Hold the door, the man that is not a man says.

His smile is charming. It slips from memory as easily as skin from bone. 

You match his politeness. Your teeth bleed, your gums grit, but you smile back. “Well then, shall we?” You ask and pretend not to see the way his fingers shed their nails, growing into a disproportionate fractal that makes your head hurt to even look at. There are curls in his hair, and- and terrible twists in his eyes that shape his mouth. 

You remind yourself you have a job to do. You attempt to grasp onto the things that had once made sense – it’s garbled, like the ozone interference of an old radio. But you are the best damn real estate agent this town has ever known and you’ve never let a single disgruntled customer tarnish your reputation. It’s a very ironic undoing, all things considered – you’re acclimatized to the lies and deceit that attempt to scramble your mind now.

THE GRAND MADNESS OF LIFE. You say this off-handedly out loud. Or you don’t. 

(You can’t actually remember.)

The weight of a secret twinkles in the man’s eyes, and his laugh is all wrong. 

The house that you lead him through is exactly like every other house you’ve worked on. Ten days ago, you pored over the blueprints from top to bottom several times, and etched the details like sore tattoos inside your mind. It rarely happens but you find yourself impressed with your client. The suit, the tie… the way your fingers itch to dig and scrape the paper-thin veneer and sculpt something that remotely resembles a semblance of sense. It’s a sense of wrongness that you can’t quite shake. 

You know there are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and an attic. 

There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms. 

There are three bedrooms. 

There is a door that is not meant to be there.

Your client waits for you to run out of breath from your pre-rehearsed spiel before tilting his head curious and bird-like towards the corner of the room behind you, and asks easily, “How about that one?”

You look at the door. The door looks at you. It’s plain and unassuming and it looks like every other  you’ve passed by, but as you see the warped, bulbous reflection of your face against the spotty metal of the door handle, mocking you, there are termites within the frames of your bones. You ache, with distinct fear and confusion. 

Your client points an impossibly long finger and taps thoughtfully, “What’s behind this one?”

You don’t know. 

You don’t know, and so you reach for that handle and you find out.

You don’t remember crossing the threshold to the other side. 


The next moment of lucidity is your feet planted on the stretched red of a lengthy carpet, your palm pressed against the badly painted taupe of a corridor. The invisible scuttle of rats overhead within non-existent pipes forces your head upwards and for the barest blink you see the night sky with all its discordant insanity right before your sight returns you the visage of a perfectly normal, cobwebbed ceiling. 

It is a long, windowless corridor. The lights are embedded into the walls, the yellowish fluorescent filtering through like sickly fireflies in the gloom of the dark. The rotted carpet is soft but as you take a step, it crunches ever so slowly like the crack of tiny bird bones beneath your heels. Then you realise there is no door behind you, and there never has been. You incidentally don’t remember who you were just talking to.

The details ebb away like murky water, but you- it whispers that you are the thing that’s wrong. 

(You forget the thought even as it crosses.)

Some part of you knows you are at the wrong end of a hunt even before the claustrophobia kicks in. At first, you break into a jog down the singular corridor, thinking if you go far enough, surely there will be an exit waiting for you. You take note of the way there is a sharp branch approximately every three hundred steps or so – a sharp incline to the right, and then left then right, left, left– but… you don’t dare to stray into the thick oily shadows.

Eventually, however, the frustration grows, then spills over as you halt in front of yet another part where the corridor splits off. You know this can’t be right. You know you have passed the oddly shaped damp stain on the right at least five times at this point. You scream into a place where there are no ears to hear you, and witness the mirror of your right eye spool and expand in thick, silvery threads. It coils around your ankles and jolts it the same way a puppet string bites. 

Click-clang. Clang. Clang.

It coaxes you to take the next turn.

The emergency staircase winds a hundred thousand feet into the vast depths of the dizzying dark; rotted metal rails, corrugated and rust iron teeth protruding from the calcite ground. The pebbles from above drop like slow patters of rain, and it demonstrates the enormity of what lies below. Another sound thrums from above – the sound that drums make during the march of war, a battle cry, the mournful lilt of pipes over a haze of compressed funeral pyres  – crushing you between the known and the unknown.

A panopticon of a thousand blinking camera eyes watches you, delighting in your shared terror. The light swivels its welded head, slow and creaking and in tune to that incessant song. 

You choose the first option. 

Click-clang. Click. Click.

