Contest #208 shortlist ⭐️

23 comments

Drama Fantasy Mystery

Duncan pulled his reins as his horse emerged from the copse of trees. The castle Camelot stood dreamlike atop a distant hill. Campfire smoke spread beneath the haze lingering from morning.

Bucephalus, his steed, stamped restlessly after the long ride. It knew their destination. A covey of quail scurried across the path and into the underbrush. A hawk circled.

He dismounted and let the stallion graze. It felt good to stretch. He drank from the stream.

Soon Duncan would join others in Arthur’s great hall. Guinevere would return his smile and he would blush.

Did that piker, Lancelot, have a clue? Duncan doubted it. The legendary hero left him for dead after that ambush a year ago. So much for Lancelot’s ‘untarnished nobility.’ He’d soon reap the whirlwind.

Duncan imagined his enemy’s face when he entered the hall and received Arthur’s greeting.

Too late then, for Lancelot to regroup.

 Bucephalus snorted. Duncan patted its neck.

“In good time, Buce. You cannot rush some things. And the best should never be.”

He’d arrive after they’d drank many rounds of mead and the flagons been refilled. Shouts would rattle the roof beams and boisterous voices rise. Lancelot would be unaware until Arthur called Duncan to his side.

‘Let him conjure excuses then. Let him spin in the wind.’

Duncan watched Arthur’s ground troops, with banners waving, marching in formation. The changing of the guard. He could almost hear the trumpets blare.

He’d vowed to repay the peasant woman who restored his health. And her husband for mending his armor. They saved his life expecting nothing in return. He would show them nobility remembers kindness.

He patted Bucephalus’ neck. Time had come. Duncan secured his armor and provisions. ‘All set…’

He mounted Bucephalus, shook the reins and kicked. The steed lurched forward and whinnied when Duncan pulled him up short.

His phone was ringing.

Looking at the saddle bags he said, “What is that sound?”

~

Sitting at the desk in his eleventh-floor cubicle, Duncan stared at his phone. The strangest thing had occurred. The damned phone shattered his reverie.

But he gained an insight into how his brain worked. He’d think about it later.

He answered, “Duncan here…”

His assistant said, “Meeting in five. Ready?”

“I called the meeting. Of course.” The line went dead.

Duncan knew he was no intellectual. No one ever accused him of it. Motivations disinterested him. He delegated. He managed, went places, and spoke to people. He kept his desk clean.

Duncan tried to clear his mind of his vivid fantasy. ‘Wow… where did that come from? Full schedule today. No time for daydreaming.’ The fog would clear before his speech.

Duncan stood at the podium. Sustained applause welcomed him. A master, he never stressed over public speaking. He spoke for fifteen short minutes. They laughed and cried.

He wouldn’t remember a word. Nor arriving. Nor the warm introduction.

His Camelot daydream preoccupied him. ‘That reverie. Lancelot? King Arthur? Who are they again?’

He sensed an invisible companion at his side, as if a shadow observed and read his thoughts.

Was he followed? Or guided? Did it direct his actions? Feed him ideas he thought his own?

Duncan knew writers make things up. But his ideas popped into his head, not made up. Is this shadow the source?

‘Is anything my idea? Is it a one-way street? Am I merely its night depository?’

~

Duncan sat on his balcony sipping his bourbon. He watched twilight fade into twinkling darkness.

‘Did I make up the Camelot scenario? Or did my shadow?’

The 4th floor writing pool wrote ad copy. Duncan knew a few in passing. A weird lot, they didn’t mix with the engineers or other staff except as needed. Good at their jobs, they drew from the universal culture. They didn’t work from the shadows sapping the brains of individuals.

Oddities in his life came to mind, never before noticed. He didn’t remember entering the apartment when he came home. Sitting here now, he must have come through the door.

‘How long have I sat here? When did I put these slippers on? Did I enjoy the sunset?’

The absence of doors startled him. Of course, there were doors. People went through them all the time. But he couldn’t remember ever opening one.

Insanely busy, Duncan didn’t track transitions. Walking from here to there, eating, driving, or crossing thresholds eluded his memory.

Is it a memory deficit? Did he forget entering the meeting today? Or had he just skipped that tedious stuff others needed for continuity? Why hold onto the unimportant?

He knew writers only include what moves the story forward. Who wastes ink on the mundane? How often does a character in a novel park their car?

Was he the most important character? Or another background character? Duncan dismissed the thought. This was becoming a distraction. That he was some hack writer’s favorite character became Duncan’s private joke.

Crossing a threshold seemed so basic, though. So primal. He recalled not one instance. He always proudly moved forward with essential actions.

‘Cut to the chase, man.’

Duncan stood in the rear of the elevator with his bag lunch. One of the 4th floor guys and a secretary entered. The doors shut and the elevator descended. The cabin trembled and rocked.

