He woke from the same nightmare again to the sound of his own screams echoing through the cavernous emptiness of the dilapidated house. He closed his eyes against the horrors chasing through his mind and clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth together in an effort to control his rapid and irregular breathing. His gasps slowed to a normal pace more quickly this evening than they had for the last several days, and he shook his head, hoping that he wasn't growing accustomed to his horrible nightmares. With one last, resolute sigh, he opened his eyes and looked around the twilight-shrouded room that he still refused to call 'home'. What few belongings he had all seemed to be in place, and as his breathing calmed, silence settled back into the building.
He had never been prone to nightmares, but they had stalked and haunted him relentlessly since his arrival in this place. The same blood-drenched harpy lurked every time he closed his eyes to sleep, twisting her inhuman body into impossible shapes and poses to evade his defenses, to break through closed doors, to appear from behind him – from within him. Her shrill voice lingered in his subconscious, as though she were real and still with him – a memory rather than a delusion. She was the most vibrant and believable boogeyman he could remember, even overpowering the occasional childhood memory of a bad dream spawned by a horror movie or his older cousin's ghost stories. If he concentrated right now, he could feel her scraping, cadaverous touch, and he could smell the musty, sour air that heralded her arrival. Nightmares were meant to disappear once their victim was awake again, so why did she insist on staying in his head?
He sat still in his bed, clutching a wrinkled sheet to his chest. He looked around again, this time seeing movement in every shadow. The bed and a single overstuffed armchair were the only pieces of furniture in the room. Two piles of clothing – the larger heap of semi-clean clothes that he intended to wear again, and the smaller, ruined pile that he really wanted to burn once and for all – flanked the chair. A crooked cardboard box leaned in front of the chair, acting as an unsure makeshift desk for his laptop computer. His backpack, unzipped and hanging open, still sat in the seat of the chair. He imagined that he could see flickers of motion out of the corners of his eye, but every time he thrashed his head around in the direction of the perceived phantom, it eluded him. Only shadows and cobwebs leered at him from the corners and crannies of this room. He closed his eyes once more, sure that his mind was playing tricks on him in the darkness. When he surveyed the room for the third time, everything had again fallen still, but he was unable to shake the feeling that something was somehow not right.
Not right. Of course, he thought with a bitter scowl, everything had been 'not right' since last Friday, so why should tonight be any different?
How many nights had it been since then? Five? Six? How many nights had passed since the night that he died?
He scowled again before he sighed and flopped back down on the bed. Dead. He still struggled to get his head around that idea. As he laid still in the darkness, he reconsidered. He had died, to be sure, but he wasn't convinced that 'dead' was the correct term for his current condition. He was stuck somewhere in-between alive and dead, and he decided that 'undead' was probably as descriptive and accurate a term as any. Of course, in politically correct society, he was sure that he would be termed 'living impaired', but given the choice, he preferred 'undead'.
Living impaired. He smiled to himself at the notion, but he still couldn't bring himself to laugh about it. It wasn't funny yet, and the truth of it was still a little too much to comprehend.
He laid his icy cold hand against his icy cold chest, pressing down hard until he could feel the contours of his rib bones, and he held his breath until he felt it: a single, slow 'thump-thud' from his heart. One heartbeat. He closed his eyes and continued to hold his breath, to wait to feel the next beat. He knew it would be almost ten minutes before his heart would stir again, but he could hold his breath for over an hour, so there was no hurry. He had learned that much over the last few nights, as he had calmed down from his fits of screaming denial and taken the opportunity to inspect this new version of himself. The freshly undead version of the person he used to be.
He couldn't help but wonder if he was really and truly immortal in this new state of being. Folk tales and ghost stories all made it seem that he would be, if he really was a vampire, which he still didn't fully believe yet. Nothing else made sense, but did claiming to be a vampire make him seem any less insane? He was a step closer to believing that possibility as he lay still as a corpse, waiting for his body to show another tiny sign of animation. If life could be measured in heartbeats – 70 beats per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, 78 years in the average lifespan – he imagined that he could make 2,869,776,000 beats last for one hell of a long time in his current state. Did that measure out to be eternity? He wrinkled his brow for a moment before deciding that was far too much math and existential bullshit to add to his current troubles.
