The Wrong Side of the Door
by Dannye Chase
“The first time it happened,” said Paula, the mother of the family, “the first time I was sure about it, I was here by myself. Before, you know, I’d always put the noises down to one of the kids, or Jeff in the garage or whatever. But the boys were at school and Arthur was at work. I stayed home because I had a cold.”
As Paula spoke, Morgan could see her pupils dilate a little, her breaths come a bit more sharply. The window was mostly closed behind her, but occasionally a breeze caught the edge of the curtain and slivers of the backyard became visible, trees on the edge between fall and winter, grass ready to curl up and brown.
It made for a good tape, Paula looking scared. Lisa was in charge of video, and she’d set Paula there on the sofa in the living room of the farmhouse. Frank was directing, which as far as Morgan could see meant he stood about being useless and got paid the highest salary for it. Ann, the psychic, was wandering through the room putting her hands on various surfaces. Sometimes she looked distracted, sometimes sad. Every once in a while, she yanked her hand back from what she’d touched. It was an odd, jerky motion, moving unpredictably through Morgan’s peripheral vision. He was used to it, though. All part of the show.
Jen, the one who’d convinced Morgan to join this group, was out front taking photos to put on their website: Centertown Ghost Investigations. Discreet, professional help when you need it most. Morgan had no idea how a website that posted splashy write-ups and teary videos of their cases could be called discreet, but Frank said the claim would attract business, and he was the boss.
Morgan was probably the one who seemed the most professional to their clients, moving through people’s houses with various electronic gizmos that made Jenping noises. In real life, Morgan was a car mechanic. He was good with vehicles, like his beloved 1933 Bentley, which was parked outside on the gravel drive. (This house was old enough to have seen Bentleys in their heyday. If the house were sentient, Morgan thought, perhaps it would be gripped by nostalgia seeing the car there.)
Morgan was a member of the team because he knew how to set up motion-sensitive cameras, measure temperature differences, and record sounds, and he was capable of making all of that look Very Serious on a computer screen. And because he liked spooky. Big spooky fan, him. He also liked getting paid.
The last member of the group was George, and he was sitting on the couch beside Paula, the client. George held the position of historian, which meant that he was responsible for digging up all the stories about the property: paranormal experiences of previous owners, the names of anybody who might have kicked the bucket while inside property lines, the occasional famous person who’d once caught a nap on the couch, and who might supposedly be drawn to haunt a place they’d spent all of two hours in while alive. Famous ghosts were always popular with viewers.
George also was the one who interviewed the current inhabitants of the house. He was good at that. He had a soft voice, and a genuine air about him. People liked George.
Morgan hated him.
It wasn’t Morgan’s fault, really. George was frumpy and fussy. Morgan hated his dusty books and microfilm print-outs of old newspapers, hated his blond curls and blue eyes, his ridiculously outdated clothes. George was an English teacher (naturally), and he had a sense of superiority about him, always prizing books and research over what anyone else might bring to the project. As far as Morgan was concerned, George was barely one step above Ann the psychic, and only because the history George provided them with was probably true.
Morgan had been with this group of ghost-hunters for two years, George for three. They’d never had a conversation that didn’t end in an argument. If they weren’t both essential (read: would work this as a side job on the weekends for low pay), Frank would have fired one or both of them a long time ago.
So now, as George conducted his interview, Morgan was sure to scowl at him when he looked up. Because George was on camera and couldn’t scowl back.
George returned his focus to Paula with an irritated huff of breath that Morgan did not miss. “What happened that day you stayed home?” he asked her.
Paula talked with her hands, shaping out her thoughts in a vague, fluttery way. “I started hearing things, like scraping noises. From upstairs.” She pointed, as if they’d need direction, maybe thinking they might not be able to imagine what had happened that day, not in this warm and well-lit room with the open window and the front door in sight.
“I got out of bed,” Paula said. “As best as I could tell, the noises were coming from the attic. I thought maybe an animal had got in or something. Squirrel, you know. Though it sounded bigger. And then, just as I got to the attic stairs, there was this enormous crash. I could even hear glass shattering. I mean, the house shook with the impact.” Paula gave George a pleading look, clearly willing him to believe her. George gave her a comforting smile, which calmed her a bit. Most people did trust George very easily.
“The thing was,” Paula said, “we’ve put nothing in the attic. No furniture, no glass. And when I went to look, it was still empty. Have you heard of that before?”
“It is a commonly reported phenomenon,” George answered smoothly. “You see, a house often has a bit of residual energy in it from all the people who have lived here before. And that energy can sometimes record and then replay an episode that happened in the past. Perhaps at one point before you moved in, a large chest of drawers with a mirror fell over in the attic.”
Paula considered that for a moment. “Why would it do that, though?”
George shrugged. “Oh, maybe it was an animal, like you suggested. A farm dog might’ve sneaked in and caused some mischief. Or—” His voice fell a little lower. “It could have been a person.”
Paula’s eyes flicked up to the ceiling again, and her mouth worked a little.
“Have you heard other sounds? Knocking, perhaps?” George prompted.
