In retrospect John blamed the incident on his own suggestibility, and on the scrapbook.
The previous owner, Henry Stode, considered himself to be a bit of an amateur historian, at least when it came to the house. He had inherited an overstuffed scrapbook from the previous owner, who had inherited it from another previous owner.
The book was not organized in any way; it had originally been a photograph book, with clear plastic sheets laid over cardboard backing pages, and was not ideally suited to the task it had been given. Many pages had old architectural details: wallpaper and fabric samples, a few tufts of old carpet and drapery. Other pages displayed correspondence from the original owners of the house, old deeds and legal documents, various oddments discovered in the attic and closets, inside walls and ceilings.
Some of it consisted of photographs; people who used to live there would sometimes come back to revisit the house, and sometimes they would bring photos from their time living at the house. Families stoically gathered in the living room for group portraits, candid shots of Christmas morning gift opening in the family room, kids playing around on bikes and scooters in the front yard.
These images and bits of history came with stories attached, no doubt, but the stories were not contained in the pages of the book, only leftover artifacts, unconnected to each other in any meaningful way. No central narrative emerged from all these details. No emphasis given to one thing over another, no way to know what elements of the tale were important.
John had asked Henry about the differing number of rooms and doorways on the second floor of the house before they had even bought it, fascinated. Henry hauled out the book.
He told John, “Yeah, a lot of different people have lived here. When it was a boarding house it had the original doorways, but after the railway sold the house the new owner subdivided the building and added rooms on both floors. A family”--he paused to flip several pages to show a old black and white photo of them--”bought the house about a decade late, and tore down some of the walls to create larger rooms. So some of the addded doorways were removed in that process.”
He flipped pages to an old schematic drawing. “Here you can see the second floor originally had two doorways on the right, one on the left, viewed from the front stairs. He flipped to the photo of the family. “In this photo you can see two doorways on the left, three on the right. Two doorways have been added on.” He flipped to yet another picture. “And here, there are back to only two doorways on the left, but notice not in the same spots as the original doorways. One was added, and one later removed, but not the same one.”
“So there used to be a fifth room up here,” said John. “Huh.”
“These old rooms have been divided, reconnected, divided again, reconnected again. So many times it’s hard to know what is original and what is not. But yeah, there used to be another doorway, so it must have led to another room.
They talked of a few more historical details and oddities, then moved on to less esoteric subjects, like closing costs, furnace repair, the age of the water heater.
John and Alice Lamb ended up buying the house, of course.
About a year later, John was coming home late after a night out with friends. He hadn’t had too much to drink, a couple of beers over the course of a couple of hours. He opened the front door quietly, as Alice and the girls were already in bed. He stealthily climbed the front steps.
When he got to the landing he recognized something was wrong, but couldn’t quite place the anomaly. He blinked. When he opened his eyes he realized what perplexed him.
Three doorways stood on the right side of the hallway.
An extra doorway had appeared. A doorway to a room that had not existed for decades.
He looked around the hallway for clues, wondering if perhaps he had gone back in time, but no, the pictures they had hung in the hallways still hung true, the color they had painted the walls remained unchanged, the new carpeting they had laid down still lay at his feet.
He felt woozy, as if he had far more to drink than he actually had.
He walked to the doorway, one deliberate footstep after the other.
When he arrived at the doorway he didn’t open the door. He didn’t have to. He leaned his head and hands against the door to prepare himself and just sort of...sunk...through the wood of the doorway and into the room. As he entered the room he grew profoundly disoriented, as if drunk, barely able to stand, or focus his eyes.
Unlike the hallway he stood in, the room he observed appeared to be mid-century. John didn’t know enough history to know exactly why it looked from an earlier time. The ceramic icebox in the corner with metal hinges and levered handle. The tiny cookstove that vented outside directly though a pipe in the wall. The style of the carpet, the wallpaper, the drapes, the molding.
The calendar on the far wall that opened to November, 1924.
Only then did he notice the room was not empty. A man lay motionless on a bed in the corner, half in and half out, clothes still on. He appeared to be so intoxicated so as to have passed out while in the process of getting into bed.
The man’s white shirt and his arms and hands were covered in blood.
John jerked back instinctively and found himself back in the hallway. His own hallway: carpet, wallpaper, pictures on the wall were all as they should be. His drunkenness had gone, as if cold water had been splashed in his face.
John took a breath, turned to the door and leaned against its surface again. Spinning, loopy drunkenness enveloped his sensibilities as he stared into the room.
The man still lay halfway into bed, covered in blood.
Something terrible lay slumped in the corner of the room. He could not discern exactly what it was, and did not want to. He felt as if he might suddenly be sick. He pulled back into the hallway to clear his head, regain his sanity.
A solid wall stood before him. The door was gone.
Two doors on the right side of the hall.
He knew when he awoke the next morning he would blame the incident he had just experienced on inebriation. He also knew inebriation was not the cause; he felt entirely sober now. It was a convenient excuse.
He knew he wouldn’t tell his wife. His story made no sense. It would only worry her.
He forced his feet back into motion, taking slow, measured steps down the hall and into his bedroom. He undressed, lay down next to his wife, who mumbled “I love you,” and snuggled closer to him, and pretended normalcy.
He prayed the blood-covered man in the hidden room would not follow him into his dreams.