This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
It was the afternoon of Halloween. Ghosts and wizards and werewolves and vampires and clowns swept by incessantly. Indy sat in the passenger seat while his mom drove. They were driving through the parking lot of his big brother’s dormitory to pick him up. They had family in town for a few days, and Brick had no school for the holiday weekend. He didn’t like it very much, but he didn’t get to make his own decisions. Even at twenty, he was still little, Indy supposed. Henry in the backseat was only three, just beginning to learn how vastly many people and colors and places there were in the world. It all seemed very overwhelming to Indy himself, now twelve years old, but Henry’s wide bright eyes took it all in and begged for more. He loved car rides. He loved wandering. And above all, he loved irritating older brothers. Now that Brick was out of the house, Indy became the family babysitter and the brunt of baby pranks.
“Mommy, war-bode! War-bode!” Henry exclaimed, pointing.
In the direction of Henry’s finger, Indy spotted a boy in a lame lion outfit, and a girl in a white fur coat with a thick coat of white silvery face paint, both leaning against a wall, smoking. “No, Henry, no wardrobe. Only a movie.”
“War-bode!” He protested. Indy giggled. “War-bode!”
When Henry got frustrated, he had a way of throwing tantrums. He began kicking his feet up and down, cinched his eyes shut, bared his teeth, and put his hands up like grizzly paws. Somehow in the depths of Henry’s mind, he believed that he could transform himself into a troll or a lion or a bear or a dragon. He had yet to learn how dull and colorless the world really was. But his screeching rolled like thunder nonetheless.
“Pipe down, baby!” Indy scolded, and Henry piped up in protest.
“Henry, no,” their mother scolded, and his instrument was silenced. Indy met Henry’s eyes and sneered. “Don’t talk to your brother that way, Andrew. You’re not too old for a spanking.”
Indy hated when she called him by his real name. And he was far too old for a spanking, being nearly a teenager. She only said that to embarrass him. His eyes widened and his nostrils flared. He looked at Henry with furrowed brow and dark eyes, and Henry beamed, pointing and laughing. “Baby Indy! Baby Indy!”
“Tu-pee! Tu-pee tu-pee Indy!” That was Henry’s pronunciation of “stupid,” incoherent enough to keep him out of trouble, but coherent enough to enrage Indy.
“Mom!” Indy pleaded, giving up.
“Oh, look, here’s your brother,” she shirked.
Indy watched his brother approach the car. He wore a lame werewolf-looking mask but was otherwise clad in his usual bright polo shirt and jeans, coolly toting a ragged blue backpack.
Their mother unrolled the passenger-side window, and Brick leaned a forearm on the side. The werewolf mask resembled more a boar’s head, black, blood-matted fur scattered away from a smashed-in pig’s nose. Two short white tusks curled out of the mouth. The eyes were hidden beneath a heavy brow, dark and wrinkled and squinted, with tiny little holes through which one could just scarcely see Brick’s bright green eyes. The ratty black fur swept back along the face and head, and two floppy, pointed ears stood on the sides.
“What are you, a were-pig?”
Brick just stood and stared at his little brother, as if deaf. “I call shotgun, loser.”
“Mom!” Indy pleaded.
“He’s older,” his mother reasoned.
Indy bore his cold eyes into Brick’s, climbed out sulkily, and clambered into the backseat next to Henry. His car seat was strapped into the middle spot, and Indy didn’t suppose his mother would have the mind to move it. This was going to be a long car ride home. Henry met Indy’s eyes and smiled sordidly, like a predator caught up to its prey.
In the cab, their mother leaned in for a quick, motherly kiss. Brick, being who and what he was, leaned across to her, still masked with his stupid black pig outfit. Their mother frowned, ripped the rubber mask over his head, and pecked him on the cheek.
“How’s school?” she asked inconsequentially, starting the car.
“School’s fine,” he answered equally so. “By the way, can you stop by the Registrar’s Office for a minute? I need to ask them about a class next semester.”
“Sure, honey. Where is it?”
“It’s in Sparks.”
He blushed a bit and rolled his eyes behind the mask. “She’s fine so far as I know. You know we were never really going out. We just had a couple of dates.”
“Well, she seemed nice. You never should have let her go.”
“I didn’t let her go. I never had her in the first place. We just hung out a couple times. It was no big deal.”
Indy cut in with “She doesn’t like him, Mom.”
“Shut up, baby-face.”
“Be nice, Brick,” Mom subdued.
They pulled up to Sparks. “How long will you be?”
“Few minutes. They’re closing down soon anyway.”
“I’ll come in and stretch my legs. Indy, do you want to stay here and watch your brother or take him in with us?”
“I’m not staying outside with the runt!”
“Well, come on then.”
They parked and Indy unfastened Henry’s constraints, setting him down on the ground and holding his hand firmly. In the failing light, Indy saw the Hall stretch upward above him, six or seven floors. It was brilliant and new with glinting panes of glass. Next to it though, seemingly an extension of it, stood its unsightly sibling. It was an old, decaying brick building, windows broken, plastic tarps hanging about, with wood, brick, nails, and scrap heaps piled up beside. They seemed to be two conflicting halves of the same building, an architectural Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“What happened to that building?”
Brick looked up. “Kell? I don’t know exactly. I’ve heard there was a fire in Kell Hall about fifty years ago. Catastrophic, many people dead, mostly college kids. Water and electricity don’t work well in there either, because the building’s so old. It’s been a construction zone ever since I’ve been here. See where they seem to meet as one building? They’re not even connected. It’s just a wall. Separate elevators, separate stairwells. The only connection is an open hall in the lower level. It’s not very well boarded up, so there’s sometimes homeless and even robbers that hide out in there. A few semesters ago I even heard of a rape.”
“That’s probably enough, Brick,” Mom admonished.
“What? It’s true. I read it in the Toilet Tribune. There was an article about plans for a parking deck.”
“It’s a periodical they post in bathroom stalls.”
“Kids these days.”
Mom and Brick went into the office while Indy sat with Henry watching the receptionist work. She was pretty, probably a student here, and had over applied brilliant makeup, with two black spots on her cheeks, whiskers, and a blackened nose. On her head sat a cat-ears headband, and on her hands she wore fingerless black gloves. Indy knew in an objective sense that she was sexy, but he didn’t feel any semblance of attraction to such things. Rather he resented her, staring her down as if she had wronged him in some way.
The clock over her head ticked away, and as is always the case waiting on a parental errand, it ticked slowly. Time and age being what they were, it went by more slowly for Henry. He began busying himself kneeling on the ground and playing some sort of hopscotch or peek-a-boo with the chair. The girl kept looking over and smiling, as if charmed by such vexing nonsense. Indy sat firm and sulkily twiddling his thumbs. Then Henry stood up on the chair and tried to reach the painting hung above their heads.
“No, Henry,” Indy chastised, setting him down. He knew it was downhill from here. Henry jumped up again. Indy grabbed him by the shoulders. “Sit down and be still.”
Now Henry grew a fire in his eyes. He stared directly in his brother’s eyes and jumped up and down on the chair like it was a trampoline. The girl watched with an air of superiority, as if she knew exactly how to make him stop and wanted to see what Indy did instead to screw it up. Indy was easily frustrated, but not easily enraged. Now, he was enraged. He grabbed Henry around the waist, tore him down over his lap, and locked him tight against his body until he couldn’t move or breath.
“I said stop it!” he hissed. The girl watched in shock and silence, arms frozen in motion with whatever task she was toiling with before the day’s end. “Bad Henry. Bad Henry. Bad-bad-bad-bad-bad!”
Henry began to cry. Then he began to kick and scream. Then he began to howl. Babies have a way of making themselves heard across vast distances, unleashing piercing cries in enclosed places. “Stop it!” Indy commanded uselessly, but finally resolved to release his hold. Henry scrambled to his feet, tears streaming down his eyes, pointed a tiny finger, and stomped his feet. “Bad Indy! Bad Indy!”
“Shut up, baby! Mommy doesn’t even love you.”
He put his fists over his eyes and squealed. “Tu-pee!” he cried, then ran off. Indy was relieved to hear the sound of his brother’s voice fade as he went. “Tu-pee, tu-pee, tu-pee!”
The girl had him locked in a merciless, disapproving stare. Indy ignored her, but grew uncomfortable. “How old are you?” she asked.
“Fourteen,” Indy lied, without looking at her.
“You look about ten.”
