Almost everyone has, at some point in their lives, encountered a door that was not there before.
A little girl sits up in bed, staring at the two identical closets in her bedroom. She feels certain there had been only one when she fell asleep.
A salaryman on the subway blinks through his pre-coffee daze. The train is still in motion, but the doors have opened to an empty subway station he’s never seen before. The other passengers, eyes glued to their phones, don’t seem to notice.
A woman hurrying home does a double take as she sees her tenth-floor apartment door in the peeling brick wall at the end of a dark alley.
They are faced with a choice: to walk away, or to walk through.
When they arrive at the place on the other side of that door, some stay only for hours, and wake as though from a dream. Some stay for days, and return dazed to their ordinary lives; they will vaguely tell their friends and colleagues that they were on a trip somewhere, and no-one will ask questions. Some stay for years, and some stay forever.
Behind the doors, you see, are rooms. And each room is filled with exquisite delights.
• • • •
The Room of Indulgence sometimes appears as a banquet hall, candlelit tables groaning beneath the weight of an abundant feast. Sometimes an idyllic orchard, trees laden with plump fruit. Sometimes a fine restaurant, with chandeliers and champagne and beautiful women in red cocktail dresses.
In the Room of Indulgence, everything is delicious, even things that would not be edible in the ordinary world. A crystal decanter, a sapphire engagement ring, a smooth pebble. Isn’t there a primal part of you that wants to put everything in your mouth? Here, everything gives way between teeth, everything can be chewed and swallowed: silverware (crispy and savory, with a sharp bitter aftertaste), glass (hard candy with a citrus tang), wood (chewy and fibrous and salty), and of course, flesh and bone.
Haven’t you ever wondered what a person tastes like?
Nothing stays eaten after you’ve left the room. Jewelry re-appears, flesh re-grows. Nothing can be destroyed here. There is no price except for what is willingly given.
Gluttons linger here for years (or decades, or centuries, or forever), stuffing themselves with everything in sight. There are no limits. One does not even need to breathe, so one need never stop eating. Lovers come here too, sometimes. They lie in the shade beneath the trees and kiss each other’s skin, sticky from sugar and fruit, and then bite, and chew, and swallow. It is a very intimate thing, to make someone else into a part of you.
• • • •
The Room of the Jigsaw People sometimes appears as a suburban town bathed in permanent twilight. Sometimes a quiet seaside village frozen beneath unchanging stars. Sometimes an empty museum.
It is no easy task to build a jigsaw person to the specifications you desire. It takes patience, and skill. It is an art form. Guests who are looking for nothing but comfort and easy entertainment will not linger long in this room—but there are some who relish the challenge.
First, you must find the parts you want. The Room of the Jigsaw People is full of parts, scattered like Easter eggs: silky hair draped over a hedge, a slender arm dangling from a tree, glassy eyes bobbing in a pond.
You must be quick and ruthless to get the best parts. You are not the only guest who covets that pretty, smiling head resting in the hollow of the old oak tree.
Once you have all the parts you need, you put them together. Arms click into torsos, eyes pop into sockets. And there it is: a jigsaw person, perfect and yours.
Your dream lover.
Your imaginary best friend.
Your daughter, frozen forever at the sweet age of six.
Or even: your worst enemy, turned sniveling and subservient, begging for your forgiveness.
There was one guest, we remember, who built a kingdom of jigsaw people. He lived in a mansion, and thousands of jigsaw people stood to attention along the corridors. They came to life when he walked past, and turned stiff and lifeless once the door swung shut behind him. He was a strange sort of king. He doted on his jigsaw people like they were his children; he could also be unspeakably cruel; but in the end he was happy, and that is all that matters to us.
As for how the jigsaw people felt, if they felt anything at all—we do not know. It is no concern of ours.
• • • •
The Room of Memory sometimes appears as a carnival maze of mirrors. Sometimes an apartment, with mirrors of various shapes and sizes on the walls. Sometimes a forest glade full of glittering silver ponds.
Here, you can browse your own memories, watching as moments from your past flicker across reflective surfaces. If you choose, you can enter the memory, forcing your way through sticky glass until you emerge in the body of your past self.
Here, you can satisfy that nagging, itching curiosity, that question always at the back of your mind in any situation: what if?
What if you had leaned forward and kissed her, that moonlit night on the bleachers?
What if you had jumped into the lake with everyone else, instead of hanging back, shaking your head foolishly while your friends all laughed?
What if you had hit her, when she told you what she had really been doing on those long business trips? What if you had backhanded her so hard her head snapped sideways with a crunch, instead of sitting on the bed and burying your face in your hands like the weakling you always were?
What if you took her throat in your hands and squeezed and squeezed, and kept squeezing long after she stopped struggling and her face turned purple?
After a few minutes, the memory loops, replays like nothing had ever happened. Infinite permutations of life.
It doesn’t count, the guests always say when they emerge from the mirror. It wasn’t real. As though this is some kind of simulation; some kind of elaborate playact.
It is real, of course. Even though the memory will start over, even though she will not remember the way she screamed and begged, in that moment it is very real. She experiences everything, the way her vision blackens at the edges, the way her lungs burn. The terror, and above all, the confusion. How could he do this to me? she wonders as her life bleeds away. He was always such a good man.
• • • •
It is always sad to see a guest depart, drawn inexplicably back to the white-and-gray mundanity of their ordinary lives. But we do not stop them, no matter how much we ache to. No matter how tempting it is to put our arms around them and hold them close. It is a temptation that is ever harder to resist. The more we grow, you see, the lonelier we are. It is so hard for us to understand why any guest would ever wish to leave us.
As for the guests who do not wish to leave, we give them a home here. We embrace them. There is no age, no decay. They wander the rooms endlessly, and gradually they become less of themselves and more of us; until eventually they become part of this strange and wonderful place.
After all, there is no price except for what is willingly given.
Spread the word!