01 Feb Lock The Door!
I had the strangest roommate in my freshman year of college. Despite being otherwise normal and even a bit shy, Eddy would, every so often, become frantically possessed by a sudden overwhelming need to lock the door. It didn’t matter which door, either. Wherever he was when the fit came upon him, he would leap up, run to the closest entrance, and lock it. People who stood in his way were screamed at. Anyone who tried to stop him would get attacked. He became a ranting sweaty madman until his mysterious sense of vulnerability passed—but the moment it was gone, he would apologize profusely, sink timidly into himself, and scurry away embarrassed. For that reason, it was hard to hate him.
But it became a little easier to despise him each time I returned home to find myself locked out. Similarly, each time I brought him to a party and he had one of his episodes, I inevitably lost potential romantic interests and friends because I was roommates with that Eddy guy. Halfway through the year, after the third almost-girlfriend ghosted me because he scared the shit out of her, I put in for a dorm room transfer and washed my hands of the poor guy.
That was almost seven years ago now, so when Eddy messaged me on social media and said he was in town and had run into some travel issues, I decided to give him another shot. I’d always felt sort of felt bad about how I’d treated him in the end. So, I drove half an hour out to his broken-down car and picked him up around one in the morning on a normal Wednesday night three weeks ago.
I remember pulling up to the edge of a high cliff-side road to see a skinny silhouette waving at me. He was leaner than I remembered, and somewhat more in shape. My headlights illuminated him fully; I saw his face glisten, and I laughed. That was Eddy alright—sweat was sort of his hallmark. He hefted a duffel bag and ran up to my passenger side before fiddling with the door handle repeatedly.
“Don’t pull it when I’m unlocking it,” I told him.
He waited a tick; I pushed the button, and he tried the handle at the same time. “Oops!”
“Wait,” I said again, hitting unlock as I did so. “Ok, now.”
He finally got the door open and clambered in with a nervous laugh. “Sorry, man.” His long legs folded up a bit as he got situated, and I could see his exposed ankles. “Thanks for picking me up.”
I shrugged. “No problem at all. Do you know what’s wrong with it?”
“Yeah, the alternator’s been having trouble. I think the cold weather finally did her in.”
“Cool.” I gave a slight cough to clear my throat, and we drove in awkward silence until he brought up a joke from the past. Just like that, we slipped into that first semester seven years before, with all its new experiences, hilarious misadventures, and surprise pressures. By the time we reached my place, I’d remembered the good things about him, and I was glad I’d decided to help him out. On the way in, I pointed to the couch. “That’s probably the best spot in the apartment. I’m trying to save money these days, so the place is pretty small.”
“Rent these days, eh?” he asked, before placing his duffel bag down and sitting carefully on the couch to evaluate its softness. “This’ll do fine. I can’t thank you enough. I’ll get out of your hair in the morning as soon as the repair shops open.”
“No problem at all, Eddy.”
“Actually, I go by Ed now.”
Good for him. He’d definitely grown as a person from the socially fearful outcast I remembered. I grinned. “Then no problem at all, Ed.“
I went to bed back in my room without a single worry. It seemed like his issues had been resolved by maturity or medication, and who was I to judge someone for trouble beyond their control? That was in the past.
Of course, I was completely wrong.
Around four in the morning, I awoke and got up to get a glass of water from the kitchen. I knew my own apartment, so my footsteps were pretty much silent, but Eddy still sighed and stirred on the couch as if something was bothering him. I stood by the fridge, glass in hand, as he whimpered, struggled, and then leapt up. In a mad terrified dash, he ran to my front door and slammed the deadbolt. He gave out a deep breath of relief and remained there with his head down while I tried to figure out the best way to let him know I was present. Well, if he was having a fit, there was no good way to do this.
He seized up mightily, gasped in as much air as his lungs could hold, and then slowly turned around. His face was obscured in dimness, since the only light came from various red or green pinpoints on the television and microwave, but I could tell he was sweating profusely. After a long moment, he managed to breathe again. Finally, he said, “Oh. Hey. Didn’t see you there.”
“Yeah.” I put my glass down on the counter. “You alright, dude?”
