The Fourth Door
Copyright © 2017 by J.D. Morganne
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The Fourth Door
Rumors of Volcanos
heard a volcano killed everybody,” Niko said, her chin pointed
confidently. “Like that story mama told us about the Yellowstone
rolled his eyes and pushed her with his shoulder. “Then why didn’t
it leak into our door, stupid?” His eyebrows were permanently drawn
down, giving the impression that he was always angry. At
twelve-years-old, Jaxon didn’t have a clue what the young prince
had to be angry about.
year was the same. Princess Niko would swear she knew exactly what
had happened to the people of Door Four and Prince Kenner would swear
she was wrong. The argument resurrected itself each year, in
different forms, always with newer rumors. It resulted in them
chasing after each other to ask their parents, but not even they knew
the answer. The truth was that no one knew what had happened to Door
Four. All they knew was that it had opened one day and had never
one was allowed in and nothing had ever come out. Jaxon heard that
getting within three feet of the door could suck one into oblivion.
He had never been too stupid to try. Plus, it was guarded now by the
best anti-break glass in Obedience. Hell, it didn’t bother him
either way. The opening of Door Four was before his time.
of a force field!” Kenner said, excitedly, making an air frame with
his fingers. “Anything that touches it turns to stone and then
explodes into dust.”
laughed out loud, obviously trying to irritate him. “That is so
visible agitation made Jaxon laugh inwardly. He had been appointed to
guard them at a young age and when they were both younger. Watching
them grow had both its perks and disadvantages. He had enjoyed
watching Kenner become a handsome young man, but couldn’t stand how
manipulative and sneaky Princess Niko had become.
it’s never happened! Did that happen, D03?”
was referring to Jaxon. As a soldier, D03 had become more common than
his actual name. “I’m afraid I don’t know, Princess.”
find out by tonight, okay? That’ll be one more thing to call Kenner
a liar over.”
agreed with a nod. “Very well.” This was normal.
lived within the door of Obedience and Fire, known now as simply
Obedience or Door Three. His life was composed of routines and rules.
And, frankly, he hadn’t become a soldier by disobeying them.
turned down the wide corridor and headed in the direction of the
dining room. His orders had been to get the princess and prince to
dinner and then to patrol Obedience. He came to find that he better
enjoyed his time in the palace. The streets of Obedience were quiet
and eventless. There was literally nothing to do, but walk around for
hours until he was allowed to go home. He said his goodbyes at the
double doors. He could hear King Dasher’s too-heavy voice creep
into the hall. He wasn’t allowed to touch the prince and princess,
but he imagined leaving them with a hug every time they separated.
Jaxon!” Kenner gave a quick wave and the gentle smile Jaxon had
come to love, before dipping into the room. The tall doors were too
big for him to push, so he squeezed through the crack.
remember, won’t you, Jax?”
He had already forgotten.
stuff about Door Four?”
she had asked him to do came back to him at once and he smiled and
gave her an assuring nod. “I will. Why don’t you give your
brother a break?”
shrugged, giggling. “Aren’t big sisters supposed to act like this
to their brothers? Bye!”
He bowed as she disappeared into the room and then turned to go in
the other direction. He was stopped by a taller version of the little
princess, her brunette hair hanging in spirals on her neck. Her white
gown covered her feet, flowed around her like melting marshmallows.
She had a silver hairpiece over her head, dropping down onto her
forehead. Silver henna flowers rested on the backs of her hands, with
intricate designs crossing onto her fingers and wrists.
I not to be delivered as well?” She batted her long eyelashes,
blinked her big toffee eyes and smiled so intimately that it made
Jaxon wonder if he was doing something wrong by just standing there.
He bowed to the woman, a year younger than him.
didn’t answer my question, D03.”
was a time when he was intimidated by her beauty, but he had to
remind himself that he had seen her grow, too. He had seen her
awkward teenage years, as he had gone through his own. “I was
summoned to escort Princess Niko and Prince Kenner only, Your
see. I must be the evil step-sister.”
beg your pardon?” He couldn’t look her in her eyes.
He had never even heard of it. Was it one of the books she secretly
read and then burned as soon as she was finished? He had caught her
doing it once. He didn’t know where in the world she had gotten the
books, but she had been in the midst of burning it when he caught
her. He hadn’t muttered a word to King Dasher or the queen. Jaxon
supposed she was grateful for it, since she had gone immediately to
acting like they were good friends afterward. “No.”
This changes things, D03.”
grinned. “Does it?” That was funny, considering reading books was
illegal and she had read many.
mean”—she turned her head slightly and he caught a glimpse of the
henna lines and designs going down her neck onto her back— “I’m
not sure I can trust a man who hasn’t read Aschenputtel.”
that your fancy way of saying you don’t trust any man?”
she turned back to him, she was grinning. “Will you be in the
on patrol in Obedience.”
come to you.”
most certainly will not.”
the princess. You can’t tell me what to do.”
shook his head. Yes, she was a princess, a stubborn one. “I
wouldn’t want to see you get hurt, Your Highness.”
you won’t see it.” She pouted, adorably. “You’ve seen
where I lay my head. Why can’t I see yo”—
Queen Farah’s voice rose behind Jaxon.
stiffened at the sound of it, but turned quickly to bow. She ignored
him as she approached her stepdaughter.
you want us to wait the entire dinner service for you to continue
talking with the guards?”
you?” Naomi joked.
smile stayed, but her jittery fingers disclosed just how irritated
she was. “My queen beckons, D03. I must go.” She skipped
was about to rise before he realized Queen Farah was still standing
beside him. She moved so that she was in front of him and when she
lifted his chin with a silk hand fan, a shiver of fear slid down his
spine. She wasn’t the nicest of people.
yourself, Jaxon,” she said, simply and released his chin. “Your
proximity is dangerous. I believe you know that. You won’t get
Queen.” He waited until she was locked away in the dining room
before he stood up straight and headed in the other direction. If it
wasn’t for her, his time in the palace would be more enjoyable. She
wasn’t the most pleasant of people, certainly nothing like Naomi’s
mother, who had been a queen of high standards. She was the queen the
people of Obedience had, however, and he would have to deal with her
just like everyone else.
