remember it." Then he turned his head and kissed Derry's cheek.

Derry smiled, and returned the kiss. That Cally was a little overwhelmed by their discoveries here was obvious.

"We might be the only human beings for light years around," Derry whispered into his ear.

"Wow," Cally breathed, staring up at the distant sun. "This is cooler than cool."

Derry looked around the great room again. Their hallway had come out atop a flat area that was linked to the floor below by maybe a dozen steps. Their height gave them a grand view of the entire complex. He could see other hallways atop other landings spaced around the great room, and suspected now that there were also rooms at the end of those hallways that held more doors, just like the smaller room they had just left. Looking about the floor of the great room below Derry could see what must certainly be hundreds, if not thousands, of the five-door sequences, arranged in curved lines that radiated outward from the center of the room.

"Shee-it," Derry whispered, "there's got to be thousands of sets of doors here, Cally."

Thousands of sets of five doors. And, if each door went to a different place, then tens of thousands of worlds to visit.

Cally licked his lips. "These people sure knew how to get around. I wonder how they kept track of it all? There has to be a system to show people where all these doors go. Don't ya think?"

"Yep. But whatever it is, it isn't like they put a sign by each door or anything obvious. Probably computer stuff of some kind."

Cally frowned. "Now that I think of it, your woods is kind of a weird place to put an intergalactic bus stop, isn't it?"

Derry smiled. "Interstellar, maybe." He nodded. "Yeah, it is kind of weird, being out in the boondocks like that. But who knows how they did stuff, or why? Maybe, a long time ago, they had a town there or something."

"Something else I noticed," Cally said. "We don't know what the door people looked like, but everything we have seen so far looks like it was designed for people to use. Our people, I mean. The doors are the right size for us, the steps are the right spacing for us to use - everything looks weird, but it also looks familiar."

Cally had a point, Derry realized. Everything they had seen had obviously not been designed to be used by beings the size of elephants, or walking on six legs, or even beings with wings, like they had seen through the door with the stone towers. Everything was the right size and shape to be used by humans.

He shrugged. "Just more of the puzzle, Cally. We'll need time --"

Derry broke off as Cally suddenly gasped and grabbed his arm. "What?" Derry whispered, a sudden chill running through him.

Cally looked scared. "I saw something move down there," he whispered, pointing at the great expanse of floor below.

Derry turned his eyes that way, searching. "Whereabouts?"

Cally pointed, and Derry followed with his eyes.

It was some distance across the floor, and Derry didn't immediately see anything. He let his eyes rove, and was just about to say that he didn't see movement, when he did. Just for a second, down in one of the curved aisles of doors. A flash of gray, moving quickly. Derry stared at the spot, but due to the curve, he could not see all the way down into the aisle. He turned his eyes instead to where the aisle merged with the center of the great room - a place filled with oddly-shaped equipment that defied naming.

And then he saw it, just briefly. It emerged from the aisle and moved in among the equipment in the center, and disappeared again.

Cally squeezed his arm. "Did you see it?"

Derry nodded. But what he had seen...he wasn't sure. It had looked as large as a horse, but had moved on many legs, like a spider. It had been gray, but not the gray of animal flesh. It had not looked like flesh at all.

It had looked like metal.

Derry's eyes searched the center of the room, but he could not see down into the spaces between the towering machines. "I don't know where it went," he whispered.

Cally just shrugged, his eyes continuing to search as well.

Suddenly, the place which had seemed so cool and so exciting felt...scary. Derry looked around the big room again, and squeezed Cally's arm. "Let's move back to the other room, okay?"

"Look!" Cally hissed, pointing.

Derry's eyes followed, and he could see down into an aisle below them. Just coming around the curve into view was the thing they had seen, moving along at a frightening pace. It still looked like a giant metal spider, but the central body was sharply elliptical instead of round, and there didn't seem to be a head like a spider would have. The metallic-looking legs were a blur, and even now Derry could hear an odd thrumming sound, as if many metallic feet were striking the stone floor.

Suddenly, Derry's eyes jerked ahead of the thing, to where that particular aisle terminated below.

It came out right at the bottom of their steps!

"It's coming here!" Derry hissed, grabbing at Cally's arm. "Let's go!"

They turned and ran. The hallway seemed a lot longer on the way back, and as they reached the smaller room full of doors, they heard a sound from the hallway behind them that could only be the metal spider bounding up the steps.

"It's coming!" Cally yelled. He stopped and turned to look, and Derry stopped with him. "Let's go!" he yelled, grabbing Cally by the arm.

And then there it was, racing down the hallway towards them at startling speed. Derry tightened his grip on Cally's arm and yanked him onward, and they both turned and fled back towards the doorway.

The sound of thrumming feet behind them became a roar, and Derry could see the thing closing on them in his mind's eye. They passed several rows of the doors, and came to the one that Derry thought was their row. Cally put on a burst of speed then, leaped up the step and fled to the end door in the line of doors, and plunged into the safety of its darkness.

At the last second, just before he followed Cally through, Derry looked down at the stone floor below.

There was no arrow painted on the floor. As he dove into the safety of the darkness, one thought burned through his mind:

It was not their door.


Derry fell, how far he could not tell, but far enough to jolt him severely when he landed. His forward motion carried him into a roll that spent some of the downward motion, and he wound up seated with his hands behind him acting as props. For a moment his head whirled, and then stilled.

Wherever they were, it was fairly dark. Derry sensed walls around them, and some light came in from a huge rent in the far one. Derry immediately looked around, feeling a sudden panic because he could not see his boyfriend.

"Cally!" he hissed. "Where are you?"

But then a blob of darkness only a few feet away moved, and then Derry could see the dim shape of the other boy as he sat up. "I'm here. Derry? Are you okay?"

Derry scrambled over to Cally and grabbed him, and hugged him dearly. "I'm okay. Are you?"

