This story is by Amber White and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Flora stared at the door with nervous disbelief.
The door was white and heavy, with a silvery doorknob covered in runes. It was situated in the middle of a white stone wall along a shady walkway that branched off the road near her home. Flora passed by the door every day, and each time she passed it, she glanced at the door as she walked by, just to see.
“One never knows,” she told herself. “My family is on the other side of that door somewhere. My world. All of humanity. Probably. It’s worth it to look.”
It wasn’t though. The door was never open.
Flora had glanced at the door this morning, and then she’d kept right on walking, just like every other day since she first came to be here.
But then…she’d stopped. And for just one moment, the world stood still with her. Breathless. Because this morning was different. This time…
“That can’t be right,” she’d muttered to herself. She’d hesitated to turn around because if she was wrong, she wasn’t sure she could bear the disappointment. But if she was right…
“I have to look. It’s worth it to look. It’s my home. A place to belong. I could have a family, a normal life. I have to do it.”
Slowly, with eyes clenched shut, she’d turned around. She’d fisted her hands and she’d steeled her nerves and she’d glanced at the door again through one slitted eye. And she wasn’t wrong.
The door was, just slightly, a tiny bit, barely noticeably, ajar.
Now Flora stood in the middle of the walkway, staring at that tiny crack between the door and the doorjamb trying to decide what to do.
Tentatively, she reached her hand out for the knob. Hesitated.
What would happen when she touched it? Would the knob feel solid under her fingertips? Would she be able to pull it open far enough to look behind it, step beyond it?
The door wasn’t really a door. Flora distracted herself for a moment trying to imagine the Veil that existed where she clearly saw a door in a wall, but she couldn’t. She’d never been able to see the ethereal thing keeping this place safe, separate from her own human world. She just saw a door. She’d been told it was because her limited human mind couldn’t perceive it as anything else.
Flora focused harder. The door remained a door, one that was slightly open.
If she saw a door, she could touch it, she thought. She could open it and cross the threshold, and close it firmly between herself and the Fae.
Flora glanced around, smoothing the front of her plain white dress nervously, her bare toes curling against the cool ground.
The Fae were always around. She knew that in the human world, where she’d been born, the Fae were viewed as fascinating creatures—beautiful, gracious, and kind, clad in elegant flowing clothes—humans seemed to worship the creatures.
Reality was vastly different. Flora wasn’t sure when she had been “committed,” which was the Fae word for “snatched from her infant bed and replaced with a Fae changeling baby,” but she had been here as long as she could remember. The Fae world was all she knew, and in it, she had no freedom.
Uniformly dressed in loose pants and short-sleeved V-neck shirts in pale, pastel colors, the Fae were there wherever Flora went. In every room she entered, every hall she walked, and every tree beneath which she chose to sit, the Fae were there, watching her from the sidelines and stepping in to correct her whenever they felt she had misstepped. Even worse, in the last few days she’d noticed that one particular Fae had begun following her every move.
They taught her their ways and dressed her in their clothes and fed her their meals, and she couldn’t take it anymore. The pressure of conforming to their expectations was exhausting. She wanted to go home.
She twirled her finger around a stray thread hanging from the seam of the hideous dress she wore, and came to a decision.
The Fae guard assigned to follow her every move was gone, but eventually he would come back. The tiny cup of…some magic thing that made her complacent hadn’t been forced down her throat today. She was clear headed and unsupervised and she had to leave this horrid place and she had to do it now. The guard was gone and the door was ajar and she didn’t fit in here and she wanted to go home, where she belonged. She was leaving.
Flora reached out with a confident hand. Her fingers closed on the doorknob, and she pulled that tiny crack wide. Without thought, without hesitation, Flora stepped forward and escaped to freedom.
Nurse Fae McDonald looked up from her workstation and blinked in surprise. A small girl…no, a teenager, petite and deceptively frail looking in her over-sized white nightgown, stood alone in the doorway. Fae tilted her head and squinted her eyes. The girl’s head was bowed but …
Pale skin, ethereal and waiflike. Beneath the platinum hair, Fae knew, there was a pair of wide blue eyes and ever so slightly pointed ears. And…yes, bare feet.
Fae sighed. They just could not keep socks on that girl. Fae couldn’t figure out why not, the girl’s feet were always ice cold, but she yanked them off, every time.
“Flora?” she called, voice intentionally calm and quiet, trying to determine the girl’s mood even as she reached for the phone. “Flora, what are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night, you should be in bed.”
The girl looked up and stared at her with wide, fearful eyes. Fae sighed again and dialed quickly. Frightened was not a good sign.
The line clicked, and a gruff quiet “Hello,” came over the phone.
“George? Can you send a couple of orderlies down here please? And maybe the NP? Flora is out of her room and she looks terrified.”
George spoke briefly to someone on his end of the line, “On the way. I thought we had Flora on one on one?”
“I thought so too,” Fae said, voice grim. “Flora can’t really be left unsupervised right now; she’s been refusing to take her meds. Usually Tim sits with her this shift, but he’s out sick and I’m not sure who took his place. We’ll have to figure out what happened once we get her settled again.”
“All right. Keep me posted.”
Fae set the phone down just as two orderlies in pale green scrubs entered the room from another doorway. They nodded to her but kept their attention on Flora.
“Hi, Flora,” the older of the two said kindly. Sam had been working here a long time. Flora was a particular favorite of his—she reminded him of his long dead sister. He was always kind to the girl, and she loved him in return. Fae was relieved to see him. “Whatcha doing out and about, kiddo?” Sam murmured, inching slowly closer.
Flora looked at him with wide, liquid eyes, and began to shake her head. “No,” she whispered, taking a step back. “No no no no NO!”
The orderly sighed and took a couple of quick steps. “Come on, kiddo. Don’t do this today. You’ve been doing so well.” He paused thoughtfully and looked at her. “Did you forget to take your meds?”
Fae frowned thoughtfully. She was willing to bet that the nurse who was supposed to be sitting one on one with Flora was also the reason the girl was off her meds. That one would be finding new employment soon, Fae decided, seething.
“NO!” Flora screeched, clumsily dodging the orderlies’ reaching hands. “You are not supposed to be here! I got out. I got AWAY! You can’t be here! NO!” Her cries turned to unholy screeches as the orderlies caught her arms and did their best to guide her gently but firmly back across the room.
The Nurse Practitioner came hurrying through the door then and Fae pointed her in the direction of the little group. Not that she needed to. Flora was fighting tooth and nail now, and screaming at the top of her lungs. Even if the Nurse Practitioner somehow missed the sight of her, Fae suspected her cries could be heard on the floor upstairs.
The Nurse Practitioner caught up to the others as they passed into the hall that lead to patient bedrooms. Flora sobbed as the orderlies paused and gave her room to administer an injection.
“NO NO no no no no noooooo!” the girl moaned, her voice getting quieter as the medication took effect. “Let me go. I was free! I only wish to be free! I want to go home to my own people, to my own family! I’m not one of you! I’m just a worthless changeling. You don’t need me anymore. Please, please. Please. Just let me go.”