What a fickle thing. We like to believe that the truth is an objective thing. Things are either true or they are not. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is not true. Sounds ridiculous.
But it feels like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes and none of them were real. They were all mirages. Quickly fading as a new false memory took hold.
But there has to be something real here, right? If I sift through the spinning sands, there should be something real. Something has to be true.
I take a deep breath and place my hand on the heavy metal door. The scarlet paint was almost blinding against the cold, gray metal of this bunker and the white of the falling snow.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” A voice to my left asked.
“This is what you’ve been looking for,” The voice to my right said.
“Just stop talking,” I said. “Stop it.”
Every word they said seemed to worsen my pounding headache. It is like I couldn’t hear myself think whenever they spoke.
I looked over to the left and saw a woman standing there with bright red hair. It was curly and seemed to almost look like a burning fire. She had a serious, almost sad expression on her face.
“I’m only trying to help,” Mira said.
“I’m only trying to help you,” The other voice said and I turned my head.
I saw a man standing there with short black hair. His expression was just as worried. But he rocked back and forth on his heels like he was nervous. He looked like he was working up the courage to tell me bad news.
“I’m sorry Mira. And Reiden. I…I can’t tell anymore. I can’t tell what is real,” I said, tears starting to roll down my face.
“It’s ok, Sera. We’re almost there,” Reiden said.
“Just open the doors, Sera,” Mira said. “You’ll find the truth there.”
“Just remember,” They both spoke in unison. “Don’t forget yourself. Remember, we are the truth. The only truth.”
I blinked and both people seemed to disappear. It was like spirits suddenly vanishing or the same mirages that tricked my eyes.
My hands tightened around the metal handles of the scarlet doors. The snow was beginning to accumulate on my coat and I was starting to lose feeling in my feet.
“Please be someplace warm,” I said as I gave a tug on the metal doors.
Surprisingly, the doors opened quite easily despite looking quite heavy and partially buried in snow. I was able to open them just enough for me to slip through them. The doors closed behind me as I stepped into a dimly lit space. There seemed to be all sorts of electronic equipment. Blinking lights. Heavy metal cables. Display screens with all sorts of numbers on them.
“What is this place?” I asked out loud.
“And who are you?”
I turned away from the display screen to see a woman standing about twenty feet from me. This wasn’t Mara. This wasn’t a woman I had seen before. She had curly brown hair, freckles on her face and what looked like safety goggles. She wore a white, lab coat and in her hand was –
I froze. In her hand, she carried a pistol. Sleek, almost futuristic in design. The woman held it, not quite in an aggressive manner, but the end of it was aimed in my direction.
“I’m…I’m…” I stumbled over my words as my eyes stayed fixated on the gun.
“You’re one of us,” She said as she lowered the pistol. “Oh my god. I didn’t think so. It has been so long since we arrived here.”
My eyes went from the gun to her face. There was a sense of familiarity to it. I couldn’t quite place it. It was like she was some sort of relative or family friend. An older cousin or an aunt. She looked so similar.
“Who are you?” I asked. “How do I know you?”
Her expression was hard to read, but I noticed her bottom lip quivered a bit before she spoke.
“We have a lot to talk about,” She said. “But sure, we can start with this. My name is Mur. And you are…”
“Sera,” I said.
“Sera?” She seemed confused. “I…no I wasn’t asking who you were. I’m telling you. You are me. Well we are her.”
Mur gestured over to some sort of machine. I hadn’t noticed it before among all the other electronic equipment but near the corner of the room was a large cylinder made out of metal and glass. It looked like a mix between a coffin, a medical bed, and a fish tank.
“What is that?” I asked.
“That’s Muriel. That’s…” Mur’s words got caught in her throat. “Look, it’s not going to be easy to explain all this stuff. Ok, I know it’s going to sound like a lot. It’s going to sound crazy, but you just have to believe me. I was where you were when I got here. I had no idea. I had to figure this out on my own.”
“Sorry, I’m confused. There’s a woman in that tube thing and her name is Muriel and you’re Mur and you are saying that we’re the same. I don’t understand. Honestly I don’t even remember how I got here to this mountain and I’m just really confused,” I said.
“Here, take a seat,” Mur said as she pulled out a rolling stool out from under a desk. “Sit down and I can tell you everything.”
My eyes darted to the gun and Mur picked up on my worried expression.
“Sorry. I promise it’s only for self defense,” Mur said as she placed the gun on the desk next to her. “I don’t really know why I have it. It’s not like we get visitors up here. And I don’t even know how to use it. Just please sit.”
