Okay, unless and until I go back to do some editing and revising upon completion of the book, I’m going to call this the final incarnation of Chapter 2. I know this version, too, can be much improved, but as it stands now, I think I can go back over this chapter again and again, and never actually make it to Chapter 3.
Of course, if anyone catches any grammatical errors, please feel free to let me know, and I’ll address them as I get time to do so. But outside of that, we’re calling her done, and I’m going to work on Chapter 3 starting Friday.
For those who have read this chapter already, you should know that for the most part I didn’t touch most of the chapter, but completely rewrote the opening sequence, while the sequence directly after it had a few fine touches added.
With that, I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 2: The Someone Else Room
Lindsey’s eyes frantically scanned the room, trying to find traces of her sister that didn’t exist.
“Sara?” she tried hopelessly, panic already gripping her voice, but she was answered only by the silence of the room and the muffled throbbing sound of her heart pounding in her ears.
Coldness gripped at her heart and squeezed as she repeated her sister’s name over and over, her body succumbing to a heavy numbness as she tore her room apart. The corners of her eyes beginning to sting, Lindsey threw back her sister’s covers, vainly willing Sara to be under them. She slammed open the closet door and pushed the clothes on their hangers back and forth, hoping futilely that Sara’s smile would be revealed by the next bunch of dresses pushed aside.
With each passing second, the cries for her sister grew more desperate, more anguished as the hiding spots she checked grew more absurd. Where’s Sara? a sing-song voice lilted in the back of her mind and instantly Lindsey was six years old again, Sara giggling underneath a blanket as Lindsey made a great show of looking everywhere but the obvious.
Small hissing moans escaped Lindsey’s throat as she popped open the lid of what was once their toy box and now housed a seemingly infinite array of useless odds and ends; broken hair ties, torn apart books, pencils, pens, unmatched socks, batteries, hats, a worn old shoe. Seemingly everything Lindsey had ever lost was buried somewhere in that toy box except her sister.
Where is she? the six-year-old Lindsey in her head continued to sing as she closed in on the blanket. She would sit on it, as though lost in thought, the whole time Sara would gasp and wheeze and push and beg her sister to get off her. What’s that noise? Lindsey would ask in mock confusion as her sister struggled beneath her.
But now there was no giggling blanket. Sara wasn’t hiding, she wasn’t playing a trick. She was gone.
That was it. She had been a fool long enough; she should have woken her parents a long time ago and maybe now it was too late. Maybe, she thought with dread, she had waited too long. Maybe, if she had woken her parents sooner, they could have found Sara, but because she didn’t want to feel like a little girl running from the bogeyman, Sara would be lost forever.
She darted out the door, the light from her room spilling out in stark yellow orange across the hallway floor, and she almost crashed straight through her parents’ door when something stopped her short.
What was that at the end of the hallway? Another trick of the light?
Slowly she retracted herself from her parents’ bedroom door and, without taking her eyes off the end of the hall, she snaked a hand back into her room and turned off the light. No, it wasn’t a trick of the light at all.
Instead of the deep, dark blue that first lured her out of her bedroom in the first place, the bricks that overtook the end of the hall were bathed in a faint reddish color.
For a moment, indecision overtook her. She stared at this strange new light, and then looked at her parents’ door. She balled her fist and raised it, preparing to knock, even as the light beckoned her, her curiosity struggling with the concern for her sister. What was going on?
Shaking her head, her curtain of black hair sweeping from side to side, Lindsey pulled her fist back, poised, ready to disrupt her parents’ sleep, but the light continued to hold her attention. Even as her other hand wrapped itself around the doorknob she could hardly turn away from that dark crimson glow.
An obnoxious snort escaped from the other side of the bedroom door and settled down to a steady snore, momentarily wrenching Lindsey’s focus from the red light, and she started to bring her knuckles forward, but stopped. What would they say? Would they believe her? What if they didn’t? What if they just told her to go back to bed?
Worse, what if they did believe her, and couldn’t get her back? What if Sara was lost for good, and they ended up blaming her for it? It was, after all, Lindsey’s fault she was gone.
Slowly Lindsey’s hand dropped to her side. She took a step down the hall. And then another.
