The doorbell rang as Travis fought with his tie. He took the stairs two at a time, still in his stocking feet. When he answered the door, an old woman stood before him, the white orbs of her eyes seeing nothing—or looking right through him. He couldn’t decide which.
The landscape behind her lie twisted and torn, burned metal skeletons framed in orange and black streaks. The scenery spoke of a different place, not the cloudless blue sky he witnessed minutes ago while looking out the window, admiring the garden behind their house.
He shied away from the doorway, although the ugly landscape seemed familiar also. The old woman smiled, the stench of decay surrounding her.
“Do you wish to stay in your pleasant dreams? Or do you want your reality back?” She swept one gnarled hand to the ugliness behind her. “Is this all you want? You alone have the power of change. Come to me.”
He slammed the door, heart pounding. Why? Travis crossed to the front window and stared. The empty doorstep opened onto a brick walkway, its edges lined with roses, Lessa’s favorite flowers. The sun shone down from a blue sky. The old woman had vanished.
“Who was at the door?” Lessa leaned over the banister, wrapped only in a towel.
“Nobody. Wrong house.” Something about that woman made him wish to have never laid eyes on her. He felt precarious, standing on the edge of a cliff. How could one brief encounter upset him so? Something bad was about to happen, he could feel it. Something that he couldn’t stop.
“Nonsense. Get over it.”
“Did you say something?”
“No. Just mumbling.” He ran back upstairs and slipped on his shoes, giving Lessa a kiss goodbye.
“I need to get going.” Travis didn’t want her to see his agitation. It was nothing, a crazy old woman. Why didn’t it feel like nothing?
“Have a wonderful day. I might be a bit late tonight. I have hospital rounds after the clinic closes,” Lessa said, then kissed him long and deep.
An inner voice warned him to stay home, not step out the door—ever. Stay here with Lessa. Of course, that was impossible. He straightened his shoulders and opened the front door, feeling like he was headed for doom. The fresh breeze smelled vaguely of roses, the flower petals along the walk nodded in greeting. Everything was as it should be. Travis blew out the breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and stepped onto the walkway.
Everything changed. Gone were the flowers, along with the blue sky. The air carried a foul stench that scratched the back of his throat. Baggy trousers that hadn’t seen soap for days replaced his suit. His polished shoes became scuffed boots, button-down silk now a torn t-shirt.
He turned but the nice townhouse had disappeared, apparently taking Lessa with it. As Travis collapsed in despair amid the rubble of a broken building, he remembered. This was his reality, not the nice clean environment and the beautiful wife. This is where he’d always been, living among the rats, doing whatever was necessary to survive. The old woman suddenly appeared before him.