He didn’t respond. She was just trying to get a rise out of him. He kept his arms crossed tightly and stared straight ahead.
“You’d better go after your brother. If he wanders into Kell Hall, he may not ever come out again. Children have been known to disappear in Kell Hall.”
She was just prodding at him now. “Lies,” he growled through gritted teeth.
“We’ll see,” she taunted. “Wait till your mom gets back out, though. She won’t be too happy about letting him wander into an elevator shaft or stepping on a rusty nail or bumping into some sleeping doped-up vagrant.”
“Or being eaten by the Beast of Bitterness,” Indy mocked, “the long-haired wolf that preys on little boys in the bowels of Kell Hall, always hungry, never satisfied. I can see him now, licking his chops, baring his teeth, and ripping that little brat’s head off his neck.” Even as Indy said it, he saw the image of a wolf appear in his mind, sitting on his haunches, staring deep into his eyes. He had a way of letting his imagination get away from him, and sometimes moments of frustration and anger led him to literally frighten himself with his own daydreams.
“You’re a brat,” she decreed, and went back to her business.
He hated the girl. He hated that she was pretty. He hated that she was judging him. He hated that she made him feel inferior. Most of all he hated that she was right. He really truly hated the girl and couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her anymore. Indy got up out of his chair and walked out of the room to look for his brother.
In the main lobby there was simply the entrance door on the one side, a stair leading down on the other, and two sets of elevators on the facing wall. The doors were automatic, so Indy went outside to see if his brother had run back to the car. Out and about were ghosts and clowns and witches and goblins dashing this way and that in the bright sun, but at the car, no Henry. If he had truly decided to run off, there was no telling which direction and how far he could be. Now Indy was scared for the first time. He climbed up on top of the car, shielded his eyes, and turned a complete revolution, steadily piercing the buildings, rows of cars, and tree lines like a hawk. It was useless though.
He couldn’t be outside, Indy told himself. Someone would have seen him and stopped him. He would have curled up next to the car and cried, not wandered around. Reason after reason came to him that he couldn’t be out here, but none were convincing enough. For all he knew, Henry ran off into the sunset and was bumbling around in some woods or along some road or in some building by now. He’s too afraid. He couldn’t do it without me. He wouldn’t have the energy. There was no reason he wasn’t outside, far out of reach. Absolutely none. But so long as Indy was out here, there was nothing he could do about it. He could still be inside. He could have wandered into Kell Hall.
Indy crossed back in through the sliding glass doors and toward the stair. The ugly white paint was coated and recoated dozens of times, until the steel and wood were completely lost under a sea of flowing stickiness. At the bottom of the short stair, a long ramp extended at a steady decline between two narrow whitewash walls. There was a handrail on one wall, quite a useless accessory, and Indy held it all the way down into the belly of Kell Hall. At the end of the hall, there was a store of some kind, like a lemonade stand only set into the wall, with a door that slid down over the window. To the right was a dimly lit dead-end with a piano set on its side enclosed by three classroom doors that looked like they hadn’t been opened in years.
To the left was a kind of openness. It reminded him of a parking garage, with ramps leading upward to a hall whose floor was level with this ceiling. On the opposite side of this cold and unwelcoming entrance was a narrow hallway leading to what looked like a stairwell. Indy checked that first, walking past closed, locked dark rooms to the far corner, the base of a stair lit only by a dim electric lamp on the landing. Henry wouldn’t have ventured that way. So big brother went back to the ramps in the center. Above them in big letters was a sign reading “Kell Hall.” Below that was graffiti crudely scratched out in black paint: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” A bad joke, and an ominous one, given the truly mouth-like quality of the entrance. A four-foot tall jack-o-lantern guarded one side, and a scarecrow crucified against the wall guarded the other. Indy climbed up.
When he felt safely out of earshot of the girl, Indy called out his brother’s name. At the top of the ramp, left and right looked the same. He tried to see it through the eyes of a toddler, but it was fruitless. He went to the left and saw a long dark hall. Henry would be afraid of the dark. So he went right. This hallway was lit by new fluorescent lights. “Henry!” He walked along, passing locked windowless doors. At the end of the hall was a dimly lit ramp turning the corner to the left. It inclined at an unusually steep angle and ended at an open door with light pouring out. He clambered up, looking at pictures of middle-aged, sharp-dressed men lining the walls where no one could see them. Through the door were two hallways, one right and one straight ahead. They both looked the same. He went straight, skirting old dusty computer monitors littering the hall. He passed a half dozen cross halls, checking each and finding nothing.
Down the opposite hall, he heard the squeaking of wheels. He ventured down and at the end was a stairwell. He climbed a level, and the squeaking was louder, accompanied by a whistle. He couldn’t identify the tune, but it was definitely a human whistle, which meant there was another human being in this God-forsaken place. He followed the whistle down one hall and across another. It kept getting louder but didn’t seem to be coming from any consistent direction, perhaps since this place was so open, with halls and cross halls and loops and paths leading back to themselves. Finally he looked down one dark hall and saw a light filtering in from the next hall, painting a moving shadow on the wall. He ran to the end and looked. It was a steady ramp leading to yet another level, and silhouetted in the light was the shadow of a custodian bent over a rolling pushcart.
“Hey!” Indy yelled, but the squeaking and whistling continued, the janitor continuing up the ramp. Indy ran up and caught him at the very end of the hall. “Hey!” he yelled again, this time from a few paces away.
The janitor turned, startled, and Indy froze in shock. It was a man, or the likeness of a man, old and withered, flesh melting down in flowing wrinkles. The ears bent out like that of a goblin, the nose was overlong and hanging, and the chin stretched down a bit too far. Then Indy realized it was only a mask, and he took a breath. “Sorry, you scared me,” Indy excused, taking a breath, but the janitor just stared at him through the blank, expressionless mask.
“Um, maybe you can help me. My name is Indy. I’m looking for my brother, Henry. He’s only three years old, and I think he’s wandered into this building.”
The janitor continued to stare, as if frozen into stone, and Indy looked into his eyes. There was no clear indication that the mask was indeed a mask. He couldn’t spot the place where the holes were cut into the rubber and the real eyes showed through. Nor could he find the opening for the mouth.
“Um, have you seen a little toddler pass by here recently?”
The janitor took a hand off his cart, an old melting hand with overlong fingernails curled over themselves like claws. Indy tensed for a moment, and then watched as the janitor bent down a bit and held his hand flat a few feet over the ground, in a gesture indicating height.
“Yes!” Indy encouraged, nodding furiously and mimicking the janitor’s gesture. “About this high.”
The janitor nodded his head up and down slowly and widely like the pendulum of a clock. He seemed excited, as if Indy was the first human being he’d come in contact with for years. He pointed off toward the end of the hall, looking that way and still nodding, and began pushing the cart one-handed in that direction. He wore a dirty black robe over his custodial uniform, complete with a hood left draped over his back. Indy followed doubtfully, unnerved by the sick Halloween joke this poor old man was playing. But he said nothing, for the unwarranted fear that it wasn’t a mask, and this poor old man was either a disfigured mute or truly not a man at all. As for the moment, it was a person who seemed to know where a toddler had scurried off to, and he pushed the squealing cart with mute determination, still pointing straight ahead as he shuffled along, bobbing his head up and down like it was his last mission in life.
He turned a corner and marched toward a men’s room that was propped open with a doorstop. He parked the cart outside and from it took a long gnarled stick from the clutter of mops and broomsticks. Now Indy was certain this was all just a costume, as the old goblin bent over the walking stick and stepped over the threshold into the bathroom. He shuffled across the dimly lit tile floor and led Indy to the sinks. On the opposing wall was a vent of some kind, a two-foot square hole in the wall, with a grating that was cut or eaten away with time, allowing a hole just large enough for a small child to fit through. The old goblin extended a long menacing finger toward it from under his robe, and twisted his head toward Indy, who had a few inches of height on him for his stooped nature.
“In here?” Indy asked, pointed. “You saw a toddler go in here?”
Indy was disbelieving, but the old goblin swung his head up and down assuredly, held his hand over the floor to gesture the short height, and pointed again into the depths of this foreboding hole in the wall.
“Are you sure?”
The old goblin just stood firm and matter-of-factly, not speaking, like a statue. Indy was going to get nothing more from the creature, so reluctantly, he bent down on his knees and looked in. But there was nothing to see. It was pure and utter darkness beyond the grating. He removed what was left of the covering, which clanged loudly against the tile, and stuck his head in.
