By Hugh A Todd
“The door is an artifice of human design,” said the Mage to the student. “And by that, I mean not only an actual wooden or cloth door made by some craftsman, but the very concept itself of a division of space by a portal made to be opened or closed.”
The two of them, teacher and pupil, stood in the easternmost room of the Great School. One wall consisted of a long plate of glass. The whole building was perched high on the cliffs overlooking a valley of forest, and was often used for the reception of important visitors due to the view’s great beauty, especially at sunrise. This morning, the room held only the two of them.
The Mage continued. “An amazing concept, the door. It allows me to have my space and you to have yours, even if we live in the same house. It creates privacy where there was none, but when open, invites one to visit the other’s space. Such feats accomplished all with a simple hinge or curtain.”
This was the thirteenth meeting the Mage had asked the student to attend. She had, of course, obliged as she was one of the few he had invited for anything beyond a first lesson. The Mage stood near one wooden wall of the dimly lit room; he was perfectly at ease, his unlined face at rest and his bald head glinting in the pre-dawn light. The student was unable, in this light or any other, to determine his age. She had once asked the oldest professor she knew what the Mage had looked like as a young man. The ancient professor had asked her to speak up, and when she repeated the question, he had pulled on his beard for a few minutes. Then he told her that the Mage had been teaching at this great institution of learning when the professor had first come to learn at the Great School. Magic was as rare in the world now, as it was then. He admitted that the Mage had looked then exactly as he did now. The old man said that his own professors, as old then as he was now, had found the Mage at the Great School in their own youth.
“The door itself can be argued to be in one room or the other depending upon your point of view. One might decide that the answer could be determined by which side the hinges were built or whether the door opened inward or outward. Or one could agree to divide the door perfectly in half; the division of the room to take place in an infinitesimally thin plane in the middle of the door. But all of these arguments are as artificial as the door itself. The only thing truly dividing this space from that is a person’s decision to place a barrier: a removable barrier.”
The lessons given by the Mage had all been at his request. The student would find a note on her bed in the evening describing the time and place for their next meeting in his distinctive script. Flattered by his attention, she had made sure to be at each engagement on time. She worried before each one but could not think of how to prepare for them. Every meeting had been a lecture on a different subject, each unconnected with the others, and none of them had involved any explanation or demonstration of magic that she could discern. Still, as he was the last mage in the world, the student knew it behooved her to attend these lessons and try her utmost to understand what he was telling her.
“Here, let me demonstrate.” The mage now stepped to the middle of the room and brought up one hand. A glow began to appear around the edges of his fingers. The student stifled a gasped as the glow began to expand, creating a wall that divided the room in half, east to west. As she watched, the light began to gather texture itself and became a barrier that appeared to be made of bricks forged of brass and divided by lines of silver mortar. A door grew in the middle of the wall, first plain wood and then finely patterned as etchings began to crawl across its surface. As the sun peaked over the edge of the valley below, the brass began to take on a beautiful patina of age. There was a distinct pop as the Mage drew his hand from the door. He stepped back and examined his creation. This magic was the first the student had ever seen.
The Mage turned to the student and smiled. “I let my imagination get away from me a bit. The wall could have been made of any material, and a door of plain wood, painted or otherwise, would have served the purpose of this demonstration just the same.”
He turned back to the door and pointed to the knob. “This device helps keep the door closed until a person wants to remove the door’s division. Until the door is opened, the person who stands on one side of it could imagine anything is on the other side: any place, any thing, or any person, and as long what is on the other side of that door is quiet enough, it is as if that thing is on the other side of the universe. If the thing on the other side has some subtle gravitational, electrical, or magical effect upon us, we would not know of its responsibility. Without trying, we cannot pierce the door’s veil; however, if we want to, well…we can just open the door. Still, until we do, there is great potential stored within that portal.”
The Mage turned back to the student once more. “That potential is not actually stored in the door, of course. It is stored within each one of us. As I said, it is not the actual door that separates these places or things; people separate them.”
The Mage reached out for and turned the doorknob. There was a slight rasp as the door edged outward, and as a crack appeared between the door and its frame, light gushed through, blinding the student. She raised her hands, but the glare was almost more than she could bear. As the door opened, the Mage stepped partway through. He turned while she could still make out his form, haloed in a flood of glory, and spoke:
“I am going now. To another place, maybe. Or perhaps to a different facet of the same place. If you have understood some small part of our time together, maybe magic will live on. If not, perhaps it is time for magic to leave the world. As I now leave.”
With these final words, there was a click and the student found herself trying to block the light from the rising sun itself. How could that be that she was now facing east towards the sun when she had been facing north towards the door? She couldn’t explain, but there she stood, looking at the sunrise. The wall, the door, and the Mage were gone.
The student could never adequately explain the lessons or the Mage’s departure, though many asked, nor could she describe where he had gone and whether she had glimpsed another world, the afterlife, or pure magic itself.
The student thought long and hard on the words that the Mage had given her, but she could never find her way to an understanding of what he had tried to teach her. When she became a professor herself, she dutifully passed along the Mage’s final lessons to all her students, but most found their meaning as opaque as she had.
Finally, many years later when she herself was old, she taught a particularly gifted student. The young woman listened, hanging on every word the Mage had given the now elderly professor. As the teacher finished reciting the last lesson to her own student, telling her the last words of the Mage before he left, she saw an almost physical light creep into the young lady’s eyes.
Remembering that sunrise long ago, she felt she was seeing a door open into her student’s mind.