Your day has passed in a way that you can only describe as soul-suckingly boring. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if it is then it's not by much. It's not that any of your classes are awful or your professors dull, it's just one of those days where the hours drag on for far longer than they should have any right to.
That, of course, is what makes the door stand out all the more.
You spot it while walking back to your dorm. At first your eyes slide over it, as though it was just another familiar part of campus, fitting in so perfectly that it’s disconcerting. But something drags your gaze back to it, as if pulled in by some sort of gravity. That's when you notice the color; it's a vivid, clamoring yellow that's bright enough to nearly give you a headache. You try to follow the intricate, swirling patterns on the door, but you soon find the more you scrutinize the patterns, the more jumbled and muddied they become.
It’s only then that you realize that the door absolutely should not be there.
You don’t know how it’s taken you this long to realize that, because the moment you give it any amount of thought it becomes blindingly obvious how wrong it is. The door doesn’t have any support — not that you can see, at least — yet it stands perfectly upright. The color is garish, sure, but it shouldn’t be giving you a migraine. And even if the patterns etched into the woodwork are chaotic and impossible to follow, it shouldn’t feel like they're trying to unravel you back.
Somehow, worse than any of these things, is the fact that no one else notices it.
It makes sense, of course it does — you didn’t notice it until just a few seconds ago. That doesn’t make it any less eerie to watch other students walk by it as if it isn’t there, like it isn’t strange in any way. They just go about their days, oblivious to whatever the hell this door is.
For a moment, you consider calling over a passerby, asking them if they can see the door, too. You decide against it quickly enough; you’re not sure that any answer you get would be a comfort either way. Maybe it’s best to just leave? Duck your head down and get out of here, pretend that you never saw it. Even as you think it, you know you won’t. Something like this is too strange, too weird, too curious for you to want to just run away.
You swallow, your throat tight and your fingers shaking even as you clutch at the strap of your bag. You take a step forward. Then another. And another. Your steps are heavy, feet weighed down trepidation, but you slowly, unsteadily make your way to the door. You only stop when you’re mere inches away from it.
It’s the same painful yellow, but the patterns on the frame seem to shift and twist as you move towards it like they can’t find a comfortable position to stay in. It makes your head hurt and your vision blur, but you can’t bring yourself to look away. You are rooted to the spot, unable to force yourself to back away. Spellbound, you can’t help but bring your arm up, your fingers curling into a fist.
The sound is distorted, like someone ran it through a cheap audio filter. You knock again, a bit more steadily this time, and produce the same sound. You let your hand hang there, unsure if you should knock again or if you should turn and run.
Before you can make a proper choice, you see the doorknob turn. There’s a soft click as it’s twisted as far as it will go, followed by a long, loud creak, the kind they play in low-budget thrillers and horror movies. The door swings inwards.
You aren’t sure what you were expecting on the other side — what you would normally see when standing there? Nothing? Some weird art exhibit? — but it wasn’t this kaleidoscopic hallway, these collisions of color twisting into impossible corridors, shifting and shining as if someone had forgotten to tell them about the laws of physics.
It is dizzying and headache-inducing and beautiful.
You only realize that you’ve walked inside when you hear the door shut behind you. When you turn around there is no yellow door, only more of the absurd hallways. You can’t get out. Not the way you came in, at least.
You think that you should be more afraid than you are right now. You’re not, though. You’re sure that there’s a way out of this place. And, well, it’s not really all that awful here. Sure, there’s definitely still that feeling of an oncoming headache and motion sickness, but it could probably be worse. Not to mention just how pretty and mesmerizing it all is.
You walk forward. Despite the way the floor of the hallway twists and undulates, it’s still mostly solid under your feet. It almost feels like walking on sand on a windy day, shifting underneath your feet and making it harder to balance and move, but not so much that it’s unmanageable. It’s more weird than anything else.
Like the patterns on the yellow door, the corridors never settle, always moving and changing. New hallways and furniture appear and disappear as you move, almost like it’s a lenticular printing.
[more weird stuff!!! Before michael appears]
A new hallway forms next to you, just to your left — or is it your right? — and you look up. Standing there, tall and gangly with curly blond hair, is a man.
No, not a man. He looks like one at first, but then you see his hands, long and warped as if you were looking at them through a funhouse mirror. His fingers are even longer, and some primal part of you just knows that they’re sharper than any knife. His smile is just as sharp and far too wide, stretching up towards swirling eyes.
You feel your heart quicken as you stare up at this — this monster, scarcely daring to breathe. Through your panic, you vaguely recall that running away from a predator just makes them chase you.
You take in a shallow breath and brace yourself. “Hello. Who are you?”