"I think so. Maybe a little bruised. What happened?"

"We went through the wrong door," Derry said miserably. "And we fell when we came out on this side."

Cally hugged him, and they exchanged an intense kiss.

"What was that thing?" Cally demanded, when they finally separated.

"I don't know. It sure was fast, though."

Cally pulled away, and Derry could could see him shrugging out of his pack. "What are you doing?"

He heard Cally make a little sputtering sound. "Getting my flashlight, dummy."

Derry rolled his eyes at his own stupidity; and then he was getting his own pack off and feeling inside.

They came up with their flashes at the same time, and the room was suddenly bathed in light.

It was not a terribly large room - maybe thirty feet on a side. The ceiling was quite high, though. There was a regular doorway in one wall, but it was twisted and crushed, with huge cracks in the wall around it. The floor they were sitting on was slightly canted, and when Derry pointed his light upward he realized with a shock that the floor they were seated upon had fallen from ten feet above them. The steel framework that had once bore it still jutted from the around walls above, and parts of the floor still clung to the wall here and there.

Derry pointed the light behind them, but only more destruction was evident there. "Where's the door we came through?" he wondered aloud.

"Up there," Cally said glumly, pointing his light upwards.

Derry turned himself around more and peered after Cally's flashlight beam.

There, a good ten feet above them, was a small length of old floor still attached to the wall, and set into the wall at that point was the dark-filled outline of a star doorway.

Derry pointed his light all about beneath the section of still attached floor, but could see nothing that they could use to climb back up to the doorway.

"I thought a door wouldn't let us go through it there was danger on the other side," Cally said then.

Derry shook his head. "We only assumed that. A door let us go from the mound to the big place with all the other doors, but that giant spider-thing was there. And now a door let us come here. We could have broken our necks falling."

"Maybe it only won't let you go if there's no air, or the temperature is too far away from one you can live in."

"Yeah, or maybe the door to that frozen place was just busted," Derry said. "We just don't know."

Cally sighed. "We've got to go and find something we can use to climb up to the door."

"And just go back to the spider?" Derry asked.

Cally glared at him. "You want to go home, don't you? I'm sure our door was just at the end of the next row, is all."

"You hope," Derry said.

Cally's face knotted up. "Stop being so negative, Derry! You can be a real asshole sometimes, you know?"

The shock that Derry felt was tangible. It was as if Cally had smacked him across the face. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

Cally stared at him, and then swarmed closer, and then was wrapping Derry in his arms. "I'm sorry, too," he said softly. "I didn't mean to yell."

Derry hugged his boyfriend, and nodded. "I'm just a little scared, I guess."

Cally didn't say anything, just nodded.

It took them a minute to get themselves going. But they finally stood, and brushed each other off.

Derry pointed at the large rent in the far wall. The light coming in there seemed to be getting brighter. "That looks like the way to go."

They headed over to the wall. It was actually a little farther than it looked, which turned out to be good, as that made the huge crack in it larger, too. When they got to it it proved to be wide enough for them to squeeze through. Derry peered into it, amazed at the thickness of the outer wall. "Must be five feet to the other side," he told Cally. But he squeezed into the rent, and Cally pushed himself in behind him. They worked their way through, and came out into weak sunlight.

It was cool, and a light breeze ruffled their hair. They had emerged into a tangle of unfamiliar underbrush, but Derry saw that, by keeping close to the wall, they could push their way through. But first he stepped to the right of the rent in the wall, and fumbled with the zipper of his shorts.

"That looks like a good idea," Cally said, coming to stand with him. They hosed down the underbrush, and both sighed when they were done. "My dad always said I'd leave my mark in the world," Cally offered, zipping up. "He didn't mean this one, but I guess it's all the same."

"Just saying we've been here," Derry returned, smiling. "Since we don't have a flag, it's the best we can do."

They laughed, and then followed the wall out towards the end of the building.

They came out onto a city street. Or, the remains of one. Tall buildings of unfamiliar design pushed their ways up into the cool sky, which was itself an odd violet in color. The tops of the buildings were shattered splinters, and the wide ways between them were full of debris. Areas that might have been little parks here and there showed as snarls of undergrowth climbing the flanks of trees with pale green leaves, which themselves somehow looked stunted in the weak sunshine.

The towers stretched away towards the horizon, silent in their majesty, forlorn in their desolation. Once, this had been a great and grand city, but now...

"I wonder what happened here?" Cally asked, staring about them like a tourist just landed from the sticks. But the unease in his eyes was not the look of a holiday traveler, but that of a wanderer come upon a scene of death.

Save for the sound of the wind moving among the buildings, the city was totally silent. It seemed to be just after dawn, and the odd violet sky was continuing to lighten. A rose colored light could be seen far off down the avenue - perhaps the rising sun coming to morning.

Derry shook his head slowly. "I don't know. But it looks to have been bad."

They walked out into the avenue, and Derry could immediately see it had not been designed for automobile traffic. There were too many benches, too many fountains and little parks, for that sort of traffic to have ever flowed here. This was a city for foot traffic, and perhaps public transit, if the stairs leading down into the ground nearby were any indicator. Signs by the steps told of something - schedules, or directions, or maybe even where they happened to be in the city. But the language was again unfamiliar, and not the one that was used to mark the cans of food they had found inside the mound.

"This isn't a planet of the door people," Derry said. "If that language is anything to go by, anyway."

They turned and looked up at the building they had come out of, memorizing its likeness. That would not be hard, for its design was slightly different than the other buildings, and it seemed to be in a lesser state of destruction than most of the other towers. And, just a few floors up, there was a giant sign with the half-ellipse of a star doorway on it, with little glowing lines radiating outward.

"This way to the gates," Cally said, shaking his head. "Man, this place is a mess."