“Henry!” he called, and his voice echoed on into the depths. But there was no cry in return, only a musty, cold air. He looked up at the old goblin, who just stood there, watching him. It was no use. He sighed a moment, wondering if he should pursue this menacing dead end. Then his eyes wandered down to the old goblin’s feet. The robe hung an inch above the floor, and within were two pale bare feet. The janitor, as it were, wore no boots that day. Indy looked back up at the old goblin’s face and his blood ran cold. Perhaps he wouldn’t find his brother down this road, but it certainly seemed an expedient way to relieve himself of this creature. He tried to recall what his face looked like in proper light, and could not for the life of him figure where the mask became the man.
Indy crawled in. He crawled along on his hands and knees and was swallowed up by the darkness. The floor felt dusty and dank, and the air felt old and stale. He inched along one limb at a time, slightly disgusted and anxious. At one point, the sick wispy feeling of a cobweb came over his face, and he stopped short to claw it off himself. He hated that feeling. He’d always hated that feeling ever since he was young, for no matter how long and thoroughly he cleared it away, it never seemed to be completely gone. He sat on his rump hunched over in the corridor, head touching the top, and looked back toward the light from whence he came. The robe still hung there, guarding, and he now felt certain that the creature was not human, and that it would be a fight to escape that men’s room if he came out again.
Then he heard a squeaking sound from the direction of the light. He pricked his ears, trying to figure what it was and where it came from. Then he realized, it came from the floor, and it was coming toward him. It was a rat! Oh, God! Indy thought, and scurried quickly away from the light. On hands and knees there was not much speed afforded, but powered by adrenaline there was plenty to push him forward. He plowed along as fast as his fiery limbs could afford, banging shoulders against the walls left and right, for the darkness permitted no sense of direction, only an understanding of where the walls blocked his way. Thus, with no warning, he plowed squarely into a wall directly before him. His forehead throbbed, and his neck was thrust backward with the impact. He flailed his arms and found open space on his right. It was a turn in the corridor. He righted himself and scurried along, trying with no success to keep a hand in front of him to prevent the same thing from happening.
After a few stretches, the same thing happened again. He uttered a groan, and turned to the right again. Rat or no rat, at this point he was ready simply to get out of this place. He scurried as far as he could, now faintly conscious that he was traveling the exact opposite direction he’d started out. And to his everlasting pain and frustration, he slammed right into another wall. He extended an arm in each direction but this time they both touched walls. He was stuck in a dead end! Now panic gripped him and he scrambled about, running his hands along all three walls. Nothing. Instinctively, he reached for the ceiling as well, only to find it was open. Realizing, he stood up, relishing the feeling of stretching his legs, and spread his arms in all directions. It was completely open. He was standing waist-deep in a hole in the floor.
He pushed himself up and out of that wretched hole, and lay on flat ground. But it was still absolutely dark. He looked all around and saw a narrow vertical band of light. He stood and barreled toward it, crashing and tumbling over a desk. He righted himself and continued on, reaching what was the crack in a door, an unlocked door. He poured himself out into the light of the hall, slammed the door shut behind him, and lay breathlessly on the ground for a few minutes, panic-stricken, aching and cold.
When he came to, Indy made the resolution to avoid two things: dark portals and old goblins. He didn’t know how or where to go about finding his brother at this point, and had nearly forgotten about his mission in his own madness. But one way or another, he could do it without the use of portals or goblins.
All of a sudden, two realizations struck him. One was that even though his eyes seemed to have adjusted, this hall was decidedly darker than any other he had been in before, and more sinister somehow. Second of all, he heard the wailing sound of a small child. It was faint and directionless, but present nonetheless. He walked a dozen paces one way and then the other, trying to pinpoint its origin, but again, it was everywhere at once, and nowhere in particular. He set out in a random direction, and then stopped himself. Some instinct told him to mark which way he’d come. He didn’t know why, for he was hopelessly lost already, but he went back to the door anyway and committed the room number, 336, to memory. Odd, he thought, for he was certain he’d climbed more than three floors by now.
Indy was not certain whether he heard laughing or crying, but it was a small child’s laughing or crying without a doubt. Whichever way he turned, it seemed to be coming from the ceiling. All the doors were locked and dark inside, and all the lights were old and flickering, more orange now than white, and many out entirely. And for the life of him, Indy could not place what exactly was different about this level than all the rest.
He turned down one hall, down another, and up a ramp to another. He ventured through cross halls and into empty dark unlocked classrooms, and the wailing remained constant. Then without warning, he passed by a door and it seemed decidedly louder. He opened the door and the wailing grew perfectly audible.
“Henry!” There was no answer. Only an old electric light dangling in a utility closet. Before him was an air-conditioning unit, and to either side were stacked paint buckets and cleaning products and tile and brick. And behind the light was a door in the ceiling, the kind that led into attics. Indy pulled the little cord and the door fell open like a mouth, releasing a gust of cold air. He pulled the ladder down and climbed up into the blackness above. He promised himself against the use of portals, but this one seemed much less threatening than the last. It led him into a pitch black room with a square white window in a door directly ahead. The door was locked, but after groping around for a moment, he unfastened and opened it. From the little light outside, he could see that he’d entered another utility closet almost identical to the one he’d come from.
In the hall the sound of wailing became the sound of cherubic laughing. He could even make out footfalls in the distance. He ran down to the end of the hall and turned sharply left. Then he stopped cold in his tracks. At the end of the hall were two janitors, commiserating. One sported the head of a yellow-red pterodactyl, the other that of an orange-green crocodile. Both ceased their talk and looked at him, though the masks afforded no view of their faces whatsoever. No semblance of human eyes or mouths shone through. One was just a pointed, elongated head with slotted eyes, the other a black pit surrounded by teeth.
They stared at Indy, not moving, just leaning against the wall nonchalantly. Indy stared back, daring to move or breathe. He’d already let slide his absolution against portals, but against goblins, he held fast. He still had the wits about him to know these were just ordinary human beings with sick Halloween masks trying to freak him out. But his gut told him not to speak to them, not to approach them, and having already let them know he existed, not to remain in their field of vision or earshot. He breathed slowly and stared ahead at the plastic nightmare before him, really only a few strides ahead of him, though it felt a safe distance.
Then he noticed the hands. The pterodactyl’s hands were orange claws, and the crocodile’s were green monstrous paws. Something deep in his mind stirred, a revelation, an understanding, a sort of surrender. He didn’t want to believe it, but every hair on his body stood up in acknowledgement. He wasn’t home. This wasn’t reality. This wasn’t ordinary or normal or human or real anymore. He’d wandered into a dream. He’d stumbled into something under or between or around the fabric of reality. He’d slipped into another world.
“I’m not in Kansas anymore,” he whispered to himself. The creatures on the opposite end of the hall heard him and tossed their heads up in great screeching laughs. They stood there looking at one another, enjoying bellowing cries of joy at his sudden realization. Indy bolted. He ran back to the utility closet and groped for the handle. But there was none on the outside. He stood baffled and panicked for a moment, seeming to remember one there before. He slammed a shoulder into it, but knew it opened to the outside. He dug his fingernails into the seams and tried to pry it open, but of course he was no match. He looked angrily down the hall from whence he’d come, and saw the shadows of the creatures painted against the wall, approaching. He didn’t wait anymore. He ran down the opposite end of the hall into darkness, stumbling over wires and chairs and nameless debris strewn about.
At the end of the hall was a door to a stairwell. He bounded up a level, emptied out of the next door, and slammed the heavy door shut behind him. For no reason at all, an old piano stood blocking the hall in one direction, and he dragged it over to block the door. He sat on the piano panting for a moment, when through the door came the shadowy face of one of the creatures. It screeched and laughed and pushed at the door, but it couldn’t break through. It scratched at the door a bit, laughing, then disappeared. Indy closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall in relief.
And then he heard a chuckle. His head snapped up, eyes alert. Around the corner, the silhouette of a small head peeked out scarcely at the height of a toddler. He was not a dozen feet away. He chuckled again and scurried off.
“Henry!” Indy called, and leapt after him. He turned the corner and saw the full silhouette of the child running as children run. He was laughing and toting a little top hat. He turned another corner, and his shadow danced out of sight again.
Indy continued after him, chasing him down the end of a hall, gaining on him with every step. “Henry!” The child kept chuckling, as if he knew a secret, scurrying along as if even with his slowness he was uncatchable. Only a few paces ahead now, he turned a sharp left into the open door of a men’s room. Indy followed, sweeping around the wall to find him standing perfectly still, back turned, top hat perched on his head, hands folded before him.
