CHAPTER 1—INTO THE BLUE
7 Days to Winter Solstice: The Pacific Ocean
“Brace for impact!”
Free-fall. He indelibly remembered this astronomical term from his freshman semester in college. Little did he know that he would experience its definition firsthand amid a cabin full of screaming women, men, and children.
Chaos permeated the air within the massive jet—a flight scheduled to arrive in Japan around 5:00 p.m., December 14th, 2057. However, the destination shown on the inert screen differed in that the plane would be landing somewhere in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean.
He surveyed the seats to his right, while clinging to his chair in horror at the sight. Babies cried as mothers ineffectively comforted their young through tears flowing down cheeks, hastily pooling in midair and serving as a quiet reminder of the events to unfold.
Attendants held fast to the metal bars positioned overhead in the aisles, unable to calm the passengers due to their own surmounting fear. In every face he witnessed intense pain, all seemingly the same expression, though each held its own agony.
None could accept the all-encompassing fate.
Oxygen masks hung from the ceiling, swaying sporadically, and justly fitting the occasion of raw emotion and intensity. An old couple entwined together, their wrinkled skin pulsing as they stared into each other's eyes, irresolute of what was happening.
He thought of his loving wife, Jessica, and two beautiful children.
He could not bear to think of his wife's ensuing reaction, burdened with the knowing that her husband's existence had ceased. Being only eight and ten, respectively, his children would grow older in a world void of their father.
Void of the semblance and guidance only a father could give.
His heart tore at the notion of them confiding in another man for their answers, and tore even more at the thought of another man touching his wife. Feeling her from the inside and reaching into areas only he knew.
Those only he should taste and touch.
He leaned toward the small window as his eyes welled with tears, staring out across the rolling waves in the distance. Lightning illuminated the tumultuous aggression of the sea.
Why was this happening to him?
In that moment, he cried for the world. He cried for Heaven and Hell, respectively. More than anything, he cried for himself and his lack of understanding.
Adrenaline began to course through his veins in that instant. The lights of the plane simultaneously flickered like a strobe light sending a fizzled image coursing through the cabin’s interior.
He made sure that his belt was fastened, looking wildly around the perimeter as a few people floated to and fro, unable to strap themselves down. The waves became larger in the distance, and it was difficult, amid all of the screaming and admonishing sounds of the plane, to know exactly how close they were to the sea.
Lightning illuminated the horror of the hour once more, and he witnessed with pain, over the plane's left exterior wing, a colossal wave rise not some twenty feet in the distance below.
His eyes furrowed as his body gave way to convulsion, the belt tight around his waist, watching as the floaters fell toward the plane's head. A loud crash permeated his ears, much like the sound of a mass of cars colliding head-on.
Water sprayed across the small windows lining the seats. The screaming passengers gasped as water from the sea flooded the cabin, slowly at first, then followed by a red light exploding beneath the confines of first class, which hastily filled with water.
A woman in red raced by his head, her elbow digging sharply into his neck before bouncing off rear passengers, then finally submitted to a rough crunch of the bones against the entrance wall.
He gasped for air while witnessing the water engulf passengers near the front of the plane. Within another five seconds time, he too would fall beneath the rising tide.
He pulled at his belt's strap—roughly—but it would not budge. He began to panic as the tide reached his chest, breathing in as deep as possible, then held his breath. The water eventually pulled him under, and he was forcefully tugged downward.
His eyes opened beneath the water as contact lenses drifted from them, leaving his sight blurry and bothersome. He could vaguely make out the horror in the old woman's face to his right as she yanked at her belt, bubbles escaping the crease of her lips, darting upward as she was stolen by the current. Her eyes mirrored the semblance of desperation his own held moments prior.
Finally, he mustered all the strength he could, prying the belt from its locked socket, and was pulled toward the back of the plane, soaring effortlessly over the dead, lifeless bodies still strapped in their seats. He conjoined roughly with the back wall, taking his place beside numerous other passengers plastered there, some failing—one after the other—to hold their breath.
He pulled on body after body, kicking off the dead, until he reached the exit door. Wrenching the handle upward and to his left, it slowly opened, only to deviate from the plane's body once and for all.
With as much power as possible, he leaped from the cabin entrance off into the dark blue sea.