Derry nodded. The abandoned city was impressive because they could still see what it must have once been, but it was also depressing in what it had become. Only the walks seemed undamaged, just covered in debris. Derry squatted and ran his hand over the pavement. It seemed to be made out of the same stuff the floors and walls of the mound had been made of, and the huge building underneath the red sun. It looked like rock but it now seemed it wasn't. The building they had just exited had been made of something different, more like the concrete they were used to seeing back home. That building was twisted and split, though not nearly as badly as the other towers. Yet the streets and walks, even covered with debris, still looked new.

"I'd be willing to bet if it was just concrete these roads and walks were made from, this place would be a lot more overgrown. There isn't a crack in the ground anywhere. All the trees and undergrowth come up in the little unpaved rectangles of the parks."

Cally looked about and nodded. "That could mean this place has been like this a lot longer than it looks. I was gonna guess, but now I can't."

Derry was about to reply when a distant, keening sound split the air. It was a solemn wail, starting high and moving lower on the scale. It made the hair on Derry's neck stand up, because all he could think of was that the sound came from something alive.

Cally turned to look at him, his eyes wide. "That was creepy as shit."

"It didn't sound close, at least," Derry returned.

Another wail came to them then, from another direction, and a little closer. It, too, started high and descended the scale, and then cut off.

"Was that an answer to the first call?" Cally asked.

Derry shook his head, his eyes moving over the shattered towers. "I think we need to find something to get back up to that door. Come on, let's look around."

They turned and went towards the front of the building that held the door, this time approaching what was the original front entry. There were large doors there, now hanging askew on their mounts. Derry pushed between them and entered, and Cally followed.

Directly inside, along one wall, stood a hard bench of some kind, easily ten feet long.

"What about that?" Cally asked, noting the slatted backrest. "We could climb that, I think."

Derry nodded. "Yeah. Except I'm not sure it would fit through the crack we came out of." He frowned. "I have that little saw in my pack. Maybe we can cut the front legs off of it. Come on."

Derry grabbed one end of it and lifted. It was heavy, but not terribly so. Cally got the other end, and they maneuvered it towards the door. It almost would not fit between the two giant slabs, but they managed to wiggle it through and get it outside. Derry turned, and they moved along the front of the building towards the overgrown little park at the side.

Another keening reached their ears, this one much closer. A chorus of them followed, from all different directions.

"I think someone knows we're here," Cally said, huffing under the load.

Derry nodded, turned the corner of the building, and they dragged the bench back along the side. In a few moments they were back at the huge rent in the side of the building. They stood the bench up on one end and tried to work it through. It would not go.

Derry swore. "I'll have to cut the front legs off. Put it down." He swung off his pack, and dug out the saw.

Whatever the bench was made out of, it was tough. The saw bit into it, but it was slow going. Fortunately, the legs of the bench were not thick. But Derry was feeling the strain in his arm muscles by the time the first leg dropped away from the frame.

There was another leg in the center of the bench, and then a third at the other end. Derry went to work on the middle one, and soon that fell to the ground, too.

There was more keening, sounding much closer. Derry went to work on the third leg, sweat now beading his forehead. "Almost there."

Cally looked nervously towards the street, and so was watching as something large bounded by the opening in the brush. For a moment he just froze; then he leaned over to get Derry's attention. "They're here," he whispered.

Derry grunted, and the third leg fell away. Derry threw the saw into his pack and shrugged into the straps, and fastened the buckle across the center. "Come on," he hissed. "Help me!"

Derry backed into the rent, pulling, while Cally pushed. The bench hung up on the tough walls, and Derry twisted it back and forth while Cally pushed against it with all his might. Suddenly it gave, and started inwards. In a moment they had it inside.

Derry had pulled his flashlight out of his pack at the same time as the saw. Now he unclipped it from his belt and lit the way back towards the far wall and the ledge above.

"I just realized something," he whispered. "Without a light, anyone could walk through here and never see that star door above. It's blacker than the night. Hopefully that means whatever is outside doesn't know it's here."

Cally just grunted as they stood the back of the bench against the wall. The end of it just touched the ledge of old floor above.

Derry grabbed the bench and steadied it. "Go!"

Cally looked over at the rent, and then nodded and started up. He was halfway there when something large flitted by the rent in the wall, momentarily cutting off the light. Cally gulped and swarmed up onto the ledge, flipped himself about, and reached down to grip the top end of the bench. "Come up!" he hissed.

Derry started up. The light from the rent in the wall blinked again as something leaped past it, and Derry's muscles were energized as they had never been before. He climbed recklessly, felt the bench sliding to one side, then stop as Cally grunted above him. And then he was at the top, and Cally was helping him onto the ledge. They both lay down on their bellies, peering over the edge of the ledge. Again, the light from the rent in the far wall flickered as something briefly blocked it.

Derry reached over the lip, found the end of the bench, and gave it a push. He heard it slide along the wall, and then crash to the floor.

There was more movement at the rent, and then the light faded and flickered, and Derry knew that whatever was outside was coming in. He turned, cupped his hand around the end of his flashlight, and shined it at the wall behind them.

The star door was right there.

Cally patted his arm, and Derry killed the light. Below them, something was happening at the rent. It was hard to see exactly what because so much of the light from outside was cut off...but Derry was almost certain it was a head that appeared at the rent and turned slowly side to side, as if trying to see into the gloom of the room.

Derry slowly extended a hand and touched the pack on Cally's back. He felt around, and carefully unzipped the big back pocket, stuck the hand inside, and found his boyfriend's flashlight. He withdrew it, and just as carefully rezipped the pocket.

Below them, several somethings had come inside. Derry had the impression of large creatures, walking on two legs, but covered in something dark, like fur. The light from the rent continued to waver and fade as more of the things came into the room with them.

Derry found Cally's hand in the dark and carefully placed the flashlight into it. Cally closed his fingers around it, and nodded. Derry pressed his lips right up to Cally's ear. "When I say now," he whispered.

