Beyond the Locked Door

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Contently Deranged Travelers
A humorous tale of how a man's curiosity took him on a most extraordinary adventure.

Submitted: July 31, 2019

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Submitted: July 31, 2019

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Part 1 – The Story Begins

Part 2 – The Journey

Part 3 – The Palace

Part 4 – The Tower

Part 5 – The Flight

Part 6 – The Rest of the Story

 

Part 1 – The Story Begins

John Prince wondered what lay beyond the locked door. The agent who had rented the cottage to him didn't know. "Perhaps the landlord is storing some personal property in there," he said. John might have accepted this explanation but for one curious fact. The door was located on an outside wall. It ought to have led to the garden, but there was no sign of the door from the outside. This was most peculiar. But John had no time to dwell on the mystery right now. He had to get on with the job of settling into his new home.

John had never had a place of his own before, so settling in was a new experience for him. Until recently, he had lived with his dear old mum and dad; but he was twenty-five years old now and his parents convinced him that it was time for him to move out. They convinced him by changing the lock on the front door and converting his bedroom into a potting room for Mrs Prince's collection of cactus plants.

So now he was alone and fending for himself. He would have liked the support of a good woman, or even a mediocre woman, but he hadn't yet found one who displayed much interest in him. It wasn't that he was ugly or smelt bad or anything like that. He was quite good looking really, but he was shy. Girls saw him as aloof. They thought he was up himself, which might have been a good party trick if he could do it. As it was, John seemed destined to spend the rest of his days a prisoner of his own timidity. Well, that was OK by him. Who needed girls anyway?

He was lucky to have secured this cottage at a reasonable rent. He busied himself arranging and rearranging his furniture, reading the washing machine instructions and searching Google for advice on how to boil an egg. But his mind kept drifting back to the mysterious door. He couldn't concentrate on how to boil an egg while he had that on his mind.

He went back to have a closer look at the door. It looked just like any other door in the house. He knew it was locked because he had already tried to open it. Perhaps a key from one of the other doors would open this one. He fetched the key from his bedroom door and inserted it into the lock. When he turned the key, he was rewarded with a satisfying clunk as the lock was disengaged.

He broke out in a sweat. Did he really want to open this door? He already knew from its location that there couldn't be anything beyond it. Nothing of this world, anyway. But he had to know for sure. He grasped the handle and began to open the door. He opened it no more than a couple of centimetres before slamming it shut again. His heart hammered. What if there was something bad behind the door? He imagined an alien creature with glowing eyes and sharp teeth. Then he released the breath that he had been holding and laughed at himself. He was being ridiculous. Monsters behind the door? That was the stuff of horror fiction. He grasped the door by its handle before he could wimp out again and swung it wide open. And then...

Part 2 – The Journey

... Nothing! No alien creature jumped out at him with bared fangs, or even a set of false teeth. He saw what common sense told him he would see: part of the wooden building framework and the inner surface of the exterior wall cladding. Humph! The wall isn't even insulated, he thought. He still couldn't understand why anyone would install a door in a blank wall, but at least he now knew that it didn't lead anywhere.

Or did it? As John stared through the door, the space beyond began to shimmer, and then slowly dissolve. A room materialised beyond the door. Oh. Oh my god! What have I done?

John took a step back. He wanted to run, but nothing rushed out at him, so he waited. From where he stood, the room looked like that of a medieval cottage. Its wooden floor was bare and bore no furniture. A narrow window let daylight into the room.

John stepped up to the door and peered inside. Nothing there. He entered the room. Still nothing. He walked over to look out the window.

"Took yer time didn't yer?"

The voice came from somewhere behind John. He whipped around and saw nothing but a blank wall. Even the door through which he had entered was gone.

"What the devil!" he exclaimed.

"Not the devil. Just me," said the voice.

"Who is me?" said John. "I see no one. And what happened to the door?"

