The Locked Door

The gentle hum of the microfiche machine was the only thing keeping Kevin company tonight as he was alone in the now-closed library, scrolling through headlines from exactly 100 years ago, 1884. Kevin had been working part-time at the library after school and weekends for almost two years and Mr. Yardly, the head librarian, liked and trusted him enough to finally let him close at the end of the day. Now he had the building to himself as long as he needed it.

Being a library, he was used to it being quiet in here, but the silence tonight was different. Most of the lights had been turned off when Mr. Yardly left and between that, the dead calm, and the near dark outside the overly large gothic windows, it almost felt like a church. In fact, the exposed beams and high ceiling of the first floor did resemble church architecture a bit. But the Motely Crue cassette blaring in his ears ruined any true churchy feel, and besides Kevin wasn’t praying here, he was hunting.

As the black and white words and images scrolled he had been looking for one particular word: suicide. After about an hour he stopped scrolling. Lowering his hand, he pressed stop on his Walkman, his other hand rising to slide the headphones off his head, eyes never leaving what they were now inescapably drawn to.

There was a picture that accompanied the article he had found, and before he read a word he stared long and hard at that photograph. It was of two men, probably in their early to mid 40’s). One was standing alongside a carriage. His arm was draped casually over the wheel, the other tucked into his waistcoat, but it was the man in the carriage that held Kevin’s attention. Something about him, something familiar, yet not.

He read the caption under the picture before the obituary itself.

” Randolph Blaine standing beside carriage carrying Christopher Mullholland in happier times.”

“Happier times?” Shaking his head, he looked down to the short newspaper article and in the dead silence of the library’s media room he read.

“Driven to Suicide by his Victim’s Ghost.
Randolph Blaine of Middlegate, partner at the law firm of Blaine & Chase, committed suicide by tying a fire escape rope around his neck and swinging himself out of the third story window of the Odd Fellows Hall on Diamond street where he acted as the club’s treasurer. The noise of his dead body swinging against one of the windows was heard by neighbors and led to the discovery of the act.

Blaine was 5 feet 10 inches in height, and was known in Middlegate as ‘a dangerous man.’ Many years ago, he and a companion killed a man, one Christopher Mulholland, over a dispute about a civil case. Blaine turned state’s evidence and was released. His companion fled and was never captured. Ever since Blaine was said to have been haunted by Mullholland’s ghost as attested to by two letters which he had written to friends indicating that he believed he and his family were being pursued by some phantom.

The Coroner held an inquest upon the body, and the jury returned a verdict in accordance with the facts. He leaves a wife and four children. –Middlegate Gazette, July 8th, 1884.”

=======

According to Mr. Yardly the door to the third-floor back room- where Blaine’s treasurer’s office had been back when this building was the Odd Fellows Hall- hadn’t been opened in over 30 years. A mystery like that grabbed Kevin’s attention and just wouldn’t let go. He needed to know why the room was locked and what old Randolph Blaine had to do with it.

In the early fifties, Yardly had told him one afternoon after he kept pestering him for the story, someone had found the key and gotten curious about the stories people told about that room. About how in the 1800’s this building was an Odd Fellows Hall, one of those semisecret societies that did a lot of altruistic work for the town, but also had an air of the mysterious around them. Stories about how a member Fellow, haunted by some guilt, took his own life in that third-floor room. Now, after combing through microfiche Kevin knew the real story.

Of course, he didn’t really believe any of haunted stuff, but still the door remained locked, and Mr. Yardly said that after that one person in the fifties went up the key was lost.

“What happened to the person who went in? Did he find something?” Kevin had asked one quiet Tuesday afternoon the summer before high school.

“I’m not sure to be honest. A bit before my time. All I know is the head librarian before me said the room had never been opened during his tenure and the key had long been lost. Besides, we never even use the third floor, you know that. All the library’s deep storage is on the second floor. We just don’t have any need to go up there.”

But Kevin had found the key, at least he thought it was the right one. Mr. Yardly had given him the unenviable job of cleaning out the second-floor storage room. Something that clearly had not been done in years based on the inch-thick layer of dust on everything. He had been going through one of the room’s two closets where stacks of old books ready for disposal were normally put before finally making their way to either the semiannual book sale or the incinerator. These books must have long since been forgotten as none of them seemed fit for the book sale, their pages yellowed and covers mold. Books readier for the grave than reading. Glancing through the title pages, Kevin had seen most of them had been published in the 1940’s.

Lifting the last of the piles off the floor he had noticed a loose board. There was a slight depression just big enough for an index finger to slip in and lift the board up and out. When he did he found himself staring at a single, old-fashioned skeleton key. He was sure as soon as he saw it that this was the infamous key to the third-floor office. But there was only one way to really be sure.

=====

As he started walking up the stairs to the third floor his head filled with unanswerable questions.Would the key work? What would be in that room? Might there be something valuable? Maybe there is a town secret? After he passed the second-floor landing the stairs became noticeably dustier, darker and just plain older. The previous silence now punctuated with the rhythmic squeak of his feet slowly ascending.