Obedience is Peace
doors rose into the sky like intricate sculptures. They might appear
closer to someone watching from the sky, but Jaxon knew walking past
all of them could take nearly forty-five minutes.
door of Love and Air was the most ancient-looking of the four, with
wood so deeply brown and ancestral it was kept under strict guard.
Complex carvings of animals worked through the wood. The second door
of Wealth and Water was the simplest and most complicated door of
them all. It was simple in the fact that it was pure silver, which
glistened against the sun—sometimes it looked like it was burning
within itself, inside out—complicated, because Jaxon was sure it
was worth a load of money to whoever lived on the other side. He had
been close enough to the doors before and had felt as tiny as a
pebble against them, but he had never left Obedience.
three: the door of Obedience and Fire. It was a wooden door much like
One, but carved into it were the commandments they had lived
by for so many years.
One shall honor and uphold the law.
One shall hold no other law before the law of Obedience.
One shall not steal.
One shall not commit murder.
One shall honor one’s father and mother.
One shall not commit the sins of the three senses: skin-to-skin
contact, tasting of illegal food provided from outside sources,
wandering and suggestive eyeing.
We will maintain these commandments and hold them to be our only
OBEDIENCE IS PEACE.
Jaxon stared up at the door. Thin, metal poles protruded vertically
from the wood, making it look a lot like a gate. He glanced around at
Obedience and couldn’t remember a time when the streets weren’t
flooded by white garments and hidden hair, when the pavement wasn’t
something like marble cobblestone or when soldiers, like him, didn’t
roam the streets to keep the peace. The door had morphed into
something else over the years. It shot into the sky, into the clouds,
like it held something sacred, treasure that was never to be seen or
touched. Jaxon was beginning to feel trapped by it.
others were closed and locked, but many people were free to go and
come as they pleased, though they usually didn’t. Four was always
open. Because of some sort of protective barrier from the other side,
it was impossible to see any world beyond it. Jaxon always found
himself staring into a field of white, or black, or smoke or whatever
illusion was there to protect it that day.
was it that Niko had asked him? She had been arguing with her brother
about something turning to stone and he was supposed to know if that
was true. There were no answers when it came to Door Four. It was a
mystery wrapped in black puzzle pieces. With his hands in his
pockets, Jaxon strolled past the door. Four soldiers were on guard
for it tonight, but none of them were paying it much attention. They
had turned their attention on a chubby, short woman, whose blonde
coils of hair peeked from her white scarf. She was saying something
quietly, but flirtatiously. They whipped their hands toward her
playfully, forbidden to touch her. The gesture enticed her, kept her
standing exactly where she was. Attention was good. Attention was
healthy. Attention was all they had.
violet flames sparked before the hand of the third guy, never
touching his skin, and shot around the woman, forming a radiant
floating circle of fire. It danced above her, shrinking, shrinking,
shrinking still, until it was small and floating just above her head
like a halo. She giggled, slapped her hand over the scarf where her
mouth was. She kept her eyes intensely on the fire as he brought it
back to his hands and allowed it to explode into a hundred purple
sparks. Impressive. So impressive that Jaxon was just as mesmerized
as the woman.
a soldier, he was often allowed to use his gift of fire, but he
rarely needed to. In his apartment, it was easier for him to spark up
a flame. No one was watching. He could make a mistake, but not here.
Not in the open. Not when there were eyes everywhere. He turned too
late and collided with a woman rushing down the street with two paper
bags of groceries. She crashed to the ground and her hood jumped from
her head and exposed her pale curls and skin.
sorry!” He reached to help her, but pulled away as fast as she did.
had spilled plastic packages of self-heating food and microwavable
dinners across the ground.
let me help you.” Had he touched her? He hoped no cameras had seen
him. That had been an accident. He hadn’t even seen her.
thank you, sir.” She snatched away a package of self-heating green
beans and stuffed them into her bag. Finding, there was a hole in the
bag, her eyes watered. She created a pile in her arms.
He picked up two packages of dried apples. “Where do you stay?
Allow me to help you home.”
only five minutes that way. I can do it.”
couldn’t even keep the things in her hand, let alone carry another
bag. Jaxon shook his head. Many Obedience citizens were like her,
especially the women. They were afraid of soldiers, or had been
taught to be. They stayed away from them. King Dasher and Queen Farah
ruled over Obedience, but on the streets the soldiers were the
authority. It had been that way for years and him helping one little
lady with her groceries wouldn’t change that. “You won’t be
cited for this. It was my fault.”
got it,” she snapped. She stuffed the rest of her things in the bag
that hadn’t torn and jumped to her feet. She didn’t bother
covering her hair as she rushed off and didn’t look over her
shoulder at him once.
he headed in the direction of his own apartment. He hated that it was
the way it was sometimes.