Even as he spoke, a shadow appeared on the wall where the door had been. The shadow morphed into the shape of a creature that looked something like a gargoyle, but taller—and hairy. John had never seen a hairy gargoyle before. They were usually naked and carved out of stone. He had seen pictures of them on the walls of cathedrals.

"Sorry—forgot to make meself visible," said the gargoyle. "As for the door, you won't be needin' that no more. I came 'ere specially to getcha. Yer comin' wid me."

"I'd rather not," said John.

"You ain't got no choice mate. I got powers, yer see."

"What do you want with me?"

"Yore a prince, ain't ya?"

"My name is John Prince, yes."

"Prince John."

"No, John Prince."

"Whatever. And yore a virgin ain't ya?"

"I say, that's getting a bit personal isn't it?"

"So, you are a virgin. I thought so."

"Look, it's just that I haven't met the right g—"

"No need to explain," said the gargoyle. "Me name is Bert, by the way. Queen Brunhilda gave me the task of finding her a virgin prince, and 'ere you are. I couldn't come through to your world to fetch you, but I knew yer wouldn't be able to resist trying that door."

"Now look here," said John, "if you are planning to kidnap me, I could have you arrested. I demand that you bring the door back and let me go."

"Arrested, yer say? Not in this world. Like as not the Queen will reward me handsomely for finding her a virgin prince. There ain't many around yer know."

"I told you, I'm not a prince and I'm not a ver ... ah ...a prince."

"Enough," said Bert. "You're comin' wid me now."

"And how do you suppose we get out of this room? The door's gone, and the window's too small to squeeze through."

"What room?" Bert enquired. "I don't see no room."

John hadn't noticed the room disappear, but disappear it had. It hadn't really existed in the first place. It was just an illusion that Bert had created to lure John into this strange world. Where the pair now stood was nothing but wilderness.

John convinced himself that this was just a dream. He had never experienced such a detailed dream before, but that was all he had to hang on to. He must have dozed off in his recliner after devouring his lunch of toasted cheese sandwiches. The cheese, he thought. That's what's giving me this dream.

"So what happens now?" he enquired.

"First orf, we go to see Queen Brunhilda."

"And then?"

"Dunno. If she don't like the look o' yer, she'll like as not 'ave yer head chopped orf."

"I rather hope not. I say, are you a gargoyle or what? I haven't seen a hairy gargoyle before."

"Yeah. I'm a gargoyle. You fink I'm hairy? Wait till yer see the gargirles."

"Gargirles? Are they female gargoyles?"

"Yeah—so 'airy they's lookin' like walkin' 'aystacks. Then there's yer gargayes—"

"OK, OK, I get it.

"Good. Now you wait 'ere while I fetch me transport." Bert waddled off and disappeared behind a rocky outcrop. As soon as he was out of sight, John contemplated running away; but he couldn't think of anywhere he could run to, so he sat on a rock to wait until he woke up.

"Oy! Watch where you're sitting," said the rock.

John jumped to his feet. "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were a rock."

"Do I look like a rock?"

"Yes, you do actually."

"Then I must be a rock. But that don't give you no cause to go sitting on me."

Just then, John heard a rattling of steel clad wheels and the pounding of hooves. A chariot of sorts swung around the corner on one wheel with Bert holding the reins of a large beast and yelling, "Yee hah!" at the top of his voice. The chariot skidded to a stop in a shower of dust and pebbles.

"What kind of beast is that?" John enquired.

"That be a unicorn," said Bert.

"Can't be a unicorn. It's got two horns."

"Must be a duocorn then."

"It's a goat."

"Is it? I bought 'im from a feller called Thor. Big feller with a beard. Told me the beast wus good fer pullin' chariots. C'mon then. Jump up on me cart. Mustn't keep 'er majesty waitin'."

John climbed onto the back of the chariot and clung to the sides. The goat immediately took off—literally. It leapt off the ground and flew high into the air with the chariot in tow. The flight in an open craft without so much as a seat belt or parachute scared John witless. He wondered if it were possible to die in a dream world.

