User:Leasara/Door in the Mountain, The
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The Door in the Mountain
There was nothing for it, I was lost. I kept going over the orienteering merit badge I had earned all those years ago, the one that had gotten me interested in backpacking in the first place. As much as I applied what I could remember from the Boy Scouts, the more I realized that I had gone off the edge of the 8x11 topographical map I had printed out as adequate for the weekend. The problem now was I had wandered long enough I was no longer certain which edge I had left. The report from inside my hiking boots was that I had been on the trail a few hours too long, or off the trail, as the case may be. It was echoed by the sky, which held that the 10% chance of precipitation was likely to beat the odds soon.
The light was quickly fading as the clouds thickened above me, then it nearly disappeared as they burst with a rolling of thunder you can only hear in the mountains. The downpour brought bursts of wind with it and I wondered at the weather service's inability to predict the late summer gale. It had been twenty years since I'd seen weather so mispredicted, but it kept my thoughts off the hopelessness of my situation.
My little camp would likely have washed away before the storm was over, situated as it was in a meadow at the bottom of a wide gully near a random spring. I had left it before dawn to take a few pictures of the scenery as the sun rose, and now I doubted I'd ever find it again. If I quartered the rations in my day pack, I could likely hike out to a road before food became an issue, but if I didn't find shelter from the storm soon I'd probably be fighting a cold all the way as well. Fevers could be fatal when you're alone in the wilderness.
The day had taken me along the tops of a series of ridges as I tried not to ascend too far into the mountains, but the footing was getting questionable near the slopes on either side of the path to which I was now left. I knew that soon I wold have to make the choice to head down into the gully between ridges, or try to knock one of the smaller trees over in an attempt to make some form of shelter here. It was a surprise then when the choice was taken from me as the ground on which I stood as I considered my options refused to bear my weight any longer.
I didn't hit the ground as hard as I might have expected, mostly due to to the fact that the earth wasn't as firm as it would have been in better weather. I slid along a sudden chute of slurry strangely at peace with the knowledge that I would be buried alive and leave little more than an apartment with a computer, bed, and refrigerator more full of condiments than food as my mark upon the world.
There is a known phenomenon when you're excited where the brain's activity jumps due to a number of chemicals put into the bloodstream, one of the effects of this is that time seems to dilate. Events that take mere moments can seem to take several minutes or more. Another common effect when you're really hopped up on your own juices, is that you tend to notice things you would have missed without the influence of stimulants in your system. I think this is the reason I found time to be amused that my digital single-lens reflex camera, fitted with a good heavy lens that took me three months to save for, not only tumbled out of the case I had on my hip as I neared the bottom of the gully, but with three bounces released its fairly useless built-in flash and blinded me. The irony was that after the third bounce it flew into my face with enough force to break my glasses and the nose they rested on, further confounding my sight. It was by simple luck then that the mineshaft I fell into had been flooded sufficiently to break my fall.
It was further fortunate that the flood was trickling down a tunnel where I could hear it falling down a secondary shaft, leaving the tunnel itself mostly dry after splashing through the first several feet. Nevada was riddled with these shafts, and I had reported more than a few to the Bureau of Land Management to be filled in, but for the moment I was just happy to be out of the storm. I wrung my shirt out before using it as a compress to stop the blood I could feel draining from a gash the camera had left. With my other hand I dug in my day pack for the first aid kit and emergency flashlight. I lay the kit on the ground before me and began to shake the flashlight to give it a charge in anticipation of my vision clearing.
Once my sight was useful again, I employed the steri-strips in closing the cut that was slightly left of center between my eyes, then set about finding safe combustibles for warmth and light. The flashlight was good in a pinch, but my arm was getting tired of getting it charged enough to cast its weak beam. Soon I had a fire going, and all my clothes were laid out to dry. Except my macro lens, everything in the day pack had survived, thankfully, and I even found my camera caught in a large branch floating in the pool that had saved me from any broken limbs. Not wanting to press my luck for the night, I unfurled the mylar emergency blanket from the day pack and sought the solace of slumber.
The morning found me in better shape than I had reason to hope for. It's hard to estimate the height of something when you're standing at its base, but it was only a twenty or thirty foot vertical climb to get out of the mine. Still, the walls were going to be slick and damp, especially after last night's storm, so I had to hope last night's sudden shelter might yield one last boon for my survival in the form of some sort of climbing gear. Taking my little flashlight, I headed deeper into the tunnel. I was moving slowly, but it wasn't long before I came upon the door.
A door in a mine is an odd thing, to be sure, but stranger still, this looked exactly like my closet door from when I was five. The airport had bought and demolished that entire tract of housing for its expansion shortly after I started school, so knew this particular door couldn't be where I last saw it, but what it might be doing in a mid-level tunnel of a forgotten mine was any one's guess. Well, what it was doing beyond leaning against the wall, that is. More importantly, I began to wonder just how hard my camera had hit me last night.