His troubles were pretty profound without worrying too much about eternity. He had no idea where he was, except that it was far from where he had started. This was no longer the sprawling university campus with its bucolic quads and bustling student population, nor was it the quiet university town that surrounded the campus. Based on what he could see from the window, this was a bleak, industrial place full of grey, tumbledown buildings. He had a vague notion of being carried here, but he had no clear idea of who had brought him here, or why. He was locked in this room, and since he didn't know what might lurk in the corridor beyond the door, he was afraid to try to break out, lest he find something even worse outside. The single window was paned with old-fashioned, thick glass, and refused to open, either painted shut or never designed to open in the first place. But all of those concerns were overshadowed by his recent death. Waking up dead was really the most unsettling predicament that he could have ever imagined.
He couldn't clearly articulate it, but while nothing had really changed too much about his physical appearance, at the same time, everything about the way he looked was different. It still didn't make any sense to him, but since nothing made sense at the moment, he was able to take it as part of the larger confusion and not fret over it too much. At first glance, he was still the same height and weight that he had been last week. His body build was roughly the same, as well – thin but not gaunt, athletic but not bulky. Average. He had always been average, and it looked like he was going to be an average dead guy, too. He was slightly less than six feet tall, slender but strong. At least this hadn't happened to him several years earlier when he had been stuck in that horrible gangly stage – he couldn't imagine being trapped in that body for another minute.
He flexed his left knee up to his chest, dragging the sheet into a gauzy tent around his body. The little click in his knee bones was gone, and there was no pain, even when he bent and twisted the joint at all sorts of awkward, sudden angles that should have hurt him, or maybe even dislocated his knee. He had torn a ligament in his last year of high school, during a stupid stunt involving a skateboard, a friend's car, and a girl who really seemed less than impressed by his daredevilry. His knee hadn't been the same since, despite surgery and diligent physical therapy, but death proved to be the cure that he was looking for.
He stretched back out and stared at the ceiling. He tried to fold his hands beneath his head, but swore slightly under his breath when his fingers tangled in long, lush hair that shouldn't have been there. This had happened on that first terrible night – he had awoken and opened his eyes to find that his short black hair had somehow grown at an incredible pace, and hung all the way down his back, ending just past his waist. He had never grown his hair that long, and he had cut off all of his new locks in a frenzy, shearing his hair back into the short, random spikes that he usually wore. Since that first haircut, he had noticed that his hair was growing noticeably longer every day, more slowly than that first horrible night, but still at an inhumanly fast rate. The color was the same – glossy black that confirmed his Asian heritage on his mother's side, but he noticed that the texture was changing. His hair didn't seem as coarse as usual, and as it grew longer, it became softer to the touch and slipped through his fingers like mercury. He sighed and considered letting his hair grow, so he could feel it flow down his back like India ink, and so he wouldn't have to cut it every few days.
A brief inspection of his fingernails showed that they had grown considerably since the previous night, as well. He had always heard that the urban legend about a corpse's fingernails continuing to grow after death was actually the result of dehydration pulling the skin back and revealing more of the fingernail that was already there, but he was beginning to think that perhaps the urban legend was more true than false after all. His nails were growing quickly, and he had already developed the annoying habit of chewing on them, biting his nails for the first time in his life, just to keep them maintained so that he didn't inadvertently scratch himself and draw blood.
Blood. At the mere thought of blood, all of his coherent thoughts ceased. The nightmare, the changes, the confusion – suddenly nothing else mattered. Blood was the only thought he could hold in his head, though it was less a thought and more an impulse. A compulsion. A craving from deep within him. He closed his eyes tight as his head swam and his breath quickened. Even his sluggish pulse joined the melee, hammering a handful of random beats under his breastbone. A foreign sensation flowed through his body – neither pain, nor pleasure, but rather a maddening blend of the two polarities. He felt his muscles flex until his entire body was tense and urging him to get out of bed, to batter through the locked door, to leave this house and venture out into the unknown city that he knew lay beyond these walls and down the hill. He turned his head to the side as the dull ache in his jaw grew more intense and insistent, until there were sharp pains stabbing through his mouth, chased by the dizzying metallic tang of his own blood. He sucked at the wounds within his mouth, waiting for the rush to fade. He drew reflexively on the rips in his gums, caused by the extrusion of new canine teeth – new fangs. The action was as natural to him as suckling was to an infant, and equally comforting. By the time the bleeding stopped and the wounds knit closed, leaving raw flesh behind, his head was starting to clear. One by one, his senses returned to him, and he gradually felt in control of his limbs again. His breathing quieted, no longer the ragged gasps that had filled the silence like a pacing animal in a cage. With a final bit of concentration, he exhaled a long, shuddering breath and relaxed again underneath the rumpled bed sheet.
