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The Door

The door


Estimated reading time — 14 minutes

In the weak light of the porch lamp, the door stood illuminated. The wood was splintering and the gray paint was flaking heavily. At eye level there were patches of paint missing, showing where years’ worth of knuckles had rapped against the wood. To the left of the door, encased in a dusty glass lamp, a weak light bulb glowed softly, casting a ray of yellow light. A single moth fluttered around the glass, its wings moving so quickly they were nothing but a blur. It tapped relentlessly against the glass, desperately trying to reach the light. I watched it struggle for several seconds but my eyes wandered past the moth and down the porch steps where the light did not reach. Beyond the steps the darkness was so thick I couldn’t tell what street I was on, or if I was even on a street at all. The porch was large, but mostly vacant, save a single wooden rocking chair that looked as old and weathered as the door. A heavy silence hung in the air, only broken by the tapping of the moth against the glass, its wings fluttering madly. I turned my attention back to the door. I raised my fist slowly and knocked. For several seconds I waited and the questions began to form in my mind. Before I could search for answers, I heard footsteps on the other side of the door and the doorknob turned. The door opened and in the yellow light, a pale face appeared. It was an old man who wore what appeared to be an even older tuxedo. His face was lined and wrinkled and under the sagging folds of his chin was a black bowtie. His eyes, gray and watery, glanced from me to the porch light, where the moth continued its determined struggle.

“Damn thing,” he muttered. “Come in.”

He moved aside and held the door open. My eyes darted towards the steps.

“Come on, come on, I don’t have eternity,” said the butler.

More out of the pressure to be polite rather than the logic, I found myself crossing over the threshold. The butler shut the door behind me.

“She’ll be with you soon. Please, wait here.”

Without another word, the man shambled out of the room. When he was gone, I looked around the room I had entered. The living room, much like the porch, was large, but fairly empty. There were two sofas facing each other, each with the same floral pattern. They looked to be taken from a previous era, probably the 1920s except, unlike the door and the rocking chair, they seemed brand new. Against the far wall was a massive hearth in which a fire roared, the flames devouring the pile of logs in the grate. It was surprising to see a fire lit on a July night, but regardless of the summer heat and the fire, the room was still chilly. I found myself inching closer to the flames for warmth.

Against the wall was a grandfather clock. The wood was a deep rich color, mahogany if I had to guess. Where the face of the clock was supposed to be were instead several circles, which rotated counter clockwise, some overlapping each other. Around each circle were several symbols, but none I had ever seen before in any math class. The circles each had hands as well, but more than two and they spun in different directions. The complexity of the patterns were confusing and I found I couldn’t stare too long at the cluttered, complicated design. I turned away, looking at the mantle above the fireplace where several small, crystal figurines were lined. Normally I would have found such things tacky, but they were so well crafted I couldn’t felt but feel a sense of awe as I gently touched the figurine of a horse. The fire light cast light onto the crystal and cast a shadow of the horse against the wall.

“So sorry to keep you waiting,” said a voice. I jumped and turned to see a beautiful woman stood in the doorway. She was stunning, a figure out of some sort of fairytale. She wore a black dress which glittered and shone in the firelight. Her hair was pitch black and had a gentle curl as it cascaded down her shoulders. Her eyes were a deep chestnut brown, almost as dark as her hair. Her skin, however, was pale without the hint of a single blemish or freckle. Her arms, smooth and soft, lay gently across her front. She appeared to wear no makeup, but her beauty was flawless regardless. I found myself staring, open mouthed, at this figure.

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“It’s no problem,” I found myself saying, although, in fact, there were many problems in all of this.

The mysterious hostess glanced at the grandfather clock that wasn’t a clock and smiled.
“You are right on time, perfect.”

“On time for what?” I asked, feeling so helplessly lost and stupid.

“Benjamin!” the woman called over her shoulder, ignoring my question. “Please get our guest here some champagne.”

The old man who had opened the front door appeared again from the shadows and nodded before vanishing again. The woman turned back to me, but this time she wore a dazzling smile.

“I probably can’t stay too long,” I began. The questions that had begun brewing in the back of my mind the moment I found myself in front of the door began to boil over, forcing themselves to the front of my mind.

“Where am I?” I asked the woman. “Who are you? How did I get here?”