“Henry, for goodness sake.”
The child turned around to face Indy. It didn’t look like Henry. It didn’t feel like Henry. And when suddenly it became clear that it was not Henry, Indy clammed up. The child had overlarge eyes, round and black, an overlarge mouth, and overlarge hands clasped over his belly. The child wasn’t a child, Indy realized. It was an imp.
The imp raised its neck and opened its wide mouth, lined with black and yellow pointed teeth, opened his claws toward Indy, and screeched an imp’s beastly screech. And charged. Shocked, Indy didn’t budge, and before he could come around, the imp had affixed itself to his leg and sunken its jowls into the flesh of it. Indy let loose a scream, raised the offended leg, and launched as hard a kick as he could muster into the corner of the wall, smashing the imp into the hard concrete. The teeth released in puzzlement, and Indy kicked it again. It shook its head back and forth in confusion, and Indy kicked again. Finally it let its grip go, fell to the floor in a daze, and then scrambled to its feet. It looked at the wall where it had been slammed, and looked at Indy’s leg, as if trying to figure out how it had been foiled.
“Go back where you came from!” Indy hissed, and the creature looked up at him quizzically. Indy bent down and created to the best of his ability a roar. It wasn’t altogether impressive, but it was human. The imp, seeming to understand now what had happened, grew a fire in its eyes, roared back, and charged again. But this time Indy kicked his foot as hard as he could, made solid contact with the imp, and sent it sprawling. Before it could get back up, Indy approached it and kicked it as hard as he could again. Then he stomped on its stomach. He backed off for a moment, waiting for it to react.
“Come on! Come at me, you little beast! Attack me, you filth!”
It got to its feet sulkily, holding its belly, and stared at Indy, sizing him up.
With a frustrated cry, it leapt forward, ensnared its fallen top hat, and scuttled off into a hole in the wall. Indy listened as it ran off into the tunnel, screeching in frustration. After a few moments, its cries dwindled to nothing, and Indy recognized the portal. Looking around the men’s room, he was almost certain. This is where he’d first crawled through. This is where the goblin had led him. All his time in Kell Hall he’d not once gone down. He’d gone up ramps, stairs, and even ladders, but never down. Thinking about it, he tried to count how many levels he’d climbed. He knew the building could not have but six or seven floors, and yet he was certain he’d scaled at least ten. Then there was the matter of appearing on the third floor after certainly scaling more than three. And why hadn’t he seen that piano before, if indeed he’d been on this level? For that matter, how could he have come a full circuit without ever having gone down?
His leg hurt. He was wearing jeans, but the numbing pain came anyway, the little bitty teeth piercing through the tough fabric. Indy limped over to the sink, heaved a foot up to it, and turned on the faucet. There was no water pressure, but a small stream fell out. He took some paper towels from the counter, wetted them, and applied the cold relief on his wound again and again. It stung more and more as he touched it, but he managed to clear the blood away. There was no kind of tourniquet to tie about it, so he took off his shoe, ripped a hole in the toe of his sock, and slid it up over his shin, stuffing wet paper towels inside. That would do for now. Tying his shoe back onto his bare foot, Indy noticed something in the mirror.
He couldn’t make it out, but there was something more in the mirror than merely his own reflection. There was a shadowy wispiness about it, reflecting the darkness as if the darkness itself had form and clarity. He checked behind him, just to get a grip on reality, and saw nothing. It was the mirror itself that contained this sense of motion. He extended a finger to touch it, and it felt ice-cold. He recoiled quickly, but the frostbite seemed to stay with him. The swirling continued, intensifying, until Indy could identify a center, a focus to its motion. And without further tumult, there appeared the black-grey shadow of a face. It was a face out of an opera house, those solid masks one wears to portray happiness, sadness, anger, or hope. This one was happy, but Indy knew better than to judge it benevolent.
“Hello,” it greeted.
Indy jumped back, startled, and the face laughed.
“You’re a jumpy one,” it said playfully. The voice was friendly, but had a certain menacing undertone, like a jester or a magician, with a plot in mind. It sounded natural on the outside, but one could easily tell that naturalness was only a mask to hide some unadulterated unnaturalness. “Whatever have you to be afraid of?”
Indy considered ignoring it and walking away, but figured that enough had happened to him in silence to justify conversing with anything for a few minutes, particularly one that did not appear as if it could harm him. “Who are you?” he asked.
The face smiled. “I am the Master of the Hall.”
“You control,” Indy asked, choosing his words, “the creatures?”
“You control the passageways?”
“Then let me out of here!”
The face laughed. “Let you? It is you that entered here of your own accord. Besides, you still have to find your brother.”
“Henry! What have you done with Henry?!”
The face beamed with slimy satisfaction. “He is lost. He has wandered deep into the bowels of this place, not even I know where. Master as I am, I cannot account for every mouse between the walls and every cobweb in the corners. The deeper one ventures, the harder it is to find a way out. Your brother is far beyond the borders within which one can still escape this place. He could be a ghoul, or a goblin, or a droplet of light by now for all I know.”
“No! You lie!” Indy yelled, pressing a fist against the mirror. The iciness of it sent him sprawling again. The face did a back flip inside the mirror and came up laughing. “Where is he?!”
“In the dark place with no memory. With every step you take in this place, a droplet of memory leaks out. Soon, all that will be left of it is the four walls around you, and you will wander in that dark place forever. Just like him. You can wander mindlessly together, and not even know the other.”
“Lies! Lies! Lies! You’re only leading me away.”
The smile became sterner. “What are lies to some are only things they themselves cannot accept. Your brother is lost. You will never find him. Even if you somehow did, you could never save him. But, I have a proposition for you. We’ve sucked all the memories from your brother, and it has satisfied us. The caricature left behind is nothing but a nuisance at best. But we’re still working on yours. It’s quite a laborious and trickling process. So I’d rather you just surrender them to me on your own accord. Give me your memories of your brother and your family, and I’ll let you leave here. I’ll be satisfied with that, and you can walk out of my Hall never having known you’ve lost a brother, and not even having known you had a mother to trudge back to and tell her you lost him. You’ll be free. Completely and utterly free.”
The face opened its mouth wide, so wide it encompassed nearly the entire mirror. Inside, a blackness swirled, and visions appeared. He saw the exit to Kell Hall. He saw the parking lot outside, and beyond that, trees and people and sunsets and beaches and forests and cities and oceans and deserts.
He found himself slipping closer into the mirror, hypnotized, gravitating inwards. He groped for something substantial to hold him back, but found only the knob on the sink faucet. The world in the mirror was a shadow of beauty and appeal and majesty. But it was lonely, and it was silent, and it was cold. It was nothing without those he loved. The knob on the sink was loose, and without thinking, Indy pried it free and slammed it into the mirror. The glass shattered and the little pieces swirled into the mouth, and the mouth swallowed itself up in a cry of pain, and the face was gone, shriveled to an empty wall.
Indy ran out of the bathroom. Outside, he ran down the hall toward the stairs. Once at the piano, he searched the ground for a weapon. A few paces away, he found a long splinter of a two-by-four, heavy enough for a club at the middle, and sharp enough for a knife at the end. He stood still for a few moments, mustered the courage to move the piano, and opened the door. He sailed down the stairs, flight after flight, not looking back, not even thinking to count them all. Now it felt like many more the way down than he’d come up.
At the bottom of the stairwell, he ripped the door open and tore down the hall. It was not yet the lowest level, so he chased down ramp after ramp, finally coming upon the last wide central one, the first one he’d ascended. And at the mouth of Kell Hall, he ran into a wall. It was a wide wall, made of hard stone and cement, like something of a medieval castle. It stretched the length of the walls and the height of the ceiling. The lighting and paint wasn’t what it had been when Indy first entered, but he was certain this was the place. It was guarded by a waist-high jack-o-lantern on one side, and a scarecrow hung on the other.
He plowed into the wall again and again, butchering his shoulder. He thrust the stick he had against it over and over like a baseball bat, but to no avail.
“That’s not an exit,” the deep rumbling voice of the jack-o-lantern said. The giant orange ball laughed a bellowing laugh. Indy approached it and struck it again and again with his stick. He smashed holes in it and ripped pieces out of it, but the laugh rolled on, even after he’d mangled all the orange stickiness that made it up. Indy threw the stick away, collapsed against the wall, and put his hands over his eyes. There’s no way out.
