Content Notes: death and arson references
As the first flames began flickering in the windows, Elisabet turned her back on the manor. The fire would take care of all the evidence. By morning, nothing would be left of her family’s crimes. They, like the rest of her family, would be nothing but smoke and ash.
It was a long trip from that once-proud manor to the antiquated cottage hidden deep in the moor where her many-times great-grandmother, the first Elisabet, had lived. The cottage, passed through the female line for years beyond reckoning, belonged to her. Everything else of her family’s wealth and holdings would go to a distant relative. Elisabet wished them joy in it.
Thoughts of her ancestor, family tales, and the simple cottage from which everything began distracted her from blistered feet and the English weather. Her wild appearance kept others on the road from approaching her, though whispers warned that if she stayed in any one place too long, she would likely be locked up as a madwoman.
When Elisabet reached the cottage, she nearly wept. The door hung off the hinges, and several areas needed new thatch, but otherwise, it seemed intact. In spite of her mother’s neglect, it could still be a home to her.
A small, smokey fire cleared the room of pests, and a sturdy branch braced the door closed. Clearing the chimney would be a long day’s work, but with the holes in the thatch, she could safely leave a tiny fire going to cook dinner and keep her warm through the night. There was no mattress, and the wood-and-leather bed was rotted to pieces, but she had slept on the ground enough nights that she wasn’t bothered. A good night’s sleep and she would be ready to start turning the rundown cottage into a home.
She woke to sunlight creeping under the door. Confused, she looked around and remembered the cottage. Great-grandmother Elisabet. The end of her family. Standing up, she stretched and looked again at the door. It was on the wrong side of the building. On its hinges. Turning around, she saw the door–the real door–braced closed and sagging. No hint of sunlight crept through the gaps between the door and the wall.
She looked again at the new door, impossible door, bright shining door leaking the light of a beautiful summer day. Panic took her. She tore the brace from the door (the real door) and ran out onto the moor. The full moon shone overhead, giving further lie to the sunlight creeping into her new home. From where?
She didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. Her parents had proven, and proven well, that there were things man (and woman) was not meant to know. That such things might have invaded her last haven…
Creeping inside, she grabbed her blanked and scuttled back out, onto the moor. Sleeping under the stars seemed a very good idea.
The first rays of dawn woke her the next morning. No more strangeness had occurred during the night; aside from dreams, her sleep had been peaceful. The morning light shone into the cottage through the east-facing doorway. The far wall, facing the sunset, was blank of door and window alike. Just as it had been when she first entered the cabin late yesterday.
Just a dream, she told herself. And knew she was lying.
That morning she wandered the moors gathering wild carrots and berries and other wild-growing foods. In a few days, she would need to find the nearest village and purchase food and other necessities with the small amount of coin she had taken from the manor. For now, she lived off the moors and blessed the old gardener who taught her about the plants that were safe to eat, and which to avoid.
When she had food for a few days, she gathered rushes and reeds. The scraps of the old bed went out the door into a convenient ditch for the small animals of the moor to make what they could of it. Piling the rushes and reeds where the bed had been made a reasonably comfortable bed for the night. More reeds and twigs, and a sturdy branch, let her make a start on clearing the chimney. Several old birds’ nests later, she had made progress but still had a ways to go. And she didn’t dare fix the thatching until she had a working chimney.
Thankfully, the skies stayed clear, and she would have at least one more rain-free night.
After a simple dinner, she bedded down for the night and told herself fiercely to close her mind to strange dreams.
Sunlight shining on her face–sunlight shining from the west–woke her once again. Gleaming brightly under the door.
The next morning the door was gone again. If she had any faith in pastor or priest, Elisabet might have sought one out. Instead, she did the only thing she could: ignored it. She walked into the nearest village, where the tale of her recent orphaning and retreat to the last of her family’s properties bought the sympathy and support of the village matrons. Over the next days, the men and boys in the village got her roof thatched and she bartered one of her old-but-still-fine dresses to the dressmaker for a bed to sleep on. With seeds from the village, she started a small kitchen garden. Within two weeks’ time, she had a snug little home.
And still, each night, the mysterious door appeared.
One full day, she sat and thought. She had left behind all the books, all the scrolls and palimpsests. Every bit of writing or knowledge her family had accumulated over the years had burned with the manor. Everything but the knowledge within her own mind.
Ignoring the door had done nothing. An exorcism, by a true man of faith, might work. Assuming the door was demonic in nature. And assuming a true man of faith could be found. Plastering over the door might work. Or might not.
She could continue ignoring the door–and hope that it would not ever open of its own accord. She could leave the cottage, strike out alone with no home and no family for whatever life a woman alone in the world might make. Or she could confront the door, open it, and discover for herself just how dangerous its secrets were
That night she did not sleep. She gathered about herself salt from the sea, scraps of iron from the blacksmith’s forge, rue and rosemary, and every other scrap of protection she had ever heard of. Most would probably be useless, but without knowing what was on the other side of the door, she couldn’t know which.
