He awoke with a scream, the fragments of a nightmare he couldn’t remember still clinging to him. The blanket lay in a heap on the cold stone floor, and his shirt stretched over his sweaty chest as it heaved.
He couldn’t remember anything of the dream, only that he had to leave. He had to get out.
In the dark, he could barely make out the outline of the door, as he rose shakily and stumbled to grasp the knob. Where was he? How did he get here?
The questions flooded his mind, confusing him further. There was only the need to leave.
Out in the hallway, he stared down at the line of doors, leading to whatever lay behind them. He glanced down at his bare feet, finally steadied and awake, before one last look into the room he’d just left. There was nothing there for him, nothing he needed to take with him.
Pushing himself down the hall, he tried each knob as he passed. None appeared unlocked, even as he noticed the varying degrees of wear on each door. Some were more inviting than others but none proved to be receptive to the twisting of the doorknob. Turning a corner, he found himself standing below the dim red glow of an Exit sign. Determined, he pushed his way through … to a stairway.
Leaning over the rail, he could see that he was floors above the ground, with dozens of floors to go to the roof. The options were endless – and almost staggering. For several moments, he stood there gripped by his indecision, unsure of which path led to the better result, to the exit he desperately sought.
I need to get out of here, he thought to himself, planting one hand on the bannister and beginning to trudge down the steps. But the farther he went down the steps, the further he seemed to be from the bottom. Beginning to sweat again, he pushed his way through a landing door and found himself in a corridor not unlike the one he’d awoken to.
Hearing voices, he crept forward down the hallway, and found two people dressed like himself in hushed conversation. They glanced furtively at him, and then turned back to their conversation. As he approached, one entered the room behind them, and shut the door. The other tried to enter, but could not.
As the man approached, the remaining man shrugged and walked past him. The door remained shut, and even as he tried to twist the knob, it’s cold rigidity told him he would not get in.
Each door on that hallway, and the handful of doors on the hallways above, remained shut. But the rumbling in the man’s stomach and his quite desperation continued to grow. He raced up another set of steps, his feet beginning to blister in the process.
Another hallway, another set of closed doors. A few more wandering individuals crossed his path, but none spoke to offer commiseration or even wisdom.
Awash with frustration and panic, the man slumped against the wall, praying for some break in the monotony and hopelessness. Muttering to himself that he would try just one more hallway, he opened the far stairwell door – and found himself face to face with a window.
Where was he? He wondered. Was he back where he had begun? Was he up or was he down?
Turning around, he considered going back down the hallway and retracing his steps. He thought that maybe he had missed a spot, or an open door. Maybe, just maybe, he should try a few more floors and see where they led.
But could he do this anymore? Could he get by on his own struggle? It was on the verge of madness…
And then the man crashed through the window. Out. Away.