“Oh.” Paula looked toward the front door. “Yes, we hear knocking all the time, but no one is ever there. That’s not so awful, really. I mean, it’s a mile to the nearest neighbor, but people do come through. Hunters, or you know, hikers. Um— whoever wouldn’t have a car, because there’s never a car—” She drew back her wavering hands, ensconcing them in her lap, one covered by the other. “But, um— sometimes there’s knocking from upstairs, too. There’s a closet. The knocks— they come from the inside. And then there’s the rain. When you’re inside, you can hear it raining, but there’s sunshine through the windows. And of course, there’s the screaming.”
Paula was chattering now, the way clients did when they realized they’d found an opportunity to unburden themselves to someone who would listen and not scoff. That wasn’t a good thing, though, because she was edging a little too close to frantic.
“When you’re out in the yard, it sounds like someone inside the house is screaming. But we never hear it in here.” Paula’s eyes grew wet. “It’s horrible. I keep thinking maybe it’s my boys screaming. Or that maybe it will be someday. If we can hear the past— then can we hear the future?”
And there it was. A bit of panic. They’d have to cut the video short if she kept it up. But George was practiced at this. He took a comforting pose on the couch, open, unworried, approachable, and added one of his gentle smiles. “You know, my dear, while you’ve certainly experienced some very intriguing phenomena here, we find that it is still the case that old houses like this can be very confusing in the sounds they make. Pipes can cause quite a ruckus, for example. It can sound just like screaming, especially out there, with all the trees. Your drive is probably a bit of an echo chamber, that’s all.”
“Oh,” Paula sighed. She looked relieved, sitting back, less ready to jump off of the couch. “Well, that’s good.”
“Was there anything else? Noises or smells? Music?”
“No, not really,” Paula said. “Just the man.”
George, to his credit, didn’t blink an eye. “What man?”
Paula pointed toward Morgan, who was standing by a doorway to the stairs. “He sometimes comes from there.” Morgan stubbornly resisted the urge to turn around and look into the darkened stairway. He was a professional, damn it.
Paula swung her arm from one side of the room to the other, slicing through the air. “He walks right through here, where the camera is, and goes to the front door before he vanishes. Usually.”
“Ah,” said George, relaxing a bit. “Well, he may be another recording, like the furniture falling in the attic, only a visual one this time. Happens all the time—”
“If he’s a recording, then how does he follow me?”
Everyone paused for a moment, the house falling silent. The curtain moved a little, trailing across the back of the sofa.
“I’m sorry, he follows you?” George said.
“Well, he used to just keep to his route, you know, stairs, living room, front door. But then one night, I saw him in the den, down the hall there.”
“What does he look like?” George asked. “Gray, white, misty, shadowy? Old clothes like mine?”
Despite himself, Morgan smiled at that.
“The clothes a bit,” Paula said. “But he’s quite real-looking. I would have called the police if he didn’t disappear like he does. And, you know, his face. If you don’t see that, he looks more like a person.”
George put a hand on his bow tie, straightening it. It was a nervous tell. Morgan had always wondered how on earth George had come to have this job, because honestly, he did not seem to like spooky very much at all. “What happened after you saw him in the den?” George asked.
Paula shrugged. “Started seeing him everywhere. The kids’ rooms, sometimes when the kids were in there. Right in the corner, you know. You have to pretend you don’t see him if the kids are around, because if they see him—” She gave a shaky sigh. “And he’s been in my room. Laundry room. Outside on the lawn. It seemed random for a while, but then one day I was cleaning the place, and every time I backtracked to grab the trash or find my dustrag, he was there. He was always in the room I had just been in.”
“What does he do?”
“He looks,” Paula said. “I think he’d look longer if he could. If he could stop disappearing. I keep thinking maybe he’ll learn. Guess we’ll know then what he’s trying to look at.” She met George’s gaze. “I don’t think I want to know.”
After the interview, Morgan went about the house setting up his sensors, little bits of tech perched in corners like spies. If he could register a cold spot, and then rustle up some dust to show up as orbs in photos, then when Lisa edited the video together, you would be able to see Something There.
“Had a friend,” Morgan was saying to Jen, who wasn’t really listening, “who knew a guy whose dad told this story. One night—”
“Well, that sounds like a very reliable source,” George cut in sharply.
Morgan whipped his head around to glare at him. He hadn’t noticed George walk into this spare bedroom. It was carpeted, old half-fuzzy stuff of an out-of-fashion blue, but George was also the mild-mannered sort who didn’t tend to make a lot of noise. “Wasn’t talking to you,” Morgan snapped. “What are you even doing in here?”
“My job,” George returned, in that stupid posh accent.
“Oh, yeah? And what is that, exactly?”
George gave him a withering look. “I’m examining this door, obviously.”
Morgan had his hands full of gadgets and batteries. George was staring into a closet.
“Good job,” Morgan said. “Yep, it’s a door. Glad we have you here to tell us these things.”
“This is the closet they hear the knocking from,” George reminded him, in a patronizing tone. “I was just thinking— oh, what’s this?”
Morgan was across the room to George’s side before he realized it, and he made himself take a step back. George didn’t seem to notice. “There are holes in the door,” George said, trailing a finger across it, closing and then reopening little spaces of nothing inside the heavy wood. “As if they were drilled for a different set of hinges.” George swung the door open and it creaked. “And look how weathered it is on this side. Not at all like the other side.”
