The Thirteenth Door
by Kelly Zientek-Baker
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Caleb stared at the doorknob of the twelfth door. A new flask appeared long after the last drop of the previous one, when his youth waned. So, why had she sent the next one so soon? He grasped the knob and took a breath.
As he opened the door, two hands grasped his jacket and pulled him inside.
“What are you—?” he started to ask when she pushed him against the wall. Her skirts swirled around his legs as she leaned her body against his. Tendrils of hair fell across her face as she pushed her head against his neck.
Caleb opened his mouth again and only groaned as her lips nibbled at his skin.
“What are you doing here?” he finally asked in a whispered rush.
She had never personally come for him, rather, he always found the next flask sitting on some table or some shelf behind a mysteriously appearing door.
“I’ve missed you,” she whispered, her bosom heaving against his chest. He felt dizzy, his knees weak. Alisandre pulled her face away from his and stroked his nape with her fingernails. Shivers tingled down his spine.
She dipped her head and raised an eyebrow. “Say you’ll have me.”
She bent her lips closer so that they tickled his ear lobes. “Let’s not wait for number thirteen. Have me now.”
She fingered his jacket’s zipper pull and slowly dragged it down. Her fingers rested at his belt and toyed with the buckle. He felt himself easing into her arms.
“There you go,” she said huskily.
He looked down into her eyes and paused. In the pupils he saw an image of Leonora, melting under the curse, sinking to the ground and shrieking in agony. The image from his dream.
“Get away from me!” he bellowed, and pushed away, shaking his head and wiping his face with both hands.
She whirled, her face flashing surprise and anger before regaining an unreadable calm. She watched him pace the length of the room.
“You never come. Never. After all these years.” He reached one wall and spun to face her. “What’s different this time?”
She stepped toward him, her lips pressed into a coy smile. “I simply can’t exist another moment without you, Caleb darling. Enough with these games.”
She reached for him, but he retreated. “Where is she?”
Alisandre’s smile vanished. Caleb stormed up to Alisandre, backing her against the wall.
“I’m getting close, aren’t I? Real close. She’s here. In this city. Isn’t she?”
When Alisandre only stared, he slammed his fist against the wall. “Answer me! Is she here, Alisandre?”
Alisandre’s eyes narrowed. She slipped a glass flask from between her breasts. She gave it a tug, freeing it from the silver chain around her neck.
“You’ll never find her,” she growled and smashed the flask to the ground.
“No!” Caleb cried and dropped to his knees, grasping at the shards of glass, as the enchanted water melted into the cracks of the concrete floor. When he looked up, Alisandre was gone, and he found himself back on the sidewalk and in front of a smooth brick wall.
* * *
An hour later, Caleb stood on a deserted side street in front of the Cool Beans Cafe, gripping the map in his right hand, the left poised with red felt-tip marker. The tattoo parlor was out, he decided, and crossed it off. That left the flower shop or the cafe. He’d visited all three daily for the past month.
The sound of the twelfth flask smashing against the floor reverberated through his mind. He needed to focus. He studied the two stores, closing his eyes to think, to gather, to feel her spirit. He drew in a long breath through his nose and froze. He flung open his eyes and took another deep whiff. And ran.
* * *
George looked up from the counter of the Cool Beans Cafe as the door burst open.
“Morning, Caleb!” he called, and began punching buttons on his register. “Large latte?”
Caleb stood just inside, eyes darting around the empty cafe. They crossed George’s and registered the question. Caleb nodded and dug his wallet out of his back pocket, walking toward the register, eyebrows furrowed. He was so sure just a moment ago...
“Four dollars and thirteen cents,” said a woman’s voice.
Caleb jerked his head up. She stood before him with dark eyes, hair like melted chocolate cascading around her face, plump lips tilted in the half-smile she always had when something tickled her. He’d searched the world over, and now here she was, taking his coffee order.
“Leonora,” he whispered.
“Sir?” she asked.
“This is Melissa,” George said. “She’s new. I’m training her.”
Caleb shook his head. “Right. Of course.” He withdrew a five-dollar bill and laid it on the counter. “Sorry.”
She cocked an eyebrow and drew the bill to the register. She didn’t know him. Of course she didn’t know him. They hadn’t seen each other for eight hundred years.
“Do I know you?” she asked, pausing to study his face.
His tongue flopped inside his mouth like a dying fish. He gave up trying to form words and smiled. She shrugged.
“I’m sorry,” she said, holding out his change. “Didn’t mean to freak you out. There’s just something familiar about you.”
He reached out, and she dumped the coins into his hand. Their fingers grazed for a moment and electricity coursed through his veins. He closed his eyes, heart aching, aching, aching for her.
“Well, he’ll definitely become familiar.” George’s voice sliced through the moment as he plunked the latte down on the counter between them. Caleb opened his eyes to find Melissa still watching him. “This guy’s a regular.”
Melissa’s cheeks reddened and she smiled. “Well, then, see you tomorrow, Large Latte.”
Caleb tipped the cup toward George, nodded to Melissa, and stepped out of the cafe, happier than he had been in centuries. He had found his wife. Now all he had to do was woo her. His phone rang.
“So? What do you think of her?”
Caleb frowned. “Of who?”
Caleb stopped. “She’s... good at... counting change?”
George hooted. “Ha! You’ll never guess what else!”
Caleb’s breath caught in his throat. “What else?”
“She agreed to go on a date with me!”
George kept talking while Caleb looked up at the sky and saw his eternity in the sun that slipped behind a misty cloud.
“Can you go?” George was asking. “Would you be up for it? Sorry, I know it’s short notice, but she insisted.”
Caleb shook his head. “I’m sorry. On what?”
“A double date! Me and her. You and her sister.”
Caleb closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “Sure, man.”
“Great! The Thirteenth Door, tonight at 8 o’clock.”
“Hold up, what?” Caleb’s mouth went dry. “Where are we going?”
“It’s this new place Melissa has been talking about. She’s been dying to try it. Kooky vibe. Anyway, I gotta get back to work. Meet me there at eight.”
Caleb hung up and crumpled on a nearby bench.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Kelly Zientek-Baker