Even the terror of having her parents blame her for her sister’s disappearance began to fade as new questions filled her head. What did the red light mean? Could it be Sara? Could it be a clue as to what happened to her? She thought of Mr. M’s brilliant red suit and broad brimmed hat that covered his eyes, and she wondered if it could be him; the man in the room taken on new form.
Then the thought occurred to her; maybe he had Sara. Maybe there was still time.
Her tentative steps turned into a jog, and then into a run. She dashed straight through the dining room, barely registering the dark hulking shapes of the wrought iron table, now gleaming dully in the red glow, and she almost dove through where her kitchen should have been.
But upon finally regaining the restaurant that had once been their kitchen and living room, she stopped. Her heart sank. There was no sign of either the man or her sister.
This time she did sob, just a little, the despair choking her, squeezing the air out of her lungs and blurring her vision. Sara was gone. He had taken her.
Mr. M had taken Lindsey’s sister as punishment for not going with him, and as she struggled with the turmoil boiling up inside of her, she looked about her, foolishly hoping that Sara would jump out from beneath one of the dark tables and scream, “GOTCHA!”
But Sara never did. Lindsey was alone, the smooth concrete floor cold beneath her feet, the blue stage lights now black and dead, the candles in their blue glass casings extinguished, and the tables now with the chairs propped atop them, making them look like strange alien artifacts in the dim red light.
Wait a minute, Lindsey started. Red light? Where’s it coming from? She spun around, searching for the source, remarking in her mind that it looked like the edge of a fire’s light, that same dull red glow that barely illuminates the forest when you stray too far from the campfire.
And then she saw it, perched high up in the far corner affixed to the wall.
Below the sign was what looked to be a wide and heavy door that Lindsey couldn’t remember seeing before, and for a brief moment she wondered if it had been there the whole time, or only just materialized now that she was looking for it.
It didn’t matter. Sara was on the other side of that door, which meant that Lindsey would have to go through it.
She skirted around the tables, and in the dark red light, they began to feel alive, to creep up on her from behind, to crowd her from the sides. Her breath quickened as her imagination began convincing her that the tables were, in fact, alive, awake, and poising themselves to pounce on her.
Lindsey wanted to look back, to confirm that this wasn’t true, the muscles in her neck almost tingling with the desire, but she forced her eyes straight ahead, focusing intently upon the silver bar and the red gleam that reflected off its surface. She could almost hear the tables sliding across the floor, whispering to each other, coordinating in the final moments before it was time to attack.
But with a forceful push there was the clacking thud of the bar slamming against the door, unlatching it, and allowing it to swing open. Lindsey nearly jumped through it to escape the conspiring tables, and nearly jumped out of her skin when the door slammed shut behind her with a thunderous clang!
Finally she gave in to the impulse to turn and look. Her chest heaved as she stared at the door, preparing for an army of blackened alien tables to break through the studded bronze surface, but that army never came.
Cautiously she approached it, her muscles twitching, her entire body tensed, prepared to run away at the first sign of trouble. When none came, she tentatively pressed her ear against the metallic surface and listened.
Breathing, she finally turned and surveyed her new surroundings.
Pipes. Tons upon tons of pipes surrounded her on all sides in dull and dirty hues of copper, brass, and rust. They snaked around each other like night-crawlers, a thick and tangled mass of heavy metal tubes that wound their way up the walls, and down the walls, and away into the whole knotted mess, writhing in their relative stillness, chugging rhythmically, jerking occasionally, and yet conveying a sense of greater motion.
Occasionally a jet of steam would belch forth from one of the pipes’ joints with a high pitched whistle and curl up into a dense cloud that quickly dissipated into the air, only to be replaced minutes later by another release of vapor not far away.
Where the room she just left was cold and dry, this place was hot, sweltering, and before Lindsey managed to take two steps into the gnarled mess, a thin sheen of sweat formed on her brow.
Negotiating the rat’s nest of piping was slow work, made all the worse by the stifling humidity. The pipes themselves were slick with moisture, and Lindsey felt less like she was breathing the air so much as drinking it in. Nevertheless, she plodded on.
