The Books of Shallice

The Hallway


Andrew Norman

"I don’t like this room."

"Do you want to go to the next one?"

"It’s not much better."

"Then to which room do you want to go?"

"I don’t really know."

The dissenter's name was Francis. He was speaking to his lifelong friend, Jonathan. They were sitting at a table in a long and narrow room. It had dark, ornamented rugs over hard floors, statues and paintings on the brown walls, arched ceilings, and was freshly cleaned. There were two doors leading out of this room, and both led to rooms exactly like it, and those rooms led to rooms exactly like those. No doors could ever be found on the wide sides of the rooms, only the narrow sides, and these doors never led anywhere except another room. It was a very long passage, and though nobody had reached any end on either side, it was said that eventually a traveler that persevered would find a room with only one door leading out, and that was the door that he had come in.

Francis and Jonathan were drinking coffee at their table. Very little was said between them on this day, but every day they made their efforts to dress themselves well enough and go to the other places in the passage. They lived their lives in this way, traveling through the passage.

"We should do something other than the norm today," Francis said.

"What do you mean? We go to different rooms every day."

"I mean I don't like the rooms."

Jonathan laughed. "Well, there's not much you can do about that. You cannot leave reality, no matter how much you try."

"But something is... is just simply wrong!"

"What do you mean?"

Francis was silent for some time before finally saying, "I don't know." Silently, they finished their coffee, stood up, and continued on their way.

As they continued down the passage, Jonathan turned to Francis and said, "I don't understand why you don't like what we're doing. It's slow work at first, but we're really doing a lot of good by finding more rooms. Why, before you found those keys under the rug, we had no idea that there even were other rooms. We didn't know that the doors could be 'opened', and that we could spread ourselves out."

"I understand that, but I feel as though we've had nothing more since that day. This day that we live in today is the same as that day that has passed."

"Only because we are not yet finished with that first day, but the day will come when we have done so much that our lives will be enriched. On that day, tomorrow will begin."

"Tomorrow sounds as if it is a slightly more tolerable day than today. There must be more than just exploring this passageway. There must be more than the passageway itself."

"More than the passageway?"

"Yes! More than this! More than back and forth!"

"I don't even understand what you mean, Francis! Did you learn another language or are you simply trying to confuse me? I suppose you must be trying to confuse me, because the words you say make perfect grammatical sense, but I can't make out your logic."

Francis suddenly stopped walking, and turned to the wall on his right. He pointed to the wall, turned to Jonathan and said with zeal in his eyes and his voice, "I want to go that way!"

Jonathan looked at Francis without knowing what to say. "That doesn't help things. You can't go that way. That doesn't even make sense. You are pointing in a direction that doesn't exist!"

"How can we know that it doesn't exist?"

Jonathan staggered before sputtering, "B-Because that makes no sense! You have no proof or even reason to believe that that is a direction! There are but two directions, forward and backward. There is nothing more."

"Why? Why can there be no other direction? You said yourself that we once thought that there was nothing beyond the room in which we were born. We had solid confidence in that. How is it so inconceivable that there is something beyond this passageway just as there is something beyond that room?"

"I just have no reason to believe it. Why do you believe such nonsense?"

"I believe it because it is the only sense that there is. This passage must be somewhere itself! It must have a location in something bigger! It is not eternal, it is certainly not infinite."

"We can never know that it is infinite, but if we strive hard enough, we may find that it is finite."

"That would cause me to wonder even more! Yet, we do already know that it is not infinite, because it does not go in this direction! What could possibly be the purpose of this passageway if it does not have any doors in this direction?"

Francis again pointed towards the wall.

Frustrated, Jonathan said again, "That is not a direction! It has never been a direction and it never will be! Do you not see how ludicrous your beliefs are?"

After a short time, Francis calmly said, "No, I don’t see that they are ludicrous."

"They are insane."

