Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DOORS - short story

When my cousin disappeared it didn't feel like a dream anymore. But until then there was something surreal about the whole thing, and I found it hard to take myself seriously. Such a shame. I always believed myself to be a person who could handle the truth, no matter how strange, but when the strangest thing did happen, my mind just glassed over. Perhaps we are no longer young enough to believe in miracles.

But it was pretty damn strange right from the start. We walked, my cousin Rich and I, on streets I'd never seen before. Just another of his late night walks, which I confess I always liked being dragged into. Something about having the whole world to ourselves, especially on the pale warm summer nights. But anyway. He went through that door on the side of what looked like one in a row of anonymous apartment buildings, all random-like, and for some reason I hesitated to follow. Maybe my sleep-addled mind was worried about trespassing. In a hallway.

I couldn't explain what Rich was thinking, either. He mentioned a shortcut, but we weren't even going in any straight direction. But whatever we were thinking, what we did was fairly simple: I stood in the doorway and held the door open and watched Rich sneak quietly through the grey concrete corridor towards the door at the other end. He walked past apartment doors and stairs and branching corridors, and I suppose that dreamlike sense came over me then because the corridor seemed absurdly long.

But the strangeness really started when I saw Rich push open the door on the other end and find someone standing there. Squinting, I saw myself. I heard Rich yelp. Turning around, I saw him standing in the air behind me, looking at me. I tried to touch him, and my arm passed through. At this point we both turned back and stared down the corridor at each other and at ourselves. For a moment we stood frozen in reverent silence. Then Rich came running in my direction as if the hounds of Hell were behind him. His image in the air suddenly disappeared as he moved, and soon he pushed me with him out of the clearly haunted hallway. Feeling rather numb and possibly petrified, I let myself be pushed and then pulled by the arm in the direction back to his apartment.

I think I was vaguely disappointed in my lack of impetus at these events, being reduced to an impassive doll. It may of course have been shock. I murmured and nodded in response to Rich's agitated ranting which usually was barely coherent even at the best of times, until eventually he fells silent and looked at me gravely and asked if I was okay.

‘Sure, I said. ‘I think so.'

‘It's just, we both saw the same thing back there, right?' said Rich, twitching with restrained energy.

‘A hallway where the door at both ends somewhat lets you see into the hallway from the other direction? I think so.'

‘Yeah, that's what I saw too, that's a damned good way to put it', he said. ‘Why aren't you more excited?' He sounded almost disappointed.

‘I'll admit it was pretty wild', I said. ‘But I'm really tired. I guess it's just mirrors or cameras or something.'

‘I don't think so', he said. ‘I think we weren't just seeing things.' I don't think I ever saw a real person make a distant, deep thinking face just like in the movies before, but Rich did it then, and it made me smile.

‘Nerd', I whispered, and he made no indication of having heard me. We made it the rest of the way to his place in silence, both of us shambling like sleepwalkers up the stairs, though the sound of his keys falling on the ceramic floor tiles woke us up a bit.

‘Let's talk more tomorrow', he said, once inside. I grunted agreement and fell on the couch, almost exactly at the same time as Rich hit the bed. I drifted swiftly towards the lands of sleep, and could barely muster the energy to squirm out of my jeans and pull a bedsheet over me. Already Rich was snoring quietly, and I took a slow, slow breath and closed my eyes to the morning sun. I always loved going to sleep. But if I'd known it was the last time I'd ever surrender to sleep without fear, I'd have tried to make it last longer.

In the early afternoon, I woke to an empty apartment. A note on the kitchen table, in Rich's blocky print, said:


And so I was able to do my morning toilet in peace and make a breakfast out of what I could find in Rich's kitchen: Some spare spaghetti and truly shocking amounts of condiments.

And then I went to the closest bar, where Rich held the rapt attention of a large number of patrons with the tale of last night's adventures. He was always a good storyteller, but I couldn't imagine how he managed to spin that yarn for more than two minutes.