Meanwhile, in some deep dark belly of darkness, a beast slept. Its cold breath rasped in and out, in and out, rattling and misting. Nightmares danced in its head that were so terrible, one could not even imagine them, things of bitterness and blood and horror. Then a voice came over the beast. Wake, wake my sleeping servant, wake, it whispered. The beast stirred, snapped its chops, and sat up on its haunches. Its black fur quivered, and its tongue lolled out between its teeth. Before it, the beast beheld the face, the Master. You are beautiful, it whispered. The beast snapped and barked in acknowledgement. I have a treat for you. An ever so tasty treat, my darling. The beast awaited his orders, lust creeping into his eyes, and stood on all fours. It is a boy. A human boy that has wandered into my Hall. He did not fall to my sorcery and seduction. You must seek him out, and consume him. The beast growled in anticipation at the notion. He is still quite near the outer borders of this world. You will have to return to the boundary land. But it will be worth the trip. You will drink human blood. The beast let loose a mild howl, and scraped its paws on the floor. That’s right, my darling, that’s right. Go forth and claim him, my beautiful, beautiful beast. My Beast of Bitterness.
Indy walked ruefully down the corridor, thinking about his family. He didn’t feel like he was losing his memories. But then, how would one know if one used to know something? He supposed there was no feeling of a memory slipping away. Perhaps it felt as it does trying to remember a dream as it fades away after waking in the morning.
Indy thought about his brothers. His room, his own bed. Dinner at the table every night. All that was outside these walls, in another world. His school. His room. Dad. His room. He tried to remember his room. To picture it. He knew he had one, but it was only a doorway, beyond which was cast in shadow. He concentrated as hard as he could, but it felt the way a dream does upon waking. It just slipped away, ever so discreetly. My God, Indy thought, it really is happening. But I can do without remembering what my room looks like. I can return home to an alien room and get used to it all over again. But I’ve got to get out of here before I lose anything I can’t replace. Perhaps I’ve lost those things already. After all this time, he thought, I really did wander into another world.
His mother used to tease him about it, when he was young. As a kid he used to have a habit of tuning people out, daydreaming, letting his imagination wander. His mother would refer to it as “slipping into another world.” Be careful, she’d say, you could slip into another world and not find your way back. They went to a fast-food restaurant once, and let Indy play in the play place, which they didn’t usually do. They told him to take off his shoes, be nice to other kids, especially the little ones, and be sure to listen out for their whistle. You could get lost in there, they told him, and accidentally slip into another world. So every few minutes I’m going to whistle. And when I whistle you’ll know you’re still in this world. But if you hear me stop whistling for more than just a few minutes, then you might have slipped into another world, and you must turn around and go back the way you came right away. Understand? He did.
And wandering around, minding his own business, hearing her whistle once every few minutes, he was having the time of his life. Then suddenly he realized that he hadn’t heard a whistle in too long. He stopped cold and waited. But it never came. Down the tunnel, he heard a scratching and groaning, and saw a shadow moving toward him. He didn’t wait, just turned around and raced out the tunnels he’d come through as fast as he could, screaming. When he finally found the exit, he ran to his parents crying and hugged them.
“You were right, Mommy!” he wailed. “I heard you stop whistling, and there was something awful in that other world.”
“Aw, poor Indy,” she consoled. “But you must be mistaken. I never stopped whistling.”
That notion scared him, and he never wanted to go in those things again.
“But it’s a good thing you came out when you did. It was just time to go anyway.”
Thinking back, going over all the memories he’d ever had, Indy wished he could get back to his world. He wished his mother was here to whistle for him. He wished his brothers were here to torment him, each in their own ways. He wished he could grab that old goblin by the neck and squeeze the life out of him. He wished he could get out of this God-forsaken place and leave it to rot.
Indy stopped in his tracks. He decided that he was finished feeling sorry for himself and ready to leave this place. I have a home, he chanted to himself. I have a family who loves me. I’m going to find Henry, and I’m going to take him home. He looked directly above him. Old rusty pipes lined the ceiling. He jumped up and grabbed hold of a skinnier one, yanking and jerking down. It gave, water spilling out, and he bent it around till it gave in a second place too. He stood victoriously, admiring his bat-sized weapon, complete with jagged edges on one end from where the pipe was sheared in two. In the back corner of the building was an elevator. He stepped in and hit the button for the top floor, the seventh, though he guessed there were more past that, imaginary or not.
As the shaky electric box toted him up floor after floor, the fire in his eyes burned brighter. He would slash and beat and carve his way through any adversary. He would ask each one where his brother was, each a single time, and if they didn’t tell him, he would demolish them. No more running. It was time to take a stand. The imp couldn’t hurt him. The jack-o-lantern couldn’t hurt him. The face in the mirror couldn’t hurt him. He kicked himself for ever fearing that old goblin could hurt him. He should have pounced out of that tunnel like a tiger and snapped its twiggy legs and squeezed its neck with the heel of his foot until the old wrinkly creature croaked. There was no reason to be afraid, not with a pipe in hand.
The doors to the elevator opened and Indy froze in shock. It was Brick, back turned, ten paces away, clad in that same polo shirt and stupid black mask. Only it wasn’t Brick, because the arms were black and hairy and the legs were black and hairy and hoofed like a boar’s. Indy clung to his pipe childishly, watching the creature, wondering if it knew he was there. It seemed to catch something in its nostrils and marched off to the left. Indy waited a moment, then crept out of the elevator and knelt behind a desk just outside. This level was dark, and Indy felt safely unseen. The boar stood in the corner looking around, as if puzzled. Then from above him, a swift black object descended.
The boar spread his arms defensively, startled, but the black creature was a slender feline, and seemed to melt over him, hanging on him with all her limbs, tail curling around his neck. It was the girl, or a semblance of the girl, the way the boar seemed like his brother. The boar relaxed his guard a bit as she crawled all over and around him, as if seducing him. She planted her paws firmly on his ankles, spread her arms out along his, and gently forced his hands behind his back. She seemed to crisscross her hands with his, so to pull them tighter like handcuffs, and her tail wrapped around his waist.
It all happened very quickly, when suddenly the cat slid her nose up and down his neck, and then sunk her fangs into it. The boar groaned and roared in protest, but his wrists were firmly fixed behind his back. He spun his neck in every direction and kicked up and down with his feet to no avail. She kept her hold, chewing and digging a bloody hole in his shoulder. She slid the tip of her tail around an ankle, and when he instinctively raised it, she seized the leg, pulling upwards, and shifted her weight to push him over. He toppled over on his back, and the feline fell with him, maintaining her hold on every limb and continuing to devour him. He struggled as much as he could, pinned under the slender beast, to no end. She secured all his limbs carefully, raised her head one last time, and plunged into his windpipe. The boar groaned desperately as her fangs squeezed tightly against him, struggled a bit more, then went stiff, and finally completely limp. She held for a few more moments, and then melted off him, circling him, inspecting her kill.
She bent over his face and smiled, eyes closed. And when her eyes snapped open, they were fixed, absolutely fixed, on Indy’s. His blood turned to ice. She smiled as she stared, as if she knew he was watching, knew he was there all along, as if her kill was for him, to let him know and fear what she was going to do to him. She pounced, bounding toward him. Indy barely rose to his feet before she was upon him. He swung his precious pipe point blank at the swift creature, but she dodged it smoothly, caught it with her tail, and sent it clattering against the ground behind her. It was not even two seconds before some limb of hers tripped him and he fell backwards, smiling bloody cat’s snout above him, utterly helpless.
She hissed and quivered victoriously. But she did not make her kill. She balanced all four paws over his wrists and ankles, dug her claws in just deeply enough to singe with pain but not break the skin. Indy groaned at the icy sting, and the feline laughed with pleasure. Then to his surprise, she pulled him to his feet. He just stood looking at her, dumbfounded, when she slashed him across the chest, grazing his skin. Indy yelped and ran away from her, but she quickly pounced on him, sending him flailing to the ground again, and laughing, she stood pinning him to the floor. Now Indy understood. She was a cat playing with her mouse. He wouldn’t escape. He would just fall and stumble and yelp until she scratched the life out of him and fell to boredom.
