I try to run, but my legs feel as if they are immersed in honey. They drag through the air, which feels thick enough to dive into and swim. I have a brief, fleeting thought that doing so might actually be faster than stepping through what seems to be mud. Then I remember what lies behind me, and I plod on. No time for games now.
The hall seems to stretch on forever in front of me, pulling into the distance like an eternal horizon, always just beyond my reach. The lights snap on above me as I pass under them and then fade out as I manage to leave them behind, giving me a sliding nodule of illumination which does not actually provide any usable features to the hallway, and instead just heightens my impatience and anxiety.
The hair on the back of my neck stands, and I can almost feel its breath on my neck. If it really is that close, I’m done for anyway. I know it can move faster than this snail’s pace I’m managing, but I have no choice but to carry on. It must be toying with me; letting me live just for its own amusement.
Am I getting closer, now? Am I actually getting closer to the doorway I know must lie somewhere ahead at the end of this hellish hallway? No, I can’t be. I’ve been trying to run for ages now, after all. Years, perhaps. Eons. I’ve died, and my punishment for a poor life lived is to flee in eternal fear from the beast which follows me. I push my legs harder and they burn, begging for me to just stop and take a break. I know I cannot.
My breath plumes out before me, the bitter cold making it visible as it streams around my sweat-soaked face. Behind me, I hear the creature’s nostrils pick up my scent, and its breathing is almost sexual when it tastes my fear. It shudders out a gasp and I hear it surge forward. This will be it – the creature has tired of the game and is going to finally end it. Maybe that is for the best.
No! I have to keep going. I’m almost there now – the other doors flash past me as I am finally able to pick up my pace. I fumble for my keys, clipped to the back left pocket of my jeans, and at long last I see my unit number, 1204, on the door I have been trying to reach for what feels like an endless amount of time.
I get my keys free and scramble to fit the correct one in the lock. I almost drop them, but eventually it sinks home into the worn metal receptacle, and I have the door open. Just before I dart inside and slam it shut, I look behind me to see how close I came to death.
There’s nothing there, of course. There never is.