He meant his laugh to sound nonchalant, but it just came out nervous and high-strung. “Same old, same old, you know how it is.”
I went around the counter and approached him. He moved back a few steps, and I touched the door. “This is a safe neighborhood. There’s nothing to worry about.”
He nodded awkwardly.
Unsure I believed his calmness, I moved my hand to the deadbolt. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to get weird while I was asleep if I went back to bed.
He made a sudden half-halted leap toward me, hand out. “Don’t!”
At that moment, I was starting to remember the times I’d seen him attack people during an episode. “There’s nothing out there!” I gripped the deadbolt to turn it back toward me, but a very slight shadow moved somewhere in my vision. The hell? No, it couldn’t be. Reacting rapidly, I put my eye to the peephole.
My brain made sense of the curved panorama just in time to see a sliver of a silhouette disappear along the sidewalk to the left.
Eddy moved closer, bringing the smell of his panicked sweat with him. “Did you see something?!”
“No,” I lied. I kept staring out through the peephole, watching the quiet night in my otherwise unremarkable neighborhood. The asphalt glimmered darkly under the stars while distant lamp posts cast long shadows across grass. “Remind me again, what makes you suddenly want to lock the door?”
Now that I wasn’t actively trying to unlock it, he seemed slightly less manic. “I never told you because I thought you were starting to hate me, but, uh, when I was eight years old I had a sudden feeling that I should lock the door. I didn’t, and, uh—” He shivered. “—some men broke in a moment later and robbed us.”
I frowned at his glistening shadowed face. “Jesus. Was anyone hurt?”
He nodded between audible breaths. “My mom.” Another three breaths passed in the otherwise silent darkness. “She didn’t make it.”
“Damn.” I didn’t know what else to say. “Just—damn. No wonder.”
Before I could elaborate, the sound of something skittering outside reached us. He turned and listened in one rapid motion like a startled animal, and I had to admit, I was none too calm either. Still, I couldn’t risk amping up his anxiety. I did want to sleep again at some point.
He whispered, “Where was that?”
“It sounded like it came from the back.” I whispered, too. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Let’s go.” I led the way, and we crept through my apartment. He made sure to mimic my steps, but he was still louder than me, and I nearly winced at every creak. By the time we entered my bedroom and reached a rear window, my nerves were raw.
The window was fitted with stops that prevented it opening all the way; I usually left it open for the breeze, even in the winter. We sat in total darkness in front of that thin rectangle of cool air. Looking and listening, we sought any sign of what had made the noise.
Have you ever actually listened to the sounds of the city at night? What I’d gotten used to as silence was actually anything but. Soft wind stirred a rustling in the nearby bushes. A train blew a horn in the unknown distance. A dog barked twice. Briefly, an ambulance siren trekked across the horizon. Under it all, a constant low haunting wail emanated across the world from the nearby highway. I’d always hated that noise whenever I’d accidentally become aware of it because I thought it sounded like a thousand ghosts screaming from very far away, but I wasn’t about to tell Eddy that.
It was about that time that my gaze landed upon something among the trees. When I’d first seen the closely bunched collection of white pinpoints, I’d assumed they were reflections from somewhere. Now, though, as I watched them carefully, I was nearly certain I was seeing them rotate upward. It was as if someone was spinning a wheel of lights whose narrow side was facing us; from the size and distance, the wheel must have been two or three feet in diameter. I whispered, “What is that?”
After finding it with help from my pointing finger, Eddy’s stare deepened. “I’ve never seen anything like it. What could that possibly be?”
I couldn’t make sense of it. While I watched, it grew slightly dimmer, then slightly brighter. “It’s definitely casting light around it. I think I saw some leaves above it.”
“Is it changing?” Eddy clutched my wrist as he stared at those strange up-wheeling lights. “Is it getting bigger?”
I couldn’t be sure, but how could it be getting bigger unless—
Jumping up, I placed my fingers on either side of the window and brought it down swiftly and quietly. Then, I turned the latch and locked it before pulling the nearby cord and sliding the blinds down. “Whatever it is, we’re secure in here. We’ll be fine. It’s probably just some kids playing with light toys or something.”