The couple stood stiffly, side by side. Their tension was palpable.

Imploring, the 4th floor guy said, “Gwen.”

She didn’t respond.

Duncan had never seen an argument carried on with such restraint.

Though little was said, their body language shouted. They hissed whispers. His touch repelled her. She looked at him with disgust.

The elevator stopped and Gwen exited. The man called her. She didn’t turn. The doors shut and the elevator stopped at the 4th floor. The man exited. Duncan watched the doors slide shut.

He often rode elevators. Impossible to avoid passing between those doors. Yet again - no memory. What if he jostled another over a threshold? Or struggled with a heavy package? Would that fix it in his mind?

‘Life doesn’t work that way. Stuff happens or it doesn’t. No master plotter directs my movements.’

~

The next morning, Duncan busied himself at his desk.

‘Who generates all this paperwork?’

He felt good this morning. In his element.

Then he stopped. ‘How did I get here?’

He had no memory of his morning before that nagging question goosed him again.

He moved to stand and cracked his knee on the desk. Sharp pain seized his leg.

“Oooh… That felt real…”

He stood and limped to his cubicle entrance. The office printer stood against the nearest wall. The storage room door stood next to it.

‘What if I want to open a door? Do I need some grand reason? Permission from on high?’

He staggered to it and grabbed the cool, metal door handle. Locked. ‘Of course.’ He jiggled it. No dice.

Knee still throbbing, Duncan turned, leaning against the door. He steeled himself for the return trip.

A secretary approached carrying a sheaf of papers to copy. Gwen, from the elevator.

Duncan smiled. “Hi. I know you’re busy. But could you help me for a minute?” She looked at him waiting. “This door is stuck shut.”

“It’s locked. What do you need?”            

“Oh, uhm, not much. Mainly curious. Do you have a key…?”

“It’s the supply room. For the printer.”

Now Duncan waited. ‘Am I breaking rules? Why should it matter?

Sighing, she rummaged with her keys and unlocked the door. Shelves stacked with printer paper, ink cartridges and file folders lined the walls. Duncan hesitated. He didn’t enter the narrow room.

“Do you need something?”

“No. Sorry. It’s very tidy. I’ll let you get back to work. Thanks…”

She shut the door and secured the lock.

His knee had improved. Duncan returned to his desk.

What was it about doors? Why not linger in a doorway and bid a friend farewell? Or receive an important package? People do that daily. Minor characters get the fun stuff.

~

Duncan always set priorities and attended to business. He always pursued the next essential action.

Who cares about doors? Obviously not me.

Back in his cubicle, Duncan heard a woman humming a beautiful melody. It was Gwen.

He greeted her. “Excuse me…” She went silent and met his look. “You have such a lovely voice.”

She smiled and looked down.

“Gwen, is it?”

“Yes. Thanks.”

“Short for Guinevere?”

“I prefer Gwen. The other’s a bit…”

“Archaic?”

“I like old names. But Guinevere evokes such… it’s so dramatic.”

They laughed.

“Sorry… You must get that all the time.”

“Actually, you’re the first.”

Duncan doubted that but let it go.

“Anyway, I wanted to thank you again for your help earlier. I’m Duncan.”

“No problem.”

“And your voice is amazing. Don’t stop on my account.”

She looked at him as if weighing her response.

“You could hear me perform, if you want. I’m a singer.”

“I’d love to. Where? When?”

She told him where she’d be performing that night.

He said, “Great! I’ll try to make it.”

~

Duncan had never been to a club. He worked hard, had a quiet life and had never gone anywhere. He’d overheard co-workers banter about going out at night. But why? Passive listening serves what purpose?

He took a seat at the bar and ordered a bourbon. Dimly lit and already lively, the small room had nearly filled. They were ready for a show.

Duncan spotted Gwen at a table up front. She laughed with people she knew from the 4th floor. He stayed put.

The accompanist mounted the stage followed by light applause. He introduced himself as ‘Jerry’ and played a flowing melodic jazz piece on the baby grand. The crowd’s energy swelled. He played well.

Duncan thought, ‘This’ll be good...’

Jerry finished his warm-up and nodded. Gwen stepped onto the stage and beamed at the applause. She looked great. After brief comments, she sang with a pure voice like Duncan had never heard. Every song felt timeless, from the beginning of time. And fresh, as if never sung before.

Her voice awakened emotions he’d never felt. He believed she sang only to him.

After her set, Gwen found her way to Duncan at the bar. He bought her a drink and he declared himself her biggest fan.

She said, “Jerry’s arranging a recording session.”

“Let me know when it’s available. I’ll buy them all… I mean…”

She laughed.

They talked and laughed until closing.

~

Next day everything went as usual. Duncan hardly had a free moment. He was exhausted but still euphoric from listening to Gwen sing. How he got from here to there didn’t matter to him.

