"Have you been practicing your breathing?" Jac’s dad asked.
"You know what Adam said about it hurting isn’t true. You’ll feel a whoosh of air but it’s just like going through any other door."
"Did you tell him about the screams of his victims? That’s what drives people door crazy," Adam smirked.
Jac had never heard that one before. He guessed Adam had been saving it for this moment to try and scare him. Only immediate family and fellow Doormen were allowed to be at a neophyte’s first opening. Jac regretted that that included Adam.
It was supposed to make their ability stronger. It made the first trip easier. But Jac guessed it was just moral and mental support. It helped you focus on getting in and out quickly; back to the people you love.
"Adam, hush!" his father snapped. "It’s only a first trip. If you’re able, the door will unlock and you’ll go through. Just five minutes and then come back."
Jac’s father reached into a small satin pouch and Jac held his breath. This was the moment he had really been waiting for.
His father pulled out a silver pocket watch. It was lovingly engraved with a fractal pattern and the symbol of the Doormen at its heart.
Jac put his hand out and his father held the watch just above his palm.
"If it doesn’t open don’t be disappointed. We’ll just have to wait another day," his father said.
Jac smiled and nodded. It wasn’t until now that he realised he was ready, that he did want this.
His father placed the locket on his palm. Jac was surprised at how heavy it was, the metal still warm from his father’s touch. He placed his other hand over the watch and waited.
There was a slight buzz as the watch set to work, doing whatever it was to test his readiness. After a few seconds he heard a slight click and moved his hand away.
The watch had opened. Its face was made of onyx, tiny silver numbers engraved on its surface. The gyros inside ticked softly, keeping time with Jac’s beating heart, telling him it was official - today would be his first door.
Both his father and Adam breathed a soft sigh of relief.
Adam wrapped Jac around the neck affectionately and tousled his hair. At 16 Jac was now an inch taller than Adam but that hadn’t stopped him from treating Jac like a baby.
"You’ll be caught up to me in no time," Adam said letting Jac out of his embrace.
Adam was a Doormen prodigy. He was able to open his first door when he was 15. Since then he’d opened 20 doors in three years. If he opened five more in the next year he’d beat the Doormen record held by the founder’s son, Linus Turman.
Fortunately, Jac’s parents weren’t the sort to put pressure on him. Opening doors was difficult and required practice and strength. Jac’s father had only opened one door a year for the last four years and he was only forty. His ability was waning which meant that he would officially retire once Jac opened his first.
Jac wanted to do this for his dad. If he opened this door his father could stop. And that meant they never had to worry about his father never coming home again.
"Here," Adam said handing Jac a long silver chain.
Jac attached it to the watch and then around the belt loop on his trousers. He grinned wildly and Adam just rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t get stuck, knob head.’
It was true. Sometimes opening a doorway didn’t work. There had to be the right conditions at the right place and time. But that meant once you went through the door conditions might not be right on the other side. And that meant you might not get back through. You had to be fast and lucky.
Worst of all, you might come back ‘door crazy’. Training to open doors required physical and mental training over years. If you weren’t mentally prepared to step through a doorway you might come back a gibbering wreck. They said it was like leaving a piece of yourself on the other side.
Martin Henry, one of Jac’s classmates, had opened a door the year before when he was 14. The youngest anyone was allowed to try was 15 because of the strain it put on your body and mind. But, Martin was determined.
The Henry family were the least successful Doormen. For generations their ability to open doors was sporadic. They also had the highest no return rate. But Martin wanted to prove that he was more than just ‘another Henry’.
So he’d snuck out one night and found a door that would let him through.
"No one can open a door that someone else is using," Jac’s father had told him.
One of the Finnagans had tracked Martin to the doorway. They posted people at the door around the clock and after five days someone else was able to get it open. That meant that either Martin had come back through somewhere else or was dead. Either way, no one had seen him since.
"Well, there’s nothing left now, Jacky. Are you ready?" his father asked.
Jac smiled and nodded. He took one last look at the watch and slid it into one of the empty pockets on his belt. He triple checked that he had all of his Doormen instruments: gloves, compass, spyglass and now his watch.
His father wrapped him in a big hug. ‘I’m proud of you,’ he whispered and let Jac go.
Jac turned to face the door again. It seemed strange that something as ordinary as a door could open up the world to every possibility.
He ran his hands along the wood and it felt like wood. He tapped the door with his knuckles and it sounded like knocking on a door. Jac wrapped his fingers around the door knob and its cool metal felt like any other doorknob.
He leaned his ear against the door and listened. There was no sound besides his own blood pumping through his veins. But there it was – the faint but unmistakeable scent of the other side.
It was the sweet smell he’d inhaled every time he had welcomed his father home from the other side, burying his head in his father’s brown canvas overcoat. Now Jac would find out what it was for himself.
"Where will I go?" Jac turned, finally having the courage to speak.
"You’ll only know once you get there," his father said. "Just breathe. Don’t close your eyes and just breathe."
Jac took a deep breath. He turned the knob and opened the door.