I walked carefully, wanting to approach as quietly as possible. At the door I listened. I heard nothing. I felt Aura’s impatience–or imagined she must be impatient. I knocked.
A cry answered, not a scream exactly, but a strangled sort of noise. I stepped back and waited, heart pounding.
I could hear something now. I stepped closer. It was a man’s voice, low and muttering.
“Easy for you to say,” I whispered back. But I raised my fist and knocked again. The silence that followed was absolute.
Third time’s the charm.
I’d come this far. I knocked a third time.
“What are you?” came the terrified voice.
“My name’s Milton Henry. Can I come in?”
“What do you want? Why have you come?”
Those were not easy questions to answer, so I kept it simple. “I was stranded on the beach. I’m lost. I need some place to stay for a bit.”
Tell him you’re on a mission.
“Am I?” I asked.
Oh, I didn’t tell you? I just figured it out.
“What are you, Milton Henry?” the man demanded.
“I’m just a man.”
The door shook beneath a blow. “Liar! You’ve come to deceive me.”
This was going nowhere, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of the night convincing someone I wasn’t a rogue. Besides that, I was more than a little frightened. “Look, just tell me where the nearest city is, and I’ll be on my way.”
“City? There are no cities! There are no men. I am alone, and you are here to torment me.”
“I was hoping you’d have some idea what to do next,” I told Aura.
“What was that?” the man demanded through the door. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I’ll just be going. Sorry to disturb you.”
“All right, all right,” the man said, but he seemed to be talking to someone else in the little cabin. “I don’t trust him. Hey!” he called to me. “You still there?”
“Lay down your weapons.”
“Done,” I responded immediately.
“I’m going to open this door to look at you. Then I will invite you in. I will serve you tea. You will pose your questions and I will answer. Will you then leave me in peace?”
“Sure,” I said uncertainly. What did he think me, some ghostly inquisitor? “This is your fault,” I whispered to Aura.
You’ll thank me after a warm cup of tea. She mimicked a British accent perfectly.
I heard a bolt slide and the handle turn. The door groaned heavily as it opened, spilling lantern light into the dark. A man stood silhouetted in the doorway. “You do not look horrifying,” he said after a moment.
“I’m just a man.”
But the stranger shook his head vehemently. “Come in and we will test our wits.”
Milton, run away.
“What?” I asked.
“Come in,” the man insisted. “I will face you and expel you.”
Run, Milton. Run now!
The stranger grabbed my wrist. “You can’t knock on my door and not come in.” He pulled me across the threshold.
Aura was panicking. Don’t you see it, Milton?
I couldn’t answer. The man was studying me with cold, curious eyes.
On his back. Don’t you see it on his back?
The man was bearded and thin. He wore clothes stained black and brown. He smiled at me. “You aren’t a fierce demon now, are you? Come, the tea’s still hot.”
Why can’t you see the creature on his back!
“Thank you,” I said. And I sat before my knees could give way.