A freshly baked short story

This story was inspired by a recent blogpost by Deb, The Widow Badass. Her post (if you missed it, you can read it here… but don’t forget to come back!) told of finding a cookbook in a thrift store and discovering a cake recipe tucked between the pages. Speculation about the women – whose name was on the recipe – ensued in the comment section. Secret Ingredients is a story about that woman, her dear friend, Lettie, and how the recipe ended up inside Deb’s thrift store find.   

Secret Ingredients

It had been a week since Lettie had attended the funeral of her best friend, so she was quite surprised to receive a package addressed in Violet’s hand with her return address affixed to the corner. Judging by the package’s shape and size, it most likely contained a book but Lettie was baffled. Why had her friend, knowing that she was close to the end of her life, made the effort to wrap, address, and mail Lettie a book?

Lettie carefully slipped her fingers under the tape and slowly unwrapped the package. When she saw what was inside, a flood of memories washed over her. The Christmas Cookbook had been an often-used and much-loved reference when Lettie and Violet were young mothers. They spent many enjoyable hours in their kitchens baking for their holiday celebrations. Lettie couldn’t recall if she or Violet purchased the book originally but it had been passed back and forth countless times. The last pass must have been to Violet before she and her husband moved across the country, and now she had returned it to her friend.  

Through tears of loss, Lettie began to page through the book. Just about every recipe reminded her of happy times in their long friendship. The Edible Cookie Ornaments had delighted their young children and decorated their trees every year. The Black Forest Trifle disaster that had covered Violet’s kitchen in splattered chocolate and dissolved the two of them into fits of laughter.   

When Lettie reached the cookbook’s index, she was surprised to find an envelope inserted between the pages. She held her breath as she retrieved the paper from the envelope, then let it out in a gasp. It was Violet’s recipe for her Christmas Cake, stained and wrinkled from years of use and with several barely legible handwritten notes in the margins.


Lettie and Violet had been best friends since high school. Almost from the moment they met, they knew theirs would be a special friendship – the sister neither of them had. They shared freely with each other: their hopes and dreams, clothes, makeup, and, best of all, the confidence that they would tell each other everything. No matter what.

After graduating high school, they attended the same college and, four years later, settled down in the same small town. When each eventually met the man they wanted to marry, they were relieved when the other gave her full approval. As close as they were, their husbands had to be friends too.

The only bump in their three decades of friendship happened about 15 years ago when Violet brought a cake to Lettie and Jim’s annual holiday open house. Lettie had worked hard getting ready for the party. She had been cooking for several days and was proud of the results. Despite all of the beautiful decorations and delicious food, it seemed that the only thing her guests talked about afterward was Violet’s amazing Christmas Cake. Everyone, including Lettie, asked her for the recipe but she declined, saying it was an old family recipe that needed to stay in the family.

It was the first time Lettie could remember that Violet wouldn’t share something with her. The fact that she said that it was a secret family recipe made the hurt even worse. Lettie considered Violet to be family and thought that her friend felt the same way.

Lettie knew that she was being overly sensitive so she did her best to talk herself out of her hurt. Violet was her best friend and a silly cake recipe shouldn’t come between them. When Violet brought the cake to other gatherings, Lettie joined in the praise. When her cake won second place at a holiday baking contest, Lettie congratulated her. Lettie liked to think she had completely moved on, but she knew that wasn’t true.


Now, years later, here was Violet’s Christmas Cake recipe. As Lettie looked over the ingredients, she couldn’t see what was so special about it. Flour, butter, eggs, sugar, dried fruit. Big deal. She read the handwritten notes carefully to see if there was any secret combining or baking techniques. Nothing.

Feeling a little let down, Lettie refolded the recipe and was about to tuck it back into the envelope when she noticed another piece of paper inside. Pulling it out, she saw that it was a letter written in Violet’s tiny, neat handwriting.