A retrospective glance afforded him a view of the cabin and massive, sinking jet—a view of the devastation and agony portrayed as lights above diffused the sea.
CHAPTER 2—HOLE IN THE WALL
7 Days to Winter Solstice: The Pacific Ocean
“We’ve got a breach!” exclaimed the excited panelist.
Sonar was showing a rare event and proximity buzz that had the captain on hand in an instant. Examining the screen left her cross and concerned. In all her training, she had never witnessed this type of incident.
“All hands on deck,” Captain Atlas rasped frantically into the com system. “We have a Level Zero breach two nautical miles below!”
The vessel was in immediate uproar. Crew poured from their rooms in systematic fashion as the port lights cast a red hue among the metallic hallways. Sirens wailed overhead as soldiers trickled off into their routine stations, readying themselves for the following announcement. Donahue and Blanchard, the fleet’s commander and his assigned lieutenant, raced to the front of the line. Sirens wailed overhead in continuum, as if signifying a near-encompassing threat.
“What are the logistics?” questioned Blanchard hurriedly as Donahue threw him an inauspicious glance.
“Hell if I know,” hacked Donahue, ripping his vest from the locker near the starboard entry and setting the twill ball cap on his scalp. The previous night afforded him little rest, and these routine exercises were beginning to wear thin on his patience. The fact that Lieutenant Blanchard had been assigned to him earlier in the week without appeal didn’t help matters any.
Blanchard followed suit, appropriating his essentials while gazing toward the starboard. He sensed that something was amiss—and however unfortunate—they were to escape sleep. In his estimation, this seemed altogether different from a routine exercise. Hesitation was not one of Captain Atlas’s vocal hysterics, though they could sense the worried emotion in her tone over the intercom.
He took the electronic tablet assigned to him from his locker, flipped open the iconic cover, and noted the flashing issued warning:
THIS IS NOT A TEST.
REPORT TO DESIGNATED STATIONS.
COMMANDER DONAHUE AND ASSIGNMENT ARE TO REPORT IMMEDIATELY STARBOARD WITH DRY SUITS.
REPEAT: THIS IS NOT A TEST.
The message repeated lengthwise down the tablet. Blanchard turned to Donahue, motioning his fingers toward the beaming message.
“Dammit,” Donahue rasped sharply, “I should have retired when I had the chance.”
Blanchard chuckled while extracting their suits from the inner locker. “Surfs up,” he grinned, winking before throwing gear into Donahue’s open arms.
CHAPTER 3—THE RED
6.5 Days to Winter Solstice—Unknown Location
Darkness all but eluded him as he swam toward the light.
Others were not so fortunate to escape the desolation. The water was brisk and altogether too comforting compared to the carnage within the plane’s cabin. Density within the craft was high, due to its immediate flooding, and he found himself swimming away from the wreckage in pain.
You need to move! he exclaimed to himself as his stored breath began to wane. Muffled light traced through the stagnant waters of the ocean, attributed by the plane’s cabin, and the dangers the dark surroundings held left him frightened and exasperated.
Incandescent light filtered from the head of the sea, and he could all but bring himself to gauge the sight beheld.
In that darkness, he found light. In that light, he found hope. And in that hope, he found a willingness to fight. A willingness to survive.
His heart raced as he swam furiously toward the surface of the ocean, bent on escaping the area near the sinking plane before it pulled him further into the dark, dank abyss of the sea.
With all his strength, he swam with a fierce opposition to death; yet, unknown to him, death had a different idea in that moment, swallowing his breath and making him lose hope. The last thing he saw was his outstretched arm before water funneled into his throat, ultimately determining his demise.
He would not make the water’s edge—he would die here, cold and desolate, among the translucent waters of the sea.
Blinded for a moment, he regained his sight slowly, shaking his head from side to side in order to dull the pounding ache residing there. A light perched above the bed where he rested, seemingly centered on previous wounds he had incurred. He reached his right hand overhead, staring at the dried, stagnant blood across his palm.
Then he remembered.
"You are safe now. Just rest," a voice soothed as he saw another's wrinkled hand take his own, slowly pressing it down toward his right side.
"Where am I?" he cried, staring wide-eyed at the physician while reliving moments of the crash. Fragments of the incident were piecing together in his mind's eye, and he suddenly felt distressed amid the white, sterile sheets beneath his burdened chest.
