In Vajra Chandrasekera’s novel, a child assassin grows up to be a misguided adult, who can see devils, demons and antigods; in this extract, he wanders in an unknowable metropolis, Luriat

In Vajra Chandrasekera’s novel, The Saint of Bright Doors (Tordotcom), which is among the finalists of the Nebula Award, a child assassin grows up to be a misguided adult, who can see devils, demons and antigods; in this extract, he wanders in an unknowable metropolis, Luriat, where locked doors emit strange, unsettling sensations:

The bright doors of Luriat give the city its historic identity without intruding on its daily life. For his first year living in the city, there is too much to see and the brightly painted doors scattered around the city seem unremarkable.

After a while, he notices how they are always closed, and how often there is somebody working on these doors — repainting them, always in bright, primary colours; testing, oiling, repairing the hinges, the locks, the knobs; filling in gouges or scars with putty, varnishing, polishing, wiping away stains, lighting incense, leading circles of prayer before them; shining ultraviolet flashlights, taking carefully flaked samples of the wood, the paint; leaving flowers, leaving small offerings of neatly sliced fruit and joss sticks with their thready smoke.

The bright doors are distinct from ordinary doors, which don’t receive such attentions and which are often, Fetter notices eventually, not doors at all. There are plenty of simple unobstructed openings in walls; arches and curtains of cloth or beads or translucent plastic sheeting; glass doors of varying degrees of translucency; half- doors or doors with inset windows; screens of netting, metal gates or grates, bars like cages.

An ordinary Luriati door is always partly open or partly transparent, even if imperfectly. Only the bright doors are fully closed and opaque. From this Fetter gathers that it is the lack of transparency, the closing of doors, the unknowability of another side, that differentiates the bright doors from mere entrances.

One day, unable to resist curiosity, he approaches a bright door on the street. He was walking the city, following nothing but his luck, when he happened across a rare unattended bright door. Nobody is fussing around it or keeping an eye on it. There are no police or witnesses. It’s set in the wall of an unremarkable building which otherwise seems to house nothing but a luxury jeweller’s shop. The entrance to the shop itself is an ordinary glass door set into the shop front, as far away from the bright door as possible.

It’s early in the morning and the shop is closed and the street deserted. He feels that familiar sensation in his gut: the sickening, queasy tugging that he has always thought of as his luck, his instinct, some deep sensitivity to the world that senses where he needs to go, what he needs to do, long before he can even articulate it. When it bubbles up in him, there is always something he needs to do, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

He walks up to the door and tries the knob. It’s locked. The wood is painted a cheerful orange, and up close he can see that the paint is thick and inexpert, with too many layers and stray brushstrokes and clumps. There are no signs or writing on or near it indicating danger or warning people away. He rattles the knob and becomes conscious of cold air seeping through the gaps where the door meets its frame. It’s not the even chill of air-conditioning or refrigeration: it’s the rustling whisper of a cold wind carrying an unfamiliar, bitter smell.

The more conscious Fetter grows of the cold wind, the stronger and louder it seems, as if there is a gusting, howling wind behind the bright door, the kind of wind that might be funnelled through a mountain pass. At first he thinks it’s the cold that unsettles him, when in point of fact Luriat is a city at low elevation, bordering the ocean, where the air is always warm and occasionally temperate and the wind comes from the sea. But then he thinks it’s that smell he doesn’t recognize, the way it’s almost a taste on his tongue like ash. Or it’s the way the chill in that air feels like the outdoors even though it’s coming, by definition, from indoors, or at least from behind a door.

If what’s behind the door is the outside, then does that make all of Luriat — all of the world — the inside? The wind from the other side seems to intensify, as if there is a storm being held back by nothing more than this thin, over-painted orange door. The knob is freezing cold in his hand, though he can’t tell if it was cold when he touched it. Perhaps it was, so cold that it numbed the skin of his palm. He lets the knob go, rubbing his palms together. When he takes a few steps away from the door, the gusts of cold wind recede, as does the sense of heavy weather on the other side. He has a headache squatting in the darkest corner of his temple, beating like an extra heart.

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