Here is my latest story. It is an attempt at an allegory; I hope it has succeeded. It owes something to a scene from the movie “Labyrinth” and also part of the book (but not the movie) “The Never Ending Story” – both favourites when I was younger. Some other inspiration is explained at the end so as not to give away the story.
As always, constructive criticism is welcome.
Game of Life
A man stood in a room, not really sure how he got there. It was a about the size of a bedroom but was empty of any furniture. In fact, the room was a plain grey cube apart from two doors in opposite walls. They were also grey. Somehow the room was lit, although there were no windows and no sign of light fittings to be seen as the man examined his surroundings. It was the least interesting room he had ever been in.
Standing next to him was a person, although he wondered whether this other was a hallucination as he, she or it had an indistinct translucent quality. This figure turned and looked at him; all he noticed were intense dark eyes.
“I give you a choice.” It stared into his soul as it spoke. “Behind one door is life and behind the other door is death.”
“Pardon?!” The man wondered if this was a dream.
“Life or Death.” said the figure, who paused for a moment and looked into the middle distance before adding, “I suggest you choose life.”
“What? What is going on here?”
“You are here to make a choice.”
“Why? What is this place?”
“It is time. This is the place between life and death. You must choose.”
“How do I get out of here?”
“Choose! Life or Death.”
A chill ran down the man’s spine as he heard the earnest tone in the other’s voice. Somehow, he now knew this was no dream. Had he died? Just what was this place, he wondered. The man gulped and looked at the doors. On second glance, they still appeared to be identical non-descript grey doors.
“They look the same. How can I choose? Give me something.” He asked, keeping the rising panic out of his voice.
“Look closer!” The voice commanded.
The man walked over to one of the doors and examined it. There was the shadow of a face in the door. As he peered at it, the face smiled. He jumped back away from it.
“Hello.” It said in a voice far too chirpy for the situation.
“You can ask the doors any questions. They will do their best to help you.” said the figure.
“So is this like, one always tells the truth and the other lies?” the man asked.
“No. Both doors will answer as truthfully as they can but their knowledge is limited.”
The man turned to look at both the doors.
“Is there some other option, some other way out of here?
“So… Life or Death? How long have I got?” He asked while trying to comprehend the bizarre situation he was in and think of a way out of it.
“Until you open one of the doors. Then your choice is made and there will be no turning back.”
“There is nothing here, no food or drink. What if I can’t decide?” The man felt terror rising through his body. He wanted a drink right now, preferably something alcoholic.
“You will decide. Eventually. Choose the correct door and there will be abundance.”
“And if I choose the wrong door?”
“Death.” For the first time the figure showed emotion as its voice caught in its throat.
“Can you give me a hint?” the man asked with desperation.
“Be patient and listen carefully.” The figures voice was calm again.
“What, listen to these stupid doors?” panic was no longer suppressed.
“We’re not stupid. We are really quite smart.” said a chorus of offended voices.
“Be patient and listen carefully.” repeated the figure.
The man looked at the doors again, sorry that he had been rude and wondering again how he had ended up in this nightmare. He tried to recall his most recent memory but nothing concrete came to mind. All of his past, his entire life was like a mist. There was nothing solid he could grasp hold of.
He turned back to speak to the figure only to discover that he was now alone in the room apart from two slightly creepy talking doors, neither of which he wanted to talk to or open at this point. He slumped down against the wall between the two doors, his face in his hands.
“What am I going to do?” he asked himself after some time had passed.
“You can open me.” said one of the doors.
“Or me.” said the other.
“Which one of you is the door to life?”
“Ooh, good question. That’s the first question everyone asks.” was the quick reply from the door on the right.
“No one has ever come back to tell us that they chose the door to life.” said the other.
“Or death, but then they couldn’t come back to tell us that, could they.” said the first.
The man looked up and interrupted their chatter. “There have been others?”
“Lots and lots.”
“All the time.”
“One goes through the door and another appears.”
“How?” The man interrupted again.
“They just do.”
“He always brings them.”
“Who is he?” The man asked, momentarily relieved to have solved one mystery.
“Our Master.” both doors answered.
The man looked at the doors, trying to think of a way to work out which door to go through. If it wasn’t such a serious choice, he thought he would just randomly choose one and take his chances. After a few moments silence, an idea came to him.
“When someone opens the other door, can you see out?” He asked without directing his question at a particular door.
“Yes.” was the chorus answer.
