“He’s coming. He’s coming!! Don’t you know how furious he’ll be? You didn’t move anything did you? If things aren’t exactly where he left them, he’ll…he’ll…” I heard distant footsteps. “That’s him!!” the man tearfully wailed, snapping back into the same rigid pose as when I found him.
I tried to rouse the other fellow opposite him, but without avail. Neither would even acknowledge my presence now. The footsteps grew louder. I explored the lower floor and found both men and women carefully holding various poses, dressed up in clothing which, despite fitting them decently, was clearly made for dolls.
None would react, except to fight me off and resume posing any time I tried to physically budge them from their positions. The footsteps grew louder. I flew from house to house and found the same thing in them all. Men, women, and a few children. Their mouths stitched shut, their bodies frozen in poses evocative of domestic life.
The footsteps grew louder, now nearly upon me. None of it made any sense. I didn’t want to leave before I understood it, but the more I explored, the stranger it all became. My confusion peaked when the source of the footsteps rounded the corner.
Oh. Of course. Of course the hallways would be as they are. I was rendered so speechless I couldn’t even scream when it came into view. The lower half was that of a man, wearing a fine pair of suit pants and polished black dress shoes. But so was the upper half, inverted.
Four legs in total, both sets unnaturally elongated. The lower set walked along one floor while the upper set walked along the other. Every footstep sent out minor quakes, the resounding thud of each shoe coming down all but deafening me as it drew near.
I looked back at the two men, both staring at me wide eyed and sweating bullets. Why? What happens if that thing finds me? What’s the big deal if I tamper with these dollhouses? Where the fuck am I even? What the fuck is that stomping, suited creature? How, even among infinite possible worlds, could a place like this exist?
Not for me to know. Like the stubborn captives at the bottom of the shaft, I couldn’t help these people. They weren’t having it. So I climbed back onto my mount, took flight and headed back for the shaft entrance.
…Except it wasn’t there. I did a second pass, then a third to be sure. Where the hole in the wall was on my way in, there was now smooth, unbroken wallpaper instead. The bizarre behemoth came to a stop before the table I now clung to the underside of.
Could it have noticed me? Was it looking through the rooms of the dollhouse for me, even now? I didn’t see any eyes on it. I held my breath. Not sure why, I didn’t see any ears on it either. It lingered for a time, then moved on, stomping along until it rounded the corner at the far end of the hall.
I gasped for air, then struggled to regulate my breathing until my heart settled down. It can’t just be gone, I thought. The hole can’t be gone! I can’t be stranded here…not here. Not after I’ve come so far and survived so much, it can’t all come to an end in a place like this!
I buzzed about, warily straining my ears for footsteps as I explored the vast manor. Was it the footsteps? Did the creature I came here from within sever its connection to this world out of fear? How long must I wait until it reattaches itself?
As I weaved between the legs of the upside down tables on the ceiling, I contemplated living out the rest of my life here. In this obscured, tucked away little pocket dimension, this backwater of the multiverse. Could I subsist on scraps? Does that suited, stomping behemoth eat anything?
As if in answer, I came upon a darkened kitchen. Vertically doubled just like the hallway, though the fridge extended fully from floor to ceiling. Whatever’s happened to my eyes in the past few months rendered them perfectly able to see in the dark, aiding my reconnaissance.
There were bugs here. My heart, though I can no longer be sure there’s only one, leapt into my throat. In the middle of the floor, a scattered few bugs foraged for crumbs. How could that thing eat, anyway? I didn’t see a mouth on it.
But where there’s bugs, there’s a bug hole. Just then, the kitchen was bathed all at once in light. Blinding at first on account of my eyes having adapted to the darkness, I didn’t understand why I heard the bugs around me stampeding away.
I felt a gentle but increasing wind from above, and a shadow fell over me. My mount took flight on its own, and once my eyes finished adjusting, I understood why. The suited creature’s shoe came down just behind me with an ear splitting, earth shaking impact.
The shockwave jostled me about, but I held fast to the carapace and directed my mount towards the underside of the fridge. There would be nowhere else in the room that it couldn’t reach me, undoubtedly why the last of the bugs were seeking refuge there even as I watched.
I landed just short of the gap between the floor and the fridge, then skittered under it. Oh, what a relief it was to once again be engulfed in darkness! The thundering footsteps continued behind me as I followed the small herd of bugs…towards a hole at the base of the wall, behind the fridge!
I would’ve cried except for the urgency. All I could think of was to direct my mount towards the hole as fast as it could crawl. As if it weren’t real, but a cruel mirage. But it was real alright! I laughed aloud with relief as I barreled through it.
Now that I had some breathing room, I took the opportunity to reflect on what I saw. So many questions that would forever go unanswered! But when what sort of answers could I expect? There are none of those down here, only more questions.
I swore not to let my curiosity get the better of me next time. Even though I was warned that the holes could close at any moment, it didn’t become real for me until it happened. Why did I risk exploring the manor? Foolish in retrospect. But then, it was something new. Something I hadn’t seen yet.
I emerged from the other side of the tunnel to find the usual black pool below me. What an oddly welcome sight it was. Even knowing full well what it does, that it shouldn’t exist and that I still don’t really understand it…at least it’s familiar.
The rest of the bugs swarmed through the hole behind me as I dropped to ground level, then set out for the pillar’s rim. Exhaustion from the ordeal I’d just endured forced me to stop and make camp, though with my mount I might’ve easily reached the edge before the day was out.
When Horatio crawled out of my satchel as before, I noticed he was moving strangely. Slower, more stiffly than before. Had I fallen on the satchel at some point? Was he cramped from spending so much time in there?
“You look as tired as I am, little fellow.” He crept over to me, clung to my body and emitted a series of feeble trills. I fed him some dried meat on the off chance he was simply hungry, but he only threw it up a minute later. I wish I knew what these things normally eat.
To my own surprise, I started talking to him. I’m no stranger to loneliness. But for years now it’s had no power over me, so I don’t know why I felt the need to spill my guts all of a sudden. The close call back in that mansion maybe. The disappearance of that hole touched a nerve.
Ever since the village, hope grew within me that I might actually make it home. But that’s no more certain now than it ever was. It’s just a story I tell myself so I’ll keep moving. A plastic carrot dangled before a tired, broken down mule.
I believed it less and less with every repetition. But if I tell it to someone else, I can believe that he believes it. Or at least that the lie isn’t as transparent to him as it is to me, if only because he doesn’t understand a word of it.
It’s like when you’re little, and you tell your stuffed animal that everything’s going to work out in the end. You’re the one that’s scared. But maybe if you can keep your voice steady and say it in a grown up sounding voice, it will really happen.
Horatio rolled into a ball. I did my best to wrap myself up around him, pulled a blanket over us and went to sleep. A dreamless sleep, mercifully. The only remaining refuge from what my life has become.
Stay Tuned for Part 16!