Lydia nervously packed a small bag of things she thought she’d need. Extra pants, socks and a sweater. A small pillow for bedtime and a locket she found one day adventuring through one of the limitless rooms behind the hallway doors. The locket opened to a set of two pictures; one of a man and one of a woman. Lydia imagined who they were to each other, or who they were to anyone else, and more importantly how it even got here to the middle. She liked to think that they were an old married couple still happily in love, and the pictures of themselves were historic in their lives. That when they arrived in the middle, they arrived together, and somehow managed to sneak the locket in with them.
She could never be certain about the story of
the golden locket, but imagining different scenarios kept her up nights. Her imagination swirled different fairy tales, out of just that locket filled and its two timeless pictures. Her favourite idea of the lockets history was one in which she incorporated a world war and a separation of lovers. She imagined the man in the locket as a young soldier, readying himself for war. The woman, his young wife, standing in a doorway holding the locket tight in her hands. Tears slowly rolling down her face as they embrace for what could be the last time. The woman hands her country’s hero the locket, and he turns and walks away. Shortly after, the locket is found on the body of an unlucky soldier. The wife, broken hearted and cold, gets the locket back along with the rest of his personal things, and her heart quite literally breaks, and when she breathes her last breath, the locket gets embedded into her soul, just like the soldier was. She pictures them searching for each other in the middle, running frantically through the different worlds, maybe even bugging Valentine for some direction as to where their love could be. And then, by some swift miracle of the natural universe, they find each other and disappear into the middle never to be seen again. Leaving only the trace of their existence in this tiny golden locket that Lydia now treasured more than anything else she owned. She had hoped one day to find them, the lost lovers, and witness true love in all its reality, but she realized that the story she played over so many times in her head wasn’t real at all. She had made it all up, and now she had to deal with never knowing the truth about her most prized possession.
“You ready?” Aiden popped into the door, startling Lydia and she jumped.
“Yes, jeeze. You scared me.”
“You are the most scared yet courageous entity I have ever met.”
“Did you just call me an entity?”
“Oh, shut up. Let’s go.”
Aiden and Lydia walked down the hall towards Caleb’s room with bags in tow and smiles on their faces. The smiles lasted about as long as it took them to realize that they were walking straight for Valentine, who was staring them down like he had known their plan.
“Ms. Ashes, Mr. Smith, and where are you guys off to on this lovely day?”
“To get Caleb for a little exploration. Nothing fancy,” Aiden said shortly.
“Sounds quite nice. Have fun, but remember, there is no escaping fate.”
Lydia had figured out by now that if she bugged Dexter to explain every vague piece of fear inducing advice he gave she’d never get any answers and she’d waste a lot of time trying, so instead she smiled and when Valentine was out of sight, did her finest impression of him.
“But remember, there is no escaping fate.” The two busted out in laughter and continued the
walk down the hall to Caleb’s quarters.
They arrived at Caleb’s room but he wasn’t alone. The ‘hot blonde’ was parked on his bed with a bag of her own.
“Hey! You guys are ready? Good! This is going to be great, and oh yeah, hey this is Erika and she’s going to tag along with us…”
Lydia gave a slight exasperated sigh but didn’t object.
“If that’s okay?” Caleb continued.
“Of course, why wouldn’t it be? More the merrier. I’m Aiden, this is Lydia. We’re glad to have you on board but you can’t be a scaredy cat.”
Aiden had this way of making anyone feel comfortable, part of the group even. His light flirting was his way of making sure that he was in no way inconvenienced by her presence. Quite the opposite. He was thrilled. Now he didn’t have to share his best friend with that Caleb.
“Oh, I’m not scared of anything! I promise,” Erika squealed in a basic kind of way.
‘Great,’ Lydia thought to herself.
“Nice to meet you Erika,” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could.
She wasn’t even sure why she immediately didn’t like her. It wasn’t jealousy, it couldn’t be. She didn’t have any feelings for Caleb. He was gorgeous, she would give him that. But other than his perfect looks, there wasn’t much more about him that could be romanticized. Most of the time she felt half like a babysitter
when she was around him. But she did have this feeling about Erika, one that made her think they were making a mistake leaving the confined area of the mansion for good.
“I wonder if Valentine is going to wonder where we are,” Caleb said quizzically.
“Don’t even say his name,” Lydia joked. “Don’t you know he can hear everything?”
Aiden and Lydia laughed at Caleb and Erika’s puzzled and slightly scared faces and began heading out the door.
“Alright!” Aiden said in his most dominant voice possible. “The rules are this. We stay together. And if we must go off on our own, we must be with at least one other. Since we will be using our imaginations to create these worlds we plan to live in, we must warn each other when any negative memories are coming on. And last but not least, if we get found out, ya’ll are on your own!” He was obviously joking about that last one because his laugh harrowed through the halls.
“So, we’re just going to go out there and wing it? Hopefully our minds can create something amazing?” Erika asked no one in particular.
Caleb, trying to impress the beautiful, dead blonde answered almost immediately.
“Exactly, sweetheart. This is up to us! Can you imagine the freedom? What do you want to do first?”
“Oh, I don’t know, anything!”
Erika was shy, but not overly so. And she was beautiful. Caleb did have good taste, she’d
have to give that to him, too. Her long blonde hair was pin straight, but thick. And her blue eyes made the ocean Caleb and Lydia imagined into the grotto look like faded paint on a bathroom wall. Her politeness made Lydia feel bad about hating her immediately, so she tried to turn it around by latching onto her arm like girlfriends tend to do.
“Well, you gotta’ be more specific than that blondie. Name anything!”
“Okay, hmm. Well, let’s see.” This went on for about 2 minutes and Lydia realized why the universe gave her all that beauty. She was almost as dumb as a doornail and all her ideas were so generic they kind of pissed Lydia off.
“We could swim in the ocean!”
“Bigger, blondie, bigger.”
“Okay, let’s see. Rainforest? What about the rainforest?”
“Oh sweetheart, what rock did you live under in life? There are no limits to this, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” whined Erika, and the three useful brains realized they were going to have to give her a little push towards the expansion of her mind.
Caleb grabbed Erika and pulled her from Lydia’s grip as to say, ‘she’s mine’, and the two brainstormed together while they found the right door.
They arrived at the big red door at the end of the hallway.
“How do you know this is the one we should go
out of?” Lydia asked Aiden, as if he had all the answers.
“I don’t, but if I understand how it works here, it shouldn’t matter which door we go out. The doors might even be a formality since we can pretty much go from anywhere.”
The foursome crawled through the door slowly, as if they were aware of danger on the other side.
“Alright guys, here goes.” Aiden spoke softly and in an instant, they were witnessing the beginning of what would be the best memory they’d never have.