This image comes from a Reddit Gets Drawn post. Thank you for the inspiration!
It was a cold night and the wind was unrelenting in its sharp string. The doorman stood watch in front of the apartment building. He stared out wearily at the glittering street lights that lined the long, empty blocks, which curved around into nothing.
He had never seen the street as empty as this. There were no night runners or young couples walking back from a new dance club opening. There were no dog walkers or taxis zooming by.
Come to think of it, no one had entered or left the building since the sun went down. This was a popular spot in town, not far away from shops and food trucks, museums and restaurants. But the evening was quiet and eerily peaceful, as though that part of the city had gone into hibernation.
The doorman looked each way down the street as far as he could, then began to hum. Humming was not the sort of thing that doormen were permitted to do. But the man was becoming hungry for a sound.
“Hmmm mmm mmm…”
A strange tune came from him; one he did not recognize. It sounded like a call.
As he hummed, an old man dropped out of the shadows from the building next door and approached the doorman. His head was down. His shoulders rigid. He began to push past the doorman, but the doorman caught him by the arm.
“Not allowed in, Sir,” the doorman said.
“It’s cold,” the old man said in a ragged voice. He wore shreds of clothing all over that gave him the appearance of a shaggy beast. The last of his withering hair was matted down on his scalp.
“Can’t let you in, Sir,” the doorman said. He gave the old man a gentle shove, then looked off into the distance, hoping the beggar would shuffle off and disappear.
“The Sphinx, is it?” the old man said, and his thin mouth curled into a smile.
The doorman continued to stare ahead.
“Well Mr. Sphinx,” the man said, “ask me a riddle then, and if I pass, you shall let me inside.”
The doorman could not continue looking away. What was the old man talking about? The doorman did not like to converse with those whose minds were not all there. It was an unfortunate condition of the job. He turned to the man to ask what he meant, but when he looked back, there was only an empty slab of pavement before him. The man had gone.
Good riddance, the doorman thought to himself. But it was not long before the silence smothered the street corner again, and the man became desperate for noise or company.
He hummed again, the same sad tune.
Across the street, a woman in her mid-forties emerged from an alley and crossed towards him. She wore a long red dress of silk and a coat of beige fur.
“Good evening,” she said. Her voice was smooth. “Might I come in?”
“I don’t believe you live here, Miss,” the doorman said. His skin felt itchy inside his coat. The hairs on his body were on end. Rich women like that always made him nervous.
“Do you have a riddle for me?” she asked sweetly.
The doorman shook his head. What was this about riddles?
The woman leaned forward.
“You are not the only guard on duty tonight,” she whispered. “Perhaps I have a riddle for you.”
She was so close to him now that he could smell her perfume. The doorman leaned away and closed his eyes.
“What is it?” he asked.
No answer. He opened his eyes again. The woman had vanished.
The doorman rubbed his arms together. He went back to the glass door and peered inside to see if anyone was up and inside the lobby. He did not know if he was awake or dreaming. The heels of his shoes clicked on the pavement as he returned to his post. This night was a long one. It was the longest he had remembered on the job.
He was determined not to hum again, or make any noise. He let the street remain silent. He looked up to the stars and prayed for them to move faster. The night had gone from inky blue to a dark black. Nothing moved in this kind of night. The blackness held everything tight and still.
His eyelids fluttered. His shoulder leaned against the stone walls of the apartment building. Perhaps, he thought, since there were no people or traffic of any kind, he could take a short nap to ease the time…
The doorman’s eyes flew open. The melody had escaped his tongue. A young girl holding a black cat stood inches away from the man.
“What do you want?” he asked rudely. He had forgotten to be cordial.
The girl grinned. “What pinches you in the dark? Keeps you grounded at the park? Saves your life from danger? Protects you from a stranger? Freezes you in midst of crime? Steals your life slowly in time? Seeks the weak, avoids the brave. Stalks the streets and hides in caves?”
The doorman stared at her. “I don’t know,” he said. “What is it?”
The girl giggled and held her cat high up towards the doorman.
“Please, don’t,” he said. “I’m… allergic to cats…” He tugged anxiously at his collar.
“No you’re not,” the girl said. She thrust the cat closer. “Answer or you will not pass this night.”
“You’re talking nonsense,” the doorman said. But his voice was high pitched and unsure. He leaned far back into the wall. The cat was dangling just in front of him. Her claws were out and flexed. She took a clean swipe for his neck.
“Fear!” the doorman cried out. “It’s fear!”
The greying clouds and fog swept fast through the street like a flood. They circled around the girl and the cat and twisted and turned until she was engulfed in the cloud. And then suddenly the cloud faded and nothing was left in front of the doorman at all.
The black of the sky was pushed to the far corner. A dim yellowing horizon rose up in the east.
The birds began to chirp again. A taxi cab turned down the block. The driver waved at the doorman as he passed.
The doorman was still pressed against the wall, grabbing at his throat. He coughed and stood back up, dusting off his jacket. The door behind him opened and Mrs. Hinkle stepped out.
“Setting up for church!” she said in the same cheerful voice she had every morning.
The doorman nodded to her. “Yes, Ma’am.”
He straighted out his bow tie and wiped the sweat off of his hands.
He never saw the Night Guard again.