Enter the manor through the main door at the front, the chiselled archway and solid wood. After one of the servants has taken your coat, maybe someone will give you a tour: the grand hall with its huge portraits of the manor’s former masters, the trophy room where the family keeps their spoils, the gardens carved from soil and seed. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see it there, unassuming, in the space between the sitting room and the dining hall. The red door.
Nobody tries to hide the red door. Not as such, anyway. It stands there, gleaming, exposed. But nobody talks about it, either; nobody so much as mentions it in passing. And nobody, but nobody, opens it.
Suppose the heir of the estate–Harold, let’s say, or Theodore–is playing a game of hide and seek with his brothers and sisters or distant cousins. See him there, running through the halls and corridors of the manor, searching for somewhere to keep him hidden. He rushes past the red door and then he stops. He takes a few steps back. He thinks, no one would dare look for me in here. He imagines the awe on their faces when he emerges hours later, how he will refuse to tell them where he was.
So our young heir–let’s call him George, actually; it has a nice feel to it–opens the red door, just a little. Just enough to let himself through.
Behind the red door, it is dark. There is no light switch, no lamp on the wall. No way to call for help. But the darkness is not silent. A voice, perhaps. Somebody whispering. Crying. How many voices are there, could there be? They sing gentle songs of a great abyss with no end, of hidden places and forgotten deeds, of secrets no one wants to hear. They sing of shame, of things buried or burned until nothing remains. Of a castle built on a swamp, a grave.
George listens, but he is not sure what to think; could the songs really be true? But George does not wait to find out—would you? He returns from where he came, and he closes the red door. He does not tell anyone about it. Years later, when he is the lord of this domain, the CEO of the company, the man who signs the cheques, he will pass by the red door and not even remember what happened.
But here comes another–Archibald, let’s say. Archibald is not like George. He is ignorant of the unspoken, unwritten rules–or perhaps he simply chooses to ignore them. The first time he sees the red door, he asks what it is. What is behind. His mother, embarrassed, hurries him away, tries to make clear that such questions are not appropriate. Nothing good will come from asking.
But Archibald won’t be stopped–he needs to know. He walks barefoot through the halls and corridors, and when he passes by the red door, he slows, listening. There is something–or someone–there, behind the red door. He knows it. He can feel it.
One night, when the whole house is sleeping–well, the servants can still be heard scrubbing the pots and pans downstairs, but that hardly counts, does it?–Archibald tiptoes downstairs. He waits, breathless, and then opens the red door. He does not stay for long.
Soon he starts to see things. The red door is everywhere, all over the manor. How has he not seen it before? It is painted in dull tones in the corners of the portraits in the great hall; it is written in the history books he finds in the library, caked with dust; it is reflected, always, in the fluted glasses and chandeliers, the pearls and diamond earrings. It is there whenever he closes his eyes.
He wants to say something, but he cannot. He has not yet learned the right words.
He returns to the red door one last time. This time, he takes a light, telling himself that things are better seen than unseen. He opens the red door and he enters. He does not stay for long, but it is long enough.
By the time everyone else awakens, he is already gone, though traces of him still remain. The shower is lined with warm soap scum, from where he tried to scrub himself clean. His wardrobe is missing one outfit—a simple pair of trousers and a shirt. Everything else he owns is still there, waiting to be claimed on the day of his return.
But I don’t think that day will ever come.