The doorbell kept on ringing, even though I’d barely even have time to jerk up out of my chair. “I’m coming! I’m coming!” I shouted, aware that the person outside likely couldn’t hear me, but still feeling annoyed.
I clomped down the hallway that connected my home office to the front door, hearing the hardwood floor creak under my feet as I drew closer. Past the living room, the door to the coat closet, and finally, I arrived at the front door. Through the curtain, I could see a shadowy figure standing outside, waiting for me to draw back the bolt.
“Listen, whatever you’re selling, I’m really not interested-” I began as I hauled my front door open, but the sentence died about halfway out of my mouth. This man did not look like a salesman.
He wore a dark pea coat over a charcoal suit, complete with black tie. He’d fit right in among the crowds in the financial district, but he looked a little out of place in my suburban neighborhood. “Mr. Halifax?” he asked, looking up at me from beneath the brim of a dark, short-brimmed hat.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I replied, a little perplexed. The man looked a little like a lawyer, perhaps. Was I being sued? Another crazed reader gone off the deep end, perhaps?
“Good to meet you,” the man replied, still sounding slightly preoccupied. “May I step inside?”
Instead of answering, I pointed up at his hat. “I was just trying to recall the name of those,” I said, aiming at the middle of his forehead. “Bowler, isn’t it?”
“Trilby,” he replied, taking off the hat in question. “Different brim. In fact, now that I consider it, Mr. Halifax, why don’t you step outside?”
I blinked at the man. “It’s February, Mr., er-“
“Smith will be sufficient.”
“Mr. Smith, then. I’m in little more than a bathrobe and boxers! I don’t even have shoes on!”
“It’s quite pressing,” the man insisted, his eyes narrowing at me under that little hat. “In fact, Mr. Halifax, this could be a matter of health and safety.”
I still didn’t know what this odd little fellow was after, but I wasn’t feeling up to arguing with him. Especially not with the door open, letting out all the heat – although now that I was up, the fresh air did feel good against my skin. Maybe I’d been sitting in front of my laptop for too long, staring blankly at the equally empty page shining back at me.
“Let me just grab my shoes, then,” I told the little Mr. Smith, turning around. “They’re just inside my closet.”
With the man watching from my open door, I clomped back inside, over to my front hall closet, the middle door between the front door and the living room. But as I bent over, reaching inside for my shoes, I paused.
Wasn’t my front hall closet right next to the front door?
Somehow, Mr. Smith must have caught my confusion. Even as I straightened up, turning towards the third door, the one that wasn’t supposed to be there, the man darted inside and blocked my path. “Mr. Halifax, you mustn’t!” he called out desperately.
“Who are you?” I returned, unable to decide whether to focus on the man, or the mysterious door behind him. Mr. Smith wasn’t big enough to block the whole thing, but it looked normal enough to me. Dark wood, a knob that had started off brass but had blackened with age and use. It could have been any other door in my old, sagging, aging house, a door routinely opened by any other old, sagging, aging science fiction writer.
But it wasn’t. It didn’t belong.
After a minute, my eyes finally settled back on Mr. Smith, who was now watching me like a small dog might eye a large wolf. “You,” I finally said. “You know something about this?”
“Only that it shouldn’t be meddled with!” Mr. Smith insisted. “I knew that it would be here. Nothing else! Please, Mr. Halifax, we need to leave!”
But it was too late – I could already feel that dastardly cat that haunts so many writers awakening within me. Mystery, she was called, and she was a cruel yet seductive mistress. And inside my mind, that cat was roused.
“So, you’ve seen these before, have you?” I asked Mr. Smith, surreptitiously sidling closer.
“Several, yes,” he responded, watching me but not moving otherwise.
“And you never opened the door?”
The man glared at me. “I burned them down, Mr. Halifax,” he told me shortly. His hand dipped into one pocket of his pea coat, and I wondered if it was wrapping around a batch of matches, or perhaps a lighter.
“And you never wondered?” I asked him. I was almost close enough! If only the man would move…
In that moment, I saw the little Mr. Smith hesitate, looking down. That was his mistake. He shouldn’t have taken his eyes off of me.
I darted forward, dropping my shoulder. My football days were long, long since behind me, but I still had enough mass to knock the smaller man aside, clearing the door in front of me. He fell, slipping on my rug and landing down on the floor with a cry of surprise and pain.
I reached out, wrapping my hand around the doorknob. Was it just my imagination, or was it slightly warm?
“No, Mr. Halifax! You mustn’t!” cried out Mr. Smith from the floor, but I was no longer listening.
I opened the door.
And stared, my jaw falling open, at what I saw beyond…