He sighed and opened his mouth to speak, but a visible change came over the silhouetted contours of his head. An instant later, he leapt over and slammed my bedroom door shut. The boom echoed loudly in my ears. I demanded to know what he was doing as he locked my door.
Eddy turned around and put his back to it. I could tell he was wild-eyed from the way he whispered. “Be quiet! It’s in your apartment!”
The adrenaline spike from the slammed door made me a little angrier than I wanted to be. “What? What’s in my apartment?”
His frantic whisper was nearly a hiss. “I don’t know! I just know that we have to keep this door locked!”
I was fuming, but if I spoke, I would have said something I regretted, so we stood there in the dark for a solid few minutes. I began to calm down as those minutes passed, and, once I was in control again, I opened my mouth to whisper. “Hey, I’m sorry, I—”
The floor creaked outside my bedroom door.
Eddy backed away from the door and faced it alongside me.
It was nothing but a dark rectangle in front of us, but I stared at it for any hint of motion or change. The crazy thing was, I had no idea what I was even looking or listening for. What could possibly have been out there? Not only had we left the front door locked, there’d been no sound of entry, forced or otherwise. If there was someone or something out there, how had they gotten in?
Dim light began to move across the walls of my room, and I waited for the sound of a passing car—but none came. As we watched the door, brighter light began to roll upwards around us, again as if someone was spinning some sort of lit wheel. It didn’t take long for us to realize that whatever we’d seen in the distance outside was growing closer to my window. Beyond the blinds, something was coming nearer, but neither of us dared look away from my bedroom door for even an instant.
Then, I saw it.
Between moving lines of shadow and light, I could have sworn my door handle had changed angles.
I backed away; a look at the blinds showed definite lights spinning closer, as if they were right outside the window and about to come up against it. Grabbing Eddy by the shoulder, I pulled him with me into my tiny one-person bathroom. He closed and locked the door the instant we were inside.
My heart was hammering in my chest to the point of actual pain. Grunting my whisper, I asked, “What the hell is happening?”
He shook his head. “I have no idea.”
“Are you sure?” I asked him, squeezing his wrists. “This all started with that robbery and attack on your mom, right?”
“No,” he whispered back.
My bathroom door was flush to the outside carpet, but hints of rotating light began to appear beneath, as if that insane impossible wheel had somehow entered my room without opening or breaking the window. None of this made sense! “It has to be you somehow.”
“It has to be!” I shook him violently. “Is your fear making it real? Is something after you?”
“You don’t understand,” he whimpered. “I didn’t finish the story. It didn’t start with that incident. I’d been getting the urge to lock doors for years before that. The first time I didn’t—that’s when they came.”
I couldn’t understand exactly what he meant. “The robbers?”
He shook his head.
Oh, god. “They weren’t robbers, were they?”
He shook his head again.
My voice dropped to a razor hiss. “What’s out there, Eddy?“
All he could say was, “They want in.”
Something about the way he said it finally made me understand. “It’s not about the bathroom door, is it?” I looked out through it, thinking of my bedroom door, and my apartment door beyond that. “It’s not about the literal entrance to the room you’re in.”
The rotating light below began intensifying as whatever was out there approached our hiding spot.
His panicked grip on my hands told me I was right. “Then why do you lock real doors, Eddy?” I shook him until he looked at me despite his fear. “Is it a metaphor? Does it make you feel better? Does it close them off somehow? Why isn’t it working this time?“
He began to cry, sending mixed drops of tears and sweat onto my forearms. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m tired of the constant struggle.”
The high cliff-side curb where I’d picked him up flashed through my mind clear as crystal, and the fear that had been building since the moment I saw him wake suddenly left me. He’d gone to that cliff for a reason, and he’d probably had second thoughts as he stood there alone in the dark. Completely calm, I asked, “Your car didn’t break down, did it?”
He shook his head.
“You messaged everyone, didn’t you?”
“And I was the only one that responded.”
He rocked back and forth in front of me. “I just couldn’t take it anymore. They want in. They’re always out there. They want in. I always lock them out, but they never stop. I’m tired of being terrified every minute of every day!”
Air began moving under the door as the lights reached peak intensity outside; whatever it was, it was almost upon us. “There’s nowhere to go, Eddy. Let’s open that door. Maybe you’re constantly terrified because they want you that way. Let’s face them. Let’s be unafraid—and it might just work.”
