By Accipiter G. Goshawk
*WARNING* This short story contains mild violence of both a physical and psycological nature. If this isn’t to your liking, I would suggest you sit down and enjoy a nice puzzle instead.
It had happened in a heartbeat.
He’d been trimming his salt-and-pepper moustache in the bathroom when he’d turned around to reach for the lotion. The white tiles and grey ceiling had melted away and had left him standing in a dark corridor of rough stone.
In his purple bathrobe and green fuzzy slippers.
Slowly, he turned around again, hoping that his creepy surroundings would twist back as quickly as they had appeared. The long, dank, dimly lit corridor remained the same. The sound of a barber’s razor falling to the floor and bouncing away into the shadows briefly interrupted the slow dripping of water.
Jason felt a chill run up his back, as the darkness seemed to cling to his bathrobe and pull him towards the rough walls. He shuffled forward hesitantly and cringed slightly as his feet found a cold puddle.
“He-Hello?” he called.
His shoulders stiffened violently as the long corridor howled back at him.
“HeHeHeHelllloooo!” came the mocking echo. It bounced of the sharp stones and caused a pattering of water to rain on to his balding head. He shivered uncontrollably but forced himself forward, lifting his feet out of the puddle and on to the stone cobbles.
He didn’t know how long he walked. The walls seemed endless and utterly solid; up until this point, he had found no side corridor or doorway to another portion of whatever building he was in. Greasy wooden torches lined the passage but what little light they cast was mostly useless against the oppressing gloom. After what seemed like hours, Jason steeled himself and removed one from its sconce. No denizen of hell leapt out at him for this infraction and for a while, the guttering flame provided the wet man with a little comfort.
The first door took him by surprise. A massive wooden frame jumped out from the left and he was so startled that he almost dropped the torch. Quickly recovering, he scuttled over and examined the door more closely.
It was a large affair, made of thick boards of oak or ash. Darkened iron nails held it together and a bronze handle in shape of an impish nose glittered above a green-tinged lock. Two eyes had been set above the handle and now they seemed to leer out at Jason, daring him to enter.
“I think not,” he murmured to himself, as he shuffled forwards. However, he was careful not to turn his back to the staring doorknob. Not until he was sure that it was far, far behind him.
Now, more doors began to appear on either side. Some were large, others impossibly small. No two doors were alike; wood and steel stood resolutely facing barriers of Plexiglas, while ornate knockers and bell pulls swung easily opposite from wrought-iron gates and cardboard.
Jason had hesitantly tried a few but most of them were locked. One friendly-looking door swung easily open on to an endless pit of darkness. He had quickly slammed it shut and had moved on, trying to forget the cold unnatural wind that had hissed upwards and raked at his naked scalp.
Slowly, stone cobbles gave way to tiles and soon he found himself walking along a corridor of what could have passed for a swimming pool locker room. Dirty neon lights hummed above and so he reluctantly threw away the dying torch.
For the first time since arriving, Jason felt tired. He had been walking for what felt like days; upon inspection, his feet revealed a growing colony of blisters and his slippers were wearing thin in places. All his muscles ached and he was hungry and thirsty.
Finally, exhaustion got the better of him and with a small sigh, he lay down on the cold tiles and fell into a troubled sleep.
Hours later –or had it only been a few minutes?-, he was wrenched from his rest by a loud noise. His heart beat crazily as he scrambled to his feet, staring wildly back the way he had come from.
The sound of wood splintering and metal bending came from far off and at the end of the corridor, the lights went out.
Jason trembled and took one hesitant step backwards.
Another light went out and darkness crept towards him, punctuated by heavy footsteps and labored snorting.
He turned and ran.
His slippers flew of his feet as he dashed madly over the treacherously smooth surface. His pursuer paused. A cavernous bellow emerged from the darkness and the beast charged forward, sensing that its prey was close.
Jason scrambled forward as quickly as his blistered feet could allow. Sweat ran down his quivering moustache and his breaths were now coming in gasps.