Silently, Francis and Jonathan continued walking from one room to the next, using the key found under the rug to unlock doors as they went. Behind them, their civilization slowly but ecstatically spread to the newly unlocked rooms because of their work.

After some time had passed, Jonathan turned to Francis and said, "I think that’s enough for today. It will be some time before everybody will be able to settle in the new rooms, and I am tired.

The two returned to the settlement that had for some time now been spreading into new rooms, and they stopped to sit at a table in the room that was on the frontier. This was the most recently settled room, the furthest away from the original room. Every night Francis and Jonathan slept on the frontier to continue their exploration the next day.

After sitting at the table, another friend came to them. This man was Jefferson. He was responsible for arranging the new settlements in the passageway. Jefferson sat at the table and said to them, "Christine will prepare our dinner tonight. I am much looking forward to it. The meals that she makes are my favorite in the passageway. I’m glad that she spent time in the culinary room in the educational halls."

The three men had many conversations through the evening, but Francis left the table earlier than he normally did, and he lay down to sleep on the bed that had just been set up in the room.

Jonathan, however, turned to Jefferson and said, "Would you like to see the next room, Jefferson? I can assure you that it’s quite safe." Jonathan said this with an intent expression, and Jefferson knew that there was a serious issue that needed discussion. The two men stood from the table and entered the next room, closing the door behind them. This in itself was a very uncommon practice. The people in the frontier room as well as the people in the two rooms behind that room stopped what they were doing to see for the first time a door closed rather than opened.

On the other side of the closed door, Jefferson and Jonathan stood on the further end of the room. Jonathan began speaking first.

"There is something amiss with Francis."

"What is it?"

"I think that he is losing his senses. He began speaking about... about something truly odd."

"What was he speaking about?"

"He began saying that he wanted to go beyond the passageway."

Jefferson reeled back a bit, and stopped in thought before saying, "What does that mean?"

"Unfortunately, I do not know, but I am afraid he may have a serious psychosis. I know that you spent some time in the psychology rooms in the education halls and I would like to know what you think."

Jefferson looked down before looking back at Jonathan and saying, "He has clearly lost touch with reality. I am afraid that I agree with you. This is a serious psychosis."

The two men stood in thought before Jefferson said, "We need to keep him away from everyone else. He may become dangerous."

The next morning, Francis woke in a different room. He sat up and looked about him, finding that he was in the room that he had left so long ago. He was in the very room in which civilization had started, where they were trapped for unknown years before the key had been found in that same room. The civilization had been confined to only that room, and when the first door was opened, everybody left that room, never to return to where they had been so unhappily constrained.

They left there the waste that they had collected over the years: papers with faded ink, worn clothing, and broken furniture. The room, though in design the same as all other rooms, had become useless to civilization, and they had abandoned it.

When Francis first awoke, he was merely confused as to how he had gotten into this room, but he stood and turned towards the door. Yet he saw that the door was closed, and on the door was pinned a message. He walked towards the door and picked up the message.

"We are sorry, Francis, but we are afraid we cannot allow you to be with us any longer. We are afraid that your illness may hurt others, or may even spread to others, and that is a thought more unbearable than locking you in here."

Francis became alarmed when he saw the word "locking," not knowing how they could have brought themselves to lock a door. He tried to turn the knob, but found that it would not move. He frantically picked up a piece of furniture and tried to destroy the door, but it was too solid. He lifted up the entire rug trying to find another key, turned over every table and every bed, but could not find one. He tried to open the other door, but it had never been unlocked. After not knowing what else to do, he walked back to the door and tried to yell.

"Can anybody hear me?"

There was no reply.

"Hello! Can anybody hear me?"

There was still no reply.

"The key was not meant to be used this way!"

Francis leaned against the door and considered his plight. He then spoke aloud, "This fate is not very different from that which I had before."