Visits & Fairytales
apartment building was one of the largest in the city. He pushed
through the double glass doors and took the elevator to the sixteenth
floor. Someone had scribbled holospray on his door that said simply,
Obedience is Peace in transparent blue lettering. He swiped it
away with his elbow, as he unlocked the door. The tiny blue pixels
faded as they flew off. Jaxon pushed open the door and kicked it shut
His apartment was technically a one-bedroom, but it felt smaller. He
felt like he had purposely limited himself to one room and there were
no exits. Once inside his bedroom, he kicked out of his shoes and
tucked them neatly inside his closet. It was only big enough to hold
two pairs of shoes and an old coat that he hadn’t worn in years.
King Dasher had given it to him on his fifteenth birthday.
plopped onto the bed. It had felt soft before when he had first moved
in there and had felt accomplished to get from under his parents’
roof. Now, it just felt rigid, like it had taken on too much weight.
He didn’t sleep on clouds anymore. After staring up at the ceiling
for nearly ten minutes, he decided food was in his best interest. He
couldn’t remember if he had eaten today. He went to his box of a
kitchen, past his box of a refrigerator to his box of a cabinet. The
refrigerator was only big enough to hold jugs of water. The microwave
sat atop it. A lot of food was microwaveable, but most of it was
self-heating. The little counter space he had, he didn’t need
unless he was preparing himself a glass of water.
ripped the seal on a self-heating broccoli pizza pack and watched the
silver aluminum rise until it couldn’t anymore. It deflated once it
was finished and formed around the soggy, tasteless pizza. Jaxon ate
as much of the wet mush as he could, before tossing it in the bin.
Then… he went to bed.
was nearly asleep when a hard knock jolted him upright forty minutes
later. He wasn’t physically tired. Lately, he had suffered from
such overwhelming boredom that it put him to sleep for hours. Half of
his day was spent sleeping. Guarding and sleeping. He had begun to
sleep so much that when he wasn’t, he had to force himself to stay
the hell would be knocking on his door three hours before curfew?
Tucking his t-shirt into his pants—always the professional—he
went to see who it was. He opened the door without asking. She was
dressed in normal white clothes, covering all but her eyes. There was
no mistaking Princess Naomi. With wide eyes, he motioned for her to
get inside. If he was allowed to touch her he would have yanked her
in himself. She playfully hopped over the threshold and pulled the
scarf from her head before he could close the door.
locked it quickly and faced her. “What’re you doing?”
She undressed from the loose cloth, leaving a more attractive blue
gown in its place. White flats bedazzled by all colored gemstones
covered her petite feet. Her henna tattoos were more vibrant than
they had been earlier. “No one saw me.” In her hand was a
hardcover book, so old that the pages were worn and yellow.
no, not only do you want them to kill me, but you thought, ‘Hey,
why not get myself killed, too?’”
you think this is a big deal?” She held up the book, waved it a
couple times before tossing it up and catching it. “Hm? This old
not laughing.” But she was smiling. Smiling deeply, like she was
enjoying being a criminal.
left the palace and walked here with a book.”
just any book. This is Grimm’s Fairytales.”
I know what that is?”
been friends for a long time. So, uh, yeah.”
used the term friends loosely. He had grown up side-by-side with her,
but it wasn’t by choice. He had been conditioned at a young age to
put the royal family before himself, Naomi included. It wasn’t like
they had shared clothes and combed each other’s hair. “What if
you had dropped it?”
snickered. “I did, actually.”
laughing. That’s not funny.”
one saw me, Jaxon, for Hephaestus’ sake. Loosen your corset.”
the princess, yet I have to remind you of the consequences of
carrying around illegal stuff. Like books!” He went to snatch it
from her, but she yanked it away and tucked it behind her back. “You
know you’ll be executed if they find you with it.”
whom? The queen? My father?” Her eyebrows were drawn down when she
shrugged, the most nonchalant gesture he had ever seen.
wasn’t aware of consequences. She wasn’t aware of the world she
lived in. It had always been clear to Jaxon that they saw it from
different perspectives, but this was just silly.
highly doubt that. The worst that could happen is a slap on the
hand.” When he huffed in defeat and walked away from her, she
followed him into his bedroom. She tossed the book onto the bed.
“Well, you said you never read Cinderella. As far as I’m
concerned, that’s the real crime. It’s called Aschenputtel
in the Grimm version.” She stopped when she realized where she was.
occurred to Jaxon around the same time. He had the princess standing
in his room. He witnessed her entire expression change as she stared
around his small apartment. Definitely small compared to any room in
the palace. He had no reason to feel self-conscious about it though.
It was always clean because, when he wasn’t guarding Kenner, Niko
or Obedience, or sleeping, he had nothing better to do. He would
clean. His room was in plain blue and white. His bed was made neatly
with a white sheet he hadn’t bothered to climb under when he was
falling asleep. The curtains were closed and there was a small black
lamp on a white, wooden nightstand. Nothing spectacular, but it was
followed Naomi to the living room, but there was nothing special
about it either. The golden-edged orange, red and blue
floral-upholstered armchair had traveled ages through his family. It
was so ancient that Jaxon didn’t even sit on it, but Naomi wasted
no time. She plopped carelessly into it, ran her palms over the arms.
She kicked her shoes off and massaged her toes into the carpet.
shook his head, chuckling. “You’re just a big kid.”
a second.” She looked around her, searching the floor and behind
the chair. “I’m missing something.”
point.” She hopped up and bent in front of a white, marble
coffee table. “Not a speck of dust in sight. It’s like”—she
turned her eyes to the kitchen— “like you clean every ten
Every fifteen seconds, if you don’t count bathroom breaks.”
laughed. “Your sarcasm has improved.”
stood up just so she could bow, but Jaxon was serious again. She
wasn’t supposed to be there. They would both be in trouble the
longer she stayed. Yes, he did consider her friend outside the palace
walls, inside when no one was looking, but this couldn’t happen.
