I knew not how or why I stood there, nor even when I came to be there. It was a dark hallway with a high ceiling, illuminated gloomily by a lamp that hung in the air above my head. In neither direction could I discern what was beyond the flickering light. And the air was filled with the smell of marble dust (I presumed the walls to be made of a dark color of this material).
I began to walk, but there was no way for me to tell in which direction in which I had to travel to escape. I slid my hands across the wall for support and guidance, for my legs were weak and my lamp was dim. I do not know how long I went on like this--something about fifteen minutes--before I became aware of a noise in the distance, in the shadows far behind me. With every step I took, there was a footstep that was not my own; and as I walked with increasing haste the footsteps behind me came louder and closer. I heard distinctly the rattling of great chains, as if whoever followed me were bound with them by his ankles.
I had a feeling in my back and neck--the same feeling one might have in their stomach if they were anxious--the unshakable feeling that something was very close behind me, and that it had the intent to do terrible harm. To such a degree did I have this feeling that I could swear to have felt the hot breath of something behind me; but when I turned to cast a fearful look, I found that nothing inhabited my circle of light. Whatever this place was, it did not belong to me but to whoever or whatever followed me. I was the trespasser in their domain, and the chains clattered frightfully.
The hallway never fluctuated in direction: the walls were perfectly smooth and straight, and so were the floor and the ceiling. The lantern continued to float inexplicably between my head and the ceiling, following me. For thirty long minutes I continued to limp the best I could down the hall, but not quickly enough to escape the deathly presence of the lord of this domain. I hardly anymore had time to wonder why I was in that hallway. I had no memories of any time in the past. I did not even know my own name.
Cold sweat slid down my face as I went. The only change in my environment was the temperature, which I presumed to be decreasing as that thing decreased the distance between him and me. The chains still clattered, and the footsteps thudded deafeningly in step with mine. It was clear that the being, whoever he was, did not want me to escape from him; nor did he wish to take much more time to eradicate me from his hallway. I was aware that he was in complete and utter control of everything that resided in his domain with the exclusion of me. I even knew that he was the one that kept the lantern above my head so that he could see where I was; I even knew that marble was his choice for the material of the wall, and that he could change it if he so wished. But why he was in shackles was still unknown to me.
By that time I knew for certain that what followed me was neither good nor human. Perhaps he had been both a very long time ago. But now its (I now refuse to refer to it as anything living, thus I say "it," for surely the beast did not belong to the world I was from)--but its horrible grunts and wheezes echoed from behind me, coming ever closer. I imagined that it was less than fifty feet from me.
Then all at once I came into a square room illuminated by four more floating lanters. At its end was a wooden door, all disfigured with a multitude of deep, terrific slashes. And I knew it was the way out of the creature's domain, the way through which it could not pass, try as it might, without the key that fitted in the keyhole. But I had no key! How might I escape through this impenetrable yet oaken door without so much as a key to loosen its knob?
The answer came swiftly, for looking down to the floor I saw a small brazen key in the exact center of the room. The sounds of the creature continued to near. But if this creature controlled everything save for me within its domain (which I knew beyond a doubt to be true), why, then, did the key to the exit (for I knew it to be the key to the door)--why did it lay in the middle of the room where the creature could easily take it and insert it into the keyhole? The creature wanted to kill me, I knew. But not just that. It had a rage barely slaked by merely killing me. Why, then, did it present the key to me in so obvious a place? I thought that perhaps the creature could not exit therewith the key inserted into the keyhole; but surely I could, for I knew beyond any doubt that the key would work.
I wondered so intensely, taking the key from the ground and approaching the door, that I asked aloud, "Why does he present to me this key, where I may easily insert it into the keyhole, exit this room, and then lock the door behind me?"
But then I asked the largest questions of all. "What is this place, and why am I here, and what is that beast that follows me?"
There came a voice from behind me. It was not the beast, but a dismal, grey-bearded, wrinkly-faced old man that stood in the corner of the room. He said to me, "You may be patient and let me tell you the answer to any and every question you have, but by that time the beast will have caught you; or you can take the key and turn it in the lock and exit, never to uncover the truth, which, in fact, is more horrific and important than you can possibly have imagined."