Wendell went out of the room, but now a thin hallway stretched before him, emptying into the darkness. Endless small black doors lined it, each one silent and the same. Wendell stepped down the hall now, listening carefully.
Was something whispering? It was hard to know. Perhaps it was just a cold feeling swirling about him.
He thought about opening one of the doors, but they didn’t have handles or markings, so he continued on and on, trying to never look behind.
Now Wendell stopped. A single black door lay open on the right side, as the rest watched grimly. There was no light behind. He peered into the darkness, and kept one hand on the dagger’s hilt. There was nothing, nothing he could see inside.
Perhaps he should keep going, and there would be something at the end of the hall! But he forced himself to edge into the doorway, feeling ahead with the drawn dagger.
The black was everywhere, and lingered in the air, old and rotted. Wendell tried turning about to find the doorway again, quickly, but couldn’t. He spun about again. Where was he? He tried stepping briefly ahead, but took his foot back quickly again. Then he remembered, and began a song, something he heard many years ago, but was suddenly new in his memories…
“…darkness, hiding only fear,
a black veil to hide the tears…
a veil so you will never find
a treasure that was left behind…”
“…darkness is a sleep of death,
hiding what your heart wants most.
So that you will never know,
never know that it was there…”
“…darkness is your only fear,
a black veil to hide the tears…
a veil so you won’t go and find
a treasure that was left behind…”
Now Wendell pushed forward, stepping in time to the rhythm, and soon the dagger clunked on something he couldn’t see. Quickly he reached and wrenched a door open, and a meager, wretched light came through.
Now he wandered through desolate hallways again, that never seemed to lead anywhere, although he went up and down many narrow, rigid staircases.
But he had a sense that he was going down more than up, although he still didn’t know where he was. Sometimes there was a window, high up in the wall, but he still couldn’t tell if it was day or night. The darkness of the rooms was thick with the strange, horrid smell of fear, and Wendell wondered how anything could survive in such a place.
Sometimes it seemed as if someone had just been in a room as soon as he entered, and once or twice he was sure he saw someone disappear around a corner, as if they were following him in a backwards sort of way.
He could never go fast enough to catch them, or it, and so he paid little attention.
Now he leaned around a corner, looking. It had been a long, long time since any ogres had been seen, but he was still as cautious as ever.
Something flitted out of view, a bit of ragged cloak or something. Quickly he ran after them now, throwing away all caution, but they ran faster as well, opening a small, black door now leading to a wide, brighter passage.
“Wait!” he yelled softly, but still they wouldn’t stop. Now they tripped and fell as they came into view, and turned around to look at him, and gave a high, terrified scream. It was a girl, with a destroyed white dress, and very dirty red hair. Her face was streaked with dusty tears and smudged with black, but as Wendell looked at her, he felt very odd somehow.
“Oh, you’re just a boy!!” she laughed, looking very composed all of a sudden, all the terror gone out of her face. She tossed a bit of hair out of her eye, and looked at him very matter-of-factly. Then she got up quickly, and carefully brushed off the back of her dress, although it was a pointless act.
“Hallo. I’m Kimberly,” she said almost carelessly, brushing aside the same bit of dirty hair again.
“What are you doing here?” she said now, rather straightforwardly.
Wendell thought she might be speaking a bit rudely, but she didn’t seem to know it herself.
“I... I’m a prisoner,” he said, not knowing why he was doing it.
“Good thing you found a sword,” she said, pointing to his dagger, “I tried to steal one too. It was tricky though. The ogres aren’t always stupid.”
Wendell was rather disheartened to find out that it wasn’t Karen after all. He supposed he would have to tell this strange girl the truth eventually, of course. But he knew that Karen couldn’t possibly be so rude or stuck up as she seemed to be already! She did have red hair and all, but he couldn’t imagine her to be the girl who was smiling so wonderfully in the painting, and her voice was hardly “wild and quiet” as the soldier had said about Karen!
Now she started walking down the hallway, as if expecting him to follow. He walked alongside her now, feeling very strange to be with this unknown girl.
“I don’t suppose... you know any way out of here...” Kimberly asked.
“Not really,” was all he could say.
“I’m sorry I screamed,” she said with a flippant sincerity, “Half the castle must be looking for us now. Well, how did you escape?”
“You first,” Wendell said politely.
“It wasn’t that hard,” she said seriously. “The ogre was leading me up to a tower, I knew, and I started talking to him about his mother and being a good ogre, all the while pretending to be afraid.”
She went on, “Then, halfway up I bit his hand and kicked him in the shin, and he was so surprised I ran away... I got away easily.”
Soon she was so absorbed in the story she forgot that it was her question in the first place, and now they continued on in silence.
“So where are you from?” she asked nonchalantly, peering up ahead.
“I’m an orphan, from the royal city,” he answered truthfully.
“I’m from the royal city as well,” she said.
Now they rested for a while, although there wasn’t much comfort in the cold, featureless room. After a while, they decided to take turns setting out, and then retracing their steps, so as to make some sort of map on the floor with Wendell’s sword.
She insisted that he go first. So Wendell went out through the left door (or was it the back door?) and explored for a while, very carefully trying to remember the path he took and avoiding any places that were too dark.
After a while he carefully, carefully went back, and was very relieved to find himself opening a door and seeing Kimberly sitting there, with her back to him. He stopped before saying anything.
“Oh, that’s not what he would say, let’s see..,” she was saying to herself quietly. Then she looked around suddenly.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, in her usual manner.
“You shouldn’t be away so long,” Kimberly continued, a bit snippishly, “After all, you took the sword with you. What if the ogres had come?”
“Alright, here, have the sword. It’s your turn,” Wendell said, trying to be polite. He took out the dagger and handed it to her as she got up.
“This is heavy,” she said simply, straightening up a bit after first holding it. “Why do they always make these swords so heavy?”
But she held onto it nonetheless, and went off towards the front-hand door, going through it into the shadows beyond.
Minutes passed. Or were they hours? Wendell began to be a little anxious. What if she got lost? He almost decided to go through the next few doors, to make it easier to find her way back, but soon enough she appeared again.
“Here,” she said, handing back the sword.
It seemed to Wendell that sometimes he saw her saying something to herself in a wistful voice, and giggling, when she was gone too long and he had to go looking for her, but she always just looked up at him as if nothing was wrong. Perhaps she recited poetry to not get bored or afraid.
If he left her alone for too long she would be rather angry with him, always saying that he had the sword and she didn’t, and he thought that perhaps she could try to be a little nicer sometimes.
Soon there was a tidy map on the floor, scratched with the point of the sword, which seemed to make little sense or help.
Kimberly looked down at their efforts. Then she looked up at Wendell with a gloomy sort of look.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get out,” she said.
Over the next hour, Kimberly seemed to be quieter and more irritable than usual. If she had anything to say, she said it quickly and sadly. Wendell tried to cheer her up with stories of how he had survived on the streets, but she only said he was a nasty boy for doing such things; even so, it never seemed as though she meant to hurt his feelings.