She couldn’t leave safe zones for their friendship. It wasn’t
that easy for her. “Put your shoes on so we can get you home.”
won’t get brownie points for returning me to my father.”
about the queen? She handing any out?”
Very funny. That woman is”—
Don’t say anything.”
wasn’t looking for brownie points, anyway. In fact, he wasn’t as
concerned about her as he was himself. He was a soldier. If he was
found harboring anything like books or a missing princess, he would
be killed for sure.
first and then I’ll go.”
shook his head. “No.”
my heart.” She skipped past him back into his room.
again followed, shaking his head. “Fine. Don’t know how you found
this place anyway.”
brother is master at getting information when needed.”
she could finish her thought, a red laser popped on from the monitor
across his bed. It flicked across the room, briefly. Naomi dropped to
her knees and bowed her head quickly. Jaxon snatched the book and
went to shove it under his bed, but there was no space for that. His
low platform sat on the floor. So he shoved it under the mattress
instead and dropped to his knees just before a man’s chubby face
popped on the screen. It was King Dasher’s advisor. He grinned from
ear-to-ear, even though the black spots beginning to form under his
eyes suggested exhaustion. Jaxon ducked his head, too.
is Peace.” The advisor announced the usual mantra, plainly.
is Peace,” Jaxon and Naomi chanted after him.
were a few seconds before the screen went black and the light
disappeared. Jaxon rose cautiously, but Naomi stayed where she was.
“I’m so sorry.” He dropped his hand in the space between the
monitor and wall and flicked it off. It was after nine so he was
allowed. He had gotten into the habit of cutting it off before he
went to bed anyway, but it had slipped his mind tonight. “He didn’t
popped up. “No?”
don’t think he was even paying attention.”
climbed to her knees and then to her feet. “Good.”
I’ve come all this way.” She pouted.
curfew is soon. Your dad—the king, in case you forgot—will
literally kill me if he finds you here.”
do you think of me really? Don’t you know I’d never let that
happen?” She went to the living room where she had dropped all her
things. “I can get back on my own,” she said, as she dressed.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been escaping for years like
don’t know who Princess Jasmine is, but be safe.”
course.” She opened the door. “Cinderella next time.”
nodded and Jaxon watched her walk down the hall until she turned, out
All Sleeping Children
Jaxon couldn’t stand to sit there alone anymore, he took the train
for his parents’ house. His train rides were usually quick and
painless, but there was something off about this one. The atmosphere
was as if someone had lost a loved one. The train was quiet and
sullen as everyone counted down the minutes until curfew. Because
Jaxon was a soldier he didn’t have a curfew. He usually had peace
on the train since people tended to stay away from soldiers.
Sometimes he wished he could hide the red marks on his left wrist and
hand. They were like fat rubber bands, constantly numbing him.
Tonight, however, he didn’t get his peaceful train ride. Tonight,
he got two teenagers whispering across from him.
me,” one of the boys said, leaning forward with his elbows on his
knees. He took a moment to scan Jaxon from head-to-toe. “I don’t
mean to disturb you.” He adjusted a white tunic as he shifted from
his seat to the empty seat beside Jaxon. “May I ask you a question,
shifted, nervously. He didn’t know what to think about this young
boy, approaching him so carelessly. “Sure.”
father is sick. He has Irveng Syndrome. You know? It’s what you get
when you haven’t used fire all your life, so it starts to burn away
on the insides. He’s being burned, sir, from the inside out. He’s
didn’t understand why he would divulge such personal information to
doctors tell him they can’t help him. There’s no cure for IS,
they say. But I think that all my father has to do is start to
use his abilities. He refuses, of course, because… well… if he
does, he’ll be executed… or sent to jail. He doesn’t want to
die in prison.”
listened quietly, nodding every few seconds. Already he didn’t know
how to answer him and a question hadn’t even been posed yet.
doctors tell him they can’t help him even though he’s in
agonizing pain. But he has to work… to provide for his children, my
two sisters and me. My mother’s dead, you see.” He smirked, like
he was about to tell a funny joke. “A dying man, in excruciating
pain, being forced to work so that his family can eat. Doesn’t seem
like the ideal life, you know?” He paused like he was waiting for
an answer, but Jaxon didn’t have one. “So my best bet is
to become a soldier. A pig, like you, so that, at least, I can give
him a decent burial.”
shifted, even more uncomfortable than he was before. He uncrossed his
arms. He wanted to be prepared for anything this kid might try to do.
“What’s your question?” He was offended. Genuinely. He had
worked hard for his position. He didn’t think it was fair to call
him a pig when he was protecting the citizens of Obedience every day
of his life.
you believe in a system like that? One that pins you against a
wall—takes everything you have and then watches you die?”
stared at this boy, who desperately wanted an answer to his question.
His hands gripped the straps of a white backpack, his brown eyes
burned into Jaxon’s like he could read his mind. He waited,
patiently and quietly, his eyebrows turned down, his eyes watery. A
vein in the middle of his forehead showed Jaxon just how frustrated
truth was that the kid was too young to understand. The system that
they had was a system that worked. The world had ended before them,
half of humanity had been killed because of people’s ignorance,
stupidity and unwillingness to change. Obedience is Peace. It
was the only thing that worked. Obedience is Peace. Obedience is
Peace. There was nothing anyone could do about Irveng Syndrome.
It was a result of old age and nothing more, nothing like what the
kid had said. Jaxon didn’t have an answer for him.
know what I think, soldier?”
think it might be time for some changes.” He stood before Jaxon
could tell him to keep his place and remember who he was talking to.