The chariot covered a vast distance at such speed that the ground below was just a blur. Eventually, the chariot slowed down enough for John to make out a town or city up ahead. Dominating this was a magnificent palace of a kind not often seen outside a Disney feature movie. The chariot cruised down to the palace and came to a stop in a courtyard paved with marble.

Part 3 – The Palace

"We're here," said Bert.

"Where is here?" enquired John.

"Queen Brunhilda's palace."

Elf-like soldiers in purple pantaloons and green waistcoats rushed forward with spears at the ready.

"The guards don't seem very friendly."

"Don't you worry about them. They get so bored standing guard all day it don't take much to get 'em excited."

"I don't fancy all those sharp spears pointing at me."

"They ain't sharp. They's blunt."

"Blunt?"

"Yeah. Elf and Safety regerlations. Someone could get 'urt if them spears was sharp."

Bert led John into the palace and along seemingly endless corridors, followed by the entourage of elf guards doing their best to look fierce. They came to a set of magnificently carved doors.

"The throne room," explained Bert.

"Is that where the Queen sits?"

"Only when she needs to take a—"

"OK, OK, I don't wish to know that!"

"Well, yer shouldna arsked. The real throne is in the reception hall. Come along."

They came at last to a much grander set of doors, tall enough for a giraffe to walk through on stilts. "The reception 'all," announced Bert.

Two gargoyles with blunt spears stood guard outside the doors. Bert spoke to one of the guards. He went into the hall through a small access hatch and returned almost immediately. "The Queen will see yer now," he announced. Together, the guards heaved on one of the larger doors and pushed it open.

John followed Bert into the massive reception hall. Its walls were decorated with shields, multi coloured flags and what looked like human heads.

"The Queen is an ambitious woman," explained Bert. "She likes to get ahead every now and again." He barked what might have been a laugh at his pun, but John saw no humour in the situation.

At the far end of the hall sat Queen Brunhilda, so distant that she looked like a pigmy. As John approached, he could see that she was no pigmy. She looked more like a sumo wrestler—as wide as she was tall. She wore an elaborately embroidered gown beneath a robe of scarlet velvet that could have doubled as a circus marquee. A crown that resembled a diamond encrusted chamber pot sat on her head. Her fearsome scowl could have cracked a brick.

"We're in luck," murmured Bert. "She looks 'appy today."

They approached the throne.

"Yer majesty," purred Bert, "I 'ave the honour to present to you Prince John, just as you commanded."

"You have done well, Bert. Such a pretty boy too. He shall make a worthy addition to my harem."

"Harem?" spluttered John.

"Her majesty believes in equality," explained Bert. "Kings 'ave harems for their wives. She wants one for 'er 'usbands."

"You expect me to become one of her ... um ... husbands?

"You're the first. Virgin princes are so 'ard to come by."

"Silence!" thundered Brunhilda. "While you are in my presence, you will address yourselves only to me." To John, she said, "You are to be my first husband—if you qualify. Soon, I shall have fifty—one for each day of the month."

"'er majesty never was much good at maths," muttered Bert.

"And if I don't qualify, can I go home?"

"If you don't qualify, your head will join those of other unqualified varlets that decorate these walls. The rest of you, we shall feed to the royal pigs. Now then, are you indeed a prince?"

Considering the options before him, John deemed it prudent to acknowledge that he was most certainly a prince. It wasn't really a lie. As a member of the Prince family, he felt entitled to call himself a prince.

"Yes, I am a Prince, as was my father before me."

"And you are virgin?"

John blushed. "Well ... you see ... it's just that I haven't met the right g—"

"He's a virgin awright," interrupted Bert. "I made sure o' that afore I brung him 'ere."

"Good. We are pleased," said Brunhilda.

"Not all of us," muttered John.

"Bert," said Brunhilda, "you have done well. I shall reward you richly—just as soon as I remember where I put my piggybank. Now take my prince to the ivory tower and incarcerate him there.

"I say, steady on," said John.

"She means to imprison you there, lummox, until the wedding," said Bert.

