The apartment was small and drab and suffocating. Alexander slouched into the gutted sofa cushions and tried to admire the decor. Instead, he scribbled criticisms in his mental list: the walls were a splotchy, faded red, the floors were puddled with water stains, the windows were dark with the city’s grime. He almost added “filthy,” but decided against it. It didn’t matter now.
“It’s cozy,” he said.
His foot slid from the coffee table and left a smear of cleanliness on the tabletop.
She shrugged and sipped her tea. Her name was Rachel, an old friend from–
But he couldn’t remember. She was a stranger who insisted they knew each other from long ago, and she recounted little events from his past to prove it: the playground showdown, the burning bike, the secret promise.
“I remember it!” she had said, “Your face was all scrunched up. That’s how I knew you were serious. You said, ‘I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I’ll be happy,’ and you’ve always kept your promises.”
Happy was the destination he had given his high school guidance counselor, who had asked him about his future plans. As Alexander left the office, he promised himself happiness in his head where no one could hear it. It was a simple hope when he was sixteen, and he had chased happy with every decision he made, yet it eluded him.
I will be happy.
“So are you?” she said. She took another sip.
He twirled the utility knife in his hand and traced the point across his wrist.
“If you’re serious,” she said. She traced her finger down his forearm, from elbow to wrist. “If not…”
She nodded toward the door.
“And what if it still doesn’t work out?” he said.
“You promised it would.”
He sighed and pressed the blade into his forearm. The city noise receded, muffled by some ghostly hand.
“Why’d you come to me now?” he said.
A shrug, a sip.
Alexander removed the point from his arm. Who was she?
He thought back to his childhood and her presence trickled in to his memory. He remembered her face passing in the hallway. He remembered coming home from college and seeing her walking her dog. They had lived in the same town on the same street. Two lives walking the same roads, weaving through time and never crossing. But there was always the possibility. They had never spoken, but a “hello” or a nod might have changed everything, his life made different by one small decision.
He stood and dropped the knife. It clattered onto the table.
“Where are you going?” she said.
He moved to the door, his feet waking the dust into clouds around his feet.
He stepped onto the pavement, and when he turned to shut the door, it was gone.
Prompt: You (or your protagonist) walk through a door, only to find that not only are you not where you expected and there doesn’t seem to be a way back…”