‘I don’t need no stinkin’ doors… Maybe I teleport. Ever think of that?’

~

Home again, Duncan’s doorbell rang. He walked to the door. He stopped. This had never happened.

For the first time, Duncan consciously reached for and felt his hand grip the metal. Not as cool as he expected. It felt real. The latch clicked as he turned the knob.

His life hinged on opening that door.                                                            

Duncan opened it wide. And smiled.  

July 27, 2023 17:07

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23 comments

Helen A Smith
07:52 Sep 09, 2023

Well done with this story. I loved the merging of fantasy and reality. I always enjoy a bit of Arthurian legend. Congratulations.

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John K Adams
13:31 Sep 09, 2023

Thank you, Helen, for reading and commenting. I'm always happy to get comments. And especially when the reader enjoys the writing. I can't say it definitely, but I doubt the Arthurian legends mention doors.

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Helen A Smith
14:07 Sep 09, 2023

Maybe not, but it’s all great fun. It appeals to me.

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John K Adams
15:31 Sep 09, 2023

Of course. Those stories are so rich. I'm always amazed at their intricacy.

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Story Time
16:34 Aug 09, 2023

Congratulations on 200 stories! I think this is the perfect one to cap off such a landmark. It's really entrancing.

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John K Adams
18:16 Aug 09, 2023

Thanks Kevin. I'm glad you like it. It was fun to write.

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17:04 Aug 05, 2023

Congratulations John. I found this to be written in a very hypnotic way, hard to describe what I mean but it really pulled me into Duncan's strange world. I don't think I have a grasp on if it's real or not! But what is reality?! Enjoyable stuff , glad he found his Gwen.

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John K Adams
22:46 Aug 05, 2023

Thanks Derrick. The prompt made for quite a challenge. I'm glad it worked for you (whatever 'it' is). Surrealism or magic realism is fun when it works.

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15:57 Aug 04, 2023

Well done, John! A perfect ending to a late summer love story. Always time to open new doors, new windows, or teleport as the need requires. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I loved this. Your dialogue was authentic and had the perfect verisimilitude. HEY - you've almost written 200 stories -- WOW. That's quite a feat, and you've always been an inspiration to me. I had to google Bucephalus - so thanks for that history lesson :)

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John K Adams
21:17 Aug 04, 2023

Thanks Deidra! Your comments are always appreciated. I'm happy to inspire you and anyone. So many have done that for me. Reedsy has grown to be a great community of writers. I'm glad to be a part of it.

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06:12 Sep 04, 2023

https://exampledomain.com/?u=XXXXX&o=YYYYY

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Amanda Lieser
22:44 Aug 19, 2023

Hi John! Oh congratulations on the shortlist for the week. It was an epic adventure read of the very best kind. All of us have had a moment or two when we wished our fantasy could be reality. Isn’t that why so many of us spend our days writing? This was a clever piece, but my favorite scene was when you depicted the argument. Hissing whispers was just such a great line. Nice work!!

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John K Adams
14:37 Aug 20, 2023

Thanks Amanda! That one was a challenge, keeping reality and fantasy straight. I feared 'hissing whispers' might be too 'on.' About the only place I could get away with that was trying to be private inside a crowded elevator. I always appreciate comments and knowing someone out there, 'gets it.'

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Philip Ebuluofor
09:01 Aug 06, 2023

Congrats. Have you ever written a novel from these stories, I mean, 199 of them met about seven books or more. Congrats once again.

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John K Adams
13:54 Aug 06, 2023

Thanks. Good question. Only a few have characters in common. So that's a lot of novels. I've thought about it but not yet. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:52 Aug 07, 2023

Welcome.

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John K Adams
19:53 Aug 07, 2023

I see you have 170 stories. Any novels in the works for you? I'll read some of your stories and comment.

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John K Adams
13:54 Aug 06, 2023

Thanks. Good question. Only a few have characters in common. So that's a lot of novels. I've thought about it but not yet. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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02:54 Aug 05, 2023

Congrats on your story! I enjoyed reading it. -H.M.Pierce

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Delbert Griffith
12:21 Jul 28, 2023

Nice take on the prompt. This was almost like the "Sliding Doors" prompt that we had earlier. The parallels in Duncan's real life with his medieval life were excellent, and the doors motif fit well. Nicely done, my friend. Very enjoyable and engaging. Cheers!

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John K Adams
14:29 Jul 28, 2023

Thanks for your insightful comments.

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Mary Bendickson
00:32 Jul 28, 2023

Time to open some doors in his life. Well, congrats on this shortlist. You are a very talented writer. Thanks again for all your help. I have lots of reading to do. Usually I have already read some of the winners but this week I still have several to go.🥳🥳

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John K Adams
14:30 Jul 28, 2023

Thanks, Mary. My thoughts exactly.

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