"I knew that," said John.

"Shut up, both of you," said the Queen. Begone. This interview has tired me. I need a nap."

So Bert and John bewent. The sound of Brunhilda's snores reached them while they were still only halfway to the tall reception hall doors.

"Do you get many giraffes in here?" enquired John as they left the cavernous reception hall.

Part 4 – The Tower

The tower was tall and round like a lighthouse with battlements. The marble blocks of which it was built shone like polished ivory. John had been locked in a small room at the top of this tower for three days before concluding that this was no dream. He would never get out of here by simply waking up.

The prospect of marrying Brunhilda appalled him, but what could he do? The tower room had a glassless window, far above the stone-paved courtyard below. He could end this nightmare once and for all by jumping out the window—except he couldn't. The window was too narrow.

The guard outside the cell door was a gargoyle called Cecil. John tried to talk to him through the barred window in the cell door. But Cecil dared not respond. He was wary of invoking Queen Brunhilda's wrath. Her pigs weren't a cute as Queen Elizabeth's corgis, but they were a lot hungrier.

The only other soul that John had seen was a gargirle called Clara. She brought him food and filled his water bowl twice a day. He knew she was a gargirle because she had a girl's name, and because of the long hair that enshrouded her head and hung down to her waist. It was just as thick at the front as it was at the back, so he never knew whether she was coming or going.

  On the fourth day, John heard a strange noise. It wasn't Cecil, for he was asleep with his chair tilted back against the wall next to the cell door. The noise came from outside the window, but there was nothing out there except a sheer wall of stone blocks. He went to the window, looked down, and saw an amazing sight. A beautiful girl was climbing up the wall toward him; her slim fingers and toes finding gaps between the stone blocks as she climbed. At last, she reached the window and looked in.

"Don't stand there staring. Help me in will you?" she said.

"I'm so sorry," said John, leaping forward to help the girl. "I wasn't expecting visitors." He reached out and dragged her in through the window. It was a tight squeeze but she was just slim enough to get through. She tumbled to the floor and sat panting in a puddle of skirts and petticoats.

"That was a remarkable climb," said John. "Especially for one dressed as you are. You look like a princess."

"I am a princess. Princess Priscilla from the Principality of Petrovia to be precise."

"Pleased to meet you. I am John Prince."

"Prince John."

"Whatever."

"And you are a—"

"Don't say it or I'll push you back out the window."

"Please don't do that. It wasn't easy climbing up here."

"I could see that. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" he enquired.

"I'm here to rescue you. It's what I do—rescue handsome princes in distress."

"Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? I always thought it was the handsome prince who rescued the beautiful princess."

"Depends on who needs rescuing. In this case, you are the prisoner and I am the rescuer."

"Well, that's very kind of you, I'm sure, but now that you are here, are we not both prisoners?"

"No, just you. The Queen has no reason to imprison me. Cecil will let me out."

"But he won't let me out."

"Yes he will—if we swap clothes."

"What?"

"Then you will look like me and Cecil will let you out."

"And leave you in here?"

"Of course not. Cecil will see that I am not you, so he will have to let me out too."

"No, it'll never work. It'll just get you into trouble."

"Have you ever read Toad of Toad Hall?"

"What's that got to do with it?"

"In the story, Mr Toad escapes from jail disguised as a washerwoman. You can do the same disguised as a princess."

"Are you serious? As I recall, the washerwoman was a shapeless old bag with her head covered by a shawl. A perfect disguise I should think. Whereas you—if I may be so bold—have the figure of an hourglass, the face of an angel and a magnificent head of hair. I wouldn't look even remotely like you."

"Are you always this negative?"

"Alright then, you are ugly and as fat as a cow. Would that be more positive?"

"Only if it were true. OK, maybe you have a point. I should at least have brought along a shawl or a wig."

"Perhaps we could capture Clara when she comes with my food, and then steal her hair. She's got plenty."

"I didn't bring scissors, either. Look, maybe we are overthinking the problem. Go and stand against the wall next to the door, where Cecil can't see you."

