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"The Third Door"
Harry Buschman

Is this the way it’s supposed to be? I don’t know. I never died before.

That’s the trouble -- there’s no one I can talk to -- I’m alone in here.
It’s like a one time thing, you don’t go around again. I suppose something will happen sooner or later.

I was brought into this cell on a gurney by a little dwarf of a man - looked like one of those gargoyles on the towers of Notre Dame. Lizard skinned, hoofs for feet and two bat-like wings that hung down his back like wet leather. He rolled me off the gurney and left me alone with three buckets, one of which is empty, one is filled with water and one half filled with what looks like what the butcher stuffs in the belly of a chicken.

He brought me in through that rusty iron door over there in the corner. I tried to open it a while ago -- it wouldn’t budge. Across the room there are three more doors, two of which I think I recognize.

I can feel the heat from the first door, the knob is almost too hot to touch, and if I listen carefully I can hear faint but unmistakable cries of agony and horror. It doesn’t take much imagination to predict what lies ahead for me should I choose to leave through this doorway. The second door is in the center of the three, it has a small window through which I can see a blue sky, fleecy clouds and an occasional bird. Try as I might, I cannot see land of any shape or form. It leads me to think that if I should choose to leave
through this doorway I would step into a bottomless abyss and fall forever. I have placed my hand on the doorknob to this door and it is cold, a numbing kind of coldness that chills me to the bone. Then there is a third door. Why should there be a third door? I was led to believe in Heaven and Hell, I was never informed of a third door.

There is a keyhole in this door -- but no knob. I searched in vain all night in my tiny cell for the key, between the cold and damp stones and even in and around the buckets the gargoyle left behind. I have held my breath and listened for sounds coming from behind this door, and even timidly knocked on it to see if someone might respond. There was no answer.

The gargoyle has returned. He looks at me questioningly -- as though waiting for a statement from me. Perhaps he thinks I’ve made up my mind about the doors. But how can I? I call him “he” but I have no reason to think such a creature is either male or female. In his queer, lurching bird-like walk he turns from me and looks over the buckets in the corner of my cell and speaks

....

“You have taken no water. Your swill pail is empty and you have eaten no food.” It picks up the bucket with the entrails. “Look at this -- you’ve eaten nothing. How can you make a decision without eating?”

“I’m dead,” I answer abruptly, “what decisions can a dead man make?”

My attitude seems to have angered the little ghoul. He shakes the bucket violently and runs to each of the three doors banging on each of them in turn. “Eternity, you fool! Eternity! It’s an important decision -- don’t you know how long eternity is?”

“I can’t eat that,” I shudder when I remember what’s in there. “It isn’t even cooked -- it’s raw!”

“Of course it’s raw. Would you have it burned? It is the same food we eat.” While holding the bucket in his left hand he fishes around in the bucket with his right. “There are kidneys. Would you burn kidneys? Of course not! The taste of urine would be lost. The same with livers,” he picks out a grayish pink liver and sniffs at it delicately, “the taste of bile in liver is exquisite -- it would be completely lost if it were burned.” He puts the liver back reluctantly and picks out a heart. “The taste of blood in a fresh heart,” he looks at it with almost religious awe, “it’s indescribable. You would burn these things? You are mad! It does not surprise me that you are here in the first place!”

Enough’s enough -- I have had enough of this little monster’s preferences in cuisine, my stomach begins to churn and I tell him to put the bucket down. I walk to the first door, the one I’m sure leads to Hell. “Why would I choose to spend eternity here? What man in his right mind would burn in Hell forever?”

He puts the bucket down and shuffles his way over to me. “You want no part of it then. Without looking, eh? How do you know it’s as bad as you think it is?”

“Everyone knows. The Bible tells us so.”

His face breaks into an almost bird-like grin. “A matter of taste,” he says quietly. “Hell is not one thing, it is many. There are places in Hell where a man can live like a king.” He reaches for the knob and flings the door open wide. The smell of brimstone fills the room, fire boils through the open door and reaches almost to the opposite wall. The hideous cries of the damned are deafening. “It’s not like that down there, this is your idea of Hell -- not mine.”

He closes the door reluctantly. He looks at me and sniffs. “Love the smell of brimstone,” he says. He moves to the second door and turns to me. “Heaven? Paradise? Valhalla? Elysium? Emerald City, perhaps? Is this your choice?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t made up my mind -- there’s another door you know.”

“Why wait? Here is Paradise, just as you imagined it.” He pointed to the little window. “Have you checked it out?”

“I looked in, yes -- there wasn’t much to see.”

He threw the door to Heaven open. “Here,” he exclaimed, “come closer -- quite a view.”

I held on to the jamb tightly and looked out. Just sky -- blue sky up and down, puffy cotton clouds and an occasional bird .... or an angel perhaps, it was difficult to tell.

He closed the door again. “You seem confused ....”

“It’s not what I thought it would be. I’ve always been told ....”

“You can’t believe everything you hear, you know.”

“It looks terribly lonely .... what’s behind the third door?”

I didn’t think this little monster could laugh, but he began a long steady chuckle, a laugh without humor or human feeling. “Curious -- all your life it was Heaven or Hell. Heaven for the good, the pure of heart, for the pitiful few who walked the path of righteousness -- Hell for the bad, for the guilty, for most of us.” He withdrew a key from his leather belt. “There are no free samples behind this door, my friend. If I open it you go in and I close it behind you.”

“How can I choose if I don’t know what’s out there?”

He stopped laughing to say, “You have seen Hell and Heaven -- you’ve turned them both down. There is nothing to choose. Come let’s get it over with.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Why? A little thing like eternity? It’ll be over before you know it.” He
turned the key in the third door and slowly swung it open.

 

 
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