The woman smiled at me and she was again saved from answering as the butler appeared, carrying two flutes of champagne. The flutes, like the figurines above the fireplace, were made of fine, delicate crystal and I could tell they probably cost a fortune. The woman handed me the flute.

“Cheers,” she said and raised the glass to her lips and took a sip. I followed suit, my body seeming to betray my mind and even in all the confusion and anxiety, was startled by the taste of what to be the finest champagne I had ever had. I looked down into the glass, watching the soft gold liquid bubble and fizz. I forced my mind to focus, to remember. How had I gotten here? I remember being at the office, packing up my things and saying goodbye to my co-workers as they made their way out of the front door for the day. I walked to my car in the parking lot and chose a station on the radio, 87.5 FM, classic rock. The car had been hot from baking in the sun all day and I had rolled down the windows to get some fresh air. I had meant to drive straight home, I didn’t have any errands to run or plans to see friends. It was going to be a quiet night watching TV in bed until I fell asleep. Yet, here I was, standing in this house, holding a glass of champagne and wondering how I could have possibly gotten here.

“How do you like it, Abby?” she asked.

I raised my eyes from the glass and met hers.

“How do you know my name?”

She smiled again. “When you’re finished, we can get you settled and Benjamin can show you you’re room. After that we can talk.”

With that, she left the room and I was alone once more. I reached to my side to grab my cellphone from my purse and found, much to my surprise and dismay, it wasn’t there. I had been so distracted I hadn’t even noticed the familiar weight of the bag against my hip was missing. I patted down my pockets, but they were empty, no sign of my wallets or keys anywhere.

I must have left them in the car, I thought, turning towards the doorway. But that didn’t make sense. I never left my valuables in my car. Growing up in a big city I had trained myself early on to never leave anything of value in your car and to always leave it locked. My confusion deepened and, with it, my anxiety. Something was wrong, something was off about this place.

“Follow me, please,” said a male voice. The butler who the woman had called Benjamin, stood in the doorway of the living room.

“I…” I began, but no words came. I shot a glance towards the door I had entered, but somehow it seemed more intimidating than the man who stood in front of me, beckoning me. Still holding the unfinished champagne, I followed the man through a darkened dining room down a hallway. The hallways in the house were long, almost too long to fit into a single house. Each was lined with a worn rug and had several sconces on the wall which, like the front porch light, had a lightbulb which glowed dimly. There were many opened doors down each hall, each opened to show an empty bedroom. Some of the rooms were filled with antiques, beds and sofas that looked to be different eras, like the living room had been. Others, to my surprise, were filled with modern furnishings, bunk beds with brightly colored comforters and toys which lay forgotten on rugs. Some rooms were larger than others, but each one was fully furnished and completely empty of any other person. I only had a chance to glimpse into each room as we passed. The old man seemed to move with an agility and speed that belonged to men decades younger than him. I followed him down one hallway and up another, seeming to never end. I wasn’t sure how many rooms I had passed.

Dozens? It seemed like it. Finally, after we went down what had to be the thirtieth hallway, I found myself asking, “Who owns this house? What am I doing here?”

The man didn’t give any indication he had heard me whatsoever. I asked again, this time louder, but he simply carried on, neither glancing at me or into any of the open doorways we passed. He paused for a moment at the bottom of a staircase and began to ascend, his leather shoes silent against the threadbare carpet. I followed him, clutching onto the railing for support as we went up one flight, then another and again down a series of hallways. By this time I had fallen into silence, giving up on answering questions.

Finally, he stopped at a closed door and turned the crystal knob. The door swung open to reveal a bedroom, except, like the others, it had its own style. There was a canopy bed against the wall, with a pink comforter covered in roses. The rug on the floor was blue with a simple, delicate design. A simple vanity stood opposite against the bed. Although the room looked unused, I was surprised to find it was clean. There wasn’t a speck of dust to be found and the room smelled fresh. Faintly, I could smell roses, as if the rose pattered comforter were a real garden.

“Wait here and she will call for you,” the butler said. I turned to say something, but the man had shut the door behind him and I stood alone. I looked around, taking in this new bedroom I was in. I had a sinking feeling they intended for me to spend the night here. This thought wakened me, as if I had been in a deep sleep. I set down the champagne on the vanity and walked towards the door.

Stupid, I said to myself as I wrenched the door open and entered the hallway again. What are you doing, following strangers into this house? Why didn’t you scream and kick and run away? What’s wrong with you? I thought back to the champagne and my stomach churned. And drinking the drinks they gave you? You don’t know what’s in it, they probably drugged you, for god’s sake.

