Ernie tried to remember who had given him the key. It was the only thing he held in his hand. He was now trapped inside a strange room and was hoping to find a way out, through one of the six doors. The room was wholly whitewashed including the six doors. The handles were curved and should pull down with the key. He stood in the middle with three doors on either side of the room he was trapped in. It was rectangular with a painting hanging on either narrow side.
The paintings were both the same. They were small-framed watercolors of the ocean with a sailboat making its way towards shore. The doors were lined on the other walls and numbered one through six. He stood in a daze trying to remember the events that led him to his trapping in this strange room. He walked towards door five and put his ear against it.
He heard a motor running on the other side. He shook the handle and found it was locked. He was afraid to try the key but had very little excuse not to. He pulled the key out of his pocket and pressed it into the keyhole. It fit perfectly and he turned the knob. The door swung open and he looked inside.
There was a small room with a large fan pushing air towards him. The air was cold and his hair began to flail around his ears. He looked through the dark room, using the light from the main hall. He searched for an exit but found nothing. The door stayed open and he fought through the wind into the room. The bricks surrounding the fan were old and the mortar was beginning to chip off the walls.
There was very little else in the room. He found two wires, a red one and a green one and picked them up. They were rather short, maybe five inches. He put them in his pocket. He searched the room for anything else and found nothing but the fan and motor. He tried to switch the fan off but could not find a way to do this. The motor was loud and the wind from the fan was unnerving. He decided to try his luck with another door.
He shut the door with some force, leaning against it from the main hallway. The door finally shut and he tried to open it again. The handle was stuck. It had locked itself once again automatically. He could still hear the roar of the fan but found it was not so bothersome with the door shut.
He stood confused for a moment. He tried to retrace his actions before waking up in this strange hallway. He remembered waking up that morning late for work. He had no time to eat his usual breakfast. He wished he had eaten the cereal and grapefruit at this point. He was hungry and now trapped in a strange puzzle. He rubbed his stomach and decided the best thing to do would be to not think about his hunger.
That morning he rushed down the street and missed his bus. He decided to call a taxi to make it to work. He worked in a cubicle, typing numbers into a computer eight hours a day for a five-figure salary. He remembered the cab ride was a heart-pounding race through the cities rush hour traffic. He arrived about four blocks from his office and decided to walk the rest of the way. His thoughts became cluttered quickly after this.
He stood in the hallway looking at the other five doors. The key that someone had given him was in his hand. He held the key, which was tied to a six-inch piece of white string. He let the key fall and caught it with the string. He swung the string around his hand and let it fall toward the ground. He held the key with his right hand and walked towards the door numbered three.
The third door was the only door with a painted number on it, the rest had metal numbers screwed on them with three screws. It was painted rather colorfully on a small piece of wood attached to the door with a simple nail. He pushed the key inside the door and opened it. The room was quite a bit bigger than the room behind the door numbered five. He found a small doorstop on the ground and pressed it beneath the door in the hallway.
There was a white light switch in this room and he clicked it on. The walls were unfinished with apparent framing around the sides of the room. Behind the wall frames were the same sort of red bricks he found in the room with the large fan. Hanging off the framing in the room were a variety of red and green puppets. They were various kinds of soft plush animals that could be manipulated to act rather funnily.
This moment terrified Ernie for a moment. He waited before he looked at the puppets further. There were eight on either side of the room. They hung from the framing with their hands or by fishing line. In the center of the room at the back he saw a regular human looking ventriloquist dummy. It sat motionless on a chest. The chest was wooden with metal trimmings that seemed to be bronze. There was a screwdriver on the chest as well.
Not regularly being a man of much adventure, Ernie was quite worried about his new place in the world. He walked into the strange, puppet filled room and moved the ventriloquist dummy to the side of the chest and placed it on the ground. He tried to open the chest and it seemed locked. He pulled the key out of his pocket and tried to open the chest with his only key. It opened and he lifted the lid.
