A wispy frame emerged from the shadows of a dimly lit alley onto the main thoroughfare, occasional lights from passing cars illuminating the bustle of foot traffic on the sidewalk. The young man slipped between the crowds, walking in a manner that bespoke purpose. Every other step he pulled out his phone, glancing at it for a few moments before slipping it back into his jacket pocket. Throngs of people laughed and bellowed past, but his eyes remained fixed ahead, as if they were unable to see anything but what was relevant to their goal. He slipped down another side alley, unnoticed by so much as a single person.
The monotonous sound of dripping permeated the passage, as if the space existed outside of the city, muffled and isolated from the noise and movement lying in wait at either end of the alley. The man pulled out his phone once more, scanning it in the dim light intently as his pace slowed from a meandering gait to a full stop. Before him was an expanse of brick wall, sullen, damp, and empty. He looked once more at his phone, agitation plainly visible in his demeanor and on his face. The phone disappeared into his pocket once more while he leaned on the wall in front of him, muttering a curse to himself.
The sharp peal of a car horn reverberated through the alley, causing the man to jump back with a start and face the source of the noise. He cast his eyes about him rapidly, chest heaving with rapid gulps of air, but quickly gathered himself. He was about to pull his phone from his pocket once more when his gaze was caught by the appearance of a door on the adjacent wall, large and imposing and scarlet hued. It looked ancient, severely weathered by the countless hands that had touched it; even so, the door was in good condition. The paint was not peeling, and though its luster was very muted, it very well could have been a recent coat of paint. There was no handle anywhere, just a small, circular window which revealed only an impermeable darkness behind it.
The man blinked rapidly, transfixed by what now stood before him, as well as unsettled by its sudden appearance on a wall that had moments before been just a wall. He hesitated, certain he had reached his goal, but terrified of what that entailed. What waited within was a mystery, just rumors that he had decided to look into out of personal curiosity. Maybe a slight obsession, in the back of his mind. This curiosity brought him back to the moment, and he found the strength then to lay his hand on the door. It was cold, despite the warm, damp air that circulated through the alley, and reminded the man of a slab of granite, heavy and immovable. Even so, the door swung open easily at the touch, as if it had been waiting to do so the whole time but needed an invitation.
He was frozen in place, uncertain whether he should continue. He had come this far, but the option to turn back was still available. There were still the noises of commotion just feet away, and he could turn back and melt into the cacophony. He pondered this momentarily, but he knew the truth: nothing out there had ever enraptured his mind and soul like this mystery, this cryptic door which few mentioned in secret and even fewer had ever actually laid eyes on. He had no choice but to continue. Everything was right in front of him, the answers he had sought, the reward he deserved for his efforts.
The man took one final deep breath at the threshold, closing his eyes momentarily before gazing with renewed vigor at the portal in front of him. He stepped inside, and was greeted by a sudden change in atmosphere. A breeze, quite different from the stillness of the alley, seemed to pull him farther inside, as if the door itself was breathing in with anticipation of his arrival. He moved forward, reaching once more for his phone to illuminate the chamber. Just as the light blossomed outwards, there was a noise like a sharp scream of anger and hurt, like an animal caught in a trap, and his phone rapidly heated to an unbearable degree in his hand until he dropped it, shattering in on the ground. The sound of the phone sizzling to a violent end was drowned out as the door slammed behind the man with a loud crash, and he was plunged into darkness with no idea of where to go, or even where the exit was now.
Hands groping outwards, the man searched for something to steady himself. His chest felt constricted, the air heavy and chill, like swimming in cold, deep water. After several tense moments, he felt something firm, and small enough to grip in his hand. He latched on, breathless, the suffocating stillness causing him to gasp in the frigid room. Suddenly, a dim glow illuminated the room, originating from several candelabra placed on a long, wooden table. The man could now see he was in a room bathed in a seemingly crimson light, his hand placed on the back of a large chair pulled up to the table. The walls were covered in what looked like satin sheets, pale yellow in color and draped on every wall. Without thinking, the man stepped back and ran his finger along the closest one, appreciating the material’s touch on his fingers. It almost lulled him into a sense of peace. He looked back to the table.
It was at least twenty feet in length, with several chairs pulled up to several places that had been set along its length. It was only then that the man realized what waited silently in each chair: foreboding figures, every one bedecked in a long robe, yellow as spring daffodils, and hoods obscuring their features. The only thing visible were their soot gray masks, molded in the shape of a cherub’s crying face, hiding a soft stillness behind it that reeked of hidden horror. The man shuddered. All of the figures had their faces turned towards him, watching him with unseen eyes. He moved slightly, walking towards the other side of the table. Their gaze moved with him every step, soundless, as if holding their breath in anticipation. He kept moving, slowly, past the sea of masks; at the end of the table was an empty chair, vacant, like an abdicated throne. He knew it was for him, that all of this was for him, a ceremony sacred beyond all comprehension.
He took his seat quietly. All eyes still lay on him. Several tense moments passed. The man was unsure how to proceed, unsure what further action to take in the face of these attendants. With a shudder like a marionette, the closest figure beckoned towards the table in front of the man. There were words scratched into it, the immaculate surface marred in one small spot to form a single message. The man read, and, almost swallowing the words in his throat, spoke out to the rest of the congregation:
“Let the feast begin.”
Not a sound of the horrible scrapings, scuttling, and screaming could be heard within the room. The alley was as it always had been, still, the sound of constant dripping prevalent in the air, as well as the echoes of the busy streets it connected. There was no door, nor was there a man. Just an empty alley, and a busy city beyond that, and for this, the world was grateful.