He stood in front of the door for a few moments, wondering whether to knock or simply walk in; but while he was hesitating the handle turned. The door opened a crack and he saw a face: a hairy, longish face with very sharp eyes, scrutinizing him: then the door closed as suddenly as it had opened.

After this he was a little scared even to knock: he had some doubts about that face. But at last he gave three or four sharp raps on the door. It was some time before there came any response, and he was beginning to nerve himself for walking in uninvited after all, when there came a voice:

“Enter, Mr. Witherspoon!”

He turned the handle and went in. It was a smaller room than he had expected, with a desk in the middle of the room covered with books and papers, a small curtained window and what appeared to be the door of a closet. But the room was empty.

There was nowhere a person could hide, and no apparent outlet. Richard stood staring for a moment. This was too much; it was not a moment since a voice—whether a human voice, he could not say, but a voice—had summoned him in, and there was no one here. His fear deepened and, feeling he must take some action or succumb utterly, he strode to the door of the closet and threw it open. There were a few old coats on hangers and a pile of shoes and slippers.

“I am not in the closet, Mr. Witherspoon,” said the voice, behind him. “I am sitting at the desk. It is simply that I have my back to you, and I am invisible from the back.”

Richard turned around and shut the closet door. There was a chair behind the desk, and another in front of it, near where he had come in. He sat down in the latter. It was hard to know where to look: he did not want to sit staring at the seemingly empty chair before him, but it seemed equally uncivil to turn his gaze away from his interlocutor. He looked down at the scattered papers that covered the desk.

“Why have you come to see me, Mr. Witherspoon?” said the voice.

It spoke not in the tone of one requesting information, but more in the style of a catechist: as if this question had to be posed and answered so that their conversation could take its proper course, but the answer was equally well known to both the participants. Richard, accepting this, began to relate the story of that day’s adventures. He put in as much detail as he could, repeating conversations word for word when he could remember them and describing even the most trivial aspects of dress, gesture, weather, for he felt this was a welcome opportunity to rest from the incessant exertions that had occupied him all day and reflect for a while on what they had meant. He was not interrupted, and from the complete silence of the invisible thing across the table he was sure that his words were heard with interest: if not in the events described, then in the way he described them.

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December 21, 2012 · 10:54 pm

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