John did as he was bid. Priscilla went to the door and called through the barred window. "Oy, Cecil, wake up!"

Cecil woke with a start. The chair slipped out from under him. He made a quick descent to the floor, landing amid bits of broken chair. Massaging his painful posterior, he climbed to his feet and peered at the window through which Priscilla had called.

"What the ... Priscilla? Wot chew doin' in there? Where be Prince John?"

"He jumped out the window," said Priscilla. "Come quickly and look! Oh dear me. Queen Brunhilda will be most displeased if she finds him splashed all over the courtyard like a pot of raspberry jam."

"Stan' back," said Cecil. He studied his key ring and tried to recall which key opened the door. It didn't take him long—there was only one key. He unlocked the door, flung it open, and made a beeline for the window. He leaned out the window as far as his shoulders would allow. John and Priscilla made a beeline for the door.

"I don't see no—" began Cecil. The door clanged shut behind him. He whipped round and saw Priscilla smiling at him through the cell door window. He heard the key turn in the lock and muttered a gargoyle curse for having left it there. "Oy! Lemme out yer wicked wench. Not fair!"

"Sorry about this, Cecil," said Priscilla, but rescuing princes is what I do. Don't you worry your pretty little head."

"Pretty?" said John from behind her.

"Well, it is pretty little, isn't it?" To Cecil, she said, "Clara will be along soon. I'll leave the key in the door so she can let you out. Then I suggest that the two of you take a holiday somewhere far away."

"But I ain't due for leave until next month. I'll miss out on me 'oliday pay if I clear orf now."

"Better that than becoming fodder for Brunhilda's pigs. But please yourself. Must run now. Ta-ta."

Part 5 – The Flight

By the time they reached the bottom of the tower, John was so dizzy that he ran around the outside of the tower twice before Priscilla managed to get him to run in a more or less straight line down the road.

"Where are we going?" he asked between puffs of breath.

"Away from the tower—quickly as we can," Priscilla replied. "I can't be sure that Clara and Cecil will take my advice and get out of town. Once word of our escape gets out, we will have the entire Elvin Army on out tails."

John was too short of breath to ask more questions. They ran until they reached the outskirts of the town, where Priscilla led him into the shelter of a stable. There, they rested on a hay bale. A goat stood nearby chewing happily on an empty soup can.

"Look," said John, "I'm really grateful that you have rescued me, but aren't you now in terrible danger?"

"Not really. They haven't caught me so far, so why should this be any different?"

"How many times have you done this? Rescued princes in distress, I mean."

"You are my seventh. Four princes and three knights so far. It's what I do. It's exciting and the rewards keep me in comfort."

"Ah ... about that."

It's OK. I know you are not of this world and have nothing with which to reward me. Lets just say that this rescue is on the house—and because I think you are cute."

John coloured. "Girls don't think I'm cute. Not where I come from."

"Of course they do. You are just too shy to acknowledge it."

John stared at the floor and said nothing.

"Next time you meet a pretty girl," continued Priscilla, "don't shut her out. Be nice to her. Unless you'd rather stay here with me."

"Does that mean I have a choice?"

"Of course. But I can get you back home if that's what you want."

"Well, I'd be delighted to stay with you, Priscilla, but not so much in this world. Sooner or later, I'd end up in Brunhilda's harem or as fodder for her pigs."

"Yes, that's true. Well, I suppose I had better get you home then."

"I'd like to know how."

"Don't you recognise the goat? It's Bert's. This is his stable. I'll just borrow his chariot and take you back to your cottage. The goat will remember the way."

"My cottage isn't there any more."

"It will be."

"How do you know ... oh, never mind. There is so much about this world that I will never understand. I just want to get out of it."

And so they went. Drawn by Bert's galloping goat, the chariot swiftly soared high above the mountains and into the clouds.

"I think it's going to rain," said John, peering through the clouds. They were growing thicker and darker by the moment. Before Priscilla could respond, there came a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder.