Dearest Lettie,

I have been going through my things when I’ve felt strong enough, putting aside items for the special people in my life. When I came across our old Christmas cookbook, I knew that I had to get it back to you. I hope you have as many fond memories of us baking from it as I do. 

I’m also sending you the Christmas Cake recipe. I’m not sure if you remember, but years ago I brought the cake to one of your fabulous holiday parties. As you can see, the recipe is a simple one. Truth be told, I had found it in a magazine. After making a few minor changes, I claimed it as mine but it really wasn’t “my” cake. When you and several of your guests said they loved it and asked for the recipe, I was flustered. Out of embarrassment, I made up the story about it being a secret family recipe that I couldn’t share – even with you. Though you didn’t say anything at the time, I know that hurt you very much.

I should have shared the recipe with you years ago and I am so sorry. You are my sister and my family, and I hope you can forgive me. I also hope you think of me when you make it and maybe laugh a bit at my silly vanity.  

Love always,

Violet

Lettie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and looked over the recipe again. She realized that she had all of the ingredients on hand to make the cake. As she gathered everything together, she could feel her friend standing beside her. For the first time since Violet’s funeral, Lettie found that she could not only smile but laugh – at her friend’s vanity, at her own mistaken assumptions, and at the memories of all the fun they used to have together in the kitchen.


A few days after she finished the last bite of cake, Lettie decided to type a clean copy of the recipe, incorporating Violet’s handwritten notes.  She was about to hit Print when she reconsidered. She moved her cursor to the top of the page and added her friend’s name to the title. It really is your cake, Violet, she thought. You always added the most important ingredient: your love. Feeling the warmth of her friend’s embrace, she inserted Violet Burke’s Christmas Cake recipe between the pages of The Christmas Cookbook and carefully closed the cover.  

Metallic Bonbons

‘Tis the season for festive blog link ups. Two of my favorites are Terri’s Sunday Stills photography color challenge, Metallic, and Festive Bonbons holiday question challenge hosted by Donna, Deb, Sue, and Jo. I am going to do my best to combine them both into a single post.

  • Christmas Tree? We haven’t had a Christmas tree for years, mostly because there isn’t a good place in our house to put one. At first, I missed the tradition, but now I’m relieved not to have the mess and bother. Even without a tree, we decorate to make the house look Christmassy. I don’t particularly like the traditional red and green combo, favoring instead blues and silvers.
I love how the late afternoon sun adds a golden glow to the silver ornaments and copper deer.
Bronze deer with a metallic bow.
  • Christmas Carols?  My all-time favorite is O Holy Night. Even though I’m not religious, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes when the singer hits those lovely high notes.
  • Christmas Books?  I love A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch StoIe Christmas, although I admit not having read either of them for many years. 
  • Christmas MoviesLove Actually, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Bad Santa come to mind but I’m sure there are more.
  • Fruit Cake?  A friend and I passed one – yes, the same one – back and forth as a gag gift for many years. Do people actually eat them?
  • Chocolate, Nuts or Fruit?  Yes.
  • Christmas Traditions?  So many throughout the years (do they count as traditions if they change?). Boat Parade of Lights, my father’s springerle cookies, Grandpa’s Eggnog (not my grandpa, but a much-loved holiday contribution from a friend), nighttime strolls to enjoy the lights and decorations, to name just a few.
A family of silver deer decorate this front yard.
  • What’s on your Table?  Tamales on Christmas morning. Most likely a roast of some sort, potatoes, and roasted veggies for dinner. Our tree is bursting with oranges, so maybe a citrus dessert or cocktail… or both?
Golden (that’s metallic, right?) oranges ready to be picked.
  • Christmas Memories?  I have so many great memories, many from when I was young. My parents always made a big deal about Christmas for my two brothers and me.   
Lots of silver tinsel carefully placed in individual strands by my mother.
Visiting Santa and his reindeer with my brothers.
  • All I want for Christmas Is?  For everyone – across the globe – to get vaccinated. Let’s get this done!   

