From the editor:
Deep inside your psyche, four doors stand before you, each a reminder of a lifetime of pain and regret (even the door to the Unicorn Kingdom). Can you find a way to open a new door?
Author Jenny Rae Rappaport has taken turns as a literary agent, marine sciences field guide, and intern at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Her work has appeared in Lightspeed, Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, and more.
From the author: Four doors stand before you--which will you choose?
There are four doors in front of you. There are always four doors because four is the number of times you have told yourself that there is nothing wrong with you. Not that you believe that—yet.
The first door leads to the unicorn kingdom, full of fluff and sass and prancing ponies. You have been there before, years ago as a child. There is something about it that no longer appeals; you have grown old enough not to welcome its deceptions, and the unicorns have evil grins when they gore you to death.
The second door leads to the tech world. You have been there before, as well. But the gleaming computers and cyborg body modifications leave you feeling cold inside.
The third door leads to your childhood, and it is tempting to consider stepping inside it and hiding. But you have always been strange; there have always been voices clamoring for your attention, and your parents were never quite able to deal with them. You wish that they had been better parents, but you also wish that they still spoke to you. Life is complicated like that.
The fourth door leads to the void. You do not open it. That way lies madness.
You do not open any of the doors because the voices confirm that they are all wrong. They will not help you. They will just suck you in, and that is something you can ill afford. If you could afford to be lost in your own head forever, none of this would matter. But there are others waiting for you out there—children, a spouse—and you owe it to them to find your way through this maze.
So instead, you choose to step sideways between the first and second door, seeking a happy medium where you can sit and think. The wall between the doors opens up like a spoon run through pudding, and sucks you in; this is brain logic, after all, where you can walk on walls and fly through stars, if you so choose. You don’t choose to do that.
The world you find between the first and second door is oddly comforting. There are elves who utilize steam engines, and humans who happily pop around using elf teleportation. It’s very magical steampunk. You discover that you like sitting in meadows, and watching the elves fly their proto-airplanes above. No one hurts you; no one needs you too much. The voices quiet down, and you sit in the meadows and simply breathe. You could stay here for a very long time.
But this is not reality.
None of this is reality.
And part of you knows this, but refuses to acknowledge it, and another part acknowledges it, but refuses to deal with it. And many other parts of yourself are broken and confused, and oddly soothed by the things that the voices tell you. And then you fight within yourself, because things are true and not true, and there is never any telling what’s real or not real.
But back to the doors.
Eventually, you leave the magical steampunk world. It’s grown too confining, and you want to see what else is out there. There may be a way out that you have not tried; there may be a path that can lead you back to your family and the world they live in. You suspect that they are lonely without you, and then, you instantly suspect that they don’t care that you spend most of your days merely existing. This is the fallacy of believing what your brain tells you—nothing is entirely true and nothing is entirely false.
You go back to the doors, and you stare at them, hoping that they have changed. They have not changed.
This time you step between the second and third door, into a childhood that is suddenly full of genetically-modified people with metallic limbs. Strangely enough, this does not make your childhood any more horrible than it was, and in fact, might actually improve it.
You like the father with the metal legs, who is no longer confined to a wheelchair. You like the mother who has had something done to her, and no longer beats you when you make a mistake. When things seem wrong, and the world contracts, and the voices beg—and you make a mistake. Always, the mistakes. Never with the perfection. It is impossible to ever please your parents.
You do not stay forever in this world of somewhat-less-horrible-childhood.
Back to the doors, back to the doors, back to the doors.
And then, there is only the void left. You will never get anywhere, if you do not go through the doors, and you sense that you really are running late to get somewhere. You can choose the void, or the void interacting with your childhood somehow, and really, that version of childhood might be even worse than the one before it. It’s not really a choice, is it? If you don’t go through, you will never get back to who you were before; you will never find your way out of the knots you have tied yourself in.
There is no hiding in the void.
There is the terror of knowing that you will never be better. That there is no better. That there will always be voices; that there will always be therapists; that there will always be medications to try. There will always be something that someone wants you to do to your brain, and you are not entirely sure that you want to do that. It is very hard sometimes to tell where you begin and the voices end.
But you are tired of the voices. You do not want to live your life listening to the chatter of your own demons; you want to hear what the ones you love are saying to you. There is a certain sadness to believing that a tiny pill alone can hold the darkness at bay, but if you do not believe that, you may never get free. The fear of everything that could continue to go wrong rushes at you—
And then, you blink.
There are four doors. There are always four doors. There will always be something wrong with you. But there will always be something right with you, as well.
And there, in the corner, hiding all this time in plain-view—one small window, just big enough for you to climb through. A window that leads nowhere except to the real world. You see a tree and the sun, and the smallest sliver of pale blue sky. There is nothing more terrifying than that tiny piece of sky.
You climb through the window.
This story originally appeared in Factor Four Magazine.