The nagging panic that had plagued him every night for the past week tugged at him anew. With every new fit, each fresh craving, he was more and more sure that he was slightly more than merely undead. That none of this was a sick joke, or the twisted game of an unknown sadist. Despite his logic and reason, he was beginning to accept that he might be a vampire.
Vampire. He was starting to believe that he was a vampire.
Never mind that vampires were fictional creatures, and that he was still convinced beyond any doubt that he was real – flesh and blood real. Never mind that he was a college student. Never mind that he didn't put any stock in religion, and that he believed in neither God nor Satan. Never mind that he was the least superstitious member of his family. Never mind that he wasn't a European nobleman with a great accent and expensive custom-tailored clothes. Never mind any of the countless arguments to the contrary.
He had left his dorm room to go to a party off-campus, and instead of waking up with a hangover and possibly a half-naked stranger, he had awoken as a monster.
He chided himself for that knee-jerk assessment. He had no idea exactly what he was at the moment. He didn't feel like a monster. He hadn't done anything to reveal a monstrous nature – he hadn't harmed anyone, much less killed anyone. In fact, all he had done since that night was sit in this room. He had slept. Changed clothes. Looked out the window. Determined that he had no wireless Internet access here. Cut his hair. Cried. Punched a few walls. Figured out that his pulse and breathing rates were far too slow for him to still be alive. Squashed eleven spiders, because spiders would always give him the creeps, undead or not. Tried to remember where he was and how he had gotten here. Sworn at himself for following that woman out of the party. Screamed. Bitten his own wrist, just to see what would happen. Fought the urge to vomit when he had drunk his own blood and enjoyed it. Paced and paced and paced…
So, he was still himself after all. He supposed that he could take some measure of comfort in that. He sat up in bed again to look out the window at the rising moon. Even from a distance and through the dusty, streaked glass, the waxing moon was sharp and intense. It was so bright that it almost hurt his eyes.
Of course he had read vampire books before and watched more than his share of horror movies, and he smiled to himself as he realized just how many of the details were proving true. His contact lenses were long gone, but his vision was sharper and crisper than it had ever been. He had tried on his glasses a few days earlier, when he first noticed that his contacts weren't in his eyes, and his prescription made the room lurch out of focus, and left him feeling slightly queasy. His naked eyes were suddenly perfect, bringing every detail into focus, no matter how far away. He could see leaves on trees on the hills that seemed so distant from his window. He could read street signs in the town below, even from blocks away. He could hear things, too. He knew that the people down there were speaking English, because he could eavesdrop on their conversations if he tried hard enough. He could hear rodents in the attic above him, and water dripping from a leaky faucet into a ceramic basin somewhere outside the locked door to this room. His sense of smell was better, too – which wasn't as much fun as the enhanced vision and hearing. He knew that the building he was in was old and most likely abandoned, as all he could smell was musty and moldy, heavy with dust and the sickening odors of rotting wood and decay.
Touch was the most exhilarating of his newfound senses. His common sense told him that a dead body shouldn't have any sensation at all, like a zombie that had no idea that its face was sloughing off, or that someone had just plugged it full of buckshot or set it on fire. But he was evidently more sophisticated than a zombie, and his nerves seemed to be working just fine. His skin was electric, tingling with even the slightest contact. He could feel the tooth of the cotton sheets on the bed, the grain of the hardwood floors, the sharp, granulated edges of the dust particles on the windowsill. The flutter of his eyelashes against his face, or the brush of his hair against the back of his neck was more stimulating than anything he could remember doing with his last girlfriend. He was ashamed to admit it, but he had been fighting the urge to masturbate for days – he could barely contain his curiosity and excitement to feel that intimate stimulation for the first time with his enhanced senses. He could tell that he was cold, but it didn't bother him, which was an improvement, as he had always caught a chill very easily when he was human.
When he was human. Indicating that he was no longer human. He was a vampire. An undead thing.
