What an uninspired layout. Jim traversed the long, colourless corridor decorated with dim amber lights leading the way. The reward for his journey, two closed doors barely a hand width apart. Both were grey, covered in smudges with silver knobs of questionable cleanliness. The knobs were next to each other on the inward opening doors. The left door was hinged on the left, the right door hinged on the right. Jim was wearing his finest suit today but felt naked without his leather briefcase. He was told not to bring it which was highly irregular. Jim glanced over his shoulder but couldn’t see the far end of the corridor. He’d followed the instructions to the letter, nothing was said about two doors. He sighed, frustration etched in his face. This was unprofessional, his time was too precious for stupid games.
Jim took a step toward the left door, it just seemed comfortable and familiar. No logic behind that thought but it was true. He reached his right hand out to grab the filthy knob but stopped just before touching it. He couldn’t explain it but he found himself looking to the door on the right. He allowed his hand to drop by his side and stepped back. Left just made sense to him yet the right attracted his attention like a magnet. For Jim, it felt like trying to ignore something that demanded attention. It made no sense, the right door offered nothing to entice him. He dismissed this irrational thinking, grabbed hold of the cold left door’s knob and turned it.
In the shine of his shoes, Jim saw a poor reflection of his hand and face. He slowly released his grip. The knob noisily responded to his command and returned the hidden latch to its standard resting position. He peeled his hand off the sticky metal and let it drop. He turned his head and focused his eyes on the other door again. What was going on? Jim flicked his left wrist up and checked the time. He slumped his shoulders, looked up to the ceiling and sighed again. He was going to be late, something he didn’t tolerate in others. If he had his briefcase he could have called. Enough of this nonsense, Jim returned his gaze to the doors. He looked to the left which felt safe and familiar. He looked to the right and was inexplicably intrigued. Against his instinct, Jim grabbed the right doorknob, turned it quickly and pushed it open.
He was hit with a gentle gush of warm air and a sweet smell, maybe frankincense. He could see the back of some comfortable looking red chairs. It looked like a reception waiting room, he’d made the right choice. He boldly stepped inside and the door clicked closed behind him. All the lights went out, Jim couldn’t see anything. He was about to call out to inform the receptionist of his presence when a dim light fired up. It burned just enough darkness to show Jim the carpeted floor from his current position to one of the comfortable red chairs a few steps away.
Jim gasped then giggled, “Sorry, you startled me. I’m Jim…”
“Should we reschedule?”
Jim took the few steps to the chair. He touched the soft back support as he came around the front of it. The dim light fell from a small bulb above the chair, nothing but weak shadows everywhere else. He gently sat down and looked at the darkness around him. The man was sitting opposite Jim in the shadows, a featureless silhouette the only evidence Jim was not alone. “Perhaps we could talk outside?”
“No, I can’t.”
Jim giggled, “Okay. This is obviously unusual but at least I chose the right door.”
Jim frowned, “Well, you know who I am so I assume you were expecting me.”
“I do know who you are but I wasn’t expecting you.”
Jim cleared his throat, “Oh, I’m sorry. I have an interview I’m now late for.” He stood up.
“You misunderstand, you are in the right place.”
Jim frowned, “This doesn’t make sense, is this a prank?”
“No, please sit.”
Jim sat again trying to see the shadowy figure. “Who are you, why am I here?”
“I’ll ask the questions. You said this was an interview.”
There was a long silence. The man was moving now, walking around. Jim could barely see anything but could sense the man’s presence more than his shadow. Jim wiggled in his chair. The man stopped close to Jim, he was under the light but his facial features were undefined. “First question.” Jim gently cleared his throat. “Why did you choose the right door?”
Jim coughed, laughed, spluttered all at once, “Agh, what. What do you mean?”
“It’s a simple question.”
“Well.” Jim shook his head as he tried to transform his thoughts and feelings into some sort of coherent words. “I don’t know, I had to pick one and that’s the one I chose.”
“That’s not true. You chose the left door.”
Jim frowned, “So you’ve been spying on me.” He jumped to his feet, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what this is but I’m not comfortable with it. I need to go.”
“What are you afraid of Jim?”
“This is highly irregular. I don’t know who you are or what you want.”
“Yes, you do.” Jim turned away to look back at the door that brought him into this mess. “You can go if you want but I think you should stay a little longer.”
Jim laughed, “I don’t like silly games and riddles.”
“Oh, I know. But that’s not what this is.”
