Thursday, 21 March 2013

The other side

Where the kris sliced through the air it seemed like a thin line began to shine.  The light was too bright to look directly at, but if you shifted your gaze slightly to the side the lines hung in the air, impossibly, in strict geometric configurations.  Isabella worked quickly, letting the knife find its own way through and trying hard not to push it.  The doors opened best when you followed their natural contours, for all that they sometimes seemed counterintuitive to her.  And if you just pushed and cut of your own accord, well sometimes that opened things that should have remained closed.
There was a soft intake of breath from behind her as she finished, and the lines suddenly winked out.  Where she’d sliced the air into polygonal confusion there was now a door, an actual, physical door made of – she tapped it with a fingernail, curiously, to make sure – plastic.  The plastic was grey and cloudy though the clouds looked as though they might be very slowly shifting, and the grey varied across the door in polygons that looked like the ones she’d carved in the first place.
“Where did that come from?” asked David.  His voice had a note of respect in it for the first time, and she had to look back at him and study his face carefully.  She was sure that he was even more interested in acquiring the kris for himself now.
“It was always here,” said Isabella.  “There are, I think, millions of them.  I don’t know… I don’t think I know who created them, or why there are so many, but if you know how to find them they’re there.  They’re not always unlocked though, and like I said to you earlier, what’s on the other side really, really isn’t safe.  It’s just that it’s less dangerous that what’s on this side now, I think.”
“Is this one locked?  I can’t see a lock.”
“Doesn’t mean anything,” said Isabella.  She laid her hand on the door and gently pushed.  It moved inwards, and where it became ajar a thin line of yellowish light spilled out into the cave.  “No, it’s not locked.  Let’s go.  Stay close to me.”  She stared David directly in the eyes when she said this, and she saw his eyes contract slightly, a hint of annoyance that he was being told what to do.  “There are spiders on the other side,” she said.  She knew she would have to stop using this weakness against him, but she didn’t much fancy trying to explain his disappearance if he got himself killed, or worse.
“Seems like there’s lots of spiders around here,” said David, sounding sulky.
“Yes,” said Isabella.  “These are caves and… other places.  Spiders naturally live in these places.  There are things in here that they like to eat.”  She pushed the door open; it was light in its frame and swung back easily, and looked through the door.
“What do they eat?” said David suddenly.  “I thought they ate flies, but that’s only little ones.  What do the big ones eat?”
“Depends how big they get,” said Isabella.  She was looking through the door at a sepia-toned sitting room that looked like it belonged back in the 1930’s.  There was an armchair, rubbed bare in places along the arm, that looked as though it was stuffed with horsehair.  The upholstery was tan and there were dark brown stains on both the seat cushion and the back of the chair.  There was a cast-iron fireplace with a grate before it and the embers of a fire smouldering away.  A wisp of grey smoke curled up from it into a chimney.  There was a mantlepiece with little ceramic picture-holders neatly set out, and they looked like they might have pictures of people in them.  There was a carpet on the floor, something brown and scuffed, and a small rug on top of it before the chair.  The rug was canary yellow and looked as though something had chewed it at the edges.  On the wall behind the chair was a lighter patch as though something big had been taken down and removed.
“How big do they get?”
“Surface area to volume ratio controls it mostly,” said Isabella.  “I’ve seen them about as big as a face, bigger I suppose if you spread their legs out flat.  No bigger.  Come on, this doesn’t look good.  I don’t want to hang around in here or in there.”
David scuttled to the door, his eyes darting around the cave.  “How big were the spiders at the top of the rope?”
“I didn’t pay that much attention,” said Isabella.  “Probably small though, they were climbing down the rope.”
David barely looked relieved at all, but he stepped through the door, and then stopped, looking around him at the room for the first time.  Isabella pushed him forward, stepped through herself, and let the door fall back.  As it closed, it faded from the wall it was in, leaving behind dusty, cracked, yellowing plaster.

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