No one could recall when last the door had been opened. Lifetimes, some said. Centuries, claimed others. There were those in fact who stated, with an air of quiet authority, that it never had been, that it had always remained closed. All agreed that no one alive had opened the door, or had known of anyone who had. All they knew was the stories their parents told, which their parents had told them, back through time where the collective memory became misted and cloudy.
Philosophers would often argue about the door, launching into great disquisitions on their theories surrounding why the door had or had not to have been opened. There were even those who said that the door should be opened, for stories were nothing more than stories, and the true nature of the door could only be discerned by seeing what lay behind it. None of them, of course, volunteered to bear witness to what was beyond that terrible threshold, even those who professed to believe that nothing was there to be found.
Most, though, did not give in to such foolish and idle thinking. The stories told were so uniformly terrible, and all so similar, that there simply had to be some truth to what was said. It could not be otherwise, no matter what some radical thinkers might claim. Most importantly, no one wanted to be the one to discover they were in fact true, for the horrors described were so awful there could be no encountering them without a life being changed irrevocably.
Though no one would dare to so much as approach the door, to say nothing of putting a hand upon the handle, or even pretending to turn it, there came a time when the leading citizens of the day determined that someone needed to be set to watch it, to ensure that no one made the mistake of opening it. Two men were set to the task, both of them considered to be honest and upstanding, the finest among them. One took the daylight hours and one took the night.
It was a long and lonely job for both, with most days passing without event. Though their jobs were hardly strenuous physically, both men were left exhausted by the end of each shift, their constant vigilance and the absence of any activity weighing heavily upon their minds. Both considering quitting and yet both persisted, knowing how important what they were doing was. If one misguided youth or extremist philosopher should take it into their head to do the unthinkable, someone needed to be there to stop them.
Still, as the days stretched into weeks and then months and finally years, and no one came near them as they kept their vigil, let alone making any attempt to open the door, a change gradually took hold in both of them. Instead of becoming complacent in their duties, as might be expected, they redoubled their efforts. No one could question the importance of their task, or the awful nature of the threat the door represented, least of all them.
A strange logic took hold in their minds. They came to believe that, because they were standing vigil, someone must be attempting to open the door. If they could find no evidence of such attempts, then it only meant they were unable to find it through the means available to them. They needed to look deeper into everything, to trust nothing, not even their own senses. Sinister powers were obviously at work.
Each man brought in necromancers and alchemists, philosophers and academicians, to study the matter. None of them could find any evidence of malfeasance. None could even suggest how such a thing could be done without the two men noticing. If they were both there on duty at all times—and both men were unimpeachable, so there could be no doubt—then all agreed it simply could not be done. The men would notice somehow. They would see the attempt.
This satisfied neither man and each separately came to the same realization. The only people who were unwatched around the door were they themselves. Each knew they had not allowed temptation to steal into their hearts, but what of their counterpart? Could he be trusted?
They each decided the other could not, and they each began to maintain a constant vigil, secreting themselves near the door while the other was on duty. Such a task proved impossible, for they could not hope to stay awake the entire day, and when, inevitably, they fell asleep while observing the other, they became convinced that it was during these moments the other must have opened the door and passed through.
After some weeks of their mutual and unbeknownst observation of each other, they each reached the same, inevitable conclusion. The only way to catch the other was to do so in the act. And the only way to do so was to enter the door themselves and wait within. It was a terrible risk to take, but both concluded it was the only acceptable solution.
They knew each other’s habits so well by then that it was an easy thing to do. The man set to watch the day, knowing that the night watchman’s habit was to first walk a wide perimeter around the door when he started his shift, greeted the man warmly at day’s end and waited until the other had set upon his walk. As soon as the man’s back was turned, he reached out and grasped the door handle, turned and slipped within, closing it quietly behind him.
When the night watchman returned from his route and saw that the day watchman was gone he thought only that he could put his own plan into action. He intended to go through the door sometime before dawn, reasoning that his absence in the morning would be enough to tempt the other into going within as well, to make certain that his dark secrets were not being discovered. As the first light of day approached, the shadows gradually giving way, he did just that.
It was late in the afternoon when someone passing near the door happened to notice the day watchman was not on duty. She rushed to notify the citizenry and they immediately made their way to rouse the nightwatchman, only to discover that he too had disappeared. A search was called and the entire populace scoured every block, every nook and every cranny, every sewer and every roof, but no sign of either man was ever found.
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