She picked him up again and kicked him in the gut with her hind legs with such force that he rolled across the floor many yards away. And before he even skidded to a halt, she plucked him up on his feet again. He growled with frustration and lunged at her. But she only tripped him and sent him tumbling face first at her feet. Then she grabbed him by the ankles and flung him down the hallway. He tasted blood. He felt like crying. The helplessness and pain and dizziness overwhelmed him. He tried to grab hold of doorknobs, pipes, sink his fingernails into the wall, anything to break the ceaseless chaos of her torture. But she dislodged him effortlessly every time and continued pushing and prodding and flinging him along.
The world spun, growing dim and bright in spurts, new bruises and cuts decorating his body as he went. And then, with no warning, it all stopped. His eyes opened, and in his spinning vision he saw the feline sitting proudly and respectably on her haunches, eyes fixed on some spot other than him. He lay before her as a prize. He turned to see what she was looking at and found he was lying at the foot of a door. On the door was a grotesque and dynamic graffiti of a face. She righted him, holding him like a puppet to behold the face in the door. The panel next to the door had a name printed on it: Gohn. Indy uttered it lightly and a cold breeze gripped them.
The black paint and the wooden door seemed to melt into each other, breaking and cracking and fizzling soundlessly into grayness, and lumps began bulging outward from it. After a moment it became clear that the outline of a human figure jutted out from the door. The figure was all shadow, but distinctly clad in a wool suit, a tilted hat, with a coat draped over an arm. The clothes were just barely distinguishable as brown texture, but the face and hands were solid black emptiness. Mr. Gohn stepped forth from the door, towering over Indy, as the feline still held him upright.
Mr. Gohn grabbed him by the neck and tilted Indy’s head back and forth, inspecting him. The grip was cold and piercing. It was not at all flesh, but rather just the sensation of a deep freeze and needle-like texture. It flowed all through Indy’s neck like water filling a glass. Little tentacles of cold threaded around and through his neck, searching down his chest and creeping up his spine. Indy’s mouth stretched open in an involuntary soundless scream of pain, eyes rolled back in his head, arms and legs going stiff like boards. He could feel the tentacles wrap around his heart and squeeze, sending a jolt of bitter cold throughout his entire body. Other tentacles, finer and sharper, weaved up and around his skull. He could distinctly feel the needles poking around his brain, chasing down and grabbing hold of thoughts, squeezing and sucking them out.
In all the excruciating discomfort, Indy keenly felt that something was being siphoned out of him. He couldn’t tell what, but he could feel the flowing of some kind of medium down his spine and out his neck. It felt like the little tingly electricity accompanied with a numb foot or arm coming back to life. He couldn’t discern exactly what it was, and the icy hand squeezed his heart ever tighter, as if forcing some kind of surrender from him. Indy felt completely surrendered, and completely helpless. He was stiff as a board, and dimly thought he might as well be dead for all the control he had over himself at this moment. He hovered under the monster’s grip for what felt like an eternity, wondering what the stuff was being drained out of him, and how much there was to drain.
Then in a fit of violence, the hand released from his neck, tentacles fizzling away to nothing, and Indy dropped to the floor, convulsing, slowly going limp. He heard a hoarse roar, followed by a hiss, and then a scuffling argument. He gained control of himself, finding his breath and opening his eyes. His chest felt like a spring wound up too tightly. He clutched a hand to his heart as it very slowly thawed and picked up its regular beat. His head felt light and swimmy, and seemed like it was crawling with ants. He rolled his neck all around, beating his skull against the floor to clear out the swarming chaos within.
In the corner of his eye, he saw Mr. Gohn in a standoff with the feline. She stood between Indy and the monster, as if guarding him. After a moment, Indy lifted himself to his feet, still clutching his chest, leaning against a wall and panting, watching the scene. Apparently, the feline either required some sort of compensation for delivering her prize, or changed her mind to keep him for herself. She leapt at the monster and clawed his chest, but he just slapped her with tremendous force to the ground. It was the cold in his hands, no doubt, for the feline yelped and fell limp.
She righted herself sulkily, seeming to admit defeat, ears drooping, tail dragging the floor. She crept up against him and began rubbing against his legs as cats do, begging forgiveness. She leapt up on her hind legs and ran her paws along the monster’s chest in a seductive gesture. The monster kept his hand raised defensively, but did not throw her off. Sneakily she sunk her fangs into his neck, but he bent away quickly and lightly set a finger on her nose. Immediately her face turned to ice, and in a few moments, the cold swirled and consumed her entire body, creeping into every limb and every hair. Mr. Gohn stepped away and the feline remained, frozen like a statue, standing on her hind legs, mouth open, eyes staring fixedly at the wall, a whitish snow-like hue about her.
Mr. Gohn looked up at Indy and advanced. Indy, still leaning weakly against the wall, quickly hobbled off in panic, clutching his chest, still dizzy with that sick crawling feeling in his brain. He stumbled and fell flat on the floor, then quickly scrambled to his feet and bolted. He headed back the way he came, back to the elevator. But he remembered the elevator would carry him no higher. So he flew past and made his way to the stairwell. He tore open the door and stopped cold, grabbing the rail in panic. One foot plunged through a thin layer of dead powdery concrete, and he swung like a pendulum over a dark pit. The stairwell below him had crumbled into nothingness, and the pit that remained swirled with dark light and sound. He quickly pulled himself onto the first solid step and breathed heavily at the sight below. Through the window, he saw Mr. Gohn at the end of the hall. He pulled himself up one flight of stairs, leg protesting, head pounding, breath ripping in and out of his throat like fire. Through the window of the next door stood Mr. Gohn, one step closer. Indy looked up through the crevice in the spiral structure of the stair, but it seemed never to end. He catapulted his body up another flight, and there the monster was again, yet another step closer.
Indy’s pulse raced as the monster seemed to close in, rising floor after floor as if running in circles. Flight after flight he left behind him, heart pounding blood through his body like a sledgehammer. And as he passed the door of each level, Mr. Gohn was one step closer in the window, and like a movie reel, he advanced. Indy felt more helpless than ever, but continued pulling his weight up with his tired arms and pushing them up with his legs. By exerting his body to its limit, perhaps he could outrace the monster. But it was no use. Mr. Gohn drew closer and closer until his face was immediately beyond the window. Indy stood his ground, muscles locked. Mr. Gohn did not even open the door, he merely dissolved through it, like a ghost. Indy backed up a step, and Mr. Gohn lifted a hand toward the boy’s neck. Quick as lightning, Indy grabbed the handrail behind him and leapt over it, jumping into the narrow gap between the two halves of the staircase. A squealing hiss sounded from his pursuer and a dark hand descended behind him, but it was a hair’s breadth too late, and gravity pulled Indy down. He managed to catch the rail two flights down and clamber onto the landing. Mr. Gohn’s shrill cry echoed above him, and his footfalls bounded downward.
Indy tore open the door and ran back down a hall nearly identical to the one he’d left. He began to wonder if the stairwell was some kind of closed loop, sending him in circles under the pretense of gravity, like some wicked Escher illusion. He ran to the other end of the hall and decided to try something. Perhaps inside a room was a window leading outside. The least he could do was see outside this place, if not escape through it. He kicked down a door with little effort, but stopped at the threshold. In the middle of the room was a spotlight, and under it was a dentist and a patient, the dentist standing in a white coat, patient lying horizontal in a dentist’s chair. Except the patient was some kind of horrid creature, all teeth and mouth. And the dentist was some kind of creature as well, masked by a wooden mold of a face, one arm ending not in a hand, but a drill bit. Indy’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he turned around and ran back to the elevator. The rooms were caves for the ghouls of this world, and he would have no more part of them.
Indy climbed into the elevator as Mr. Gohn walked through the door to the stairwell. Indy pushed the button to the top floor, and the doors to the elevator closed. Mr. Gohn’s footfalls advanced as the elevator shut and began its rise. Only a few floors up, the elevator stopped. Indy cursed. This couldn’t be the top floor, he was certain. Indy leapt up and grabbed a hold of a beam in the ceiling of the box. With the other arm, he beat against the flickering light. The plastic shattered from aged brittleness, and the thin metal beyond rattled. It was a door. Indy banged harder and it gave. He carefully put both hands through and pushed himself out, like a baby being born. He shook the dust and grime from his hair and stood atop the box. Sure enough, the shaft extended above him at least four more floors.