He walked over to a dining table's chair that he had overturned, picked it up, and sat down, thinking for hours or days. Nothing had happened in this time, but he looked up at the wall and examined a painting that had been hanging upon that wall for as long as he could remember. The painting was of a door, and when he was very young he did not understand the difference between the painting and the two real doors. After viewing the painting for several days, he decided to look behind it to see if anything had been hiding for so many years. He looked at the painting's backside and saw nothing, but looked at the wall and saw the there was an area on that wall that had a lighter color than the rest of the wall. He laid the painting down leaning against another area of the wall and felt the area that had a lighter color. It did not feel different.

Francis walked back over to his chair and sat down again, staring at that lighter portion of the wall for several days. He noticed that it started where the floor meets the wall, and continued up the wall until a few feet before the wall began to arch. He had also noticed that it was easily as wide as a door, though much taller.

These notions were useless to Francis, however, for he had neither a key nor a keyhole. If this were truly a locked door, then there was no lock to unlock. The notion stopped there, and Francis continued to stare at this wall for many more days.

Yet in one of these days, Francis was drifting off to sleep in his chair when he heard a loud sound, as nothing he had heard before. Immediately he was aroused and alert, and he looked up to see what it was. It did not come from his left side, from where the civilization he had always known would have come. It came from his right side, which was the door that had never been unlocked. He looked and he saw that the door had been flung open violently. The lock had been destroyed, and in its place was a charred and smoking hole. On the floor in front of him were the remains of a piece of the lock, blackened and also smoking. He slowly stood up and began walking towards the door, seeing on the other side a room that nobody had cared to enter until now. However, Francis was more surprised to see that in that room was a person.

The person seemed to be as surprised to see Francis. After some shock, he said to Francis, "Oh, I am very sorry. Had I had any idea that there was somebody in this room, I would have been more careful in blowing the lock. Are you hurt?"

"No. No, I am not hurt."

"I am Timothy. I am very surprised and, well, excited to see somebody here! How long have you been here?"

"I am Francis. I have been here for many days; imprisoned by my own people for dissent. They and I have unlocked many doors, but we have never done so in such a grandiose fashion as you just did, sir!"

"How do your people do so?"

"With a key. It unlocks doors and allows us to lock them again if we so desire. It does not require the destruction of the locks and is quite easy to use."

"Unlocking is something that I quite understand, and for that reason I believe this 'key' to be a beneficial and fantastical contraption. I am afraid, however, that I do not understand why you would want to lock these doors after you have unlocked them."

"Until I was imprisoned, I did not know myself. It had no precedent until very recently. I don’t think that such an act should be performed."

"What dissenting views do you hold?"

Ashamed, Francis simply said, "That’s not important."

After a pause, Francis spoke again. "Could you show me how you destroy locks?"

"Yes, of course. Do you see this black substance here?"

Timothy held out his hand, which was holding a black powder.

Francis said, "Yes, what is it?"

"It is an amazing substance. When it makes contact with fire, it exerts an incredible force in every direction!"

"I have not heard of such a thing before."

"A friend of mine discovered how to use this long ago, and I decided to try it on locks. Before I did so, it had no purpose at all. Since then I've been unlocking doors for us to find new rooms."

"You use it on locks?"

"Yes, I simply roll it up in paper and place it inside a lock, and then touch it with fire, and the force destroys the lock."

Francis was very excited to see this, and he was plotting to unlock the door behind him and rejoin the civilization that had abandoned him. After this, they would never be able to lock him in any room again, for he now knew how to destroy any lock beyond repair.

"Timothy, could you unlock this door behind me?"

"I had intended to. I have not yet finished my day's work."

"That would be greatly beneficial to me, Timothy, and I thank you very--"

Francis stopped speaking suddenly, because he turned and saw the painting that he had set leaning against the wall, and looked up at the more lightly colored portion of the wall.

"Timothy, do you suppose that the powder could destroy an entire door?"

"Yes, we have done that many times, but we don’t do it often because we move more quickly if we simply destroy the locks."

"May I beg for some powder? At the moment, I do not wish to unlock a door, but to undoor a passageway."