He fought down the fresh wave of dread and denial that threatened to rise up and overwhelm him. He refused to curse and scream until the tears flowed again. He had done that repeatedly over the past few nights, and it hadn't changed anything. The situation hadn't improved, nothing made any more sense to him as a result of his little tantrums, so he refused to give in to his fear and frustration again tonight. Maybe it was time for him to surrender. Maybe he needed to yield to whatever had happened to him, and it was time to make a leap of faith into the afterlife or the underworld or whatever it was.
He covered his face with his hands in a familiar gesture, hoping to steady his nerves and quiet his mind so he could try to figure out what to do next. Instead, he found himself once again distracted by the very subtle changes that he continued to discover. He traced his fingertips along the contours of his face, flattening his fingers against his chilled skin. He smiled despite himself as he felt nothing but perfect, smooth skin underneath his searching fingers. Not a single flaw. No zits, no scars from the chicken pox, no oily stripe down the bridge of his nose. The skin on every inch of his body was cold and smooth – like he wasn't made of flesh anymore, but rather of pliant marble. All of his old scars had healed and disappeared, but he had been so thankful to discover that his tattoo was still intact, and in fact, stood out more vividly than before. He had endured a fair amount of pain while sitting through several long sessions to get that tattoo, and he would have been bitter if his death had reclaimed it. Instead, he could admire the bright colors and intricate shading lines in a way that he had never noticed before – the Japanese-style koi half-sleeve on his right shoulder and upper arm almost seemed alive now. If he stared at it long enough, he imagined that he could see a gill flap open, or catch the tiny spray of a saltwater wave crashing against a shining red scale.
Maybe the bright reds, oranges, and blues of his tattoo stood out more because the background tone of his skin had changed. He had always been a tawny shade of pale, gingered brown – just enough to look exotic, but not enough to look heavily, undeniably ethnic. His mother was pale and pristine, the stereotypical Japanese beauty who would be equally at home in either a modern business suit or in a traditional kimono on her way to a festival at the neighborhood temple. His father was darker toned than his mother, claiming some Navajo and Mexican blood in his family, even though the U.S. Army technically classified him as 'caucasian'. In a way, death had made him a little more Okinawan than he had ever been in life – even more an anomaly that fit with neither the mainland population nor any foreign homeland. The angle of his almond-shaped eyes and his slightly broader than average cheekbones betrayed him as half-Japanese, but his unnaturally pale skin now more closer matched his delicate mother, leaving his father's rougher hues in the past, where they belonged.
He paused and stared at the ceiling, a feeling of maudlin and loss creeping back in. He had often told people that he was an Army brat after they had asked him about his background or his family – it was the easiest way to explain his mixed heritage and overseas upbringing, but it wasn't really the truth. Yes, his father was stationed with the Army in Okinawa, and had met his mother there, marrying her when he learned that she was pregnant with his child. They had spent the first few years of his life living on or near the Army base, pretending that they were happy, while the entire foundation of their family eroded and fell to ashes. One day, his father simply didn't come back home. He was barely four years old, but he could remember it like it was yesterday. He had sat on the little step just inside the front door, waiting for his father to come home while his mother had sat in the living room and cried. They stayed that way until well after dark, until his mother had come and scooped him off the step, promising that she would find a way to raise him and care for him, regardless of what anyone else had to say about it. She had a look of fierce determination in her eyes, and it was an expression that he had never seen on her before. She never spoke of his father again, and never remarried, but she followed through on her promise. They had even moved to America several years later, not to be closer to his father's family, but to escape from Okinawa and leave the past behind. She worked and provided for him, and he worked just hard enough in school to make her happy and ensure that he would be able to get into a decent college and make the kind of life for himself that she had dreamed of for him.
Anxiety gripped him again as he realized that his mother surely knew by now that he was missing. She had surely called his dorm room, and his roommate could only tell her that he was wasn't there, and that he had gone to a party and never come back. She must be frantic by now. His friends, too. No one knew where he was, or what had happened to him, except that he had left everything behind in his dorm room, except for the very few things that happened to be in his backpack when he left. He only had his backpack with him because he had been too lazy to dump everything out to find his cell phone and ID to take with him. His laptop lived in his backpack when he wasn't using it, and he happened to have some clothes stuffed in there because he had planned on staying with a friend that night, and they were going to spend the next day straightening out his fall class schedule. Of course, none of that had happened. He had headed to an off-campus party to have a few drinks and relax for a while… And instead, he had met her, and now that life seemed over, and he had no idea what would happen next.
