My Latest short story Behind Closed Doors. This one was a little different for me to write as I went into it without knowing where I’d end up. Normally before writing, I’d have an outline with an endpoint in mind. It was very strange. You’ll have to let me know how successful I was.
As ever if you prefer to read offline please download this version: Behind Closed Doors – Paul Blake PDF
Behind Closed Doors- Paul Blake
The alarm siren rang out startling me from my thoughts. It did this every time. That piercing shriek that works its way down to your bones. I clasped my hands to my head. It doesn’t help. The wail was muffled, but the vibrations still penetrated and rattled around my skull. I stood up from my desk in the corner of the cell. The backs of my legs pushed the metal chair backwards. I could hear the scrape of the chair legs against the grey stone floor above the noise of the alarm. I went and stood next to the bare wall facing the door. I say the bare wall, but they all are bare. Not even an etched tally mark to indicate a previous tenant’s occupancy, if there ever was one, of course. I stood at attention. Waiting. Head ringing. I beat against my leg the seconds with my fingers. When I reached three thousand, and eighty-seven the door in front of me opened. Nearly an hour. Not bad. Kind of mid-range based on historical performance. The door opened, and the alarm stopped. I can still hear it, but the pressure has gone. I listen to it for another four hundred beats or more before it fades. Beyond the door, a fluorescent light flickered on revealing the same corridor I have seen innumerable times.
“You may start,” a disembodied voice from the heavens, or speaker set in the ceiling, said. The sound was female. Not unpleasant, but not Jessica Rabbit either. Breathy and husky. That would have been nice. Something to remember when the lights were off. No accent, so no tell-tales of where I am.
I stumbled forward, my legs aching and sore from standing so long. I exited my room into the corridor. The light in my room turned off as I crossed the threshold and entered the hallway. It stretched from left to right. There were no markings on the grey concrete walls, just a strip light on the ceiling, the tube occasionally flickers. There was a door at either end. I have done this many times before. I headed right and opened the door. Another corridor. Same choices. I chose right again. I’ve never known it to make a difference, so my selections are based on a whim. All I know is at some point I reach the goal — Whatever it is this time —, and they guide me back to my room by telling me which doors to choose.
My journey continued. Left, right, right, right, left. I tried at the beginning to breadcrumb my trail, Hansel and Gretel style. It didn’t help. Now I just go with the flow. Left, left, left, left, I should have doubled back on myself. I may well have. There’s no way of knowing. Right, Left, In, Out, Shake-it-all-about. It’s all the same. I’ll reach the end when they decide. I have walked the course backwards. I have done it on my knees. I have even moonwalked it before. I opened the door before me and walked in. Another corridor. The lights behind me go out. I turned around and ran to the other end of the hallway, leaving the door still open. In the darkness, the door surprised me, and I hit it with my elbow. The sudden pain made me cry out. I opened the door, and the lights turned on. I looked back to the other room. The doorway was lit in the distance. A rectangle of light like a lighthouse. A beacon. I turned back to the corridor I have entered. Instead of a corridor, it was a large room. The end room.
The room was twenty strides wide by thirty strides long. I had measured it out a long while ago. It doesn’t change. In the centre of the room was a plain wooden table. On it rested a desk drawer. I saw the handle facing me. This was new. The drawer doesn’t belong to the table it was sitting on. That is obvious. The drawer was an aged mahogany colour. The table cheap pine. I walked over to the table. The drawer was the only thing on there. The drawer looked like it had come from a banker’s bureau. It was narrow and long. The top of the drawer was open like it was pulled from the bureau and dumped on the table top. Inside the drawer was an A4 sized envelope, beige and addressed to me in fancy handwriting. Swirls and flourishes. ‘Andrew’.
I lifted the envelope out of the drawer. It was light. The flap of the envelope was loose, not gummed down. I put my hand inside. A sheet of paper. I removed the paper and looked at it. One side was blank, the other, in the same handwriting as the label, has a message. ‘Andrew, it is time for you to leave. Your stay with us is over.’ It was not signed.
The female voice over the speaker system said with a crackle of static, “Andrew, follow my directions to the exit.”
