Alfred halted, dropped his hands, and slumped his shoulders. “Well,” he said in a voice louder than he intended, turning his head to speak to Tabitha without taking his sight from the thing between the chairs. “I’m not messing with that.”
Quick as a cat, Chela hopped down from the chair she was standing with a look of displeasure screaming across her face. “I told you to be quiet,” she said as she darted toward the locked door and put her back to the wall adjacent it. She looked at the other three and threw her index finger up to her lips, widening her eyes at them, silently communicating that they should shut it.
Alfred stood in the middle of the room, simply ducking his head low as if he might be able to hide in plain sight. Tabitha crept closer to the closed door. Carrion stared at it with the same intensity she had only just previously put on for Alfred.
Tabitha walked toward the door with deliberate focus. Between every step forward, she heard the beat beat of her heart followed by the fall of her foot. beat. beat. boot. beat. beat. boot. beat. beat beat boot. She could hear the blood drumming in her ears until it drowned out the sounds of her steps altogether. She was being propelled forward by a force outside of herself, deafened by the internal circuitry of her body or the army of boots descending on them from the hall opposite this door or both. beat beat beat beat beat. From her periphery, she could see Chela .beat. bathed in orange glow .beat. slowly, silently motioning her away: Get away from the door.
It stopped. The corridor was once again a dim, still, abhorrent stench. The faint sound of footsteps from beyond the door stumbled along, growing closer until it was too close. And still, Tabitha stood within arm’s reach of whatever might be before her, separated by the fragile security of a slab of wood and another who may have the means to open it.
“Hello?” a hurried, tortured voice erupted from the other side. “Did – did it work? Are you there? Is someone there?”
Tabitha first looked to Chela who was still frozen beside the door, waiting to pounce at the first sign of its movement. She glared back at Tabitha and shook her head ‘no’ as if warning a child that their next act might result in severe punishment. Her feet still planted forward, Tabitha turned at the waist to see Alfred’s reaction. He put his hands up to wave off whatever was her intention.
“I heard you talking,” the voice said, a little more certain of itself than initially. “I sometimes speak to myself too. I’ve been alone for so long… so long, but I still know the true voices – I still hear what’s real.” Almost to itself, the door said, “Please tell me you’re real.”