A couple of times she almost tripped and fell, just barely catching her balance in time which was a good thing, she thought. There wasn’t a sign of anyone around, and if she bumped her head and knocked herself unconscious, not only was she in dire straits, but also who would save Sara?
Every now and then Lindsey would notice some strange hulking machine, most of them squat, and all of them cast in the same rich reddish-gold color of the pipes around her. Whenever she came across one of them, Lindsey invariably mused on what task they performed; their function not being blatantly obvious to the most casual of observers. Whatever it was that they did, however, they did it enthusiastically.
These hulking chunks of glimmering metal lurched and whirred and puffed little gouts of steam into the air as dozens of pipes ran into and out of them from all sides. Some clicked, some clanked, some hummed in high pitched tones that Lindsey could only characterize as cheerful. As lifeless as these anonymous machines were, one got the decided opinion that they were somehow content just by watching the way they would pitch and roll in the service of their function.
And that was the thing that truly got to Lindsey. As oppressive as the atmosphere was, and as treacherous the terrain, there was an unmistakable feeling of fulfillment in that place; a sense of wholeness and completion.
While Lindsey couldn’t separate one pipe from another among the meandering braids of metal, she had the distinct impression that each pipe had a specific purpose. Each machine was integral to the overall construct, and every bent and misshapen hand wheel governed the ultimate destiny of the work at hand.
And through it all, while Lindsey never lost sight of what she had come to do, and how serious the trouble Sara could be in was, the strange room managed to alleviate the worst of her fears and apprehensions. She still maintained the sense of urgency, mind you, but the despair wasn’t quite so debilitating.
Indeed, when she came across the giant machine, the machine that looked to be the mother of all the rest of the machines, Lindsey didn’t really feel any despair at all.
In fact, the sight of the metallic monstrosity erased most everything save a deep curiosity.
It was the size of a house—a big house; two stories at least. And it was in the unmistakable shape of a large pig with a barrel-like body that ended abruptly on one end, and tapered to a squat cone on the other. All over its glittering surface were enormous metal patches that were only just noticeable from their riveted outlines and slight discoloration, and feeding into and leading away from the giant pig machine in all directions were literally thousands of pipes.
Most curious, though, was right where the pig’s snout seemed to be burrowed into the ground sat a little, bald, person. He was facing away from her, but Lindsey could still make out his threadbare and patch riddled clothes. Lindsey imagined, they might have made up some sort of robe ensemble once upon a time, but by now they looked little more than a series of shabby rags that had been hastily stitched together.
He, if it was indeed a he, sat before a complex array of switches, levers, fulcrums, pulleys, buttons, knobs, hand wheels, and pedals, and as the entire room comprised of machinery chunked along, the little old person periodically operated one of the strange controllers that spread out before him, twisting a knob here, pulling a lever there, but to what effect, Lindsey couldn’t tell.
What she could tell as she got closer, though, was what, besides the seemingly endless operators at his disposal, held his attention. Right where the pig’s nose should have been was a modest, oblong screen, like a TV or computer screen. It was green, and shone strange symbols in variations of that color; forest green, lime green, spinach green.
Lindsey couldn’t make the slightest bit of sense out of what flashed by on the green display, but whatever it was, kept the little old person completely and totally enthralled. So engrossed was he on the screen that he didn’t seem to notice Lindsey even as she stood right next to him.
She waited a moment to see if he would acknowledge her existence.
She waited another.
She leaned over to get a better look and observed that it was indeed a man, a very old man, though one without the faintest traces of hair anywhere on his head. No whiskers, not even eyebrows.
Depending on what the display showed him, he would sometimes open his mouth in a strange kind of smile, revealing a grand total of three rotted, withered, blackish yellow teeth, or a funny little frown that looked more like his entire face was trying to escape down towards his chest.
The sight made Lindsey cringe a little.
It didn’t matter, though, she needed to find out where she was, and how to get to her sister. So, hoping to grab the little old man’s attention, she cleared her throat.
