The front door towered over me, a solid slab of studded oak. No one needed a door that big. It was a way to mess with the minds of people stood on the threshold. So too the braided rope which hung beside it and mysteriously disappeared into a hole in the porch roof. I gave it a tug and somewhere within the house a bell rang.
The door clicked and then swung inwards on silent hinges. I wanted it to creak, the silence somehow more unsettling.
Feet rooted to the step, I leaned forward for a glimpse inside the dark hallway.
“Hello?” I checked the tablet in my gloved hands where I had the listing for this job open. “It said three o’clock. I’m sorry I’m a little early.”
In a room to the left of the hallway a warm, flickering glow lit up the dark paneled walls.
I stepped inside. “Hello? I’m Jasmine. I’m here about the gig you posted?”
The client had emailed a very short, terse response to my application, along with some references which I duly followed up. The three girls I spoke to all had nothing but nice words for the old man, and how often could you get paid just for spending time with someone?
I took several small steps in the direction of the left-hand room where a fire crackled in an open hearth. I paused in the doorway. Two wing back chairs sat, one either side of the fireplace. Between them, on a small table, rested a chess set. The fire and two dim wall lamps offered the only lighting, as heavy curtains covered the windows.
I glanced back over my shoulder to the hallway. No sound of movement. No sign of the client. I crept into the living room. Only a room so cavernous could handle the heavy weight of the paneled walls and antique furniture without feeling oppressive. Instead it emanated grandeur. Gravity.
The chess set too looked an antique, with beautiful pieces carved from ivory and black wood, stained from the oil of many fingers over many years. The polished, inlaid wood of the board reflected the dancing flames of the fire. Heat warmed my cheeks and I pulled my gloves off.
Gingerly I reached out and moved the white king’s pawn forward two spaces. The moment I released the piece, the opposite black pawn began to slide slowly forward. It moved smoothly across the board until it mirrored the white one.
“Your move,” a deep, resonant voice said from no obvious source.
In the hallway, the door thudded shut.