After a few seconds, the man realised that was all the answer he was getting to that question. He turned and faced the door to the left.
“What can you see?”
“Mountains and trees.” It said.
“And you?” he turned to the other door.
“Mountains and trees, too.” After a short pause it added, “We have compared notes and we think it is the same view. I am just telling this to save you some time.”
“Er, thanks.” said the man even though time was not an issue.
“Not a problem. We are here to help.”
“Yes, our Master installed us to give people time to think about their decision rather than rushing it. It’s good to have someone to talk to, a sounding board.”
“He’s compassionate and people panic when there is too much silence. At least that’s what he told us. We’re here to keep you company.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” said the man, although he didn’t mean it. He thought the whole situation was crazy and hoped he would wake up soon, reverting back to the idea of it all being a dream.
“So how long does it take most people to make the decision?” He asked, mostly for the sake of saying something. He didn’t really care about the answer but was finding silence unnerving.
“Ooh, it normally takes a while, some longer than others.”
“Although most people decide pretty quickly once the tapping starts.”
“Yes, but that sometimes takes a while. A few don’t wait that long, mostly the one who don’t like us.” It soundly like the door would have shaken its head, if it had one.
“What tapping?” He asked, suddenly alert at this new information.
“Oh, you’ll see.”
Silence resumed for a few minutes, or was it hours. It was hard to tell. The man pondered everything he had learned so far, which he decided wasn’t much. He looked around again. This grey room somehow lacked the atmosphere he felt there ought to be for a life or death decision. It felt more like a waiting room.
“So you have no idea which door I should choose.” The man eventually asked.
“The door to life.” was the unhelpful answer.
“Yes, but can either of you tell me which one of you that is?”
“No. We already told you we don’t know.” both answered.
“You really don’t know which door is the door to life?” he tried saying it a different way, just in case.
“We would tell you if we knew. We want to help. We want you to choose well.” said one of the doors.
“You seem nice.” said the other.
“And not everyone does.” replied the first door.
More silence followed. The man started tapping his fingers on the floor.
“Is there anything else you would like to ask us?” one of the doors eventually asked.
“Is there anything I could ask that would help?”
“There might be.” said the other door, hopefully. The man wondered if the door was a bored as him.
More silence followed, only broken by the tapping of his fingers. The man sighed and ran his hands through his hair, rubbed his face and then paused. He looked at his hands. They were in front of his face but he could still hear tapping.
“I can hear tapping.” He said.
“Yes, it always comes, like we told you earlier.” The man thought the door sounded pleased with itself.
“As long as you wait for it…” the other added.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
“We don’t know.”
“But we think it’s important.”
“So will the knocking kill me or save me…” he trailed off. Knocking… Something about knocking poked his memory. A picture of a man standing by a door holding a lantern flashed through his mind; a beautiful painting he had once seen. The man got up and listened carefully as the mysterious figure had told him to do. Walking over to the door the tapping was coming from; he knocked on it.
It knocked back with the same pattern. He tried again with the same response. Someone must be on the other side of the door, he thought.
“So, this is the moment of truth.”
“Is it?” the door answered the thought he unknowingly had spoken aloud.
“That’s good.” said the other door.
The man smiled to himself in spite of his situation. After what felt like hours of inaction, he was making a decision and taking action. It felt good and he was sure he was right. Taking a deep breath, he put his hand on the door handle, opened it and stepped through without looking back.
Two fading voices behind him whispered “Good luck!”
As the doors had said, he saw mountains and trees. It was a spectacular view; breathtaking.
Standing next to him was man who was lowering his arm from knocking on the door. This man turned and smile.
“Do not be afraid, Joe. Follow me. Walk in my footsteps.” he said before turning right and walking away from the door, which Joe could now see was a frame standing on its own in a meadow. However, he didn’t have time to ponder this new mystery. Instead Joe followed his new companion. He couldn’t see a path ahead, yet it was visible on the ground between them.
“Did I choose the right door? Is this the way to life?” Joe asked feeling anxious for a moment.
“Yes, Joe, you chose well.”
Joe sighed with relief.
“The doors said it looked the same in both directions. What is the difference?” he asked, wondering if this was some bizarre prank.
“I was not waiting to guide you at the other door. Finding the path is tricky, impossible really, and without me, Joe, you would surely be lost.”
The painting mentioned in the story is “The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt. Both the painting and this story are inspired by Revelation 3:20.