‘There's my cuz', he shouted as soon as I came through the door. ‘You can tell them it happened, for real!'

Trepidation set in when fifteen or so eyes turned on me as I stumbled my way to the table, sat next to Rich and coughed. Someone handed me a drink to wet my throat and I figured I couldn't put off this feat of public speaking anymore, and stuttered my way through the story in about twenty-five seconds. Cheers erupted and glasses were clinked together. After a while and a number of drinks provided by our new fanclub, I began to see the mythical and more far-reaching implications of our tale, and they grew as the day went on in a way I would be quite unable to recall in a sober state. I'd hazard to guess the magical corridor had some qualities that could only be approached in an altered mental state.

There were other subjects discussed that evening, of course. I remember that well. But as to the details of what those subjects were, a mist of beer obscures my memory. It was generally very nice. At some point my cousin absconded with a googly-eyed girl, giggling and staggering out into the night, but to his credit only after I assured him I'd be quite all right to make it home myself. I kind of looked forward to the two hour walk, even if my grip of time at the moment was loose enough that I did not imagine the night ever ending.

At one point a somewhat blurry girl told me she had been trying to give me looks all night and that I was thick as a brick if I hadn't noticed, but she was ready to forgive me. I must have found this very confusing, as I remember my head spinning as she walked away, leaving me with a sense of having let someone down. But one glass later I was again happily floating on the surface of life with full wind in my sails, so to speak.

Eventually I set off to home port, accompanied by a boy for unclear reasons. I knew him as Rich's good friend, and I thought he may have been in need of someplace to sleep, while I wouldn't have minded some company on the road, but I could not remember any conversation along either of those lines and I was too embarrassed to ask.

So we walked and we sang and we laughed, shoulder to shoulder, until we ran into a girl, wide-eyed and sharp-breathed and shaking. I realized I'd last seen her hanging around Rich's neck and grasped her shoulder, both for her comfort and my support.

‘Hey, you are', I tried.

‘Ilse', she said. From the bar? You were his cousin? You have to know.'

‘Alex', I said, trying to ignore what felt like something uncomfortably out of place in the conversation. ‘And this is, um.' I was never very good at names, and I gestured to my companion in a way that made this painfully clear to all nearby.

‘Roman', he said and, displaying a more reliable sense of priorities than myself, ‘what's the matter?'

‘Rich', she said, her big eyes never closing. ‘He was going to show me the magic hallway, obviously, why didn't we think of that earlier, but when I saw it I got scared, he went in anyway, and he never came out, and I tried looking and I ran away, I couldn't help it.'

And, as I mentioned before, this is when reality snapped back into place for me. More brave and sober than I ever felt before, I led our merry little band straight to the fabled building, which took about ten minutes. But when I saw the door the courage ran off me like bad paint. The door my cousin had gone through three times and I just one half. Everything I ever feared was behind that door and I only understood it now. I thought about how the corridor had grown as Rich walked in it yesterday and wondered why I hadn't felt it then, if the fear had simply been too great to feel. The door lurked, unassuming, calling me, silently, taunting me, without moving. I had no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't ever see Rich again. And I could live with that as long as I didn't have to look at the door anymore.

Or maybe I'm exaggerating. Maybe I'm just chickenshit. Maybe I'm reading all this crap into a plain stupid door just because of what happened later. Maybe I don't want to admit I let Roman go first, while we held the door open for him. Anyway, he walked tall down the hallway, and only showed how tense he was when he peered into the intersections. At one point I jumped clear off the ground when I thought I saw the handle of a door behind him move a little bit, but Ilse said she didn't see anything.

On the third intersection, at least I think it was the third, Roman said ‘What's that?' and walked off to the left. I wished so hard I could at least hear his footsteps that, for a while, I thought I could. The wait passed unbearable. My heart pounded so hard I thought I would sprain it and Ilse, by my side, was covered in sweat. I exchanged one glance with her which at once made me happy I was not alone in my madness and more terrified than before. Then Roman came back into view. From the right. We screamed. He looked our way and seemed to scream as well, but I couldn't hear anything. He backed away from us, eyes wide as saucers, and broke into a run. At least he's heading for the door on the other side, I thought, and while I braced myself for the weirdness sure to follow as his image would show up before us I was thankful that one way or the other he'd surely be out of the house soon.