“It was an outside door,” Morgan said.
“The front door, perhaps. I did notice the door down there seems newer than a lot of the house.”
“I noticed that too,” Morgan said, and when George looked at him, with those stupid blue eyes, Morgan sneered at him. “Bloody obvious, of course.”
George huffed, turning his head and peering at the door even more closely. Morgan backed off, but he felt a little uneasy somehow about leaving George standing there, with the bedroom behind him and an empty closet in front of him. As if maybe George might take another step forward, his back foot on that blue carpet and his front foot— who knew where.
Morgan tried to shake the feeling off. “Anyhow,” he said loudly, “my friend, who is an impeccable source, said that the family had a guest for dinner one night, right? Some traveler who came by.” Jen still didn’t look up, engrossed in their phone, making edits to photos they’d taken outside.
Morgan went on anyway. “And the traveler couldn’t figure out why, but the family looked terrified during the whole meal. So the traveler went to sleep and when he woke up, he found that the man of the house had died during the night. Turned out the family was scared the night before because—”
“Because also at the table that night was the man’s father who’d been dead twenty years,” George interrupted, sounding bored. “Come to take his son home. It’s an urban legend, Morgan. And you don’t tell it very well.”
Morgan threw his last sensor onto a dusty desk. “Now, you listen—” He stalked across the room to George. “I don’t need your rude comments—”
“Well, I don’t need your constant stupid chattering! Why can’t you do your job quietly?” George held his ground even though Morgan was close enough to point a finger into his face.
“Oh, you think you’re so much better than I am, don’t you? You’re an angel who flits about the school yard in your ridiculous clothes, and I’m some sort of demon. A lowly mechanic—”
Jen’s sudden shouting overtook them both. “Shut up! The both of you! Either kill each other or finally fuck each other, I don’t care, but don’t do it on the job. For fuck’s sake.”
Morgan was very aware just then of how close he was standing to George, and how red the man had flushed. Morgan grabbed the rest of his equipment and strode out of the room.
Paula had been cleared out of the house after her interview, going to stay with her family in a hotel for the night. So when it was time for George to detail his research for the cameras, he sat alone on the couch. Lisa was filming again, and fortunately Frank was busy elsewhere. Morgan was there, though. George ignored him, worried he might blush again like he had upstairs when Jen had yelled at them. Imagine, reading the animosity between George and his nauseating co-worker as sexual tension.
Or perhaps George ought not to imagine that. He did have a strict rule about not imagining Morgan doing anything at all.
“In my research,” he began, clearing his throat, “I learned quite a lot about this house. It was built in 1884 for a family who’d moved here from Chicago. The father was wealthy and hired people to work the farmland. When his family moved on, some of the farmland was auctioned off, but a farmer purchased the house and worked what was left himself. Their family owned the house until around 1930, when it passed to a third family. They are the ones who modernized the farm and the house over the years. Various outbuildings have come and gone— silos, a few barns, and so on, but the house itself is actually more or less the same, except that it’s a little larger, and now has electricity and plumbing. And then in 1979, they sold the farmland off, leaving just the house and a small bit of land around it. The house was purchased by the current owners, the Young family, in 2010.
“There were deaths here, of course, any house as old as this has seen some tragedy. As far as deaths actually in the house or on the grounds: two elderly women died in the house, at separate times. The flu killed a young man within these walls in 1918, and in 1962 a child died on the lawn after a fall from a tree, or possibly a barn. But the house did not begin to display signs of a haunting until after 1983. In that year, the house was owned by the third family, and their last name was Grover.
“In 1983, there was only one person actually living in this house, a man named Jacob Grover. He had taken over the farm from his parents, who had moved into town. It was presumably lonely out here, but that was to change, because Jacob, at thirty-seven, had met a young lady named Cathy, and asked her to wed. They planned a ceremony to take place here on the grounds in the spring of 1983. No pictures of the wedding survive that I could find, but a newspaper article says the place was decorated in red and white bunting and balloons.
“But things didn’t turn out the way Jacob planned, because the wedding was canceled. Unfortunately, the bride failed to show. She changed her mind at the last minute, and decided to wed someone else. Now, this would be a blow to anyone, but I suspect that living all the way out here by oneself would tend to exacerbate any feelings of abandonment. So there would have been a lot of negative energy in the place at that point, with the balloons popped and decorations torn down.
“But of course, these sorts of things do happen, broken engagements and canceled weddings, and houses aren’t usually haunted because of something that is rare but also in some sense mundane. I think the problem probably lay in Jacob himself. They say he went a bit mad with unrequited love.”
For the first time, George looked away from the camera to the rest of the room and his eyes fell on Morgan, who was listening quietly, his arms folded over his chest. He was standing where he had been before, during the interview with Paula. Directly behind him was the staircase where whatever apparition Paula believed she’d seen— the man— had first been noticed. George’s gaze moved from Morgan to the stairs, almost as if he were a little nervous that someone might be there. But of course, Morgan— all flash and black clothes and artfully disheveled ginger hair, dark glasses worn even indoors— was clearly not worried about it.
And neither was George. He turned back to the camera. “On the day of what should have been his wedding, Jacob apparently wandered the grounds as people took down the decorations. When he got back to the house, he did a peculiar thing— he refused to enter the front door, and would only pass through the back of the house, or the door on the east side. Apparently, he swore he’d never walk through the front door again unless he was carrying his bride over the threshold.
