Sometimes I wonder how bitter some of these stories must make me come across. It’ll never be quite bitter enough to properly convey it, I feel. So very, very bitter. About what? Who knows. That’s what makes me so bitter.
The child stood at the start of the long corridor. They looked at the vast length ahead of them, how it stretched off, how so much branching and leading off of it was open, and they couldn’t help but smile. The prospect of so much choice and opportunity was exhilarating, and they hadn’t even started yet!
Standing just behind them – and a little to the left – was their generic mentor figure. A parent, maybe? A teacher? It was unclear. They may well have been a blend of some or all of these things. It hardly mattered. Their presence and function as an advice and guidance distribution vector was the only important thing. They had a hand on the child’s shoulder.
“Child,” they said in tones of grave, melodramatic sincerity “ahead of you stretches the Corridor of Life. Everything you may ever wish to do is here, laid out before you. There won’t be time for you to explore all of it, so choose wisely, but other than that roam free and enrich yourself.”
This was all the prompting the child needed. Full of joy they dashed towards the nearest door only to have it slam shut in their face, nearly knocking them back onto their rear. Scrambled back with a yelp, eyes wide. The mentor’s hand came to rest again on their shoulder.
“You lack sufficient experience to go through this door,” they said. The child looked back at them, then to the door again, and repeated this a few times. This was unnecessary, and changed nothing.
“How do I get experience?” The child asked.
“Pick a door,” the mentor said, by way of suggestion.
With rather more caution the child edged towards the next available door, reaching out with tentative fingers. They almost got through it too, before the door seemed to notice and shut with enough force the frame dislodged a little from the wall of the corridor.
“Not that door,” the mentor said, unhelpfully.
“How am I meant to know which doors I’m allowed through?” The child asked, feeling they had a right to be a bit upset about all this. The mentor shrugged.
“Just try them all.”
So they did. The experience did not become any more enriching or any less frustrating. At least their mentor was on hand to explain why the doors were all shutting before they had a chance to go through them:
“You don’t have the qualifications for this door.”
“Still not enough experience.”
“Not enough points to go through this door, I’m afraid.”
“Not the right kind of points to go through this door.”
“You’ve arrived when this door isn’t open.”
“This door isn’t for you.”
The corridor didn’t seem anywhere near as vast as it had before. In fact, it looked like it was starting to run out. Behind them stretched off a dizzying length of closed doors, the light that had been streaming through them cut off and leaving the corridor dark. The only light was ahead, but it didn’t look as bright as it had been to start with.
“Quickly now child, your time is running out.”
A certain level of frantic urgency started to creep into the child’s actions at this point. They threw themselves hither and thither in an attempt to cram themselves through a doorway before it closed itself to them. In the main they failed, but maybe once or twice they succeeded. It hardly seemed worth it.
In one room everything was unfinished, the wall unpainted. In another they were left with nothing but a rickety treadmill on which they ran for a bit, receiving a smiley face drawn on a piece of toilet paper for their efforts before being ejected. Another door simply fed them out again onto the opposite side of the corridor, somehow. Both doors then shut.
“Not doing very well, are you child?” The mentor asked, ever the voice of encouragement.
Further efforts proved fruitless. Eventually, there was only one door left. The one right at the end. Something about it gave the child chills, and not enjoyable ones. The was no light shining through it, for one thing. It just seemed to swallow it all up instead. A sucking void rather than a doorway. Something unavoidable, however much you might want to stay away. Their mentor’s hand came to rest on their back, gently but firmly nudging them forward.
“Come along now. It’s the only one left open. Along you go.”
They didn’t want to go though. They wanted to try some of the shut doors again, maybe have a second chance. They grabbed at a handle as they were pushed past but it didn’t so much as rattle. Those doors were closed to them now, and that was that.
“Only door left, child. Through you go.”
So close now, the dimness beyond so obvious, so suffocating. A hot, dusty darkness where all the light and choices ended. The crushing weight of it sapped the child of strength, robbing their legs of any ability to resist the gentle, guiding hand still pushing them along. So close now.
“That’s it,” the mentor said as the child reached the threshold. There they wobbled, swaying for a moment, until a tap on the shoulders sent them forward and into the gloom. They were swallowed instantly and completely, all the doors that had closed to them banging open immediately the moment they disappeared.
Far, far down the other end of the corridor another child stumbled blearily into the light, blinking in confusion. The mentor smiled at their potential, and after an imperceptible flicker of reality that reset their position was at their shoulder.
“Child, ahead of you stretches the Corridor of Life…”