He did a swift salute and motioned for his buddy to join him. The
bottom flap on his backpack was unzipped, holding two canisters. The
train jolted to a halt. One of the canisters dropped from the
backpack and thumped against the floor. From where Jaxon sat, he
could see that it was a canister of holospray. He wondered if one of
those boys had been the one to spray his door. The boy retrieved it,
shooting a sinister grin in Jaxon’s direction, and then departed
should have cited him, reported him directly to King Dasher, but
Jaxon wanted a peaceful night. He wanted to visit his mother, maybe
say hello to his father. He would put the incident out of his head.
● ● ●
mother stayed on a hill in Moregrad, a small city in Obedience. Her
house was small and quaint with a garden of artificial lilies she had
planted when Jaxon was younger. There was no need to tend to them,
since they took care of themselves, but she tended to them every
morning. When Jaxon stepped up, she was on her hands and knees with
gardening gloves, like the ones she had used to carry him as a child.
The soil was grimy and filled with yellow seeds, packed around
bundles of red and yellow lilies, soft to the touch. The metal stems
sparkled even without sunlight. They sent LED signals through the
stem to alert when water was running low.
spun. A scarf covered auburn hair. Her determined eyes softened when
she saw him. Smiling, she placed both her hands flat on the ground
and pulled herself up with a grunt. Jaxon reached to help her, but
snatched his hands swiftly away. He didn’t know who was watching.
It had always been a natural reaction to reach out to his mother
whenever she stumbled. Quietly, they went into the house.
had changed from what he remembered, but it still felt like home. He
hadn’t been there in an entire year, had hardly called. For his
first visit back, he thought he should be paying less attention to
the décor and more to his mother, but the entire house looked
different. Was his room the same? He followed his mother through the
foyer, straight back into the kitchen.
you hungry, darling? I’ll make you something to eat.” She went to
the sink and removed her gloves. A silver bowl and cup were the only
thing in the sink, but she started to wash them anyway.
had always been like that, even when he was younger, immaculate
beyond words. It had annoyed him before, but now he understood. She
had to find ways to busy herself with his father not around.
fine, mom, thanks. Where’s dad?”
He had to pick up more hours. They limited the grocery supply to one
person per household.”
had the kind of voice that massaged Jaxon’s mind, made him want to
lie in his bed and watch the train lights move on his ceiling. When
he was little, and his mother had brought the lamp home, he had
turned the thing on every night. His father had taken it away when
Jaxon was at school, said he was too old for it.
How’ve you been?”
cut the water off, grabbed a towel and dried her hands. When she
turned to him, she had an eyebrow raised, which she instantly
accompanied with a hand on her hips. “You came all this way and you
think we’re going to talk about me?” She waved the dish towel at
him. “Don’t be ridiculous.” She was getting older. Her features
were changing, deepening, darkening, but she still managed to wear a
smile. The lines at the corners of her eyes stretched further each
year. “How was your day?”
frowned, not knowing what to say. He just wanted to stare at her,
swim in the nostalgia. “I rode the train here.”
always rode the train. “There was a boy.”
made a friend?”
just a kid.” She chuckled, like someone had rubbed a feather under
was going on and on about Irveng Syndrome.”
mother frowned. “Yes. It’s sad. Your father’s getting to that
age where he’ll need to be tested. Scares me.”
not susceptible. I mean… it just comes with old age. He’s not
even fifty yet.”
but the last time he used his fire, he was a boy. You know that plays
a big part.”
front door thudded shut. They had talked his father up. Jaxon sat up
straight in his chair, a natural reaction to being around his father.
Outside, an automated voice announced the curfew through street
speakers. The monitor in the kitchen wall cast a red beam across the
room just as Jaxon’s father walked inside. Collectively, they all
dropped to their knees.
is a public announcement,” King Dasher’s advisor said.
Jaxon knew it was impossible for him to see in all houses at once,
but he still feared that one mistake, one out-of-line comment would
get them hurt.
have been incidents of holospray reported on public buildings.
Defacing public property is against the law and punishable by up to
five years in prison. Holospray will be discontinued in all major
retailers, effective immediately. Please be reminded of curfew hours.
If you are caught outdoors without a passing band, you will be cited.
Have a beautiful night, citizens. Obedience is Peace.”
is Peace,” Jaxon and his parents chanted back. They waited until
the monitor was black again before they stood.
father brushed his hands over his knees. He walked around Jaxon like
he wasn’t there and went straight to the cabinet. He reached to
grab a glass.
get that, honey. You had a long day at work. Sit down. I’ll warm up
dinner. We’ll all eat. Like a family.” She smiled and turned to
wash her hands.
Jaxon’s father sat at the table across from him. If Jaxon didn’t
know the truth, he might not have thought this man was his father at
all. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be denied. He had his face, from
his eyes down to the freckles on his nose. Jaxon dropped his head. He
felt silly, being an adult, wanting nothing more than his father’s
approval, knowing he would never have it. The only time he had seen
his father smile at him was when he was five years old. He had gotten
all As that year.
dad,” he muttered.
you hand me that tablet behind you?” His dad removed his jacket and
hung it over his chair.
watched his mother move naturally about the kitchen, humming to
herself, as she pulled things from the refrigerator and set them in
order on the counter. He reached behind him on a black shelf, shoved
in a corner. He grabbed the glass tablet from the middle shelf and
handed it to his father. The black bumper was its saving grace when
it slipped and slapped against the table.
careful!” His father grumbled and held it more firmly.
honey?” his mother asked.
would have been fine with visiting just her, but since his father was
there he had to make peace with him. The problem was that he didn’t
know what he had done wrong. He didn’t know when his father had
stopped loving him.
was work, dad?”
grunted. “It was work.”
nodded. There was no point in continuing a dead-end conversation.
finish telling me about the boy on the train.”
sighed in relief, always thankful for her. “Yeah. After he told me
the stuff about Irveng Syndrome, he asked me if I had any belief in
dad looked up, like something Jaxon had said piqued his interest. He
laid the tablet flat on the table. “What does that mean?”
said his father was dying from IS and that the doctors wouldn’t
help and if I believed in a system that allowed people to die.”