Bright Shiny Things

Stores have their holiday decorations up and our mailbox is bursting with ads full of come-ons and must-haves. I haven’t heard piped-in Christmas music yet, but I know that it’s only a matter of time.

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – has long been considered the start of the holiday buying frenzy, but most of us have noticed the creep of Christmas earlier and earlier each year. It’s not unusual for pumpkin patches to be cleared out the day after Halloween to make way for tree lots.

Catalogs full of bright shiny things… that I don’t need.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Consumermas.

The good news is the holidays don’t have to be a time of stress and over-spending. It’s possible to enjoy the sights and sounds, and partake in the magic of the season, all without purchasing a single gift.

It’s true.  

My husband and I haven’t exchanged newly purchased Christmas gifts in ages. Not with each other and not with friends or family. Before you think we are a couple of Scrouge McGrinches, we aren’t. It’s just that, at this point in our lives, we are trying to shovel stuff out the door, not add to the pile. If there were young children in our family, it would be different. but we are all adults now. If we want something, we buy it. If we don’t want something, we’d rather someone didn’t spend their money buying it for us.   

That’s not to say we don’t give gifts at all, we do, although our holiday gift list is much smaller than it used to be. And, since what we give can’t be found at a mall or online, we no longer rush from store to website looking for the perfect gift.  Breaking out of the holiday consumer ritual allows us to slow down and smell the pine trees. 

Have you considered cutting down on holiday gift-giving? Maybe this is the year to have that conversation with friends and family. You could point to the global supply chain disruption, your reluctance to join the masses at the mall, your concern for the environment, your desire to reduce stress – theirs and yours, or all the above.

Whether you agree not to exchange gifts at all or just to tweak things a bit is up to you. Fortunately, for those who still want to give gifts but also tap the brakes on crazy consumerism, there are many alternatives to traditional gifts that will bring you – and your recipient – joy.

  1. Give consumables. Tasty treats and/or a nice bottle of wine are almost always appreciated and don’t add to the clutter.
  2. Give experiences. Consider theater tickets, museum passes, restaurant gift cards, or spa treatments.
  3. Give your time. Is there something special you could do with your friend or family member? Would they love to spend the day with you antiquing or visiting a local park? Or, conversely, maybe gifting them a full day of freedom might be just the thing. Entertain their kids or pet sit their dog while they are out enjoying their “me time.”
  4. Offer your talents. Would your friend like to learn how to knit? Is your uncle struggling with a tech issue you can help him with? Does your sister have boxes full of old photos that you could help her organize?
  5. If you love to shop, agree to purchase only second-hand items. You and your friends can still enjoy hunting for the perfect gift while not spending a lot of money or adding to the supply chain woes. If what you receive is a keeper, great! If not, donate it back to the shop and let them sell it again. (A friend and her sister have an annual quest to find the weirdest thing they can for each other at a thrift shop or yard sale. Little money, lots of laughter… perfect.)
  6. If you still want to purchase new gifts, shop at locally owned stores. They probably have been struggling over the last year and a half and will welcome the boost. Believe me, Jeff Bezos doesn’t need more business.

If celebrating a more environmentally sustainable and less stressful holiday season sounds good to you, talk to your friends and family early to get their buy-in. Even though some might not be receptive to the idea, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make the switch yourself. You can decide not to feel guilty if they give you a gift anyway, or you can always have few bottles of wine in gift bags on hand just in case.

If you’ve already cut back on your holiday gift purchases, has it made a difference in your enjoyment of the season? What favorite homemade or second hand gifts have you given or received? Do you have any funny, inexpensive, gift exchange traditions with friends or family?

Welcoming the Spirits Home

At this time in 2019, my husband and I traveled to Oaxaca City, Mexico to experience the celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

We’ve never been very good at taking selfies.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday where the souls of deceased relatives join their families for a brief reunion. From October 31 through November 2, the border between the spirit world and the living world opens, allowing the spirits to cross over. The holiday is filled with beautiful symbols, traditions, and imagery. It is a joyful time: the spirits are treated as honored guests as they feast, drink, dance, and play music with their families. Many believe that if you remember them, they never cease to exist.