But he took off to the right in the next intersection. And we never saw him again. After a while I sank down with my ass on the ground and my back against the door to keep it propped open, and Ilse soon joined me. Neither of us could take our eyes off the empty corridor. Neither of us could speak.

Remembering there was such a thing as cellphones, I took mine out of my jeans pocket and called Rich. I did not get a call signal, or a busy signal, or any signal, or even a connection error message. The call seemed to die the moment it connected. Ilse fished a phone out of her jacket and I gave her the number, and she had the same result. With nothing else left to do we traded numbers with each other, which took several seconds.

‘He's not coming back', said Ilse, at last. ‘Is he?'

‘Neither of them I think', I said. A tear surprised me by rolling down my cheek, and Ilse surprised me by taking my hand in hers. She held my hand so hard it hurt, as if the world was falling apart and it was the only thing she had to hold onto. I held back as best I could, and closed my eyes, and wished I could just say something clever, something that would make this make sense, that would give us some peace, that would allow us to get the fuck away.

‘You think if we let the door close, we're giving up on them?' I said, just to see if we were on the same page.

‘It's the only thing I think about', she said, staring into the ground.

‘But what if we jam the door open?' I said, ideas beginning to form in my head. ‘I never liked these shoes.' With my free hand, I poked at my cheap and worn-down sneakers, trying to untie the laces.

‘And then what, just walk away?'

‘I figure we can either leave, stay here forever or go inside. Not much choice when you get down to it.' I held my shoes in my hand and struggled to get to my feet without letting go of them or Ilse. She followed, although her brow was wrinkled with doubt. She even let go of my hand to allow me to wedge the soft shoes into the doorhinge, where they stopped the door from closing more than one quarter of the way.

‘We can't do anything more here', I said, stepping back to admire my handiwork. The door opening seemed no less ominous at a distance, but the ground seemed warmer against my feet.

‘And I sure as Hell am not going in there', Ilse said

‘Not as long as I live', I agreed. ‘Fuck it.' I was on my way to leave, but when I thought about saying goodbye to Ilse I seemed to lose the strength to speak. But I shrugged and nodded and turned to walk away.

‘I only live twenty minutes away', she said, with a somewhat shrill voice that stopped me in my tracks.

‘Thank fuck for that', I said. ‘It's over two hours for me.' Our eyes met, and I saw how haunted and hollow she seemed, and wondered if I looked the same way.

‘I don't think any of us wants to be alone right now', she said, with a crooked smile that only touched her mouth, and I loved her for that.

‘I'm so sorry about Rich', she said, as we walked side by side towards the already rising sun. ‘He seemed like a nice guy.'

‘He had his moments', I said, trying not to think of my entire life with him. ‘I didn't see him every day or anything.' My voice cracked a bit at the end and Ilse looked at me with such sadness and I felt the corners of my mouth pull down beyond my control as I finished what I'd thought would be a cool punchline: ‘Only most.'

Ilse sighed and put her hand back in mine and it seemed a little more right. But just then we reached her building, a perfectly normal apartment building with no hungry doors or looping corridors or anything. We ended up on her couch, eating icecream and watching some idiotic TV show and laughing far too much. The sun was well over the horizon and Grieg's morning song played when we went to sleep were we sat, with our legs entwined in a big blanket, and I tried to make myself feel happy as I used to, but still the last thing I knew was a twinge of fear.

I woke from a dream in which many children huddled around me, crying. At least one of them was my own, but I was not sure who. Ilse was snuggling to my chest, a comforting weight radiating warmth. My hand touched her back, which was bare and wet. ‘Fresh out of the shower I see', I said, trying to play it cool but uncertain what I should do or if she was even awake to hear me.

