“This is really bad,” Dr. Rutherford says as she curls against the wall. She kicks Rich away when he tries to touch her foot, the moaning figure barely aware of his surroundings. “I should have never agreed to help that man. All for the sake of progress and proving my theories were correct. Now I have one chance to live and it’s slim at best.”
Ian remains on his back and stares at the white-tiled ceiling, his body still aching from Gina’s attack. After a minute of not feeling better, he sits up and whimpers as all of his joints pop. His fellow prisoners pay no attention to him, so he takes his time taking in their sterile surroundings. The hallway is bright and pristine with a door every five feet, each one different than the other. Behind them is an empty wall, which forces them to travel into the unending distance. A stuffy breeze whips down the hall, making everyone sweat and gradually fogging their minds.
“How does this place work?” Ian asks while he crawls to a door. A faint giggle emanates from the wall when he reaches for the silver handle, causing him to pull away. “I have bad luck with doors. Are you going to work with me, Grace, or stay on the floor?”
“It’s easy to condemn people to this place and hope for the best. To be here and know that you have one chance to escape is another thing,” the woman rambles her eyes clenched shut. A scream bursts from her lips when Rich pushes her shoulder. “Get this broken thing away from me! Tell him to pick a door and see what happens. Each of us gets to choose an exit, so use the expendable one.”
“I’m not putting my friend in danger,” Ian states while grabbing Rich by the collar and pulling him away. Seeing the vapid look on the man’s face, he sighs in defeat and kneels. “I will put him out of his misery though. If you can hear me, Rich, I want you to pick a door. Whichever one you want, open it and go back home.”
A spark of understanding is in the bald man’s eyes and he hugs his camera as he looks around the hallway. Seeing a gem-encrusted door, Rich jogs to the gaudy entrance and knocks on the only space that is exposed wood. Nothing happens, so he grabs the handle and wiggles it to see if it is locked. Ian is a few steps away when his friend opens the door and a shimmering mist envelopes him. A crackle fills the air as the man’s body is transformed into fragile crystal, parts splintering when he turns to wave. The smile on Rich’s face is still there when he is changed completely and the door slams shut. With a rumble, the ceiling tiles slam down to smash the statue into powder.
“You see what happens?” Dr. Rutherford says, rolling onto all fours. She wipes tears from her eyes before facing the ceiling. “This isn’t fair, Corvus! I did so much for you and kept you alive. Nobody has helped you as much as me. How could you do this to me?”
“Because you became boring,” the ghostly voice of Corvus replies with a chuckle. “Please make a choice, Grace. We still have that riot to stop. If you choose the right door then you can return to your position. Remember that you can’t go back. We can only move forward.”
“But you give no clues and there are hundreds.”
“Actually, there are infinite doors.”
“How can I figure out which one is right? It could even be so far away that I’d die before reaching it.”
“I find it amusing that a woman who works with the minds of others has such a fragile one in her skull.”
“Give me a clue!”
“Very well. Look for the sign I despise.”
Dr. Rutherford scratches her head for a few minutes before she has an idea. Examining the doors around her, she curses when none of them match what she is looking for. She takes Ian by the wrist to guide him down the hallway, the young man resisting enough to free his arm. Not wanting to argue, the blonde woman hurries ahead and searches for the sign that she knows is the answer to the clue. Coming to a circular, wooden door, Dr. Rutherford grins at the wooden owl sitting at the top of the frame. Pushing up her glasses and adjusting her jacket, she finds the file that Corvus had given her and tears it in half.
“When I get back, I request that we fire Ms. Nash,” the doctor says, her hand reaching for the knob. “I’m the one who chooses the staff and I feel she is too high a risk. Her removal will be my reward for getting out of the hallway.”
Not hearing an answer, Dr. Rutherford slowly opens the door and tenses in preparation for an attack. She relaxes when nothing happens and she is faced with the moonlit forest. A rustling of feathers greets her when she tries to cross the threshold. Caws and shrieks erupt from the branches, driving her back into the hallway. The woman grabs the doorknob to pull it closed, but the bronze piece snaps off in her hands. A scream escapes her lips as a flock of ravens pour through the opening and whirl around her. Sharp beaks peck at her flesh and tear at her clothes while she backs against the far wall. For several minutes, it is impossible to see the doctor amid the hungry birds. When they return to the forest, there is only a skeleton with a pair of glasses slipping off its face.
“Owls may be a raven’s natural enemy, but I don’t despise them,” Corvus admits with a friendly chuckle. Vines slip from the circular opening to drag the body away, the door slamming behind them. “To be fair, she didn’t say she wanted a clue to escape. Then again, death is a type of escape. Have you figured out the answer yet or do you want a clue too?”
“I’m sure you knew what she meant and just wanted her dead,” Ian replies, bending down to touch the abandoned glasses. The lens crack and the frame crumples beneath his fingers as he thinks about the puzzle. “There’s the possibility that every door leads to death and the game is rigged. You seem pretty fond of playing dirty. On the other hand, there has to be a way out in case you fall into here.”
“Unless I simply have the power to make every door an exit,” the man counters, a hint of amusement in his voice. “I can sense that you don’t trust me. That means I can’t help you escape. Even if I tried, you’d never believe me. Always trapped in the past because it’s so much safer.”
“This coming from someone who hides in an asylum’s basement. You might live in the present, but the future terrifies both of us.”
“Intriguing thought. I’ll miss our chats. Pick a door.”
Ian turns around to walk back and examine the doors that he missed due to Dr. Rutherford pulling him along. None of them stand out and he wishes he could test them without getting killed. A plain door catches his attention and he considers opening it, but decides that it is too obvious an answer. Ian is surprised to find that it does not take him very long to return to his starting point. In fact, he is sure that several potential exits have disappeared while his back was turned. Slowly spinning in a circle, he is unable to find the gem-covered door that Rich had chosen. Sitting down and clearing his mind, Ian thinks over what Corvus has said and everything that has happened in Raven’s Hold.
“Nothing is ever what it seems here, is it?” he asks to nobody in particular. A balmy heat fills the hallway, forcing the young man to strip naked. “You want my thinking muddled because I’m onto something. People have made it out of here before, but you were the one who decided on it. Again, you refuse to play a game that you haven’t rigged. The question is if you’re letting me get the right answer or I outwitted you.”
“Test your luck and find out. I hate suspense.”
Ian walks to the white wall as his vision is blurred by the heat. “The future is infinite, but the past is solid. Both of us fear what’s ahead. Escaping means comfort and the only place to find it is in what’s already happened. Even if our memories are dark.”
The young man feels a knob in his hand when he reaches for the wall and he knocks to find it is hollow. Twisting the invisible metal, Ian opens the door into the hallway and feels a cool wind whip at his body. He waits for a minute before entering the darkness, the sounds of shouting greeting his ears. A flash of light temporarily blinds him, allowing the scenery to change without his notice. When he can see again, Ian finds himself in his room while the riot continues in the distance.
“As usual, you have given me much to think about, Mr. Connors,” Corvus asks with an edge to his silky voice. A boom shakes the building and transforms the night into day. “I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I were you. The game is losing its fun.”