Inside the chest he found two cassette tapes. They were numbered one and two, but otherwise the chest was empty. He looked about the room and noticed the fourth puppet on his left was holding a small tape deck. The fourth puppet on his right was holding a pair of batteries. Ernie felt very scared and took the batteries from the puppet on his right and placed them in the tape deck from his left. He took the screwdriver and tapes and pulled himself into the hallway and shut door number three.
He looked about the hallway and noticed he now had a small wooden bench beneath one of the paintings at the end of the hallway. He looked towards it and began to walk slowly over to the painting. He set up the tape deck and pressed the first tape into it. The tape played a quick punk anthem and then switched to a recent pop-music hit song by a woman dancer. He kept listening and found the entire tape was simply music. He enjoyed the variety and selection of the tape. It was short so rather quickly it needed turned. The other side held a variety of music as well.
Ernie now possessed a screwdriver and two wires as well as his key. The music was an entertaining background noise but offered no help in how to leave the hallway. He looked at the painting at the end above the recently placed bench and it seemed the old sailboat was further out into the ocean. The sailboat was the same size, but some islands had moved further into the distance.
He lifted the painting and found nothing behind it. He dropped it with a thud and noticed the waves had become rather larger. The boat was now fighting to stay afloat. He watched in strange fascination as the boat struggled with these waves he seemed to have created. The boat quickly righted and continued sailing. The ocean quelled and the scene became peaceful once again. The tape with music quickly ran out.
He looked at the tape deck and reached towards the bench. He sat on the wooden surface and pulled the first tape out. The cassette came out with a fight and the black tape from inside it was pulled out of the casing. He attempted to fix it with his screwdriver but the tape was thrown violently out of the casing and spread along his lap and the bench.
He placed the other tape inside the cassette player and the first tape vanished. It seemed as if it melted into the floor. The casing was still sitting on the bench but the black tape was being pulled into the floor. It vanished rather quickly and Ernie placed the tape deck on the bench and decided to listen to this tape more carefully. The first, he thought, must have been a distraction. The second one may have more information.
The tape began to play and the first side had very little information Ernie could understand. It began with the definition of history, found from a dictionary; “History,” it said, “–noun, 1. The branch of knowledge dealing with past events. 2. A continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; chronicle: a history of France; a medical history of the patient. 3. The record of past events and times, esp. in connection with the human race. 4. A drama representing historical events: Shakespeare's comedies, histories, and tragedies.”
The tape was silent after this. About three minutes later the tape spoke again. It became a soft voice stating the simple phrase “Grandfather, diplomat, post office, time.” This phrase repeated itself a number of times getting louder. The soft voice became old and gritty. The gravelly voice became louder and stated the same thing continuously. It began to fade and fell silent rather quickly. It was followed by an old orchestra’s song from the renaissance played only on three violins.
The tape ran out and Ernie sat silently. He tried to remember how he had found himself in this situation. He looked at the floor and noticed it was no longer plainly decorated. He could not remember what it was before, but it was now green marble tiles. He looked at the far wall and the boat in the painting was reaching a port. He looked at his key and tried to remember who gave it to him.
He remembered getting out of the cab and seeing a food stand opening. He asked the man for some breakfast but the man claimed he could not feed him yet as he was not ready. Ernie strolled hungry down the block passing a very regular city day. The cars and taxis honked their horns and stalled each other’s movement. The street was crowded and the sidewalks seemed to be congested as well. He made his way to the next block and found another food stand just opening.
He asked for something and was again refused. The old fat woman wearing a flowered dress spoke loudly. She swung her purse at him and hit him in the shoulder. He stood in disbelief, he recalled. He asked once more for food and she yelled at him to keep moving. He felt he should as well. He walked down the street and tripped over a brick on the sidewalk. He regained his composure and stood on the corner waiting for his light to change. He soon snapped back into the hallway he found himself now.
Ernie decided the only thing action he could take would be to open another door. He opened the door numbered two. The number was written as it is spelled using letters. The number fell to the ground as he placed the key inside the hole. It shattered on the ground and vanished into the marble tile floor. He watched as the two tiles it touched became black and white. The rest of the tiles soon followed suit, becoming alternating black and white. This happened rather quickly as Ernie opened the door numbered two.
