The dark squeezed Katie like a vice, and tethers of fear constricted her lungs. Somewhere behind her, an orchestra of wails and screeches created a symphony of terror that chased her onward. She didn’t know what horror concealed in the inky murk could be making those sounds, but she knew she had to escape. Her legs propelled her onward, and her arms scrabbled into the black as she stumbled forward over the uneven surface.
Her groping hands met resistance, and her fingers traced the outline of a door.
The icy doorknob burned Katie’s feverish palm, and her hand slipped on the metal as she twisted and yanked the door toward her. Blinding light flooded the passageway, and she threw her forearm across her eyes before lurching through the doorway. Her lungs were freed from their tethers, and she sucked in air then released it with a groan and a whimper. In and out, she filled and emptied her aching lungs. Behind her was silence, her unseen tormentors banished by the light. The door swung closed behind her.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, she sank to her knees and let out a wail. She was back where she started; this was where her nightmare flight through the dark had begun.
The room was circular and empty, save for the gleaming throne-like structure in the center. She could see no source for the brilliance illuminating the burnished floor and opalescent walls. The light permeated every corner leaving nary a shadow. Indeed, it seemed to be emanating from the one seated on the throne. The one who had sent her on her trek through that hellish tunnel.
No, I sent you not. You chose your own way.
Katie sprung to her feet and thrust a finger toward him. “You tricked me!”
How so? I simply gave you a choice. His kind eyes were clouded with sorrow.
“Some choice. Who wouldn’t have picked door number one?” She turned and gestured toward the shimmering door she had just stumbled through. Light prismed off its bejeweled surface like a beacon, beguiling her, seducing her to seek out what treasure might be concealed. Before Katie could take a step in answer to its siren call, His hand embraced her arm, filling her body with warmth and her mind with awareness.
Do you truly want to return there? I say to you again, choose wisely; things are not always as they appear.
Her chin fell to her chest and her eyes squinched closed.
Look at me, Katie, and listen closely. How many times have you chosen that way?
“How many times! What’re you…?”
This is not your first test.
“I don’t…” Her indignance was choked off a surge of visions. Visions that didn’t make sense, but evoked familiar emotions...familiar fears. Visions of evil chasing her through wide-open gateways and into darkness beyond. Evil clawing into her, infecting her with guilt, despair, melancholy. Hideous laughter echoing in her ears and her heart. And herself, never stopping, never giving in, never giving up.
“I don’t remember…”
No, you remember those trials differently. You did not have my eyes, but now you see what I remember.
Katie pressed her palms to her head and fell to the floor. “Make it stop!”
I can stop the visions for you, but only you can stop me from seeing. Only you can.
Katie’s mind now saw recollections from her past: shunning the stuttering new girl in 7th grade in order to be popular; not stopping her 12th grade boyfriend when he said, “If you love me you will;” accepting the job at the mega corporation because it came with a huge salary and her own office, instead of following her heart’s desire to open a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.
Deep in her consciousness Katie heard his words again and again, like an unremembered memory tickling her mind.
I offer you a choice. Two doors. Choose wisely.
She turned and cast a longing gaze at the bejeweled door, then circled around to view its counterpart. This door’s frame was narrow and covered with peeling paint, its doorknob and hinges rusted from disuse.
“You said you’ll go with me?”
I’ll never leave you.
Katie took a faltering step toward the creaky old door, then another. When she turned, for the first time the man was not seated on the throne. He was standing at her side, smiling at her.
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