He turned and yelped as he caught sight of the towering figure rushing towards him. Neon lights smashed as two horns scraped along the ceiling, carrying darkness in their wake.
Quickly, Jason grabbed the copper handle of a blue-painted door and swung it open. No light illuminated the room and he couldn’t see a floor.
He felt a warm breath of humid air ruffle his hair and yelping, he jumped.
A furious roar exploded above him, but he didn’t have the time to appreciate his miraculous escape. Down into shadows he plummeted. Mercifully, his brain sent him spinning into unconsciousness before he hit the bottom.
“Another one Jason?” asked Robert, a stupid smile playing on his face.
“Of course! I really need to blow off some steam!” he answered a little too jovially as he eyed the small collection of beer mugs.
“That’s the spirit! Nothing like a good cold one to forget your worries, eh?” said Robert slapping him on the shoulder. “Barkeep! Another round for my friend here!”
Another pint appeared on the worn oak bar and Jason chugged it down thankfully.
“Ah man, Rob, I wanted to tell you. I had the oddest dream the other day,” he said slurring his words, “You see, so I was in this looong room, see? And there where doors and a monster, I think?”
“Crazy, man! Sounds like one hell of a nightmare!” said Robert, shoving another pint towards him.
“Yeah,” burped Jason drunkenly, “and the worst bit, the worst bit I was in like, my bathrobe and slippers. I mean, that’s, that’s messed up…right?” he asked worriedly.
“I wouldn’t lose sleep over it,” answered his friend calmly, “What’s so wrong with your robe?” he said taking the purple fabric in his hands and eyeing it critically. “I kind of like it. It suits you. What happened to your slippers though?”
Jason looked down at his blistered feet, his head swinging slowly back and forth.
“Wait…wait,” he mumbled, his brow furrowing.
“Don’t worry mate, I’m sure they’ll turn up,” said Robert reassuringly. “Now come on, let’s do our best to forget.”
“Yes…forget,” he answered drunkenly.
Beer followed beer and slowly, the pyramid of pints grew. Soon, they were the only ones left in the bar.
“Come on Jason! One more!”
“N-No. I-I don’t want to,” he whined piteously as another tankard of golden liquid was slammed down in front of him.
“Of course you do! You want to escape don’t you?” said Robert. The shadows lengthened.
“Yes, escape,” said Jason hesitantly.
“I can help you,” said his friend confidently as the barkeep rolled a large barrel from behind the bar. With a few deft movements, he removed the top and the sickly smell of hops filled the small room.
“Come, let’s get you up,” crooned Robert softly, helping his friend to his feet.
“No-no. Please!” said Jason as his eyes focused on the golden liquid in the barrel.
“Yes. Yes. It will help you Escape!” said the thing carrying him and with a quick movement, he slammed the poor drunk’s head underneath the frothy surface. Jason struggled weakly as more beer entered his body and filled his lungs. Slowly, the light left his eyes and he slumped forward.
He came to, gasping for air in the tiled corridor.
He clutched at his clothes and his arms as the memory of the deadly round of drinks roared along the pathways of his brain.
“It wasn’t real…,” he murmured shakily, getting to his feet.
Behind him, the lights went out again and the thing in the shadows snorted eagerly.
This time he didn’t have the time to open a door. Instead, he chose an open passage that was covered by a curtain of multi-colored beads. Inside, he collided with something and was once again lost to reality.
They were all against him.
Ever since he was a kid, people had been against him. His mother and father, jealous of his superior intelligence. His brother hated that his parents doted on him. His grandmother resented him for his youth.
He had worked through all of that. He had survived the sadistic teachers, the cruel classmates and the treacherous girlfriends.
Now he had a job and his boss lorded over him like a medieval tyrant. His wife was a bitter crone, always trying to make him feel guilty for one thing or another.
But that was ok. He could endure all their poison and burning words. He was stronger than they were. He’d had years of practice and no amount of snide comments or threats could breach his armor.
What he didn’t understand however, was why they were all throwing him a party.
He walked down the crowded downtown streets and dodged the careless tourists, slowly making his way towards the Ritz. He swept through the lobby hastily, ignoring the concierge’s haughty look and trudged warily towards the dance hall.