You climb. Your thighs ache with exertion but you bring yourself to stop even if you wanted to. 

In that breathless eon of time, like an ant caught between the early rays of dawn and the encompassing dark forever swallowing its own wretched tail, you learn another fundamental truth. The walls are closing in. The ground is eating away at your flesh. Time is a lie. Space is a lie. Reality is a lie, and the gradually vanishing compartment of air within your quivering lungs is also a Lie. 

Crawl, it tells you. Crawl

You crawl. You crawl until you can’t feel your hands and there are a thousand tons of rock bearing down on your fragile, shaking chest and the scream that tastes like ribboned blood dies a pitiful death without ever touching air within your swollen throat. You crawl until the pinpricks of the stars and the sun far, far above in the night sky is more auditory hallucination than anything else and the dark has seared all of its kisses against your peeled eyes. 

Stupidly, this is your next thought – when all fails, bureaucracy.

No, no, STOP! I want to launch my complaint!

It’s more thoughts than words but-


You press the service bell again.


It’s that sound – the slide of ragged fingernails scraping against cheery bronze-yellow as it presses the bell on the desk. The echoes swallow this pitiful mewl. The bottle of ink is tipped, thick and oozing as it ebbs against its neighbour of thick card stock. Like the finger-painting of a child gone wrong, exists the scrapes and gouges against that same wood – a swirling mess the result of a shattered carpal. 

The ceiling fan rattles. 

The number printed on the slip of paper in your hand reads: No. 21 (Please take a seat.)

The number printed on the slip of paper reads: No. 182 (Please take a seat.)

The number printed on your hand reads: No.  

(Please take a–)

You sit. You are in a small waiting room, opulent, a little gaudy for your tastes. The ribs of the chair press against your back, hard half-knobs that writhe and twist and you can swear you can feel the nerve endings reach for your flesh like a billion misshapen hands. Crystals tinkle like windchimes in your blood; the elevator music of an elevator that does not exist plays a jazz swing before erupting into the blues. 

The music lulls you right to sleep. 

And you dream. 

You dream that the fishbowl on your head gurgles. Water slicks back your hair, rust and red and ridden, and oxygen escapes your breath in precious bubbles. You dream of an impossible map, of your shaking hands drawing a map with lopped fractals and spirals and twists and curves that simultaneously do and does not make sense, as if it were the fogged words of the very definition of madness.

There are no skeletons in the closet door you swing shut. (You were always much better at digging graves)

You awake with a start.

The room has changed. Your number on the waiting list has jumped forward by what appears to be an unintelligible scrawl of equations.

You look up and into the gaze of the only other soul in this place.

A man hangs against the wall – a frozen photograph of someone young in his early twenties with a ragged mop of hair and the saddest smile you have ever seen. The frame of his portrait leaves little margin for his surroundings, but you still see what looms behind him, what he wishes so desperately he could be blind to the truth of. Because there exists a multitude of eyes and pupils and misshapen violet-scarlet-pale-gold-green-bloodied sclera, and it lives within him, bulging and nestling between marrow and skin. 

Sorry, he mouths.

It’s okay, you comfort, blame management.

You and the portrait share solace in this singular fact of life. 

The radio plays. The opening strains of an instrumental piece, the sound of a gentle piano even.

You breathe within the dark. The dark breathes you. 

The cold is the only thing you will ever know, needle-sharp in your blue veins. The waves lap at your feet against the desolate shore, and the sea stretches out, vast and unafraid. It renders the warmth from your bones, and makes kindling out of the fragments of your marrow.

Blank. That is all left in your head. Blankness encompasses you as you trudge to the next door; a trembling grip, your fingers freezing from the sudden drop in temperature. Why so? A shaky croak escapes your lips, tilting your head to the side before entering.


You pull open the submarine door at the bottom of the sea abyss.

Everything smells of death. The floorboards, the walls— everything. Yet, even though it presented itself as a room, the scent of chemicals lingered in every crevice. The scent of spoiled meat wafts the air; replacing cupboards with strings of bodiless specimens. Mounting odour pungent in the air forces you to instinctively reach to cover your mouth as bile courses its journey up past your chest; a blooming discomfort in the midst of a weakening valve.  

Specimens surround you. Dull lifeless eyes stare back at you, as you notice the flicker of a few ear twitches. Your heart hammers against your chest, what is going on? Why now? Why here. A flood of gruelling thoughts trap you as the warmth you had once hoped for, starts to trickle back in as a false dilemma of continuous despair.