Who was she, anyway? Did he even know her name? Part of him couldn't bear to even think about her, because she had caused all of this. She killed him, and made him into this creature. It was her fault that he far from home and the life that he had known, snatched away by unknown forces while he was helpless in that dying daze, only to awaken later to find himself locked away in this barren, hopeless place. But as much as he didn't want to think about her and in fact never wanted to lay eyes on her again, he also wanted answers from her. No, he damn well deserved answers from her. He was entitled to at least that much. He wanted to know why. Why had she picked him out of the crowd to lure to his death? Why had she killed him? Why had she chosen to reanimate him, to recreate him into the confused, undead creature that was laying in this bed right now? Where was he? Had she brought him here? And if so, why was he here? What did his unseen captors have in store for him? Was he really a vampire as he suspected? Were other vampires responsible for trapping him here? Did they intend to leave him here forever – until the fear and confusion drove him mad or compelled him to find a way to kill himself?
He sat up in bed again, troubled that he was already willing to weigh suicide as an option of some kind. It had only been a week – he couldn't be ready to give up so easily. His mother hadn't given up, so he had a good example to follow. Sighing out loud at his own weakness and foible, he kicked off the sheet and sat on the edge of the bed, determined to get up, get dressed, and figure something out. Maybe it was time for him to stop laying around whining like some angst-ridden little kid and actually do something. Looking around at his empty prison, he really wasn't sure what he could do, but he at least had to try.
He stood up slowly, stretching kinks out his muscles and admiring the sense of strength and power entwined through his limbs. He'd always been in good shape, but he'd never felt quite like this. He wondered what his new body was capable of, and he hoped that he would be able to find out soon. Maybe it would be worth a breakout attempt. He glanced toward the door, felt that same foreboding creep back in, and decided that baby steps were a better plan. Baby steps now, grand sweeping gestures later.
The uneven planks of the ill-maintained hardwood floor creaked under his bare feet as he took the first few steps away from the bed, moving cautiously in case he was overcome with dizziness from being inactive – or rather, dead – for such a long time. That had happened the first couple of times that he ventured out of bed on those first nights. Maybe it was a necessary adjustment to his new condition, maybe it was the undead equivalent of low blood sugar, since he hadn't had anything to eat or drink since his arrival, but he had felt so nauseous as his vision had spun and his legs crumpled underneath him. Everything had grown dark and fuzzy around the edges, and he was sure that he had felt the floor beneath him ripple and lurch to the side as he collapsed to his knees and finally felt the side of his face hit the wall, and then slide to floor. Since those first attacks, he had been much more careful about standing up and sitting down, as though he was taking the first hesitant steps after a nasty bout of the stomach flu or recovering from knee surgery. His legs stayed strong and steady underneath him tonight, and his head possessed a clarity that he was sure he had never felt as a human. He felt sharp and acute – like he was smarter and more observant than he had ever been capable of before.
As he passed in front of the window on his way to retrieve his clothes from the floor, a hint of movement from below caught his eye. He whipped around and pressed his face to the glass, struggling to peer straight down the building's façade, but everything he could see was placid and unchanged. He hesitated for a moment, waiting for the motion to reveal itself again, but nothing moved or made a sound, so he slowly withdrew from the glass and continued toward the chair and his clothes. He shook his jeans out and held them up, checking to make sure that no spiders had dared to settle into his clothes while he was sleeping. Content that he was safe, he pressed the denim to his nose and inhaled, though even if his jeans failed the smell test, he knew he would have to wear them anyway, as the only other choice was the pants that he had worn to the party, and there was no way that he was putting those back on. Dead or not, even he had his limits, and he kicked the bloodstained clothes away from him, exiling them to the farthest corner of the room, as close to out of mind as he could manage. His blood had saturated those clothes, and had then dried as he lay dead, forming stiff, crusty peaks on what had been his favorite jeans and a very comfortable v-neck sweater. Waking up that first night, realizing that he was trapped in blood – the dark, rusty stains all over his clothes, and the thick, sickening stench surrounding him – had only further contributed to his panic and confusion. He hoped again that he would be able to burn those clothes, sooner than later.
