He opened the rusting, black, metal gate with no hesitation. He didn’t care if it was loud enough to wake the neighbors, the bolts and hinges would grind and squeak together no matter how gently he pushed. He always meant to fix it, but never got around to it.
As he approached the cement steps of his porch, he noticed silhouettes of people from behind the curtains. The lights were dim so he guessed his roommate, Matt, was having a movie night. He didn’t mind, as long as they were quiet and didn’t try to make small talk.
He turned the knob on the white door with cracking paint and to his surprise it was still locked. Matt never locks the door, he thought. He shook his head and swung his bag from off his shoulder and rummaged for his key. After looking closely at three other keys in his hand, he found the right one, and turned the lock. The door was heavy, but opened with ease. After he hung his coat on the chipped wooden hook to the right of the doorway, he turned and stopped. All of Matt’s friends’ eyes were on him. They did not say hello, did not make small talk, it seemed like they weren’t even breathing. It was still.
He raised his eyebrows, gave a toothless grin–the kind you give a stranger on the train after accidentally looking them in the eye–and made his way past the guests. Their eyes followed him as he moved swiftly through the living room and into the main hallway. The house was cold and felt empty. The rental had always been old and creepy, but it was different this time.
He entered his room and shut the door, and immediately after, he heard hushed chit-chatting in the living room. He fell face first into his bed and thought about the guests in his home. They were old, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why would his 23 year-old roommate be hanging out with a group of people old enough to be his grandparents? They all looked alert. Like they were expecting him. They knew he was coming but they were quiet, secretive. Their eyes were dark, and even the flickering flames from the fireplace were not enough to show the contrast between their pupils and irises. They sat in chairs, old wooden chairs from the basement, facing the door. There were perfectly good couches just feet away. They held their hands in their laps and crossed their feet under their chairs.
Their hands. They were so pail, almost translucent. Their veins, so visible. Like thick webs under the skin.
They weren’t surprised when he walked in, but they were waiting for someone else.
He couldn’t think about anything else. Despite being exhausted from his shift, he had to get one more look.
He slowly opened his door, he didn’t want anyone to hear him this time. Trying his best to listen to the guests in his home, he leaned further out into the hallway. The guests were speaking so fast, he tried to make out what was being discussed, but no luck. It was harsh, hissed words back and forth, like no one bothered to take a breath in between. He then realized that what they were saying was not in English. Matt could barely spell out the word “restaurant” let alone have conversations with people speaking who knows what language that was. Who were these people?
He was out of his doorway and into the hallway by now, and took a step forward. He took another step and Matt interrupted his sneaking with a loud yawn behind him.
“What are you doing?” Matt moaned while rubbing his eyes.
“Who are these people? How do you know them?” He half laughed.
“What? Those people?”
“Yeah, the one’s in the living room. The old people.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, I just woke up cause I heard noise in the living room. I thought you brought people over.” Matt had been playing pranks ever since they moved in together, but when he said this, it wasn’t a joke.
“Who the hell is in our house?” Nate whispered back.
Matt disappeared into his doorway and emerged with his baseball bat in hand. He marched into the living room while Nate followed.
Only this time, the living room was empty. The guests were gone.
The fire was still going, lighting up the backs of the old wooden chairs. The guests left them facing the doorway, like they were waiting for something. This time, it wasn’t Nate, or Matt. Something else. Something important.
Matt went to the door and turned the knob, bat ready to swing. “What the hell?” He shook his head and backed towards the living room.
Nate was confused as he walked toward the entry way wondering what Matt had seen. He looked down at the knob on the exterior of the door to see a red key still in the lock. He looked closer and reached to pull it out, but something stopped him. The key was not red, it was covered in blood.
“Is it yours?” Matt asked. He had lost his key months ago, that’s why he never locks the door.
Nate reached into his back pocket and pulled out his key.