He walked up to the door, trembling like a leaf, and put his hand on the edge of the frame. “Hello?” he called into the hallway.

There was no answer.

“I think you left the door open,” he said, as if the perpetrator would just materialize in front of him.

But no one was there, so after a great deal of fucking around, he finally took his first step into the real world in an untold number of years, and then he looked to his left.

The hallway was long. Very, very long, and he stumbled immediately to the couch across from his door and collapsed into it. Had the world always been this big? He twisted his hands around themselves, rubbing the back of his wrists and grimacing. Did he even belong here after this long?

At least there weren’t any signs of other people up here, at least not right now. Alex was lucky in that regard, that he could take as much time as he needed to get his bearings together.

“Maybe I can even go downstairs,” he joked to himself. Oh yeah, now he remembered! All of this locked-in nonsense actually started with him being afraid to use the stairs. Never mind that stupid elevator. He hated that rickety old elevator. Even if it was the only way downstairs, he’d hate to use it, so he was just as lucky that it had grown an “OUT OF ORDER” sign decades ago.

You can probably guess that this building was not up to any kind of code.

The stairs were very far away from where he was now, though, so he shakily got back on his legs and began his walk.

Everything was the same, like he had never even left. Almost everything… except for the people. When he was first promoted to Floor 9, the floor was bustling with more staff than patients, but the workers up here dropped like flies one by one until the only people left were him and his officemates that he preferred to not think about.

Alex realized in this moment that he actually did kind of miss talking to people. Especially people who weren’t actively suffering.

As he walked by the eerily-clean doors of abandoned offices, he found he couldn’t actually remember anyone’s names. He could recall faint outlines of faces, maybe voices sometimes, but the actually important and human details had slipped through his fingers like sand – just like most other details of his life.

Something stopped him in his tracks in front of one of the many identical doors. It was the faintest tickle of a memory in the back of his mind, like he had been in this exact one before, the one with the coastline painting next to it. He regarded it up and down for any other possible clues, but it had nothing to suggest its contents, not even a number or a nameplate.

‘Sheesh, I’m lucky to have my office at the end of the hall,’ he thought to himself, imagining other doctors having to count on their fingers to figure out which office is theirs. Or was there some significance to the paintings? If he didn’t have Office at the End of the Hall, would it be Beach Office? He amused himself briefly with imagining how people communicated with each other.

Wait, what was going to be inside then? Did anyone even work here?

With mounting dread, he reached out and opened the door.