One of the most recognizable symbols are the alters or “ofrendas” (offerings) that can be found in public places and private homes. Although each colorful alter is unique, they all are decorated with specific components that honor loved ones and provide what they need on the journey to rejoin their families.

Every ofrenda includes the four elements: water, air, earth, and fire. Water is provided so the spirits can quench their thirst after their journey. Air is represented by colorful paper banners.  Earth is represented by food, especially bread. The light from candles helps the spirits find their way. In addition, alters are decorated with pictures of the departed, their favorite foods and drinks, sugar skulls, and marigolds (whose scent and bright orange color help attract souls to the alter).

All of these pictures were taken of ofrendas in public places. The alters created in private homes tend to be much less elaborate, but equally beautiful.

I’m sharing these images from our trip as part of Terri’s Sunday Stills photo challenge, whose theme this week is Indoor/Outdoor Decorations.

Sunday Stills: The Pink Side of Muertos  

Two years ago this month, my husband and I were in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was our second visit to this vibrant and colorful city, but this time we were there to experience the celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Although the official holiday spans just three days (October 31 – November 2), Oaxaca starts to prepare for the big event early. By arriving in mid-October and staying until the end of November we had plenty of time to not only enjoy the celebration but to experience Oaxaca before and after the crowds descended.

Templo de Santo Domingo under a sky blue pink sunset.

Images of skeletons could be found all over the city, many of them adorned in pink.

Some were whimsically pink.

Some were a worrisome pink.

Some were cute-as-a-button pink.

Speaking of pink, the City Centro Hotel located in the barrio of Jalatlaco, is all about pink. Because we weren’t paying guests, I was only able to access the ground floor, but I had so much fun poking around and taking pictures. The next time we visit Oaxaca, I would be tickled pink to book a room for at least a night so we can explore more of the hotel, including its colorful rooftop pool.   

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge is The Pink Side of Life. Click here to enjoy Terri’s photos and see how others responded to the theme.

Traveling in the Time of COVID

When my husband mentioned to a friend that we were traveling to Canada this summer, his friend said, “Wow, that’s brave” (and, by “brave,” I think he meant “crazy”). While any amount of traveling – whether to a foreign country, another state, or another county – could be considered brave (or crazy) during a pandemic, this trip felt like a pretty safe bet for us.

As this chart from the New York Times indicates, our journey would take us from a country with relatively high infection rates to a country that, for the most part, appeared to be taking the pandemic seriously. When we learned in July that the Canadian border would open August 9th to fully vaccinated U.S. tourists, we started to finalize plans for our trip north.

In normal times, a road trip up the length of California, then through Oregon and Washington, would be a wonderful opportunity to visit friends and favorite spots along the way. But because we knew that we would have to get COVID tests within 72 hours of crossing the border, we decided to play it safe and take the most direct route with the fewest number of stops. Long days of driving and eating mostly at fast food establishments (where it is possible to get fresh salads) isn’t our favorite way to travel but we didn’t want to get within miles of our destination and find out that we had contracted COVID somewhere along the way.

Even with hours and hours of driving, we found that arriving at our carefully selected overnight stops in the late afternoon gave us great opportunities to stroll around their historic districts and discover lower risk outdoor dining opportunities. That turned out to be more fun than expected.

We had arranged to have our COVID tests two days before we were to cross the border at a facility that guaranteed results in 24 hours. The following day, we had our (negative!) test results and just one more overnight stay before queueing up early to be among the first American tourists to cross the border.

Because of other blogs you follow, some of you already know a main focus of our trip to Vancouver Island was to meet up with a group of bloggers who have become dear friends. We are all fully vaccinated and we knew that most of our activities would be outdoors enjoying the island’s amazing natural beauty. We hiked through forests, explored beaches, ate in some lovely outdoor restaurants (including some excellent food trucks), and partied on the patios of our friends’ homes.

