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Five
The Hallway


Madgelie and Alfred sat in front of the house, taking a much needed break. It had taken some time, but their camp was functioning smoothly. Madgelie eyed a few men as they moved supplies into the tents that had been set up.

“Do you want to try getting in the house again?” she said.

“It seems pointless to keep trying. The door won’t even budge,” he replied.

“Molly’s parents haven’t arrived yet. I think Molly’s father still hasn’t woken up from when he fainted last night,” Madgelie said. Alfred chuckled.

“I don’t know what’s going to come. I really don’t know if Eliza made the right call in sending those kids in,” he said.

“I have to agree. There had to be another way,”

“There must be a way in somehow.”

They both fell silent.

“Is there a back door?” she asked.

“Sealed shut.”

“Windows?”

“Couldn’t pry them open. All projectiles are ineffective.”

She sighed and puffed air through her teeth. The only course they had now was to blow a hole in one of the walls. They didn’t know what would happen if they did. It wasn’t an ordinary house, there were a great deal of untold risks.

“Hello, my favorite students,” Elizabeth called. The two friends diverted their gaze to their teacher. She waved and they only stared.

“My son in law just woke up. I think he’ll be fine. My daughter is a bit confused still. But they’ll be here later this afternoon,” she explained. Madgelie nodded.

“How are you, Alfred?” Elizabeth asked, sitting on the steps with them.

“I’m worried about my brother. He’s not a people person. I can’t imagine how he’d interact with someone closer to his age,” he told her.

Madgelie smirked, “I’m curious to know how well he’s getting along with the younger girl with them.”

“The little one may frustrating to him, but for the most part she won’t interact much,” Elizabeth said.

“What’s going on in that house, Eliza?” Alfred asked.

“I can’t say for certain. I’m still trying to sort out the details of it myself. One thing is certain: time can’t run linearly inside at all. It jumps forward, back, sometimes it stops, sometimes it goes much too fast or too slow. Most notable are the jumps,” Elizabeth explained. “Clocks will never read the same time. Every time you look away, the time will jump.”

“Will their aging be affected?”

“I’m not sure. I doubt it. It would be like traveling to the future, you don’t age as you travel despite the fact that time moves so drastically.”

“No one’s ever traveled though time. The whole time stream experiment is the whole reason we’re here in the first place,” Madgelie said. “Unless you found out how to travel through time before we did.”

“Which means you didn’t disappear to a place these few years you disappeared to a time,” Alfred added.

“I’ll explain soon. In the mean time, let’s wait for my daughter and her husband,” Elizabeth said, dodging the question.

The three looked up at the clouds still as a stone ceiling. Madgelie wondered what all this would mean in the long run. Did these children have the keys to getting rid of the monster? Madgelie had hoped that she could save her people, but she’d accept any help she could get.

-

Molly and Gringolet were very quiet, much to Gilbert’s relief. Molly was sketching Gringolet’s portrait and he wished to allow her to concentrate on drawing. The lull in conversation made it much easier for Gilbert to think. He ran the gamut of his knowledge through his brain. He slid off the seat and began to pace. He regretted this move almost instantly. Both Molly and Gringolet turned to him expectantly.

“Is everything all right Gilbert?” Gringolet asked. Molly got off from the chair she was sitting in and went to his side.
Gilbert didn’t look at her right away and she grabbed his arm, “Are we going to die?”

He tore his arm away from her grasp and put his hand on her shoulder and pushed her back a little.

“I need some space please,” he said in a bit of a monotone. “Give me your grandfather’s pocket watch.”

She rushed over to the chair where she left her coat and reached into its pockets. She took out the watch and put it in his hand. He opened it and glanced at the time: ten fifty five. He looked away and then focused on the watch’s face again. Six thirteen. He snapped the watch shut and handed it back to her.

“Well, what did you figure out?” she asked.

“I don’t know how we’ll be affected. I don’t know what any of this means,” he replied. “Both the creature and this house deal with time, but in two very different ways. One traveled through time and one…I don’t even know how to describe what this place is.”

“So, do you think we’ll age in here?” she asked.

He shook his head, “It doesn’t seem so. I can’t tell whether or not the clocks are jumping forward or if they’re jumping back or if they’re doing both. One thing’s for sure. We have to explore the house.”

“How can we do that? We already established that we can’t leave this room,” Molly said as she crossed her arms.

“We only tried one way,” he said. “Maybe the girl—” Molly coughed and he rolled his eyes. “Maybe Lucinda could help us,” he finished. Molly nodded.

“Until she wakes up again,” Gilbert continued walking toward the door. “I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do.”

Molly stood some distance away and watched him as he opened the door. He kicked his foot at the force field tentatively.

