I looked up at the sign on the window of the stairwell door that opened to the 8th floor. "When you don't have a key, try the door that's unlocked." Sounds like a plan, I decided, and unknowingly walked past the golden keys that dangled in the corner.

When I opened the door and looked down the hallway, I noticed the beggar was gone. And I didn't see an elevator either. A long line of doors stretched down to the end where the hallway ended in a brick wall. Turning my head I saw the other side was exactly the same.

"Hmm..." I thought. "Where's that darn elevator?" The stairwell door closed behind me, and when I tried it, it was locked.

"Figures," I mumbled, and proceeded down the hallway. I had visions of a man with a microphone pointing at a line of doors, and people dressed up in bizarre costumes jumped up and down and scratched their heads as they tried to choose the door behind which lay a spectacular prize. Behind the wrong door...a vision of a lion roaring out at me filled my mind. Hesitantly I chose the 8th door.

8th floor, 8th door, right? "Why not?" I shrugged.

It was locked.

I tried the next one. It was locked too. I ran down the hall trying knob after knob. It was like a game, and then suddenly one of the doorknobs turned just when I was about to reach for the next one, and I flew back as 100,000 gallons of lukewarm water plunged out, smashing me against the wall on the other side of the hall.

The water finally stopped gushing, and a fish flapped by. "Hey, I know you," I gurgled from the floor, and the fish pulled up her towel and "Humpf"ed at me, her chin in the air, as she slid under the stairwell door, and swam down the stairs.

The door was still ajar when I got to my feet. "Oh well, looks like the only door that's open," I mumbled, and stepped inside the room.

It was dark.

I mean real dark. I couldn't see a thing. I fumbled around, found the light switch and pulled it, just before I realized my eyes were closed.

For a tiny fraction of a second while I was pulling the switch, and after I realized my eyes were closed and opened them, but before I had finished pulling the switch, I saw a beautiful world beyond belief. Waterfalls flowed effortlessly. Trees grew lush and tall and swayed in a calm, gentle breeze. Butterflies sailed aimlessly and animals and people lived in harmony with each other and the earth. The sky was blue, and the air was fresh and filled with unlimited possibilities. And although tears sometimes fell, life had a reason and a purpose. Everyone belonged; everyone cared; and living was all about making life better for ourselves, our families, our communities and all of the living creatures that shared our planet. This was Peacetopia. And I felt so peaceful and full and complete. Then I pulled the light switch and the lights went off.

Frantically, I tugged on the switch again, but to my dismay I saw blank water-stained walls and shelves of miscellaneous misnomers standing and sitting in perfectly arranged disorder.

I looked back for the door, but saw only the blank walls with their blotchy water-stains that looked like prehistoric animals charging and dancing about in every direction.

Something glistening on the shelves caught my eye and I tried not to look -- I didn't belong here, and I didn't want to get into any trouble. Curiosity started to eat at my insides as I paced the room searching for a way out. Purposely not looking at the shelf, I stepped gingerly closer and closer to it, drawn like a magnet.

Slowly I turned to face the shelf. It was covered with little white boxes that were filled with cut-out pieces of colored paper. I saw rectangles and squares and circles and triangles and diamonds. They were just paper, but they burned with colors that were so vibrant and alive, I just had to run my fingers through them. They felt so cool and comforting, I just had to have some of them.

I looked carefully over my shoulder, making sure no one saw me, grabbed a few pieces of the colored paper, and quickly stuffed them into my pants pocket -- the one without the hole.

I felt them slide inside, and as I stepped away from the shelf, my pocket grew heavier and heavier. So heavy, that the further I walked, the less I could move my leg. Panic stricken, I dragged my leg back to the shelf, and lifted each colored piece of paper out of my pocket with great strain and effort. Finally, I heaved the last one out, and wiped the sweat from my face. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and collapsed on the floor.

The foil ring slid off my finger and rolled across the floor, straight for a metal grating in the corner. I watched as it spun, dancing in the light, and I jumped up and ran toward it.

As the ring spun, the dull dirty foil began to glisten and burn like a flame. I stopped and stared at the glistening fire that seemed to burn with all the colors of an eternal light that danced with life and whispered in my brain as I stared and stared. Flashes of ideas roared through my mind, bursting like flowers in the sun. My mind shuddered as it grew closer and closer to total understanding, total realization...and then the ring fell through the grating and disappeared.

I fell down, sad and depressed, and emptier than I had ever felt before.

"GOING UP!" a voice blared, piercing through my sadness like a pin popping a balloon.

I looked up and stared emptily at the open elevator that stood somewhere on the wall between a Pterodactyl water-stain and a brontosaurus-stain chasing lunch. The elevator man was smiling in the shadows, his cap over his eyes.

"Um, I guess so," I sighed and got up and stepped into the elevator.

I could feel his eyes burning in the back of my head. I knew he knew what I had done, and I blushed in embarrassment. I stared at the blinding glare of the overhead lights. Then I turned and looked at the floor numbers as the elevator raced to its destination. They all said 8. Or at least that sideways 8.

"All out," the elevator man declared, and the doors opened to face the street, which was now a river of people hurrying on their way.

I was almost afraid to leave the elevator, but the elevator man was clicking his tongue annoyedly. "Watch your step," he grumbled, and I started to step out.

"Oh, just a minute," he added. And I knew he was going to say something about what I had done. "You must have dropped this," he chuckled, and he handed me the ring.

I looked at it in awe. It wasn't burning like it had before, but it sort of glowed a warm glow. I looked up, smiling, and then my heart froze. It was only at that moment that I realized the elevator man's face was my own. He smiled and waved goodbye as the elevator door closed, and I was staring at a brick wall.

I should say right here that, facing that cold brick wall, I found myself wondering whether the man in the elevator had really looked like me. I mean, at that moment I honestly wasn't sure what I looked like. There was a shop window a few feet down on the brick wall, and inching along its surface (my back against the swarm of people that rushed past) I stood staring at my reflection.

"Yipes! Is that what I look like?" I gasped. I shrugged. My reflection shrugged back. "I guess so," I sighed. I wasn't what I had expected. "Well, I guess the elevator man didn't look like me, after all. Or maybe he did." I couldn't remember anymore.

Clutching the ring, I stepped out into the river of people.

( Chapter 12- MP3 song demo by Lyndon DeRobertis)

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