"Now, now. Just remain calm. There will be time to answer questions. Plenty of time. For now, you must rest. You're not in the right frame of mind for the information we will soon impart to you."
He watched as the physician took a vial from the nearby table, then expunged a sharp injection needle from its top. The dark red liquid flowed slowly into the injection tube.
He tried to protest, but his throat felt raw and engorged. He surmised this was due to gasping for air underwater during the crash. His hand leapt to his throat as he writhed in pain, finally succumbing to the needle which became imbedded in his forearm. The physician continued to smile with what seemed to be good-natured intent.
"The truth will be revealed to you soon, and it shall set you free," the physician smiled in a languid voice as the injection continued its perilous march down the tube.
He stared into the physician’s eyes, wondering what he could possibly mean. Yet, his eyes were unlike anything he had ever seen—a dark, deep red emblazoned around the pupils, encased within a profound, black ring. The physician’s smile grew wider as his eyes began to narrow, the brow upon his ridge furrowing in anticipation.
The injection was complete.
Then—in horror—he began to drift from consciousness once more.
Chapter 4—Bridging the Gap
6 Days to Winter Solstice: The Bridge
Water pooled around the two divers as they stepped aboard the Bridge, a literal underwater railway system that spanned the length of seven nautical miles, yet reached toward the bottom of the sea. The sharp glare from the interior lights blinded the commander for a moment before releasing the oxygen compression helmet from his neckline.
"Like I said. I should have retired when I had the chance," Commander Donahue spat as he stumbled into the Bridge's entryway.
Lights flickered down the walkway as sparks lit up the otherwise dim, bleak iron walls.
Lieutenant Blanchard looked around, soaking in the sight of such a landmark achievement in the Corporation's history. He couldn't believe that he was not just gazing upon the Bridge, but actually standing inside the structure. This was a view that no one, at the present time, was able to experience in person.
"I just can't believe it," Blanchard said as he removed his own compression helmet while wiping the sweat from his brow.
"This place is something we read about in textbooks. A real piece of ancient history," he added while wildly staring, wide-eyed and jaw dropped.
"Hey—kid in a candy store! We've got work to do. Let's get to it. Power on the auxiliary lights, and check the grid for any updates. Once we're online, I want the captain to be the first to know. My ass needs that early retirement," Donahue winked with a wave of his finger.
"Affirmative," Blanchard said as he shook his head away from the sight that locked his gaze. "Just getting acquainted with our new home of sorts, commander," he winked back with a smile.
Donahue cocked his head to the side, glaring at Blanchard with eyes of serious intent.
"The Bridge isn't for acquaintances, kid. It's a come and go affair. Linger too long, and you'll find yourself dead," said the commander.
Blanchard searched his expression for an ounce of humor, but could only squeeze his facial lines' seriousness, and a hint of something else, though Donahue would never let it be known; uncertainty.
Blanchard took a step back as something shrieked not three hundred yards down the Bridge's shaft. His eyes blazed with worry and wonder, lit with an intensity that bordered on the realm of fear.
Donahue pumped a shotgun into the air with his right arm, pulling it downward until the chamber became engaged.
"Hope you checked out of the candy store, kid. Welcome to the side of Atlantis they don't teach you about in textbooks.”
CHAPTER 5—DAY OF RECKONING
6 Days to Solstice: Atlantis
Johnny... you are my sunshine... You make us happy when skies are grey. Johnny, you bring so much joy to all of our lives... Everyday. We love you... Johnny...
"Mother!" John screamed abruptly as he woke from a dream while fighting back a horrendous cough, his vision moving from perpetual blurriness to clarity. The room around him was painted white, complete with four square walls and a high ceiling. He lay on a hospital bed once again, though this room was markedly different than the last.
Those eyes... John thought to himself. His heart began to beat faster, and he moved his eyes furiously, scanning every inch of the room. A single door lay on the foremost wall, and as he brought himself forward off the bed, he noticed figures moving hurriedly behind the glass window that made up the upper middle half of the door. A lone white gown hung on a hook immediately to the right of the door, and a grey uniform hung to its left. A metal bench underneath held shoes and other apparel.
"Hello?" John questioned, feeding the room his voice, which sent echoes up and through its shaft, reverberating from wall to wall until the sound suddenly disappeared.