Below them, the things by the rent in the outer wall froze, and Derry was sure they were looking up at them. That implied a sense of hearing just short of miraculous, if they had heard that oh-so-silent whisper. But the things only paused a moment, and then they started forward...

"Now!" Derry bellowed, and thumbed the flashlight on.

Twin beams of intensely bright light lanced out and caught the five hunters in their stark brilliance. Derry had the impression of triangular faces covered in fur, tall ears with tufts of hair at the ends, large black eyes, and the barest slits of mouths. The creatures were bipedal, wore no clothing, and each carried in hand a short rod with a pointed tip.

Their reaction to the light was almost instantaneous. No sooner had Derry gotten his look than the creatures shrieked out a horrible sound and fled for the rent in the wall, pushing each other out of the way in their haste to depart. There was a brief, mad scramble at the large crack, and then the creatures were gone.

Cally suddenly gave out a soft laugh. "Holy shit, Derry. Those guys can run!"

Derry closed his eyes, and put an arm over Cally and hugged him. "That was a little too close for me. You want to head back?"

Cally blew out a sigh. "Yeah, I think I've had enough of this place, too. Let's go."

They got carefully to their feet, using the flashlights to illuminate the ledge, and stood before the dark-filled door that led back to the building under the red sun.

"Shit! I just thought of something," Cally said. "What if that big spider thing is waiting on the other side?"

Derry rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Crap. Should we use the phone and look?"

Cally made a noise of irritation. "Aw...hold on." And then he leaned forward and stuck his face briefly through the door, and then was back. Derry barely had time to grit his teeth at the reckless act.

"The coast is clear," Cally said, grinning.

"Knucklehead," Derry grated. "Remind me to smack you silly when we get home."

"Okay," Cally said, his grin expanding. "I'm looking forward to wrestling with you, too."

Despite his irritation, Derry smiled. "Okay, let's go. As soon as we get through, turn left, go for the next row of doors, and look for the arrow on the floor in front of the end door this time."

Cally nodded. "Ready?"

"Yeah. Go."

They stepped through together.

The spider was there, waiting for them. Two tendrils of rubbery but tough material burst from the fore of the thing and wrapped around them, pinning their arms to their sides. They never had a chance to run.

Derry looked over at Cally, saw the look of anguish on his boyfriend's face. And then a weird tingling ran through the tendrils, and Derry's body grew numb, and then his eyes sank closed, and he knew no more.


Derry opened his eyes, and realized that he was not dead. He took a deep breath, and slowly let it out again. Nope. Not dead.

He was laying down some place - some place comfortable. He turned his head, and there was Cally laying next to him. His face was turned towards Derry and his eyes were closed. For a moment, fear gripped Derry; but his body felt oddly sluggish, and it was a great effort to move. But he managed to get a hand going, and then an arm, and then he was touching his boyfriend.

"Cally?"

Cally's nose twitched, and then one cheek, and then he opened his eyes. "Derry? We're still alive?"

Derry nodded, relief flooding through him. "Yeah. How do you feel?"

Cally moved his head, which triggered a grimace. "Like an old banana peel laying on the sidewalk."

Derry had to grin at that. "There's better ways to feel. But there's also worse." He made an effort, and managed to sit up. The effort made his vision swim and his head throb; but the condition quickly passed. "Man. I feel pretty crappy, myself."

He looked around. They were laying on a soft, padded surface, like a table, about waist-high up from the floor. The small room they were in had a slightly bluish cast to the lighting, and the far wall seemed covered in electronic equipment of some kind. Nearby, a long, large elliptical shape rested against the other wall, function unknown. There was a fairly large set of double doors in one of the other walls, closed, and with no apparent way to open them.

"These people didn't believe in door knobs," Derry said, sighing.

Cally sat up, and then took his head in his hands. "Oh, mommy! I promise I'll never drink beer again!"

Derry chuckled, and offered Cally a gentle shake of his head. "Take more than getting kidnapped by a giant alien spider to put you out, huh?"

Cally began to grin, but changed it midstream into a frown. He looked around the room, then shrugged his shoulders. "Where is it?"

"I don't know. Wasn't here when I woke up."

Cally looked upset. "I'm so sorry, Derry. I swear I didn't see the spider when I peeked through the door."

"Probably hiding somewhere, waiting." Derry smiled, swung around and dangled his legs off the table. "It doesn't matter, Cally. I'm just glad you're... that we're both okay."

Cally grinned and swung himself off the table, came around it and stood between Derry's legs while they exchanged hugs and kisses. "God, I'm glad you're okay," Cally whispered.

Derry nodded, hugging his friend just a little harder. "Yeah, you, too." He looked down from Cally's shoulder, spied their packs on the floor beside the table.

They smiled at each other a moment longer, and then Derry slid off the table. "Grab your pack. And then let's see if those doors will open."

They grabbed up their packs and shrugged into them and fastened the buckles. But they only took one step towards the closed doors when there was a buzzing noise nearby. The boys looked over at the big ovoid just as it sprouted legs and raised itself off the floor. With surprising speed, the spider moved between them and the door in the far wall.

Cally grabbed Derry and pulled him back to place the table between them and the monster.

"Fuck! It was here the whole time!" Cally looked at Derry. "That's probably how I missed it when I peeked through the door. It was sitting someplace off to the side with its legs tucked in."

Derry nodded, examining the thing, which had simply stopped moving after placing itself in the path of possible escape. It was plain now that the thing was made of metal, and amazing in the way the legs were articulated to move. Where the tendrils had sprouted to imprison them at the door, there was nothing but smooth surface, causing Derry to wonder just how that particular trick had been pulled off.

Even as he watched, an octopus-like arm extruded itself from the metal shell higher up, and moved towards them. Derry and Cally both backed up, but there was no place to go. The arm stopped about three feet away, and the end of it suddenly inflated into a round ball. There was a brief moment of silence, and then a voice spoke out: "Fraret."