“Now, when I was looking around earlier,” George said, with as much annoyance as he could direct toward Morgan while on camera, “I noticed something odd about the door of the closet where Paula reported the family had heard knocking. That closet door is old and weathered, and had obviously been hung somewhere else before. I find myself wondering if Jacob did not remove his front door and put it into an unused closet after the failed wedding. Probably never wanted to see it again.
“As for Jacob himself, unfortunately, a few weeks after the wedding, he—”
A banging sound startled them all, loud enough to shake the house. George turned shocked eyes toward the front door.
Morgan dashed through the room and flung the door open. “There’s nobody,” he called. “There’s nobody here.”
Frank came jogging down the stairs. “You did get that on tape, right?” he demanded of Morgan.
“Should’ve, yeah,” Morgan answered. “Got a camera set up.”
“All right,” Frank said. “Get it to Lisa, she can see what we’ve got.” He turned to George and scowled a little. “You okay, sunshine? Getting scared of the boogeyman?”
George realized that he had a hand pressed to his chest. That was odd. Usually, especially when on camera, he maintained a very calm air. That was what he’d been hired for, to put a professional sort of face on the film, reassuring, capable. He let his hand drop. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“Well, I’m going to watch the tape of your reaction,” Frank warned, “and I’ll make you re-stage that, if you looked half as terrified as what I saw.”
Morgan was there suddenly, holding a flash drive about two inches in front of Frank’s face. “Next time, bloody warn him, then,” he snapped.
Frank scowled at him too. “I didn’t set up any knocking. Probably the wind rattling the door in its frame. Whatever does it when the family’s here.” He went with Lisa to view the tape on the computer set up on the dining table.
Morgan somehow ended up standing next to George while they waited. This close, George could see the snake tattoo beside Morgan’s right ear. It turned over and over itself but never quite became a knot.
George wanted to say thank you for Morgan sticking up for him. Instead, he said, “One of these days he’s going to fire you.”
“Not if I got a good shot of that,” Morgan countered. “But you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Get to do your job in peace. Unless you get fired for getting spooked.”
George turned to him in annoyance, but realized that Morgan was not looking at him with disdain, as Frank had. “Scared the fuck out of me,” Morgan confessed, with a bit of a laugh. “Wouldn’t be surprised if Jen hadn’t done it. They were pretty pissed at us before.”
“Jen’s still upstairs,” George said. “They’d have to come down that staircase there, and I haven’t seen them.”
Morgan raised his eyebrows. “Leaves Ann then.”
George scoffed quietly. “Ann doesn’t have the strength. I swear that girl’s half incorporeal as it is.”
A bit of a smile crept over Morgan’s face then, and it looked odd there. Maybe Morgan smiled a lot, but George rarely got to see it. “Guess it was the man, then,” he said, looking quite devilishly pleased.
“Yes, obviously,” George snapped, not entirely sure why he was snapping. “You’ve solved it, good job.”
Morgan’s smile vanished, replaced by his usual half-scowl. “You know, you’re not better than the rest of us,” he said. “I don’t care how many pretty diplomas you’ve got on your wall—”
“I never said I was better than anyone,” George protested.
“Oh, but you bloody act like it—”
“I am simply standing here—”
Morgan growled at him in frustration. “Then if you don’t mind, I’ll stand elsewhere.”
“I don’t mind at all,” George assured him. This caused Morgan to stalk out of the room once more, and as promised, this was absolutely fine with George.
It got dark a few hours later, in the way that rural places get dark, in a rather hazy, wobbly fashion. George had stood by an open window and watched it come. Out here, there were no streetlights in measured distances, revealing straight sidewalks and orderly lines drawn on pavement, no colors in the depth of night, no traffic lights or reflective stop signs or restaurants still aglow.
The dark out in the country was an amorphous thing, entirely colorless, encompassing something unknowable. There could be stands of trees out there, fencing, gravel drives and overgrown ditches, hills or valleys— you couldn’t tell. The landscape could rearrange itself, or the house begin to float six inches above the land and you would be none the wiser.
George was not afraid of the dark. He was not afraid of his job, even though it consisted of letting clients frighten themselves. He wasn’t even afraid of his own conscience.
The Centertown Ghost Investigations team never left a house to people who were still scared. Every time, after they’d found their “evidence,” Ann would do her part— lighting candles, speaking in odd tones, casting her eyes heavenward while trailing graceful fingers over picture frames and piano keys. She might have been an intellectual lightweight, if you asked George, but she could sell a story.
There was a saying in this line of work: When you believe it, then you will see it.
People who convinced themselves they were haunted were not likely to suddenly start thinking rationally. They needed the pageantry. They had to witness the laying of the ghost. When they no longer believed there were spirits in their home, then they would stop seeing them.
The fact that the team took money for this service was perfectly justified, George thought. They put in hard work and provided peace of mind. But all of that was not to say that there weren’t… incidents that caused George to be just a little bit afraid himself. Moments working with the team where things had tilted slightly to the left of center, making George feel as if he’d inexplicably missed a step on a well-known staircase. It was a hazard of the job, he supposed. Spend enough time looking for ghosts and you might accidentally convince yourself you believe.