During our almost month-long stay, we managed to pack in a ton of fun, miles of hiking, lots of laughter and maybe a little too much eating, all while staying safe and COVID-free. Since several of the bloggers have already written about the fabulous time we had (Donna, Retirement Reflections and another post; Erica, Behind the Scenery; Kathy, SMART Living 365), I will let their posts tell that part of the story.

In order to cross the border into Canada, my husband and I were required to present our passports, proof of vaccination, and documented negative COVID test results. To cross the border back into the United States, all we had to do is show the border guard our passports and assure him that we didn’t have any fruit in our car.

Crossing back into the U.S. felt a lot braver – and perhaps crazier – then traveling to Canada.  

Sunday Stills: Summer Bugs

We’re lucky to live in an area that doesn’t have too many bugs… at least the type of bugs that bug us.

We have insects:

… and we have arachnids:

But buggy bugs? Not so much.

I was at a loss when I saw that this week’s Sunday Still photo prompt was Summer Bugs, until I thought of my first car: a 1972, chartreuse, Volkswagen Super Beetle. I loved that car, not only because it was as cute as a bug, but because of the sense of freedom it gave me.

Cool car, unfortunate perm

Although that car is long gone, I still love VW Bugs, as my photo archives will attest. Here are just a few pictures of VDubs that I have taken over the years while traveling.  

Bugs found along Route 66

The Bug Farm in Conway, Texas has a permanent crop of five Volkswagen beetles planted nose-down in the ground. It is a parody of the more famous Cadillac Ranch in nearby Amarillo.

In Holbrook, Arizona, just down the street from the Wigwam Motel (yes, each “room” is shaped like a teepee, and, yes, we stayed there), is Kester’s Bug Shop. where they have bugs of unique shapes and sizes.

Bugs of Mexico

Vintage VW Bugs are everywhere on the streets of Mexico… some are in better shape than others.

Hometown Bugs

These bugs were discovered in our neighborhood.

A shy bug hiding behind a plumeria bush
A neighbor is restoring a 1971 Super Beetle

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo prompt is Summer Bugs. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure. If you have some favorite bug images, please join in!

Sunday Stills: A Change of Altitude

It’s almost as if Terri (Second Wind Leisure) knew that my husband and I would be spending a few days up in the mountains when she came up with The Great Outdoors as this week’s Sunday Stills photo topic. Although I often have to search my files for images when I join in on one of her photo challenges, this time all I did was walk out the door of our little cabin and there it was… the great outdoors!

We were delighted when our friends, Kathy (Smart Living 365) and Thom, invited us to join them for a few days at their mountain retreat in nearby Idyllwild. The cabin they have rented for a number of years has a mini-cabin situated just a few steps away. It’s perfect for the hosts and the guests – lots of opportunities to connect, but enough separation so that everyone can have some privacy and alone time.

We hiked:

We hugged trees (and each other):

Kathy and Thom showing a tree some love.

We moved boulders:

Full disclosure: it didn’t budge (thank goodness!).

We watched the sunset… :

A fire a couple of years ago left these trees bare, but still beautiful.

… just before the full strawberry moon rose:

We enjoyed great conversations:

There may have been some adult beverages involved.

And, we marveled at nature’s artistry:

I loved how the bark’s texture changed closer to the soil.

The red bark of the Manzanita starts to peel, reveling the new growth below.
I think I saw a mountain gorilla on the trail… or not.

The few days that we were able to enjoy the clear mountain air and expansive vistas were just what we needed. There is nothing quite like spending time in the great outdoors to reduce stress, encourage reflection, and help us appreciate the gifts of Mother Nature.

What’s On Your Plate? Good Question

First, let me apologize to my friends, Donna and Deb, the co-hosts of the monthly What’s On Your Plate? virtual potluck party. I am going to misappropriate their gathering shamelessly and use it as a way to generate meal ideas – specifically lunch ideas – for myself.

