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Behind Closed Doors

Posted on August 19, 2010 at 8:02 AM


Corridors – in every direction, a corridor. North, south, east and west – dimly lit corridors stretching out as far as the eye could see. Dorothy squinted as she peered into the gloom, trying to make out anything which would tell her where it was that she stood. Stood – there in nightdress, dressing gown and pink fluffy slippers at the crossroads of a labyrinth of corridors in a hotel whose name she did not know.


Each corridor was flanked by rows of doors heading away into the distance. She looked around uneasily for what must have been the umpteenth time, and a shiver ran down her spine – the air seemed suddenly much colder. Hesitantly she approached the first door, it was on her right and the light appeared to brighten as she stood before it. It was nondescript, a typical hotel bedroom door, bland in colour and with nothing to differentiate it from the myriad others which she could see.


The number, the room number, 295, was emblazoned in strangely bright golden figures two thirds of the way up its surface. Dorothy turned around and looked at the opposite door. She shuddered, 295, exactly the same number. The next door also bore the same number in the same style, and the one after that, and in fact every door that she could see on either side of the corridor. She was in no doubt that all of the doors in all of the corridors would bear the same three digits in the same order.


A small, almost indiscernible feeling of panic started to rise from the pit of her stomach as she slowly reached out for the doorknob of the one she was now facing. It turned with a firm ‘click’ which echoed into the distance, and she stopped with the opening a mere crack on her left. Her mouth was dry and she swallowed hard to suppress a sense of foreboding. The door began to open of its own accord and she stepped back, releasing the knob.


Behind the opening, and to Dorothy’s astonishment was another door, but there the similarity ended. This one was white, no not just white. It was the brightest, purest, blinding white she had ever seen, and there at the top of its central panel, in numbers as black and shiny as highly polished jet – 102.


“What?” She spoke out loud, though there was no-one else there to hear. There was, of course, no answer, and yet she looked around, as if expecting to see Keith standing behind her.


“Keith!” She called. Damn! Never there when she wanted him. She turned back to the door and reached out for the handle. The blinding flash of light had her reeling backwards and falling to the floor.


She awoke with a start, bathed in perspiration and wrapped tightly in the bedclothes. Home, she was back at home, in her own bed in her own room. The noises from the kitchen downstairs told her that Keith, her husband of almost thirty years was busily preparing breakfast, a task which he carried out with unerring regularity every Saturday morning. Her appearance at the kitchen door elicited the kind of humour which had attracted her to him all those years ago.


“Good Lord missus, which cat dragged you in. Come on, spill the beans and me and the boys’ll go get him!”


This time however, she was not amused and one look across the room told him that a career in comedy would never have earned him the kind of living he enjoyed as a teacher.


“What’s up?”


“Odd dream, and it’s happened three times now. Didn’t bother to tell you the first couple of times, but now it’s getting a bit worrying.”


Over breakfast she explained the strange scenario of the doors and the flash of light before she had the chance to see what was behind the second one. Whilst concerned at his wife’s sense of unease, Keith nevertheless tried to lighten the mood by pointing out the cheese supper that had been consumed the night before. She was, he said, a martyr to late night meals and the restlessness which inevitably followed. The upcoming two week holiday in the States would take her mind off it and banish all thoughts of doors and suchlike. She frowned – he was always so sensible about things like this, and all of her misgivings were starting to fade away.


The next two weeks positively flew past, and in no time at all they were circling New York in the clear blue sky of a June morning. The excitement had been building to a crescendo for the past few days and with Hayley and Dave waiting for them in the Arrivals area at JFK, Dorothy and Keith hurriedly collected their baggage, eased their way through immigration and into the welcoming arms of their old school friends who had moved to the Big Apple years before.


“C’mon we have lots to do” The twang in Dave’s voice was pronounced with their living in the States for so long, and he shepherded them to his waiting Buick. “Let’s get you guys to the hotel and we can go for a meal.”


“Money” Keith held up his hand as if addressing a classroom full of ‘O’ Level Geography students. One finger was raised in admonishment to his old friend. “We’re not sponging off you two just because you live here. We need some Dollars. Nearest bank please.”


“Ok, but you gotta get rid of your bags first.” Hayley laughed and they made their way to the Crowne Plaza on Times Square.


The hotel wasn’t cheap, but when in New York Keith was not about to scrimp. They dropped off their cases and headed out towards Broadway and the first available bank. Everything here was drawn on a much bigger scale then at home. Tall buildings grew like oversized Gladioli on either side of the streets and shafts of bright sunlight rained down at the intersection of each set of roads. He shook his head and smiled – it was like something out of the movies. Dorothy shook him from his reverie with a sharp tug on his sleeve.


“Come on, we haven’t got all day. I’m hungry.”


“Alright, alright, keep your hair on woman. Just taking in the atmosphere.”


Across the street of the Upper West Side stood the impressive premises of Citibank at 2350 Broadway, and this was their destination in the quest for usable currency. The canopied entrance off the sidewalk opened out on the inside to a grand foyer from which came the sounds of daily business being transacted. They had never seen the like of such an establishment before. A uniformed figure approached from the right.