There had been two such incidents in the three years that George had been working with the group. The first was before Morgan had been hired. (George mentally divided his time with this team into Before Morgan and After Morgan. It was only logical, since Morgan’s presence had thrown everything into turmoil.)
The first time it happened George had been sitting in a bedroom of a rather new house whose occupants had been convinced they were encountering spirits. George didn’t usually have much to do during the actual investigations: he was there as liaison to the clients and font of knowledge gathered earlier, and so he was demoted to a sort of errand runner when the clients were not present. Perhaps unsurprisingly, rather than hang around and wait for orders, George had found an unoccupied bedroom. He was looking through a photo album he’d come across, and he’d had his back to the door. He turned when he heard it open. But no one had been coming in. Instead, George had seen, very distinctly, something dark and shadowy going out of the room, which meant, of course, that up until that point, it had been in the room with George.
By the time the second incident happened, George had learned better than to mention such things to the team, wishing to avoid the ridicule that he’d gotten over the shadowy creature sighting. (Of course, he had also learned better than to sit alone in a room while the team worked elsewhere in the house, even when he was tempted to do that to avoid Morgan.)
That second time, inside some fairly normal house, there had been a painting on the wall, hung above an upright piano. It was some sort of romantic fairy-tale piece of a knight standing beside a horse beneath a castle tower. The problem was, when they’d first come into the house, George could have sworn that there had not been any sort of light at the top of the tower. But after night had fallen, he’d glanced up to find the painted tower had a yellow glow in the highest room. George was tempted to ask Jen if they’d taken any photos earlier in the day that included the painting, but he was reluctant to say why. Surely Morgan would be the first to tease him. And so George kept quiet.
The next morning, the light in the tower was off. And the knight was now sitting astride his horse, rather than standing next to it, quite as if he might have somewhere to go.
George understood that these things were real in the sense that he’d seen them, but not in the sense of them being evidence of an actual haunting. There were surely so many explanations for what had happened, and George made quick work of convincing himself to keep thinking logically. George did not believe. And thus what he saw could lend no proof to any belief.
And so tonight, in Paula Young’s house, here in the living room with its sofa and yellow curtains, George told himself quite firmly that there had to be a rational way to explain what he was seeing.
It was night outside the windows and dark on the inside of them as well, the team having turned off the lights in the house. Lisa had her night-vision camera going and they were filming Ann asking questions of supposed spirits. The night-vision made for lovely, spooky visuals of the willowy, graceful psychic, and so it was a staple of their reports. (Many people seemed to think that ghosts would be more likely to appear in the dark. The truth was, obviously, that in the dark, humans could see less clearly and imagine ghosts more easily.)
Lisa was easy to spot, being with the camera, but the others in the group were shuffling through shadow. There was a trace of muted moonlight coming in through the curtains, just enough to let the eye pick up people when they moved about, but when they stood still, they disappeared again. No one spoke but Ann, in that sort of melancholy fog-horn voice she had; appropriate, since right now the room was full of people in the gloom trying to avoid bumping into each other.
George had sworn he’d never mention an incident to the team again, and yet for some reason he crossed the room to where he thought Morgan was standing. He wasn’t sure it was him until Morgan turned and then his face was faintly lit up by some gadget he was holding. George found his fingers reaching for Morgan’s arm, fluttering there like birds at a window.
Morgan looked at George in surprise. “What?”
George took in a steadying breath. “Morgan, I wonder if you might do something for me.”
Morgan looked impatient now. “What?” he repeated.
“It’s just— there are six of us,” George said faintly. “You, me, Ann, Frank, Lisa, and Jen. Yes? Just— just six.”
Morgan swung his head around to look out at the room, and George could see his brow crease. He wasn’t wearing his sunglasses now, so presumably he could see as well as George could. After a second, Morgan grasped George’s arm firmly and carefully walked them over behind Lisa.
On the monitor of the night-vision camera, the room looked quite different, a green swamp of stilled and moving bodies. For a moment, there was only the voice of Ann asking, “Can you tell us how you died?”
And then Morgan’s voice, strained and quiet, his eyes glued to the night-vision monitor. “There are seven people in this room.”
Lisa heard him and turned around. “What?”
But Morgan was already reaching behind them, his fingers fumbling at the wall like George’s hand had at Morgan’s arm, until he found the light switch.
The room was suddenly blasted with full overhead light, and against the background of Frank shouting at Morgan, George counted, and counted again. “Six,” he said.
Morgan met his gaze briefly before putting his sunglasses back on. George got just a glimpse of his eyes. “There were seven,” Morgan said.
Jen jogged over to the camera. “Roll back the tape, Lisa.” They all gathered around it to watch, back past the white-out of the overhead lights coming on, down into the sticky green shadows. Lisa paused the tape and everyone counted heads appearing in the gloom. Jen put their finger on the monitor and counted again. “Fuck,” they said.
Frank straightened up. “Fucking neighbor or someone knows what we’re doing, wants to play tricks.” He walked over to the hall and shouted, “I’m calling the police, asshole! You’re trespassing!”
“Frank, don’t antagonize him,” Lisa warned. “He could be armed or something, you never know. We really should just call the police.”