Breakfast is easy around our house… and usually not overly imaginative. My husband and I often fend for ourselves – pancakes, French toast, or cereal for him; oatmeal, a poached egg, or toast for me (and coffee… always coffee). Dinner is more involved and requires longer prep time, but we almost never seem to run out of inspiration (and, when we do, there is always pizza).

Ever since we retired, lunch has been a conundrum. Coming up with meals that are tasty, healthy, and relatively quick – the meal trifecta, as far as I’m concerned – hasn’t been easy. Too many times, we look at what is available in the fridge and/or pantry, find nothing inspiring, and decide to go out for lunch. As much as I enjoy a change of scenery with my meals, eating out can get expensive, and most menu choices tend to be calorie dense.

So, before the What’s On Your Plate? co-hosts notice that I’ve hijacked their topic, can you help me out? What do you typically make for lunch in your home? Do you put together a different lunch every day? Do you make a big bowl of something yummy and eat it throughout the week? Are there lunches that are tasty, healthy, and quick that you love to eat? Are there ingredients that you always have on hand so that lunch is never an issue? I would be very grateful if you shared some favorites.

And, to avoid Donna and Deb kicking me out when my ruse is discovered, here is a recipe for a lunch we have now and then when we are desperate:

Bread

Peanut Butter

Jelly

Please check out Deb’s (The Widow Badass) and Donna’s (Retirement Reflections) blogs for their What’s On Your Plate? monthly dinner – or breakfast, lunch, or midnight snack – party. Get inspired by the various dishes they and other bloggers feature and share one of your own (a lunch dish would be nice 😊).

Just Passing Through

The picture in the Airbnb ad was the first thing that caught his attention. While most hosts feature the home they have for rent, this ad only pictured a dry desert landscape. Perfect, Greg thought. As he scrolled through the reviews, he become even more intrigued. Many were in a language he didn’t recognize but the reviews in English were positive. “This place is out of the world!” one gushed. “You’ll never want to leave!” said another. The review that finally convinced Greg to book the house read, “If you are looking for an environment that is both peaceful and life-changing, this is it.”

There had been little peace in Greg’s life since he and Lydia had broken up three weeks prior. After four years of living together, she told him it was over. No yelling, no tears: just, “I don’t love you anymore and you have to leave.” Even as Greg felt his heart being squeezed between her well-manicured fingers, he couldn’t help admiring her calm composure. Lydia dumped him as if he was one of her underperforming employees.

There was no question about who got to stay in the apartment and who had to leave. Lydia’s name was on the rental agreement and, ever since he lost his job back in August, Greg hadn’t contributed to the rent.

As he gathered his things under her watchful eyes, he was shocked at how little he actually owned. The furniture, TV, and kitchen appliances were all hers. Everything he had thought of as “ours,” really belonged to Lydia. When he had taken what was his, the apartment looked the same, as if he had never been there.

Now that he was essentially homeless and had to rely on friends to put him up, Greg tried to convince himself that being able to travel light was a good thing. He only needed his beater car and a small backpack to carry his possessions from sofa to sofa. Even so, he couldn’t help but think a man his age should have more to show for himself. 

Greg knew that he would have to find a job and more permanent housing soon – two things that weren’t easy to come by in the current economy. He also knew that he needed to have a clear idea of what he wanted his new, post-Lydia life to look like. As much as he appreciated his friends’ generosity, he had very little privacy and craved quiet and solitude so he could figure things out.

A few days in the high desert was just what he needed. While many people sought vacation rentals at the beach, Greg longed for the peace and quiet of the desert. He also knew that he could afford to rent a house there for a few days. Unlike at the coast, the prices in Morongo and Yucca Valley wouldn’t make too much of a dent in his meager savings. Ignoring Lydia’s voice in his head telling him how irresponsible he was being, Greg booked the desert house for a three-night stay.