Indy lost his breath for a moment. Stretching his gaze skyward, he saw, at the end of the deep dark tunnel, the ceiling of this place. And beyond the ceiling of this place, through a hole in the tattered roof, he saw stars. For many long moments he stood in amazement, neck craned toward the beautiful sight. He spread his arms and cried out in ecstasy. His great cry of vitality and hope burned his lungs and rattled throughout this entire God-forsaken dungeon. He hoped every slimy critter and every sinister ghoul heard it. He looked around and saw an iron ladder leading all the way up to salvation.
Climbing hand over hand up the shaft, Indy thought about all he had been through, the monsters, the beasts, the ghouls, the imps. He thought about how horribly he wanted to leave this place. He had to escape once and for all, to get back to his family. His family. Indy puzzled over the thought. His family. The word hung in his thoughts, beautiful and warm and comforting like a jewel amid cold wet rocks. What was a family? He tried to remember. There was a flash and he saw a small creature with no face. Henry. Another flash and a bigger creature stood next to that one, similar in stature to the boar he’d seen earlier. Brick. The words echoed meaninglessly in his thoughts, like the empty shells of insects dangling in a web. Another flash and two more bigger creatures joined the frame. Mother. Father. They all stood before a black canvas, still and faceless. Family. Indy was sure they were creatures of good, but he could remember nothing about them. Only that they were the reason he was climbing toward the stars right now, and escaping was more important than anything else in the world.
Had his memories left him? It was as if there was some beautiful warm blanket just outside this world. He had slept soundly under it for a long time, but then it slipped off in the night, and he woke up, cold and alone, haunted and pursued. And all he had to do was find that blanket again, that family, and all would be well and warm again. He had been birthed into this world against his will, and he must leave it. He would find his family, and all his memories would be trifles in comparison.
He mounted the last few rungs of the ladder and spilled out onto the rooftop. It was amazing. Fresh air blew against his body, a torrent of cool and freedom. The stars glowed above, and the pebbly roof stretched each direction to the edges of the building. Even in nighttime darkness, the world felt brighter. He walked to the edge and looked out over the precipice. But something wasn’t right. In every direction an ocean swam in torrents, under a lightning-colored sky. Black burly clouds churned and whirled, slinging rain across the sky in buckets all around the building of Kell Hall.
“There is no escape,” echoed a voice from behind. Indy turned. It was Mr. Gohn, standing next to a door leading back down into the inside. “You have wandered too deep into this world. Every step you have taken has led you deeper. You are beyond redemption.” He began walking forward ominously. Indy looked over his shoulder at the precipice. It was a long fall, and below, the edge of a beach. Lightning flashed and wind swirled his clothing in every direction. “Behind you is no escape, merely an endless sea of blood from which this world juts out. It is the blood of your brothers.”
“No,” Indy denied powerlessly.
“Surrender to me. I have taken every last droplet of memory of your world, stripped all the meat off your bones. You are a walking carcass. All that is left for us to claim is your will to leave. For that is the warm little center of life within you, the marrow deep inside your bones. It is Hell to want so badly to escape a place so inescapable. Give up the will to leave, and you will find yourself in a place that might as well be home.”
This was not his home. It could never be. Indy closed his eyes, spread his arms, and fell backward off the ledge. The wind and the rain swirled about his falling body, carrying him swiftly into the belly of the churning sea below.
“Very well,” Mr. Gohn said to himself. “If you will not surrender it to me, then you will succumb to the Beast of Bitterness.”
Indy took deep slow breaths of sweet cold air, plunging downward to the sea. And then he hit it, and it swallowed him up, spiraling about him, spinning him violently in a twister of bubbles. The thick, sticky redness of it held him like syrup, and he lay below the sea of blood like a piece of seaweed. The current ebbed and flowed, swaying his arms and hair. It was so easy to give up, floating here in this sticky sludge, where light was a soft glow and sound was a muffled gurgle. Indy wondered what horrors lay at the bottom of this sea of blood, muddled cries echoing to the surface for no one to hear. Indy bobbed to the surface and spat out what he could of the blood in his mouth, and the current carried him to a rocky beach outside the building.
Like the very first fish to crawl out of the primordial slime of the world, Indy oozed from the froth of the sea of blood, retching and burning. He flung himself onto dry land, spitting and coughing, sputtering and rubbing his stinging eyes. He couldn’t stop his throat and stomach from seizing up with disgust. Every time he swallowed, he gagged and spat. His eyes poured tears out, washing the horrid sticky blood from them and down his face. He tried to stand, but the wet clothes clung to him and seemed trying to trip him. He tore them all off, stripped himself down to absolute nakedness, and a layer of blood coated him like paint, equally impossible to scrape off with his bare hands. In his foggy vision, he spotted a light hanging over an entrance into the building. He stumbled on his bare feet toward it, wind whipping against his bare body, drying the layer of blood over him.
The exit to this place wasn’t out here. For all its vices, this building guarded the exit somewhere in its belly. Indy jogged back into the building, down a long white hall. As he ran, blood seeped down from the ceiling, coating the walls on either side. His feet splattered against the floor, leaving wet red footprints in his wake. From within the walls, red hands reached out, as if sealed in by the layer of blood. Entire arms stretched out, grappling at air, entrapped and entwined in the dripping red wall. Hands and arms grew by the dozens out of the wall like weeds, waving and clutching at nothing.
Beyond the hall, Indy found a closet and searched for towels. He found long burlap cloths, and scraped as much blood as he could off him until only a faint red tint remained in his skin. Another he wrapped around his body in a rudimentary robe. This he tied with a length of cord and lumbered off. Now he truly looked like a creature of this place, white eyes burning through a red body clad in dirty cloth, wandering about these halls with no memory.
He ran for long minutes in great circles, losing himself among these dark tunnels. It hardly resembled a human construct anymore, though to Indy’s eyes it had merely lost a sense of order and continuity. Bricks became cold rock. Doors became splintered passageways. Windows became spider-webbed holes. Lights became flameless fires, balls of softly glowing light tossing yellow shadows on the walls. The floor became a turbulent flowing pathway of rock and dirt, rising and falling like rapids frozen in place.
Indy tripped and skidded to a stop. He did not rise again. His muscles burned. His eyes burned. His heart burned. The wound on his leg ached, as did his head and neck. His mouth opened in a long, despairing, silent scream, and tears poured from his eyes. He lay against the wall and wept great tides of tears. An earthquake could not shake him. I’ll never get out of here, he chanted to himself. I’ll never get out of here. I’ll run and run and run and then finally some thing will overtake and defeat and consume me. I’ll never get out. I’ll never get out of here. Again and again his mind chanted the horrible reality. He opened his lips to say it aloud:
“I have to get out of here,” he said instead. Slowly the thought and determination sunk in. I have to get out. Against any adversity, I must survive. Against any cage, I must break free. In the face of every possible monster, I must fight. I have to get out of here. It was only a hollow mantra now, but strong nonetheless. Shakily, he stood. No more running. No more hiding. No more games. He was not of this world. He knew that. He did not know of what world he belonged, but it was warm and sweet and in it was his family. If he could destroy a monster, then perhaps he could tame one. They spoke in riddles and led him astray, but if he could outsmart them, then perhaps he could find a guide.
Indy stood up, rubbed his leg, wiped his eyes, took a cleansing breath, and walked forward slowly and deliberately. He walked up one hall and down another. Coming around one corner, a vision came to him. At the end of a long hall sat a wolf, blacker than night, breathing lustily. It was nothing more than a vision, for the hall before him ended only in a dark door. He shook himself of the thought. But the thought clung to him. He heard panting. It was not the type of sound that his ears picked up. It was merely the interpretation of sound, as if his mind contained a portal to another world, from whence the sound echoed. I am coming for you, the sound said.
Indy looked all around, and saw nothing, lumbering slowly this way and that. His bare feet had wizened and burled up, scraping against hard stone as if they were made to do so. They made a sweeping sound as they passed, and his footfalls sounded like a heartbeat, one strong beat followed by a weaker one, as he limped on his bad leg.
Something caught his eye and he stopped. It was a doorway with rusted metal hinges hanging on one side, more like the entrance to a cave than anything. Beside the entrance hung a plate that was so horribly calcified he could barely make it out. But he recognized it. “336” it read. One of the first rooms he’d come to in this place. One of his earliest memories. He entered the room and saw in the middle of the room not a hole, as he remembered, but a puddle of brown water. Nothing was consistent about this place. In fact, he now understood that this was not even the same place, in the usual sense. Space was a funny thing. It wrapped over and around itself, interweaving and overlapping, yet never doubling back on itself. This place was truly like a rabbit hole. And going up, down, right, left, forward, backward, and everything in between was merely digging deeper.