“This isn’t like the force fields that the MSA has. It’s much cruder and maybe…I’ve got an idea,” he said, thinking out loud. He walked over to Gringolet and the bael lifted his head.

“Yes, Gilbert?” Gringolet began.

“Do we have any arrows tipped with dark matter? Madge said she’d have Al make more.”

“He made some and put a few in your quiver,” Gringolet answered. Gilbert grinned and took out his quiver and bow.

“Molly, you and the girl¬––I mean Lucinda––get behind Gringolet,” he instructed. “I’m not sure how this force field will react to dark matter.”

Molly picked up Lucinda and carried her behind Gringolet’s large body. The bael curled around them, extending a wing over their heads. Gilbert put on his helmet and pulled his goggles over his eyes. He readied his bow and slowly pulled back on his string. He released the arrow and it sailed straight for the field. It went through, cracks clearly showing in what seemed like empty space. He readied another arrow and shot again. More cracks. He pulled out one more arrow and shot. This time, the field broke and bright light filled the room. What remained of the field dissolved away, leaving all three arrows lying on the wooden floor. Gilbert’s mouth hung open when he saw what lay beyond the doorjamb.

“Gilbert, is it safe?” Gringolet asked. Gilbert forced his breathing to become even.

“You can let them out, but don’t them leave the room yet,” Gilbert said. Gringolet uncurled and lifted his wing. Molly carried Lucinda back to the couch, but kept stealing glances back at the door. Gilbert picked up his arrows, but looked cautiously out at the surroundings. The tiled foyer they walked through to get to the drawing room was gone. No, it’s not gone, but it’s quite altered, he thought. The tiles were overgrown with grass and moss. The sky was grey above their heads, but it was mostly shielded from view by a large, knobby tree whose trunk blocked the way to the center staircase. Vines splayed across the walls and fungus grew in corners and crevices.

Despite the indication that they were exposed to the outdoors, there was not a sound. There were no chirps of birds, no rustling animals, not even the creep of insects. Not even the air seemed to move. It was as though everything were waiting, hoping some predator would pass them by.

“Gilbert…” Gringolet said from beyond the doorway. Gilbert held his hand out to silence him. His eyes darted to either side and he readied to strike with his bow should anything move. Satisfied that at least Gringolet would be safe, he motioned for him to come out.

“Stay behind, Molly,” Gringolet said. The scrape of Gringolet’s claws on the broken tiles made Gilbert ease up a bit.

“What happened?” he asked. Gilbert shrugged as he scanned the canopy of leaves above them.

“Let’s find out,” he said. He walked back to where Molly was peering.

“Is it safe?” she asked.

“I think so. It’s far too still for there to be any life around save the tree,” he said. Molly swallowed.

“I’m going to get my jacket,” she said. “It’s a little chilly out there.”

He watched her pull on her coat absently. He was far more interested in what happened to the entrance hall. It had to be tied to the jumps in time, he just didn’t know how yet.

“Here,” Molly said and held his coat to him. He lowered his chin and took it from her. He put on his coat as Molly walked over to Lucinda.

“Should we leave her here like this?” she asked.

“She’s safer than we are,” he replied. “You can stay behind if you want.”

Molly pushed past him and headed out the door. She joined Gringolet and looked back at him. Gilbert joined them and patted Gringolet’s neck. The three joined in the nervous silence that gripped the area. The hallway was short and led to what would have been a large open foyer with a wide staircase. The room now seemed crowded with the thick tree trunk and cluttered with roots and patches of grass. The front door was right in front of them as they came to the foyer and Gilbert tried to open it. He shook his head.

“No use, it’s locked,” he said.

“Well, you should be able to shoot it open,” Molly said. “Use the dark matter arrows to break the lock.”

Gilbert didn’t like the idea, and this fact showed clearly on his face, but he decided to try it anyway. There were no other obvious alternatives.

“Take cover behind Gringolet,” he said. Molly did as before and Gringolet curled his body around her. Gilbert pulled his goggles over his eyes and aimed for the lock. He released an arrow and as soon as it hit the lock, a bright light filled the room and a strong wind knocked Gilbert off his feet. Gringolet curled tighter around Molly. She stood up slowly, her usual neat bob now way out of place. Gilbert had been closest to the force and he sat up slowly, trying to regain his composure.

“What was that?” Molly asked, kneeling beside Gilbert.

“I can’t see,” he said in a calm voice. Molly let out a cry and gripped his shoulders.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” she said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m blind. Do you think I’m okay?”

“Molly meant to ask if you were otherwise injured,” Gringolet said coming to his side.

