The Final Escape by Christine Amsden

Kara stared through the rain-fogged window, hoping, praying even, for escape. And, as always, escape appeared in the form of an oak door with an old-fashioned brass knob that twitched in anticipation of her touch like an overeager puppy. “Turn me!” it seemed to say as, for the first time in her seventeen years of life, she hesitated.

     Where did the window go? She’d never thought about it before because it always came back, in the end. After she turned the knob, after she stepped through, and after she lived a lifetime in a fantasy kingdom.  After all that, she returned to her room the same age and the same hot mess, and the door disappeared, making her question whether or not it had all been a dream. Only the souvenirs that returned alongside her, one tiny trinket for every adventure, convinced her she had imagined nothing. That, and a certain knowing look in her mom’s eyes every time she studied the collection.

     Rain sounded on the rooftop, its steady tap reminiscent of her very first adventure through the door. She’d been eight, and her parents had been downstairs screaming, and she’d stared at her bedroom door feeling desolate and alone and needing it to stop. Then lightning flashed and thunder boomed and their voices faded as if they, too, were startled. When the strange door beckoned, she hadn’t hesitated to go through, finding a world full of bright colors

and intelligent animals and no sounds at all. Even the humans didn’t talk, not with words. The wind didn’t whistle, the trees didn’t rustle, and her footfalls on the soft forest floor might have landed on air. She grew up in a village surrounded by foxes and squirrels and bears and when an evil sorcerer tried to bring sound to the world, she sacrificed her own life to stop him…

     …ending up back here, in her room, in her bed, her parents still screaming, the rain still falling, the only evidence of her encounter a bright turquoise pebble that made no noise at all when dropped or thrown. Not even when thrown through a window.

     It was always like that. She’d be upset because her parents were fighting or her brother was drunk or her dad ran over her cat or the kids at school made fun of her for being fat. The door would appear and she’d go through and find someplace where it was always quiet or always dry or where cats lived nine lives or where she  could eat anything at all without guilt or judgment. She was never grand in those worlds; she was always herself, warmer and safer, but eventually, she was always called upon to make a sacrifice. When she did, she would return to find that nothing had changed.

     Well, almost nothing. The escape did give her the two things she really needed: time and space.

     Neither of which would help her now.

     Kara backed away, heading for her bedroom door, determined to ignore the beckoning brass knob. She reached for the handle, only to draw up short when she realized she was once again reaching for a knob. The oak door was blocking the exit to the room.

     It had moved. It had never done that before. Over her shoulder, she saw the rain-fogged window once again.

     “Go away,” she hissed. “You can’t help this time. This isn’t something I can escape.”

     The knob rattled.

     “What are you going to do, take me to a world where storks really do deliver babies?” Kara pressed her hand against her abdomen; she hadn’t admitted to the pregnancy out loud. Not yet. No one knew, not her parents, not the boy who’d flattered her with attention then laughed in her face when she dared approach him at school.

     As if I’d ever fuck a fat girl.

     Tears stung her eyes, but she didn’t let them fall. He didn’t have to know. Ever. He’d made his opinions clear.

     “So I live a life with the baby, delivered by storks, and get all attached, and then come back here, still pregnant, and–?” She didn’t even know how to finish the awful thought. “Or does the child stay there, like my daughter Lily did in the cloud world?”

     The knob was still, suggesting she had it all wrong.

     “I always come back exactly like before, clothes and all. All that changes is my souvenir.” Kara eyed the shelf where she kept her collection: the soundless rock, the carved wooden cat who purred and sunned himself, the vial of fairy nectar, and more.

     “You can’t help me. It’s not just about me anymore.”

     The door retreated, not as far as she would have liked, but settling in over her closet door as if in wait.

     “I won’t change my mind,” she told it.

     We’ll see, it seemed to say.

     She opened her bedroom door and started out into the hallway, determined, at last, to tell her parents the truth. She’d been putting it off for weeks, but graduation was approaching and college decisions needed to be made…

     …ten minutes later, she was back in her room, the echoes of her dad’s shouts still ringing in her ears. Her mom had been oddly silent, until the end, when she’d given Kara a familiar knowing look and whispered the single word, “Go.”

     Kara went. Back in her room, she went straight to the old fashioned brass knob, grasped it with her right hand, and turned.

     Beyond, she saw a glimpse of a world in which single mothers were revered. Her daughter would grow up here, safe and loved, before returning alongside her to a world of cruelty and pain. But this time, when she made her sacrifice, she’d make it knowing it would be the last one. She would never escape into this place again.      But her daughter would.

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