He pulled his surprisingly clean jeans on, smiling as the softly worn denim slid up his hairless legs. Everything felt so good to him through his new skin, to the point of distraction. He decided to leave his feet bare, since they weren't likely to get any colder, and pulled a plain black t-shirt over his head, leaving his hoodie draped over the arm of the chair. Out of habit, he picked up his cell phone, flipping it open to look at the dark screen. The battery had been practically dead before he left his dorm room, beeping its alert from within his backpack, but he didn't have the time to charge it before he left, and now he didn't have a charger with him. The battery had been completely discharged by the time he had come to his senses and thought to try to call someone for help. He folded the useless device closed and put it back in his backpack, moving his bag to the floor as he sat down and woke up his laptop. If only he could get a wireless connection here, he would be able to communicate with the outside world – the real world. But, as he sat and watched the progress bar grind through the process of trying and failing to establish a connection over and over until the alert box popped into the center of screen announcing the obvious, he knew that he was still isolated and disconnected from everyone and everything that he held dear.
He reached his toes out on the side of the cardboard box closest to the wall and toyed with the power cord stretching from the back of his laptop to the wall. When he had tried the wall outlet, he had been overjoyed to find that it was live and this building somehow had electricity, but upon further consideration after his initial happiness had faded, he was a little unnerved that the power worked. After all, why did this place need electricity? Did that mean that he wasn't the only captive here? And if he wasn't alone, why had no one replied to his screams? Why hadn't he heard anyone else crying out?
He was tired of having all these questions and no answers.
He tapped his longish fingernails against the small plastic keys and chewed absently on his bottom lip, reminding himself to chew gently, lest he break the skin and start that crazy blood craving again. Thinking better of it, he elected to bite his nails for a while, and turned his attention back to the warm glow of the screen in front of him. Without an Internet connection, he was really at a little bit of a loss in front of his computer. He had toyed with the idea of keeping a journal of some kind, but after the first entry had turned into a ranting tirade about how unfair it was to be dead and trapped that had left him feeling unsettled and half-crazy and crying like a baby, he had decided that maybe it was still too early for him to document how he was feeling. He reminded himself that he had an essay to write for the lit class that he was taking during summer semester, but it just seemed stupid and pointless to waste time writing a paper that he would never need to turn in. The good games that he had loaded on this laptop required a network connection, since they were interactive and needed other players, but he really wasn't in the mood to play at some silly war game, and killing zombies had absolutely lost its appeal in the last few days, so the whole thing was moot. So, he opened yet another game of solitaire, clicking the cards into place and letting his mind fall silent as he stared vacantly at the screen.
About halfway through what felt like the millionth game, he was suddenly startled by a noise from somewhere outside the door. He turned around in the chair to face the door, and froze. He stared at the door, keyed on any movement or sound. He held his breath and tensed, suddenly not sure that he should have wished for someone to show up at his prison. Sure, he wanted answers, but was he really all that eager to meet his captors? As the noise repeated and evolved into the obvious rhythm of footsteps in the corridor, drawing ever closer, his anxiety mounted until he was on the verge of panic. He tore his gaze away from the door, frantically searching the walls, the floor, the ceiling for any means of escape that he might have somehow missed during his previous methodical examinations. Nothing. He was a rat in a cage, and the footsteps reached the door and stopped.
He watched the doorknob, waiting to see it turn like he had watched in so many cheesy slasher movies. He was frozen where he sat, not sure what he should do. He tried to remember what he and his friends had always yelled at the stupid characters in those movies, since they had always known some way to escape the maniacal killer – every horror movie fan knew that in the same situation, they would be smart enough to escape and survive, but here he was, frozen to the spot and waiting for the machete to fall, just as surely as a topless blonde cheerleader at summer camp.
He heard the scraping of something heavy against the floor outside, dragging something away from the door. A key clicked into place, turning easily and unlocking the deadbolt.
"Don't do anything foolish that you might regret," a muffled, even voice announced through the door.
He cringed at the subtle threat, delivered in such a calm, gentile manner.
"I'm sure you're as anxious to speak to us as we are to speak to you. We're coming in now."
The doorknob turned, just like in the movies, and the heavy wooden door swung out into the corridor amid a puff of dusty air, revealing a pair of silhouettes at the threshold.