‘Midnight, one more night without sleeping,
Watching till the morning comes creeping.
Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?’
The professor groaned, ruffled his shock of white hair impatiently, and hauled himself away from his scientific instruments. ‘Oh, dear oh dear,’ he complained. ‘How am I supposed to build the most complex space vessel in the history of the human race if I can’t even set a radio alarm clock?
The professor shook his head. ‘Don’t talk out loud, you old fool. There’s no one here to listen.’
The scratchy transmission continued, barely audible like a train station announcement two platforms away:
‘Don’t know what they’re doing
But they laugh a lot behind the green door…’
The broadcasts were meant to keep up morale – a reminder of the old times. But the professor never had any affection for ancient classical music. Not a twinge of nostalgia like the others. Didn’t matter if it was The Beatles, Bach or Beethoven. ‘Oh, definitely not Beethoven,’ he mumbled. ‘Da, da, da, daaa. Da, da, da, daaa. Dreadful. Infernal racket like that could get stuck in your head.’
‘Saw an eyeball peeping
Through a smoky cloud behind the green door;
When I said “Joe sent me”
Someone laughed out loud behind the green door…’
He picked up and muted the clock radio, which defiantly stated 6:36am. It was, in fact midnight, or there abouts. With no sunrise or sunset to mark the hours it was tricky to tell. But it felt about midnight, and the professor always thought he had an affinity with time.
‘Must be the temporal distortions,’ he muttered to the accompaniment of beeping as he set the radio to thirteen minutes past midnight, which seemed about right. In fact he’d set it late, as usual. The professor’s eyesight was poor and the yellow light of the sodium-vapour lamps made it hard to read the display. He knew he should switch the lights off at designated night time to preserve precious energy, but the professor wasn’t ready for darkness.
It was time for bed. Time to be in bed, at least. Sleep was not welcome any more. He knew was sleep brought with it.
Instead, the professor switched on his astral map, as he did every night. For so many years, he used it to record the diminishing stars. Now he kept up the ritual, always hoping to see just a flicker – a tiny pin prick of light in the black velvet sky. Of course, there was nothing. But he had to hope. He felt the weight of all those souls looking to him with hope, and he needed to draw solace from somewhere.
The professor gazed across the laboratory to his bed, tucked away in the corner. There is always work to do, but everyone needs sleep. The lab felt so empty without his assistant, but he’d sent her off to her quarters. If he didn’t, the dear child would work all night with him on their relentless task.
‘Oh my word,’ the professor sighed, recalling their earlier conversation. He always tried to keep himself to himself. Didn’t want to worry his assistant, who had become much more than a colleague – a companion in this impossible venture. Both sharing the fear that the task might be too great. ‘Such a precious child,’ he sighed. ‘I do wonder what will become of her.’
Much to his shame, the professor had earlier nodded off in his chair and she’d heard him mumble and cry out. When she probed further, he let it slip about the night visits. He’d kept it bottled up for so long, it was such a release to let someone in on the terror.
‘Every night,’ he’d said. ‘Every night he appears. He takes on different forms, but I know it’s him. The same soul, the same being.’ When his assistant asked what this apparition does that so alarms the professor, he confessed: ‘He just stands over me. Laughing… I feel so, so small… And it’s like I’m someone else. I’m hiding and he’s found me out.’
His assistant offered the old man some comfort. He felt more embarrassed that he’d crossed over a professional boundary. But the professor felt so alone – he just needed to tell someone. His assistant enquired if he thought it was real or a nightmare. These are unprecedented times, and who knows what creatures lurk in the silence at the end of time…
It definitely felt real. But in the twilight between wake and sleep, who knows? The professor shook his head again, as he tentatively lay down on the bed. He’ll have to apologise to her in the morning. His assistant had offered to look in on him, but the Professor insisted that she shouldn’t. What an old fool he’d been.
‘Oh, you’re only human,’ he muttered to comfort himself. It didn’t. The professor’s eyes instinctively wandered to the doorway where the figure would appear.
The old man slowly closed his eyes and, as the yellow light faded from sight, he recited to himself an old earth riddle: ‘“Take the little sail down, light the little light. This is the way to the garden of the night…”’ And with that the professor, overcome by the tasks of the day and the burden of his great enterprise, drifted reluctantly to sleep. Or what felt like sleep.
His muddled mind churned over memories unknown. Of two-legged turtle-faced beasts rising from the sea, of shapeshifting golden angels transforming into ghastly fleshy masses, of a silver robot strumming a stringed instrument, singing a love song to war… The professor’s eyes flicked open with a start. He had lived a gentle life. What sort of mind would conjure such atrocities, what hidden desires made him ache for chaos and destruction…? His head pounded, as it always did. The professor clutched his temples.
Then a noise that started out like a rusty key being scraped across an old piano wire built and built until it felt like all of time and space was being ripped apart. The professor’s gaze once more settled on the doorway. The shock of yellow light displaying a green object. A box with two green doors. The flickering on and off of the sodium lamps revealed that it wasn’t green at all. It was blue, and it creaked open.
The professor reached for his glasses, as the door clicked shut. He felt a presence. Someone in the dark. Someone close.
Sitting up in bed, the professor looked across his laboratory. It felt so different at night, it ticked and creaked and breathed. Closing his eyes, the old man insisted to himself that there is nobody there. Nobody watching. Nobody listening. How could there be anyone there at all? Oh to be young and strong…
Instinctively, the professor swung his legs out and sat upright, ready to fight or flee. His bare feet touching the cold floor next to the bed. He felt a grip on his ankle. Then laughter.
The clock radio, once again, clicked into life…
‘Another day has gone
I’m still all alone
How could this be
You’re not here with me
You never said goodbye
Someone tell me why
Did you have to go
And leave my world so cold
Everyday I sit and ask myself
How did love slip away
Something whispers in my ear and says…’
The professor’s beloved assistant Chantho heard his screams from outside. She had ignored his instructions and intended to look in on her colleague. It was against her culture to enter another creature’s dwelling without invitation. But she could not ignore the mortal fear in his eyes as he’d earlier recounted his nocturnal encounters.
Bursting into the lab, she found the professor prostrate on the ground. His hands trembling and a cry of anguish on his lips. Her keen eyes darted across the lab. They were alone.
‘Chan- Professor Yana -tho,’ she exclaimed. ‘Chan- are you alright -tho?’
‘No, no, no. I don’t want one,’ the professor screamed.
‘Chan- what do you mean -tho?’
‘I don’t want one. Please. I don’t want one.’
‘Chan- I don’t understand -tho… Chan- what don’t you want -tho?’
The Professor grabbed his assistant by the arms and looked straight in her dark blue eyes. ‘I don’t want… I don’t want a Jelly Baby.’