“In is the way out,” Middlemost says again. A subtle current of air drifts through the shed, and motes of dust spin through the beam of sunlight coming through the window. I can detect the faint scent of the sea, although we are miles from the shore. “You have questions,” he says. “Now is the time to ask them.”
“Who are you? Why am I here?”
He opens his arms and gives a slight bow. “I am Mr. Middlemost, as I have said, and you are here simply because you must be.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“You had the key,” he says. “You have the coin. Even if I were opposed to it, I must show you the path.”
“The path to what?” I ask.
“To everything, of course. From here to there and perhaps back again. To the place the letter you wrote to yourself comes from. Oh yes, I know about the letter, Miss Flynn. I know Arthur gave it to you.”
“Do you know what it means?” I ask. “Do you know who Penelope is?”
“Certainly,” Middlemost says. “I know everything that comes down the path.”
“Then tell me who she is. Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
He leans against the shed’s wall and puts his hands in his pockets again. “Ah, now that is something I can’t do. You may meet more of us in the future, Miss Flynn, and you should know that we are not made to answer questions, nor to interfere with the weaving of things. We are the Uninvolved, you see. We do not assist. We merely watch.”
“But you said you are going to show me a path.”
He smiles and dips his head slightly. “Well, there are exceptions to every rule.”
“None of this…”
“Makes any sense,” he finishes for me. “I know. You are convinced that I am either a madman, which is always a possibility in any case, or that you yourself have lost your grip on things. I’ve been in this position many times, Miss Flynn. This may be new for you, but it is old hat for me. Things are quite simple at this point. You are going to doubt the truth of what I’m saying here, right up until the moment you see it for yourself.”
“Then show it to me. Show it or leave me alone and let me be crazy. I’ve got things to do and this is wasting my time.”
Middlemost laughs. “Exactly, Miss Flynn. Exactly.” He steps away from the wall, smiling, and waves his hand at the door behind him, a door which was not there a moment before.
“In is the way out,” I say quietly.
“Indeed it is. You want to ask me what’s on the other side of that door, but it’s not for me to say. You want to ask me what you’re supposed to do, but it’s not for me to tell you. This path is yours, Miss Flynn. You have no choice but to take it.”
“I could stay here,” I say. “Break that window out and leave.”
“You could, but you won’t. You’ve already opened the door, in every way except by your hand. Leaving it now would be unthinkable to you.”
“You don’t know what I’m thinking.”
“I know your sort, Miss Flynn. If there is a path, you must see where it leads.”
One of us is crazy, I think. Or both of us are. Middlemost moves further away from the door, leaving a clear passage for me to approach it, which of course I do. The knob is brass, unpolished and dull. I put out my hand, then draw it back before it touches the metal. The air around it feels strange, warm and full of low vibrations.
“You won’t see me on the other side, Miss Flynn,” Middlemost says. “At least, not in the beginning. Perhaps later, if our threads are meant to cross again.”
I reach for the doorknob, expecting it to be warm to the touch, but the metal is cool. “If this leads to the backyard,” I say to Middlemost, “I’m going to kick your ass.” He makes no response, and when I turn my head to look at him, I see that he is gone. The missing door in the other wall has returned, but I find that I don’t care.
The way out is in.
I open the door and step through.
It’s not the backyard I cross into.
It’s something else.
Something else entirely.