I nodded and made my way over to the stool. I sat down and looked at Mur expectively.
She continued sitting on the desk, carving out a small space for her to sit between the electronic equipment and stacks of loose paper.
“Ok so let me try to explain all of this in a different way. I know that you often end up in places, but you don’t quite remember the beginning or the end. It’s like a dream. You wake up in the middle of the action and the whole thing seems muddled. Like you kind of remember, but it’s fuzzy. Does that sound familiar?”
“Ok good. I’m the same way. I jumped around from memory to memory and eventually I landed here. But there was no one else when I got here. Well there was Muriel but she’s like that,” Mur guestered to the device.
“What is that?” I asked.
“It’s. Well I don’t know what it is exactly. I’ve just been calling it a bed. But it’s like a suspension thing. It keeps Muriel in some sort of coma-like state. Her brain signals are still going strong but everything else in her body is slowed down. Almost still. Her breathing is shallow, her heart beats slowly.”
“Did you put her in that thing?”
Mur shook her head.
“No. I found her like this when I got here. I had to read all about her in these files that they had lying around the place. Honestly there’s still a lot I don’t know or I’m still trying to figure out. I know that to you I must look like I’m twice your age, but honestly to me it feels like I’ve only been here a week, tops.”
“Where is here exactly?” I asked.
“Hell if I know,” Mur said. “Some sort of desolate, hiding bunker up in the mountains somewhere. I haven’t really gone searching around but it just looks like snow capped mountains in all directions. Really most of my time has been spent here trying to figure out this place.”
“So how did you arrive here, exactly?”
“Same as you. I just opened those doors and walked in. And what a discovery I made,” Mur said with an exhausted laugh.
“Ok so tell me about you. Why do you think we’re related?” I asked.
“Related. Sure,” Mur said. “We’re not just related. We are the same.”
Mur gestured over to Muriel.
“We are the same,” She repeated.
“What does that even mean?” I asked.
Mur let out a sigh and then recomposed herself.
“Have you ever heard of The Scarlet Door?” She asked.
The headache returned in an instant and I grabbed the sides of my head.
“Woah, you’re alright,” Mur said as she stood up and rushed to my side. “I’m going to take that as a yes.”
“What? What was that?” I asked.
“In short, memories rushing back. Her memories.”
Again, Mur looked in Muriel’s direction.
“I think it will be easiest if I tell you everything I know about Muriel. Then we can try filling in the gaps to the rest of your questions,” Mur said.
“Alright,” I said, the headache lessening.
“From what I’ve read, Muriel here is from a place called Nebraska. She grew up in some small town that basically no one has heard of. She grew up in a normal family. Tanner was the last name. Muriel Tanner. She lived a normal life until she turned fourteen. Then strange things started to happen. Muriel told her parents that strange people were following her. People that looked like her. They were visions and voices in her head. She kept forgetting things and remembering other things. She had vivid memories of things that never happened. Muriel’s parents got her some psychological help and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given medication, but the visions and voices didn’t stop.”
“Eventually this group called the Central Intelligence Agency heard about Muriel and investigated her condition. They invited Muriel and her family to meet with them. They convinced Muriel’s family to hand her over to them so they could get her the help she needed. But all of this was a ruse. The CIA, as they liked to be called, was working on some sort of project and they thought Muriel was the key to its success.”
“What sort of project?” I asked.
“The CIA was in charge of all sorts of projects during this cold war between two nations. They belonged to The United States of America and they were fighting against The Soviet Union. Don’t ask me what either of those mean. I just know that this CIA was determined to use whatever means necessary to oppose this other force. They ran experiments that tested what is humanly possible. Things like mind control or reading thoughts. Moving things with your mind. Every single crazy thing they could think of was tried. Lot of it was nonsense, mind you. But they had the manpower and the money to try all sorts of crazy things. They had a “throw things at the wall and see what stuck” mentality.”
“One idea came from experimental physics. The idea that every choice we made, there was an alternate choice not made. An alternative history. Enough divisions from our own and we could be talking about other timelines, other universes, other dimensions. The CIA thought that it might be possible to open doorways between dimensions. They could bring someone from a parallel dimension here or take someone from here to there. If some sort of world-ending event happened, they could just jump from this timeline to that one.”
“And is this door possible?” I asked.
