The portal would only be open for a short time. Preparations for the transfer began months ago.
Beyond the threshold, a white light shone, so bright anything on the far side of the divide was obscured by the brilliance. The only sound escaping was a hum like the drone of an antiquated fluorescent light.
A well-tended walkway traversing a well-manicured lawn led to the portal. Ancient wisteria vines twisted around granite stanchions cloaked in velvety moss. A sweet perfume filled the air, stirred by a cool, tender breeze.
The idyllic scene belied the malevolent nature of the portal.
One day a year, from dusk to dawn, the portal opened. During that interval, prisons are emptied of their most heinous felons. The end of capital punishment, outlawed centuries ago, left prisons filled past capacity with inmates ordered to remain incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives.
These institutions became cesspools of internal anarchy, and through their emissaries, soon spilled over into neighboring towns. Prison officials and city leaders were losing their battle against crime.
That all changed one spring morning. Overnight the portal and the pergola sheltering its path, simply appeared. Along with it, the Docent and a solution.
Proffered as a pseudo-witness protection program, prisoners were given the option of leaving their institution for freedom. They would give up their names, their families, their lawless endeavors, their entire identity, all for a new life.
The ruse was simple to maintain. Since all the felons willingly left and contracted to never return, their disappearance was expected, and never investigated. A few criminals even tried to be arrested and convicted so they could volunteer for the program.
“Sir, the buses have arrived,” an uniformed guard relayed the information to Warden Gaines.
“Thank you, sergeant,” Gaines accepted a clipboard with a list of inmates’ names attached.
Gaines quickly perused the list, wondering why he needed to know who was passing through the portal. He was simply glad to get rid of them,
The Docent waited patiently at the portal threshold. A tall, ageless, androgynous humanoid, the taciturn Docent never spoke to the inmates, only gestured toward the light, pausing to usher stragglers through the portal if the line bogged down.
Excited at the prospect of freedom, those crossing through were jovial, joking and talking about what they were going to do “on the other side.” As they stepped forward, they each, in turn, held up a hand or arm to shield their eyes from the blinding glare.
When the last inmate disappeared into the light, the Docent bowed slightly to the Warden, then walked through the portal too. The light dimmed and the portal closed.
“Do you ever wonder what happens to them,” the sergeant asked when the warden passed the clipboard back to him.
“Never,” he said over his shoulder as he strode back to his waiting car.
The line of inmate continued to move slowly forward. The men shuffled their feet because they couldn’t see beyond the person in front of them. Soon the light softened and their surroundings come into focus – their destination clearly an unearthly abattoir.