It looked as if nothing in this part of the building had been changed in a hundred years. The walls were two-toned, brown on bottom, tan on top and streaked with dust that had mingled with moisture that had built up on everything during the humid months and then dripped slowly down. It was just about the most somber and creepy color combination Kevin could imagine, as if someone took ancient dirt and used it as decorating motivation.

No one ever came up to the third floor. Early in the building’s life as a library the floor had been used to store old town records. But at some point, in the early 20th century, those records moved to town hall and the third floor of the library was abandoned. Now as Kevin looked down at the stairs he thought he could make out the faintest of impressions in the dust. And damn if it didn’t look like a shoe print. But the person was coming down the stairs, not up.

Still wondering about how long the shoe print could have been there, he reached that top landing. There was a large window here and through streaked glass he could see the bone white moon hanging in the night’s sky.

“I didn’t realize it had gotten that late” he muttered to himself. “Mom’s gonna be pissed if I miss curfew.”

He looked down the hall to his intended destination where the door stood, shut. His mind went blank and the little hairs on the backs of his arms stood straight up. This was it. The moment of truth. The distance to the door was only about thirty feet but each step seemed to take him no further down the hallway. It was as if he were on a dream world version of the airport people movers walking the wrong way.

There were four rooms that he needed to pass on his way down the hall and each door was open. The moonlight streamed into the hall from each door the right, the left doors gaping darkly. As he passed the first two, one on his left, the other on his right his head slowly swiveled between them, expecting…. he wasn’t sure what. But each room lay barren and empty. Wide floor boards with the occasional black gaps, like crooked and evil smiles started back at him through each doorway.

Then he heard it. Or did he imagine it? If he was being honest he wasn’t really sure. He could have sworn he heard the sound of papers being shuffled coming from the direction of the door. But it was so faint and quick that he wasn’t sure he heard it at all. And with each step he waited to hear it again. But he didn’t.

And now, palms sweating he stood right in front of the door.

As he slid the key into the lock he thought he felt someone, something, hovering right behind him. He stood immobilized, too afraid to turn the key, but also too afraid to turn around. In those brief seconds his mind expanded like one’s does during a dream, when an entire lifetime plays out in a matter of seconds. He imagined a soft breeze brushing against his ear, or was it breath? Kevin could almost hear a word, or the idea of a word on that breeze.

He turned around.

Nothing was there but the dark, empty hall behind him. There was no breeze. He turned back and looked at the key resting in the lock. It was waiting. Waiting to be turned. Waiting for him.

Once his breathing slowed and his heart rate steadied he leaned an ear against the door, willing himself to hear through to the other side. Shuffling again. But it was like a dry wind blowing in from an open window disturbing the contents of a messy desk.

For some reason, at this particular moment he was sure once he opened it he would find something in the other side. Something that would rather stay hidden in there. Stay secret.

But he was determined. He had heard too many stories about this room to chicken out now. Besides what would his friends say tomorrow at school if he didn’t have a story to tell? He had bragged about having this job for the very purpose of getting to the famed third floor office of the old Odd Fellows Hall. Well, he was here now. Better go through with it.

Kevin’s hand felt as if it had a life of its own as it slowly turned the key to the right and felt the expected click. It was unlocked. All he had to do now was turn the knob and push.

“One, two, three…” he pushed quick and hard but as the door flew open Kevin reflexively closed his eyes. Standing there in front of the now open door he could feel the expanse of the room before him. The empty space somehow registering with his senses. But something was off. The space felt too large.

Finally, Kevin opened his eyes and looked into the room and his blood ran to ice. Everywhere, hundreds of times, filling all the walls was scrawled in what was either rusty-brown paint or dried blood was one word: Revenge. Other than that, the room was just as empty as the others on this floor, just as deserted and dead, as if no one had been up here in fifty years.

Then his eyes traveled to the two windows opposite the door and his heart stopped beating. Just for a second or two, enough to skip a beat, but he felt it. Through a century of caked on grime Kevin could see Blaine, hanging by the neck just outside the window. His neck had a swollen and dark ring around it and his lips were such a deep blue they were almost black. His mouth was an empty hole, like a rotten tomato that had caved in revealing nothing but blackness inside. He swayed out there as if frozen in time.

Kevin started slowly walking towards that window. He felt drawn to it somehow. Part of him wanted to turn and run. Run the hell back down stairs to the normalcy of the library below. But he couldn’t stop himself. When he was only inches from the glass he could see Blaine’s eyes clearly. They were dead eyes. Blood red where they should have been white with a grayish film over the entirety of the eyeball.

Then Blaine blinked. And Kevin screamed. He turned and ran straight into Mr. Yardly.

But as soon as Kevin realized who it was, the librarian hit him over the head with a board knocking him to the ground.

When he regained consciousness and opened his eyes he was confused and disoriented. He was outside. He was flying? No, he was suspended in air. Air! He couldn’t breathe. Hanging by a noose outside the third-floor window he was spasmodically shaking, trying to get air into his lungs but failing.

As his body swayed to and fro he twisted his way to be facing the building and he saw Mr. Yardly above him in the third-floor window, smiling.

But Christopher Mulholland wasn’t smiling at Kevin. He was smiling at Blaine. Always at Blaine. Revenge.

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