Sorry for the delay in this next section. Been busy doing stuff besides writing. I know, I know, and I feel guilty about it, already.
Still, here it is at the 7,505 word point. (If you want to start from the beginning, you can from here: http://blog.paulidin.com/?p=378)
Have you ever seen a blue luminescent watch face? You’ve seen how it glows all over rather than from one particular spot. That’s what the ceiling and walls of this hallway were like. I suppose it’s possible that there were just well designed diffusing aspects involved, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. The eeriness of the corridor struck me after I’d walked a few feet and realized that I wasn’t casting a shadow.
Everything was brightly lit. I could see doorways all the way down the hall, I could read the signs on the walls next to the doors, I could see the creases appear and disappear in Gwendolyn’s clothing as she walked ahead of me. But when I looked down, I couldn’t see my own shadow. When I looked for the wolf’s shadow, I could see a little darkness between foot and floor each time she took a step, but that’s it.
I loved it.
My daily life was boring and stressful and boring and tiring and boring and monotonous. Here, I felt like I’d fallen into Wonderland and I wasn’t in any hurry to climb back up out of the rabbit hole.
As we approached the end of the corridor, I could see that there was an open elevator chamber waiting for us there. There was only one button next to its entrance, so I guessed we must be on the bottom floor. I didn’t see any floor indicators across the top of its entrance, though, so I wondered how long people had to stand around and wait unknowingly until it showed up for them.
I was just about to step into it before I noticed the placard on the doorjamb and tried to read it. I couldn’t.
I stepped back before crossing the elevator’s threshold and took another look. Some part of my brain was insisting there were legible words there but I couldn’t tell what they were. It wasn’t like reading a foreign language. It’s not that there were letters there that combined into words that made no sense. It’s that the words wouldn’t stay in my mind long enough for me to understand them.
Have you ever tried to remember words written on something that’s just out of your memory’s reach? Maybe you read some directions and then when you got near where you were going, you could only remember, “then turn left and something something something, it’ll be behind the goat… What?” And no matter what you do, you can’t grasp the somethings? You can remember seeing the directions written in front of you, you know there were somethings there, but you just can’t bring them to mind. That’s a frustrating feeling.
It was astonishingly more frustrating when that exact thing was happening to me while I looking at the words!
As I turned around and rubbed my tired eyes, I realized that I had looked at signs next to doorways as we hurried here and I couldn’t remember reading any of the words on any of them.
What the hell?
The elevator doors had remained open while Gwendolyn stood at the back of the car as people do, facing me impassively. I looked around to see if there were any doors marked as stairs, but if there were, I couldn’t tell. Since I didn’t just want to stand in that hallway forever, I figured going with the wolf lady was still my best bet.
Normally, when I enter rooms that make me nervous (I’m sure you’ve entered the lion’s den at one time or another, right?), I’ll do it hesitantly. But there’s just something about elevators and all the horror movies I’ve seen; I can’t help but step quickly across their thresholds. I did it again here and quickly moved to stand beside Gwendolyn, facing outward in a similar fashion.
There were no buttons on the inside of the elevator at all. There was an old-fashioned Bakelite phone handle hanging from its cradle on the right side of the doorway, and that was it in the way of possible controls. On the left side front wall was a pattern of unlit little lightbulbs, similar to those you might string around a Christmas tree. The pattern looked like a simple silhouette of a rocket or sky scraper. There was one bulb that was lit, actually, near the top of the pattern, in the highest row that was the full width of the shape. Rows above that tapered quickly to a series of three single bulbs that made up the shape’s apex. Rows below the lit bulb stayed at that same width of seven bulbs all the way down to the last row, which consisted of one bulb in the center. I didn’t count the rows but there looked to be about twenty from topmost bulb to the loner at the bottom.
“If you’ve brought me into this closet to play Seven Minutes in Heaven, Gwendolyn, I should let you know: I’m willing.”
“Mr. Bauser,” she replied, “I should let you know in turn: It is more likely that I would tear off your genitals, package them in a small jewelry box, wrap the box in festive paper and a bright red bow, and present them to my mother for her birthday than that I would favorably respond to any of your libidinous overtures. Please restrain yourself.”
“Gwendolyn,” I said, undaunted, “It’s a little early in our relationship for me to be meeting your mother, but I like that you’re already thinking of my naughty bits.”
“Please call me Ms. Pine,” she said with a sigh.
Look, it had been a while, okay? If I’d seen a knife in her hand, or something else to justify fear of her threat, perhaps I’d have been more restrained.
“So, Ms. Pine, what are we going to do in this box?”
Rather than replying to me again, she said, “Transporter, take us to Clifton Waring’s office.”
“Ooh! Is Scotty going to beam–“
The door slid shut in the blink of an eye and with no discernible noise, we started to fall. There were two ways I could tell that the elevator was going down: The first way was that the bulbs on that wall pattern began to display our passage by lighting up and then darkening again, indicating that the lit bulb did represent our location in an apparently two-dimensional elevator system. The position of the lit bulb flew down the pattern at an alarming rate. The second way was the feeling of my stomach panicking and attempting to vacate my body by climbing up my throat.
There were no railings around the inside of the elevator like you might normally find. I’d never thought much of those railings before, but I’d never found myself free-falling in an elevator before, either. In lieu of grasping onto those, I flung myself back against the wall and attempted to fuse myself into the metal there.
I’m sure that the entire descent only took a minute or less, but it felt like much more. A couple of things occurred to me as I alternated between praying for sweet, sweet death, and regretting every diet I’d ever tried. Gwendolyn Pine wasn’t perturbed in the slightest and I wasn’t suffering any effects from a change in pressure. I figured I’d at least feel my ears popping like they used to do when landing in a plane, but not even that happened. I realized I was making whimpering sounds and I cut that out. Once I shut up, I could hear that there was some type of music being piped into our falling death box from an invisible source.