‘Mmm', she said, not moving. ‘I warmed it up for you. Or.' She raised her head to look at me, and I had to smile at her sleep-pudgy face with strands of her long hair clinging to it. ‘We could take one together.'

‘I don't know', I said.

‘I want you', she said. ‘I don't want to let you out of my sight.'

‘I'm not', I said, and it pained me to have to say it, so I couldn't finish, but she understood anyway and sat up on her knees and gathered the blanket to her and swept it over her shoulders, looking away from me, sad and lonely and embarrassed. Sometimes a honest face is all it takes.

She was lovely, and I told her so. I loved her, and I told her so. ‘But there's also the whole thing last night. It was intense. Life-altering stuff. Do you really want to get shaken up any more?'

‘Maybe I wanted intense in a good way', she said. 'Could you at least allow me.' She paused and gave me an adorable shy smile. ‘A little kiss?'

‘I think so', I said and she leaned over me quickly, as if afraid one of us might change their mind, spreading the blanket like a tent over us. She brushed the hair out of her face and leaned even further, pinning my arms under hers. I was trapped with her warm, warm body and highly aware of her breasts pressing against me, and then her lips, gentle, almost playful. It was my first kiss, and my sweetest.

Ilse blushed deeper than before, and maybe I did to. But I darted to the bathroom and when I came out we acted like nothing had changed and sat quietly as we both tried to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives.

‘Maybe we should tell people', Ilse said.

‘No one would believe it until more people disappear', I said. ‘I don't want to be responsible for that.'

‘No, you're right. Or no one would disappear, in which case we're nuts and wasting everyone's time.'

‘Are we nuts?'

‘It's starting to sound like the most appealing alternative.'

We both had to laugh at that, and this time there was no trace of desperation in it. We were handling the trauma of touching the strange, and we didn't even know it. As the day went on I wondered why I was in such a whatever the opposite of hurry is to leave Ilse, and how long I could stay before she'd want to make me leave. I don't believe in the Hollywood magic where just because you share a momentary extraordinary experience you belong together. I don't, and I didn't. But I think there's such a thing as BFFs at first sight, when you recognize on an instinctual level a kindred spirit, a bro if you will, and everything you do and don't do can't help but draw you towards that person, and you can't wait to spend every day of your life with him or her. Or most.

But we shared these thoughts and a few more and all of a sudden it was getting late and we were hungry and went foraging in the neighborhood, as I called it, to Ilse's amusement. We picked up some instant foods and, upon reaching Ilse's building again, discovered something disturbing.

‘That door's scary, isn't it?' I said, as we stood outside the front door.

‘Probably just paranoia', Ilse said. ‘But yeah. I wouldn't want to go in there, you know, if I didn't have to.'

‘I don't have to', I said. ‘But I can live with it as long as you're with me.'

‘Going to be trouble getting through the rest of our lives not entering a building alone', I said later, as we sat down.

And we tried getting on, for the sake of getting by, in the days that followed. We stayed in a lot, and watched a lot of TV, and played cards, and cut each others' hair, and went over to my place to see who had it better (she did) and had a drinking contest. (Every time a character in the show tells a lie, take a drink.) (Apply to any given American comedy series.)

One time, for no particular reason, I went out alone. Maybe my body wanted to forget how the world had changed, and ran its feet itself, insisting that nothing could happen just by stepping through a door. Maybe I was drunk. But I knew my mistake as soon as I stood on the street, still barefoot. Everywhere I looked I saw doors threatening me. The store down the street had big floor-to-ceiling windows and I saw people moving in the light inside, so that seemed okay, and I went in and picked up some drinks with no problem. But when I opened the door to Ilse's building I nearly fell inside as the hallway opened up before me like a mine shaft, like a cliff edge, like the abyss itself. I screamed and lunged back, and a bottle of Coke fell out of my bag and fell maybe ten or fifteen meters down the hallway before it touched the ground and shattered in a burst of fizzy bubbles.

