Tanner took a large brimmed hat from a hook on the back of the door and wedged it over his white wiry hair. He straightened the red bandanna that was knotted about his throat and then tightened the holsters that crisscrossed his waist. Opening the door he stepped out onto the wooden boardwalk and blinked at the dust and sand that swirled up from the arid street. Pulling the collar up of his long black coat, he turned and closed the door of the peacekeeper’s office and made his way along the boardwalk.
The spurs attached to the heels of his boots jangled with every step he made. Halfway down the boardwalk Tanner stopped and turned to face another set of swinging doors. Placing both hands against them, he pushed them open and strode into the Saloon.
His blue eyes surveyed the empty bar. He could remember a time when it would have been bristling with life. The men-folk from the town propped against the bar as they supped jugs of beer. Women and men dancing together to honky-tonk music being played on the ancient piano in the corner. All that had changed now. All of them taken prisoner or cursed. Their businesses and farms destroyed by the Throat. Although they were all gone now, he could still hear their music and the sounds of their laughter – it seemed to have permeated the air like a wine stain on a white coloured table cloth.
He looked across the bar and up at the landing that ran around the upper level of the saloon. He stared at the many doors that led from it. His eyes burnt as he remembered her standing there outside the room they had shared. They were to be married, but Meadda had long since left the town of Tux and he didn’t know where she had fled or even if she were still alive.
Gritting his teeth he turned, and pushing a table out of his way, he went to the far corner of the bar where the piano had once been played. He looked back over his shoulder just to make sure that he wasn’t being watched. Tanner did this more out of habit then need as there was just the seven of them hiding out in Tux and he hadn’t seen anyone pass this way in months. Confident that he wasn’t being spied on, Tanner pulled away a panel that was secreted into the wall. Brushing away a veil of cobwebs, he placed his mouth up against the opening and whispered into the darkness:
‘Hey! You down there! Get your kit together. Our wait is over. I believe it’s started to happen!’
As Tanner stepped through the doorway into Endra, Fandel slithered up against the remains of his car. He watched the police officers race back and forth like feeble minded farmyard animals, not one of them the faintest idea as what to do.
Fandel arched his back and rubbed at his temples.
‘My doorway! I must be able to see my door,’ he whined.
Closing his eyes, he pictured his black iron door with the doorknob that looked like a deformed fist. But there was just too much noise. Those blasted sirens approaching from the distance were distracting him. He needed a certain amount of tranquillity if he was to conjure his doorway to Endra. Fandel needed his most favourite chair and he needed the warmth of the fireplace.
‘I need some god-damn peace and quiet!’ he screeched at no-one in particular, rolling his hands into fists and slamming them against the road like a spoilt child.
Closing his eyes again, he fought to block out the distractions that were all around him. Then, in the darkness of his mind, he could see it. The door stood at the end of a long corridor that bored its way into the deepest and darkest part of his mind. He staggered towards it like a man dying of thirst who could see a stream in the distance.
‘Come closer!’ he screeched, as police cars, ambulances and fire trucks arrived on scene.
‘Come closer,’ he begged again, ‘I need to be away from here!’
Inside his mind, he reached for the door handle that beckoned him forward. Fandel placed his bony hands over his ears and screwed up his eyes as he fought to concentrate on that door.
‘Don’t you disappear on me now!’ he roared at it as if it were a living thing.
‘Hey look at that crazy!’ someone in the crowd shouted, ‘what’s he doing?’
Hearing this, some of the other spectators turned to watch Fandel as he staggered around in the middle of the chaos like a kid playing a game of ‘Pin the tail to the donkey’.
‘What’s his problem?’ someone yelled.
Inside his head, Fandel had reached his doorway and taken hold of that fist as if he were holding on to it for dear life. But the door wouldn’t open. There was still too much noise for him to picture it.
‘Let me in! Let me in!’ he screamed.
The onlookers turned on their camera phones as they filmed this very tall man with the misshapen back and narrow face pull and yank at thin air.
‘He’s insane!’ a woman jeered. What a morning! A werewolf, giant bat, giggling boy and disappearing doorways. What could happen next? She wondered.
Then as if in answer to her question a black metal fist appeared out of nowhere, snatched hold of the madman’s wrist and dragged him into thin air.
Screaming, Fandel was dragged into Endra. Passing between the doorways had never hurt before. In fact, he had found it exhilarating, almost addictive, but this time around it had hurt. Fandel lay in the sand and gasped for breath. He felt as if he had been turned inside out and he patted himself just to make sure that his lungs, heart and intestines weren’t hanging from his coat.