“It isn’t,” Ann said quietly. They all turned to her, surprised. Unless Ann was working, she seldom spoke. “It isn’t a neighbor,” she clarified. She turned her dark eyes on George for a moment, giving him the kind of pleading look that the families did. Please believe me.
“How do you know?” George asked, automatically.
Ann wrapped slender arms around herself. “It doesn’t feel human.”
Frank made a groaning noise. “Yeah, camera’s not on right now, honey. Save it.” Lisa had her cell phone out and Frank waved a hand at her. “Yeah, call them.”
Lisa was raising the phone to her ear when an alarm went off on Morgan’s phone, a shrill beeping. “Temperature sensors in that bedroom with the old closet door,” Morgan said.
He was gone before George could say anything, vaulting up the stairs. Lisa started complaining about her call not going through, while George watched Ann move as far away from the stairs as she could.
Another banging sound came then, quieter than the earlier one, but they all fell silent anyway.
Knock, knock, knock.
Five heads swiveled together toward the front door, but it remained silent. Everyone turned the other way, toward the stairs. George could guess which door they were hearing. “No wind up there, is there?” he asked quietly, and Frank looked at him with an unaccustomed surprise on his face.
Knock, knock, knock.
“Shit, that guy’s up there with Morgan!” Jen exclaimed, and George joined them in running for the stairs.
He didn’t set foot on the first step. Instead, George’s shoe met grass, so unexpectedly that he nearly fell over.
“What in the hell?” Frank exclaimed.
They were standing on the lawn in front of the house, just on the other side of the living room window. There was enough light from the house for George to see Lisa, Ann, and Jen, and he could hear Frank’s shocked voice.
A cold breeze came up and cut through George’s shirt to his skin. “Morgan!” he yelled, just as he felt the warmth of someone stepping closer, blocking the wind.
“I’m here,” Morgan said, sunglasses pushed up on his head. His skin looked even paler than normal, half in the lights from the house and half in the dark. “Front door was open. What are you all doing out here?”
George couldn’t help it, he grasped Morgan’s arm again. “Upstairs—”
“Yeah. Somebody knocked on that closet door.”
“Um,” Ann said faintly. “I think it was him.”
Through the window, they could now see a figure striding through the living room, pacing back and forth, his head turned away from them no matter which way he went. It seemed like somehow George could feel his footsteps shaking the lawn.
Lisa pulled her cell phone out and started filming the man. Frank was chattering excitedly: “…put something in our drinks, I bet! We all had lunch at that diner, they knew we were coming here, filming this, decided to give us hallucinogens, just wait if I don’t sue their asses…”
Ann had a sickened look on her face, and Jen was being unexpectedly solicitous to her, rubbing one of her wrists. “Let’s go,” they were saying to Frank. “Come on, we’ll drive into town…”
“Is it him?” Morgan asked George, still standing so close, with George’s sweaty hand grasping his arm. “Jacob Grover? Whatever did happen to him? Tell me he left the house, moved on.”
“Didn’t,” George said. “Never left. Died here. Weeks later. Tore the house apart, furniture smashed, top to bottom. And then—”
“Shotgun. When they found him, he—”
“Let me guess,” Morgan said. “Didn’t have a face.”
George shook his head.
Morgan sighed, and then he jerked his arm out of George’s grasp. “All right. I know this is you.”
George’s mind couldn’t quite make the jump to where Morgan was. “What?”
Morgan’s face was rigid with anger. “You know, you want me out of here so bad, you could have just had Frank fire me. Don’t have to scare the shit out of me, but I guess that’s right up your alley, isn’t it? All the spooky story shit you do. And you’ve got the whole team in on it, don’t you? Jacob Grover my ass, that’s some asshole you hired—”
Morgan stabbed a finger toward the team standing on the lawn. “Come on, bloody Ann’s a real psychic now? How dense do you think I am?”
“Completely!” George exclaimed. “How the hell did I somehow pull the whole team through a wall onto the lawn?”
“What the fuck do you mean, through a wall?” Morgan demanded. “I came down the stairs, you were all out here!”
“I mean through the damn wall, Morgan, we were in the living room and then—”
Morgan scoffed. “Sure. Only I didn’t see that, did I?” He crossed his arms over his chest, and somehow it made him look smaller. “Even had to touch me, didn’t you? Never done that before, and then twice today. Can’t believe I thought it wasn’t a trick.”
Morgan’s tone was as biting as the cold wind. “I want you to stand here and tell me that you, George Greene, believe that that man—” he pointed toward the house— “who’s currently walking around in plain sight, is dead.”
To his shame, George could feel tears pricking in his eyes. “I don’t see,” he said, “why you claim you would listen to anything I would say!”
Morgan stood still a moment, and then he tilted his head, shrugged his shoulders, jerky movements. “You’re right, I don’t. I’m leaving. I quit. Keep the equipment, I don’t give a fuck.”
George’s hands fluttered, wanting to reach out to him. He opened his mouth, unsure of what he would even say, and then there was no way to say it, because George’s next step came down on fuzzy blue carpet.
George could scarcely take it in, the bedroom around him. Overhead light still on. Dusty desk. Morgan’s gadgets in the corner. Closet door— closed. Closed. The window— open. He rushed to it and pressed his palms against the screen. Downstairs on the lawn Morgan stared up at him in horror. And then he ran around the side of the house and disappeared into the dark.
