The first time it happens, no one thinks anything of it. The sound of a key, turning in a lock; it’s just an ordinary sound, like creaking doors and squeaking steps. Old houses make a lot of sounds, and people in old houses make even more. The door swings open and shut, and then the sound of the key turns again, the tumblers falling back into place.
Laszlo looks up from the peas on his plate, and glances across the table. His father is sitting across, fork poised above his plate mid-bite. Together, they glance towards the archway that leads to the front hall.
When Laszlo’s mother steps into the dining room though, she emerges from the opposite direction. Her fingers are still damp from the sink.
“Didn’t you just unlock the door?” Laszlo’s father asks. The sound of his fork, lowering to rest on the plate, makes a small metallic sound.
“No,” Laszlo’s mother says, pulling her chair out to sit down at the table. “I’ve been home for a while.”
“Then who was at the door?” Laszlo’s father asks. Laszlo shakes his head. He doesn’t know.
No one else has keys to the house, and after a small discussion, Laszlo’s parents decide to change the locks.
“It’s better to be safe, rather than sorry,” Laszlo’s mother says, turning the screwdriver.
“I wasn’t really worried to begin with,” Laszlo’s father says, holding the deadbolt in place.
Laszlo just nods, and checks again to make sure his small stash of light bulbs is handy.
The closet door creaks slightly, and he turns his head to glance at the small pool of shadows peering around the frame.
“Oh, hello Dark,” Laszlo says.
The door creaks again; the Dark is clearing its throat.
“I heard a story once,” the Dark says, and then pauses. Its voice is very scratchy. Laszlo wonders if perhaps it hasn’t spoken for a very long time.
“If you’d like to hear it?” the Dark continues. Laszlo just nods his head, pulling the blankets up over his knees.
“The only reason someone would unlock a door would be in order to enter the house, right?” The door sways slightly, but doesn’t creak. Laszlo nods his head for the Dark to continue.
“So for someone to unlock a door and open it only to close and lock it without coming in, there’s no reason for anyone to do that.” The Dark is silent, peering in at the window now between the cracks in the curtains, and Laszlo closes his eyes for a moment.
“No,” he agrees.
“The only one who comes in without being invited, but doesn’t stay, who is it, do you know?” the Dark asks. It’s a question, but not really. Laszlo is quite sure the Dark knows the answer.
“I don’t know,” Laszlo says. He thinks about all the people who come to the house, the letter carrier, the meter reader, people canvassing for charities, but none of them have a key.
“Think about it,” the Dark says, fading back into the closet as the door swings slowly shut again.
Laszlo knows it’s not the Dark, because even though the Dark isn’t invited, the Dark is always there.
They’re sitting down to supper, Laszlo’s father reaching for the bowl of mashed potatoes, when they all hear the sound of a key turning in the lock. Laszlo looks up to see his parent’s gazes meeting across the table. The door opens, and Laszlo’s mother turns towards the doorway.
“Who’s there?” she calls. There’s no answer. The door hinges creak, before the lock clicks again, the sound of metal scraping slightly as the key is withdrawn from the lock. Laszlo’s father stands up in a rush, racing towards the door, but when he glances through the window, Laszlo’s mother and Laszlo standing behind him, there’s no one there.
The street is silent, a streetlight flickering in the shadows, not a person to be seen.
“I’m going to the hardware store,” Laszlo’s mother says. Laszlo’s father only nods.
Laszlo looks at the Dark, waving from amongst the rhododendron.
New locks in place, Laszlo’s parents are smiling as usual as they call goodnight. The steps creak beneath Laszlo’s feet, and he watches the Dark crouching in the corner of the stairwell.
“I think I know the answer,” he says. The light bulb flickers for a moment, as though the Dark is laughing. Or perhaps it’s shaking its head. Laszlo isn’t sure. He yawns.
“Good night, Dark,” he says, and climbs up the remaining steps, listening as they creak.
At supper the next day, Laszlo doesn’t even bother picking up his fork. He just waits, and sure enough, there’s the sound of a key in the lock again. While his parents are frozen, staring at each other, Laszlo calmly slips from his seat. He’s standing in the hallway when the door opens, and a someone peers their face around the edge of the door.
“Hello,” Laszlo says politely.
“Hello,” the someone says back.
“I’m Laszlo,” Laszlo says. He’s not sure if he should hold out his hand. The someone’s face flickers, rather like a flash of bone beneath fabric. It has a large hood obscuring its face, its long cloak a good choice for the chilly autumn weather.
“I’m Death,” Death says, nodding its head.
“I rather thought so,” Laszlo says. He decides not to offer his hand, just to be safe, and hopes that Death won’t be too offended. Death doesn’t seem to mind.
“I’m sorry for intruding,” Death says, “but this is the fourth night you’ve forgotten to turn off the car lights and the battery is about to die.” It looks slightly concerned, or at least the drape of the fabric over its shoulders is a little hunched.
“Thank you,” Laszlo says, and smiles. “I’ll be sure to tell my parents.”
“Thank you,” Death replies, and nods. “That battery isn’t due to die for a few more years yet.”
It reaches a bony hand to the knob, and pulls the door shut behind itself.
When Laszlo walks back into the dining room, his parents are trying to decide whether they should get a digital keypad lock.
“It’s okay,” Laszlo says. His mother glances at him absently.
“What’s okay, dear?” she asks.
“You just left the car lights on,” Laszlo says, and slips back onto his chair, reaching for the peas. He’s hungry.