Why am I in so much pain? he wondered, thrusting one skinny hand into his mouth to stop himself from throwing-up.
Perhaps it was because the door wasn’t complete before me? he guessed. Fandel realised that if he were to avoid such an agonising experience again, he would have to work on, and master, conjuring his door quick and in whatever circumstance he happened to find himself in at the time.
Things had started to go from bad to worse, and he knew deep in his wrinkled heart that he was losing control over events. He couldn’t rely on being in the comfortable surroundings of his cottage if he was to pass into Endra. He might need to do it anywhere now. He might have to conjure the door while on the run.
But what should I do now? he thought, his head pounding again.
‘Stop it!’ he hissed, tapping his temples with the tips of his fingers, ‘Don’t you dare start thumping!’
‘Should I go straight to Throat?’ he wondered. ‘But what would I tell him about this mess?’
He ran the back of his hand across his brow that glimmered in the hot sun rising above him.
‘What about Anna? I need to get back and give her some medicine!’
Then he saw something that made up his mind for him. Crouching on all fours, Fandel hid himself behind some rocks that jutted from the sand and spied over the top of them. He licked the taste of sea salt from his lips as he watched Zach and his friends fighting for their lives in the murky waves that rushed the shore below.
Zach kicked his legs against the water, but it felt thick and gloopey, like slush. With his hands cuffed behind his back, he struggled to keep his head above the waves. The water took him again, forcing his head under and smothering him.
The water was so black that Zach found it almost impossible to see anything beneath the waves. He kicked his legs again as the sea squirted into his mouth, up his nostrils and down his throat. His head bobbed above sea level again and he coughed the fluid from his lungs like dark lumps of phlegm.
Zach looked around and could see the shoreline in the distance, but with his arms restrained in the small of his back and the heavy water clinging to him like wet sand, he knew it would be impossible for him to reach the safety of the beach.
Again he went under the water, and he struggled to draw breath as his head sunk beneath the surface. He could feel his lungs becoming heavy and the thought of just closing his eyes and going to sleep seemed overwhelming. Like a stone, Zach began to plunge deeper and deeper beneath the waves. Just as he closed his eyes and could feel sleep taking him to the bottom of the sea, something coiled itself around his waist and dragged him back to the surface.
Gasping and choking like an old car trying to start on a freezing cold morning, Zach sucked mouthfuls of sea air into his lungs. He thrashed his legs and somebody shouted in his ear:
‘Stop struggling Zach! I’m trying to save ya!’
Although Zach had thick black waves sloshing around his ears, he recognised that voice at once.
‘William,’ he coughed, ‘where’s Neanna?’
‘I got her onto the shore, but she won’t survive for long under this blistering sun. So stop flapping and help me!’ William cried.
Trying to relax every muscle in his body, Zach lay back in his friend’s arms as William crawled back to the shore.
As soon as he could feel the seabed beneath his feet, William released his grip on his friend and Zach stumbled up the beach, collapsing onto his side in the sand.
‘We don’t have time to rest!’ William yelled. ‘We’ve got to get her into some kinda shelter.’ He then bounded towards Zach. Pulling one of the crossbows from his friend’s holster, he spun Zach over in the sand and ordered him to put his arms out. Taking aim, William pointed the crossbow at the hard looking piece of metal that joined the cuffs.
Zach lifted his face out of the sand and looked back over his shoulder. Seeing William there, his large eyes squinting behind the telescopic lenses, he shouted;
‘Whoa! Hang on a minute are you sure your eyesight is…’
Before he’d even finished, the air vibrated with an ear-splitting boom as William fired the crossbow, tearing apart the handcuffs.
Feeling the cuffs disintegrate, Zach pulled his arms free and rubbed his aching wrists. William threw the crossbow into the sand and turned his attention to Neanna.
Still choking up stringy lumps of black mucus, Zach rolled onto his side and looked at William wrapping Neanna in her cloak and swooping her up into his arms. William was back to his former self; dressed in his brown rough looking shirt and blue trousers, bare feet and those odd looking spectacles covering his glowing eyes. William threw the supplies that his father had left over his shoulder, then charged up the beach towards a severe looking cliff-face that loomed in the distance.
Zach rolled onto his knees then forced himself to his feet. He stood and brushed sand from his wet clothes. He too was now wearing his pallid blue shirt, long black coat, boots and the crossbow holsters. Gathered into two neat piles was his own and Neanna’s supplies. Collecting up the items, he made his way after his friend.