Jaxon shrugged. “I don’t even know what he was talking about.”
dad used to say, ‘We’re all sleeping children.’” His mother
laughed, still preparing his father’s meal.
dad snorted. “Did you cite the boy?”
what?” Jaxon had thought about it then, but as it replayed in his
head now, all he saw was a scared child, wanting someone to help his
people like him who make it hard for people like us, people like your
mother and me, just trying to live in this world.”
trying to live? Like that was all people were meant to do. Just
live. If that was true, then the kid had been right. They were living
to die. Was his father living to die? Was that the reason he was so
nonchalant about everything, the reason why he didn’t even look at
Jaxon when he talked? “His father’s dying. I didn’t want”—
not at all about what you want. I thought when you became a soldier,
you would get that. Obviously, you’re still living in your
childhood fantasies, always playing games of princes and warriors and
people who save the world. You’re the soldier, the authority. You
got your wish, now save us from people who seek to destroy the system
frowned. His father’s words cut deeper now than they had when he
was younger. “He was a kid.”
was dangerous. His way of thinking was dangerous. It’s your job to
alleviate those kinds of issues before they become bigger ones.”
job is to protect the people of”—
as stupid as you’ve always been.”
his mother interjected, but his father put his hand up to quiet her.
raised you to be strong and to follow the rules. So far you’ve done
neither of those things.”
wanted to remind him that he didn’t raise him. When he was around,
he was yelling and trying to engrain his rules into Jaxon’s head.
When he wasn’t around, Jaxon had his mother. She was the one who
had raised him. “I’m sorry you see it that way.”
haven’t seen you since you moved out and now you come all this way…
for-for what? To disappoint me even more?” He picked up his tablet
and turned his eyes to the screen. “I don’t understand it.”
watched his father’s eyes dart from side to side as he watched the
news and followed the words on the bottom of the screen, recapping
the events of the day. “Nothing eventful,” Jaxon said, rising.
“As usual. It was good seeing you, mom.”
honey, please stay,” she approached him.
stay. Get down, pray with me.”
now, mom, forgive me. I’ll call tomorrow, I promise.”
followed him to the door. “Call as soon as you get home! Let me
know if you made it home safely.”
waved his goodbyes and walked away. He could feel her eyes on the
back of his head as he walked away from her. His urge to melt onto
her was always that, an urge. He couldn’t let her hold him and vent
his frustrations. He couldn’t punch his father in his teeth. He
couldn’t do any of the things he wanted. And he wasn’t following
rules? No, all he had ever done was follow the rules.
next morning, Jaxon was awakened by the chime of his monitor
demanding to be turned on. Grunting, he mechanically climbed out of
bed and crawled to it. Yawning, he clicked it on. The advisor’s
usual tired face was on his screen.
is Peace,” he recited.
is Peace.” Jaxon was still waking from his slumber. It hadn’t
been long enough. It was never long enough. He slept and woke to the
mantra that obedience was “peace” and then rose to start his day.
He started it the same as he always did, with a shower. Then he would
dress in his uniform: a black on black suit with a shiny silver badge
that stated he worked directly for King Dasher. The silver engraved
lion frowned at him in the mirror every morning. He would brush his
hair back and try to get it as symmetrical as he could, but strands
of it would pop free anyway. Then breakfast. Today, instead of a
self-rising bagel, he would eat a self-heating donut. It never cooked
properly on the inside and always turned into a gooey mess, but he
was out of anything else that resembled breakfast. He would next say
his prayers. He imagined people all over Obedience were doing the
same thing at that very moment. When breakfast was over, he would
walk the twenty minutes through town to the palace, where he would be
greeted by security guards, soldiers like him, at the front gates.
They would know his name and greet him with the usual mantra everyone
did and let him pass. He would then guard the palace for the majority
of the day until he was sent to guard the city.
was always his morning, but there was a slight change to this one. In
this one, his father’s words resonated within him, like a sour
taste in his mouth.
yawned, thinking about it. He yawned as he roamed the well-furnished
hall of the palace. There was something medieval, yet modern about
it, from the hard wooden floors to the stoned walls and old portraits
hanging on them. He kept his hands in his pockets and pretended like
he didn’t know he was being tailed by two of the best kids he had
ever known. Niko and Kenner had gotten into a ritual of sneaking up
behind him and trying to scare them, but he was used to it by now. He
whistled quietly to himself and walked on. Their snickers were loud
enough to echo through the nearly empty hall, but they were having
too much fun to care. Princess Niko jumped out first. Kenner followed
immediately after. Jaxon jumped away from them, feigning fear.
