The Ten Thousand Doors

Submitted into Contest #49 in response to: Write a story that takes place in a waiting room.... view prompt

2 comments

Science Fiction

He awoke, as if from a dream. His mind was foggy and lethargic. But like a jolt of electricity, everything came flowing back, and he remembered who he was.

“My name is Henry”, he spoke.

“And I was born on Earth in 1993”

Here, he felt weightless. It was the vast vacuum of space and so, he floated, completely still.

Suspended in the dark ether, was the simple wooden door. The door frame glowed a white luminescence. He found himself gravitating, pulled, towards it, reaching out for the handle. Every fiber of his body drawn to the door. He twisted the brass colored knob, the hinges cried in protest, and fell through the door.

Inside was the long hallway. The walls and floor were maroon and unforgiving, stretching far into the distance. On the floor, placed before him, was an inscription etched onto the flat surface, it read,

“The Ten Thousand Doors”

As he read the inscription, the door slammed shut and vanished behind him, the echo long and haunting.

He saw a figure with long flowing hair approaching from where the door had disappeared. Hoping for some explanation he managed to contain his fear and waited.

“Hello? Who are you?” asked Henry

“Relax. I am guessing you are new. I am Jesus Christ…”

Henry’s eyes gaped open. Fuck, I should have gone to church more, he thought.

The man draped a confident smile, drew his arms out, then a snide grin stretched across his face.

“No, I’m kidding. Sorry” he chuckled.

“Jesus, I mean, not Jesus, but come on, I’m freaking out here.”

“Like I said, man, take it easy.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Jason. One of the few things I remember. Here”, he said as the took Henry by the shoulder.

“Let me show you around.”

Reluctant but eager Henry acquiesced and followed the man.

“Well, this is the After Life. Or the part before the After Life, the Before After Life. I like to call it the Waiting Room”

Henry took a deep breath.

“You're joking"

"Nope, you're dead, amigo"

"Huh...I don’t remember how I died. Do you?"

"I did, I think. It's alright. Some people remember, some don’t. I know it doesn't make sense right now but try to make the best of it. Any questions? I'll try my best to answer them."

Henry crossed his arms and thought for a moment.

"For starters. What is this place?"

“This is the hall of the Ten Thousand Doors. Every single religion that someone on Earth adopted is represented in this hall. They are all true. None are false. On the center of each door is a symbol that represents that belief. Sometimes relevant artifacts are placed near the door. As to why you got dropped off here, I don’t know. A Christian man might find that the first door he finds has the cross of Christ. Others appear far away and must find the door they seek. Once you cross that door you are judged by the Gods of your choosing. I was dropped off pretty close to where you showed up, in the beginning, near the first doors.”

“Who runs this place? Who made it? If all the Gods are true and real, then someone must have created this hallway?”

“No one knows. I’m like you. I’ve just been here longer. All I know is you pick a door, go in, and then you’re never seen again. One tiny peek of the creaking door and you’re sucked in. You’re lucky I found you. I’ve seen people wandering here for a long time with no answers, lost and alone. It’s funny. You get here and still you don’t know what the fuck is going on, same as back on Earth, huh?”

Henry was curious why, if this was all true, had he not already chosen a door.

“Man, that’s fucked. They should have a seminar, or a meeting or SOMEONE at least to explain what the hell is going on here.”

Jason let out a sound of disbelief, “You’re crazy. Seminars and meetings…There’s no one down there telling you what the real truth is, what to believe, what to think, no real authority. There are people who think they know what they’re talking about. They are temporary owners, their reign a fraction of a blink in time, fighting and spilling blood for made up currency, invisible state lines, unnatural human conceptions. We know nothing. You think whoever orchestrated this place would have done us any favors? No, we’re left to figure it out for ourselves.”

Henry tried to imagine someone on Earth telling people of the Ten Thousand Doors. He pictured a man with bulging eyes yelling at the top of his lungs claiming to know the divine truth of the afterlife. There would be no calm way of explaining this place to people unless you were actually here. They would think he was a nut. Jason was right. We weren’t given any favors. If life was contradictory and nonsensical on Earth, then it made sense for it to carry on here.

Eager to learn more of Jason’s experience he asked another question.

“You’ve wandered through the halls for some time then. Are the doors set chronologically with when the religion was created?”

“No, aren’t you listening? None of it makes any sense. Sometimes you can walk and walk and find the same doors over and over again. Sometimes you see a door once and then you never see it again. You’re not meant to linger in this place, but there are a few like me. It’s funny, how time is still a thing here. We don’t have any way of measuring it but still I feel it pass, ageing me”

Another “funny” comment by Jason. Henry felt dizzy trying to digest everything explained to him.