I left the room, with the sheet of paper still in my hands. I followed her directions. Left, right, right, left, right and so on. I came to a door and opened it. The door led to a staircase leading upwards. She told me to go up. It was the only way. I ascended the stairs. Slowly. Carefully. The steps were narrow and worn. The light in the stairwell was not great. At the top of the stairs was a landing with a door at the end. She told me this was the final door and I would be free. My heart beat a little harder in my chest. I took a last look behind me and went to the door. I opened it.
A new corridor. The bright light of daylight hurt my eyes. There was sunlight coming in through windows. Beams of light picking up dust and other airborne particles lazily floating in the still air. The corridor smelt like a hospital. Antiseptic and disinfectant. It was a reassuring smell. Familiar and different from the no-smell of the rooms and corridors below. At one end of the windowed corridor were double doors. I stepped towards them, and they opened.
A tall thin elderly man. A smaller wider middle-aged woman. A doctor and a nurse, I assumed from their clothing. An impressive suit for the man, with a waistcoat and matching handkerchief in the pocket. The woman was wearing the classic royal blue nurse’s tunic and trousers you’d see in any hospital, an upside-down watch hung from the chest pocket.
“Andrew, it’s good to see you again,” the doctor said, as the pair walked closer to me. “It’s been a while.” His voice was soft and kind. An excellent, calming manner. He held out his hand for me to shake.
“A little longer than we anticipated,” the nurse beside him said. Her voice was kind also. Motherly. Matronly. Now she was closer I could read a nametag above the watch. Sister Wilkinson, it read.
Their kindness threw me. My hand extended to the man’s. We shook hands as I tried to think of what to say. I had a hundred questions for them. Each one as important as the other and each competing to be answered first. It was a tie and silence won out.
“You must be confused,” the doctor said as he released my hand. “Come to my office and things will be clear.”
I followed him and Sister Wilkinson through the double doors, and they took me through corridors and doorways. I didn’t see anyone else on our journey. I passed rooms with made-up beds and open doors. Empty nurse’s stations. Waiting rooms waiting for occupants. We came to a wooden door, dark with inlaid brass. The matching brass nameplate on the door read, ‘Doctor Montgomery Hawkins’. Doctor Hawkins opened the door and gestured for me to enter.
The office was dominated by a large bureau desk with a green leather desktop. The colour matched the drawer in the end room. I could only see the back of the desk but assumed there was a missing drawer on the other side. Lining the office were shelves filled with books. Their titles too long to take in with a glance. The words’ addiction’ and ‘rehabilitation’ stood out though. In front of the desk were two upright antique-looking chairs with a leather seat cover that matched the desktop.
“Take a seat, Andrew,” Doctor Hawkins said. He walked around the desk and sat in his office chair. It squeaked as his weight sat on it. I followed his command and sat in one of the facing seats. Sister Wilkinson hovered to the side of the desk, beside Hawkins.
“You have been with us for a year and two months,” Hawkins said.
My questions had had a rematch, and my mind was a little more ordered. “Where are we?” I asked. “What am I doing here?”
“You are at the Mountbatten Centre for Rehabilitation,” Hawkins answered. “You are here because you chose to be.”
“Yes,” said Sister Wilkinson. “When you came to us, and you did come to us, you said you were at the bottom and couldn’t climb out. You begged us to help. You were sat in the same chair, your poor heart on your sleeve and tears down your face.”
“Why can’t I remember?”
“The initial part of the treatment was to cure your mental addiction. Through hypnosis, we removed your memories of your addiction and your reasons for being here. That way we could treat the physical addiction without you getting in the way,” Hawkins said. “You are still under hypnosis now, which is why you are having trouble remembering. We’ll remove that block in a moment.”
I sat there with answers to my questions, but my mind was still drawing a blank. There was no visual record inside to confirm what they were saying. No memories to back up their words. Sister Wilkinson looked at me with a strange look on her gentle face.
Doctor Hawkins said, “Andrew when I count to three and say the trigger word you will being to remember names, places, feelings. We’ll take it slowly as it can be too much to handle at once. Ok?” I nodded. “1—2—3—Rise.”
I was sat at my desk in my room, as the alarm rang out. All I could think about was her body in the doorway at the end of the upstairs landing, flickering light from the bathroom behind her silhouetted her. The rope around her neck. The needle on the floor below her. Her feet swinging left, left, left, right, right, left in slow circles as she dangled.
“Stand against the wall, Andrew,” a female voice said through speakers in the ceiling.
I hope you enjoyed this story, thank you for taking the time to read it.
Paul Blake, London 2019