“No idea. Honestly we’re just talking hypotheticals here. But this didn’t stop the CIA from trying. There were even some that thought the Soviet Union already had their own door. Soviet spies weren’t disappearing. They were moving to another dimension, waiting to reaper and.. I don’t know. Assassinate the leader of the United States. To the CIA it didn’t really matter why the Soviets wanted something or what they were going to do with it. The US had to build countermeasures to every Soviet doomsday plot, real or imaginary.”
“Did the CIA ever make one of these doorways? And what does this have to do with Muriel or us?”
“I have no idea if the CIA ever succeeded in what they originally wanted to do. They thought Muriel could open this gateway, but from all the stuff I’ve read. Muriel did something different. This project, named The Scarlet Door Project, focused on Muriel’s visions and the voices in her head. In reality they just fed Muriel an odd assortment of drugs and they electrocuted her. Over and over again. They called it experimentation but from the stuff I’ve read it seems more like torture.”
“Poor Muriel,” Mur looked over at the woman again. “They tortured her until the voices were so overwhelming. Her mind was basically melted. She fell into a comatose state. Something she’s never woken up from. But for all their experimentation the CIA did find something.”
Mur grew quiet and I could hear the slight hum of the equipment all around us.
“What did they find?”
Mur spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully.
“They found that Muriel could find people. Other versions of herself and – I don’t know. I guess bring them here. But not through this gate. It was like she pushed her conscience on these others and swap places, pulling the other versions of herself into this world. It’s confusing. I don’t fully get it. All I know is that this is where we come in.”
Mur stood up for this next part, not looking at me.
“We’re other versions of Muriel from these other, strange -”
Mur caught herself.
“I shouldn’t call them strange. They called them strange. Those other timelines or worlds are where we come from. Our homes. But all of this was highly volatile and Muriel’s health got worse and worse. It drained her. And then there was a tipping point.”
Again Mur took a moment to think before she spoke.
“Whatever ability Muriel had it was not consistent. And it hurt her deeply. It was killing her. As her condition worsened, her ability to pull us into her world became even less stable. It seemed almost like this universe was rejecting us. Fighting back against some disturbance. We were alien to this world and the world didn’t like it.”
“If you haven’t noticed, we don’t really get to spend a lot of time here. It seems like the universe likes to correct itself by getting rid of us. Violently.”
Mur reached out her hand and placed it next to the gun on the desk.
“So we’re both versions of Muriel pulled through by her mind. That’s a lot.”
“I did say it would be confusing. And this is just what I understand. There’s a whole lot of stuff I haven’t even touched on or sorted through. Lots of loose ends and what seems like contradictions. But this is as far as I got,” Mur said.
“Have you ever met someone else like me, er, like us?” I asked.
“No. You are unique I think. As far as I know we’re the only two that have gotten this far. Wherever this is,” Mur said.
“This far? What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I know we’ve both been in the same situations. We keep dying over and over again. Like I said, we are pulled into this world but the world doesn’t like us being here. We don’t last long, but we don’t stay dead for long either. We die and come back. Die and come back. It’s a cycle.”
“Do you know how to escape it?” I asked.
Mur shook her head.
“I don’t. I’m sorry. I wish I did for both of us. I think this is the end. Or as close to the end as we can get.”
“So what happens if we die here?” I asked, suddenly nervous by this sense of mortality.
“Start over I guess or maybe this isn’t the end. Maybe there is no end. I wish I knew more but I’m really guessing about a lot of this,” Mur said. “Grasping at theories based off of the stuff I’ve found here.”
“Ok, but what about Mara and Reiden? How do they fit into all of this?” I asked.
“Uh, Mara and Reiden? They are my friends I think. Or maybe more. Or maybe they are my enemies. I’m not sure. It seems very mixed up. But they seem to follow me from memory to memory, always showing up.”
Mur kept her eyes on me, studying my face.
“I’ve never heard of either of these people.”
“You haven’t met them?”
“No. And I haven’t seen either of them in my memoires. Or in the documents here. Which I find quite odd,” Mur said.
“Maybe they are only from my memories or something.”
“All our memories are linked. We all get them from Muriel and her ability to pull people into her world. There aren’t any variables. No people that I wouldn’t know about.”
Mur’s body language began to shift. She was open and informative at first, but now she seemed more on edge. Her fingers reached for the gun.
“Mur? Mur?” I began to stand up.
“Stay there,” Mur said as she pointed the gun at me once again.
I held up my hands.
“Woah! Hey! Remember we’re on the same side here.”
“Are we? Because I don’t think we’re the same,” Mur said, her hands shaky. “You show up here right after I get here and you start talking about these other individuals. You have these fractured memories but you seem to have more. Things I don’t have. Things I don’t know about. I think you are letting on more than you know.”
