Where do these lines lead? What lies beyond the bright point? What’s that blue blob? A door? A portal?
I find it interesting how you’ll never know. I do know, because I took this picture, but to you, the very same picture is, and will remain, an utter mystery. A supposition, at best, an educated guess, a figment of your own imagination.
Can you imagine a character running towards the light, arms outstretched, trying desperately to reach that portal and escape to some imagined safety? Do you see a lost traveler wondering how on earth they got into this underground labyrinth, feeling the brick walls as much as to feel its texture and feel some warmth, some assurance, some hope that they’ll ever get out alive, as for some direction? Them, feeling their way along the long, low corridors, fervently wishing for some sign of life to appear… As they make their way down, they see a door. Then another door, hidden in an alcove. Which one might lead to escape? Oh dear, there isn’t time to go exploring, and there isn’t time to waste around guessing!
It’s now or never, they must take their best shot!
The hidden door, that must be it! Freedom can’t be that obvious, right? Here goes, swing, and in!
What’s that? Carpeted floors and low, concentrated light. Where is our hero now? They look in front of them: another door? What on earth? It’s too late to turn back. Swing this one open too!
Siren! They’re done for! What sort of trap have they triggered now? What lies ahead for our protagonist?
Our hero sees movement: there are living beings here! They slowly turn their head and look at our befuddled hero. They don’t look happy. In fact, they seem almost… gruntled?
Our hero takes a step back in panic and confusion. They grip the strap of their backpack. So down they must go. Well, they’ll go down fighting!
Sweat droplets begin to form on our hero’s forehead in spite of the cool night air around. Their fist clenches, their muscles tighten. They silently promise themselves that if they make it out of here alive, nothing is going to stop them from going home. They will go home.
Slowly, they take a tiny step forward. They suck in a breath. They open their mouth to say something, but they’re still shaky from the wailing siren around them.
And the figures in the light, they don’t seem to like the wail either.
As they’d figured two minutes ago, “now or never”, our hero whispers through their parched throat.
Just then, a larger figure appears! Her silhouette descends from a higher level and comes down to stand before our hero! As she does so, she blocks the blinding light before them, and our hero’s vision finally begins to come into focus.
With the alarms still blaring around them, our hero really sees the scene they’ve landed themselves in for the first time.
The figure… she seems human, just like our hero! Her brows are furrowing on her forehead, and she adjusts the glasses on her nose. Is she from around here? Will she be able to help me find my way home, and out of this fearsome place? Or is she one of them? What do I do?
At that moment, the woman—for woman she seems to be—begins to speak.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to enter through the other door.”
Our hero simply stares at her in confusion. A-what now?
“Sir, do you hear me? Are you alright?”
Our hero looks up and meets her eye. “What?” they ask.
The lady shakes her head and sighs. “You don’t look like you’re in any shape to pull an all-nighter. I suggest you go home and rest.”
It made no sense, but one word resonates with our hero. Home! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do all this while: get home.
“I don’t understand,” they reply slowly, the confusion beginning to climb up their chest.
“Kid, you can’t enter the library after 9 PM through this door, don’t you know it’s an emergency exit? It says so on the wall. Now you’ve disturbed everyone around. I understand it’s finals season and tensions and emotions run high, but you need some rest, look at you! If you really have to study in here right now, I won’t stop you, but I highly recommend one thing: get home, and get to bed!”, the librarian gushes.
Our hero looks around as the other faces come into focus. Human indeed. Or maybe almost human. Finals season zaps the humanity out of every studying soul and turns them into zombies. They don’t look happy to have had their preparation for that big final worth 40% of their grade interrupted. Now one of them gives up and leaves to go to the washroom. Curses, now they can’t focus and need a break.
Our hero stands there with their mouth hanging open as they watch the kid leave, taking it all in at once. It’ll be a few more minutes before they can remember who they were and what’s really happened in the last half hour or so. Did they fall asleep in the corridor, or one of the classrooms it leads to? Were they really home? Are they just another student taking finals season badly?
For the truth, as you shall now discover, is that this is an underground passage connecting two of our residential buildings on campus. There is an underground entrance to the library, which comes in very handy during cold wintry days. And during finals season, almost all libraries are open twenty-four hours. It’s a blessed necessity.
Now of course I knew that. You only did a paragraph ago, unless you’re also at my school or just made a brilliant guess, which like I said, is only a brilliant guess.
So there you have it.
Also, if this reads a little weird, I’ll put it out there that I have never written a gender neutral character before. Never used these many “they”s in the same piece. Pick your own adventure, I guess.