‘You see, there is only one door in that hallway. And it is locked. And has always been locked. For the 89 years of my tenure in Hallway THREE I have never yet seen it open: until then.’

***

The frail old figure, huddled on the uncomfortable seat; buried in the robe that was much too large for his slim frame, had been alone in the waiting room for some time. Metal chairs arrayed in neat rows in a metal room; there he sat; ill at ease, twiddling his fingers nervously: as he often had during his long wait.

There were doors on either side of the room made of thick iron, laced with cogs and pistons; through one of these doors, he had been led after extensive processing; the memory of which saddened the old man. His whole being: his entirety; condensed by the clacking manipulations of a clerk’s stenograph onto a single slip of weathered parchment.

A lazy ceiling fan squeaked rust every second rotation in an uncanny concerto with a drip, that echoed rhythmically throughout the small waiting room. The cold stagnant air, that gave cause for the old man to huddle himself further into the depths of his threadbare cloak, was thick with the smell of metal and oil.

Bulging coils of pipes and valves weaved the walls like so many writhing snakes; the purpose of which had been lost to man centuries ago; only the knowledge of how to appease them: to keep them functioning: remained. The various valves occasionally issued forth sudden hisses of steam that frightened the lone figure when he had drifted off in thought: as he often had during -his indeterminable wait. There were no windows: though, the old man was thankful for the rays- of dusty sunlight that stabbed into the murk through a slatted vent in the wall, above a thick pipe, whereby the bustling sounds of city life wafted into the metallic melancholy, like distant voices in a dream.

Heralded by the heavy foot falls of boots on metal, one of the heavy iron doors clanked loudly; buzzed; whirred; and then; agonizingly; slid open with a hydraulic whine; the dull cacophony of centuries old gears crunching; and mechanisms growling in protest reverberated ominously through the old man’s frail bones.

Though at last, the looming figure of an Officer was framed in the doorway; long leather jacket; black hair clipped close; piercing gaze fixed upon the sole occupant of the room.

‘Arkady Vorobyev?’ Said the tall Officer.

‘Y…Yes’

‘you wish to report a crime?’

‘I do Sir’ said Arkady, nodding gravely as he spoke.

‘Follow me please.’ Turning on his heel, the officer strode down the long metal corridor that led from the waiting room to one of the many questioning booths along its length.

He was eventually ushered into a small dimly lit cubicle adorned with a heavy wooden table, and a metal chair on either side; one of which Arkady was gestured to sit in: it was less comfortable than his previous.

Having taken his seat, the impressive looking Officer addressed a computer panel set into the wooden table before him; the panel projecting blue light onto stark chiseled features and brown eyes, hummed and clicked. The Officer looked up occasionally at the old man then turned his attention back to the screen.

An antique clock on the brick wall marked the seconds, adding to a silence that was no silence at all.

‘Will my punishment be lenient? On account of my coming forward?’ ventured the old man with resignation, the prospect of further silence had become unbearable to him.

The officer furrowed his brow:

‘I am under the impression, based on your statement, that you have a crime to report?” He glanced again at the screen, then back up at Arkady ‘not a crime to confess to. Or am I mistaken?

Arkady took a deep sigh ‘I have already explained all this to the clerk, what is left to say? I myself have become the crime- In a manner of speaking — a vessel for evil. Corrupted. I have presented myself to the law of my own volition.’

More silence. More seconds. More glancing at the terminal. Then finally:

‘Yes. Yes, you have said as much in your statement. Many times. Rather prominently in fact.’ The officers unerring gaze rose from his blue screen, searching. His voice seemed to fill the room when he spoke, utterly drowning out the sound of seconds ticking by.

‘Were you coerced into giving this statement in any way?’ Came the dry accusation.

‘No.’ Arkady shook his head in exasperation:

‘No officer. I wish only to make it clear. Clear that I have come forward of my own free will, in the name of duty. That is all’

The officer sat back in his chair: ‘Go on; explain the nature of this crime then.’

‘To me.’ He added.

***

My name Is Arkady Vorobyev, and I am an indentured Cleaner. I have come here, of my own volition, to report a grave crime; or rather, that I may be complicit in the crime myself.

What crime you ask?

Well, it all began some time ago. Like my father before me, and my fathers’ father before him: I had been performing cleansing rituals in Hallway THREE-NINE-NINE-SEVEN in Archive Building three; where I happened upon a… discrepancy… a brass key inside an envelope, with a document…a document that had been addressed to me.

To me I tell you.

From where it could have originated, and by whom it could have been issued maddened me for some time. That it had been strewn upon the ground so carelessly appalled me.

No Sir. You offend me Sir.

You must understand that I am a professional in my work, a perfectionist, and have performed my duties in Hallway THREE-NINE-NINE-SEVEN for eighty-nine years, I am a being of diligence and accuracy. I have garnered many distinctions during my loyal service. I miss nothing. It takes a day to traverse the hallway via the great cleaning machines; and it must be traversed every day. Grease must be kept at bay; valves cleaned; floor grates polished; air purified, and the great cleaning machines must be maintained and serviced against rust and malfunctions.

You mock my craft Sir.

Nobody else could have been there; nor were permitted to be there; nor ever would be. You see; there is only one door in that hallway. And it is locked. And has always been locked. For the eight-nine years of my tenure in Hallway THREE-NINE-NINE-SEVEN. I have never seen it open. That is…until then. Until now.

***

The officer remained silent as he regarded the old frail figure sat before him.

‘Do you have this document? And this key you speak off? The Officer said at last.

Arkady nodded solemnly, being too out of breath to speak. He reached into his cloak pocket gingerly, producing the envelope in his long-weathered fingers. It was unusually heavy.

The officer reached out for it, Arkady hesitated for a moment, withdrawing his outstretched hand ever so slightly.

‘Please be careful with this…it is tainted, unholy. You can’t imagine.’

Nodding, the officer gestured the old man to pass him the key laden envelope.

Ali Dali

Wrapped in my identity are, perhaps, the two halves of the world that are most at odds with one another. So there has always existed within me a struggle for id

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