He laughed. “You can’t just sneak up on a man like that!”
we get you?” Kenner strode beside him and shoved his hands in his
pockets. He imitated him often, but Kenner’s clothes were much
finer than Jaxon’s. It was impossible for him to ever completely
look like him.
you find my answer?” Niko walked on the other side of him. She wore
a crown of white poppies around her head.
nodded. “I’m pretty certain, Your Highness, that a volcano did
not kill everyone in Four.”
pouted and looked authentically saddened by the news. “I wonder if
everyone is dead, though.”
saddened Jaxon that she was becoming more like her mother. Sometimes,
it was like she shared the same mind. When she spoke sometimes, she
even sounded like her. It was okay for her to wonder if people had
died, but had she wanted them to? He kept a steady pace behind them.
They came closer and closer to the throne room where Queen Farah
spent her mornings punishing poor victims she had suspected of
breaking the laws. Jaxon doubted, with her as queen, anyone actually
broke laws anymore. She was just bored and found it funny to torture
pushed open the doors and was about to step inside before Queen
Farah’s voice echoed through the chamber. Across the marble floor
she sat on her glass throne. Four giant spikes shot up from the back
of the chair, the same as the crown atop her head. Two fiery lions
were at the arms of the throne, their heads turned toward each other,
roaring. Orange sparks spouted from their snouts. She silenced the
lions with a hand. Then she went back to screaming at a girl no older
than fourteen. She was the same age and size as Princess Niko. She
was being accused of stealing jewelry, which meant she worked in the
had tucked the Grimm’s Fairytale book in his pants, hidden beneath
his suit jacket. He wouldn’t walk in there with it, not in the
company of the queen, who could rip his arms off at the sight of it.
“Come on, children.” He tried to shoo them away, but Princess
Niko ran around him and straight into the room, straight to her
mother, who gave her one of the most loving grins Jaxon had ever seen
from anyone. It was a smile that said she was proud that Niko wanted
to see her work. She was proud that Niko took interest in her
humiliating this young girl.
Kenner cowered behind Jaxon, a choice he would no doubt be scolded
for later. Jaxon didn’t know how to comfort him without using words
and he was afraid to speak with Queen Farah’s attention
authoritatively locked on the girl.
swear to the lords of fire! I haven’t a clue how the pearls got in
there.” There was a bitter tone to her weakened words. She was
trying to cover up whatever disdain she held for the queen.
Farah’s hand was locked around a set of transparent glass beads.
Fire swam inside of each one. “These are never to be touched by
meager beings, like yourself, girl.” She basically spat the words
at her. She used enough force behind them to frighten any thief who
came behind the girl.
didn’t do it!”
your tongue!” She was on her feet now, pacing before the girl. Her
crimson dress dragged behind her as she descended the stairs. The
fiery lions stood on all fours, questioning her motives. What was she
going to do? Why had she left her throne? They followed her with
hollow stares. “You think me a fool?” She stopped in front of
the girl, who sat on her knees, her palms against the marble floor.
“I bring you into my home. Around my children. And this”—she
held the pearls high above her head—“is the thanks I get for my
generosity?” After a moment of waiting for an answer that never
came, she slammed the pearls against the floor.
shattered against it, releasing a storm of orange fire that was
enough to make Jaxon cover his hand over his face. It was a windy
tornado above them, whipping as it nearly touched the ceiling.
Bollywood snakes of smoke squirmed from the chaotic giant nimbus. It
was gone five seconds after she had released it.
can’t blame you, however.” She began to pace again. Red fabric
followed her, like it was her own blood. “It was my own
carelessness and sincere adoration for my kingdom that has caused
this. I had believed that my people loved me as much as I love them.
You have proven me wrong.”
girl opened her mouth to plead her case again, but Queen Farah
silenced her with a swift backhand. The force of it echoed off the
throne room walls. Even Jaxon felt it from where he stood. Prince
Kenner trembled behind him. Niko’s eyebrows arched high above her
eyes. Her mouth hung open in amusement. Her head darted from her
mother back to the girl, begging the entertainment to continue.
is not a crime that will go unpunished.”
you broke them.” The girl’s voice was brave in all its meekness.
Farah’s eyes widened the size of one of the glass beads she had
just broken. “I beg your pardon?”
could they have been of any value to you if you broke them anyway?”
couldn’t believe his ears or the girl’s courage to speak up. It
both intrigued and baffled him. He found himself stepping further
into the room.
believe you’ve overlooked the point, dear child.” With her chin
raised high and smugness in the way her smile sat crookedly on her
face, she glided back to her throne. She sat quietly and calmly, like
she hadn’t lost her temper just a moment ago. “The point was that
they were more important to me than you… and I broke them anyway.
And they’re still more important than you.” She waited for the
girl to respond.
waited, too. The room was silent. The air was suffocating. He wanted
the girl’s bravery to return. He wanted her to speak against the
queen, to demand more explanations, to question her. He wanted her to
say something. She didn’t. The tears in her eyes broke free and
slid down her cheeks and chin. She dropped her head in defeat. It
should have been enough. It was enough for Jaxon. Even if she had
stolen the beads, broken and useless now, Queen Farah’s words were
enough to break her.
heart pumped double time in his chest. He felt immediately like he
was being smothered by her, like she had turned her anger on him and
was sucking every second of breath from his body. Why would she want
to kill her? What evil deed had the girl done? The fiery lions
stalked toward the girl. Their growls were like grinding teeth in
Kenner’s feet pattered hard against the floor as he ran in the
opposite direction. He kept his arm up over his eyes to block out
whatever he thought he might see next. The last thing Jaxon saw
before pulling the door shut was the lions descending on the young
girl. The last thing he heard was Princess Niko’s laughter, mixed
with the screeches of the tormented girl. He wanted to go after
Kenner, but he was nowhere in sight. It was the kind of thing a child
couldn’t forget. It would plague his mind forever. Jaxon had to
find him and explain the situation, though there was nothing much to
explain. It was pretty straight forward. Queen Farah had just made
two lions of fire kill a teenager, but Jaxon didn’t want Kenner to
see his mother in that light. She was someone he was supposed to play
pretend with. She was supposed to be his hero. He turned into a wide
hallway and jogged the rest of the way to Kenner’s room. The door
was open, but when Jaxon peeked inside, it was empty.
he continued on. He didn’t know where Kenner could have gone. He
didn’t know what the boy did to calm himself after being
traumatized or how many times he had been traumatized. He didn’t
even know if he could save Queen Farah’s image in Kenner’s eyes
anymore. What he did know was that he cared for the young prince. He
wanted to make sure he was okay.
had drifted to the first floor before he could realize where he was.