Shrugging to herself, she said, “Excuse me. Did you see a…”
The man spun around on a little stool in a flash, his sunken eyes going wide, his nearly toothless mouth opening and bending into an almost pitiable smile. The suddenness of this made Lindsey jump back half a step as he said in a voice that sounded less human and more like sandpaper rubbing up against sandpaper, “Hello! Welcome to the Someone Else Room!”
Frowning, Lindsey echoed, “The Someone Else Room?”
The old man smiled and nodded. “Yes, the Someone Else Room—the Vestibule to Journey’s End.”
Again, he smiled and nodded. “Journey’s End; your final destination.”
Lindsey shook her head impatiently. “Look. I don’t really have a lot of…”
“I know EXACTLY why you’re here!” he interrupted.
“Oh, well then. So you can help?”
“Why, my lovely young lady, that is my job.”
“Good, so you can tell me where my sister is?”
The man didn’t change his expression the slightest as he said, “No!”
Lindsey frowned. “But you said you know why I’m here, and you can help me.”
At this, the old man chuckled. “I do know why you’re here, and I can help.”
“It is you who doesn’t know why you’re here.”
Lindsey’s frown deepened and she folded her arms over her chest. “Okay,” she said, forcing herself to exhibit as much patience in her voice as she could muster, which wasn’t very much at all. “Why am I here?”
“You are here,” the old man said, “to become someone else, hence the name of the room.”
“But I don’t want to be someone else, I want to find my…”
“You don’t have a choice. You definitely can’t go to Journey’s End being who you are now, can you?”
“I don’t want to go to Journey’s End.”
“Well, it’s a bit late for that I’m afraid. My dear, you are in the Vestibule; Journey’s End is the only place left for you to go.”
“But…” This wasn’t good. This wasn’t what Lindsey had in mind at all. Journey’s End, what was that? And was this strange little man being absolutely serious; did she have to stay there? “But, Sara.”
“Oh, yes. Very good.”
“Have you seen her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you seen anyone come by recently?”
The old man looked somewhat puzzled and shrugged. “I don’t know.”
The little patience that Lindsey had managed to hold on to was starting to slip away. “How about a tall man in a red suit? Goes by the name of Mr. M?”
The man continued to play ignorant right up until Lindsey mentioned the name. The moment the name left her lips, though, the old man shuddered and cringed. His face puckered as though he had just sucked on a lemon, and his tongue poked out of his mouth seemingly involuntarily. He sputtered, coughed, and spun around on his little stool before finally smiling back at Lindsey and saying, “So shall we get on with it?”
“But you didn’t answer my question,” Lindsey snapped.
“What question?” the old man retorted, his sunken eyes blinking up at her stupidly.
Lindsey stomped her foot against the ground and growled. “This is useless!”
“EXACTLY!” the man shouted as he thrust a finger into the air. Lindsey glared at him, but he only cackled wildly at her disgust.
“I really don’t follow.”
“Useless! Useless! That’s the purpose of this room! To make things un-useless.”
Lindsey just glared on, and the old man, sensing that she still wasn’t understanding what was going on, sighed and his shoulders drooped.
“You must go to Journey’s End; that is the only place for you.”
“Because you can’t stay here, and you can’t go back where you came from.”
Defiantly, Lindsey sat down on one of the thicker, higher pipes that snaked around her legs, and said, “What’s to say I can’t stay here?”
“Oh, you’re free to stay as long as you like,” the man informed her. “But that won’t be very long. There are no bathrooms here, you see? No food, either.”
“But what about you? What do you do when you have to eat or go to the bathroom?”
At this, the man sighed, and gave Lindsey a sad, rueful smile. “It’s… been a while.”
“How long?” Lindsey pressed, curious.
At this, the old man raised a hairless eyebrow (which, itself had an odd effect), and said, “Longer than you’ve been alive.”
“Oh,” she grunted.
“You see, you must leave here, but you are not prepared for what is to come. Everything has a place, and everything has a purpose. Journey’s End is your place, but you have no purpose.”
“I do,” Lindsey retorted, her sister returning to the forefront of her mind.
“What are you?” the old man asked.
Taken off guard a bit, Lindsey stuttered, “I’m a… I’m a… uh… A girl?”