He didn’t respond, but I dragged him to his feet. I had never wanted to do anything less in my entire life, but there was nowhere else to go. With a firm grip on his wrist, I reached forward with my free hand, unlocked the door, and flung it open.
I don’t care if you believe me. That’s not the point. But I’ll tell you what I saw: the lights were eyes. They were bright enough to obscure the grotesque moving body beneath. I still can’t understand how it was spinning like that. Snakelike curves connected things in shadow. Every blazing pinpoint swung up, flashed us with images of hatred and fear and paranoia, and then continued past, moving on too fast to process. That was the thing: the images were lies. My girlfriend was cheating on me. My teachers at school had thought of me as a failure. My boss hated me and only put up with me because he hadn’t found a replacement yet.
But each individual lie raced past too quickly to pick apart and resist. I knew they weren’t true, but they just kept coming. At the heart of this creature, I sensed a hunger for fear; I kicked a wide grasping mouth away and jerked Eddy out with me, getting a few feet past whatever the hell that thing was. It turned toward us again as I flung the bedroom door open.
I’d been right about the door handle turning. That much I knew in that instant.
The madly spinning shadows and light failed to illuminate the beast that lay beyond that door. Immediately, I knew the thing behind us was just a servant to this, because this was so, so, so, so much worse. The only thing I truly registered was a melted face. Its misshapen gaze seized the beating heart muscles in my chest and filled me with absolute terror, as if it had the power to reach inside me and dredge out all the blackness and animal fear in the corners of my human soul.
I knew: these things didn’t want in to my apartment or my bedroom. It wasn’t so simple as that. They wanted in to our world, and Eddy was some sort of conduit for that nightmarish goal. He always had been. I had the knife-keen vicious sense that I needed to kill him immediately.
But maybe that urge came from the emotions those creatures were giving off.
As the sludge specter with the melted face began a rising scream that threatened to deafen me, I did what I had to do: I grabbed the heavy lamp from my nightstand and smashed my window clean through. I threw Eddy out a moment after, and then pulled my arm from a burning grip of caustic acid to escape. I could only lay on the ground screaming as Eddy did the rest by dragging me away from that place.
That was three weeks ago.
The burn from the grasping hand of that sludge creature refused to heal. The doctors at the emergency room couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Something had burned the shape of a melted hand around my forearm—and continued to burn as they studied it. They could find no acid, no catalyst, and no heat. Eventually, they had to release me. Of course, their lack of understanding didn’t lessen the hefty medical bill any.
I parted from Eddy the next day, telling him to stay strong and remain unafraid. We’d beaten the forces of hatred and paranoia personified and escaped with our lives by charging through rather than hiding. He seemed unconvinced, and repeatedly said that we hadn’t done anything, that I’d dragged him out of there, and that without me he didn’t know if he could do it. “But I have a life to live,” I told him. “Gotta pay off that ER bill and find a new place.”
He understood—or at least, he said that he did.
Today, I saw Eddy again. He didn’t know I was there, because it was just a chance encounter on a city street. He was in a bar watching a television above and drinking a beer. I stood outside and watched him through the window for a moment, awed at the change. He was sitting with new friends. He was wry, confident, and completely ignoring the door of the bar instead of nervously looking at the entrances every so often. It was such a positive change that I actually went inside with a smile.
But I stopped about ten feet behind him as, over the noise of the bar television above, I began to hear what he was talking about.
His words floated in the air with a nearly perceptible stench; sludge dripped from the back of his sentences, burning the ears of those near his group. His new friends agreed happily and haughtily, replying noxiously in kind.
A disgruntled customer nudged me as he passed. “Ignore those assholes.”
I turned away with misting eyes and walked out into the chill night. I hadn’t saved Eddy at all. He’d found refuge not in standing up to those creatures, but by going down a path I hadn’t even considered. I looked through the window of that bar one last time. The misshapen creature that had burned me with its touch grinned back from the shadowed corners behind the television. It had found the entry into our world that it had craved for so long.
I’d unlocked the door, but it was Eddy that had let them in.