The door led into a small closet. The closet had many racks rising high above Ernie’s reach. On two sides of the closet the racks all had leather sandals. The sandals looked as if they were new, even unfinished. Many of the sandals were missing their latchets. He found these straps and the pieces meant to secure them on the third side of the closet. This was the wall to his left as he stood in the doorway.
He took a pair of sandals in his hand and they grew to his size of feet. He grabbed the leather straps and the fastening pieces and placed them on the leather sandals. He took his screwdriver and secured the strap onto the unfinished shoe. After tightening the first latch he noticed the rest of the sandals became latched as well. He brought his new shoes into the hallway and sat on the wooden bench. He looked across the way and saw a small round window where the painting once was.
He knew now what the game was. He just needed to perform the tasks as he was asked. He opened the door labeled five once again and attached the wires to the engine with his screwdriver. This shorted the fuse on the fan and the fan sputtered and stopped. The breaker had been blown by his actions. He walked into the hallway to see the change in the strange room. On the bench stood a small gnome.
Ernie was a bit taken aback by his small new partner. The gnome reached behind him and pulled two puppets out from behind his tiny back. The puppets were about the same size as him, one was green and one was red. The gnome began to act out a scene from the movie Citizen Kane. “It was something,” the gnome stated once he had finished, “That was meant to entertain you, sir.” Ernie looked at the small gnome in disbelief. He spoke softly, “How do I get back to the normal world?”
The gnome looked at Ernie and laughed asking, “Why in the name of life would you want to go back to that world?” Ernie smiled, “It was just so normal. Everything was the same as it always was.” The gnome cracked up, “Ernie, pal, I’m here to let you out. But we chose you because you never have seen the true world. You laugh at the TV but never at good jokes. You never see the irony in life. You never take your life by the short strings, right?” The gnome then switched the hands the puppets were on quickly.
The green puppet began to talk in a high-strung voice, “Pal, you need to find the right way out. Shutting off the wind isn’t it. The moving of the boat, finally on shore I guess we’ve made it out through the ocean.” The red puppet chimed in, “You’re so over-dramatic. You never let us speak through the heart. We’ve made it to port now Ernie, now we need off of our ship. How do we do that?”
Ernie looked at his key on a string. He spoke to the gnome, “By unlocking more doors?” The red puppet spoke up, “I asked to that, not the gnome!” Ernie laughed and took the key in his hand. “Maybe door number four?” The gnome shouted out, “Dear God, no! You are very lucky you never opened door number four. That could have taken away everything you ever held dear, sir.” The red puppet said to the green one, “Yeah that could have been a good show.”
Ernie asked the red puppet, “What’s behind number four?” The red puppet smiled and said, “That’s where the lovely maiden resides. She’s old and fat and stinks. She is not dressed and wants to kiss. She smokes three packs a day in that room and she cannot find the handle to leave the room. She decorated her only home in hair and spit. It is not a nice scene inside that room.”
Ernie looked at the puppets. He felt thankful he was in some company now. The gnome looked at the fourth door and said to Ernie, “You know, he’s telling the truth. That room is not for the weak of heart. There would have been little you could have done had you opened that door. I think you’ve been making the right decisions thus far.” Ernie nodded, “I was simply going with my instinct.” The gnome smiled, “That’s the right way to do anything, ain’t it.”
“What is my action from here?” Ernie asked. The gnome looked at the green puppet. The puppet moved his eyes and looked at door number one, “Well, number one is the way you came. Would you like to go back?” He then laughed. Ernie ran towards the first door and the red puppet chimed in, “That’s a lie Ernie.” Ernie stopped. “It’s a good way to get to the ocean, though.” Ernie turned the key in the door and noticed the room was nearly the size of the main hallway.