“Morning. Can I help you folks?” The face was broad, the smile seemed broader, and the salute crisp.


“We’re here on holi…….vacation, and I afraid all we have is Sterling.” Keith was almost apologetic in his admission of forgetting to exchange before leaving Heathrow.


“That’s no problem sir. Just take a ticket from the machine way over there and go to the teller when you number comes up.” He smiled again, shook hands and returned to his station. Dorothy became suddenly very uneasy.


“What’s the matter?” Keith frowned at his wife’s sudden change in demeanour.


“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know. Something’s not right. Did you see his number?”


“Number? What number?”


“The number on the epaulette of his uniform. 295. That’s his number – he’s the security guard.”

“Yes, I know that, but what does it matt……………………..oh, the dream. Look it was just a dream that’s all. The number is just coincidence. Come on, let’s get in line.”


He took the next ticket from the dispensing machine and they moved towards the row of tellers. The queue was long, but moved along quite quickly. 99 flashed up on a screen above the counter and Keith looked down at his ticket. 100 came up and a frown began to form on the smooth face of his forehead. He looked up at Dorothy and she took the ticket from him. 101 – her eyes widened in astonishment, their ticket was number 102.


102 - the number on the white hotel door, the one which she could not open, the one where the blinding flash of light snapped her out of the dream. 295 had been the number on the first door which she got past. 295 was the security guards number, and they had just passed him.


102 was now flashing up on the sign which called out ‘Next Customer Please’. She stood, rooted to the spot. Impatient voices began to stir from behind her as busy New Yorkers queued for service.


“C’mon lady, move along. We got places to be.”


Dorothy turned to her husband and shook her head with increasing speed as she fought to control the rising sense of fear which was slowly paralysing her. She snapped into action.


“Out! We have to get out of here! Now Keith, move. Now!”


“Yeah, now youse two, move it. Let somebody else in!” An anonymous figure pushed past as the number sign changed – 103.


Keith retreated on the end of the arm of his now running wife as the first shots were fired. They had made it to the door and were almost out in the bright sunshine when all hell broke loose inside the bank. He turned at the last minute to see the body lying in a pool of blood. The body of the anonymous customer who had pushed past them just moments before. The body which occupied the very place which should have been taken by one of them. One more pull on his sleeve and they were both outside in the relative safety of the New York street.


Sirens split the city air as more shots came from inside the bank, and the NYPD cavalry arrived to take on the bank robbers who were presumably by now amassing hostages from amongst the ranks of customers inside. Ranks which could easily have included both of them in their number.

Categories: Short Story, Adventure, Phil Neale

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Reply George Spelvin
11:21 PM on August 24, 2010 

I like what you've done, the plot movement, etc. I know you have used a number of "British-isms," which would only be natural. My comments you can take to heart or not.

1. Why say night dress. Just say what she wears. Everyone will understand.
2. ?Uneasily? sounds as though she has trouble turning her head. perhaps ?warily?
3. You don?t say where ?the light? is. just a ceiling light? or is it the door that seems to brighten?
4. An indiscernible feeling of panic why not just say ?A feeling of panic began to rise?
5. of the doorknob she was now facing? Which other one could it be?
6. the first door has a knob, but the second has a handle?
7. How is she in her own room, but he appears at the kitchen door. How is that possible?
8. which cat dragged you in ? (question mark)
9. ?This time, however?? unnecessary comment. Delays the action
10. ?now it?s getting a bit worrying? ?? why not ?now it worries me?
11. suchlike ?? why throw in a 15th century expression? why not ?and the like?? but then you use like in the next phrase

Reply Phil Neale
3:21 AM on August 25, 2010 
As you say, these are differences in language structure, and peculiar to the British vernacluar.

Were it a US-based story, I would have changed the emphasis, but it isn't, so I won't.

Thanks anyway.
Reply C.M. Marcum
7:28 PM on August 26, 2010 
Every time I read one of your stories, I am struck by the clear framework of your plot. You are a man who goes from point A to point B with no derailments.

You might like to add more omens: their flight number, their seat number, the bank's address, etc.

Her husband's answer to her nightmare, as to blame it on her late night eating reminded me of Scrooge. Where he says the ghost are nothing but a bit of undigested meat. Something like that.

My biggest critique is the use of the passive verb 'was.'
Reply C.M. Marcum
7:32 PM on August 26, 2010 
Oh, crap. I did it again. Forgot to tell you that I like it. As David He would say, 'Good Read.'
Reply Jake Cesarone
5:43 PM on October 12, 2010 
Good one, Phil. As usual, you seem to be going in one direction, but then ZING off on a different one just when I think I've got it figured out! Enjoyable read.

One quibble: you seem to start out with Dorothy's POV, then shift into Keith's POV for the middle section, and then back to Dorothy at the end. Not that that isn't allowed, but I wonder if it was intended to convey some subtlety that I missed, or if it was inadvertent on your part. Just a thought!