Note: This story was produced by the Night Fears Horror Fiction podcast on February 9th 2016. You can find it at http://nightfearspodcast.com/the-tune-man-the-hallway.
Sarah ran down the hallway, the never-ending series of doors passing as she went. The need to escape was what drove her to flee. What lay behind her and what may lay ahead was ludicrous but she had no other alternative. She had to run, to escape. However no matter how far she went there was never any progress. The doors she passed continued to appear and disappear from view with no ending in sight. The hallway had no breaks, no turns, no dead ends; just doors. Her muscles ached as a cramp bit into her side but she continued to run. She had to. What she witnessed in that room spurred her into this mad sprint for freedom. She ran until sweat fell from her face in torrents and pain shredded every neuron, filling her with untold agony. She ran until her legs gave out and she tumbled to the floor into a sprawling heap.
Exhausted, sweating, struggling for breath, the tears Sarah fought back for so long had finally broken through. It was not just a memory that lay behind the door but the event itself. This time, as she relived it, she felt all of the emotions that she had not before. The joy that was once so relished was replaced by a consuming anguish. Pain not only tore at her body but at her heart. The cramps and aches were only matches to the raging inferno of guilt that was devouring her whole. Sarah managed to escape that room, to escape all of the rooms, but no matter how much she fought the impulse, she could not stay the drive to open yet another door and step through.
When she first woke she was grateful, surprised even. For those brief moments before her world went black she was certain her time was up. As everything came into focus once more, Sarah thought she had dodged a bullet. Now, however, any semblance of hope was gone; shattered by this new grim reality. How she was trapped in the hallway of doors, she could not understand. Even as the man spoke to her, she refused to believe him. What she did know was that what lay beyond the doors were things of nightmares.
Sarah knew that she had to keep moving but the drive to open the nearest door scratched at her mind once more. Like a junkie’s itch, the need bore deeper into her mind, into her very soul. There was no shaking it. The only way to dismiss the desire was to follow through with it; to give it what it wanted. To her right a plain white door with cool brass handle beckoned to her. The siren song of desire broke down any defenses she may have had. The itch must be scratched; the need met. Fingers dancing, clenching, tensing; they must open the door. While her mind screamed no, her body began to move.
It was during this brief moment as Sarah struggled against her own body that she heard the footsteps once again. The sound rekindled her sense of dread. She knew that he was coming for her as he had done the moment she met him. He wouldn't hurt her, but he would not allow her to rest either. He would simply do as he promised. He would look at her and smile before saying: If you won’t open a door, I will make you.
Sarah cast her gaze to the floor. As her eyes fell upon the dull red carpet a pair of pristine black leather shoes came into her field of vision. Bright red socks peaked out from the gap between the shoes and neat dress slacks. Above her she heard the light clacking of the man's silver mediation balls as he continued to juggle them with one hand. The way the silver orbs spun around his palm, his fingers barely moving as they shifted around would have been impressive if not for the sheer terror she felt.
"Poor Sarah." The man mocked. "Poor, poor Sarah."
"Leave me alone." She whimpered. "Please just leave me alone." Tears escaped her eyes, cascading down her cheeks, but sadness only brought raucous laughter.
"But Sarah," The man said, barely containing his laughter, "You are alone."
The Corvette tore down the highway, the engine roaring as the odometer needle drifted past the 120 mark. Her heart raced as the cocaine performed its magic, and as the driver pushed the RPMs into the red, the vibration of the car almost caused her to orgasm. She screamed with utter ecstasy as her high reached an all-time peak. The headlights illuminated the dark road, the white stripes blurring into a single line that weaved in and out of sight. Looking at the driver, she eyed the man that made her own engine roar. The man, whose name was irrelevant, met her gaze and with it came a devious smile as the car sped even faster down the dark and winding road.
Sarah gripped the door knob but not by choice. The autonomy she once possessed was gone once again. She ran because he allowed it. She moved because he willed it. Looking back at the man, he simply smiled. A handsome man with glowing silver eyes, he was just the type of person she would have sought out for one reason or another. Perhaps an adventurous sexual escapade for all those around to see or someone to be used, abused, and discarded once the novelty had worn off. Unfortunately, she had no power here. This man was in control. He could use her, abuse her, and leave her utterly broken.
