I woke with a start, as I do every morning, and spent my first few seconds of lucidity trying to make sense of my surroundings. However, I was immediately struck by that strange sensation that one often gets after waking, the lingering essence of a dream abandoned only moments before. This was nothing new to me, of course. It had happened in precisely the same way for the last few months, haunting me every single night. Yet, upon waking, I have never been able to grasp what that particular recurring dream is about. It always slips away, just beyond my reach, leaving me with only three certainties: first, that it is the same dream I had had several times before; second, that it was a nightmare; and third, that it was still much preferable to reality.
Once I had reached these conclusions just as I had every morning, I was able to see the physical details of my current lifestyle. I was in a room, consisting of only nondescript white walls and, of course, the door. Now, you would assume that in such a place as this, the door would most certainly be locked.
I should be so lucky.
No, the door stood wide open, neither locked nor impeding my path in any conceivable way. To the casual observer, it would seem that I was free. In fact, I was free in many ways. Technically, I could come and go as I pleased. And yet, I didn't. I hadn't left the room since I had entered several months before. Only, when I had first arrived, the walls shone a soft blue, more beautiful than the sky, and the room was adorned with such elegant furniture that I had never even considered leaving.
But something went wrong. One day I noticed that the once-blue walls had begun to fade. One by one, the pieces of ornate furniture would disappear as I slept. I knew exactly who had taken them, and yet I never tried to stop him. I never left the room to ask why. I guess you could say I was afraid.
After taking stock of the room for at least the hundredth time, I moved to sit against the wall and wait. Much of my life now involved waiting. Eventually, I heard what I was waiting for. Footsteps echoed outside. However, I did not know what they echoed against, as I had never gone so far as to stick my head outside the room. I don't even remember the slow decline that brought me here. All I can recall is that one day I was free, and the next, I had come here of my own accord, trapped in a prison of my own design.
The footsteps stopped outside the door, and I suddenly remembered why I remained here. The figure standing in the doorway was almost too much to behold. Not even in my wildest fantasy had I deigned to describe him, as any attempt to do so would seem woefully inadequate for a person of his stature. In his hands, he carried a dish of food and a cup, just as he always did in the mornings and evenings. He bent down to deposit them just inside the doorway, then exited. Whether he was ten feet or ten miles away, it made no difference. He was outside of my field of vision inside the room; therefore, he was gone for the time being.
I slowly stood and made my way over to the food. It consisted of a thick slice of meat and a roll of bread. In the cup was nothing but water. It was a far cry from the four-course meal that had greeted me upon my arrival here. Still, it was all I had. I ate it quickly, not because I was very hungry, but because I felt I might begin to cry if I did not occupy my thoughts with the food.
Indeed, as soon as I had cleaned my plate and drained the last drop of water from the cup, I began to see the room through the tears that blurred and distorted my vision. As I blinked, I felt them trickle down my face to drip softly onto the white floor below.
This place was slowly killing me from the inside out, grabbing onto my mind to see how much more I could take. What had once been a paradise had become a nightmare worse than nightmares. The false promises of luxury had long since fallen away, leaving me with nothing but grim reality. I found myself questioning daily whether it was worth all the suffering to stay. I didn't even know the man who maintained the room; I had never seen him before living here. And yet, it was as though he held me in a sort of trance, keeping me here in a way that did not seem to be against my will. He had never spoken a word to me, never looked at me directly for more than a split second as he delivered the food. But I knew it was for him that I stayed.
However, the worst part of all of this was the open door that I had to face every second. At least if the door had been locked, I would have been able to tell myself that the circumstances were no longer under my control. But as of now, they were. In fact, they always had been. I was not trapped here by any physical barriers, but by this unhealthy enamor that held me like a vice grip.
The tears continued to flow, becoming a stream now, but I had given up trying to hide my emotions. I was tired; I was weak; I was burdened by the stress of this horrible room and its diabolic Attendant. This was the last straw.
Slowly, I stood and turned to face the door. I took a shaky step, strengthening my resolve all the while. After ascertaining that I still held my balance, I took another. I discovered that with each step, I became more and more resolute. Soon, I found myself standing right inside the doorway, at the same spot where my food was placed twice a day. This was it. All I had to do was take one step; just one step, and I was free. I could leave this place and never look back. I raised my right leg slightly, confident of what I must do. I brought it in front of me and lowered it to the floor outside.
But no sooner had I set foot on the outside than the face of the Attendant slipped its way into my head. I saw his angelic features, and though they were surely just a mask to hide some deeper truth, I found myself shrinking from him, not from fear, but from a willingness to please him. I didn't want to offend my gracious host.
And so, just as suddenly as I had set foot on the outside, I was back against the wall, cowering as I had every day for months.