Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
I lay on my bed looking up at the blue sky. Clouds pretended to be a hopping rabbit, a wolf’s head, a soaring eagle. The entire room was, in fact, a mural. Half of one wall featured a distant woods. On the other half, a tree-lined stream and a cart path running alongside wound their way across the meadow, through my room and into a thick forest on the opposite wall.
I had purchased the house a few months before and knew it would provide me with years of remodeling opportunities. I had planned on starting in the bedroom but was having trouble with the idea of applying a paint roller to the green grass of the meadow and the stream that flowed through my room. There was even a brook trout painted into the water.
I was still gazing at the ceiling when a bird flew over. It took me a few seconds to realize that there was actually a bird in the room. I searched behind the dresser, in the closet even under the bed but found nothing. I was standing on the cart path, looking to where it disappeared around the base of a hill.
I walked toward the wall—and beyond a few steps. I gasped and smelled the scent of wildflowers carried on the breeze from the meadow. Panic knotted my stomach and I stumbled back into my room. I ran out the door and held it closed. What had just happened?
I slept on the couch and the following morning moved into the second bedroom that had floral wallpaper and no clouds painted on the ceiling. My mother had been ill, and, as an only child, I felt a great deal of responsibility to see that her needs were met. I chalked the bedroom experience up to too much stress and tried to move on.
My mother passed away, and I took some time off work to stay at her house and deal with the estate. She had been my only close living relative. When I came home, I went to my bedroom door. I had failed to convince myself it hadn’t been real. I turned the doorknob and pushed.
The rabbit, the wolf, and the eagle were still on the ceiling, albeit in different places in the room. The doe and fawn were new and bounded away when I stepped through the doorway. In the meadow, a young woman, blonde hair blowing in the breeze, led a donkey loaded with what appeared to be firewood. A smile brightened her already fair face and she waved.
I should have been terrified, but what surprised me most as I stood in the confluence of fantasy and reality, was that I was no longer afraid.
I moved back into the room and got used to animals passing through in the night. The countryside had encroached so much that the floor was a thick carpet of grass and, at night, I could hear the trout catching flies in the stream.
The young woman walked by every day with her donkey and load of firewood. I made a point of never missing those few moments when our eyes would meet, and she would smile and wave.
I was driving home from work one day, anxious to see her. A firetruck sped past, siren blaring and lights flashing. It turned onto my street, and I followed close behind. The air was filled with smoke that billowed up from my house. Everything I owned was burning. At that moment I decided what I wanted to do, but, as far as I knew, the only access to the enchanted world and the woman I loved, was already gone.
I parked my car and was halfway to the house before anyone knew what I was up to. Policemen and emergency personnel came at me from both sides and from behind. Someone had already beaten down the front door, so I launched myself into the inferno. Heat and smoke made breathing impossible so I held my breath and charged straight toward the enchanted room.
The door was burning. I kicked it in and went through without pausing. I jumped the stream and turned around just as two firemen burst through. They stumbled to a stop and looked around at a world they could not comprehend. Their eyes settled on me.
“I’m staying. Go now, before it’s too late.”
Smoke poured through the doorway and rose into the sky. The firemen fled into the conflagration that was my house.
A hand slipped into mine, and we watched the two men fight their way through the smoke, heat, and flames. The scene was obliterated by burning debris falling from the upstairs, and the house collapsed.
The doorway held for a moment, long enough for me to utter a farewell to my world. As if a giant vacuum cleaner had been turned on from the other side, the door, the frame, and the smoke were sucked away. An oval the size of the doorway was all that was left, and we could see only light. The hole healed itself like torn tissues, joining and mending. Then it was gone.
Her name was Layla. We walked hand in hand through the meadow to the forest, leading her donkey. During the late evening, we collected firewood and headed back. The sun had set and twilight settled over my new world. We sat in the grass on a hillside and listened to the night sounds. Small lights appeared in the distance at various places.
“What are the lights?” I said.
“Rooms,” said Layla.