“You’re finally here!” squealed his wife soppily, grabbing his coat and throwing it on a nearby plastic chair.
The cry deafened him, as every single person that had ever despised him leapt up, sending more chairs clattering to the floor.
“I…I’m afraid I don’t understand.” He looked worriedly at all the grinning faces moving towards him.
“Really dear? It’s really quite simple,” simpered his ball-and-chain, “We know. You think that we’ve all been put on this Earth to torment you. And so, we wanted to make it right.” She smoothed out her long dress and started rummaging in her lacy pink handbag.
A weak glimmer of hope came to life in Jason’s mind.
“You-you don’t really hate me?”
“Oh no, we can’t stand you,” said his boss jovially slapping him on the back a little too violently, “we just finally decided to do somethingabout it!”
His wife was the first. She deftly extracted a fork from her handbag and planted it firmly into the side of his neck. He screamed in pain and confusion as he backed away from her unnatural grin and her clawed fingers. Another searing bolt of pain exploded in his left leg. His nosy butcher had smashed his meat hammer into the joint of his knee, sending him crashing to the ground.
“We’ve had enough of you, Jason,” mumbled his grandmother through toothless gums as she brandished a pair of steel knitting needles.
“Time to go Mr. Smith,” growled his old math professor as his canines grew impossibly long and he bent down hungrily.
All he could manage was a suffocated scream as all around him the demonic circle closed over him in an endless spiral of pain and terror.
Once again, his horrific nightmare left him washed up in the middle of the white-tiled corridor, clutching crazily at his tattered robe. Behind him, a muted roar reverberated from beyond the curtain of darkness.
Again, he got to his trembling feet and again he fled through another door.
The cycle continued for days or decades; Jason lost count. Each attempt at escape resulted in another dark and twisted illusion, a crooked promise of release soon followed by fear and pain.
He found himself playing videogames until his hands fused with the keyboard and he was reduced to gnawing the wooden table out of starvation. In his crazed flight, he passed through countless doors, lost himself to every vice known to man and lost his life in the pursuit of every escapist occupation he could think of. Even the most innocent of hobbies proved to be nothing more than elaborate traps; his attempt at calmly reading a paperback failed miserably when the pages came alive and wrapped him up like a mummy, slowly crushing him in their unrelenting embrace.
Through all of this, Jason’s mind went through various phases of deranged panic, until there were almost no thoughts left in his brain. He would wake up, run, open a door and suffer. Then rinse and repeat. If he tried to choose the door or run further along the corridor, the furious snorting would unrelentingly rush towards him and he would have to surrender himself to whatever nightmare awaited him behind the next archway.
In the end, he wasn’t entirely sure how he figured it out. Maybe exhaustion had stripped away the lies he had told himself throughout the years. Maybe the Corridor had relentlessly crushed all his happy memories or maybe each terrible vision had surrendered one piece of the puzzle. Maybe he had finally given up.
He emerged from his latest nightmare, a fishing trip gone badly.
In the shadows, the monster sniffed loudly and reared its horned head restlessly.
Jason sat down cross-legged on the tiles and silently stared into the darkness.
He smiled when the thing finally emerged. Relief flooded his floundering mind as his eyes caressed the familiar rough hide, the bloodied horns and the gnashing teeth.
“I know you,” he murmured quietly. The thing snarled furiously and rushed towards him on hooves of adamant.
In one simple movement, Jason rose on one knee and bent forward towards his oncoming destruction. Finally, he closed his eyes.
He never found his razor, but that didn’t bother him.
He’d rummaged in a drawer and had found a small scissors that would do the trick. As he finished trimming his moustache, his wife passed by the door of the bathroom. She shyly smiled at him. He beamed back.
“How are you feeling love?” she asked, a touch of worry involuntarily coloring her voice.
“Much better. Thank you for asking,” he said warmly. He surprised her and drew her close. They both sighed softly. That night he found sleep easily. For the first time in many years, his mind was untroubled by fear.-