As they kept walking, lost in his thoughts, he noticed the hallway had no light source on the walls. The further they walked the brighter it became. He looked above him for the first time and saw the first miracle of creation. Exploding above them was the birth of the universe – first dark, then tremendous eruptions of light. The cosmos overhead brilliantly shining down. Stars began to coalesce and implode in fantastic displays of energy and universal power - the mighty hand of a creator. Across the dark canvas of the infinite night, the creation of galaxies, billions of stars, supernovas bright and beaming, illuminating the hall with every step they took. A deep sense of child-like awe grew over Henry. His pace quickened and the stars moved in conjunction with his steps. He saw furious meteors, the colorful glimmering gasses, the pillars of time shone effervescently before his eyes – creation by destruction.

After some time, Henry stopped and realized he had outpaced his companion. He began to panic remembering how unpredictable the hallway could be. He worried the unforgiving nature of the hallway would doom him to wander alone. What if he never saw Jason again? He stood still, a growing pit in his stomach, as he waited, trembling in fear.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed, but he felt it nonetheless when Jason reappeared.

“Hey, buddy. Don’t stray too far next time. I know it's exciting the first time, but you get used to it”

"How do you get used to this? It's the most spectacular thing I've ever seen!"

They started walking again and Henry began to wonder how long Jason had been here, but he felt relieved to have his guide back. It seemed fate had ordained them a little while longer in each other’s company.

“Look, I have to ask. How long have you been here? How come you haven't chosen a door? I haven't seen anyone besides you since I got here. Surely you didn’t figure all this out on your own”

“Most of the major religions will have people waiting by the doors. We haven't passed them yet, but we will.”

Jason looked at his shoes, distraught, “I'm honestly not sure how long I've been here."

Henry wanted to know more but chose to drop the subject.

"Tell me more about these people by the doors."

As they were walking and pondering the makings of the hallway, they saw the figure of a man far off in the distance.

"These people, they stand by the door for ages. They wait for the lost souls, deciding to forgo their own eternal judgement. My guess is they knew they were shitty people down there and they thought this was a chance for atonement. I don't think that counts for anything in here"

The man was waiting by a door in a tidy white buttoned-down shirt, and thick rimmed glasses, with a black tie.

“Hi! Excuse me, do you have time to hear about our lord and Savior, Jesus Chri-"

“Not fucking now, Larry. I’m talking to someone here. Jeez, can you believe this guy” He looked over at Henry and they both couldn't help but laugh.

Same shit, different place.

Once they were past the man Henry asked, "You know that guy?"

"Nah, I just didn't want to listen to his bullshit"

"Amen, brother"

Henry was bursting with questions. Sometimes Jason knew the answer, most of the time he didn't. They asked each other endless hypothetical questions - the what if's people asked themselves down on Earth.

They walked past a door with a giant lightning bolt engraved on the door. A large trident leaned next to the door frame, and a panoply of bronze armor and spears littered beside the door. No one stood by this door convincing them to face Cerberus, and the underworld of Hades. Still, the allure of meeting some of the Ancient Greeks was tantalizing. He could speak with Aeschylus about his famous tragedies, talk about poetry and love with Sappho, shoot the shit with Plato and Aristotle. Most likely he'd have to roam the underworld unbearably suffering and hear the tragic tales of the dead. The chances of him fitting in with the heroes of Elysium were slim to none. He decided to pass up on the idea.

Further on they passed the door with what looked like a spaghetti monster wearing a strainer on its head.

"You ever heard of Pastafarianism? asked Jason

"I thought it was a joke, but I guess even up here they have their place. Good for them, huh?" Henry pictured the giant spaghetti monster god floating in the air waiting to pass judgement on his believers and laughed quietly.

There was another door they passed, empty guarded. They saw as the center piece of the door a series of three interlocking triangles. Through this giant wooden door was Valhalla, the hall of the slain. Henry imagined burly strong warriors drinking mead, yelling at each other in their barbaric tongue, listening to their music and bragging of their exploits in battle. Life there was an endless feast and when it was all over, they would battle each other and come back to the hall as if nothing happened. It was like a video game. He thought it wouldn’t be such a bad place but considering his life had not been as heroic as that of the Vikings, nor did he partake in raiding of villages and plundering of treasure, he preferred not to have his head bashed in with battle axes by angry Vikings. He continued his wandering with Jason, picturing himself among the beautiful Nordic women, enjoying life once again.

They passed the door with the crescent moon and the star. This was the symbol of Islam.

"I wish I knew more about what Islamic heaven is like." asked Henry

"Apparently, everything you ever longed for is waiting for you there, they call it Jannah. I'm not sure I'd want to live in a place where everything is given to you on a silver platter. That's what I don't get about heaven and eternity. What must that be like? Endless happiness. It unfathomable. I know we're supposed to be happy most of the time back on Earth but it's weird to be happy all the time. We need sadness and angst, fear and pity, it's what makes us human."

"Maybe so." Henry replied

“You know what I mean, don’t you? Besides people smiling all the time gives me the creeps. It’s unnatural”

“Yeah, it is a bit unnerving.”