 The sound of slicing meat snaps you out of your overwhelming reverie, the grotesque squelches encompass the obscured interior like a macabre carnival of stuffed phantoms. Spots and shapes dance around the corners of your eyes, playing nightmarish tricks in the atelier as you hesitantly force yourself to take a step forward— into the depths of what perverts nature’s grace. 

You venture deeper, heels clapping against the wooden flooring. All you simply wanted to do was leave, get out and leave this excruciating drag of a job. And now, you were stuck. Stuck between worlds that held no significance to reality. You need to get out. You need to get out or you might possibly go insane. With the tug of a strand, your fingers clutch against a silky clump; a matted red hue trickling its way uncomfortably down your forehead, a salty crimson spreading against your taste buds as you coaxed your muscles to comply with moving forward. 

No way could you turn back, not when sharp needles pierced your eyes upon concentrating on the sheer darkness that radiated from the place you once entered. As you trudged forward, bends of time shifted; your own body succumbing to the harsh reality that surrounded you. The slicing grew louder with each second. The subtle serenade of steel meeting flesh as you neared the edge of the main shop, an inner reality where lifeless beings hung on pegs, split open as though it were a showpiece. 

Drip. Drip. 

Sinister trails of blood mapped its descent to the slippery tiled floor, a melancholy spectacle that left an indelible stain and a pungent reek in its wake. 

 You take a further step forward; squinting your eyes as another door materialises with distorted edges framing the hard wood. Clutching the cool door handle; you twist it slowly, its shrill creak passing a shiver down your spine as you enter the next room. 

The air hung heavy with an unearthly stillness. The faint flickering of a dangling lightbulb, clinging for dear life lest it succumbs to death. The air carried a subtle scent, a distinct mix of aged parchment, mildewed riddles, and a trace of palpable unease that nestled in the corners of perception. Your gaze flickered to every visionable image that formed in your eyes, amidst the darkening of this… athenaeum. Your feet wobble as you breathe in the stench of rotten hopes and dreams. Shelves on either side; closing in on you as if hoping to squeeze and grind every inch of flesh and bone within you. 

Your breath catches against your throat. 

This can’t be your end— it simply can’t. 

A sense of disquiet angst lingered within you, the crackle of centuries-old books lodged deep into each shelf. Silence surrounded you, with the occasional interruption by the creaking wooden floorboards beneath you. 

Yet, your attention draws elsewhere, an array of portraits; chaos of scratches etched upon faces on every canvas with sinister precision. However, a gleam of death lingered in eyes that were not fully dismantled. Muffled murmurs of distant whispers echoed throughout the narrowed isles of bookshelves. Your blood runs cold, no one else could possibly be here. No, no one else should be here at all. 

Your fingers trembled as you quickened your pace, shadows clung to the corners as bony fingers tried to grasp at your shirt. You run now. You run as your shoes slap against the crumbling wooden boards. You run as a gruesome scream echoes through every crevice of each shelf. 

You run. 

You run until your legs give out. This library— everything about it made little sense. You fumbled for the door directly in front of you; its edges strewn with dated stickers; blotches of crimson hues scattered on each line of art. A heavy breath escapes your lips, you need to escape. You need to get out. Your thoughts flit back to your client, your client who you start to feel an incredible unease towards as you desperately shake the metallic door handle; the cool contrast to the bleeding warmth in your fingers. 

A whisper in the air, a whisper caresses your ear, you are shoved into the door; the cracking of wood splitting the flesh on your cheek as you fall forward. 

Pain engulfs your whole being as your fists clench against cardboard. With a quick glance down; gone were the splinters of a broken door. All that illustrated in your head was the cardboard cutout of a happy child; their lips forming a cryptic arc that lingered in a frozen state, the mirth in their eyes gone within a second. 

As you slowly rise to your feet, your eyes dart to the fluorescent lights that bathe the space of a running restaurant with an eerie glow. Distorted shadows danced along the rhythmic beats and blips of vintage arcade machines. Familiar sounds of gameplay echoed; a cacophony ebbing deep into your skull as you wandered further down to the where the main hall stood. Mismatched tables and chairs greeted you, peeling wallpapers adorned with caricatures of nostalgic game characters that seem to leer at you from the walls. 