At the very mention, the man shuddered, and poked his tongue out again. “Terrible, useless things girls are. Boys too, for that matter. Boys and girls, the whole lot, doing nothing more than just being boys and girls. ‘What are you doing’?” the old man added in a mock high pitched voice. “’Oh, just being a girl. You?’ ‘Oh, just being a boy.’ USELESS!”
Lindsey wasn’t sure what to make of this sort of logic, but she also realized that the longer she resisted, the more time she let slip through her fingers, and the greater the chance was that Sara would be lost forever. That all taken into account, she let the old man continue uninterrupted.
“But this place… THIS MACHINE!” he exclaimed, patting a tiny and eroded little hand against the giant pig machine. “This machine makes you someone else. Someone with a purpose, do you understand now?”
“Yes,” Lindsey lied. “Completely.”
“Good!” the old man clapped. “We can get started. Give me your left hand.”
She hesitated, fixing him with a wary look.
“Oh, don’t be silly. It doesn’t hurt, come on, come on. You won’t feel a thing.”
Lindsey closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and steeling her resolve, she extended her hand to him. His spindly fingers wrapped gently around her wrist, and Lindsey was amazed at how soft his skin was, how delicate the hand. She expected skin as rough and scratchy as his voice, and fingers so brittle that just the presence of her wrist might cause them to break, but his grip was gentle, yet firm and strong.
Turning to face the monitor again, he guided her arm into a strange kind of metallic sleeve with a black cloth cover that seemed to swallow her appendage whole. She nearly jerked her arm right back out the moment he let go, but Lindsey found that there was nothing in the sleeve itself. She wiggled her fingers and wrist all around, trying to feel anything, but all she could sense was pleasantly cool air.
“Stop wriggling,” the old man chastised as he began operating the various levers and mechanisms before him. “You’ll muck up the works.”
Lindsey stopped. Instead she focused on the old man as he set about his work. For someone so ancient looking, she thought, he was full of life. His dark, sunken eyes were all of a sudden alight with excitement as he tugged on chains and turned knobs all around him. His feet slammed excitedly at several pedals at once and he let out a delighted cackle as he swung one lever down to the floor where it clanged loudly against one of the pipes.
“Name?” he asked, his eyes and limbs still focused on the work at hand.
“Is that important?” Lindsey asked.
“No, I’m just trying to make conversation.”
“Oh.” Lindsey chuckled. “Um… Lindsey.”
“Thank you. And, what can I call you?”
At this, the old man slowed a bit. “You can call me the Custodian of the Someone Else Room.”
“You don’t have a real name?”
“What’s wrong with Custodian of the Someone Else Room?”
Interrupting her, he offered, “You could call me by a cute little nickname like, Custy, or Cotser.”
“Acronym,” the custodian replied.
“Oh. Does anyone else call you by these names?”
“No,” he said, a hint of dejection detectable in his tone.
As though to cheer him up a little, Lindsey said, “I like Custy. It suits you.”
“You think so?” he asked, turning away from the monitor to show Lindsey a hopeful smile.
Wondering if he should be taking his attention away from the screen for this long, Lindsey nodded.
This small vote of affection seemed to energize the little man, and he redoubled his efforts. Whatever it was he was doing, Lindsey thought, it sure did look like hard work. “Um, Custy… How long does this take?”
“Oh, not long, dear. Almost finished, almost finished.”
His little pink tongue worked its way out the corner of his mouth as he appeared to ramp up his efforts even further. His arms began to flail madly at the various instruments and controls, and Lindsey was beginning to feel fatigued on his behalf. And then, with a final push, the little custodian began enlisting his feet to kick at the levers, his breaths coming out in labored grunts, until he collapsed back on his stool, panting, a smile of satisfied achievement settling on his nearly prehistoric features.
“Finished… All… Finished,” he wheezed. “Look.”
A trembling old finger pointed at the green screen, and Lindsey saw her name in large block letters with a series of words beneath it, like so:
And so on all down the screen. Pointing to the words, Lindsey asked, “What are those?”
“Those… Dear…” Custy began. He had yet to catch his breath fully, and Lindsey patted him on the back as she waited for him to push out the words. “Are… Your… Choices.”