I put the bag down beside the door and tried to look away from what was inside while I picked up my phone and gave Ilse a ring. My hands shook so hard I nearly dropped the phone twice and the interior of the hallway seemed to squirm and writhe in the corner of my eye and when the call connected the line went dead. I tried to swallow, but my throat hurt. I stared at the phone as if I could will it to work, and I struggled not to smash it into something. Instead I put it back in my pocket and leaned against the door and slumped down on the ground once more. But now alone.

I could not think. I had nothing left in this world but a paper bag of mixed drinks and I could not step into a building. There didn't seem to be anything left to think, or dream, or try, or hope, so I sat on the concrete doorstep with my back to the enemy and cried and waited for something to kill me. After a while the streetlights turned on, and I walked over to one of them just to do something.

And I happened to look back just in time to see Ilse looking out her window, three stories up. I blinked and wiped my eyes and waved and jumped, and she waved back and held up her phone. I held up mine and shook my head, and she held up a finger and disappeared. I think my heart beat most sparingly in the time between then and when she came out the door, but then it rushed. It danced. It sang. It sang Run Run Run like Tracy Chapman as I ran into Ilse's arms, crying like a damned baby. It broke as she held me tight and we fell to our knees and still she held me and stroked my hair and waited.

‘I thought you were gone like everyone else', I said, eventually.

‘What are you doing out here anyway?' she said, gently pushing me away to arm's length as if to examine me for cuts, bruises or flowering insanity.

‘It seemed like a good idea at the time', I said. Then I looked her in the eye and swallowed and said: ‘What did I do to deserve a friend like you?'

‘Yeah yeah, I love you to', she said. ‘You know, like a friend.'

When we went up the stairs together, nothing seemed wrong. The fridge was full of cold Coke, and I sucked down a bottle so hard I was worried about it leaving a mark on my ass. Corporate magic. What can't it protect you from?

‘These are no bullshit days', I said, striving for poetry.

‘Absolutely no fucking bullshit days', she said. ‘Let's be no bullshit people.'

‘Marvellous. So the doors are after us. We can deal with that. Together.'

‘I'll never leave your side, Alex.'

‘I'll stand by you. Promise.'

‘Until death do us part.'

We shook our pinkie fingers and drank on this pact and listened to old school rock all night long. There may even have been dancing. And for a time, we were happy. Just like newlyweds, I suppose, except without the sex. We had a few close calls, and we learned we had to take our ridiculous monstrous inexplicable fearsome enemy seriously, but it wasn't really that hard when you figured it out. Always enter a building within sight of another person. That's it, that was the rule. Completely absurd, of course, but we lived with it because we had to.

I understand it's human nature to see patterns in things, to abstract general meaning from specific events, to codify and set in rules our world in order to make sense of it. So I can hardly fault the two of us for thinking as we did that we had figured out how to beat the system, how to play by the rules. But rules, like doors, are human inventions. It did not occur to us that what was following us was not like a door at all.

It only looked like one.

One day I found myself running down a corridor, hand in hand with Ilse. We were both naked. I knew I was dreaming even before we pushed open a door and saw another corridor with ourselves pushing open the door at the other end because I distinctly remembered going to sleep just before. Still we ran, afraid to even look back to see what was following us. We ran down the same corridor until we were both breathing fire, and we ran until we simply had to stop. I leaned on a door handle by my side and felt only the most distant surprise when the door opened and I fell in, dragging Ilse behind me. She scrambled to close the door, quickly but silently.

‘This is a dream, right?' she said. ‘I just went to bed for fuck's sake. A very exhausting dream.'

‘You're not dreaming', I said. ‘Unless this is some weird shared dream or something.'

‘I see, you think you're dreaming and I think I'm dreaming. Conundrum! How can we trust each other saying we're not a figment of the other's imagination?'

‘You seem pretty blasĂ© about this horrible soul-crushing nightmare we're living in', I remarked, as cheerfully as I could.

