By the time I finished circling back round to the neglected and locked door the sky had changed colour. It signified what in The After is meant to convey night-time. I was not at all perturbed by this change and to be honest found it quite helpfully played into my intentions for there were no longer other Forever’s wandering the paths. That meant no one to ask why I might have been out there or who may have wished to accompany me when whatever answer I might have offered was rather lacking.
On the few occasions there could’ve been a meeting I managed to collapse myself into nooks that kept me averted from any nearby gazes. I have to admit it was quite the relief when I found myself stood before the monolithic door without a single soul in sight.
Still, I could not guarantee my fortune would hold and so set about busily examining, much closer than I had previously, the door. It took a good few minutes for me to locate the lock. It had become encrusted by thick grass reeds that sprouted from mud with thick dark vines underneath. I struggled using my hands, so ultimately had to admit defeat and instead conjure something that might aid my advances. It worked and before long I’d managed to dig the muck and corruption free from the lock. The hole was thinner than I would’ve imagined it but undoubtedly it was a lock, key shaped and awaiting reintroduction.
I pressed my ear against the door but heard not a peep. I recall feeling disheartened by that. What I had expected to hear I’m not sure but whatever it was I did not. There was only silence. Or perhaps it had been a lack of sound. The two are quite different but are often mistaken for one another.
Without a key I would obviously be forced to result to other means and so with the same implement I had used to clear the orifice I decide to go probing. The tip of the sliver I held disappeared deep into the wound of the lock. Quickly I reached a rather rash conclusion that perhaps I might never find the base of the orifice. I was wrong. I reached it with just enough of the tool left in my hand to work it slowly.
Quite strangely I struggled to find the tumblers within the lock, the very same ones that would be keeping the door locked for however long it had been sat here. I did not know how long that was and nor it seemed did Zion. By extension I concluded that no one else would hold the answers either. Perhaps I should’ve considered such things more intently and pursued them, but I did not.
As a result of my failure to locate the tumblers swiftly I paused only to try a shove upon the mighty stone surface. Unsurprisingly I was met with staunch resistance. It didn’t budge, not even an inch. I knew it had been a too greater hope and so with little other option open to me I returned my focus to the uncovered and cleaned-out lock.
Several more searching attempts at seeking the tumblers were rewarded with their discovery. And it was no wonder I did not locate them during my initial search for the tumblers quite uniquely were not placed along the base where the teeth of a key would normally reside. Instead, the tumblers, all five, I found along the top, left and right. Two sat within the roof of the lock, as I termed it in the moment, while one sat on the right and a further two could be found on the left. With hasty confusion I withdrew my tool. I soon came to regret my decision when I replaced the tool to seek out the same tumblers only to find they had changed. I thought myself mad; double and triple checked as a result. I was not mad. The tumbler positions had changed. It should possibly have not surprised me and yet it did as I noted, without daring to retract the tool in my hands, that the five tumblers were now six. One recessed into the roof of the lock, three on the left, one on the right and quite confusingly the last lay at the end, the termination point.
With the tumblers mapped out in my head, I fiddled quite stubbornly but my efforts were not a lick helpful and with little choice remaining I slid my eyes closed and pictured the lock in my mind’s eye. It was more difficult than I thought it ought to be but eventually for my efforts the tool still in my grip morphed. My hopes were to form a shape with the tool that would be capable of bypassing the tumblers. It half worked. But try as I might I could not get the last tumbler. It was never the same one which I failed to morph my tool to meet. For the first time since awakening in The After it appeared as though I had found a limit to this place. It made sense that the realm could not be infinite in every manner and yet I found this failure to be the most offensive affront. Of all the things, I thought, that this place is capable of why is it that the limit comes when I wish to access a door. If only I had known how much worse my luck would be when I twisted, desperately, the willed into shape false key tool in hopes of success.
For you see as I did exactly that it broke. Sheared and shattered really. Not in a manner I felt was befitting of the material it had been formed from. Not that I thought much on that at the time because I was too busy pissing and moaning once it dawned on me what had occurred. And I’m not so proud to admit that in my rage I thumped upon the stone a number of times as if I thought that might do something. Though, whether I did truly believe it would have an effect or not, I cannot say looking back. Much like I cannot say how long this all took. What I do know is when I next moved I felt something react within the door. I retreated quickly expecting some dastardly fate to befall me but was greeted with no such misfortune. Rather, a brilliant purple-green light lanced forth from somewhere deep within the lock. My brow, I remember feeling, furrowed but I did not step back any further than I already had. Instead, my hand moved toward the lock. The light felt warm, inviting, like the sun. I smiled quite instinctively only to lay the tips of my fingers upon the surface of the lock. I heard whispers then. They meant nothing to me. The language, I thought, was English but I could not make out the words. I muttered some question or other as though I was expecting a response. None was forthcoming of course but for some reason I recited the inscription ‘…he who is worthy may pass.’ Nothing happened. There was no response to my recall. I felt deflated. With the birth of the purple-green light I was sure progress was being made. Now I was not at all convinced. I began to conclude that this may have all been chance. That this could’ve been what other Forever’s had experienced and why they steered clear of the door now. In that moment I understood their reticence because I felt it too. Then I uttered an alternative to the inscription, I don’t know why I did it and still do not to this day. I heard nothing, no voice telling me, either my own or another’s. If I had it may have gone some way to explaining as to why but irrespective of whatever the reason may have been I murmured, ‘she who is worthy may pass.’
A quarter breath after and with mountainous levels of paralysing disbelief the door let out an enormous thud. It was so loud I leapt back in surprise only to scan my surroundings sure I was imminently to be set upon. I was not. I remained alone while the glow from the door intensified. No longer pouring from solely deep within the lock it now seeped around the edges of a pair of towering slabs I decided had to be the doors themselves. I held my breath and did not let it go until the doors swung slowly away from me to reveal a wall of shimmering pinks within, as well as a sense of purpose that filled my chest.
The purpose told me I was right where I was meant to be. I did not argue with it, refute it, I simply accepted and without a thought in my head made for the pink shimmering surface that held no reflection of anything.
Others might have pause to consider but I did not. I stepped up to and then through the shimmer. It swallowed me and once through I began to tumble, not physically but mentally. My head became filled with these thoughts as I spun.
To begin with I deemed each new thought foreign, but the more that poured into my head the more I became aware of my error. These thoughts were mine. Just not a me I had ever been. I knew that. There was no way I could not, which is why I was confused.
My confusion lasted until a while and by the time it was gone I found myself standing somewhere familiar but also brand new. I gawped at the scenery. It was without a doubt life, the world I had known, unequivocally changed.
I could see towers of glass and steel showered with neatly manicured plant life. I could not tell, at the time, if they were vines, grasses or trees. Later, I learned they were a genetic splicing with DNA from all that made them capable of growing across the buildings and able to sustain any environment.
I felt I had to know where and when I was. Before that I needed to see my face. It wasn’t a difficult feat to accomplish and when I lay eyes upon it staring back at me as it had been from what I remember of the day I died and however long I’d been in The After I could not wipe the smile from across my face. People stared at me as if I were mad but I did not care as I went in search of answers.