I walked swiftly down one hallway and up the next, but before long, I found I couldn’t remember what direction I had taken to get there. Each hallway looked to be the same and there were so many bedrooms, I was beginning to lose track. I went down one set of stairs, then another, but nothing looked familiar. In the dim light it was hard to see anything clearly. How long had I been walking? It was impossible to tell. Panic rose in my chest and this time I had trouble fighting it down. My eyes burned. I was hopelessly lost. Each window I walked back showed nothing but darkness. I had no idea what time of night it was. I began to pick up speed, jogging down one corridor and then another. The rooms flashed by but I didn’t bother to look into any of them. All I cared about was getting to the front door. I needed to get to the door.

I was just about to turn down another hall when I heard a voice.

“There you are! I just checked your room and found you weren’t there. Did you decide to do some exploring?”

The woman stood at the end of the hall. She was smiling and at the sight of her I felt both a flush of relief and fear.

“I…” I began, but no words came. She was walking towards me and I knew I should run and scream and fight, but I didn’t.

“Want to come sit in the living room? We can chat.”

I nodded, desperately wanting to get out of this endless labyrinth of hallways and empty rooms. She smiled and led me back to the living room.

“You will get to know the house in time,” she said, sitting on one sofa and gesturing me to the other. I sat down on the edge, but my eyes kept flashing to the front door.

“I can’t stay long,” I blurted out. “I think I am going to go home now.”

I made to stand, but she simply smiled once again.

“Go where?” she asked, pleasantly.

“Home,” I said and couldn’t stop some irritation from creeping into my voice.

“What home?”

My face flushed. “My home! My apartment! Where I live!” My voice rose and I fought it back down. I couldn’t lose control, I needed to get out of here. I stood from the sofa, my fists clenched by my side.

“The Woodville Apartments were torn down in 2023. A grocery store is built there now.”

I stared at her, uncomprehending, watching the firelight dance across the alabaster surface of her face.

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“How do you know where I live?” I asked. My brain seemed to have stopped working, as if the gears in my mind were clogged. She simply shrugged.

“I just know.”

“Well, you’re wrong. It’s 2018 and they are not torn down. I was there this morning. You are thinking of someplace else.”

“I don’t think I am. Your roommate, Jenna, had moved out by that time. She moved in with her boyfriend, who is now her husband.”

“How do you know this? We have never met before!”

She nodded. “No, we haven’t.”

There was a pause as we stared at one another. The only thing in the room that moved from the fire in the hearth and the wheels on the clock that continued their idle spin.

“How do you know where I live?” I asked.

“Lived,” she replied, with emphasis.

“I still live there! I was there this morning!”

“You couldn’t have been, I told you, it was torn down.”

“In 2023? Five years from now?”

“2023 was fifty years ago.”

My knees buckled and I sat on the sofa once again.

“So, you are saying I’ve been here for fifty years.”

She nodded. “Yes.”

This time, it was my turn to smile.

“You’re insane.”

My words seemed to have no impact. Her face stayed still and calm.

“I get that a lot. It’s always hard to find out.”

“Find out what?” I asked.

“What happened when you left the office?”

“This afternoon?”

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She shrugged again. “If that’s what it feels like, then sure.”

I racked my brain, struggling to think. “I left the office and got in my car and drove-”
I paused, trying to remember.

“Home?” she suggested. I shook my head.

“No, it wasn’t home. I…”

“Think back,” she said. Her voice was gentle.

I shut my eyes. I had gotten into the car and pulled onto the freeway ramp. The music was playing and I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel to the beat. I put on my blinker to merge lanes and glanced over my left shoulder. There was room behind me to go over. I looked back up front and a large van suddenly entered the lane in front of me. I jerked the wheel, hard, but the car was going too fast. The radio was drowned out by the sound of tires shrieking and the windshield vanished behind a white balloon. The world spun upside down as the asphalt became sky. Then I was standing on the porch, staring at the door.

I looked back to the woman and she was staring at me silently with a gentle expression on her face. What was it? Pity? I stood again and my legs shook from beneath me.

“No-”

“Your car flipped and slid thirty feet. You were killed on impact. The other driver was crippled, but lived.”

“No!” I put my fists to my eyes.