"STOP!" boomed a voice ahead of them. The voice came from a bearded gent in the garb of an ancient Viking. He appeared to be floating in the clouds.

Priscilla reined the goat in and the chariot settled onto a cloud.

"Who are you?" enquired John.

"I'm Thor!"

"I'm sorry to hear that," said John. "Where does it hurt?"

"That's not what he meant," said Priscilla. "He's Thor, the god of thunder."

"Oh," said John. To Thor, he said, "What do you want of us?"

"I want my goat back."

"But it's not your goat. You sold it to Bert."

"His cheque bounced. That's still my goat."

"Then we need to borrow it for a bit," said Priscilla. With that, she yelled a mighty "Yee Hah!" and whipped the goat into an immediate gallop. Thor gave vent to a mighty roar.

"Priscilla, what are you doing? We'll never get away," cried John.

"Just shut up and hang on. I've never lost a prince yet and I'm not going to start now."

The air crackled around them as Thor flung bolt after bolt of lightning at them. "We'll be out of range soon. I think—" Priscilla's comment was cut short by a brilliant flash.

Part 6 – The Rest of the Story

John slowly came to his senses. He found himself slumped in his recliner in the living room of his cottage. The remains of his lunch were on a side table next to him. Jeeze, that was some scary dream. But he wasn't sure that it had been a dream. The experience had been too real and too detailed for that. Priscilla had somehow delivered him home. And he missed her already.

He got to his feet and hurried through to see if the mysterious door was still there. It was, and the key was still in the lock where he left it. Without hesitation, he flung the door open wide and stared into ... a linen cupboard. Just an ordinary empty linen cupboard! Well, that's that then. Dejected, but not surprised, John went back into the living room to clear up his lunch things.

He was standing at the kitchen sink—wondering why he had filled it to the brim with soapy water to wash just one plate and one mug—when the doorbell rang. Damn, I don't want to see anyone right now. He took his time drying his hands, but the caller wasn't going to leave in a hurry. The bell rang again. He wondered what they would be selling this time. It was a tossup between Jesus and a vacuum cleaner.

He opened the door. "What do you want?" he snapped. The caller was a girl somewhere in her early twenties.

"Oh ... I ... uh," said the girl. "Have I called at a bad time?" John realised that she was beautiful. She reminded him of someone—yes, it was Priscilla from his dream. But this girl wore jeans and a tee shirt and her hair was cut short—not at all like Priscilla. Upon realising that he was facing an extremely pretty girl, John's tongue tied itself up in a metaphoric knot. He cursed his timidity.

"Yes ... uh ... no. I mean, I'm busy right now. Did you want something?" He struggled to get the words out.

"Not really. I live next door. I saw that you moved in here yesterday and thought I should pop over and say hello. Good neighbours and all that sort of thing."

"Yeah, well, thanks. Nice to meet you." Now please go before I make a complete fool of myself. Then he remembered the advice that someone gave him quite recently. Don't shut her out. He took a deep breath and said, "I say, would you like to come in for a coffee? I'm John Prince, by the way."

"Prince John?"

"No, John Prince." I hope she isn't going to ask me if I'm a virgin.

"Are you—"

"Don't ask!"

"I was just going to ask if you were making coffee for yourself."

"Yes, of course," he lied.

"In that case, I would love a cup of coffee."

Later, when they were comfortably settled in the living room sipping instant coffee from mismatched mugs, the girl said, "You know, I have just had the most bizarre dream—and when you said that you were Prince John—"

"John Prince".

"Whatever ... I nearly flipped. You were in my dream—in a big ivory tower. I must have been thinking about you when I went to sleep. And now your name ..."

John's jaw dropped. All at once, he knew who this girl was. "You haven't given me your name yet. Is it—by any chance—Priscilla?"

"How could you possibly know that?"

"It's a long story. I found this locked door, you see, and ..."

The pair discussed their dreams well into the night, after which ... well, that's another story.

The End


© Copyright 2020 Joe Stuart. All rights reserved.

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