EXCERPT | "Reptile" by Hailey Piper
FROM ISSUE #7, “REPTILE” BY HAILEY PIPER
181 Downing Lane had to be the ugliest apartment building Lorna Camille had ever seen. The broken glass, barred windows, and buckling northern wall of poorly-set bricks said it had rejected all attempts at human habitation, as if every person who stepped inside was swallowed up, good intentions and all.
Why Serene wanted to meet here, Lorna couldn’t imagine. This looked a better site for a murder than a miracle, and they had been so at odds of late that Lorna could believe Serene might kill her here. It was unbecoming of sisters to fight over a man, Lorna thought, but fortunately there was no real fight. Serene didn’t know how far off track she was about Ben Westler’s feelings. He was going to propose, become Serene’s brother-in-law. It would be unbecoming of one sister to murder another, of course.
But Serene had promised a miracle, and when she appeared around the curb, she looked in a better mood than Lorna had seen all year. Her smile radiated down her white jacket and pants. “Inside.”
Lorna followed through the rusty iron door, into a lobby of patchy carpeting, soiled by rats, up untrustworthy steel steps, past peeling walls, shedding their wallpaper. There was no graffiti. Mid-city, rundown building, no evidence of kids with spray paint, no leavings by the homeless. It was unheard of, but not quite a miracle.
“Third floor, here we are.” Serene left the steps and led Lorna down a hall of broken doors, their destroyed apartments bare and rotting. All but one. “This is it. The miracle.”
“It’s a door,” Lorna said.
Serene stared at her the way a teacher might when a student just isn’t trying. “Open it.”
“Serene, if there are cockroaches-” Lorna grasped the filthy knob with her shirt sleeve and pressed against the steel door.
Humid air breathed across their faces the moment the door cracked open, a seal being broken. Then came the sunlight. Not the gray, smoggy pretender to sunlight that Downing Lane might see, but harsh, unbroken rays of the sun. Lorna had to shield her eyes until they adjusted. Dry dirt spread from the door’s other side, up to greening fields and lonesome trees that shot up taller than the apartment building. A shadow walked the distant horizon, its neck stretched to the sky.
Lorna’s fingers gripped the doorframe, her wrist in the cold hall, her fingers in the warm sunshine. “What am I seeing?”
“A long, long time ago.” Serene brushed past, poked her head through the doorway. “Have you ever smelled air so clean?”
The smells were foreign to Lorna. She had hardly ever left New York, let alone visited the baked, otherworldly plains ahead. “It’s prehistoric. How did this happen?”
“I don’t know. But I knew you’d love it.”
Lorna hid a smile. Of course she would. The whole world would, wouldn’t they? “And you only showed me.”
“I wouldn’t want to pollute the past with every gawker in the city. Now, here’s the incredible part.” Serene said it like this wasn’t the discovery of a lifetime. She clawed the soil for a pebble and tossed it into the air. Then she drew back and pulled the door shut.
“What was that about?”
“Would you say it’s landed by now?”
Serene pressed the door again, the same crack in the air. The pebble hit the earth. A small blue lizard shot from around the outside of the door, chomped the pebble, realized it wasn’t food, and skittered off.
“The other side only moves when the door’s open,” Lorna said.
“You could observe something, leave, come back, have it still be there. A lot more interesting than teaching history, isn’t it?” Serene slipped inside and waved a hand. “Come on. We’ll get a tan while we’re here.”
Lorna followed onto the crisp earth. Behind her, the door opened from the foot of a cliff, its stone face broken by the rectangular doorway. Chilly air wafted out from the apartment hall. The sun was burdensome, the air heavy, but those were small inconveniences. Serene was right. She had found a miracle.
“How did you find it?”
Serene neared a tree that was millions of years old. Or perhaps it was only five. “Would you believe I was looking for a quiet place to kill you?” She waited for Lorna to make a face and then gave a shrill laugh. “You’re so silly.”
“Yes. I’m silly. Me.” Lorna stared at the distant shadow. It walked on four legs, its tail and neck reaching long as a city block, best she could tell. If she listened, she could hear its footsteps slam the ground. They weren’t reptiles, but with that echo, it was small wonder they had been called thunder lizards.
At her feet, the blue lizard circled, curious. Why wouldn’t it be? It had never seen a human before, would probably go extinct before mankind could start hunting it.
There were bigger, less benign creatures in this period of time, Lorna remembered. The kind that would’ve happily hunted humans had they survived to see them exist. She scanned the trees, the plains, saw nothing she might view as a threat.
Except Serene was gone.
“We should stick together!” Lorna shouted, and then brought her fist to her lips. Shouting could summon the wrong attention. Showing the miracle had been sweet, but visiting was a mistake. They didn’t belong here. “Serene, where are you?”
Lorna jogged to the tree where she’d last seen her sister, circled it, but there was no one. Footsteps in the soil led back toward the cliff, the door. Her eyes followed.
Serene stood in the doorway. Her white jacket and pants were gone, replaced by a black dress that seemed out of season for the chill in New York. Had she brought other clothes? “Evening, Lorie. Just seeing how you’re getting on.”
“How I’m what?” Lorna started toward Serene.
The door was closing.
“Wait a minute, Ser—”
Her ears didn’t register the door slamming shut.
HAILEY PIPER grew up in a patch of creepy northeastern American woods where ghouls and monsters filled her imagination. Today she draws on those childhood nightmares as an editor of official documents and as a writer of primarily horror who can't shake her love for sci-fi and fantasy. Her short fiction has appeared in esteemed publications such as Blood Bath Literary Zine and Black Rainbow, Volume 1, and she's a proud two-time Planet Scumm contributor (previously issue 6). Her debut novella, "The Haunting of Natalie Glasgow," can be found on Amazon. She can be found at haileypiper.com and on Twitter at @HaileyPiperSays.