George had been there just a second ago, close enough that Morgan could feel the heat of him. And then just as Morgan turned his back, it happened. There was a rush of air, and a sickening pop that left Morgan feeling like he’d gone up in an airplane without chewing gum. He turned to see the result: George was gone. But there was nowhere he could have gone, not in an instant like that.
Morgan understood immediately what had happened. He knew it, like he knew that the man pacing through the living room had blown off his own face nearly forty years ago. Knew it at the same time that he knew it couldn’t be.
They’d been on the lawn, all of them. But the others— Frank, Ann, Lisa, Jen— they had started to walk away, toward the cars on the drive. Morgan was following, stalking away in anger. George was the only one left beside the house when whatever it was reversed itself. What had been outside was in. What had been on the lawn was upstairs. Morgan looked up at the lighted bedroom, and there was George, out of reach, and it left Morgan completely out of breath.
But also, what had been moving was now still. Out of the corner of his eye, Morgan could see that the man had stopped pacing. He was standing at the window.
He looks, Paula had said. I think he’d look longer if he could. I keep thinking maybe he’ll learn.
Morgan kept his eyes away from the living room window. Even though he could feel the man’s gaze on him. He didn’t cry out to the others by the cars. He just ran.
There was a side door to the house, and Morgan found it, felt the outside wall until he grasped the knob, and threw himself inside. Around the corner, up the stairs— don’t look in the living room, don’t listen to hear if you’re followed.
Up the stairs, and then George was there, in the little bedroom, terrified. Morgan grasped both his arms. “Are you all right?” he demanded.
“You—” George gasped, “You came inside. For me.”
“Uh, well.” Morgan shook his head. “Listen, about before. It really did make more sense that you were tricking me than— than this.”
George tilted his head a little, considering. “Oh. Well— yes. I can see that.”
Morgan dropped one of George’s arms and took the other with both hands. “Okay, downstairs. Side door.”
Morgan felt George tremble under his hands. “But he’s— he’s down there. The man.”
Morgan shook his head, helplessly. “Unless you want to go out of the window, George.”
“Oh,” George said. “Right.” When Morgan pulled him gently forward, George came along. Past the closet door, closed and silent. Out into the hall. Their feet stepped from the bedroom’s blue carpet to the hallway’s brown, and they followed that color toward the stairs.
As they went, George crept up a little, until he was close enough to be heard when whispering. “He isn’t pacing,” he said. “I can’t hear him.”
“No,” Morgan answered. “No, he’s stopped.”
“What’s he doing then?”
Morgan let out a little sound that was not entirely a terrified whimper. “Let’s pray we don’t fucking find out.”
George was clinging so close that Morgan could feel him nod. “Yes, all right. We’ll do that.”
At the top of the stairs, they peered down. Light spilled from the living room, and no shadows moved across it.
“Down the stairs,” Morgan said. “Down the stairs and to the left.”
He repeated it in his head with every step that they took. Morgan would move his left foot to the next stair down and then follow it with his right, and then George would come down to the step just above him, first right foot, then left. Four feet touched every stair, slow and steady, because even though Morgan wanted to run, it felt much more important not to be alone on the stairs.
At the bottom, there was wooden floor, and Morgan’s left foot made it squeak. It wasn’t like they’d been completely quiet so far, but the squeak made them both freeze just at a time when it was all too easy to freeze, just a little way before the wall opened up into the living room, and Morgan suddenly couldn’t stand it anymore. He yanked George down and around the corner to the left, to the side door.
But there was no side door. It took Morgan a moment to really register that, because there had been a door moments ago, and doors generally did not suddenly stop existing. But either Morgan had imagined getting into the house this way or the wall had swallowed the door whole, because now there was nothing. A blank stretch of wood, painted white like the rest of the hall, and not even a crack in it.
“No,” Morgan whispered.
George slid his hand down Morgan’s arm until he could clasp their fingers together. “You shouldn’t have come in,” he said, and his voice broke.
Morgan turned to him. “Well, maybe we’ll go through the wall again.”
“I don’t want to wait,” George said. “Front door, my dear.”
“Front door,” Morgan repeated. “Front door. Yeah.” He tightened his hand around George’s.
Back into the hallway. They walked abreast now, George no longer hiding behind Morgan. Step by step, closer to the yellow light spilling out from the living room. They were tracing his steps, Morgan realized, with a sudden dread. The path the man used to take, before he started following Mrs. Young. Down the stairs, through the living room, and to the front door.
Morgan wondered why Jacob had done it. Was it just a well-traveled route, taken day after day, meaningless? Or was it the path he’d walked before he’d killed himself? Down the stairs to the new door he’d hung, realizing it made no difference, that it was the threshold he couldn’t cross without his lover, and not the door, and then deciding instead to cross another threshold, this one alone and for all time?
Of course, the man didn’t always follow that route. Could be anywhere. Could chase a mother all the way across the house.
Morgan and George stepped around the corner and into the living room.
It was empty. Equipment abandoned, sofa deserted. No man. No movement. No—
“Oh, fuck,” George whispered. “No door.”
