The path ended a little after darkness had settled over everything.
“This is where I end, too,” Toby Douglas said. “I’ll leave you, and you’ll go on alone. Keep going until you reach a door—it’s inevitable that you will. Everyone I bring over the ridge eventually reaches it. When you get to the door, knock. Then wait. That’s all. Goodbye now.”
He receded into darkness in the direction we’d been coming from for days. I had this thought: what I’m seeing is a figure for memory, which envelopes everything real in obscurity.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I was frightened; I’d had nothing but my guide, and now that Toby Douglas had left, I had less than nothing. I walked for a long time in darkness that felt wet. Then the door was right there before me. It was like waking up, seeing it—seeing anything.
The door had the presence of a thing in which another thing was living. I approached it quietly. It was shiny and calcareous and spiraled, like a shell, both inward and outward at once. I looked for the house that should have been there to surround it; couldn’t find it. Only darkness. I spat. I hadn’t eaten and my mouth was sour.
I had to knock first, like Toby Douglas had told me to. I knocked. I wanted, when the door opened, for everything to be different; I was frightened that it would be; I was worried that it wouldn’t.
“The door wasn’t locked, it never is,” a voice said. “Anybody could walk in at any time, but nobody ever does. Troubling, isn’t it?” The door opened.
“Yes,” I said, except that I was trembling and hadn’t said anything at all. No sound could get out of my mouth; my teeth were clenched somewhere far back in my jaw. I could see nothing beyond the threshold of the door. Nobody.
“Don’t you think that my house is an alluring sight? And it’s wide open to anyone who wants in, day and night. I would love to find a stranger suddenly standing behind me! But nobody has any guts or temerity—there’s no such thing anymore as daring.”
I managed to open my mouth. “Perhaps the nature of the structure itself, Madam, keeps them out.”
“Is this a discourse on aesthetics you’re trying to launch your little self into? Oh, look at you, you’re trembling! We’re going to get along very well—you’re weak and I’m strong.”
“It’s just, a certain degree of grandeur, Madam, removes the object to a different realm, inaccessible—”
“You are even somewhat articulate. And, my goodness, what is this—”
I felt a hand on me. The pleasure was more than I could stand.
“—delightful little appendage? Is it always so eager to be stroked? Ah, my tendresse…”
“Yes, Madam,” I said. The stroking hand led me to one of the beds.
Evelyn Hampton is the author of Discomfort (Ellipsis Press) and We Were Eternal and Gigantic (Magic Helicopter Press). Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, New York Tyrant, BOMB, Birkensnake, The Brooklyn Rail, Black Warrior Review and elsewhere.