Shave and a Haircut by Charlotte Platt

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

Someone was knocking on the door. This would have been strange enough, given she travelled here alone, but Simone knew the other side was bare. Nothing surrounded the doorway but crumbling rubble of the building that had been, the inside gone over to weeds and weather. The door stood in the ruin, a metal barrier to the air on either side of it, blocking sun or rain alike.

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

The metal seemed to react to the rap, a slight thrum that she could almost feel. Simone hovered a hand over it, unwilling to touch.

It was an unusual door for where it stood. The building had been part of a larger facility, long since disused and ripe for exploration. No one else came out here, the chain-link fences long since sagging into uselessness, the concrete degraded by weather and time.

It had been big – the size of a school maybe – she could still walk around the outline by the difference in undergrowth. There were no other doors, but this was well into what would have been the centre of the building, there were more remains here. The jutting edges of old walls stood almost as high as her knee. The husks of what had been tech were piled up in a pyramid of plastic and wires. A flock of office chairs had collapsed into a mulching stack of leather and foam.

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

She stepped back; the knocking more insistent. There was no one else here. She knew that. Simone always travelled carefully, and she was alone when she started up the winding path to the ruin. That road was too long and bare for anyone to disguise them tracking you. And why would they? It had been picked over decades ago in the first rounds of looting. She was only here because she liked exploring older things.

Taking a deep breath, she settled her shoulders. Fine, if she was being toyed with, she could play back. Tightening the grip on her pocketknife she stepped around the doorframe, angling her step back so there was enough room to swing if she needed to.

No one was there. Nothing, in fact. The door stood alone, the metal on this side just as scuffed and dirty as the other. The handle was even the same, the round globe inviting her grip. She’d read about those once, when she was still being taught, they were made of a metal that cleaned itself. Helped prevent disease.

How useful that had been.

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

She leapt back, knife out in front. The knock had sounded from the other side, where she had been stood. It was firm, demanding – the pattern calling out for a response.

Simone had no time for impossible things. Impossible things led to death, or worse. They were a shiny coin to distract from the trap you were walking into. She had not grown up in the camps and workhouses to get caught by some basic bait and switch.

“Whoever you are, you’re pretty good, but I don’t have anything worth stealing.” She stood to her full height, holding her hands up to show she was armed. “You’re wasting both our time.”

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

It had sped up now. Eager.

She should run. She’d have the advantage; she knew the ruins and could duck through the dangerous bits like a bird through branches.

She itched to push back at whoever was playing with her though, to punish them for ruining one of her few solaces. Peace and curiosity were so rare. She didn’t want to lose here.

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

She stepped in front of the door, knife still out, and raised her left hand. Two could do this. Still, she paused, glancing around herself just in case. Maybe this was the trap: have her so focused on the door she didn’t notice someone creeping through the wreckage. Nothing moved in the shadows, barely there anyway given the height of the sun. Just her and the door.

Rat-tat tat-tat-tat.

She bit inside her lip, half a laugh snorting out through her nose. Fine.

Tat-tat.  

She knocked back twice, finishing the hanging pattern with shaking knuckles. The door hummed, the metal flashing darker for just a beat, then the handle began to turn. Simone tried to step back but her legs wouldn’t respond, the tremor running through her too powerful. She couldn’t scream – the sound perched at the back of her throat but would go no further.

The door groaned open, rust falling like snow as it swung impossibly away from her and into nothingness. Darkness tumbled out like mist, eating the sunlight in its path, and a gloved hand reached out and offered itself for her taking.

“I’m so glad someone finally answered.”

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