Where am I? he wondered, frantically shaking as he remembered the crash once again. The dull ache still pounded in his head as he combed fingers through his long, brown hair in order to ease the pain. Beads of sweat dripped from his brow down onto the concrete floor below.
Before regaining a level of consciousness, John was startled by the automatic opening of the sole door in the room. No one stood at the other side in the hallway, and John found himself slowly gliding from the bench, placing both feet on the ground. He stumbled initially, but caught himself against the cold instrument stand nearby.
John couldn’t seem to make sense of anything. Hadn’t he just survived a plane crash? Or was it all a dream?
He stumbled from the stand over to where the grey uniform hung against the wall, took it from its respite, and slowly dressed himself.
Take it slow, he reminded himself. Pain continually coursed through his body, though duller now than the first time he woke after the crash. Black boots sat underneath the bench, and as he pulled them on, a crackling sound came from a speaker above the door’s entrance:
Welcome to Atlantis. Please make a sharp left as you exit the room. Further instructions will be provided.
Atlantis? John questioned. Where in the world am I?
He moved slowly to the door’s threshold before peering into the narrow hallway. It seemed altogether innocuous; paintings hung on either side as lowlights centered above to portray the beauty of each unique portrait. Red accent walls accompanied each work, though all seemed to carry a similar theme—a female leader juxtaposed against a backdrop of war.
John centered on a painting immediately outside the door as he mustered the energy to remain standing. A young woman, with brilliantly silver, flowing hair seemed to beckon him forth. A throne of sorts held her stature, seated atop a hill where two dirt holes lay barren on either side; another of which resided beneath her throne.
She held in her outstretched right hand a sword, wielded with authority toward the ominous clouds overhead. In her left, a timepiece clutched firmly and thrust toward the sky. In the background across the hills, lightning leapt from the ground to the clouds. Then, with a silent shudder, he stepped closer and noticed, as his heart began to beat briskly, the same eyes he had noticed before in the physician.
He slowly raised his hand to touch the eyes before noticing movement down the hallway.
"Stare at it too long, and you'll come to me with more questions than you already have. This way, please."
The figure resembled that in the painting, and John turned with increasing hesitation.
The voice resembled that of a female. She waited in the shadow cast forth by the darkness of the hallway, her breathing slow and steady against a backdrop of reverberations and echoes caused by her entrance.
"Where am I?" he asked as his voice echoed, creeping down the long, narrow hall.
"All will be revealed. You have no need to worry. Only the need to trust. Come quickly."
And with that statement, the figure motioned slowly to the nearby doorway at the end of the hall, turned on her heel, and walked lithely through the open door.
John stood silently in the desolate hall. He took stock of what he didn't know—where he was, who these people were, what they ultimately wanted, and why they were being so vague as to what was happening. He needed no more encouragement than this, and in light of it, crept down the hallway to the luminescent light which lay beyond the door.
CHAPTER 6—THE SECRET
6 Days to Winter Solstice: The Bridge
“Watch your head, kid,” Donahue whispered, his breath dispersing in the cool night air, as Blanchard trailed behind under collapsed columns and faulty wiring.
To Blanchard, the Bridge was fascinating, albeit decaying and rotting from the inside. Beads of water dripped down the moist concrete walls as trails of erosion lagged behind. The two scoured over countless fallen obstacles and structures before finally stopping in their tracks.
Donahue held up a silent fist before crouching to the floor. Sparks flew from surrounding wires, disjointed and mangled as they cracked in the bitter air. After waiting behind a boxcar for what seemed like an eternity, they finally heard the noise once more.
Beyond the empty boxcar in the foreground, Blanchard could make out something writhing in the distance. He watched, waiting for some kind of direction from Donahue, but he merely sat silently watching the scene unfold, his breathing slow and steady against the backdrop of the incessant whip-like wires.
Whatever it was moved closer into view. Darkness held its true form at bay, while the low beams from the side of the tunnel slowly poured light into the shadows. Then, the figure ambled into a spotlight centered on a portion of the tracks. Blanchard recoiled, though Donahue remained completely still.
The figure looked human, though hideously distorted; a head grew out of its right shoulder while arms and legs were unevenly dispersed. It fumbled with what fingers it had into the dark trench. Ghastly and gaunt, it hissed before holding the rat up into the light, itself gnashing and bristling in defeat.
