The thick, oak door towers over me, its glossy crimson coat a foreboding omen of what lay behind it. I sit in the corner of the room, curled into myself. I ignore the man in the suit as he paces the cement floor, as well as the blonde woman who frantically pats the brick walls around her. I block out all nine of them in the room with me, clutching my shoulders tightly.
I have no idea how I got here. None of us do. Yet we strangers have all managed to find our way into this cramped space with no exits besides the large red door in the center of the wall. There are no windows, no furniture, only a small embedded light directly over the door. The glow it casts over the blood red paint adds to its eery vibe, and I feel it is watching our every move as if it has a mind of its own. It is enticing, the only logical exit, but I fear what is behind. Have we been captured? Are we awaiting some terrible fate? My nails dig into my shoulder as I picture the numerous possibilities, and suddenly, the large, bearded man on the opposite corner of the room slams his fists against the brick.
"There is a door right here, why haven't we even tried it yet?!"
"That's probably exactly what they want us to do..." A younger man with dark glasses mumbles.
"Who? Who wants us to?" He counters.
"Why are we here in the first place? I-I don't remember anything... I just woke up here." The round, blonde woman rambles in a panic, always jittery.
The mute man contributes to the discussion with his quick moving hands.
"Look, the only answers we're gonna find is behind this door. You people can stay in here and starve for all I care. I'm getting out of here!"
He rushes to the door and grips the brass knob with white knuckles, inhaling deeply. His eyes shut just before he swings the door open in one swift motion, and we gather around the light that pours into the room.
It's a desert. Barren and seemingly never-ending. How did we end up in this wasteland? The man cautiously pokes his head through the door and steps into the dusty air. We watch as he peers around and travels further towards the horizon, awaiting signs of danger. There are no guards, no secret bases, nothing.
Suddenly, a light humming fills the space. It grows into a vibration which shakes the entire room, and I dash for the corner, huddling close to the others as we watch the sand fly through the air and around the man. A whirlwind forms in the distance, and it quadruples in size as it nears him. The fully-fledged twister tears through the desert, gulping up tumbleweeds and leaving a trail of dunes at an alarming rate. He runs back to the room for cover, shielding his eyes from the lashing sand while stretching out another hand towards us. The mute man and the young one reach for him, only a few inches away, but something blocks the air between them. He curses and screams at us who turn away from him and at them for not grabbing him, but no matter how desperate their attempts, they can not get a hold of each other. The nine of us are forced to watch in horror as the winds totally engulf him and lift him into the air.
The moment I hear the brass lock click, the deafening noise and shaking ceases. We scurry away from the door and press ourselves closer into the corner, preparing for the eye to move away at any time.
It seems like hours have passed. None of us dare move towards the exit, though the winds have not started again. It's as if the whole terror disappeared the moment the door shut.
"H-He's dead... but how did it just stop?" The frail Spanish woman mutters in her thick accent as she anxiously combs her fingers through her grayish black hair.
An argument breaks out shortly afterward. All those who can properly communicate are bickering, pushing one another towards the door to check if it is clear. No one wants to risk the chance of getting sucked away, but someone will have to step up eventually. Just as the suited man is about to push the youngest boy to the door, the elderly Asian woman lifts a hand. She shakes as she pulls herself off of the floor and slides past those who stand in her way. She doesn't speak a drop of English, but she understands what we are fighting about. As her trembling hand wraps around the knob, we silence ourselves and stare again, just as we had the first time.
Golden sunlight pours through the open door and a sweet smelling breeze drifts into the room. The desert has been replaced by a a lush forest of cherry blossom trees, and a quiet stream flows peacefully along a pebble path. Petals float onto her hair and clothing as she steps out in wonder. We are just as taken by the majestic scene, and we too step closer, feeling the warmth of the sun, as we aim to join her in this new land. I reach a hand outward, but again, there is a block in the atmosphere. I pound against it. The middle-aged blonde pushes me away to give it a try, but finds herself with the same luck, and we all cry for her as she travels further down the path. She turns around for a moment to acknowledge our distress, but only responds with a quiet smile and wave of her hand. As the door slowly closes, I notice that her old frame is still, and her hair is darker.