Derry was so surprised that he laughed. "It talked!"

Cally nodded. "Wow."

The round end of the arm swung back and forth between them. "Ulbric'ta?" The questioning tone was plain.

Derry shook his head. "Sorry. We don't speak that language."

Another arm extruded from the surface, came close, and the end inflated and then flattened out, leaving a plane surface about three feet square, like a TV screen. The surface of that square briefly crawled, and then lit with a picture.

It was of a row of doors - one of the five-door rows that they had seen all about this place before. The camera suddenly zoomed in on the right-hand door, just as Derry and Cally stepped through it.

In the image, the boys looked around, and Cally grinned. "Cool! Wonder where we are?"

Derry looked over at Cally. "That was when we first got here!"

The image continued to follow them around as they went to the main door room, observed the planet above through the great dome, and then as they spied the spider moving towards them. And then the image followed them as they ran back to the small door room and danced through a doorway just ahead of the spider.

The metal spider arrived at the door, waited a bit, and then moved to the end of the row, settled to the floor, and retracted its legs to wait.

"That is why I didn't see the thing," Cally said. He sounded relieved that it wasn't just a mistake on his part. Derry just nodded.

Somehow, they got the impression that the image they were watching was now speeded up - fast forwarded. The camera rotated back to watch the door they had fled through - and then, just for a second - Cally's face appeared, and his eyes flicked about. Then he was gone.

The spider's legs reappeared, it moved to stand in front of the door...and was right there to catch them when they came through.

Derry frowned. "Wonder why we're being shown this? We know what happened."

"Todar petche," the sphere spoke. "Alpa nof donsa polligot."

The image on the flat surface vanished, and was replaced by another. It was the main door room, and it was simply packed with people. Well...almost people. At first glance they looked quite human; but as several passed closer to the camera, Derry could see things that were startlingly different. For one thing, the eyes of these people were all round. Circular. And larger than a human being's could ever be. The other facial features looked pretty much like anybody that Derry had ever seen, except that these people seemed not to have lips at all. As they spoke to each other Derry could see teeth in their mouths, and they seemed a little wider than any teeth that he had seen before. But other than that, they looked like people. Well, Earth people.

Intermingled with the round-eyed folk were other creatures that clearly were not human. Most seemed to move on two legs, but a few moved on four. All gave the sense that they were people, and not animals. They even caught a glimpse of some of the triangular-faced furry people, like they had seen on the planet with the ruined city, strolling along like everyone else. Except those on the screen wore loose-fitting jerkins that hung down to their knees, and they were quite animated in speech, talking and gesturing as they moved along. Clearly, people, and not animals.

And there were more of the metal spiders. They strode about, apparently assisting with moving things, directing people, and even carrying people. Apparently a section of their backs could open, revealing a seat wide enough for two. A number of the spiders went by, carrying riders. It all looked very busy, very purposeful, very peaceful. People going about their business, traveling from here to there, just like you'd see in any airport on Earth.

But...again the scene seemed to speed up. The main door room remained crowded at first...but slowly, the crowds thinned. The fast-forward stopped, and they saw people running about while some kind of alarm blared in the back ground.

And then, there were no more people. A few of the spiders continued to move here and there for a bit, and then there were no more of them, either. Well...save one, which appeared irregularly, moving about, checking equipment, making the rounds of the building.

"This spider, you think?" Cally asked.

Derry nodded. "I think that's what were being told, yeah." He frowned. "Maybe like a...a security guard, left running to watch the place."

"Where do you think the people went?"

"I don't know," Derry scratched his forehead. "A war, maybe? Who knows? Something. Something major." He shrugged. "Can't tell how long ago all that happened, just by watching that video, either."

The video of the large door room cleared, and a picture of a single door appeared.

"Irlyit," said the voice.

Derry looked at Cally, then at the spider. "Door."

"Door," the voice repeated.

The picture changed to one of Cally. Cally grinned. "Cally."

"Cally."

Derry's picture appeared.

"Derry," Derry said, grinning.

"Derry," the spider repeated.

A picture popped up of both of them together. Cally and Derry looked at each other.

Cally worked at his bottom lip a moment with his upper teeth. "Well, it wanted to know what each of us were called. Now it wants to know what many of us are called."

Derry nodded. "Humans."

"Humans."

The picture changed to another door, and the camera panned down. The white arrow that Derry had painted on the floor came into view.

"Humans door," the spider voice said.

"Yes," Derry said, feeling some small excitement now.

The camera panned to one side, and the door next to the one Derry had marked came into view. "Humans door," the spider stated again.

"No," Cally said.

Next there was a shot of Cally and Derry walking towards the camera. They walked up to it, and then the sequence repeated. Derry looked at his friend. "What do you think?"

"Maybe it's asking us what we call walking?"

Derry scratched his head, watching the sequence repeat. It repeated ten times, and then the 'screen', as Derry now thought of it, went dark. But it relit immediately, and they were treated to a repeated scene of the two of them walking away from the camera. After ten repetitions of the one, the scene of them walking towards the camera started over.

"Come," Derry said then.

"Come," the spider repeated. The scene transferred then to the one of them walking away from the camera.

"Go," Cally said, getting it.

The screen went black again, and then came back up with a picture of the spider itself. "Difris," the voice said.

"Difris," Derry and Cally repeated, smiling.

The screen went dark and stayed dark.

The spider moved a little closer to them, and the voice globe hovered near. "Cally...Derry...go...humans...door."

Cally gave out a delighted little noise. "He's asking us if we want to go home!"

Derry nodded. "Or if that's where we're heading." He nodded again, and pointed at the spider. "Yes."

The screen relit, and showed the scene of Cally and Derry coming through the door from Earth the first time. It repeated several times, and then suddenly switched to a scene of them in that very room, backs to the wall, talking to the spider. That scene repeated several times, too, and then the voice globe neared them.