A strange amalgamation of scents hung in the air— stale grease, scorched circuitry, and subtle tones of synthetic nostalgia. A place once overrun with hyper-indulging children and mentally defeated parents, simply ceased to function even now. 

The life-sized machine creatures – caricatures of childhood creations – stare into your soul, like pools of oil after the matchstick has been dropped in.

Your breath goes heavy as you hint a stench of growing fungi somewhere deep between the crevices of the walls. You taste the scent of metal spilling over, rust and stale blood and you hear the faintest whir of machinery that should not have the energy to exist.

You did not like this, not one bit. 

A faint background music echoed. A haunting discord of 8-bit melodies strung with cacophonous electric tones. Malfunctioning arcade cabinets stood like ghostly apparitions as though the screens that once flickered to life, now only produced distorted symphonies. Every mere exertion felt like it defiled what made reality. 

The yellow bunny smiles, its eyes the flashes of white specks among the shadows of the ball pit.

It’s too much. You cannot go on much longer. Your legs have started to give up, wobbly twigs in its place as your fingers ever so slightly quiver a nervous tune, anxiety coursing through your sickly veins. 

You step onto the stage, void of light as the inside is covered by a thin sheet of bloody hue curtains. Biting your lower lip; a metallic goo flooded inside your mouth, bursting with the familiar taste as you harshly tugged the curtains away; a lonesome door staring back at you. 

You hate it. So much

The way it stood against nothing— like it was taunting you to take a step forward and ultimately trick you two steps back. Back to where you started. Back to where it all began. With a resounding creak of the board; your heels clicked against the stage, your hand reaching out to grasp the familiar door handle. The curtain rises; the puppeteer takes a bow far above on the catwalks where your neck cannot humanly crane to even catch a glimpse of. 

You, however, are far too distracted.

Piercing rims stabbed against your flesh through your garments; a warm spread blooming upon your chest. Choked croaks escaped your lips; a helpless plea edging you to the door. 

You are losing blood— your body is giving out. You reach for the next door. You have only but a second to twist the knob. 


A thud soon came after. 

There you were, on your knees; tears pricking your cheeks as you glanced up to assess your surroundings. Back to where you were. Back to your job as a real estate agent in this house that you wished to scream at. 

The man you led stared right back at you, kneeling to your level as he clutched his intangible fingers deep into the strands of your hair, sharply pulling you towards him as he whispered, “Now… wasn’t that just fun?”

You think that is his voice. You still can’t tell.

A series of emotions caught in your throat. Your instinct probed you to run out of this wretched house and forget all that happened to you. And yet, with the heavy scent of decay and distant imitations of laughter crippling your ears; you could feel the walls closing in on you both, or rather, just you. 

You try to speak, and demand answers, but only senseless winces escape your cracked lips. 

Turning your head behind your back; you were greeted with a regular part of the house, seemingly nothing out of the ordinary. Quite a contrast to what you endured merely seconds ago. Clutching your fist to where your chest had previously bled; you try to bark out a remark, anything. It pours and pumps, sliding past the cage of your fingernails and thumbs, and for a moment you are entranced by just exactly how much you still have to lose. 

But still, no words. Nothing. 

“Order… is but an illusion, my friend,” the man that is not a man hauntingly whispered; the charming facade etched into his face as he stared at you. “Reality is a canvas. A canvas with which I wish to paint red with your insides. Again and again and again,” a pause followed, his face mere inches from yours.

The script to the Halloween Kills film reels within your mind like a rushed rendition of the opening to a Star Wars film. You still can’t tell if it is your mind supplying those words, or if- if you truly stare into a face that is not a face that is gilded in frost and flames and contradictions and insanity.

“Until we meet soon enough,” he added, rising from the ground, his eyes trained on you as he took a step back. Another step back. One more and gone he was. 

With the abyss of cryptic words hanging in the air, you fought yourself to stabilise. A guttural sob emitted from your parted lips as you struggled to get up. Was this all real? Or fake? 

You did not know, and, did you even want to know anymore? 

With a lifeless stare, there you knelt; knees scraped and life shattered. Your whole reality is but an illusion. You inadvertently smear bloody handprints against the wall as you stand to your feet. Your hand misses the window and punctures through the glass of the window; you watch the pane shatter and fall like a flower sprinkle of glass. 

You realise you are still humming. 

(You don’t bother trying to stop)

Written By: Trishta & Lavanya

Edited By: Ashley

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