‘It was a rhetorical question, dummy', said Ilse, growing into some kind of maniacal determination. ‘We have to trust that this is not a dream. Or.'

‘I get it, or be very disappointed if it turns out not to be.'

It turned out to be nothing like an apartment behind that apartment door, once we looked around for two seconds. A tiny hallway led to a room where a half melted refrigerator and stove occupied one wall, and a swampy sofa the one opposite. There were no windows, but light came from a lamp in the ceiling. Winding narrow corridors led off in seven or eight different directions, and a sustained laugh seemed to come from somewhere far away.

‘I guess the house wants us to run around like maniacs without even knowing what's scary', said Ilse, trying to wrestle the deformed fridge open. ‘So we should do everything but.'

‘Yeah I could do without running anywhere in the next ten minutes', I said. ‘Or ever.' The fridge spilled open and revealed the exact same items we had had in Ilse's back when we were in her apartment.

‘I think this is my apartment' said Ilse, the mind reader. Unfazed, she threw me a bubbly energizing soft drink and took one herself. ‘Whatever. It's kind of funny.'

‘Which part?' I asked.

‘We lived in fear so long, and now we're here, it's got us, there's nowhere more to run. Nothing we can do. We don't have anything more to be afraid of.' Ilse, the great thinker. Something shifted in my head as I heard her say those words, and she could see it. She smiled and came closer to me.

‘This is what you wanted all along, isn't it? You're a witch!' said I, also smiling. Things now seemed less confusing. She dragged me down on the floor, and I didn't resist.

‘Maybe', she said. ‘Or maybe it's what we wanted.'

When we sat up again, what was left in our bottles had gone flat and tepid, and we had some fresh ones. We made love, we slept, we urinated in the corner and we drank and were merry until the fridge was empty, and then we got to thinking. Lacking any tools but empty bottles, we tried digging through the wall roughly where the window should have been. With a broken bottle, I cut deep into the wallpaper and plaster, until a thick black fluid began seeping out of the wound.

As we stood back and pondered this development, the shallow hole in the wall closed up before our eyes and we decided to try and make it higher. The building only used to have eight floors, and there should be some way to force a roof access, assuming of course the stairs didn't loop around the same way the hallways did. Not a great prospect. But we were, of course, desperate. Back in the corridor, we tried to look every which way, which was somewhat possible between the two of us, and we saw nothing moving as we made it up the stairs. After nine of them we could still see a vague number of stairs rising into the gloom above, much as predicted.

We went to the apartment closest to the ever-present outer door and kicked in the door to look for a hint of a window or at least an outer wall, or possibly some clothes, but we found just one room, very strangely furnished. There was a bare wooden floor and thick wooden blinds covering one wall, with no windows behind them. In one corner was a TV with a large easy chair in front of it, or at least what looked at a distance like a TV, an old-fashioned one with an antenna V and a kind of roundish shape, but with no cords or buttons.

The opposite wall was covered in drawers and cupboards, which we took to open and check for food or anything at all really, when behind us the TV sparked to life with a loud static crackle and black and white flicker bright enough that by the shadows cast in front of us we could already tell something was wrong, and without a word we went out the door. Before we left I could see a glimpse of something moving on the easy chair, and the fear I thought we had buried came jumping back.

‘Wanna try the rest of the doors?' said Ilse, apparently neither as shaken nor stirred as me.

‘I got a bad feeling about them', I said. ‘Maybe we're going about this the wrong way.' We stepped through the supposed front door without even thinking about it, looping right back to the apartment door we broke down, and turned back halfway over the threshold since neither of us wanted to walk by the open door. For a moment I imagined that would be enough, we hadn't thought of going halfway through before and maybe now we'd get out, but of course not.

With the broken door as a point of reference we soon concluded that there was indeed only one corridor, with one intersecting almost identical corridor. Eighty apartment doors and one stairwell. However, we went another ten floors up without seeing the broken door again, so we had to suppose there were somewhere between eight hundred and infinite apartments full of random and unpleasant impossibilities waiting for us.