“Hey, what do you think happened to the guys behind 9/11? You think they’re somewhere with their 72 virgins, living it up?” asked Jason

“God, what is wrong with you”

“Which one?”

"This place doesn't make any sense to me", said Henry one day.

"What do you mean" asked Jason

"Shouldn't there be ONE right answer. One set of beliefs that are true. If everything is true and we get to pick and choose after we die what we believed in, then what's the point of it all."

"I don't see it that way. Why can't it all be true? It is. You've seen it. Besides, your faith shouldn't decide what you did in your life. Faith is your relationship to the universe. Whatever relationship you choose is your decision. If you are a kind man it shouldn't matter if you believe in Zeus or Allah or elves. We can't understand it and we never will. It's a matter of consciousness. There are beings in our world that breathe, eat, sleep, and procreate but think nothing of their creation. Dogs don't lay awake at night wondering why their life is the way it is, why they didn’t get any treats from their owner that day, or why they must sleep in the rain while other dogs are pampered and taken care of, but we do. There are levels to it. There are things that we will never understand. If we have consciousness above dogs, then something must have consciousness above us. It is egotistical and hubris to believe otherwise. In the end it doesn't really matter, I suppose."

Henry began counting the doors they passed, gazing at the stars on occasion. Silence had adorned most of their journey now. They had no questions anymore. They asked all they had to ask. After door number 7,676 Henry stopped Jason, putting his arm on his shoulder.

“Why do you stay here. Why haven’t you opened a door. I know you’ve been here much longer than I have.”

He sighed, “I was an atheist. It was the first door I saw. I stayed there for a long time. I’d stick my hand out wanting to open it. If I believed it in life it was cowardice to believe otherwise in death. If I walked in there, if I took the step through the door, I know what is waiting for me. It’ll be pitch black nothingness, an eternal sleep. I’ll be gone, there’ll be nothing. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I prefer an eternity of something, even if it’s this, over nothingness.”

“Indecision is a choice in itself, Jay”

Jason’s face was distraught, sullen, heavy with grief for an instant.

“Sorry, it’s none of my business. Let’s keep going”

“Look, there’s something I have to tell you”, said Jason.

They stopped. They looked at each other. The silence grew heavy. Jason tried to find the right words, looked to either end of the hallway and then back at Henry.

“The more time you spend in this place… the less you remember about your life. Every second you stay here, the more you lose of yourself, the less human you become. I should have told you before but you’re the first person I’ve met in a long time that helps me remember things, not since…”, he looked away again.

Jason gave Henry a consoling smile, “Funny, how even in here, time passes, even though we can’t measure it, still I feel it passing”

Henry felt like Jason had said the same thing about time before, but he could not remember. Why hadn’t he picked a door yet either? He felt sense and reason slipping through his fingers. Had this conversation happened before?

They had no idea how much time had passed or how long they spent in each other’s company. There in the hallway of Ten Thousand Doors they journeyed, shoulder to shoulder, in complete silence.

One day Henry stopped as they passed another door. He felt old and worn. Before, he felt nothing. The weightlessness of this place had become a burden, it was like a cancerous growth, replicating and growing overtime, malignant and overbearing, no salvation in sight. Now he knew for sure, he wasn’t meant to stay here. He desired nothing else but to rest. The stars above him no longer enticed him, the infinite questions they asked no longer entertained him. Henry looked back at the door behind them.

“Hey, buddy, you alright? Henry?”

Henry, in a trance, kept his gaze on the inscription emblazoned onto the centerpiece of the door. He felt his heavy legs stiff like lead but dragged them to the door. Only a foot away from it, he felt his arm extend out, his fingers thin and shaking, reaching for the handle.

“Oh, come on, Henry. Stop it”

Henry looked back at Jason.

“Henry, you’ve done this a thousand times. You stop and look at the same door, sometimes you stand there for ages. I look at you and you become old, your skin becomes stretched and grey but still your hand stays there. You never grab the handle. You never go through the door, and then you become your old self. Come on, buddy, let’s keep going.”

Henry closed his eyes, took a deep breath - the last one he would ever know -enjoying the pressure against his lungs, like rebirth, and exhaled deeply.

“Indecision is a choice in itself”

He took one look back at his friend, the stranger, and fell into the darkness.

July 10, 2020 15:58

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2 comments

Rebecca Lee
01:41 Jul 16, 2020

I really liked the way you used creativity and your imagination to put the story together. As a former newspaper editor, I look at things like punctuation and more. I look at format, but you caught me. I got so caught up in the story, I didn't see any of that. Good job!

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James Alcivar
04:55 Jul 16, 2020

Thanks for the comment! It means a lot coming from a former editor! I loved writing this story but I know my biggest weakness is my grammar. I'm taking online courses on English composition and grammar to improve this. I'm so glad you enjoyed my story. All advice and comments are well received!

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