"Why are you doing this?" Sarah cried. She wanted to wipe away the tears but her fingers would not release the doorknob.
"I've done nothing." He said still juggling the meditation balls. "This is entirely on you." With that she twisted the knob and the door opened.
"No more." She cried. "Please no more."
The man stepped up to her and leaning in close, he whispered, "And how many times did she beg you to stop?" And with that Sarah marched into the room, the door closing behind her.
Sarah was no longer in the hallway but instead found herself standing in the street of a nameless city. Before her was a club. The bass thudded through the walls, the sound apparent but unclear, while all-around her she was flooded with the noises of a bustling metropolis. Once more the feeling of relief returned as she was again free from that confining hallway. She prayed that this time she could stay and start making amends for what she had done. But, as before, this hope was shattered as Sarah watched a group of young girls stumble out into the street. Obviously drunk, they cheered and hollered, their voices carrying into the night. With one girl leading the others, the group left to find another club so that they could continue their buzz well into the morning. She was far too young to be in the club but with the fake ID and revealing clothes, admittance was never an issue.
As the group walked past a young woman who was clearly on her way home from work, the lead girl collided with her. The young woman, a slight framed and mousy type named Rita Grossman, wanted nothing more than to be home with her four month old son. The poor child was suffering from a terrible ear infection and her overly tired husband worked diligently to ease the boy’s pain. The lead girl stopped in her tracks, trying to regain her balance as Rita paused to apologize. Rita was always someone who would apologize even if the fault lay with another. Friendly, loving, and honest, Rita was a good woman. For the girl, though, Rita’s apology was an admission of guilt and therefore the girl was the victim of this outlandish incident.
"What the fuck did you say, bitch?" The girl said. Rita froze, the harshness of the girl's tone taking her by surprise. She shied away slightly but one of the girl's followers cut off her retreat; the group effectively blocking her in.
"Please, I don't want any trouble. I just want to go home to my baby." Rita said. The fear was obvious but the girl didn't care. The anger was there and the false sense of bravado from the Cocaine urged her onwards.
"I don't give a fuck about your baby." The girl said. With both hands she pushed Rita with as much force as she could muster. Losing her footing, Rita fell to the pavement, scraping her palms as she tried to catch herself. But the girl didn’t miss a beat. She started stomping on Rita, bringing her heel down with as much force as possible; first on her hands and then her head. The group laughed and hollered as Rita begged for them to stop but her cries went unheard. With each strike pain erupted from her hand, face, back, arm, leg, every inch of her. It was one final blow that sent her head slamming into the pavement. As it did a single thought came to Rita before her mind went blank: she could not help but think of her son and how awful his ear infection had been.
Sarah watched all of this in utter horror. The lump in her throat swelled with each passing moment as she begged the girl to stop, but the words were never heard. What was done could not be undone. Within moments, the group of girls stopped and left, leaving Rita lying in the street, bleeding and unconscious. She wasn’t discovered until twenty three minutes later by a passing cab driver. Sarah watched and waited the entire time, unable to do anything to help her.
Rita’s discovery was not where this memory stopped. Instead, Sarah followed as Rita was taken to the hospital and was met by her husband. She watched every single second from the time she was rolled into the hospital by the EMTs to the moment days later when the doctor told her husband that Rita was in a persistent vegetative state. Sarah watched as a broken hearted man said farewell to his wife of only six months and who would have to raise their son who would never know the true love of his mother. Sarah felt not only her pain from watching this terrible scene, but the pain that Mark Grossman and his young son Terry knew as well.
Sarah did not witness these scenes in brief flashes of time. No, she was forced to experience every moment, every second in real time. She sat in the hospital room for over four months. Never eating, never sleeping, only watching until the moment the doctor pulled the plug and the monitors were powered down. When the last gasp of breath escaped Rita’s lips, control returned to her body and with it came the door. Like a hole in the very fabric of reality it revealed the hallway once more. Though she knew that the hallway was all that awaited her, it didn't matter. She couldn't bear being in that room any longer.
"So," The man asked as the door closed behind her, "How many times did she beg?"