The door was a perfect replica, right down to the space-themed stickers my mother had applied to both of its sliding panels. Both of which were sitting in their flimsy metal and plastic frame. I could never manage to keep them in their frame while they were still set squarely in a wall, but here they were, pristine save the stickers and scuffs from my childhood. I decided to sit.
I was injured, facing a slow death of starvation if my wound wasn't already infected by something nasty. Miles away from the nearest civilization, it would be another week before anyone was expecting me anywhere, and I seemed to be hallucinating, of all things, my closet door I hadn't even thought of in twenty years or so. It had to be stress, though I felt fairly calm, but why a door. Why this specific door? It felt real enough to the touch, though my fingers were strangely large on its surfaces to my memory. It was, as the memories flowed back, the only thing he considered to be his between his birth and moving out at eighteen.
A rift had formed between him and his family that baffled the latter part because the cause was hidden by the former. The rest of the family were still quite close, and he had always tried to fill that gap formed by the wedge of his difference, but never managed it. Once he had revealed the secret, the family had rejected him outright and violently in the cases of his brothers. His mother was the only one that tried to keep in touch with furtive emails sent off in the dead of night while her husband watched TV.
It had been hard realizing his freedom after moving out. He slowly integrated the hidden parts of himself into the face he presented to the public and gradually came to know himself better for it. I reconnected 'him' from my memories to me, who had lived them, and realized that my life was, more or less, flashing before my eyes. I started to wonder about the nature of this door again. For some unspoken reason I felt the prickly beginnings of fear about opening it.
Though in my memory they stuttered across their track, it was an easy enough motion to open the door. In fact, I had often sat behind these doors under a pile of clothes when we played hide and seek. My siblings had never discovered that hiding spot, and eventually it became a place to explore the secret that would later cut me away from them. I knew there was nothing behind the door now except for the earthen wall of the tunnel we were in, and maybe that looming disappointment was what was staying my hand.
There was a part of me that desperately longed for the comfort of that hiding space, and it didn't want to accept that opening the door would not result in a few moments of feeling completely safe and warm. I was, I reasoned, probably delirious. This door and its strange mystery was keeping me from finding the climbing gear this generous cavern most likely didn't have anyway. Of course, there was a simple way to dispel that mystery and get on with saving my own life. I took a deep breath and the door slid smoothly, almost effortlessly, open.
Through the open door I found exactly what I should have expected, the wall and floor of the tunnel, in the most unusual way. Within the confines of the door's frame the cave appeared to be a charcoal sketch. It was all simple lines with suggestive shading to give it a feeling of depth. So perfect was the illusion, it was as if someone had done a giant charcoal rubbing of this section of wall. In fact, as I moved to inspect the other side of the door, the image adjusted to include everything within my field of vision through its frame. Feeling adventurous, I poked my hand through the plane of the portal and was only half surprised when it took on aspects of a sketch as well.
This was a very strange door. I weighed my options. If I did manage to find something to help me climb out of here, it would likely be so old and time worn as to be worse than useless. Here I had a door that, strange enough and as near as I could tell, opened on a rough sketch of the world. Whether it was the fever I was still nervous about not feeling, or the stunning amount of strangeness that had happened recently, the answer came to me in a flash.
Retrieving a piece of charred stick from last night's fire, I returned to find the door exactly as irrational as I had left it. Once again my breath caught in my throat as I stepped across the threshold that was complex beyond reason into a simplified version of the world that I guess I hadn't really left. The instant my ears passed into the sketch realm I could hear the same four bars of synth-pop repeating. Catchy, but annoying.
It seemed to me that I was now in a world of almost pure imagination. Almost pure because I still draw things instead of them leaping from my mind fully formed. I started with the rope by drawing a coil on the ground, then continuing that coil up into previously unfilled space. I drew in other simple climbing gear that I was familiar with, but anything that was supposed to have a moving part didn't work properly back on my side of the door. The GPS unit I made turned into an empty box with a static map on the front, but the rope had come across as intended. The cams were a disappointment, but the hammer and pitons would work perfectly, so long as the climb face was solid enough. I had drawn a full pack to replace the one I lost, a close approximation of the Arc'teryx model I had been wanting, but it came out empty. The tent was odd, I had to draw it fully set up, then carry it through the door before I could strike and stow it. Then I had an idea.
I could create any simple thing I wanted, once I had figured out the trick of it. Then I dampened a bit of gauze from my first aid kit and took it and my signaling mirror back into the sketchy realm. There I took a chance with erasing some of the cut across the bridge of my nose. I didn't feel a thing. In fact, this world was distinctly lacking a tactile component. It took some time to garner the courage to take that last step back through the door again. I let my signaling mirror lead me through the portal, and to my relief and elation the cut was repaired and my nose still worked. I was careful with the repair of the rest of the gash before it sank in what exactly I had done.