Straining to hear and make out the music distracted me enough to calm down. It sounded a bit like a repetitive sea chanty but slower and softer. I thought I could hear the actual words, but just as when I tried to read the placards on the floor now far above us, they wouldn’t stay in my mind long enough to decipher.
As I opened my mouth to ask Ms. Pine about the music, there was a soft dinging sound as if someone had just gently struck a musical triangle and the door to the elevator slid open. I glanced toward it and saw that the lightbulb at the very bottom of the pattern was lit.
Ms. Pine started to walk forward but I stepped in front of her and said, “Wait a second.”
She paused and frowned at me. “Yes?”
“What language am I hearing in that elevator music?” I asked.
“Mine,” she said and stepped around me out into the hallway.
I took a moment and strained again to make out the words, but they continued to elude me. I shrugged and followed my mysterious guide.
I didn’t have to go far to find her as this hallway was a short one, maybe eight meters long, and aside from a few pictures on the wall, there was nothing else to see. The corridor merely led from the elevator (I guess they called it the Transporter here) on one end to double-doors on the other end.
Gwendolyn stood in front of double-doors that, at first glance, could have opened into any conference room. Dark brown wooden doors in the usual shape and size were mounted inside a black metal frame and stood atop a gray and white marble base. Okay, it could have been for a fancy conference room. But as I strode closer to the portal, I could see that there was some sort of silver filigree design worked into the metal doorframe. There was similar silver tracery in the marble base. The door had no knobs, but rather two vertical handles, one on each. They were easily a third of a meter tall and made of lucite or glass, affixed to the doors by end caps made of the same black metal as the doorframe. The door handle end caps were not decorated, but the transparent handles were covered in designs, this time drawn in what looked like gold.
I stopped in front of the doors and looked to Ms. Pine, who now had her back to the doors facing toward the elevator and made no movement or sounds.
“Aren’t you going to open the doors for me?” I asked.
“I don’t open those doors,” she replied. “But the Master is expecting you, so you can go right in.”
“Uh-huh. I see. The Master. Should I knock first?”
“It wouldn’t work,” Gwendolyn said.
I blinked in confusion at that. I held up my hand in a fist and looked at my knuckles. They looked capable of knocking on something. I gave it a shot.
It didn’t work.
I don’t know what happened but I was holding my fist in front of my face again just as I had a moment before. I decided to try again, but this time I’d move my fist slowly toward the wooden–
It didn’t work.
Once again, I was holding my fist in front of my face, examining my knuckles. I glanced toward Ms. Pine and saw that she was struggling to hold back a smile. I was glad someone was having fun. I wasn’t upset or afraid myself, but I was perplexed as to what was going on. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and held the display up next to my fist. There was no reception down here but the clock showed that it was 7:29pm and was just seconds away from the half-hour. As the minute changed, I moved quickly to–
It didn’t work.
I was looking at my fist and my phone and the display showed that it was now 7:31pm. I decided I should be glad I wasn’t in some sort of magical Groundhog Day situation and not push my luck.
I put my phone away, opened both hands and slowly moved to grasp the two door handles and pull the doors open. The doors came forward easily and I looked into a war room.
I don’t know if that’s really what its purpose was, but that’s what it felt like. The room I stepped into, as the double doors slowly and silently swung closed behind me, was enormous. It easily extended for twelve meters to either side of me, maybe twenty meters in front of me, and probably ten meters above me. A meter or so in front of me, I found a few steps leading down into something I would call a conference pit.
There was a large round thick wooden table in the middle, with its center cut out, looking for all the world like a serious wooden doughnut. Emerging from the hole in the center of the table was a dark shiny dome. It reminded me of security cameras you might see hanging from the ceiling in a department store. On the level around the pit, up where I’d entered from the hallway, were seats arranged in stadium levels. There were typical executive style desk chairs positioned equally all around the table, save one on the side opposite to where I’d entered. That seat looked like a throne carved out of stone and bone and covered with gilt. The rolling casters stuck in its base only slightly diminished its majesty.
For all its impressiveness, though, everything in and around the conference pit would only have made me call this a conference room. No, it was what I saw on the far side of the pit that made me think, “War Room”.
Just as a few steps led down into the pit, on the far side were a few steps that led back up out of it. A few meters beyond that was a half-cylindrical wall made up of hundreds of electronic screens. I couldn’t see behind the wall to examine how it was all connected, but from the direction I’d entered, I could see there were ten rows of screens from top to bottom that started on the left side of the curved wall, and then wrapped around all the way to the right side. Each screen was about half a meter tall, maybe three-quarters of a meter wide, and was displaying some active scene.
A carefully groomed large man with a full head of salt and pepper hair stood in the center of the curved screen viewing area. I could see from behind that he was wearing a dark gray overcoat, something in a timeless and dignified style, maybe from London Fog. When I said large, I didn’t mean he was fat. I meant that his shoulders and height made him look like an enormous professional wrestler.
Since he was the only other person I could see in the room, I assumed he was The Master and approached to greet him. As I moved closer, I saw him reach out one giant hand and flick his finger at a screen near the bottom of the centermost column of them. The screen appeared to enlarge immediately until it was hovering directly in front of him, now three meters wide and two meters tall. It showed me walking up behind him.
I spun around and tried to see the camera that must have been trained on my back, but I couldn’t see anything. The entire room was as brightly lit as the hallways had been, but I couldn’t see any cameras or even dark or mirrored spaces that could be hiding one.
“Heh, heh. You won’t find one, Adam,” came a gravelly but gentle voice from just behind me. “You don’t mind if I call you Adam, do you?”
I spun around and looked up and then up some more into the face of Santa Claus.