“You are in danger,” Mara whispered in my ear.
“I would run if I was you,” Reiden whispered in my other ear.
I shook my head.
“Mur. Just think for a moment,” I said. “This. This doesn’t solve anything.”
Tears began to stream down Mur’s face as she continued to point the gun at me.
“I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry that this keeps happening to us and as far as I know, this will keep happening to us. I wish there was a way to end this. I really do. But I can’t. I can’t stop it. I can’t stop this looping cycle -”
“We can figure it out together. You said that this was unique, right? Versions of ourselves meeting. And then there’s Mara and Reiden. They could help us too. I-I-”
I started to stutter as I could tell that my words weren’t reaching Mur. She seemed to be in her own world.
“We can’t stop it. Or at least not yet. We’re powerless to break the cycle that keeps us both trapped here. But maybe. Maybe with some more time we’ll figure it out. You’ll figure it out. Maybe with enough cycles we’ll both find our way out of here.”
“I know this won’t be easy. I know because I’ve lived it. She’s lived it!”
For a moment Mur pointed the gun at Muriel in the machine, but she quickly pointed it at me again.
“But you made it here. So maybe that will be enough. I’m sorry I don’t have more for you. It’s all an empty promise that maybe the next time you wake up, this whole nightmare will be over. Maybe the next time you show up here things will be different. I’ll be different. God, I hope I will be different.”
Mur’s other hand went to her temple. The same motion I’ve done when the headaches became too much for me.
“Mur, please,” I said, tears now running down my face as well. “Please.”
“Maybe the next time things will be different for both of us. Maybe the next time we die, we will stay dead. Maybe we can look upon the face of our creator and make them suffer for what they’ve done to us. Make them suffer like we have suffered.”
Mur stopped to let out a small laugh.
“Maybe this is death. Maybe we’re already here. Just another stupid rat race that ends up with you coming back to me. Always here. Always now. Stuck.”
The last word she almost spat across the room.
“Beyond the red doors that haunt our very existence. The red doors burning into our brain. The red doors that we can never quite reach.”
Mur’s hands were now shaking badly.
“The next time we die, maybe we’ll find ourselves in some sort of empty void. No repeating. No pain. No red doors. Just darkness and silence. A place where we can just lay down and rest. We can just lay down and never have to live through this pain again. There is nothing more I want than for that last part to be true. I’m truly begging for it. For the voices to stop. I know we both want that. We both just want some rest.”
Mur suddenly became very still, almost like a statue. Her hands stopped shaking and the pistol was aimed at my chest. I stood frozen in place, unsure what I could do or say.
The words barely left my lips before I heard a loud crack. In this small container, the sound of a bullet ricocheted all around me. There was a split moment where I heard my hearing go and then an immense pain struck my chest. I opened my mouth, but I was unable to breathe. My breath was taken from me and I fell back, collapsing to the floor.
I blinked and I was standing there, the smoking gun still in my hand. The body of this third version laid out in front of me. One shot in the chest seemed to kill her instantly. Deep red blood leaked from her body and began to spread across the spotless, stainless steel floor.
“I’m so sorry,” I said as I placed the gun against my temple.
And there was another loud crack.
For a moment there was darkness. Weightlessness. I felt like the darkness had finally come for me. Maybe this was the end. Maybe all of this was finally over. Rest was here.
But then a new sensation came over me. The weightlessness was there but I felt a burning in my chest. It was like my body was screaming. I opened my mouth to let those screams resonate from my body.
“Hey, hey. Breathe. Hey,” I heard a woman’s voice.
I gasped and began to cough, water coming from my mouth.
“Oh my god. You’re ok,” The woman said again.
I blinked a few times as I continued to cough up water. In a moment, my eyesight came into vision. I was laying on the side of a public swimming pool with a group of people gathered around me. I spat out more pool water and then rolled back onto my back.
I was staring up at a woman wearing a red, lifeguard outfit complete with the black whistle hanging around her neck. Her bright red hair matched the outfit, especially now since it was darkened by being in the water.
“You had me really worried there, Mur,” Mara said, giving me a look of worry, but also relief that I was still here with her. “I thought I lost you there for a second.”
I closed my eyes, unable to speak. I still breathed heavily, the taste of chlorine on my tongue.
I was still here. Still alive. Still cycling.
This cycle in the end was the only true thing I knew. No matter what happened. No matter what hardships I endured. No matter how much I thought I knew or understood what was happening, I ended up here.
This was the truth. The only truth.
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