You will soon be mine.
Indy turned back to the hallway and looked both ways, although he knew the voice was certainly in his head. “Stop it,” he hissed.
The voice in his head chuckled. There is no stopping it. Indy smacked the sides of his head with his hands. The swarming feeling returned, as if the ants had been stirred in their nest. His head felt so eerily light and empty, like the hollow tubular lattice of volcanic rock, strewn with cobwebs. At its moist, juicy center lay a crimson red jewel, the last of his hope. Yes, the voice whispered, and this time the actual sound echoed in the halls, accompanied by the clicking of claws on the ground. Indy spun every which way, backing against a wall, but there was nothing.
I see you. I smell you. I feel you. I can almost taste you. Indy’s brain felt squeezed by some force, like a hand trying to crush a walnut.
“Stop it,” he insisted.
There is no stopping it. Just a few more moments, and you will be gone forever. This time, a vision flashed in Indy’s mind, that of a black creature bounding across a hall, breathing heavily, mouth hung open in anticipation. Indy swallowed. It wasn’t real yet, but it was getting more and more real. He was about to die. He felt the distinct feeling of looming death every living creature must recognize. The dawn before the storm. A tear fell down his face. He walked a few more paces and turned another corner. At the very end of the hall was a dead end. He stared and stared and stared at the stone wall facing him. There was more to it than an empty stone wall. Yes.
Indy closed his eyes for a moment and to the best of his ability, surrendered all hopes of escape. When he opened his eyes, there sat a wolf, blacker than night, sitting calmly at the end of the hall, panting, smiling, perfectly relaxed and calm. The voice was here. The beast was here. The Beast of Bitterness. Indy’s breath quickened, and he started to shake. He was scared like a little boy for the last time. The beast licked its chops and stood up, taking a few steps forward. Indy’s lungs convulsed and his limbs froze. The beast charged.
Indy turned and ran, screaming soundlessly, exerting every last droplet of energy to outrun the beast that no creature in this world or any other could outrun. His legs burned, his heart ached, his mind raced, and the beast ran three times faster, right behind him in no time at all. Indy looked over his shoulder, and startled by the beast’s sudden approach, stopped cold and instinctively put his hands up. The beast pounced, pinning the human child to the ground and sinking its heavy jowls into his neck. The child protested weakly as his neck collapsed inside and his blood streamed to the floor, and then everything went black and cold. The jewel, the family, the hope, the memory, the center of life, whatever it was they wanted, bubbled to the surface, and the beast gobbled it up. The beast ripped his throat from his body, and a shroud of nothingness enveloped him. It was all over.
The girl looked at her watch. It was getting on five o’clock, and she needed to eat dinner so she could get to the party. Everyone who knew anyone would be at the Halloween party tonight, and she could not wait to join them. She shuffled and organized the last of her papers, clearing her desk for the long weekend. It had been awhile and the boy had not returned. In the back of her mind, she felt a mild sense of worry, but outwardly felt he deserved a good scare, and more than that he deserved to get lost in that creepy building for a few minutes. Sometimes she wondered if all the stupid tales about it were true, that ghosts of fire victims haunted the halls, children disappeared in holes and were chased by monsters. She sometimes wondered if you could lose yourself in your own paranoia and your mind could trick you into believing it when you were there. She shuddered and let the thought go.
The mother came out of the office, followed by Brick. The girl stood up promptly. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but your son - your older son, that is - they had a fight. The little one ran off, and he went to fetch him.”
“Oh dear, not again. Those two will be the end of me. Which way did they go?”
The girl pointed. “That way, toward Kell Hall.”
Their mother strode off, and Brick hung around the lobby to talk with the girl.
“Henry?” she called, walking down the stairs to Kell. “Indy? Are you boys down here?”
She stopped at the threshold and looked up the ramp, listening as mothers do, not only to the sounds, but to her instincts as well.
“Mommy!” Henry cried. He ran out from inside one of the rooms whose doors were cracked.
“Henry! What were you doing in there?”
“Hiding. Indy tupee!”
“Where is your brother?”
Henry put his hands up in a gesture of innocent ignorance. His mother sighed and picked Henry up, setting him on her shoulder. He wrapped his hands around her neck and laid his chin on her shoulder. She reentered the lobby to find Brick talking to the girl.
“He must have gone out to the car,” she said. “Thanks anyway.”
“No problem,” the girl responded.
“Let’s go, Brick.”
Just as he turned to follow his mother, the girl called out behind him, “Call me!” in a bright, phony voice. His mother smiled, and Brick, embarrassed, turned around to glare playfully at her.
His mother chuckled. “Let’s go, son,” she repeated, and walked out.
“Thanks, Cindy,” Brick scorned lightly.
She smiled teasingly and waved goodbye. He bared his teeth at her and mocked a growl. She clawed at the air with her hand and hissed. Both laughed.
“See you Monday.”
Henry held tight on his mother’s back, still grappling with a vision or some kind of understanding. He sucked his thumb, eyes fixed on some point on the wall, contemplating the question his mother had asked him.
“Peas of Bittuh,” he came up with. He chanted it softly as his mother carried him out of the building. “Peas of Bittuh.”
On that night, a creature was born. Deep in the belly of Kell Hall, it opened its eyes for the first time. It lay on the ground in a pool of blood, drenched in pain and aching soreness. It sat up and noticed that its head fell forward without its control. The creature reached with a hand and noticed that a hollow had been carved out of its neck and at that point folded over with the weight of its head. In its head felt like little worms crawling about, pausing to chew every now and then. Every few seconds, the creature squeezed its eyes, shook its head, gritted its teeth, and slapped itself over the ear. Its skin was deep brownish red and crusty, nails overgrown, eyes big and bright white. It was clad in strips of burlap cloth tied crudely with cord.
The creature stretched its limbs and stood upon both legs. One leg was stiff with some sort of wound, but they seemed to work fine. The creature could remember little of what had happened before waking in a pool of blood. In fact, everything before that seemed to blend together in a horrible dream, full of running and screaming and leaping to and fro. It all seemed very foggy and chaotic compared to this silence and calm. The creature did not know who or what it was, how it came to be, or where it needed to go, and it didn’t exactly care. Its head swarmed with tension and prickly needles. It could not speak, for its voice box had been torn out, and its screams were silent. It lumbered off down the hall, limping on its good leg, forevermore a monster of Kell Hall, wandering to the ends of time.
Theresa Alley: right from the start it is of the genre I love!! And it doesn't slow down from there!! I love that it kept me reading til I had no more story left to read!! I finished it in one day!! love this book!! looking forward to more from this author, if not about ASTA, more of the same style!! PLEASE!!!???
Marimar Amieva: Although I found the vampire thing a bit too much, I couldn't stop reading it. The story had a bit of everything: mystery, romance, a huge plot twist and relatable characters. I congratulate the author for this story and hope to read more of whatever he writes.
mullikin902: Do not start reading this book unless you have enough time to finish it in one sitting, because you will not be able to put it down! Superlative! Addictive! Deliciously wicked characters you can't get enough of. Impatiently waiting for the sequel!
Cat32: I enjoyed the good versus evil aspect of this novel, especially as the protagonist has to discover how to access that good to save his family. I sat down to begin reading this story, and only put it down long enough to eat with the family! the book does an excellent job of building the suspense, ...
ynez2005: I LOVE THIS BOOK SOOOOO MUCH!!!!Though you really need to make another book,more Princesses!!! Whoooo!!!Girl Power!!!Mabey it could even be Devona's BFF???That would make it even better!!!Plus can you pleeease make Akki come back,together with Thea and Authur amd the whole family is back!Other th...
Sarah Luongo: My friend recommended this to me and I was hooked immediately. The images and voices of these characters come so clearly in my head, which I love. I love seeing from all of these characters points of view, and still the book has a continuous flow. There are some punctuation and grammar mistakes, ...
spec4huff: Thank you for creating this world. I am a 6'3" veteran that thinks himself tough. But the piece of literature you have created made me misty eyed on a number of occasions. I want a love like this. Thank you again, I would totally buy this book and hopefully the sequels to this ever enchanting lov...
harry142018: This story was gripping and very professionally written. With lots of twists and slight of hand tricks, the author deceives the reader until finally showing their cards at the end. With several subplots all intertwining to create the main plot, this really is an interesting and engaging read.