This we found to be a daunting notion.

‘We haven't tried going down yet', Ilse reminded me, ever the optimist. We were sitting on the highest step of the stairs, almost unconsciously peeking over our shoulders, almost relaxed, only a little out of breath after those ten stairs. Going down would be easier. Maybe something, sometime, somewhere could be easy. Please. Please.

So we went down ten stairs, like a breeze, and just for the sake of scientific rigor and to prevent disorientation we went out in the corridor to see the broken door, which of course was nowhere to be found. Now we debated if it was worth it to go kick the door down again to see if the same awful things were in there, or go up one floor and see if we counted wrong, and if necessary kick down in door too to see if we could find that creepy Goddamn television or perhaps something even worse, and then go two floors down to repeat the process, while keeping in mind that kicking down doors kind of hurt one's feet.

We decided we could live in wilful ignorance at least for the time being, and went on down. It was actually kind of refreshing, relaxing even, traipsing down the stairs without a care in the world. It felt like giving up, but the house was so contrary to all human convention that surrendering might just be how to beat it, I thought.

Ilse and I were young and possibly in love, and we went on traipsing downward for a very long time before we had to rest. We curled up as we always did, back to back for warmth, and as always sleep came hard. And as always they came at us sideways, when we'd least expect it. So exhausted I could barely stand up, so dazed I couldn't see through a ladder in two tries, and Ilse was hardly in any better shape, when the shadows came to life.

Sharp and angular and running freely on walls, floor and ceiling, they moved in unison, waggling back and forth like seaweed, hypnotic, and laughing, mocking, playing with us, they let us run down to the floor below before they even touched us. But when they touched, they hurt. They nibbled and cut, and we bled. We ran on bleeding feet, down and down, stumbling into walls and getting teeth marks on our elbows and shoulders and backs, and then our knees and hands. I had a vision of being slowly sliced, like salami, from my feet and up. Ilse cried so hard she couldn't see, and I half dragged and half carried her with me, ever downward.

At one point I heard myself talking. I was hissing murderously, ‘what do you want from me?' over and over again.

Then, one piece of the shadows no different from any other growled and shot out from the wall. It was so huge, and so fast, it pounced on Ilse and pushed her to the floor, and I pulled, and she screamed. Oh, how she screamed. When she couldn't scream anymore she whimpered. I kept pulling until something gave, and then I ran. I was in so much pain by then I was not much more than an animal, I imagine, but I still hated myself as I heard her moan, hated myself because I couldn't turn back, even after twenty stairs when the shadows no longer followed me and I could still hear her short gasping breaths.

I ran straight into the apartment door closest to the stairwell, wishing with all my heart that there would be a pig monster to tear my head off just when you needed it most. I bounced off the door, but a few painful kicks worked better and once inside, I saw what looked like a study with bookshelves and a desk and a comfortable chair. I curled up in the chair and slept the sleep of the dead, or the expecting soon to be dead and in fact looking forward to it.

But of course the house never touched me. The cuts and bites were really shallow and pretty much healed while I slept. I woke up still holding her arm. And on the desk I found a journal without anything written in it. So I wrote this story down. When I'm done I think I shall try to find another use for the pencil.

My name is Alex, and if you're reading this I'm already dead. If you're reading this you're most likely going to be dead shortly yourself. I'm really sorry about that. I wish I could tell you you can get out of this, but I don't think you can.

It's this place, you see. It cheats. I think it's smarter than us, and it knows it. It enjoys hurting us. Probably it feeds on our flesh and blood, possibly our fear. And it never lets go. Once you open that door, it's too late. There's no way out.

There's no way out. I'm sorry, Ilse. We never really had a chance. This thing is too big, too strong, too evil, too strange. You can't fight it. We did our best, and it wasn't enough. There's just no way out. But I want to apologize anyway: You were the best thing in my life. You trusted me, and I let you down. I'm so sorry.

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