“I hit my arm pretty hard, but that should only be a bruise. I wouldn’t worry about my eyes too much. I was wearing my goggles,” he said. “I should be able to see in a few hours.”
Molly sighed in relief.

“Can you put my bow away?” he asked. “If the arrow is still there, don’t touch it.”

She took his bow and put it in the bag she had seen him take it out of before. Molly then rushed over and helped him up.

“Let’s hold off on the exploring until you get your sight back,” she said.

“I think for once I can agree with you on something.”

He placed both his hands on her shoulders as they walked back to the drawing room. While he sounded calm, he was quite worried. It had been ages since Gilbert trusted his well being to a stranger who was not a professional of some sort. He had no options now, so he grit his teeth and let her lead.

-

Gilbert stayed up most of the day as they all sat in the drawing room. Molly started a fire and Gilbert sat on the couch. He looked down at his lap, trying to make out shapes. It had only been an hour, and he could see light and shadows but he couldn’t make out anything distinct. He heard Molly’s footsteps draw closer.

“Are you hungry?” she asked, her voice softer than usual.

“Not really,” he said.

“Well, tell me when you are,” Molly said. He leaned back and sighed. What Professor Eliza had said about eating when you were hungry finally made sense to him; if they waited until a certain time to eat, they would eat either too often or not enough because the clocks would be unreliable. With no way of telling time, since there was no sun to indicate the passage of the day, they were unable to judge just how long they had been there. All Gilbert knew was he was awake for a few hours and he was tired.

“Are you sleepy?” Molly asked.

“Stop doting over me like I’m a child. I’m all right,” he said.

“Is that so? If I threw something at you right now, could you dodge or catch it?”

He didn’t answer and she didn’t elaborate.

“I’ve done just fine by myself before,” Gilbert said. “I don’t need you coming in and acting like you can mother me to death.”

Gringolet growled, “Stop complaining. You are blind. You do not have to be a motherly person to know that someone who cannot see well and is not used to it needs a little help.”

Gilbert folded his arms and scowled.

“Fine, I won’t ask you about anything anymore,” Molly said. “But you can ask me if you need help. Is that fair?”

Gilbert nodded, but his expression didn’t change. Molly walked away, and he could hear her getting a can out of one of the bags to eat.

“Well, I’m hungry and tired. So I’m going to eat and then go to sleep, all right?” she said.

“Why are you telling me this?” he said. Molly snarled. Gilbert knew if he was dealing with himself right now, he’d be ready to throw a can at his head. Thankfully if that was what she felt like doing to him, she stopped herself. Gilbert heard her eating, her spoon clicked lightly against the metal of the can. Molly’s chewing was quiet, he could barely make it out, but he heard her swallowing a bit clearer. Her spoon clanged inside the empty can when she was finished. He heard her drinking water from one of the canteens shortly after. Molly was rather silent until Gilbert heard her sniff. She was crying. He raised his head in her direction; she was just across from him.

He made no move to comfort her. Instead he stared blankly at her silhouette.

“I’m scared. I’m really scared…” she said. “I want my parents. I want to get out…”

He balled his fists and bowed his head. He missed the input his brother would have in such a situation. How did one deal with a flighty girl inside a house in which time did not run in a linear fashion? He heard Gringolet lumber over to Molly. His scaly body rested on the ground. Molly slid off of the couch, dropping her can and sobbed into Gringolet’s side (Gilbert assumed. It sure sounded like that happened).

Gilbert sat there for what seemed like an eternity listening to her cry, and as her sobs got less and less frequent, he heard her breathing even. She had fallen asleep and he was hungry. He could wake her up, but for some reason he felt bad doing so. His stomach growled and he sighed.

“Well now what do I do?” he mumbled leaning back and slouching, devoid of energy. He heard someone yawn. Lucinda.

“That lady is asleep,” she said. “And I’m hungry. And you’re hungry too, aren’t you?”

He looked in the direction of her voice and nodded. He could hear her bare feet against the wood. She was going through the supply bag and handed him a box.

“Dried fruit is better. It’s not messy,” she said. The two ate in silence. Not more than a few minutes later, he heard a can drop on the floor and heard blankets shifting. The girl was asleep again.

Gilbert was drained. He strained to see clearer, to no avail. He couldn’t do much more than wait. He sat, carefully going through the day’s events. The main entrance way seemed to have undergone a major change since they were last there. Had that much time passed since they came?

No, of course not. At least not naturally, he thought. Maybe the exact moment I broke the force field was quite some distance in the house’s future.

He had to know what that meant for the rest of their stay in the house. A stiff cold breeze blew in from the hall. He felt around for a blanket, and before he fully pulled it around himself, he fell asleep.
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