“What is this place?” David looked around himself for the first time properly, and his face showed plenty of signs of puzzlement. Isabella watched him carefully, aware that she was taking a risk by not watching the room, but curious to see what genuine emotion in the man looked like. Her research on him had identified him as a lordling; his father had made money in steel and cobalt and had pushed his son into the next higher social circle by picking out his schools, his holiday locations, and generally staying out of his life except where money was needed to lubricate things. To her admittedly jaded outlook it seemed as though David’s real job was to have children who’d been accepted in his social circle and make his father happy, but David wasn’t doing very well at that. In fact, she’d had trouble finding anything David was good at; even as a dilettante he wasn’t much of a social gadfly, wasn’t particularly handsome, wasn’t very clever or especially interesting. He was – and she’d finally allowed herself to think this – very much a disposable second son. The kicker was, of course, that he was an only child.
“This is the other side,” said Isabella. Unless she missed her guess one of David’s eyes had been lazy in his childhood, and it seemed to drift a little now from time to time. He was currently looking at where the door had been, but his left eye was starting to look at the mantlepiece instead.
“The other side of what? And where did the door go? We just came through it, I know it was there!” He pushed past her, unsteadying her slightly and catching her by surprise. She put her hand out, and steadied herself on the armchair, raising a puff of dust into the air.
“Just the other side,” said Isabella, stepping away from the dust before she could breathe any in. “That’s just what this place is called. I suppose it probably has other names too, but I’ve not heard any of them.”
“Where’s the door?” David ran large, spatulate hands over the cracked plaster of the wall, digging his fingernails into the cracks and trying to lever them, as though the door were some peculiar shape on this side and not the other.
“Not there,” said Isabella. “It’s moved by now.”
“Look,” she said, sighing. “This isn’t easy for me either. This place is not safe, but the caves on the other side are less safe, and I know – mostly – what dangers there are on this side. So I’m taking a chance coming here, because it’s less risky than staying there. You shouldn’t even be here with me, this is definitely not what I thought you’d be coming along for. I don’t think you’re ready for any of this, and I’m going to drop you outside at the first chance I get. You’re to go back to the airport, find a hotel, and wait for me there.”
“There are no doors in this room at all,” said David, slowly turning around on one heel. His shoes made a faint squeaking sound as it ground against the carpet. “This is some kind of trap.”
“Listen to me,” said Isabella. The immobile right-hand side of her face made her look grim and menacing. “You have to get out of here when I tell you to go. Do you understand that?”
“I don’t want to,” said David. “And don’t try telling me there’s spiders ahead, I know you’re going to.”
“I –“ began Isabella, annoyed that her next gambit had just been stolen from her. Behind her, the blank patch on the wall suddenly darkened and a huge portrait appeared. She turned, guessing something had happened from David’s reaction, and saw the portrait swing outward from the wall like a door, and then a teddy-bear stepped through.
For a moment she did nothing, and the teddy-bear stood there, looking slightly stunned. Behind it, the portrait-door closed, and then the portrait faded away as though it had never been there. Then the teddy-bear threw its paws up over its head and started mewling like a week-old kitten.
“What the –“ breathed David, his eyes bulging from his face and his mouth hanging open. Fine strings of spittle linked his top teeth with his tongue.
“It’s a teddy-bear,” said Isabella. “I told you you wouldn’t believe me if I tried to tell you the truth, and you still won’t, so for now just pretend it’s a child in a costume.”
“It’s a child?”
“Yes, in a costume.”
“In a costume. Why’s it making that noise?”
“Because it thinks we’re going to kill it.”