The monster blinks at you, his head falling to one side in a way that reminds you of a dog. “I am not a who. I am a what.” He is still smiling as he speaks.
You genuinely don’t know what to make of that. Would it be rude to ask him what he is? You think maybe he wants you to, but you’re not sure. Better to be careful right now. “Oh, okay. Do you have something that I can call you?”
It’s hard to tell with how strange the monster looks, but you think you might have surprised him in some way. “You may call me… Michael.”
The name doesn’t seem to fit him. Then again, you don’t think any name would fit him. “It’s nice to meet you, Michael.”
Michael does not stop smiling, but something about it is different now. Less shark-like, less fake. “And I suppose that you must have a name, as well.”
You’re about to nod and tell him your name when you stop yourself. You’ve read enough stories about names having power and strange creatures asking for them to give you pause. You mull your words over carefully for a few moments. You decide on them and, with a cheeky smile, say, “I do. But… not one that I’m going to give you.”
Michael and the hallways around you stop. Nothing shifts or twists or moves at all, the change somehow throwing you off more than the constant motion from before.
Just as you’re worried you may have offended him, Michael throws his head back and laughs.
It’s a full laugh, one that is surprisingly sincere and joyful. The hallways begin to move again, too, but it’s different now, almost like the ocean after a storm: still moving and still dangerous, but calmer than it was before. More gentle.
“Clever, very clever,” Michael says through giggles once his guffawing dies down a bit. “Not that it will help you, but it is a good instinct. A very good instinct indeed.”
You smile slightly at the compliment. You don’t think this was a test, but you still can’t help but feel like you’ve passed somehow.
“I did not think you would be clever,” Michael continues, his voice taking on a lilting tone that sends static pinpricks through your arms and chest. “No, clever people do not usually cross my threshold willingly. It is most unusual.”
You cast your gaze left and right. “This whole place is ‘most unusual’ if you ask me.”
Michael laughs again, the sound more sharp this time. “I do like to think that is my specialty, so I shall take that as a compliment. Now, what brings someone such as yourself to my halls?”
“Oh, well, there was that weird yellow door and no one else could see it? So I went up to it and knocked on it and then it opened up and I, uh… just walked in. A-and now I’m here.” Heat builds in your cheeks as you speak. It sounds a lot more foolish when you recount your actions out loud.
Michael lets out a long hum that tickles at the base of your skull. “I see, I see. Well my dear” — if your cheeks weren’t burning before, they are now — “I must say that was a remarkably awful idea. A door is an invitation, a threshold, a gate. You never know what you may find on the other side, and, when you open it to see what is inside, what is inside can see you.”
Something about how he says those words makes a cold shiver shoot down your spine.
“Now, I am most certainly not known for my mercy,” he says, either ignoring your fear or not noticing it, “but I cannot help but admire your boldness, if nothing else. You are quite lucky, my dear; strange doors are dangerous and not all that reside in them would find you as intriguing as I do.”
You swallow. You’re not sure if your nerves are from his warning or him calling you intriguing, but your stomach flips regardless. “Oh. Thank you. For not — just… thank you.”
Michael laughs as though you’ve told a particularly hilarious joke. “Anything for you, my dear.” His voice has a teasing tone to it, but his words still reignite the dying heat in your cheeks.
You look away, trying to hide your face and hoping that your blush fades quickly. You watch the halls and they are just as beautiful as they were before, prismatic and complex and ever-changing. The sight isn’t as jarring to you as it was before.
You think you see Michael walk to stand beside you from your peripheral vision, but it’s hard to say — if it is him, he has been distorted, a cacophony of colors that swims violently, dark and stretched into something vaguely horrifying.
You turn to look at him, his image solidifying into the tall blond man you’ve been seeing him as. “This place — your halls? — they’re very pretty.”
Michael blinks at you, face gently swirling in on itself. “Do you truly think so?”
“I — yes? The colors look nice and it’s all kind of shiny. It’s like walking through a really colorful ocean. Or maybe some kind of art exhibit.”
Michael doesn’t grow any taller, but his back appears to straighten and his mouth curves upwards. He is literally glowing. “Why thank you! Very few who enter my domain seem to think so. Rather unfortunate, really. None of them appreciate the work I put into my halls.”
If you didn’t know better, you might say that Michael is preening.
“Well, I think it’s lovely,” you tell him. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“You likely never will for a second time,” Michael says.
You give a small hum of agreement. You can’t imagine something like this existing more than once in the world. “Could you give me a tour?”
That seems to startle Michael. He stares at you with large eyes. “Pardon?”
