My hand paused on the handle. An unremarkable shade of grey covered the door. It was unlabeled. I pressed my ear to the cold metal. The crunching continued.
I’d worked at TRIST (The Research InSTitute) for five years. Each time I went by this particular door, I heard the same thing. Crunching. The sound didn’t get more quiet or loud, more brittle or blunted. It was always the same.
Blood rushed through my head, made waves in my ears. Sweat lubricated my palms.
Stupid. It was just a machine manufacturing parts. Or a bunny eating carrots. Or an alien child eating Cheetos to satisfy its craving for something more gruesome.
My hand slipped off the handle. I walked away.
Weeks of ceaseless crunching passed before curiosity trumped fear again. Standing before the door, the characteristic emptiness rolled over me. The anxiety only set in when I touched the handle, and the outright panic only hit me when I thought about what could really be behind that door.
I didn’t allow myself the cowardice of thought. I looked up the hall, down it. I grasped the handle, turned and pushed, all in one motion. It barely moved and made a disappointing click. Locked. I should have known.
Just as I was about to let go, the handle twitched, then released and turned all the way. The door swung inward, slow like a dog on a quick anesthetic. Except for the arc of light from the hall, it was dark. Almost pitch black. I say almost because my eyes filled the darkness with a grey static.
I crossed the threshold as if I had been programmed for the task. My right hand swept the inside of the wall. Nothing. I cast it out in front of me, like any blind person would. A chain jangled. I curled my fingers around the worn wooden pull and tugged.
Light flooded the room.
A child in a green dress with a lace apron sat on a small grey stool surrounded by a sea of human bones. She had two mouths, poised one above the other on her long face. While she was chewing on a femur, her chubby little fingers picked up an ulna and poised it at her razor-lined maw.
We blinked at each other. Hers took a little longer since she had three eyelids. She didn’t stop chewing. Her normal, pink as a sea shell mouth broke open into a typical six-year old grin. “Is it a Cheetos day?”