The Inevitable, part 5

A Chinese symbol for “inevitable”

Rob Matton awakens.

He stays stiff as a board, his eyes tight shut, his ears straining to hear any hint of nearby movement.

Nothing. Still, he listens. Slowly, he can make out the hum of traffic in the street below, then the ceiling fan, the buzz of the refrigerator in the next room, and finally, his own heart, pounding away like one of those Taiko drummers he’d seen on YouTube.

He carefully opens one eye, then the other, then scans the room as much as possible without moving his head.

He’s in his own apartment.

At least that creep Fred had the decency to let him get home. But Rob has no memory of getting from the sidewalk to his bed.

Surely Fred didn’t bring me here! Does he know where I live?
He knew what I was working on, and if half of what he said was correct, then why wouldn’t he know where I live? Does he know what I’m thinking?
Then there’s no point in hiding.

Throwing caution to the wind, Rob rises from his bed, and takes quick stock of his surroundings.

Nothing moves in his sparsely-furnished bedroom. The single window curtain is drawn, and the door is closed.

The closet, having no door, creates a perfect place from which to observe the sleeper. Rob berates himself for not checking in that direction first.

The room secured, he cautiously opens the door. The well-oiled hinges produce little sound, but that does nothing to ease his growing tension.

Everything seems to be as he left it yesterday morning, but he can’t be sure without stepping out into the hall, where he could be seen from the living room, the open bathroom doorway, and the back of the kitchen.

I have no choice. No recourse. No plan B.

He can see down the hall, through the bathroom doorway, to the small mirror above the smaller sink.

Taking his gaze from the bathroom for a moment, he sticks his head out into the hall, and looks around the corner into the living room.

Nothing. Glancing back at the bathroom, he creeps into the hallway, scanning more of the living room.

Still nothing.

Somehow the bathroom mirror is sending shivers down his spine. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees his every movement reflected in its surface, always unsure if it is his own, or that of a ghastly intruder.

He fights the urge to stare at it, and inches further down the hall, until he commands a full view of the living room.

Nothing out of place, no bootmarks or discarded items, and most importantly, no Fred.

Satisfied with his work so far, he proceeds to the kitchen entrance.

Technically, this room has two “entrances”, but one of these is simply a missing wall, connecting the kitchen to the dining room.

Just to ease his trembling nerves, he takes one last look at the bathroom mirror, and closes the door.

The creaking startles Rob, but reminds him that once the door is closed, no one can open it without him hearing.

He quickly scans the kitchen, before moving to the dining room.

Not being much of a social person, he often forgets that he even has a dining room, much less that it has no walls to separate it from the living room, and any prying eyes that might be waiting there.

Realizing his blunder, he hastily steps backwards into a chair, and falls, the clatter echoing like a thunderclap in his silent abode.

Shaking with fear and adrenaline, he cowers in the corner, all manner of fantastical imaginations pouring through his head. He resembles a two-year-old afraid of the dark, or of monsters under the bed, or of strangers.

Several seconds tick by that seem like hours. Nothing happens.

Rob slowly gets up, with a look of reckless determination.

It is a strange feeling, to imagine something that could exist, but doesn’t. To be forced to act as though such a thing is real, until proven otherwise. The thrill of exploration, of danger, as one ventures forth to face a fear, and lay it to rest.

To Rob, this feeling is one of triumph, as if he has conquered something. Only one thing remains to complete his victory: the bathroom.

Turning on his heel, he marches to the bathroom, swings open the door, and proudly observes the emptiness he calls home.

Then the doorbell rings.

Rob’s apartment doesn’t have a doorbell.

Then he remembers his phone. The alarm must be going off. Because he has to go to work today.

Rushing to the bedroom, he checks the time. 6:00 AM, Friday.

Solving Fred will have to wait. Rob can’t afford to add “arriving late to work” to his growing list of difficulties.

Half an hour later, he is re-dressed, cleaned up, and in the middle of a thorough investigation of his apartment.

One quick run-through doesn’t cut it. He needs clues. Hints as to how he got here after passing out.

Knowing that he is alone in the apartment, his mind shuts out all noise. Everything is eyes and hands for the moment. Then something creeps its way in.

A repeated pounding. A knocking sound, like something hammering on wood.

Someone is knocking on the door, and has been for a while.

The realization halts Rob in his tracks. Nobody has any business knocking at his door at half past six. He has no friends, and the mail gets delivered directly to the landlord’s office.

Taking a cooking spoon from the kitchen, he approaches the door, looking through the peephole.

Outside stands a portly, gray-haired man in a suit. Not Fred. That’s all that matters.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Rob opens the door.


The older man pauses, sizing up Rob before stating “Come with me”.

To be continued…