He moved through the murky shadows toward an unmarked door. His heart pounded. There was something terrible behind the door. He went forward. There was nowhere else to go because going back was much, much worse. He reached it as though he were gliding above the ground. His mind screamed not to, but his hand reached for the door. He touched the handle. It seared his skin. The door was hot as though fire raged beyond the door.
He turned the knob. It wasn’t locked. It opened easily under his hand.
There wasn’t fire beyond the door. There was only darkness and silence. Intense terror blossomed in his head and rushed down to his shaking knees. They still moved. He could not stop moving. He stepped forward into blackness.
It seemed as though the darkness would never end. There was no sound, no movement in the shadows beyond. And then his step faltered. The floor fell out beneath him. Wind rushed around him. He tried to scream, but no sound came out. He looked wildly around, but there was nothing in the darkness. His terror was blind.
He landed abruptly on a hard, smooth surface. The fall didn’t hurt him, but there was a strange, thick silence around him, as though something was behind him, waiting. Breathing. He pushed to his feet and ran, but the walls closed in around him. He ran the other way and encountered another wall. Another. Another. It was a small, boxed in room.
A dim, meager light flickered like a single candle flame in the darkness beyond.
The walls of the small, clear glass box glinted. There was nothing but shadow outside the walls, but he could feel a presence there, watching him. He pressed his hands to the wall, as though it might fade and disappear under his fingers. It didn’t. It was smooth and silky to the touch.
The walls closed in, shrank as though they would crush him. He gasped, but there was no sound in the vacuum of the box. He dropped to the floor and clutched his knees to his chest. He pressed his head to his knees and trembled as the walls contracted in on him. It stopped. He lifted his head and looked around. There was nothing to see. He raised his hands and pushed at the ceiling directly above his head. It opened. He climbed out of the box.
As soon as he was on his feet, light filled the featureless corridor around him. It seemed to stretch into an endless point. There were no doors or windows. He walked and he walked and he walked.
Hundreds of doors appeared on either side of him. His heart leapt. and he tried the nearest. It was locked. He tried another. Locked. And another. And another. He sobbed in frustration.
Then a door to his right opened. He darted inside. The room was dim and murky. A single light bulb flickered and buzzed above a dirty, soiled rollaway bed. Medical equipment was scattered around the room, but none of it was in use. There were leather straps on the bed to hold down the mewling, struggling figure on the thin, threadbare mattress.
He approached it slowly, gingerly. A sense of deep, terrible dread overcame him, but his feet would not allow him to stop moving. He reached the bed. He saw…himself. But it could not be him, for the figure was hairless with flesh that glistened with a layer of moisture. It wore a tattered hospital gown.
It had no arms or legs. It wriggled horribly as though it might escape the leather straps binding it to the dirty, stained bed.
It had eyes. They rolled up to him. They were wide with terror and horribly intelligent. They knew everything. They stared at him in supplication, as though he might somehow be able to help, but there was nothing he could do for the repulsive, grotesque thing; the creature that might once have been a man. That might once have been him.
He reared backward away from the creature. He bumped a table laden with sharp tools that clattered to the ground. A faint spray of blood from the dirty tools spattered his ankles. He turned and ran from the room, but the corridor was gone. He was in a dim, dank hall with walls of large, stacked grey bricks. In the distance, a figure was silhouetted against a bright, cheerful light.
He recognized it. He gasped in relief and rushed forward to meet the figure. It moved toward him so quickly, it was in front of him before he’d taken more than a few steps. It was taller than a normal man by half and carried a long, thin bladed sword.
Something wasn’t right.
“No. No!” The figure was wrong somehow. It was more terrifying than the silence, the darkness and the grotesque creature on the gurney. It should not be here. He turned to flee. The figure didn’t move to pursue him, but he could not seem to escape it. The distance between them never greatened. “Leave me alone! Stay away from me!”
He stopped dead in his tracks. Something wasn’t right. This was his place.
He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the corridor was gone. He floated in murky, empty space, in the place where dreams were made.
The figure had followed him there. It loomed before him, as in exorable as before.
“This isn’t the way!” He closed his eyes and tried to will a weapon into his hand, tried to send the figure far away, into the darkness beyond the dreams
It didn’t move. It didn’t stir. It did speak.
“It is of no use. This isn’t your dream. It’s mine.” And then the figure was before him. It lifted the blade above its head. It slashed down. “And it’s over.”