Blanchard watched as the disproportioned being opened its mouth, all too wide and full of razor sharp teeth, before finally tearing into the flesh of the rat as it moaned between vehement lips. The blood flowed down the sides of its mouth onto its naked body, jagged and pale, exerting a satisfied grunt before once more shaking the lifeless body of the rat.
It stopped there, idly, and sniffed the air before its red, hollow eyes bore into the direction of the two men.
Blanchard froze. Donahue's pistol rose slowly in the air as the figure spoke into the darkness what seemed to be words, though fell utterly short of complete comprehension. Its head turned slowly, with a long tongue revolving around the lips, lapping frantically at stray blood as it crouched closer to the ground ready to leap.
"You he—to dee—rah!"
Blanchard's heart skipped a beat as the figure leapt into the outer darkness from where it once stood.
None of his training prepared him for what happened next.
Donahue hurriedly turned on his head lamp, casting light into the dark recesses of the corridor. Blanchard readied his aim, his veins throbbing with heightened adrenaline. A sound much like that of a crashing cymbal reverberated through the tunnel, and Donahue centered his flashlight on a Welcome to Atlantis sign swaying above the boxcar, its age releasing particles of rust and dust into the light's presence.
The silence that followed became deafening.
Then, out of nowhere, the boxcar that hid them from view began to tip, groaning in their direction.
"Move!" Donahue yelled as both barreled out of the way of the falling object.
They moved just in time before the area they were in crushed under its weight, followed by both centering their lights on the culprits in the background. Not one, but two figures materialized behind the sagging vehicle, ambling toward them at an alarming rate. Red eyes glowed, mixed with rage and a sense of fearless opposition.
Both men readied their aim as shots rang loud through the tunnel’s corridor. As bullets made contact with skin, flesh rippled and flew in all directions, yet didn't slow the specimens down as they closed in on the two men.
Blanchard panicked as his gun ran out of ammo, and he lowered it while retreating a few paces. Residual gunpowder created a cloud before them as the figures stumbled through, gnashing and biting as teeth gave way to bloody intent.
Donahue successfully drove one to the floor with well-precisioned shots below the kneecap, but the other remained locked on Blanchard, whose eyes furrowed with fear as the creature crouched before leaping at his chest. Donahue put a final bullet in the head of the wounded before turning angrily in his partner’s direction.
The creature had pulled Blanchard to the ground, gripping his jawline as the profoundly red eyes bore into his own and bared teeth gave way to a loud hiss. The creature reached back its free hand, complete with sharpened nails harboring bits of decayed flesh from a previous victim, and Blanchard saw briefly an engraved acronym on the beast’s palm: MOD.
Donahue wasted no time pummeling the creature’s back with bullets as it lowered its hand, shaking and spewing dark red blood, wheezing continually before finally falling to Blanchard’s side, lifeless and cold. Blanchard lay there in shock, frantically pushing the bottom half of the creature off himself.
“Way to go, kid. That’s one way to fool ‘em; just lay there dead!” he hacked wryly before offering Blanchard a grin, then a hand to his feet.
Blanchard breathed heavily, clearly afraid as he bent over with both hands on his knees, vomit flowing freely from his mouth onto the tracks below.
“Always the same,” added Donahue as he shook his head. “You rookies and your weak stomachs. A few more hours in the Bridge and you’ll be fine.”
He offered Blanchard a towel, and he acquiesced before wiping his mouth clean.
“What were those things?” Blanchard sighed while supporting his stomach with his right hand and burying the towel in a coat pocket with his left.
"There's a lot you don't know about Atlantis, kid. And for now, it's best to keep it that way," Donahue gauged, his breath rolling down his chest as he slipped a hand into his jacket.
"Chew?" he asked as Blanchard stared reluctantly into his eyes, swallowing fear in the process. He shook his head while still reliving the event from moments prior.
Donahue shrugged silently while motioning for the two of them to take a seat, finally succumbing to a small workbench next to the tracks laced in dust and powder.
“Listen. In this line of work, it's better to not ask questions. And the less you know, the better off you’ll be.”
Donahue spit a small ball of tobacco from his mouth before taking a drink from his canteen. The stillness of the air was inviting, if not irksome to both men, providing a stark, though welcoming contrast to minutes before.
“That thing—it had a word seared on its hand. MOD. What does that stand for?”