“Could you, you know, show me around?” you ask. “It’s just that I think it’s really cool and I’ll never see something like this ever again. Unless — is this something really private? Oh god I didn’t even think of that, is that a rude thing to ask—”
“No, no, it is not rude,” Michael reassures you. He pauses for a moment. “Maybe it is rude, but if it is then I do not think it so. It’s simply that no one has ever asked for… a tour before.”
That shouldn’t surprise you considering what Michael just told you, but it still does. “Well, that’s their loss. So will you, or…?”
Michael gives you a long, searching look before he eventually nods, blond hair bouncing strangely as he does. “Yes. Yes, I think I will. I do not know how much sense it shall make to you or if it shall be enjoyable, but I am happy to guide you.”
When he finishes speaking, he holds his folded arm up in front of you like a proper gentleman. Blushing, you take the invitation for what it is and slip your hand to rest at the crook of his elbow. He feels surprisingly real in a way you weren’t suspecting. You half-thought you might phase right through him, but instead he is solid, albeit rather bony underneath the sleeve of the jacket he is wearing. For a moment, pinpricks shoot through your arm, but they fade quickly.
Michael gives you a blinding smile — he is still glowing and it only gets brighter when you make contact — and gestures at the corridor with his free hand. “Shall we?”
You smile back. “We shall.”
What follows is one of the strangest tours you’ve ever been on. There is very little here except for the hallways themselves. There are doors, but when Michael opens them they just lead to more hallways. You pass by a few desks and tables with strange decor on them, vases that should have fallen over and fixtures that twist in impossible ways. Sometimes Michael will lead you to larger areas, almost like rooms, that open up into more corridors than you can count. You don’t want to call these places clearings, since clearings are only really in forests, but you can’t stop thinking of them like that.
The whole thing is surreal and dizzying. You can’t help but feel giddy as you walk.
Finally, Michael’s pace slows to a stop. The two of you are left standing before another door, but this one is different: it is the same loud, nauseating yellow that the first door was.
“This has been… nice,” Michael says when you turn to him. His voice is soft. “Much nicer than I would have expected.”
You smile at him. “Thank you. It was… it was nice for me, too.” You look back at the door. “But… it’s over now, isn’t it?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Michael agrees. “It is not that I do not enjoy your company — quite the opposite, in fact — but my halls are not meant for people. Not ones that exist, at least. To keep you here would be to unravel your mind, and I do not wish for that to happen.”
“B-but, I’m not getting more confused,” you say. “Nothing hurts to look at as much as it did before, and I don’t feel like I might stumble anymore.”
Michael nods. “Yes. You are becoming accustomed to unreality. Soon it will turn to confusion, though it will not feel like it, until it turns inwards and slowly consumes you.” He sighs. “If I thought I could keep you as you are now, I would.”
Your eyes fall to your feet, the carpet under them shaggy and whirling. You think you can almost make a pattern out in how it moves.
“… So I’ll never see you again?”
As soon as the words are out of your mouth, Michael is moving like a blur. It takes you a few moments to register that he is standing in front of you, his hand cradling your jaw and tilting your head to look at him.
“I did not say that, my dear,” he says, soft and low. “You must leave, yes, but only for now. We will see one another again.”
Your eyes flutter shut and you lean into his touch. His hand moves to cup your cheek. It feels strange and surprisingly tender. “How can you be so sure?”
“I can find all who pass through my door. Which, if you had not realized, very much includes you.”
You let out a small huff of laughter. His hand falls away and you unconsciously try to follow it before you open your eyes. “Promise?” you whisper.
Michael smiles warmly at you. “May I?”
You’re not quite sure what he’s asking, but you nod anyway, dumb as it may be to trust him.
His fingers slowly come up to brush your hair back behind your ear. They still look wickedly sharp, but they only feel soft and gentle as they ghost against your skin. Michael bends over, bringing his face level with yours, close enough that you can easily make out his eyelashes.
You feel your breath catch in your throat. He’s not going to…?
Michael’s face creeps forward, a question in his eyes. You only move to give him the barest of nods, awestruck.
He kisses your cheek, lips cool and electric against your flaming face.
“I promise,” he whispers. His lips brush against your skin as he speaks.
Time seems to come to a stop. You feel weightless, suspended in midair, absolutely certain that you will live in this one moment for all eternity.
Michael pulls back and the spell is broken.
The yellow door opens. You can see the campus of your college on the other side.
“After you, my dear,” he says. “Until we meet again.”
You stare at him. Nod and begin to make your way out. Before you step out, though, you quickly stand on your tiptoes. You peck his cheek and he makes a strangled noise of surprise.
You lean back with a smile at his flabbergasted expression. “Not if I see you first.”
You leave his hallways, the door closing behind you and Michael’s joyful laughter following you out.