"Cally...Derry...come...Difris."

The boys looked at each other. "What do you think?" Derry asked.

Cally blew out a little excited breath. "I think he's asking if we'll come back and see him."

Derry laughed. "That's what I think he's asking. Damn if I don't think he's lonely!" He looked at Cally. "Start talking."

Cally blinked. "Huh? What do you want me to say?"

"Just talk!"

A wild look came into Cally's eyes, but then he grinned. "Once upon a time, there were three bears. A momma bear, a poppa bear, and a baby bear..."

Derry pointed at Cally's mouth. "Talk."

"Talk," the spider repeated.

Derry waved a hand at Cally. "You can stop now."

The moment Cally did, the voice globe pointed directly at Cally's mouth. "No talk."

Derry grinned. "Yes." He stepped forward a little, pointed at Cally, then at himself. "Cally...Derry...come...Difris...talk."

"Cally...Derry...come...Difris...talk," the spider repeated.

"Yes," Cally agreed.

The screen lit again, and a parade of doors passed by, became a blur. "Cally...Derry...Difris...talk. Cally...Derry...come...go...come...go...come."

Cally clapped his hands together. "Is he saying he'll help us explore?"

It did sound like that. "Or maybe he wants us to go and check out what's going on in other places," Derry supposed. "Either way, it sounds like a good idea to have help doing it."

It would take a while, but Derry was sure they would be able to teach the spider a lot more English. "Yes," he said.

The screen suddenly shrunk, and the arm supporting it withdrew back into the spider's shell. "Cally...Derry...go...humans...door."

"Yes," Cally said.

The top of the spider's back suddenly slid back, revealing a wide seat just like they had seen people riding in in the spider's videos.

"Come," Difris said. The spider squatted, dropping its body to the floor.

The boys looked at each other. "He's offering us a ride," Derry said, laughing.

They climbed aboard, and the spider raised up and moved towards the twin doors, which parted to let them through. They emerged into a hallway, and Difris took off. The spider could really move, and Derry found the ride both exhilarating for the speed and quite amazing for the smooth quality of the travel.

They wound their way through a few more hallways and then emerged into the large, domed center door room. The planet above them glowed softly in the red light from the distant sun as they made their way down to an aisle and across the crowded center part of the room, which held towering machines, small picnic areas, and some other possible amenities that Derry could not decipher.

They wound down another aisle, swooped up some steps at the end, and down a sort hallway to one of the small door rooms. And then they were arriving before a set of five doors, and the boys were climbing out. Derry went up the step and looked at the floor before the right-hand door, and his arrow was there. He and Cally grinned at each other, and then turned back to Difris.

"Cally...Derry...come...Difris...talk," the spider said then.

"Yes." Derry nodded. "We'll be back. Cally...Derry...come...Difris."

That seemed to satisfy the spider. It settled back, and its legs withdrew, and once again it was a featureless ellipsoid upon the floor.

"He's gonna wait on us," Cally said, shaking his head. "Poor guy."

Derry nodded. "We'll come back."

They turned and faced the door - the door home. "Ready?" Derry asked.

Cally exhaled through his lips. "Am I!"

They joined hands and stepped forward, and then they were gone.


The mound was just as they had left it. According to the boy's cells, a little over nine hours had passed since they had departed Earth. It was nearing two in the morning, local time. They found the cooler and devoured the sandwiches inside, and then laid their sleeping bags one atop the other, and crawled together into the top one.

"I can't believe all that we just did," Cally said quietly. "I'll bet we've been farther than any humans have ever been."

Derry nodded. "I feel for Difris. I got the impression he was pretty smart, for a machine. Maybe even smarter than us. Can you imagine being alone in a place like that for...well, I don't know for how long. I'll bet it's been a while, though."

Cally nodded. "We are going back, aren't we?"

"Yes. You want to, don't you?"

Cally nodded. "And we kinda promised. That's important. To me, anyway."

"Yeah, me, too. I don't want to leave Difris there all alone."

Cally grinned. "You tired?"

Derry sighed. "Damn right I am." He kissed Cally. "Not too tired to fool around a little, if you want."

Cally nodded. "I want."

They did.


They were tired by the time the reached Derry's house in the early afternoon of the next day. They had had some sleep after their play together in the sleeping bag late the night before, but not really enough sleep for all they had been through. They were dragging a little, and glad to be home.

They dropped their packs on top of the big hall cabinet by the door as they came in, went to the kitchen, got some fruit and a drink each. Derry's mom's car had been gone from the driveway, and they had seen granddad driving the small tractor out front. They went up to Derry's room.

"I'm beat," Derry said, laying out on his bed.

Cally came around and laid on the other side, feeling it was safe enough to do with the house empty. "Me, too. I could take a long nap right about now."

"Later," Derry returned. "We need to think about how we're going to go back to see Difris. We can't just be disappearing for entire days without our folks wondering what's up."

"Yeah. We'll probably just have to go and visit for a few hours at a time. Maybe we can eventually make Difris understand that we're not all that old yet."

They heard a door close downstairs, and Cally sighed and got up and moved to the rocker.

"Derry? You up there?" It was granddad.

"Yeah, granddad. In my room."

They heard him coming up the stairs, and then he was at the door. He smiled at Cally, and then raised his eyebrows at Derry. "You and I need to have a talk, buster."

Derry sat up, alarmed. "What? Did I do something?"

Granddad held up a hand, which Derry could see now was bandaged. "I had me a run in with a chisel in the shop last night, and when I went to get the first aid kit, there wasn't any. You know where it went, by any chance?"

Derry looked guiltily at Cally. "Um...yeah. I'm sorry, granddad. We took it along with us, just in case."

Derry could see now that his granddad wasn't really on the warpath. This was a matter of principle - Derry had taken stuff without asking.