Sarah tried to speak but her sobs choked the words from her. The man watched all of this calmly, coolly. He was safely disconnected from her pain, having earned that honor long ago. He felt nothing but pleasure from seeing Sarah suffer from her own misdeeds. She managed to catch her breath long enough to answer the man's question. He would not stop asking until she told him and if she didn't, he would throw her back through that door again to relive it over and over again.
"Seven." She finally managed. Through the corners of her eyes she saw that the man was gone, having received the answer he desired. It wasn't the first time and she knew it wouldn't be the last. The drive to open the doors was gone and this reprieve allowed her to regain what little composure she could. Back against the wall, she slid to the floor, praying to forget what she saw, what she felt, but knew they would never fade. Rita, the daughter of a baker and a nurse, beloved mother and wife, begged for Sarah to stop her assault seven times. It wasn't that the words went unheard; it was just that Sarah didn't care. But now she did. She felt Rita’s pain. She felt everything.
She pulled down the visor, wanting to adjust her make up. By the swiftly passing lights of the highway, she saw that her lipstick was slightly smeared no doubt from their earlier romp against the corvette when it was still parked in the garage. Removing a tissue from her handbag, she cleaned up what she could before tossing the tissue out the car. A moment later she removed her lipstick and deftly touched up her appearance up to near perfection. Before flipping the visor back up, she pursed her lips, sending a kiss to the flashing red and blue lights behind them.
The sound of a creaking down brought Sarah's attention down the hallway. Several doors down, she saw light crawling through the growing crack. The hinges whined and moaned as the door swung open. The urge to move was back. Gathering herself, she climbed to her feet, knowing that if she didn't the man would pay her another visit. Sarah couldn't remember how many doors she had stepped through since she arrived in the hallway but this was the first to open on its own. Approaching the door with extreme caution, she peered around the corner and saw what appeared to be a small cramped apartment where a young man lay reading a book on his tablet. His name was Brent Walters, a physics major. Thin, cute, and unintimidating, Brent had his entire future ahead of him. An extremely intelligent student, he was on his way to graduating Manga Cum Luda. Working two part time jobs to pay for his books and rent, he was saving what he could so that after he graduated he could to take a break from responsibility and backpack around Europe for a bit. He wanted to explore the world for just a little longer before settling down and starting the next stage of his life. He had so much to look forward to. The future that lay before him was bright and promising; until that one night.
Sarah stepped through the opening and the moment she did, the door slammed behind her. Seeing the young man, she knew what was going to happen and a cold sweat broke out all over. A growing unease turned her stomach into a knotted mess as a greasy taste coated her tongue. She wanted to flee, to escape the room, but her door was gone. His door however was there and from it came a knock, pulling Brent from his book. He wasn't expecting anyone but assumed it was one of his friends dropping in. It wasn't uncommon for them to crash on his couch since he was so close to the bar and it was just easier than stumbling back to campus. Opening the door, Brent saw not friends but police waiting on the other side.
"Can I help you?" Brent asked. A salt and peppered haired man held up a detective's shield.
"Are you Brent Walters?" The detective asked. He nodded, cautiously. "Brent Walters you are under arrested for the rape and assault of Sarah Allen. You have the right to remain silent..." As the detective delivered Brent his Miranda Rights, an officer, slid on a shining pair of handcuffs before frisking him for any weapons or contraband.
Unlike before the scene dissolved and Sarah found herself standing in the center of a courtroom, time flashing forward several months. Unlike TV or movies, the room was small and lacked the majestic windows one often expected. Instead the only light coming from overhead florescent bulbs that buzzed as the seconds of their life ticked by before they ultimately burnt out. The room was filled with people that Sarah knew upon sight. Toward the front was Brent wearing in an ill-fitting suit sitting next to a man she knew as his attorney. On the opposite of the room was a man and a woman. The woman sat next to the judge in the witness booth while the man paced about the room. Tears streamed down the young woman's face as she wept openly, telling the tale of her assault. The judge sat and watched, listening to the woman’s story as did a jury of her peers. In the audience were Brent's parents, his twelve-year-old brother and four-year-old sister. They wept though for a very different reason. They knew their Brent was innocent, but no one would believe them. Instead they threw him into a prison cell and branded a rapist.