She carefully latched and barred the cottage door (probably rehung, finally) and sat down on her bed to wait.
The hours crept past slowly. Always before she had been asleep when the door appeared. This time she remained awake and watching. Just as she had begun to wonder if the door would appear at all, a point of light appeared at the floor and stretched into a line. The line turned and traced the outline of a door. For a moment, the light blinded Elisabet. Then it was just a door, and the bright summer sun shining under it.
She rose from her bed and lifted the latch. It wouldn’t move.
None of her thinking or planning had prepared her for this. However, she tugged and pulled, the latch would not lift. The door would not open. She tried each of her protective charms in turn. Of course, her bit of iron scrap had no effect on the iron latch, but neither did the salt or rue or anything else.
She sat back down on the bed and started at the door. If the latch wouldn’t lift, then perhaps she didn’t need to worry about the door. After all, with the latch down, nothing on the other side could open the door. She hoped.
The more she thought of it, the less she trusted that thought. Seductive thought. But if the door could simply appear out of nowhere, who was to say that the latch couldn’t open on its own? Not her — she had seen far too much.
Not sure what else to do and unwilling to stare at the impossible door any longer, she got up and left the cottage through the real door. Outside, the stars gleamed brightly, and a thin crescent moon gleamed with the promise of light that never reached the dark moor. It was quiet. The wind blew gently, stirring her hair without disturbing the grass and heather.
What was on the other side of the door?
A sudden thought had her running around to the back of the cottage. There! The other side of the door. The impossible door faced out from the cottage. A faint light shone from under the door, nowhere near as bright as the summer sun which crept out from under the door inside the cottage, but there should have been no light at all–her fire was banked and dark.
Heart in her throat, she walked one careful step at a time up to the door and knocked.
Something moved inside. The latch lifted.
Elisabet held her breath as the door opened, spilling light across the dark moor.
On the other side of the impossible door stood a tall, imposing man with long, flowing hair and a sharply pointed nose. He filled the doorway so she couldn’t see what was on the other side, but she heard bird song coming from somewhere nearby “Elisabet,” he said.
She stared in shock, then shook herself. “Yes. I am sorry to disturb you.”
“Did I not warn you? Did I not tell you that one day you would return and beg me to lift the curse you begged me to gift you with? As I told you then, there is nothing I can do. What you have crafted, you must endure.”
And the door closed in her face.
Flabbergasted, stared for a minute. Then pounded on the door. When there was no immediate answer, she pounded again. And again.
The door opened, and she stopped herself just before she pounded on the fool’s nose. He glowered down at her, and she spoke quickly. “Pardon me, but I think you may have me confused with someone else. I have never seen you before in my life, and I am simply trying to find out why your door keeps appearing in my cottage.”
“You are not Elisabet?”
“Well, I am an Elisabet, but there are lots of Elisabet’s in my family, going all the way back to my several-times great-grandmother Elisabet, the first to leave this cottage. But the family has returned to the cottage frequently. Is it possible you were thinking of another Elisabet?”
The man suddenly became far less imposing, seeming to shrink in on himself. “I…suppose it might. You say it was your many-times grandmother who left the cottage to fall into ruin?”
“Not quite. It was my many-times grandmother who moved away, but the family has always made sure the repairs were kept up and the cottage was in good condition. Until my mother, that is. She didn’t want to be bothered, and the cottage was in a dreadful state when I arrived.”
“And why did you return?”
“Well it’s all gone now, isn’t it? My mother and father were fool enough to play with things no one should touch, and got themselves killed by one of their magics gone awry. I burned down the manor to be sure none of the evil they dealt in would escape and have only the cottage left in the world. Your door frighted me badly, appearing as it did. I want no more truck with such things as my parents dealt in, and having a door appear in my cottage every night was rather disconcerting. Especially when I didn’t know what was on the other side.”
The man humphed. “Well, now you know.”
“Indeed, I do.” She cocked her head to the side. “Might I trouble you to ask if it would be possible to stop your door from appearing in my cabin? It’s a tad disruptive, especially when I’m trying to sleep.”
“No.” He looked down his rapier nose. “Now leave me alone.”
The door slammed again, and this time Elisabet left it.
Her strange neighbor–for so he apparently was, in some odd manner–was a prickly man. But he certainly didn’t appear to be a threat. And if his door only ever opened to the outside of her cottage. Well, that was a strange thing, but the world was full of strange things, and a door that opened on the outside of a cottage was far less threatening than one that opened on the inside. She wondered for a moment what it looked like inside her cottage when the door was opened outside. But she had some knowledge of such matters; most likely when the door was open, her cottage wasn’t inside. Instead, his cottage was inside, and her door would be missing entirely. Maybe she would test that one day.
When he was in a less grumpy mood.
This one is longer than I usually like to send, but I figure I all y’all a bit of extra. This piece came from a writing prompt on Tumblr. I’ve always wanted to do more with Elisabet and her grumpy neighbor, but never really figured out what.