A short story by Michael R. Lockridge
He leaned quietly against the lamppost, drawing gently upon his cigarette. The smoke was good. He exhaled, the cloud of smoke joining with the damp fog that filled the twilight evening. The light from the gas lamp atop the lamppost played with the smoke and fog, making this evenings smoke something special.
Out of the fog came a sound. Horses hooves paced along the cobbled street. The narrow way between the buildings funneled the sound, amplifying it. He took another drag, and waited.
A single horse, pulling a van. Two men on the seat. The van was elaborately carved and painted. The driver was a younger man, listening intently as the other man spoke to him. The other man was smaller, and somehow seemed something other than a man. He was speaking softly, but quickly. He seemed to be instructing.
A medallion attached to the van above the driver’s seat caught a bit of light from the lamp, flashing momentarily in the twilight.
As they drew abreast of the lamppost, the smaller man stopped talking. The little man nodded a terse greeting, and then turned to look in the direction they were traveling.
The little man looked surprisingly like a fox. Yes. Like a fox. Strange.
Taking another drag from the cigarette, letting the smoke slowly escape from between his lips, he watched the painted and carved vehicle pass. Soon, it was just the sound of horse’s hooves in the fog and twilight.
Finishing his cigarette, he turned back toward the building from which he had earlier stepped out for a smoke. This was only the second doorway of that building he had tried. The first had let him out onto the street he had originally come in on.
At least it had looked like his street. It was hard to tell. It had been night. All of the lights were out, and there was no traffic. That had been disturbing enough, but there had been a mist, and a sense of threats unseen. That had been weeks ago, and only tonight had he found courage to try another doorway.
He walked back to the doorway from which he had recently exited. The numbers were in a script that was hard to read, but appeared to indicate that this was 249b. He had never seen such a script before. He lifted the latch, and entered.
The room was rather non-descript. Ordinary furniture, though of an unusual design. Utilitarian. Rather uninviting. Not so nicely turned out as the area occupied by those who called it “the club.”
Two-four-nine-b, the club without any real name. Not really a club, but what else to call it? The association was strange, like the building it occupied.
He crossed the room, and passed through an inner door. Here he was, again, in the strange central hallway. It extended into darkness in either direction, much like the narrow room at the top of the building. Up there were two bowling alleys. Here, just a hallway with a seemingly endless succession of doors.
Cross the hall, turn right. Two doors down. It opened, with a regular doorknob rather than the unusual latch of the outside door he had just used.
He was back in the reading room, between the two bookcases that framed and partially obscured this doorway. Another oddity of the club; these seemingly pointless doorways. He sighed a sigh of relief. He walked back to the grand room, the one with the larger fireplace. The place where tales were told.
Stevens came in from the opposite doorway, and placed a very old canvas bag on the table. If things went as usual, Stevens would serve another round of drinks, and the time for telling stories would begin.
As he leaned against the wall opposite the fireplace, he contemplated the seemingly endless hallway, with so many doors. So many doors.
“Drink, sir?” Asked Stevens. He had appeared from nowhere, now carrying a tray of that magnificent brandy that opened the telling of tales on the Thursday before Christmas. This very night.
“Uh, yes. Thank you, Stevens.”
He took his drink in hand, but did not drink. It was for the toast of the evening.
Stevens had not moved.
“Have care, sir.” Said Stevens. “There are a great many doors. They are a lot like the stories told here. They could take you anywhere. Happy Christmas, sir.”
Stevens delivered the rest of the drinks to the others around the fireplace. The time for the telling was near.
He looked across the room, at a painting that hung there. A tower, in a field. A dark tower, in a field of what looked like blood-red roses.
A tower like that could contain a great many doors. A tower, like a brownstone building. A great many doors.
He waited for the tale to begin, and thought about doors.