Someone is calling his name. Is it a voice from The Doorway?
The scientists called it ‘The Doorway’ – a brilliantly white, two dimensional glowing enigma, about the size of a door and standing on end in middle of Central Park. The question was, where did it come from? And where did it lead?
When I first saw it, I was on leave visiting my family in Phoenix. It was the hottest summer on record there – fifty two days, nearly two months, over 110. I had just finished a swim when my little niece grabbed me by the hand and dragged me inside. “Come see. Come see,” she said. And there it was on the news, helicopters circling the thing from miles away.
They said it just appeared out of nowhere, blindingly white yet without depth, invisible when viewed on end. The talking heads said they were evacuating the city. My phone rang.
“Crap,” I exclaimed after receiving my orders. “Just put it on the list, I guess.” Between the coronavirus and everything with it, the riots, excessive heat, the entire West Coast basically on fire, it was just one more surprise for the worst year ever. And it was that much worse that it was an election year. 2020 was a flaming dumpster fire, doused in acid – a goddam shitstorm.
Days later, I stood with my team as we eased forward toward the object. The city had been emptied, and we were the only people within twenty miles.
It was blinding. Even behind our tactical sunglasses, we had to shield ourselves from the glare. “You picking up anything, Sanchez?” I asked the corporal.
“No sir,” he replied, reviewing the Geiger reading. “Infrared’s also in the clear.”
“So no radiation and no heat, then,” I replied. “Let’s get the other sensors in place.”
We’d hauled a crate of scientific equipment, everything from special high tech cameras to sensors that could record things I didn’t have a clue about. The scientists had been clear where to place them and I was good at following orders. I also had no illusion that we were anything less than expendable.
“Robert are you there?” a voice, ephemeral, suddenly called my name and I raised my rifle.
“Did you hear that?” I asked of my men, alarmed. They shook their heads, without a clue.
“Robert, are you there?” it asked again. “You have to get out of there, now!”
“Who’s saying that?” I scanned the perimeter nervously.
“You okay, Cap’n?” Rodriguez asked calmly and I backed down.
“Yeah, fine,” I lied, my mind racing.
“Robert, you have to leave before it’s too late!”
“Goddam it! What is that?” I turned circles trying to discover the source, like it was coming from all around me.
“Sir?” one of my men asked.
“You’re close now,” the voice said. “Just a little more, through the doorway.”
I back away.
“No, move closer!”
“You men,” I ordered, “get this equipment set up then establish a perimeter.” Eyes drawn thin, I motioned my corporal over. “Sanchez, can I count on you to watch my back?”
“Absolutely, sir,” he said. “What’s up?”
“I’m hearing someone call my name. I don’t want you to think I’m crazy.”
“Of course not, sir.”
“And I don’t want to alarm the men,” I whispered. “Now, I’m going to inch toward that doorway, and I need you to keep an eye on me. Got it?”
“Robert, times running out!” the voice said.
I leaned my rifle calmly upon one of the crates and drew my sidearm. A quick glance to Rodriguez and he nodded back.
“Just a little closer now!”
I inched in, firmly gripping my pistol.
“Closer,” it said. My nerves sat on edge. “That’s it.” Then, a hint of doubt crossed my mind and I paused. “Oh, hell!”
Before I could react, a pair of arms reached out, pulling me into the light. Then I instantly fell, meeting the unforgiving plating of a metal floor.
“Error. Simulation terminated,” a mechanical notification announced.
Rolling onto my back, I discovered an attractive redhead gazing back at me. “Welcome back. Jesus, that was close.”
“Close?” I wondered, confused.
“You know, he can’t remember yet,” a man with glasses said from behind his console. “It’s gonna take a while after that long in the sim.”
“Oh right.” She crouched to meet me, grinning. “You were in there for nearly 4 hours. Probably felt like 30 years. Anyways, it’s a good thing we pulled you out when we did. That 2020 simulation code really went to shit fast!”