He looked at the ground and found another doorstop. He placed it in front of the door and stepped though the landing. He fell two steps down and noticed a vacuum. The red machine had a note attached to it. He read the small torn piece of lined white paper and it said, “Clean the sand.” He placed the piece in his pocket and sand began to fall from the ceiling. The floor was filled with sand and the vacuum began to hum. The sand was sucked through the hose and filled the machine rather quickly.
Ernie drug the sand filled vacuum into the main hallway and it sputtered and spat sand out the hose. The vacuum tipped on its side and the sand fell on the tiles. Ernie tried to vacuum the sand and found the noise reverberated through the hallway very loudly. It shook his head and he shut the machine off quickly. He looked at the sand and it spelled “the number six.” He closed the first door and looked at the red puppet. The gnome sat laughing and said, “Try number six, friend.”
Ernie shut the door. It closed with a thud. He looked at the gnome, who was putting the puppets into a large duffle back. The vacuum began to shake again; the noise was much too loud to take. It shook the room, his head, the bench and the painting. The window at the far end of the room began to crack. The marble floor began to shake. Ernie kicked the vacuum and it shut off. He took the screwdriver to the motor and immobilized the machine. The gnome looked at him, “You do have a way, don’t you, pal.”
The vacuum shook in the hallway still, but the motor was humming a high squeal instead of the room-shattering wail it sang before. He took the key and opened the room numbered one again. He threw the vacuum deep into the sand that was now rather deep and shaped like dunes. The vacuum sucked the sand and spat it out the other end but now sucked softly and sounded much nicer. Ernie shut the door and felt it was locked once again. The gnome looked at him, “This is a good idea for both of us.”
Ernie noticed the painting behind the bench was much bigger and painted with a lot more talent that the original painting. He pointed this out to the gnome who stated, “You should be used to this stuff by now, kid. Life is like this I suppose. Now try the one numbering six, you are nearly finding your way out here kid.” Ernie looked at the gnome. “Am I just entertaining you? Or am I in a coma? What is this?” The gnome looked at him and said, “I can’t explain, I started here like you. Now I can get out. Moving around. Its like a game, I suppose.”
Ernie asked the gnome, “You were like me once too?” The gnome nodded, “Yes, I once got trapped in this same hallway. I had to see the world differently. You aren’t dead. You aren’t in a coma. You just hadn’t seen what life is. Magic is real, I believe that is still the message.” Ernie could not see the magic in his situation. He mentioned this to the gnome. The gnome replied, “Nah, not this situation, it’s just meant to confuse you so the maker can laugh. It’s her idea of a good time.”
Ernie took the key and opened the door numbered six. The door swung open and a bright light shone through. Ernie cried to the gnome, “You said I wasn’t dead!” The gnome rushed over and shut off the lamp. “Just one of them bright lights, right. Now climb the ladder and you can get to work. You were looking for breakfast, right?” The gnome handed Ernie a bagel with egg and meat on it. There was a nice layer of freshly slice cheese and pepper, just like he liked it. Ernie held on to the bagel and climber the short ladder. At the top he pushed a hatch and began to pull himself through. Light was shining and he heard a number of horns honking.
A car came to a skidding stop and way wailing at him, the driver yelled, “What are you a freaking nut! Get out of the way! What the hell you doing coming out of there at seven in the morning!” Ernie was looking both directions and found he was standing in the middle of the road. The man continued to yell, “I could have killed you! You freaking bum! Get off the road, you maniac!” The cars were backed up and honking at him and he sat with a breakfast bagel in hand. He quickly dashed towards the sidewalk. The old woman was finished setting up her stand.
He bit his breakfast and she smiled at him. “That will be four seventy-five, sir. Do you want a coffee for another two bucks?” Ernie looked at the lady and looked at his suit. It was spotless and pressed. He took another bite of the bagel. “Sir, four seventy-five for the bagel.” Ernie stood saying nothing. He stared at the lady for a moment and asked her for the coffee as well. He handed her a ten-dollar bill and asked for no change. She gave him the coffee and he dressed it as his usual. He continued his walk to work in a daze.