How Our Shadows Darken The Door
It really didn’t seem like any more than a grand, old mansion, built in the first days of lunar colonization. Although most of the colonists came from an Indian heritage, they wanted the Pole-Aitken Basin to represent as many cultures and times as they could. This construction philosophy resulted in a patchwork inaugural center for the newly-settled Earther moon, which was renamed Diana only a few years later.
Darkin House stood on a maroon-tinged slab of moon rock, its sharp, Gothic angles clawing towards space and the stars. The house was fenced off, but a long-ignored breach by the gate sat welcoming before the trio.
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Monty asked, to no one in particular.
“What is?” Lia asked.
“To see something like this,” Win said, eyeing Darkin House and its ancient design, “so far out here.”
“It should be preserved,” Lia declared.
Win wanted to voice his agreement, but couldn’t bear to. Not to her.
“Not if it’s killing people,” Monty said, smirking.
Lia’s eye-bulbs stared at him.
“Not if it’s haunted,” Win echoed, not smirking.
If Darkin House seemed a sinister place from the outside, then its interior was a dark and empty terror. Past the dust cloud of the spidery foyer was a half-ruined staircase. A part of the banister had crumpled in on itself, plunged holes into the very stairs it had been meant to guard. The staircase looked climbable, but not without some risk.
As soon as Win had closed the great, creaking front door behind him, he felt a cool draft waft between his ankles. Monty and Lia were farther ahead. The shiner was looking at everything, turning her head this way and that, her neck an untiring, organic tripod. Taking pictures, no doubt. Monty stood close by, watching her.
“The black door on the third floor,” Win stated.
Monty turned to him, but Lia continued on, as if he hadn’t spoken.
“That’s the legend,” Win explained. “Behind the black door on the third floor—that’s where visitors of Darkin House are said to disappear.”
“Ah,” Monty breathed. “How ominous. Yet specific.”
“You boys go on ahead,” Lia condescended, as she crossed the room to the other side, blinking her bulbous eyes deliberately as she did. “I’ll join you after I’m done here.”
Win was certain Monty was going to elect to stay with Lia, but to Win’s surprise, he began, gingerly, to climb the steps. Win followed Monty’s carefully picked path up the rubble stairs, sparing a glance over his shoulder at Lia, who looked somehow less alone than she did on a crowded Glowbank sidewalk, ordering a tandoori skewer.
The third floor hallway stretched interminably forward. The corridor was well wide enough for the pair to walk side-by-side, but Win lagged purposefully behind Monty by a foot or two. As soon as they had gone out of earshot of Lia, Monty had launched into a soliloquy about jilted love and unrequited desire. He stopped mid-sentence when they heard the rumbling of footsteps that weren’t theirs come from below.
“Lia?” Monty wondered aloud, looking to Win for affirmation. He looked unsure of himself.
“Too many for one person,” Win answered.
“Probably others like us,” Monty rationalized, “looking for a last-chance peek at the famous Darkin House.”
Monty didn’t seem as if he expected Win to refute that, so he didn’t. They continued down the hallway, until they reached a black door. At first, it seemed like any other door in Darkin—thin, and engraved with a lavish, pointed design. But Win quickly noticed that it was—impossibly—without blemish. Not a scratch marred its glossy black surface, not a speck of dust clung to its hinges. It was an immaculate, door-shaped void.
Monty reached for the handle, a lust in his eyes, but Win put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Win put his face up to the door, as if to kiss it, and then turned to rest his ear on its sleek, obsidian expanse.
He heard it then: a muffled, ragtime piano tune. Its tempo was slower than usual, and played on discordant keys. Haunting, haunted.
Monty joined Win by the door, pressing the side of his head against it. His eyes careened up towards the ceiling. After a moment, he said, “What are you doing?”
Win took his ear off the door. “Nothing. I thought I heard something.”
And then the door opened, and Win looked down to see he had opened it. Monty had barely gone through when Win shut it again, retrieved the key from his pocket, and locked it.
“Win?” Monty said from behind the black door.
“Did you close the door?”
“Are you there?” Monty was knocking on the door now.
“I am,” Win said to himself. “Are you?”
“My gods, Edwin! Open the door!”
“Yes,” Win said again.
The knocking had grown into a pounding, but the black door on the third floor did not so much as flinch. And then the thudding stopped.
“Monty?” Win called.
No answer. He leaned against the door again, settling his ear against it as before. No music, either.
“Monty,” Win whispered, but he had already forgotten the name as it left his lips.
Win returned to the main hall to find Lia slumped against the top of the half-ruined staircase,
her hands draped over her eyes. As he neared, he realized something was wrong. Even in the darkness, Win could see an inky liquid running down the sides of her face.
“Lia,” he said, approaching her.
“Yes,” he said, and then reached for her hands with his own. “Let me see.”
“My eyes . . . “ If she had meant to say more, she didn’t.
Win gently peeled off Lia’s hands from her face, revealing a crooked, bloody mess of glass and wire. He found shards of her reflective eyes nestled into the sides of their fleshy sockets.
“Come on,” Win told her. “We should leave.”
“He’s waiting for us.”
Win guided her around the rubble, his left hand holding hers, and his right arm around her waist. They walked in silence for a time. Win did not ask Lia what happened, and she didn’t offer an explanation.
On the third floor, they walked past the black door, and Lia started to shiver. Win brought her closer to himself, and said, “Almost there.”
Soon they came to the end of the hallway, where a towering window bathed in red light covered the wall from floor to ceiling. Win opened it with a gentle push, and the raw night air billowed in. With her bloodied, injured hands, Irelia Rao reached out toward nothingness. Win thought she nodded to herself, but he might have imagined it. She stepped forward—perhaps farther than she thought, perhaps more than she’d like to—and fell from the third floor of Darkin House, into the embrace of the night.
Back in his apartment, the red light from the windows had finally gone for good, and Edwin Coin opened it to let in the early morning air. He brought out his pocket terminal from his pants and deleted the fake Crater Post article. When he sat down at his frame, he could not remember his age.
But he did remember a woman with painted nails and a mohawk for hair. She wore leather the color of charcoal and took advantage of men who fawned over her. She was dead now, had fallen from the window of a house that was rumored to be haunted.
She had eyes like coins.
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