There were too many doors in the upstairs hall. Sarah told her parents, but they couldn’t see it. They told her not to worry. They told her there was nothing there. But there was an extra door, at the end of the upstairs hall. An extra yellow door, and it didn’t belong.
It was the color of disease, jaundiced and infected, with spidery black veins across its face. One perfect silver knob gleamed in its center above a shadowy keyhole, and it didn’t look right. The doorknob shone with a mirror’s finish, and caught the light from any angle, begging for Sarah to look its way. Sarah did her best to ignore it, but the door knew her name, and it whispered it when she drew near.
“Saraaaahh . . . ” the door would rasp with a voice like dried leaves as tiny claws scraped against the other side. Tears would well in Sarah’s eyes as she’d hurry past, her arms laden with everything she’d need to get ready for the day.
“Saraaaahh . . .” it would call again before she’d shuffled out of range and closed the bathroom door, cutting off its paper-thin wails. When she’d creep from the bathroom to head downstairs, the door’s voice would follow her with a furious flurry of scraping claws and tormented howls. They lingered and gnawed in the back of her mind as she’d rush through breakfast so she could leave the house a few minutes sooner.
School became a blessing, an excuse to be someone somewhere else. At school she could forget the door. At school she could pretend her house was like everyone else’s, with the right number of doors and no eerie whispers. But at the end of the day it was still waiting for her at the end of the upstairs hall, with it’s mirror-ball knob and yellow face. She hated coming home and knowing it was there, but even more than that, she hated going to sleep, because in her dreams, she opened the door.
Every night, she stood before it, fighting the urge to reach out. Dread knotted her belly in anticipation of pain when her hand rose anyway, to grasp the silver knob. Some nights it burned her like the driest ice. Other nights it seared like a red hot iron. Very occasionally, it did neither, instead turning and turning without ever opening the door, and she couldn’t stop turning it until she woke up.
When the door did open, it revealed a swirling vortex of shadow and sound, with a thousand voices crying in the darkness. The voices curled around her, crawling through her hair like spiders. She thrashed and swatted at their skittering whispers, but the words still tingled across her skin.
She never should have listened.
“He sees . . . ” they said. “He hears . . .” they moaned. “He hungers . . .” they wept, and burrowed in her mind like worms. “The Hollow Man, the Hollow Man,” they echoed in her mind and screamed to her from the gaping vortex. “The Hollow Man . . . he hunts!”
Sarah shot up with a scream, gasping and sweating, but alone in her bed. The clock’s crimson face said midnight had passed, but not by much. Darkness enveloped her room, except where a vestigial nightlight illumined the corner by her desk; it wasn’t a lot, but it made her feel better.
She covered her face with shaking hands, and pushed away the chitinous echoes. I’m fine, she swore. It’s just a dream.
“Sarah?” Someone whispered.
Sarah froze. Tears welled in her eyes.
“Sarah? Are you Sarah?” It was the voice of a girl, not at all like the voice she usually heard from the door at the end of the hall.
“Who . . . who are you?” Sarah whispered back.
“My name is Lizzie. Are you Sarah?”
Sarah rose from her bed slowly, clutching the sweat-damp shirt she’d worn to sleep, and moved toward her bedroom door, moved to where the yellow door waited. When she stood before it, her stomach lurched, and for a moment she couldn’t tell if she was going to vomit, or faint.
“Please,” the door said in a young girl’s voice. “Please, are you Sarah?”
Sarah opened her mouth to respond, but her voice crackled when she couldn’t find the breath to speak. Shaking all over, she struggled to calm down enough to answer. She pressed her palms to her cheeks and smeared away the tears as she forced herself to take a breath and speak.
“Yes,” she said at length, her voice tremulous and weak. “. . . I’m Sarah.”
“Please, let me in!” The door’s silvery knob shook violently, rattling as if locked, and jostled by someone on the other side. “Let me in, Sarah, please! I can’t stay in here, please help me! Let me in!”
Sarah stared at the door in shock, backing away a moment before her knees buckled and she fell to the floor, where she screamed.
Level with the shadowy keyhole below the rattling knob, she stared directly into a very human eye. Wide and white with fear, it darted around, as if searching through the hall, but seemed not to see her. Tears shimmered in the other eye, as they shimmered and spilled from Sarah’s. Then the silver knob stilled, and the keyhole became shadow, and Lizzie began to cry.
“Please, Sarah,” she pleaded. “He’s almost here.”