“You were buried in the cemetery in your home town, the one by the river. They planted roses near your grave.”

I could almost see it now, my parents standing above a small cement stone which bore my name. My mother would wail and cling onto my father for support, as he stared stoically on, not daring to let anyone see him cry. His bottom lip would quiver, breaking the façade. My mother would visit my grave on Sunday afternoons and leave flowers she grew in her garden. My father would keep a picture of me in his wallet and look at it once a day when he was alone and no one could see the anguish. I clenched my jaw and found myself fighting against her words, not letting myself succumb to the tide.

“No!” I yelled. “You’re a liar! I am not dead! I don’t know who you are, or how I got here, but I am leaving now!”

Before she could say or do anything, I darted for the door and grabbed the knob. The woman called after me, told me to stop, but I didn’t listen. I ran out onto the porch where the night was still as dark as it had been when I arrived. The moth still continued to bang away at the glass, but I didn’t stop, I ran down the steps into the inky darkness beyond and kept running, faster than I had ever run in my life. The dim light of the porch grew faint and the darkness seemed to swallow me whole. I didn’t care where I was going, as long as I put as much distance as I could between myself and the house. The ground beneath me was soft, like a combination of mud or sand I had never felt before. The light from the house became nothing but a tiny speck behind me, but I didn’t dare slow down. With each step, my feet began to sag, the ground becoming softer and softer. It took more and more effort to draw up one leg and the other and soon, it was not possible to keep them up at all.

I’m sinking, I thought with horror. I’m sinking into the earth!

The strange swamp I was in slowly took in my feet, then my ankles, and soon I was up into my calves. The ground was icy cold and wet, but somehow how-impossibly- it didn’t seem there. It was as if I had fallen into a swamp and a chilly fog at the same time. My skin felt the wet grip of earth, but also, nothing at all. But it wasn’t this that frightened me the most, it was the sort of chill that was sinking into my skin. It wasn’t the chill of frost on a window pane on a winter’s morning, or an icy drink on a hot summer day. It was the chill that went down your spine when you were alone in the dark, when you heard a whisper in the cellar when you were sure you were alone. It was the chill you felt when you knew there were monsters beneath your bed, waiting to devour you the moment you set a foot on the floor. I gasped and tried to wrench my feet up, but the more I struggled the more I sank. The chill enveloped until it reached my hips, then my waist. I was sinking, sinking into some unknown vastness and I was certain then, more than I had ever been certain about anything in my entire life, that if I sunk into the darkness, I would never come back out again. I reached out into the darkness, desperately trying to find something to cling onto, a branch, a boulder, anything. But I only felt the empty air and cried out. I looked back over my shoulder and saw, in the distance, the weak light and the shape of a house. Crying out with the effort, I managed to turn and force my legs to keep moving through the thick swamp. Each step was agony and the cold seemed to grow worse moment after moment. I kept my eyes focused on the light, not daring to look away in case I should lose sight of it entirely. No matter how many steps I took the light didn’t seemed to be getting any closer and I could feel despair grip me. My parent’s faces swam in front of my eyes and the lonely rose garden where a stone nearby bore my name.

After what felt like an eternity, the sound ground beneath me began to feel more solid. I found with each step I was rising out of the darkness and the porch light grew nearer. I finally saw the porch steps in front of me and collapsed onto them. I crawled to the porch and lay there, sobbing, my face pressed against the cool cement. Tears blurred my vision and my thoughts were fragmented. I was barely aware of the moth against the light or how my clothes were completely dry, as if I hadn’t entered the strange swamp at all. I wailed in a way I hadn’t since I was a child, wanting more than ever to find myself home in bed.

A hand touched my back and I gasped, my eyes flying open. I looked to see dark eyes in a pale face staring at me.

“Abby,” she said softly.

“What’s out there?” I cried.

She looked towards the porch steps where the darkness lay beyond. She didn’t answer, but turned back to me. She stroked my hair from my face and her hand was cold. She gently pulled me to my feet, but I didn’t struggle. I had no fighting left in me. She led me back inside the living room and we sat together on the couch. I wrapped my arms around myself, but could give myself no comfort. The woman gently wiped the tears from my eyes and her hands were cold, the same cold as the depths outside that threatened to swallow me whole.
“I want to go home,” I managed between my sobs.

“Oh darling,” the woman said, her voice was sweet and soft. “You are home.”

Credit: Melissa Talbot

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