She was going to inquire further into what the old man meant, but it looked as though if she asked him to say another word at that moment, he would keel over from the effort. A second glance at the list, though, made any further questions unnecessary. She understood.
“I can be any one of these things?” she mumbled, half to herself, and the old man nodded in confirmation. Furrowing her brow in concentration, Lindsey studied her options. It was strange; the act felt oddly analogous to the world and the reality she had just left behind, and yet different.
She was a high school student, after all, and that’s what you were supposed to do as a high school student; decide what, or maybe more accurately, who you were going to be. But that decision was far more complex; there were paths to be taken, obstacles to overcome, standards to meet. If Lindsey was correct, though, here it was as simple as pointing, and this giant machine would make it happen.
Of the many different options on the screen, the one that seemed to stand out the most to her was “wizard”. She liked that. She liked the sound of it. “Hunter” wasn’t bad either; dark, and romantic in a way, she supposed, but wizard held so much mystery beneath it.
“Um,” she muttered. “How about wizard?”
The old man, having caught his breath by now, answered, “Remove your arm, dear.”
He waved her back from the machine a few steps with his hand, and then pressed a single button, and pulled a lever. The giant metal pig bucked violently, almost forcing Lindsey down on her bottom. For a brief moment she thought the massive thing was going to pounce on her, devour her, but instead it jerked and shook in place, the thousands of pipes connecting to it growling and screeching in protest. In the madness of the commotion, Lindsey looked over at the custodian and saw that his face was calm and uninterested as if he saw this every day, but how anyone could get used to a hunk of metal the size of a house moving like that was absolutely beyond her.
With a particularly violent leap into the air, and a shudder that carried with it the air of finality, the giant metal pig came to rest.
“Well, let’s see how we did, shall we?” the old man grunted, and offered his hand to Lindsey. She took it and was surprised with how spry he was, how easily he negotiated a path over and around the piping. Lindsey had trouble keeping up, losing her footing more than once, but somehow she stayed with him until they reached the other end of the pig.
There, on the side that seemed to end too abruptly, was a conveyor belt that issued forth from a dark hole set in the machine’s wall. The conveyor hummed into life, and out of the hole slid a large, gray book.
That’s it? A book? she thought, and her face must have betrayed her skepticism for the old man raised his eyebrows at her.
“That’s it, I’m afraid.”
“Oh,” she said, sort of disappointed. Regardless, she picked up the book and inspected it. It was large, nearly the length and width of her torso, but surprisingly light. There was something wrong about that, she felt. There was no way a book this big could be so weightless, but she didn’t complain; had it been as heavy as it should have been, it would have been a chore just to lug it around.
Aside from its girth that didn’t seem fully accounted for by gravity, the most remarkable thing was the cover. It was, to say the least, quite beautiful. The leather binding was cracked and gray and looked as though it was imbued with the essence of time. There was a rich sense of being about it that felt strangely like a security blanket.
Over this was an intricate ornamental pattern of gold. Swoops and swirls stretched and yawed all about the book’s cover, converging and diverging, meeting together in brilliant explosions of entwined tendrils of prismatic gold only to scatter and fade away. The shiny traces crept onto the back, and seemed to even crawl over the faintly yellowed pages between the covers, circumnavigating around the tome until it wrapped around and met back up at the center.
It was the center that was the focal point, though, that much was obvious, for there, unmistakable in shape, was cast in a sort of negative space the outline of a heart. Looking into that simple pattern, that void where the gold seemed unwilling to go, Lindsey could feel a quiet power emanating from it, nothing tangible, nothing visible, but it managed to seep up her arms, into her lungs, and wrap itself around her heart.
She opened it.
The pages were blank.
Lindsey could see the old man continue to watch her as she thumbed through the pages, searching for some clue that this was anything more than a very fancy, and very big, diary. But she found nothing, not a word, not a stray spot of ink.
“It’s empty,” she said, finally, showing the custodian the bare pages.
“Perhaps you have to fill it?” he offered with a shrug.
“This does me no good,” Lindsey insisted. “I want to try something else.”
The old man shook his head. “Not possible, child. What’s done is done. You have chosen your fate, and it has accepted you.”