"The landscape changed... How is that possible?" The other elder in our group, an African man, inquires.
"Well, I am not waiting around until it changes again."
The redheaded model yanks the door open, but it is too late. The Asian woman, along with her fantasy world is gone, replaced by a bustling city street corner. Car horns blare in the distance and people of all races, ages, and sizes, travel along the sidewalks with blank stares. None seem to notice us.
"Even better... Just as I would have wanted it," she mumbles to herself with a smirk on her freckled face, and struts out into her territory.
The moment her heel clicks against the pavement, however, everyone stops and turns to her in a synchronized pattern. It's a jarring scene and we each back away, frightened that we have caused some major disruption. The model, too, tries to return, but she is locked out. The masses run for her with dazed looks in their eyes. They claw after her and roughly grab her, holding her in place. She screams as they tug at her hair, clothes, and limbs, and the crowds swarm her, suffocating her. There is no trace of her amongst the dozens of people who reach for her, only the blood curdling scream she emits, and once the door shuts, they vanish entirely just as everything else has.
"No, don't you dare change!" The suited man cries out as he grabs the handle just a second after it closes.
He flings the door open with such force that he nearly topples over, but fortunately for him, two of the remaining men catch him in time. His eyes are wide as he stares down the cliff at his footsteps that drops into a chasm of glass bottles. Where is this supposed to go?
"There is no chance on this earth that I am going out there. I guess we'll just have to wait."
He backs up, readjusting his tie as he pushes the door close, but it will not budge. Instead, the door seems to be moving him. No matter how hard he tries to push it shut, something from the other side continues to pull him out. It is as if some invisible force is dragging him into the glass river stories below. The man panics and calls for us as his sole teeters over the edge, and we all grab a hold of whatever piece of him we can. Still, the unseen force is stronger. He is torn from our grip with ease and screams, just as the first man had, hopelessly tumbling over rocks and roots into the sharp abyss. The door slams shut before we can witness his gruesome demise, but the six of us have a decent idea of what will become of him.
I, too, begin to pace the room now, reflecting on what I have witnessed in these few hours. Only one out of the four seemed to esaped with a happy ending. What determined this? Was it purely bad luck or a predetermined fate?
"It seems that only the one who opens the door can leave – No one else. So it doesn't matter when or who opens the door, really..." The young man pushes his glasses up his nose bridge in thought.
"And take the risk of dying a horrible death?" The blonde woman snaps back.
"We'll die in here just the same, slowly, and of hunger..." The Spanish one adds and the mute man nods fervently in agreeance.
None of us speak for quite some time. We have all come to the conclusion that leaving this room is inevitable. For now, we are in a safe place, alive, so the prospect of a tragic death is too frightening to consider. I stick to my corner pondering this, knowing I am too weak to touch that mysterious door just yet.
I don't know how much time passes since the last opening of the door, but my legs are entirely numb from being stuck in one position for so long. The Spanish woman has risen from her place on the floor next to me, awakening me from my traumatized daze. She has determination in her black eyes, and I can see that she is tired of waiting in this room. She hesitantly turns the knob and peeks through the door before opening it fully.
A cobblestone street runs parallel to the door, and a bright orange house under a large palm tree stands on the other side. Hibiscus bushes dot the front lawn and potted plants line the entrance. It's a charming sight, and we all sigh inwardly, knowing we can not travel with her. She places a hand to her mouth and smiles sentimentally. As she steps out and travels towards the house, she begins to speak her native tongue, which we do not understand. I believe she knows the place, perhaps it was a childhood home or a dream of what she always wanted to have. When she opens the door to the house, our door closes in turn, taunting us further.
