I reach for the envelope marked “Love.” It’s not as thick as you might expect, maybe half an inch. It’s hard to get my trembling fingers to cooperate long enough to open the clasp. I pull out the entire stack of papers, delicately, not knowing how old they are or if they will crumble to dust.
But when I look down, when I see what I’m holding in my hands, I can’t stop the cry of grief that pours out of my throat.
Blank. They’re all blank.
As crisp and white as the labels on the outside of the envelope.
I stuff the papers back into the envelope marked “Love” and cram it back into a drawer, grabbing the next instead.
It’s empty too. They all are. All full of stacks of crisp, white, blank pages of paper.
Maybe this is a trick. Maybe the real answers are hidden somewhere else in this room. I turn away from the cabinet and stumble around the room. The walls are smooth, solid rock, except for the doorway where I came in and one jagged crevice that has been filled in with smaller rocks.
I run to the crevice. The answers must be in here. My fingertips crack and bleed as I tear at the rocks. A cascade of dust and pebbles rains down around my feet. I throw the bigger rocks off to the side, and squint to see into the darkness. The crevice isn’t deep, but it is dark.
Finally, I reach a hand into the darkness and feel something brittle and thin. It’s not paper. I yank hard and my hand comes out holding something long and yellowish. With I cry, I fling it to the ground. It’s a bone. Probably from somebody’s arm.
I fumble in the supply sack slung over my shoulder that I carried with me from my ship. There’s a match in here, I know it.
There – I’ve found one. I light it and slowly move the tiny flame into the crevice.
More bones. Whole skeletons, in fact. All crammed into this tiny crevice. With a shudder, I realize they’re the remains of all the previous guards.
No. I will not cram the dead man’s body into that crevice and stand near this empty filing cabinet for the rest of my life.
I walk towards the body on the cavern floor. Without even bothering to retrieve my sword, I grab the man’s wrists and start dragging him across the floor towards the doorway. I can see the dimly lit tunnel on the other side of the threshold.
But when I reach that line, and try to step across it, it vanishes. Replaced by a wall of solid rock. Dropping the man’s wrists, I take a step back and turn again to the doorway. There is the threshold, and the doorway, and the tunnel.
I step towards it again, hand out in front of me. When my hand reaches across the threshold, my knuckles scrape the solid rock and start to bleed.
For the next hour I try every means possible to leave the room. I throw things at the doorway. I try to shove the dead man out. I swing my sword until the blade dents. Any time something crosses the threshold, the doorway turns back into solid rock.
I am trapped.
As the hours turn into days, and the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, I cram the body into the crevice with the other dead guards and fill it in with the rocks.
I wait to die of thirst or hunger, but I’m fine. My body doesn’t need anything, not even sleep. It’s like this place is outside of time. I’m not sure my body will even age.
The only way out of here is death.
And the only way for death to find me is from across that threshold, where someone else must give up their only chance of ever finding out the answers to the mysteries of life.
One thought on “Part III: “The Secrets at the End of the Universe””
I really enjoyed this short story.