Blanchard’s face held a state of pallor and anxiety that Donahue couldn’t ignore. In fact, he had once been in Blanchard’s shoes, when the Corporation was in its infancy; so naive to the true happenings of the world around him and the pain it ultimately caused. As his mind stepped back in time, his empathy grew, and with it the desire to not conceal the truth from the young lieutenant any further. Maybe that’s why the others assigned to him in the past never made it out of the Bridge alive, he reckoned—because of his own deceit.
“I’ll tell you what I know,” nodded Donahue as his eyes, poised and rigid, peered down the tunnel. They then fixed on Blanchard's with a calculated assurance that told him he would soon know the truth.
"Let's begin with MODS."
CHAPTER 7—LONG GONE
6 Days to Winter Solstice: The Bennett Residence
Jessica remained silent, watching the scene unfold before her eyes on the television screen. She frantically called John's cell to no avail and cross-checked his flight details before bracing herself with the outcome soon relayed by the television speakers:
We're receiving breaking news at the moment in relation to a flight that has went down in the North Pacific Ocean, in route to Japan...nearly two-hundred passengers were aboard the flight...world renown physicist, John Bennett, is among the list of assumed casualties aboard the American flight—2077. No cause for the crash has yet been established. We’ll have more as it comes in.
Jessica cupped her hands over her mouth as tears flowed from eyes penetrating the television screen. The phone began to ring incessantly, no doubt family who had just heard the news themselves. She fell upon the couch, sinking slowly as her body trembled with shock. The man she loved most, her own rock and fortress, had been cast into the sea.
Worst of all was the marital strain and pressure they had been under as of late, and he hadn't left home without an argument ensuing. After being thrust into the spotlight for his ideas, her and the kids had watched as their comfortable life became suddenly chaotic. Media and constant phone calls were continually absorbing John's time, and it began to wear on the children, too.
She relived in her mind's eye the night of his departure. John had taken a late phone call, hurriedly packed his things, and tried to sneak out of the room. Jessica sat upright in the bed, glaring as he reached for the knob of the bedroom door.
"Who was that? Where are you going? It's the middle of the night, John."
“I’ve been offered the chance to speak in Tokyo tomorrow to thousands about what I believe is right. I can’t pass it up. They’ve paid for everything, Jess—the travel, accommodations, and money we can use to build our dream home,” he said, relinquishing his grasp on the door and moving to her side.
He slid the sleeve of the twill jacket from his right wrist, noting the time on his watch before rushing back to the door.
“What good’s a home if you’re never in it?” Jessica sighed.
She couldn’t believe that he had agreed to speak across the world—out of nowhere—in the middle of the night. Yet, as the opportunities came, he latched on to them, embracing the newfound spark in his life. He had yet to realize the fire it would cause, slowly consuming his family.
"I have ideas that I believe can better the outcome for people everywhere, Jess."
"You're a brilliant man, John. I don't doubt that, and neither does the world. What I do doubt is that you know what's best for our family, and if you're not careful, you'll end up gaining the world and losing out on what matters most."
"Enough," John rasped as he swatted the air as if to end the discussion.
"I've told you before, Jess; the Bible may be for you, but it's not for me. I'm a man of science, and last I checked, the one seems to contradict the other an awful lot. I'll take reason and science over antiquated stories any day."
He tensed his brow before turning his face from Jessica. Why did she always bring religion into the equation?
He could change the world without buying into all of that nonsense, he thought, and ultimately free it from the chains imposed by beliefs that had done nothing but keep humanity from gaining ground into the future.
"Some things go hand-in-hand more than you think, John. Like fatherhood and being here for your children. I'm sorry that your Dad wasn't in the picture enough to show you what that looks like, but don't subject our children to that fate. They deserve better, and you know it," Jessica pressed.
John had turned, reached for the doorknob, and paused as what she said shook him to his core. He hung his head in silence for a moment before turning just enough to stare at Jessica over his shoulder. He closed his eyes while breathing a heavy sigh, simultaneously pulling at the necklace around his collar, breaking the latch free before suspending the chain outright in midair. The cross at its bottom shimmered in the ambient light as it clung to the chain, mirroring Jessica’s reflection as she stared at John in disbelief.
"I'll be back on Tuesday," he offered while dropping the necklace to the floor before opening the door and closing it firmly behind him.