“Yes. Everyone gets only one shot, and you’ve had yours. Those are the rules.”
Feeling cheated, Lindsey’s voice began to rise, “I don’t care about the rules! I have to save my sister and this empty book does me no GOOD!”
“Were it that easy, I would help you, child. But, you understand, the machine will no longer work for you. That door has been closed, and another elsewhere has been opened, and it has come time for you to cross that threshold.”
Lindsey made to throw the book down in disgust, but the old man held up a hand to stop her. “Do not, my dear. Do not. Give it time. Give yourself time. Not everything reveals itself immediately, you know. Some things hide, and some things must be cultivated. Cast your gift aside now, and you may regret it someday. Keep it, for all its lack of worth, and the most you have lost is the usage of a hand that would otherwise rest in your pocket as opposed to hold a book.”
Resignation washing over her, Lindsey retracted her arm, and tucked the book against her chest. He was right of course. Wherever, whatever, this Journey’s End place was, she would go into it without a blank book, or with one. Though she could think of no purpose to having one, who was she to say that a purpose for it wouldn’t arise?
“There we go,” the custodian said with a kind grin. “Come, a new world awaits you.”
He offered his hand again, and Lindsey took it. This time, however, as the man picked his way among the pipes, he kept a slower pace, a pace that was easier for Lindsey to maintain.
“Do you think my sister’s in Journey’s End?” Lindsey asked as they put the machine behind them. She simply wasn’t sure, and had the most dreadful feeling as though she took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. At the same time, where else could Sara have gone off to?
“It’s quite possible, my dear. Quite possible. Look, it’s not my place to catalogue the comings and goings of the visitors to the Someone Else Room. It is only my place to help set them on their path. Where your sister is, that is for you to decide.”
“Decide.” The word sat uncomfortably with Lindsey. What did he mean by decide? She had no say where Sara was, her role was to find her. But before Lindsey could lose herself too much in this train of thought, she was again interrupted by the voice of the old man.
“Here we go.” They had stopped in front of a large copper spittoon with what looked to be rolls of parchment sticking out like a bouquet of tube-shaped flowers. He plucked one out of the spittoon and handed it to Lindsey with a smile. “You’ll be needing this, I think.”
“What is it?”
“A map of Journey’s End. If you’re looking for your sister, this may help you find her. But, whatever path you choose beyond this room, I recommend you stay a spell in Everywhere Town before you do anything else. Give yourself the opportunity to find your bearings.”
“I don’t think I have time for that, really,” Lindsey said. “But thank you.”
The old man nodded and smiled. It was the kind of smile that said more than words could say, “If that’s your wish, but don’t say I didn’t tell otherwise.” Then with a broad sweep of his hand, he showed Lindsey a monstrous door.
It wasn’t a normal door, not by any means of the imagination. It looked to be ten feet thick and was adorned with gears and metal struts all about its edges. “How do I open it?” she asked.
“It’s been opened for you,” the old man answered, pointing to her book. “You just need to go through it.”
She looked at the old man, and he smiled upon her in kindness. Despite being completely insufferable, she found herself fond of him, and not a little grateful. The weirdness, she figured, would only continue on as she searched for her sister, but at least he spared the kindness to at least try and help her through it.
Casting a quick glance in the door’s direction, Lindsey turned, leaned down, and enveloped the little man in a hug.
“Oh,” he giggled, and she couldn’t help but smile as a result.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“I would say, any time, but there won’t be any more time between you and I, I’m afraid. Good luck, dear, I hope you find what you came here to find.”
She let him go, smiled at him, and walked to the door.
Stopping merely feet away, the door remained obstinately closed. Lindsey looked back over her shoulder at the old man, and he was nodding at her encouragingly while at the same time shooing her away with his ancient hands.
She looked down at the book, and then held it up towards the door. Large jets of steam hissed free from the corners and with a loud grinding noise, the gigantic gears all around it began to turn slowly. Metal moving against metal squealed out loud enough to force Lindsey to cover her ears, and with a mighty groan, the door slid open.
There was only a brief moment’s hesitation, and then Lindsey stepped out into Journey’s End.