I had never been comfortable in my body, I could feel bits of myself that weren't actually there and some parts of my body never really felt like they were connected to me. Starting with what I hoped was the least radical of what I might do, I erased the middle finger of my left hand all the way back to my wrist. For a moment there was simple blank space where the metacarpal and phalanges had been, but I pressed the gap together and the lines leading out from my index and ring fingers fused. Again I was nervous at the old familiar door, but when I thrust my hand back into the world I was familiar with, I felt no untoward effects. I stepped back out and my hand actually felt more real to me than it ever had before. My head began to swim with the possibilities.
To be certain, I wasn't the best artist around. I had played at sketching characters and landscapes, but had never really put much more effort into learning to draw. I was much better at sculpting, and this combined the two disciplines in a delightfully strange way. Still, I gathered the rest of the usable charred wood from the fire, noting that most of the day had passed and I'd likely be spending another night in the cave, but this time I had a pack full of brand new gear modeled on what I considered to be the top of the line. I certainly wouldn't mind another night.
I actually experienced nightfall on the flip side. It was very strange. The black and white started turning more and more grey. There were a few minutes where nothing was distinguishable from anything else, then the colors had traded off, white fell into where black had been and vice versa. It was very disorienting, so I made my way back out to the world I was familiar with. This time I didn't give a second thought to the crossing. That was a mistake. For starters there was a certain resistance as I crossed this time, and accompanying this was a searing pain as I passed through the membrane that separated the two worlds. The pain faded as soon as I had completed the journey of a single step, but it was none the less upsetting.
As often as I had imagined it, felt it, walking on hooves on this side of the door was disconcerting. Over the years I had given thought to the problem of balance, but balancing on a pair of human feet is as different from balancing on a pair of cloven hooves as drag racing is from hot air ballooning. It took some getting used to, and the short walk to my campsite was not nearly long enough to complete the task. Still, I made it without too much trouble, but the combination of fur and shorts presented another problem. They rubbed against the sable-soft white coat that was now permanently attached to me from just below my lowest rib. This caused the fur to bind, especially under the waistband, and was not unlike being pinched on every inch where the shorts covered. Also the hole I had left for my tail rubbed very uncomfortably between the tail itself and the top of my newly rounded rump.
My legs were a perfect blend of cervine and human attached to outrageously curved hips. I had only managed to redraw myself from just below my ribs, but from there down I was also perfectly female, I hoped. As I boiled water for a dehydrated dinner, I began to question the decision to alter myself so radically. At the time I had been so taken with the possibility, now I was confronted with the realization of my fondest dream. What worked so well in dreams and even the sketch world was very different in the waking world. It wasn't altogether unpleasant, especially while I discovered the depth of my success in certain matters, but it called to question my judgment. I should be able to undo the changes in the morning, I certainly couldn't do anything with the sketchy world as it was, so I decided to sleep on it.
The sleeping bag was worse than the shorts, and stifling hot with the new fur. I was almost sad that I wouldn't get much use from it once I was done with myself, but moreover I regretted I had spent so much time making it on the other side. Instead I slept on top of the bag and covered my chest with the emergency blanket again.
The morning brought a very pleasant surprise, up until I remembered all the work that had gone into making that surprise the day before. Still, it was a great way to wake up. I half expected the door to be gone or broken today, but everything was exactly as I had left it. Walking was even a bit more natural this morning, or maybe my mood had improved and made it seem so. Either way I gathered the remains from last nights fire again and went back to work. My arms were a challenge, especially my right arm, but neither needed much reworking. I had learned to leave the fur sparse under my arms from getting around last night and this morning. I also thinned it quite a bit near the very tops of the inside of my thighs, hoping that would relieve things some.
I tried and re-tried my breasts three times before I got them about right, but then I went on to my head. I wished I could have made a larger mirror, but nothing I did would make a decent reflective surface. It was slow going at first, but some time in the early afternoon I was nearly done. I was deaf for a while when I moved my ears to the top and back of my head, but those same four bars of synth-pop began repeating themselves again once I was done reshaping them. It was strangely soothing in the silence. I was much more hesitant when it came to moving my eyes to their proper place so I could finish my nose.
I reasoned that I would be OK if I did them one at a time, but it was still very odd. The place had a strange two-dimensionality to it to begin with, but the loss of one eye, even for so short a time, flattened things further somehow. I had worked through lunch, and it wasn't long before dinner when I finally stepped out of the doorway for the final time. The pain was amazing, and that step across worlds seemed to take forever just getting my head through, and my eyes in particular. I can't describe the feeling in my eyes, but once I was through and standing on my side again I was finally more myself than I had ever been from horn to hoof. I could have cried.
Exiting the mine was more difficult with hooves. The harness bound on my fur again and didn't fit right, plus I wasn't certain I was using the pitons and carabiners right, but I made it out with my new semi-superfluous gear. The backpack would have been quite comfortable if it weren't for the fur again. I would just have to learn to put that out of my mind, and no better time than the long hike out to a road. As I remembered, the highway between Vegas and Reno wasn't too far west of my location, and these were the same range if not the same mountains where I had earned my wilderness survival merit badges. At least I didn't have to worry about blisters from my boots anymore.