For the first time since being in this room, I take a good look at all those who are with me. We've been through so much together in this short time, but we don't even known each other by name. I open my mouth to introduce myself, to ask questions about their lives and personalities, but I stop myself. Perhaps it is better this way. It will make it easier to forget them if I never knew them.
"Is this some sort of purgatory?" The African man speaks up. "That door right there takes us to our heaven or hell?"
"We're not dead," the blonde demands. "W-we can't be..."
I stare at the door, reading it for some sort of clue. Should I leave now? What will await me? I shy away from it again, thinking that I can wait a bit longer.
"Whatever we do in this time isn't going to change our fate then, will it? Better to get it over with... This isn't exactly living, anyway." The young man steps up and faces us. "It was nice to meet you all, farewell."
To our surprise, the outside world is almost as dark as our small room. A thick forest obscures the sunlight, but there is a clear path leading from the door. At the end stands a smiling woman who motions him to come closer with her hand. He gasps upon seeing her. He barely notices the tree branches or rocks which stand in his way, and he runs passionately after her with outstretched arms, tears streaming down his cheeks. I breathe deeply at the affectionate display, but thick air chokes me. In my peripheral, I notice a smoking object crunched between two trees and I begin to consider the African's theory more seriously upon the lock of the door.
Four left. We look nervously at each other, as if persuading someone to take the first move. Though we are growing few in number, I still can not bring myself to go first.
"I think I've had enough of this room then... Time for some fresh air."
The blonde woman rakes her long fingernails through her graying hair. Her eyes shift and her confidence wanes as she opens the door. I feel she has regretted this decision. She inhales sharply as she scans the room with beady brown eyes.
Our small room leads to another, similar in size. It appears to be an office – Dimly lit with a mahogany desk and a small, 2 by 2 safe. The steel door has been pried open, and manila folders and documents of all sorts are strewn over the floor. It looks like the scene of a robbery. As I take a closer look, I see faces printed on several of the documents along with sheets of statistics and credit reports.
"No, no, no... It can't be! Why are you doing this to me?! I don't want to remember them!"
An angered screech rips through her and she pulls at her hair as the door begins to close. It is no use.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean for it to hurt them!" She shrieks her final words as the door separates us.
The mute man moves his hands around once the door closes, always showing signs we can not understand. I can see he is scared, and so is the African, but they both have a determination I recognize. The black man wipes his brow from the beads of perspiration that have formed and runs a hand over his salt and pepper stubble.
"May you enjoy your new life on the other side, my friends."
His smile is genuine and I, too, smile back as he moves past the red door. The briny smell of the ocean hits my nostrils as the door opens wide, and before us, I see a wooden dock over turquoise waters. A small paddle boat is tied to the end of the dock, and he calmly approaches is a sense of peace in him as he leaves us, like he was expecting this. With ease, he steps into the boat and places the oars into the rusted metal slots. He begins to row towards the open waters, no sign of land or civilization, but still he seems pleased. As he disappears from view, the door closes.
The mute man rises, a light in his eyes. He seems excited by this sight, there is no fear in him any longer. Without inhibition, he reaches for the door and opens it wide with welcoming arms. This puzzles me and I fear for him in case his fate is not what he hopes for.
Before him is a long marble staircase. I can not see where it leads from behind the door, but as he steps out and looks to the top, he smiles wide. He takes one step in front of him, marveling at the brilliance of it, then turns to me.
His words leave me in shock as the door closes. I look around to see the reactions of others, but realize I am the only one left. Though the room is much more spacious without nine others in it, I am stifled by this creeping loneliness. I scold myself for the coward I am, waiting until all others were gone. There is nothing here for me now. I know my time has come. With quick breaths, I apprehensively glance around the brick room for one last time then at the formidable door. It's ominous aura seems to be mocking me as I grab the handle and tear it open.
My eyes widen.
I scream and wail in a deranged manner, totally distraught.
Behind the door is the same brick wall.