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January 30, 2023

Writing on the Wall

By Sailor Jim Johnston

I watched the door open with mildly horrified fascination. It didn't simply open, in a normal and simple fashion, but slowly creaked open. The doorknob slowly turned, then the door slowly swung open, inch by noisy inch.

Hollywood couldn't have done it better.

I shut the door, then walked back to the kitchen table, sat down, and glanced at my watch. Ten seconds on the dot, the doorknob started to turn. After the door was fully open once more, I closed it again.

This had been going on for the last hour. I'd already ruled out a warped doorframe, since the doorknob was twisting as if someone was turning it from the outside. Now I had the timing down pat, however. It wouldn't start until exactly ten seconds after I sat down, then it took the exact same time to open each and every time.

I'd already checked the chair carefully for any obvious tampering, and then tried putting heaver and heaver weights on the chair, seeing if I could trip the sequence without actually sitting. Without a scale, I couldn't be accurate in the least, but it seemed to me that I'd stacked enough items on the chair to meet my 175 pounds ... maybe more so.

The door remained closed until ten seconds after I removed all the items from the chair and sat down. Therefore, it either wasn't weight activated or had to be my personal weight somehow. Hmmm ... okay, did the chair have to be right in this location?

I switched the tape recorder back on. "Test 25: I am moving the chair over to the door to determine if the location is pertinent. If the door does not open, there might be highly developed pressure switches under the floorboards. Perhaps ones that require x amount of pressure from the chair legs and y amount from my own two feet where they rest while I sit." I set the chair down, closed the door, and then sat down right in front of the door. Sure enough, ten seconds later, the knob started to turn. So, it was geared to the chair and not the location, huh? "Test 25, result: Door again opened in the exact same fashion as previously. Suggests the possibilities of subtle weight sensors embedded in the chair in such a fashion as to be unnoticeable during a cursory examination." I switched off the recorder and considered the door for a moment.

Did it have to be this specific chair?

"Test 26: I am selecting a different chair at random from the kitchen and will see if the effect repeats while I sit in this new chair." I carried over one selected at random and closed the door again, then sat down in the new chair. Aha, worked with this chair, too. Fifteen minutes later, I established that the effect would occur with any of the six kitchen chairs, but not with an identical chair brought in from the dining room.

Okay, now we're getting somewhere!

I shut the door again and slid the chair close before sitting; close enough I could keep a hand on the doorknob. "Test 32: I am now going to see if I can manually stop the doorknob from turning, establishing if the mechanism can be foiled by my own strength." Ten seconds crept by, and then the knob started sliding beneath my soft touch. Halfway through, I slowly tightened my grip, seeing how much pressure was needed to foil the mechanism.

About half of my full strength stopped the knob from turning, but the moment I eased up, it continued. I bore down again and it seemed to take even more pressure the second time to stop the turning. I released it completely and the knob shot through the rest of the motion.

I started to slide my chair back out of the way of the door ... then changed my mind and deliberately blocked it from opening. The door stopped when it hit the chair ... then both the door and the chair started moving across the kitchen floor.

"Test 32, result: Doorknob increases pressure in direct proportion to counter pressure. In addition, test 33 and 34, with results: Doorknob displayed discharge of sizable kinetic energy when I ceased counter pressure and door, while opening, was momentarily halted by the presence of myself, but then increased pressure until it moved the chair and me as it opened."

I tried it again and, this time, I couldn't exert enough pressure to stop the doorknob and the door never stopped as it opened, just swept the chair and I along, effortlessly. Hot damn!

Hydraulics? Perhaps servo motors in the doorframe?

I was terribly excited, but somewhat disappointed. This "haunted house" was, thus far, a disappointment. Some interesting effects, such as last night's sub-sonic "moans and groans," accompanied with hyper-moist air which created a clammy effect on roughly eighty percent of the surfaces (and, granted, I wasn't able to locate either the speakers or the vents necessary to create these effects), but -- all in all -- rather passé. Sigfried and Roy could do it just as well, if not better.

The mysterious door was a lovely touch, though. Classic horror movie fodder, guaranteed to send any slightly frightened teenager screaming through the front door. However, there was nobody on the other side of the door to be scared of, and when all is said and done, doors are built to open ... not terribly mysterious, after all.

I grinned and broke out two small wedges of wood and a hammer from my kit. Time to fight science with science, me buckos! I turned the recorder back on.

"Test 35, preparation: I am inserting two small wooden wedges into the crack between the door and the frame. In accordance with several well known laws of physics, the door -- as it steadily increases pressure to remove the obstacle -- will, instead, force the wedges even tighter, resulting in either the tripping of a fail-safe release or destroying the engine that is opening the door. In the absence of any precision tools that might be able to measure the amount of strain needed to accomplish this, I have selected one wedge of pine and one of maple. Later analysis of the wedges should give me a rough approximation of the forces involved." A couple of last taps and I stood back. "Test 35 commences; I am going to trigger the mechanism ... now."

I sat.

The knob turned at the same speed it had displayed throughout the experiments and the door started to strain. It moved a bare fraction, then the wedges took over and the battle was on. Soon, the entire door was shaking as the wedges held.

"Experiment 35, results: The wedges, as dictated by science, are holding. Whatever force is being utilized to open the door, it cannot last much longer. The entire frame is beginning to ... "

"THAT'S BLOODY IT!!" The moist voice boomed through the room and I grinned, immediately looked for a hidden speaker, while continuing to dictate.

"Ah! The Wizard of Oz himself, I believe. Well, then ... I think this match definitely goes to scie ..."

* * * *

Detective Frank Mello listened to the tape a third time; " ... goes to scie ...," then a horrendous noise, a very distant chuckle, and the tape hissed out its length.

He picked up the crime scene photographs and studied them once more. The scientist's body had been used as a giant marker, writing a message across three of the kitchen walls before being embedded into the fourth. He frowned and pulled out a magnifying glass. Yeah, that was a chair embedded next to ... no, through him.

His partner was just getting off the phone with the fire department. The Mayor, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief had all agreed that Brinkman House was about to have a terrible fire. One started from long distance with several firebombs, by choice.

"So?" Frank asked, tossing the photos on the table. "All done?"

"Well ... not really," his partner replied, looking a little dazed. "The damn house just won't catch fire. Chief Andersen is swearing up and down that it's scientifically impossible and ... "

Frank held up a hand, and then tapped the top picture, a composite of the blood and entrails messages smeared across the walls of Brinkman House kitchen in large letters. It read, "BLOODY SMARTASS SCIENTISTS!"

"Frankly, I don't think 'It' cares, Amigo."



Originally appeared 2004-11-06

Article © Sailor Jim Johnston. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-09-07
Image(s) are public domain.
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