The prosecutor had finished his examination and allowed the woman to leave the stand for several minutes to regain her composure before the defense could cross-examine her. As she was escorted by the bailiff, she and Brent's eyes met and for the slightest moment and she offered him a sly wink. Brent only looked away, knowing that his life was over. Sarah watched all of this in horror. Just as the girl moved toward the door, the scene suddenly froze. It was like a snapshot but in three dimensions. That was when she heard the light sound of clacking metal. Sarah turned and saw the man sitting at the witness stand.
"Tell me," he said as his smile widened, "What was his real crime against you?" Sarah bit her lip, the need to speak loosening her tongue.
"He rejected me." She said timidly. "We dated for about a month, but he said that he was no longer interested so he broke up with me."
"And?" The man asked.
"And so I went to the police and told them that he raped me." Sarah admitted. The man laughed sadistically, head thrown back and mouth wide.
Lowering his gaze back toward her, he spoke again. "And do you know what happened to this young man?" He asked, gesturing to Brent. Her eyes met with Brent’s once more. This time she saw the pain in his heart, the agony that she created. More tears fell from her eyes, real tears this time. Sarah shook her head. "He was convicted because of your very compelling story. The poor boy went to prison where he was beaten and repeatedly raped by other inmates, but he couldn't handle it. So do you know what he did?" The man asked. Sarah shook her head again. "He used his bed sheet and hanged himself during the night and his cellmate couldn't care less." With that he laughed once more as Sarah fled the courtroom and returned to the hallway.
The police cruisers were having trouble keeping up with the Corvette. The Corvette was designed for speed, theirs weren’t. The helicopter, on the other hand, managed to keep pace with them quite well. Seeing this, the man raised his hand, giving the finger to the pilot and anyone else watching. She knew this had to end eventually and probably with the police surrounding them. She quickly decided to feign fear, claiming that he had kidnapped her. The sex before was pretty rough so she suspected she could claim rape as well to better solidify her story. After all it worked once, why not twice.
The door looked different from the others. Sarah had gone through numerous doors before all white with brass doorknobs. This door was a solid ebony wood with golden handle. Her desire to see the door was not from the unknown drive, but instead from sheer curiosity. Her fingers lightly touched the handle and found it smooth but warm. With a deep breath she pushed the door open and stepped into a modest two story home. The furniture was not new but well loved. A television hung on the wall as a cartoon she didn't recognize played for a small child who giggled happily as she watched. A man, attractive though not to Sarah's current standards sat on the sofa, fingers dancing along the keyboard of his laptop. David. His name was David Walsh. With wavy red hair and a light beard from several days of not shaving, his gaze kept shifting from his daughter, Lily, to his work and back again.
Sarah watched all of this curiously. The previous rooms were horrid reminders of what she had done, but this was almost peaceful. This was not one of her memories. Instead, it appeared to be a brief glimpse into the life of a man and young girl who were presumably happy. This confusion only compounded when she heard footfalls descending the nearby staircase. Turning, she gasped. Wearing a thin, shabby bathrobe, with no makeup and hair pulled back into a pony tail was Sarah but not Sarah. It was some doppelganger that looked like her, moved like her and even spoke like her.
"Hey David." The Sarah twin said. Bending over, David kissed her and smiled.
"Mornin'." He said, "You slept in late." His accent was thick, unmistakably Irish. The Sarah twin shrugged but smiled.
"I was tired." She said giving a knowing smile. Turning to Lily, the Sarah twin knelt down, her smile widening. "Hi sweetie!" Her voice shifted into a higher pitch as she scooped up her young daughter. Lily laughed and waved her arms wildly as she nuzzled into her mother. The Sarah twin was Lily’s mother. Sarah was a mother.
"When did you want to go over to Brent and Gary's house today? Brent texted me and wanted to know so he and Gary can clean." David asked. The Sarah twin bounced Lily up and down in her arms and rocking her back and forth.
"I figured around noon so we can get lunch while we do some Christmas shopping." She said. David feigned sadness as he silently wept.
"Do we have to go shopping? I hate shopping." He cried dramatically. The Sarah twin laughed.