His granddad grunted. "Did you need it?"

"No."

Finally, his granddad smiled. "Well, that's one good thing, anyway. Where is it now?"

"In my pack, down by the front door." Derry jumped up. "I'll get it for you."

His granddad waved a hand at him. "That's okay. You have company. I'll get it." He cocked an eye at Derry. "Ask me next time, okay?"

Derry nodded. "Okay, Sorry."

Granddad shook his head, but smiled. And then he turned, and they heard him going back down the steps.

"Oops," Cally said.

Derry nodded. "Yeah. We should have asked. I just knew he would say to take it, so I did. I guess it's the principle of the thing."

Cally grinned, leaned slightly forward. "You are learning, young Jedi."

Derry snorted. "Now who's being a geek?"

They heard granddad coming back up the steps then, and Derry wondered if perhaps he'd lost the first aid kit somehow and it wasn't in the pack. That idea was bolstered by the look on Granddad's face as he came around the door frame and into the room. He looked hard at Derry, and then at Cally. Derry noticed then that he had Derry's pack by the straps in one hand. Granddad turned, pushed the door closed, came over to the bed, and laid the pack on it. Then he opened the flap, reached inside, and pulled something out.

With a start Derry realized what it was: the odd can of food with the alien script on it, that he'd taken from the shelf inside the mound. Granddad held it up for them to see, and then pinned Derry in his gaze. "You found it." He nodded, as if to accent the words. "You found the mound."

Derry and Cally both gaped. "You...you know about it?" Derry managed to gasp out.

Granddad sighed. "Sit down, Derry."

Derry sat back on the edge of the bed, and granddad sat, too. "How long have you been going there?"

"We just found it the other day, granddad."

Granddad looked relieved. "Have you told anyone about it?"

"No."

Granddad closed his eyes, and blew a little breath out between his lips. "Good. Don't."

"We weren't going to," Derry said.

Granddad sighed. "Derry, I can't emphasize this enough, okay? If word of this thing gets out, we will lose this house and this land. The government will march in here and steal it right out from under us. Do you understand?"

"How can they do that, granddad?"

Granddad laughed. "Because they can. And they will do it, too."

Derry looked over at Cally. "Cally and I already discussed this, granddad. We thought the same thing - that the government would come and take everything. We weren't planning to tell anyone about it."

Granddad nodded. "You need not to be playing with the stuff that's inside that mound, okay? It's dangerous."

Again, Derry and Cally exchanged glances. "Um...it's a little late for that."

Granddad's eyes narrowed. "My god, Derry, what have you two been doing?"

Derry licked his lips. "Just looking."

Granddad stared at him. "Just looking," he repeated. Then his eyes slowly grew wider, and he leaned forward. "You two didn't go...didn't go through a door...did you?"

Derry bit his lip, but slowly nodded.

Granddad's jaw dropped. "Without knowing what was on the other side? Son, do you know how dangerous that was?"

"Well, we had kinda seen what was on the other side," Derry explained. He then went into detail on how they had used a phone and the selfie wand to get a look at the other sides of the doors.

"Holy smoke," granddad said softly. He shook his head. "I never even thought of that." He actually grinned then. "That's pretty sharp, Derry."

Derry blinked at the sudden change in his granddad's demeanor. "Um...thanks."

"You went," the man said, like he couldn't believe it. He shook his head slowly. "And what did you see?"

Derry began to recount their trip, and then Cally joined in and helped. They took turns telling about the ruined city and the fur people, and the door station with thousands of doors, and the great dome that looked out on a ringed planet. And about Difris, the steel spider. Granddad just listened, with plain amazement written on his features.

"We promised Difris we'd be back," Derry finished, waiting to see how his grandfather would take that.

Granddad stared at them a while, as if thinking. Or remembering.

"The left-hand door - still blocked?"

Derry nodded.

So did granddad. "You didn't go to the planet of the bird people?"

Derry gaped this time. "You know about them, too? How?"

This time, it was granddad who looked guilty. "Well...I peeked."

Cally laughed. "Oh, yeah?"

Granddad sighed, and nodded. "Well...I was fifteen, just like you."

Forty-five years ago.

"It was you," Derry said then. "You're the one that covered over the steps leading into the mound."

Granddad nodded. "Yes. It was me." He shook his head. "It was 1972, Derry. Apollo was going to the moon. Space was in everybody's minds. I just knew that if people learned we had a doorway to another world here, they would come in droves. And then the government would come, and build fences, and keep everyone out. Including me." He looked around the bedroom, at the walls of the house. "I love this place, Derry. I couldn't allow that to happen."

Derry nodded, understanding that. "I know. It's home. I don't want to see anything happen to it, either." Derry frowned. "You stuck your head through the doors?"

Granddad smiled. "Well, the two that worked. I never did know what was beyond the left door."

"A frozen world," Cally said. "A room with a big glass window, which was busted. The room was full of snow. Cold." Cally winced. "A very dead-looking place."

"Then I'm glad I couldn't go," granddad said.

Derry nodded. "Cally and I think that if the place on the other side is too hot or too cold, or there's no air, the door shuts down and won't let people through. Just cameras and stuff. That's how we saw."

Cally looked at Derry, and then leaned closer to Mr. Hamlyn. "Why didn't you...why didn't you go?"

Granddad looked troubled by that question. "I wanted to. I wanted badly." He sighed. "Maybe if I'd had a best friend to go with me, I would have. But to go by myself...alone..." He shook his head. "I just didn't quite dare."

Derry understood that. Without Cally to share the adventure with...the fear with...Derry was not sure he would have gone himself. "I know what you mean, granddad."

The man smiled. "I'm glad that you do, son. Because I've had some bad moments over the years, knowing that place was right out there in the woods, calling me. But..." He shook his head. "When I was your age, I was just not able to go by myself. And telling someone I wasn't sure of in an attempt to get someone to go with me...that might have meant telling the world. There was too much at risk...and I chickened out."