He was close to entering a different wing of the palace before a
familiar voice paused him.
spun around to Naomi. Her white dress was long enough that he could
barely see her toes beneath it. “Princess.” He bowed accordingly.
you be so kind to help me in the kitchen with something?”
course, Your Highness.” He followed her through the double doors.
“What’re you even doing in here?” Even though the kitchen was
smaller than every other room in the palace, it was an immaculate
space of white. Jaxon was afraid that his black on black suit would
set off the balance of it.
that your way of saying princesses have no business in the kitchen?”
said it. Not me.”
know how to cook!” She had sliced tomatoes, carrots and avocados on
a cutting board. Looked and smelled nothing like the packaged food
the Obedience citizens were forced to scoff down. “I just wanted
something edible. The cooks keep bringing up this bland food.” She
had compiled small containers of different seasonings. They were
categorized in groups.
Jaxon nodded. “Sure.” He knew how much Naomi liked her spices.
She had set aside pepper, cajun seasoning and red pepper. She was
shaking a glass container of garlic salt. “Where does all this
stuff come from?” Jaxon was more curious about the colorful food
she was planning to cook than what Queen Farah had done just moments
ago. He thought about the girl, surely dead now. Then he thought
about Prince Kenner. He had been in the midst of looking for him
before Naomi interjected.
don’t know. Most of it gets imported from Doors One and Two, I
guess. Have you seen my dad?”
tensed. There was a suppressed eagerness in her tone that scared him.
“No. I just came back from Her Majesty ‘punishing’ some kid
rolled her eyes. She grabbed a tomato slice, sprinkled in oil, and
stuffed it in her mouth. “That woman. If my mother”—
I know!” She went back to chopping, mumbling quietly to herself.
said you needed my help with something?” If she didn’t need him,
he wanted to get back to finding Kenner.
you grab that chicken out of the cooler please?”
course.” He stepped around her, careful not to let their shoulders
brush. He went to the refrigerator, pulled it open and grabbed the
boneless chicken breast. It was sitting between bunches of other
things, packaged and organized nicely, marinating in a peppery
mustard sauce. It could only be the work of Naomi. “No offense,
Your Highness, but have you considered cooking lessons?”
sighed, heavily. “I can cook!”
Laughing, Jaxon put his hands up in defeat. He loved that there was
no need to be formal around her. They had been that way since they
were kids. He could keep the charade up in front of the king and
queen, but his guard could be down with Naomi.
taste one of these then.”
thank you.” He wasn’t allowed to do that. If Queen Farah had even
suspected he had eaten food from the palace kitchens she would
probably do the same thing to him that she had done to the girl.
shrugged and popped the slice into her mouth. “Don’t know what
you’re missing.” She chewed hungrily. For a while, the only thing
that could be read on her face was her eagerness to cook or eat
something, but then she was sullen again. Her thoughts were far away.
It was clear to Jaxon that she was simply using cooking as an excuse
shrugged. She ran the back of her hand over her forehead. “My dad’s
meeting with the United Council. The emperor of One and president of
Two are here.”
didn’t know the doors had been unlocked.”
hadn’t paid attention to them on his way to work. If Doors One and
Two were open, it meant something serious was wrong. If the leaders
of those doors had left the comfort of their havens, then something
had to definitely be wrong. “What’re they doing here?”
Majesty finally convinced my father to do something about Four.”
do you mean do something?”
wants to bring in Aerials from One to close the door.”
stilled. Aerials? He knew what they were. He knew that they
manipulated air in the way some people of Obedience could manipulate
fire, but he had never seen it done. They were reserved people, much
like Obedience. So it surprised Jaxon that they were leaving their
home to conduct a mission to close the fourth door. “Well... why?”
shrugged. “I didn’t get that far. Do you think Four poses a
would it? It’s empty, isn’t it?” He didn’t know that. No one
knew that. He couldn’t see how King Dasher would know that. Not
even he had ever ventured into Door Four.
don’t know. I just know that my dad looked pretty shaken when I saw
him. I think everyone’s pretty much in agreement on closing the
door. That’s what it sounded like.”
couldn’t say he felt anything about the decision. He didn’t know
what closing the door would mean. All the other doors were closed so
he couldn’t see how closing another could do any harm to them.
There was a long and awkward silence between them before Jaxon came
to the conclusion that she had just needed someone to talk to. He
wished it was that simple for them, that they could see and talk to
each other whenever they wanted. He knew better, however, and Queen
Farah had made herself quite clear when she told Jaxon not to get too
close to Naomi.
you need help with anything else, Your Highness?”
you won’t try one?” She held a sliced avocado out for him. When
he didn’t budge to take it, she dangled it in front of his face.
lifted his hand slowly and thoughtfully. Then he let it drop. “No.
Thank you, though.”
fine. I don’t need help with anything else.”
He bowed and was about to leave.