Jim walked to the door. His shoe kicked it letting him know he’d arrived, freedom awaits. He grabbed the cold knob and turned it. He stopped.
“Why are you hesitating Jim?”
What was the answer to that excellent question, “I don’t know.”
“I do, sit.”
Jim decided to give this man a chance to explain his erratic and sinister behaviour. He knew now he could make it to the door quickly if this freakish man crossed the line. He sat, reluctantly. Silence again. “Well, I’m waiting,” said Jim.
“So am I. You still haven’t answered my question.”
“I told you, I had to choose a door so I chose.”
“What are you afraid of Jim?”
“You mean, besides this right now.”
“You’re not afraid of me.”
“How do you know?”
“Isn’t it true?”
Jim took a deep breath and contemplated the idea. He couldn’t remember ever being afraid of meeting with people, even the peculiar. Besides, he could handle himself. He was also a well adjusted and successful businessman, a leader of people. There’s nothing this man can say that Jim couldn’t handle, he’s a professional. True, Jim was not afraid of him. But the door. Why? Jim’s decisions were always based on the wisdom of careful consideration. The results spoke for themselves. He regularly met the expectations of his subordinates and superiors. That must be it, “I’m gifted at making good choices so it just naturally influenced which door I chose.” Explanation, satisfactory.
“But you went against it this time.”
Jim went to deny that but then remembered the truth.
The man interrupted, “Haven’t figured it out yet?”
Who on earth was this obnoxious man? Jim wanted to know but he wanted to understand his actions more. He reflected on his childhood and school years, the subjects he studied, his friends and his career. He was always analytical and well educated in the ways of the world. He knows what most people want. He’s a good boss and an extremely loyal employee. He had followed the path of previous legends before him and built his road to success. “What are you saying, I made the wrong choice?”
“You’re almost there, keep digging.” Jim slumped in the chair, he was weary now. The man said, “I’ll give you a nudge. Why did you come here today?”
“That’s easy. My career options have peaked where I work. This was supposed to be an opportunity for me to go higher.”
“It still is.”
“No offence, but I don’t think so. I know it’s dark right now but I can see this isn’t the place for me.”
“Why are you so sure?”
The man stepped back to his original position in the dark for a moment. A soft dragging noise accompanied him as he returned close to Jim. He had brought his chair over and sat. More of his face was visible now, it was familiar somehow but still hard to see him. “Please, continue.”
Jim was frowning, wondering why this man was having this effect on him? He was always so in control and never thrown by people and their idiosyncrasies, but this man. “Well, it’s so different to what I’m used to.”
“Yes, but you’re drawn to it.”
“Yes, yes I am.” Was that the big secret ingredient? Jim wants something different.
The man placed his hand on Jim’s right shoulder, “Do you see it?” Jim tilted his head like a dog trying to understand a command. “It’s not complicated.”
Jim reflected again on the path of his life. He wasn’t unhappy but quickly dissatisfied. He had many ideas that he knew would make a difference that were rejected without consideration. He had a dream. He had a dream. He had a dream. Jim jumped up, “I had a dream when I was young. I was so in love with it. I told everyone.” Jim sat again swinging his arms around as he spoke, “I haven’t done it, I was talked out of it. They all told me I was too gifted to waste my gifts on my dream. I, I forgot about it.” Jim’s countenance fell quickly, “I failed.”
“No, you didn’t. You’ve been on a path and learned much on your journey. Now you have more skills and experience for your dream.”
Jim smiled, “You’re right.”
“There it is.”
The man slowly leaned in closer allowing the dim light to reveal his secrets. He came in chin first, it was naked and round. An uneven smile was overseen by a prominent nose. The lines around the eyes were like a map of the countless journeys undertaken. The grey hair framed a happy soul indeed. It was a familiar face with kind eyes. Familiar eyes. The man pointed his index finger to his right eye. “The sparkle in our eyes is back.”
Jim’s mouth opened up to capture every molecule of air it could grab. The man gently giggled, “You can trust me when I say, I know how you feel right now.” The man helped Jim to his feet. They were the same height. He placed his strong hands on Jim’s shoulders. “Follow that dream once again, choose your path. Your heart will sing and many, many people will be helped and blessed by who you truly are. As you do,” the man pointed to his chest, “you’ll know real joy in here. And you will be in my shoes.” They both looked down at his shoes. Jim loved them and saw his clear reflection in them. Then they faded and were gone.
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: A character stands in front of two doors. Write a story about what happens after they choose one to enter.