"You'll be on your phone the entire time. And you can watch Lily while I shop." She said. Looking at Lily, her pitch jumped once more, "Do you want daddy to watch you?" There was a sudden bark from behind the couch as a large golden retriever appeared from around the corner. "Not you Bruno."
Sarah, the true one, considered the name Brent. Like a dam rupturing, new information poured into her mind as if she had known all of it the entire time. Brent was the same person she met in school, the same person she sent to prison and who ultimately killed himself. However in this door, in this room, Brent and she were friends. Having had a crush on him back when they first met, they dated briefly before he came to the very personal realization that he was gay. However with her support as a friend she helped him accept who he was and their friendship grew. The heartbreak she suffered was short lived as he introduced her to David, her now husband.
Just as the pieces had fallen into place, the world froze. The Sarah twin was stopped mid swing as Lily laughed wildly. Watching this, David stroked Bruno's muzzle as the dog demanded love from his human father. This slice of suburban life was so far removed from what Sarah knew that it was just too unreal, and yet it was so tangible. It was almost…
"Like reality." A voice spoke from behind. Sarah turned to see the man standing behind her.
"What is this?" Sarah asked. The man, twirling the silver balls in his hands as he walked into the scene before her.
"This," He said pointing at the Sarah twin, "Is who you could have been." He said with relish.
"What?" Sarah asked but with the question came a sadness that sat heavy in her heart.
"This is what would have happened if you had gone to the other side." The man said. Sarah's expression was evidence enough that she failed to comprehend. Laughing the man brought his right hand up and rolled one ball into the palm so that he now held one in each. "This," He said raising the left one, "Is who you are. A neglected, abused child who in turn sought out affection and relief from your own pain with sex and drugs, anger and hate. The desire to feel good, to feel something, anything really, pushed you to lie, cheat, steal, kill, and do it entirely without remorse." Lowering his left and raising the right, the man continued. "This is who you could have become." As he spoke, he gestured toward the room, “This is what your life could have been. You would have had friends, known true love. This world could have been yours."
The man laughed again as the grim realization washed over her in large, drowning waves. Knowing that she could have had this life, to be happy and truly in love was perhaps the worst torture she had yet endured. Sarah broke down as she gazed upon the daughter she would never know. She did not know David, but in spite of this she knew that she did love him truly and deeply. There was no need to lie to her about this world. What would be the point? The truth was so much worse than any fiction this man could dream up.
The man was gone and door reappeared. This was that was her sign to leave, though she wanted nothing more than to stay and watch her family but she had to go. The invisible strings that controlled her would not allow her to stay. This was her nightmare, her punishment. For the first time she wanted to stay, but now had no choice but to leave it behind.
If it weren't for the man firing a gun at the helicopter the end result would have been different. The woman laughed and cheered with each shot. Part of her hoped to see the helicopter crash, just to see if it was anything like the movies. It was this inattention toward the road that ended their joy ride. What they didn't notice was that they were drifting to the right which led to an off-ramp. It wasn't until it was too late that they saw their car was headed straight into the guardrail. At 120 miles per hour, seatbelts or no, there was no coming back.
She woke up, surrounded by darkness. In the distance were the sounds of agonized screams and cries for help. Her memory of what happened before she awoke was vivid, every detail engrained in her memory. Though suffering a car crash, her body was not damaged in anyway. In fact she appeared better than before. Climbing to her feet, Sarah looked around but saw only darkness and a single light bulb dangling overhead. The cold yellow pushed away the darkness but only by inches.
"Welcome." A voice called from behind her. She screamed, her cries echoing into the darkness around her. This only elicited more cries from those hidden the shadows. The man stood before her smiling as he twirled two silver meditation balls in his left hand. The fingers moved as if independent from his body, juggling the orbs around his palm, the pace never slowing.
"Who are you? Where am I?" Sarah screamed. The man only laughed, his silver eyes dancing with utter mischief.
"My name is Malae Memoriae," He said. With his free hand, he snapped his fingers and lights appeared overheard running forward and backward, disappearing into the distance. The lights revealed two long rows of equidistant doors going as far as the eye could see.
"Where am I?" Sarah asked once again, her bravado evaporating upon seeing the unending corridor.
"You are home." He said smiling, "Welcome to Hell."
And with that, Sarah ran.