Derry moved forward, took his grandfather's hand. "You can go with us."

Granddad gasped. "Oh...I can't do that, Derry. If you two were older, maybe. But you're underaged. I can't go off exploring the unknown with two minors in tow. It just...I can't."

Derry grinned. "Granddad, we've been. It would be you going with us, not us going with you."

Granddad frowned. "You're splitting hairs, son. Legally, I'm the responsible adult. I can't do it."

Derry felt a small fear now, that granddad would forbid them going back. He understood what the man was saying, but...there was something important at stake here, not the least of which was their promise to Difris to return. Something had happened to the people of the doors - something bad, Derry felt. Something so bad it had left ruined cities in its wake, with the descendants of the furry, triangular-faced people roaming about theirs, hunting with spears.

It seemed important to learn this history, so that they would know. With so many open doors, it seemed very strange that no one was traveling anywhere. Why not? Was there a danger? Was the Earth in danger? Someone had to find out.

"Granddad," Derry said, squeezing the man's hand, and searching desperately for some argument to change where he was sure now that the conversation was going, " We have to go back. We can't just let all these questions go unanswered."

Granddad shook his head. "No, son. No."

Derry closed his eyes, seeing it all crumbling away. Granddad would stop them from returning, from investigating the doors, because he could not see how important, how special, this was...

Something flickered in his memory...and then, Derry had the answer. He smiled. "You remember the other night at dinner? When you were talking about the doors in life?"

Granddad frowned, and licked his lips. "Yeah."

Derry nodded. "You said that, every now and then, you see a special door in life, one you just know that, if you open it, magic things will happen."

Granddad gave a small laugh. "Are you saying that this is one of those events?"

"Yes." Derry nodded. "What'd you call it? The odd, onward door? The one that goes forward in leaps and bounds, and changes your whole life? How could something like this not be that special door?"

Granddad looked at him, thinking.

Derry leaned closer. "You had a chance at that door once, Granddad, and you didn't take it. But that door was so special, so important, that it came back again for you. You're getting a second chance at it, right now."

Granddad smiled, and then he laughed. "Smart little devil, aren't you?"

Derry grinned. "I'm your grandson, right?"

Granddad leaned forward, and hugged Derry, and Derry hugged the man right back. "I love you, Derry," granddad said. "You understand that?"

They pulled apart, and Derry nodded. "Yes. I know you do. I love you, too, granddad."

Granddad nodded. "I have to think about this for a while, okay? This is too important for snap decisions."

Derry nodded, and cast a hopeful glance at Cally. The other boy smiled, his eyes alight.

Granddad gave Derry's forearm a squeeze. "Promise me you two will not go back to the mound without me, okay?"

Derry nodded. "Okay."

Granddad stood, and sighed. "I need to go sit in the rocker on the front porch and think about this."

Derry took a breath, eased it out. His heart was beating fast, but he felt a new confidence now. "Okay. We'll wait for you. I promise."


Derry stepped through into the room of doors, with Cally right beside him. They stepped forward to make room, and granddad appeared just behind them.

The man stared about, obvious wonder in his eyes, and Derry thought how young granddad looked just then. Maybe years didn't count at all when it came to things like wonder. It was just there, the same in everyone.

"I'm here," granddad said softly, shaking his head.

Derry reached out and squeezed granddad's wrist, grinning. Granddad returned the grin, and they all went back to gazing about the room full of doors.

The steel spider was there, its legs retracted. But almost immediately there was a soft whir, and the legs extruded, and the spider stood up and approached the door. The arm extruded out front, the voice ball inflated at the end of it, and it waved back and forth between them.

"Cally...Derry." There seemed almost an eagerness to the tone of the spider's voice.

Derry grinned, stepped aside, and pulled his grandfather forward. "Pat yourself on your chest and say your name," Derry whispered.

Granddad's eyes opened wide, but he grinned. He raised a hand and laid it on his breast. "Mike."

Difris pointed the voice ball at granddad. "Mike."

Derry and Cally both grinned. "We came to teach you some words," Cally said.

The voice ball moved closer to him. "Ter'patsa nimen dul."

"He didn't get that," Derry said, laughing. Derry waved a hand at granddad, then at Cally, then at himself. "Derry...Cally...Mike...talk...Difris."

They spread out, and sat down cross-legged in front of the spider. The spider responded by settling back and pulling its legs in, although they did not disappear altogether. The voice ball hovered in front of them, almost expectantly.

"Where do we begin?" granddad said to Derry. "Nouns will be easy. The verbs, and adjective usage are going to be a little harder."

Cally shrugged. "There's time. We've got all summer."

Derry sighed softly. Actually, they had longer than that. This was just the first of many days, and perhaps even many years. First they would learn to talk, and in the process, learn to understand. Determining what had happened to the door makers could prove to be a long and complicated task. And that task had to begin somewhere.

"I guess we may as well begin with nouns," granddad decided. "Once this fella knows what we mean when we mention a thing, it will be easier for him to understand the links to actions and thoughts."

"I think he's pretty smart," Derry returned. "He probably speaks a bunch of languages already, and that will help him to understand ours."

Cally leaned forward, reached across granddad, and gave Derry a playful poke. "Way to go, geekboy."

Granddad laughed, and Derry grinned. This was going to be work, but it was going to be fun work. They were making something here - making a future.

This was another door they were opening, one to be explored. There were no signs at this door, just a feeling. A feeling of good things to come. And yes, there was some magic in this door, too.

"Some doors, you just know that if you go through them, they will advance your life in leaps and bounds. Knowing the door when you see - that's the trick."

And Derry did know. The next steps were theirs to take. He raised his hands, and touched Cally with one, and granddad with the other.

"Let's get started."

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