As Greg drove out of town, the lush green lawns, imposing security gates, and faux lakes of Palm Springs started to give way to natural desert landscape without the injection of imported water. He could feel his shoulders relax more with each mile, and the pain of Lydia’s rejection began to ease. He knew that he was spending money that he should be saving, but he also knew what he was doing was the right thing for him.

A half-hour later, Greg’s GPS indicated that he was close to the address of the rental. He carefully followed the prompts up a narrow, dusty road, doing his best to avoid the large ruts on either side. When the GPS told him that he had arrived, Greg slowed to a crawl and started to look to his left and right. No house. Crap, Greg thought, I hope I haven’t been taken. Not willing to give up and hear the Lydia living in his head tell him what an idiot he was, he considered his next move. He remembered passing a small convenience store a few miles back. Maybe they knew something about the house or owner.


The bell over the door announced his arrival but the man behind the counter continued to stare at his phone. Greg picked up a bag of chips, hoping a purchase would help break the screen’s spell.

“Hi. I’m looking for a house up the road, but I can’t seem to find it,” Greg said as he slid the chips and a piece of paper with the handwritten address towards the clerk.

The clerk looked at the address and smirked. “Yeah, that’s the Martin place. It’s not visible from the road; you have to park and walk up the dirt path. Once you clear the hill, you’ll see it.”

Feeling much better, Greg thanked the man and paid for his chips. As he walked out of the store, the clerk called out, “Look for the blue door.”

Greg carefully retraced his route and, once again, found himself where the GPS insisted there was a house. He parked in a little dirt lot he hadn’t noticed the first time and looked around until he saw the path the clerk had mentioned. He opened the trunk to retrieve his backpack and, as he slung it over his shoulder, wondered again how he got to the point where most of his worldly possessions could fit in such a small bag.  

The path leading up the hill was partially overgrown by shrubs and covered in loose rock and dust. When Greg reached the top, he looked around for the house. Still nothing. Then, over to the right, nestled among some trees, he saw a door. No house, just a door.

Greg walked over to get a closer look. The door was set inside a frame and stood straight up with no visible signs of support. The robin’s egg blue paint looked new, but the brass doorknob was tarnished and showed signs of wear. As he slowly circled around the frame, he could see that it was no thicker than a typical door that might be found in a normal home. But, there was nothing normal about it. At all. Feeling a little ridiculous, he cautiously knocked. When he heard footsteps approaching from the other side, his first instinct was to run.

Before Greg could turn away, the door was opened by a small man whose bald head barely reached the middle of Greg’s chest. Although the man’s unnaturally small mouth held no hint of a smile, his large eyes looked friendly.

“Are you Mr. Martin?” Greg asked cautiously. “I’m Greg Trent. I have reservations for your Airbnb.”  

“Oh, yes! I have been expecting you. Come in.” The little man opened the door fully to reveal black and white tile covering the floor of what appeared to be a large room. Greg quickly stepped back from the door and looked behind it. Nothing. He looked inside the room again and saw that the space was so vast no walls were visible; he could only see the checkerboard floor stretching off into the distance.  

Greg hesitated to step inside and tried to stall for time as his mind worked to find the logic of what he was seeing. “Um… my reservation is for three nights. What is the check-out time on Wednesday?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.

“Oh, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” the man replied.

As Greg drew a startled breath, Mr. Martin let out a laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t resist. It just cracks me up to see people’s expressions when I say that. Check out time is 10 a.m.” Then, he added, “But, really, you may not want to leave. Many have chosen to stay. Let’s see how you feel on Wednesday.”    

As the man spoke, Greg noticed a wave of peace flowing throughout his body and he realized that his stress from the last few weeks had disappeared. He had sudden clarity that there was nothing behind him to lose and endless possibilities ahead. He hitched up his backpack and, after taking one last look over his shoulder, crossed the door’s threshold and followed the odd little man towards wherever the black and white tiles led.  


This story was written for Dan Antion’s (No Facilities) Thursday Doors Writing Challenge. The door that inspired my story can be found here.