"What does that mean?"

"Come, look with me. See this lightly colored area here? I believe that there is a door hiding behind it, or maybe it is a door itself."

"A door here?"


"I am afraid that I don’t follow your reason."

"I do not have the time to explain, but I wish to leave the passageway. I believe your powder may be helpful. May I have some?"

Timothy said nothing, not knowing how to respond to such a ridiculous notion.

"Timothy?" Francis said.

"Francis... You cannot unlock a wall. That does not have any reason behind it. It does not make any sense."

"I can try."

Timothy decided that the best thing for him to do was to give him some powder and run for help.

"Here is the powder, and here is the fuse. Cut off a piece of the fuse so that you can light the powder from a distance. You don’t want to be too close to the powder when the fire meets it. Light the fuse with a match."

"Thank you, Timothy."

Timothy lay the items on the floor and slowly backed away. Francis did not notice Timothy's worried expression because as soon as the bag of powder was on the floor, he picked it up and hurriedly started to pour it all onto the floor in front of the lightly colored area of the wall. Timothy began running down the passageway to find help, and Francis placed the fuse in the powder. He ran the fuse down some way before cutting it, and then lit it with a match. He quickly ran to the other side of the mangled door to shield himself from the blast. After it blew, he looked and saw nothing but smoke. He worked his way through the smoke, and after it cleared up a bit, he saw a hole in the wall of the passageway. He slowly approached the hole, and as the smoke cleared, he saw a narrow passageway leading in an impossible direction.

The end of the passageway had no door, and he followed it into a room that was wide in all directions. It was longer than any passage that he had ever seen, and was as wide as it was long. Its ceiling seemed to be impossibly high. It was not lit by torches, but by enormous rectangular ornaments on the sides of the room. These ornaments were nearly invisible, and any observer could easily see through them to the green colored floors on the other side. The light was coming from the other side of the ornaments and entering the room, more pure than any light in the passageway. On the sides of the room on the floor were many white dining tables, but nobody was sitting in them. Francis looked at them and saw light gathering around them, moving in all directions with seemingly no intended area to stop. They were shadows, cast by something on the other side of the wall's ornaments. He looked outside of the wall and saw something held to the green ground outside, brown and narrow at the bottom where it met the ground, but green and wide at the top, where it seemed to be tossed about by some unseen force.

Francis continued walking through the room, and he beheld that on the other side was a door that had already been opened, and had no lock to be seen. He walked through it, and felt the invisible force that had tossed about the green creature. Yet he felt no fear. He felt it on his skin, and it ran across his body, and it felt cool to his skin, though he could not see it. He held his arms up to feel this sensation more intensely, and he felt it on every area of his arms and even on his chest through his shirt, and his hair stood up on end. He could feel it and even hear it rush against his ears. He closed his eyes to concentrate on this feeling, and he breathed deeply. Upon breathing, he smelled a strong scent of earth and roses, which he had never smelled before and could not identify. Then he opened his eyes and saw those magnificent brown and green stationary creatures, and he saw that the feathery green ground rolled up and down. He heard the rustling of the stationary creatures, and heard running water. He turned to his right and saw water flowing, more water than he had ever seen at one time. He went to the water to drink, and he tasted the coolness of the water. He waded in the water, feeling that the water was even more pleasantly cool than the invisible force found everywhere in this place.

Francis never looked behind him, and he never saw the responses of his previous friends. The civilization that he once knew had heard the blast of the powder and unlocked the door to find what was happening. The civilization that he had just met came to try to help the madman. Most of the people who came into the room did not even notice the hole in the wall, but simply jumped over the rubble and never turned their heads. Some, though, did notice the hole in the wall, and looked through it, but were far too frightened and confused to leave the passageway.

Francis never returned to the passageway, but continued to explore the world, finding more buildings with windows, more trees, more hills, more streams, and many other things that he had not been able to imagine before.