The old man wandered the hallway collecting keys from each door. If you believe this to be a simple task, you are mistaken for the hallway is never ending. Its length is measured in years instead of miles. The old man knows every door that appears in his hallway, and his key will one day hold every key to every door.
He approaches the next door, turns the knob. Inside, the room is dark save for a handful of candles on the dresser. A lumb on the bed is still, the breathing of the couple tranquil. Silently, the old man takes a key from the bedside table. The couple don't even know he was in the room. But their secret is safe with him. He locks the door.
The hallway is simple and ornate at the same time. The old man's slippers tread upon a lush red carpet decorated with intricate patterns interlaced with gold. It is the softest carpet anyone will walk on, but the only person to do so is the old man. He is too busy to notice anything but his duty. The walls themselves are white and bare save for the staggered rows of doors. Each door opens to another forgotten secret. His duty is simple: walk in, take the secret, lock the door, place it on the key ring, repeat.
There is a dead body in the next door. The body lays in the middle of an alley. If the old man were to look up, he would have seen the city skyline of Istanbul. But of course he wouldn't look up. Blood on the body is not clotted, only dried. The old man finds the key on a nearby garbage pail.
A ragged boy curls against the wall of the alley. His clothes and skin are free from blood. The old man already knows the boy didn't do it --- he has seen the boy before.
"I know the secret," the boy says.
The old man does not seem to notice the boy is addressing him. Most people never notice him. He keeps their secrets for they are not his to tell. But this secret does not belong to the boy; the boy does not belong to this secret. He picks up the key but does not leave.
"I know your secret," the boy says. His hand shifts as if he wants to show the old man what he is holding. There is a glint of rusty iron in the light; an oblong shape keeps mysteriously in the shadows.
"Once more," the old man replies without looking at the boy. Then he crosses the alley, locks the door behind him.
The key ring is not as big as expected. It can hold every secret from the dawn of time to the end of time, but only fifty keys will appear on the ring. Once they are placed on it, the keys are lost. But the old man knows the location of every single key upon that ring. The size is just for convenience --- the weight of secrets is a heavy burden to bear.
The next door opens to a British colony in America. Rust colored slippers walk across the dirt floor to the center of the room. Outside, the town is empty, a ghost town. Kneeling down, the old man starts digging through the floor until he unearths an iron key. He replaces the dirt on the floor, walks back to the hallway.
His trousers show no signs that he knelt in dirt. His firm and confident hands are not dirtied. The old man locks the door behind him, places the key on the ring, and moves on to the next door.
He wears a rust-colored vest and a shirt as white as the walls. A pair of golden spectables rest on the edge of his nose. His hair is white and wiry, but his eyes are focused and clear. He stands very straight for a man with his burden. There is wisdom behind his eyes, a desire to share this wisdom, and something else, something that has been brewing behind his eyes for some time now: anticipation.
Five doors later, he comes across the young boy again, slightly older now. He is more elegantly dressed in a vest that matches the color of the hallway's carpet. His feet are bare and his trousers are slightly too big for him; a leather belt holds them at his waist. His face is clean, showing a pair of bright blue eyes. His hair is the color of wet earth, but that will change in time.
"I know your secret," the boy says.
The old man smiles. "Where is the key?"
The boy holds up a key ring. A single secret dangles on it.
"Now where is the key for this door?"
The boy looks around. He stands in a kitchen. On a table sits a plate of crumbs. A small whimpering is muffled from under the table. Sneaking too many cookies gives little girls a tummy ache. The boy spies the key on a table next to the plate. He picks it up.
"Very well. Come with me."
The boy follows the old man through the door.
"Lock the door behind you," the old man instructs. "You must always lock the door behind you."
"So that the secret can be forgotten."
"Why must they be forgotten?" the boy asks. He locks the door anyway.
"So that this hallway can keep existing," the old man answers. "And so we may have something to do. Put the key on the ring. Soon, you will acquire your own ring of secrets."