She was afraid. She had always been afraid of rooms like this. It was the kind of room that was considered perfectly normal if you looked at its architectural properties without ever seeing it, without ever standing in it.
It was a long corridor, perfectly straight, four straight walls, a straight ceiling and an extremely straight floor. It was just like a long tube made from concrete. It was so long that she could hardly see its end which was covered in some kind of smoke.
And it had doors. Lots of doors. Every single wall was covered by at least one door - at least she suspected the remaining wall, the wall she couldn’t see, to have a door, too. Doors, dozens, probably hundreds of doors. Every single one perfectly aligned about one meter from the next. Every single one made from a weird sort of bleached wood.
She felt strange. Her heart was pounding and it was not just the excitement and the fear that made it do so. She shivered. It had become cold since she was here. How long could that have been? A few minutes perhaps, or was it an hour? Or two? She couldn’t remember, however hard she tried to.
She felt dizzy. Her head was spinning and it was not just the weird smell in the air that made it do so. She wondered how she had come here. This was a very strange place to be for a girl that had just turned nineteen. Nobody she knew had woken up in a place like this, ever. Had she woken up here? She couldn’t quite remember that.
Suddenly, there was a sound. It crawled into her consciousness and steadily grew louder. It could have been there all the time but now she noticed it. It was an awful noise. It sounded as if all the hinges in the world were opened at the same time – very slowly, as slowly as possible.
All of a sudden, she noticed something very unusual. From the moment she had been here (whenever that had been), she had always had the strange kind of feeling that all this looked very much like in a cheap movie. A long hallway, lots of closed doors with the most evil creatures that you could imagine hiding behind them. But one thing was different: not one of the doors was closed. Every single one stood wide open.
She closed her eyes. She squeezed them as tightly as she could. Concentrate. This is not true. Nothing you see is true. It just can’t be. Why can’t it?
Abruptly, she opened her eyes again. The corridor was still there. It had not vanished, not even changed.
She took a deep breath and began to step forward, footstep by footstep, very slowly and very carefully.
As she reached the first door, she did not dare to glance at whatever was behind it. It was the most stupid thing to do, she reckoned. It was just the thing stupid girls in short dresses would do in every horror-movie. They would look into the door and you would just see their horrified faces right before they were… no, it was no clever thing to do.
This was perfectly clear to her as she turned around and looked through the white door which stood open almost appearing like an invitation.
The room behind it was dark and dirty. The ground consisted of cobbles covered by an almost translucent kind of mud. It smelled of dirt and vomit.
She took a step forward and carefully entered the room. Only with one foot, of course, she deliberately left the other foot in the door so that she could keep it open if it closed for any reason. She had learned at least that.
As she looked up, she noticed that she was not standing in a room anymore. She was looking directly at the sky with hundreds and thousands of stars. Now she could see the full moon shining through the alleyway she was standing in.
Suddenly she could hear a sound below her. She jumped back and saw a little cat, a cute brown little cat meowing heartrendingly. She kneeled and stretched out a hand to stroke it but before she could reach it, a large dirty hand came out of one of the shadows and grabbed the cat. She could only hear the dreadful noise of bones breaking and crunching before she jumped back into the corridor and slammed the door.
She leaned to the wall beside the door. Her heart was beating even faster now, she breathed hard. After a minute or two, she had recovered a little and continued to walk down the corridor.
She did not enter another door, she just looked at what was behind them from time to time. She saw a bedroom with a child that was fast asleep, although the curtains were moving in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.
She saw a study room, full of documents, letters and books that covered the desk, the bookshelves, the entire floor and the dead body that lay between them.
She saw the sea beating hard against the walls of the giant pit that slowly filled with water and contained dozens of motionlessly floating sturgeons.
She saw more than she should have seen, more than she could bear. Finally, she could not go any further. She sat down and cried. Her whole body shivered and the wind from the next door blew in her long blonde hair.
Suddenly she felt a hand on here shoulder. She startled, and jumped up immediately.
There was an old man standing in front of her. He was rather tall and wore something that looked like a mixture between a tunic and a long robe. His head was covered by long white hair that reached down to his shoulders, just like his beard which almost seemed to be gleaming.
But the most remarkable observation she made about this stranger were his eyes. They were of a strange colour, a mixture of colours. She had never such eyes before. They made her feel warm and comfortable immediately but they also seemed to look right into her head analyzing her every thought.
“Afraid, aren’t you? This is what I have to see every day, every night. Look at the time.” He produced a small pocket watch from his cloak, snapped it open and looked at it. “It’s just ten minutes and seventeen seconds past midnight and that’s what is happening everywhere around the world. In this very second, there are more living beings dying than an average human will ever know. Look at all these doors. They lead to the places where people and animals die.
“I always see them. I can hear them. They do not always notice that they died. Some yell at me, some start to cry and ask me why it was so soon. And do you know what I answer?”
She shook her head. She had listened with a mixture of fascination and anxiety. Because of a reason she could not quite put her finger on, she trusted that man. Of course, it was stupid, of course it was insane but which choice did she have?
“I tell them that I do not know. I tell them that it is not my decision that they are supposed to come. I did not plan their death for this particular second. I do not know who makes the decisions but I know who does not!”
There he became quiet and both of them stood in silence for a minute or two. Then, finally, she dared to say something.
“What – what do you want me to do? Why am I here?”
“I want you to see, I want you to understand”, he answered. “You are chosen. My time is not endless, I also will die and vanish. It will not happen soon and you will probably forget all this until then. But one day, you will be summoned here to take my place.
“It is a matter of tradition”, he said and lowered his head until his crooked nose was only inches away from her face. He looked directly into her eyes and she tried to keep looking into his.
“Change something. It is too late for me, I am bound to this place as long as the duty to lead them away is at me. But you are still – you are still there, you can still change things, influence people. I never want you to see what I had to see and although you may not believe me – I did this only for your best.”
With these words he closed her eyes, raised his right hand and pressed it onto her forehead. At once she fell asleep, into a deep dreamless sleep.
And as she woke up, her life continued. She finished school, went studying, found many good friends and married someone when she was twenty-nine. She worked as a journalist for a big newspaper and had two sweet children. As she died on her seventy-third birthday at ten minutes and seventeen seconds past midnight, she smiled. Suddenly she recalled what had happened exactly fifty-four years ago and suddenly she realized that, possibly unwillingly and possibly unnoticed, had done what the old man had asked her to do. She had influenced people in just the right way.
Yet, she was not “summoned” as the old man had called it. After she had died, after she had simply fallen asleep for the last time, a door she had never noticed opened in her sleeping-room and she saw the old man standing in the door smiling. He reached out a hand and led her through the door into the corridor. It had not changed, it was just as sterile as she remembered it. But now it did not seem as frightening anymore. It almost seemed like… home.
The old man looked down to her, smiled again. And as he said “Well done”, the world faded to light…