“The Hollow Man?” Sarah whispered as a chill slithered up her spine. Lizzie sobbed quietly. Sarah scooted closer to the door, fear allowing room for tentative concern when the girl from the other side failed to respond. “Lizzie?”
Silence came without warning, and concern became sharp fear again.
“Lizzie?!” Sarah sat up on her knees with both hands braced against the door. She trembled under the weight of growing horror as not even a sniffle or a whimper came from the other side. “Lizzie, please answer me!”
Sarah’s head and heart ached, each throbbing painfully through her tension, and the world was a little fuzzy around the edges; it was getting hard to focus.
“He’s here . . .” Lizzie whispered at last. Her words were barely audible, and came as though her lips pressed tight against the keyhole. “Please, let me in . . . .”
Though she still hesitated, her hand was upon the silver knob before she even realized it.
“Please, Sarah . . . .”
Rising from the floor, she turned it.
The door opened noiselessly beneath her hand, gliding open without resistance. As it did, she cautiously peeked around the edge.
A lonely expanse of normal wall inched into view, and she felt sick. She worried at her thumb in confusion, and extended a trembling hand to touch the wall behind the door. It was solid. As solid and as normal as the wall at the end of the upstairs hall should be, but her stomach churned.
Something wasn’t right.
She closed the door, which issued a soft click as the latch sprang into place, and waited. She hardly dared to move or breathe as she listened to the night, waiting for the door to speak again. When her muscles ached, and her eyes were heavy with sleep, she finally relented. Fatigue sucked at her limbs — she hadn’t realized how exhausting fear could be until the last traces of adrenaline had finally bled away–, and though she didn’t look forward to her dreams, she simply had to sleep.
The crimson clock was broken when she rolled herself into bed, its face declaring 12:16 AM to a room that only vaguely felt familiar, but she couldn’t bring herself to care when her eyes and body felt so heavy.
“Sarah . . . ,” Lizzie whispered. But it couldn’t be a whisper.
“Sarah,” Lizzie whispered again. “Sarah, don’t wake up.”
Sarah groaned a little. Don’t wake up? But she hadn’t even fallen asleep.
“Don’t wake up,” Lizzie said, her voice echoing in Sarah’s mind.
Sarah frowned, and rolled on her back. She didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to sleep! Don’t wake up, don’t wake up. Lizzie didn’t need to tell her not to wake! It was the furthest thing from her mind!
For a long time all was silence, and Sarah began to drift toward the strange warmth of sleep.
“He’s here . . . ,” Lizzie whispered at last. “Please, don’t wake up . . . . ”
Who’s here? Sarah wondered as sleep pulled her further down.
“His hollow face, an eerie mask. With hollow voice at doors will ask. To be invited in to bask. Above his favored midnight task.”
A strange tingling worked its way up her body as Lizzie recited the haunting rhyme in a disconcerting monotone. Clarity inched its way toward Sarah, slowly melting away the fog of sleep. Wasn’t she still dreaming?
Something was wrong.
“He’s waiting inches from your face. To be the first thing your eyes grace. But keep them shut, or else embrace. A hollow shell to take your place.”
Cold dread seized Sarah’s heart with each new stanza, and she trembled with the weight of her mistake. For a moment, she swore she could feel the air stir above her, stale and strangely warm against her cheeks. Don’t wake up! Don’t wake up! She squeezed her eyes closed extra tight to keep them from opening, slowly surfacing from her vivid night terrors at last.
“The yellow door, you always keep. He follows you to where you sleep. Into your room he then will creep. Your life and dreams for him to reap.”
Lizzie’s voice became little more than a breath within Sarah’s mind, and a pressure lifted from her chest when the air cooled around her. What had she done?
“The Hollow Man, above your bed. With hollow eyes, deep slumber fed. His hollow dreams may fill your head. But never peek, or you’ll be dead.”
Everything was wrong.
Distantly, Sarah registered the sound of her parents screaming in their room, and felt tears sliding down her cheeks. Why did they sound so far away?
“. . . Mom,” Sarah whispered, the sound paper-thin. “Dad,” she rasped with a voice like dried leaves. “Lizzie?” She thought, probing for her presence, but Lizzie did not respond.
Silence fell over the house and Sarah knew nothing would ever be right again.
From the hall outside her bedroom door, Sarah heard the soft click as a latch sprang into place, and waited.
Several hours passed before she felt safe enough to open her eyes. Sunlight peeked through the curtains, and the crimson clock said it was 7:45 AM. The yellow door, with it’s mirror-ball knob, stared at her from the wall at the end of the upstairs hall.
And Sarah knew she would never sleep again.