Nothing

..Time does not pass. You do not age. The sands that aren’t rise and fall, oceans of bone. You have not slept, but you are not tired. You walk through the nothing.

There is light ahead, a pinprick spark burning behind your eyes, making you cry out. There is little to do but approach it, though it is a wrench to leave the comfort of nothing behind. Over many lifetimes the spark becomes a star, a friend, a sun. Beneath the warm smile of morning you make out a town. A stable. A manger. The one you came to find.

*****

A very merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones. Enjoy the day and the rest of your holidays, wherever they are and for however long.

Back with more stories in the new year!

Laura

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One

Behind the door is nothing but nothing. Not blackness, because nothing is not black; not darkness, for nothing is less than the absence of light. Not silence, because silence can be heard, and you, here, cannot hear a thing.

You walk through the nothing, your soles not catching on the absence of coarse sand, your skin not cooled by thin air. Time does not pass. You do not age. People don’t, here. People aren’t, here. You meet nobody, and nobody grins at you through what might or might not have been yellowed and crumbling teeth, once, behind some other door…

Two

Behind the door, hands clasped in prayer. Eyes lowered. Brown shoes, a pair, upon the threadbare mat. A cat – and, yes, a mouse, pattering past on feet so fast and dancer-light they do not rouse her from her trance.

Another door. A table set for two, piled with plump chips and bloody entrecĂ´te. Damp petals in a bowl for fingertips; a cream-fleshed candle, crystal salt and – yes, a bulbous pepper pot. They stain their napkins red, scatter the flagstones with endless bread, leave at last for bed. But for the mother one door apart? No crumb, no dram, no thought.

Three

Behind the door, the sound of heavy snow and late light falling. You press your ear to the wood.

Something brushes past, behind the door. Something with many limbs. Rapid rap-tap-tap flapping of skin. You do not go in.

This is the wishing room, a passerby tells you, brushing her mane back with ragged talon. Wishes live here, die here; breed and stalk and maim and cower here. If you find your wishes, you may take them home; but you must find all three, and only three, before the sun sets in the wishing room.

You do not go in.

Four

Behind the door, four white-haired men, waiting. There is a clock in the corner, an old one, set on counting wrong seconds loudly and without embarrassment.

The minutes crawl past, grubbying their pale stomachs. The strangers shuffle on wooden stools, regard their shoes with improbable interest. Hours peel away and the fire burns low before Artaban clears his throat.

“Brothers,” he says, “I have nothing. No sapphire, no ruby, no pearl of great price. Will you accept me?”

“The stories tell of three,” rumbles Melchior. “We cannot.”

But the room will let four leave, or none. And so they wait.

Five

Behind the door, the table was set for tea. Fanny had bought the most enormous ham, and there was bread and butter and berries with lashings of cream.

“George, dear,” she called across the garden, “come in and wash your face! Your cousins will be here soon.”

It was a rare treat, and something of a trial, to have all four children for Christmas. Fanny had fretted for months over how to quash their relentless adventuring, until clever Quentin had devised a solution. A very clever solution, thought Fanny to herself, dusting a little more methylphenidate over the Victoria sponge.

Six

Behind the door, six pots of honey, mustered neatly as plump old soldiers awaiting decoration. Doreen’s mother bought them for a special occasion, thirty-two years ago. Christmases came and went, but the special occasion never came, and Doreen’s mother went, eventually.

Over the years the pots assumed a significance that sat uncomfortably with their terracotta humbleness. Dusted monthly, each base needed always to be precisely in place (marked by a pencil dot discernible only to the initiated). They became ornaments, inadvertent heirlooms. Doreen cannot bring herself to open them.

She is not sentimental, it’s just that she doesn’t like honey.