Morgan squeezed his eyes shut, counted to five, opened them again. There was still nothing, nothing there. There should have been a door. There should have been a fucking window, reflecting them quaking in fear, should have been something besides bare walls. But it wasn’t a room any longer, it didn’t feel like a house, it felt small and smothering and forever.
Morgan tightened his hand on George’s. “I know where there’s a fucking door.”
They looked back toward the stairs.
“Right,” said George softly. “But where does it lead?”
“I don’t think— it’s like it’s not a house,” Morgan said. “Not anymore. You can see that. It’s a puzzle. Turns inside out, and inside out again. I mean— you’re in, you’re out, you’re back inside, it’s revolving. We’ve just ended up on the wrong side of some door.”
George nodded. “Then let’s find the right side.”
They passed up the stairs more quickly this time, still holding tightly to each other. Four feet on each stair, then from brown carpet to blue. And then they stood in front of the closet door, which, as Morgan had hoped and feared, still existed. There was no longer a window in the wall, however.
The closet door had tiny holes in it from the older hinges, and Morgan was tempted to put his eye to them, try to see what was on the other side. But he guessed they’d find out soon enough.
“Don’t know about you, angel,” Morgan said, trying to sound light-hearted, “but I came out of the closet years ago. Don’t know if I fancy going back in.”
George looked at him with a kind of sad wonder. “Angel?” he asked.
“Oh.” Morgan dropped George’s gaze. “You– well, you look like one. Pale colors. Fussy.”
He heard a little hitch in George’s breathing. “I’ll go first,” George said. “Through the door. So you can see what happens.”
“What? No! Honestly, you always have the stupidest ideas!”
There was a look on George’s face that Morgan had never seen before, like the man was about to cry. But he didn’t do that. Instead he kissed Morgan. Crowded him back against the wall and kissed him, arms around his neck and fingers tangled in his hair. Morgan groaned and kissed him back, sweeping his tongue into George’s mouth, grasping at his hips.
They broke for air and there was the glint of tears in George’s eyes.
“Wanted to do that for two years,” Morgan confessed. “Also wanted to smack you. Guess I still want that too.”
“It’s mutual,” George assured him.
“Right. Good. Okay.”
“Through the door, then.”
“Yes. Through the— oh, fuck.”
They both froze as the noise came again.
Knock, knock, knock on the closet door. From the inside.
“I mean,” said Morgan, “it’s not like we didn’t expect some shit like this, right?”
But George looked pensive. “Why would he knock?”
“Why? He’s already in the house. Why knock?” George seized Morgan’s hand again. “Why does anyone knock on a door?”
“So someone else will open it?” Morgan caught his breath. “Oh, shit. He’s trying to get out.”
“Same as us. When he died here, he must have gotten stuck. He revolves the house, inside, outside, but he can never make it off the property line.” George met Morgan’s eyes. “He wants to get over the threshold, bride or no bride.”
“So if we find a way out from the wrong side—”
“He could follow.”
Knock, knock, knock.
“Fuck it,” Morgan said. “I’m leaving.”
George nodded. They reached for the closet door knob together. A twist to the left, Morgan’s fingers laced with George’s. And then they yanked the door open.
Jacob Grover was not on the other side.
He was behind them, in the bedroom. Morgan felt it, he turned, George turning with him.
And oh, god, that face. Paula had been right, it wasn’t something you wanted to see. He had a jaw. A couple of teeth were there, kind of stuck in the fleshy goo. No upper jaw or nose. But eyes— he still had eyes. And he looked.
Morgan yanked George with him, right through the closet door.
And then there was gravel under Morgan’s shoes, and cold night air on his skin. They were on the driveway, next to the Bentley. “Are we still on the property?” Morgan gasped.
“No. No, the lane belongs to the county. We’re off. But they’re—” George pointed to the rest of the team, who were all wandering the lawn.
“Hey!” Morgan yelled. “You bastards, come on! We’ve got to go!”
The other people turned to him in surprise. “Where the hell have you been?” Jen shouted. “We’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Come on!” George yelled. “It’s not safe!”
But Ann had a curious look on her face. “Well, now, I don’t know about that,” she said. “It feels different here. Empty.”
Morgan met George’s eyes. “Is your car here?” Morgan asked.
“No, and I doubt I’d care if it was.”
“Right.” Morgan grabbed for the door of the Bentley. “Get in, angel.” He called to the rest of the team. “Uh, listen, we’re leaving. We’re leaving permanently. Quitting the team.”
“You all have a nice life,” George shouted through the window. “We recommend you do it somewhere other than here.”
Morgan jumped in and started the engine. He spun the car in a tight spiral, spitting gravel, and then they were off down the lane.
They reached the city five minutes later. “Well,” Morgan said, after a few moments of trying to convince himself he could breathe quietly. “Um— can I drop you anywhere?”
George shook his head. “No. Thank you. If it’s all the same to you, I’d— I’d like not to be alone tonight.”
“All right.” Morgan sneaked a look at him in the gloom of the car. “You can stay at my place, if you’d like.”
“Yes,” George said, with a bit of a pleased smile. “All right. And when we get there, we can start by—”
“Yeah?” Morgan prompted.
“Taking the doors off all of your closets.”
“Right,” Morgan said. “Yeah. Point taken.”