Originally when I looked into the whole idea of turning the story into a book, I wasn’t really sure how long it was going to take to write – or at one stage, how long it was going to be.There was a point where I really needed to start wrapping things up, though didn’t know precisely how it was meant to be.
There’s a few elements that don’t get explained in the course of the story, perhaps something that could be worked on if I ever return to the setting. At this stage, it’s a standalone for my wife, complete in the story it tries to tell.
Darkness enveloped her as she touched the bottom, and even the way above was dark. Her arms fumbled for Avery, or something else she could hold onto.
“A trap. Come on Grace, you’re smarter than this.”
“Just wait” said Avery, somewhere to the left of her.
Seconds felt like an age. A new form of dinosaur could have risen, ruled the earth, and gone into extinction in the time it took for shapes to be seen through the darkness.
The moderate buzz of the city had disappeared, but the mysterious ticking noise had continued.
“Why is it so dark here?” she asked.
Her own breathing dominated the information her own senses gave her. That and the pressure of her teeth against nervous lips. She could start to spot lines in the shadow. Sharp angles of grey, set against the backdrop of an even darker grey.
“There. Come on,” said Avery.
“Is that it?”
He paused. “But it’s fine.”
“Not even close. You have a window, to let a little sun in?”
“UV” he said.
“No, no. It’s the light. You can’t see this spectrum.”
“And you can?” asked Grace.
She could hear his smile, even thought she couldn’t see it.
“One moment. Just wait.”
Grace sighed. She’d heard that one a long time ago. Seconds were finally seconds again, and the enclosure flickered to full brightness.
The walls were as white as flushed porcelain, though Grace hoped it was the only similarity. They seemed to radiate light, and it was impossible for her to tell where the corners of the room began. The white continued away from her, enough to tell that there was a corridor, and at its edge, a crimson frame.
Avery paced forward, stopped, and then back to her. “Miss Tamlyn. Do you read?”
“Books, poetry, fortune cookies. Are you a reader?”
She shrugged. “What’s your position on messages?”
He paused. “E-mails.”
He shook his head, and turned to face the crimson edge of the corridor. “I don’t know if you’re ready. The mind adapts, but can it create.”
“If there’s something weird, I’m fine with it. I’ve seen a lot of movies.”
Avery nodded at her, and gestured forward. “Reflections of the upper. Not the same. We’ll work with it. Will manage. I’ll take it slow. Needn’t be hasty.”
“You said we didn’t have time.”
“We don’t, but we’ll get it soon.”
Avery stepped toward the edge, and the slick black jumpsuit that Grace was sure he was in began to seem purple. She followed after him, despite the lack of sense about him, or the place they were in.
The crimson surface at the edge peeled around them as they moved forward, until Grace was no longer in that initial room, but somewhere else. A small dark alcove opened, extruded past another white wall, revealing a clunky silver gear, and a crank against it.
“Okay,” said Grace. “So you have a machine somewhere. Or a clock.”
Any semblance of a smile on Avery’s face dissolved into a look of injured pride. “Is it… the lighting again?”
Grace shook her head, “I don’t think so.”
“So? Can’t you see it?” He paused for a moment, running every possibility through his head. “Isn’t it amazing?”
“Okay, tell me what you see.”
“There’s a crank. It’s attached to a gear.”
“Yes, yes. And?”
She gave him a look that implied she wasn’t sure what he was suggesting. “There’s a wall.”
Avery sighed. It was all progressing with the dignity of a conga-line, and at the very same speed. He opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it, and then started fishing through his pockets.
“I guess it’s a little impressive,” said Grace, moving closed to the man. “This little part opened on its own. That’s something.”
“I’m going too fast, aren’t I.”
“No. No, I don’t think that’s it. At all.”
Avery raised an eyebrow at her, and she mouthed the words again. At all. Defeat was admitted with a nod, but it didn’t address the problem.
She looked at the instruments again. “So, the crank. We turn it, right?”
Avery managed a nod.
“I’ll cut it,” offered Grace. “I’ll cut the judgement for now, and let you demonstrate it anyway.”
“Not me. You.”
“Because you know how to.”
Grace put both of her hands on the crank and pushed. The gears were stiff, and the tightness rallied against her like a stubborn tap. A grunt accompanied her second push, and only then did the device begin to move in concert with her efforts.
After a few rotations, Avery nodded his head. “That should be enough.”
She took a step back, standing beside him once again. She was set to ask what might happen now, when she heard something.
A click. Then another.
The wall behind the gears began to fade, losing their opacity and revealing uncertain shapes. It was just another gear to begin with, and then the axle that it spun on. She could see a glow, bright green, emanating from that second piece of the machine.
There were other pieces. Cogs, some seemingly made of coloured glass, and each possessing a glow like the first.
Then, there was the tree.
A stoic elm that didn’t fit. It didn’t belong amongst the machinery, yet they were connected. Grace noticed a peculiarity amongst the rich green foliage- a single yellow leaf. Solitary, and changing. The clunking of turning gears continued, and with each one she heard came a faint shift in the leaf’s colour. Gradual at first, it went through orange and into fiery red, and then ultimately faded to brown.
The ticks were slowing now, and the gap between them grew. The final one sounded with a shallow clunk, echoing around the room. With it, the leaf broke from its branch, floating to the ground.
“Okay. That was something, but an awful lot of build-up for something that small. So is this the part where you ask me to invest?”
“What?” asked Avery.
“Where I throw my money in for this… whatever it is.”
“This is not a joke.”
Grace nodded, a guilt-ridden smile on her lips. “Okay. Let’s start again. Why am I here?”
Avery waved a hand toward the tree, “That is why.”
“For a leaf?” she asked.
“What? No… no, of course not. That would be ridiculous.”
Grace raised both of her hands away from her chest, “All the leaves?”
“No, it’s for the… “
“Trees. It’s got to be the t-“
“It’s not the only crank!” interrupted Avery.
She stared at him for a moment, and then rolled the creaks out of her neck. “You need to calm yourself, Mr Knox,” she said, the personality reflexes of her profession taking over for a moment.
“I’m trying,” stammered Avery, “I’m trying to give you the quickest version I can without losing you in the process.”
“Give me the lot. I’m a quick study.”
A bouncing ball, a dripping tap, and the slow melt of an ice-cube were Avery’s best attempts at a rush through what he wanted to show. Each ran under the same concept of a crank, an arrangement of gears, and an implausible demonstration of cause and effect.
“Look, Knox? Pal? I understand what you’re showing me – got that fine, but I’m not so clear on what the point of these little magic tricks are.”
He scratched at the back of his neck and nodded, “I’m getting there.”
“My next birthday’s doing the same.”
“I stopped counting mine after one hundred. There’s a lesson I’m trying to teach you.”
Grace stared at him with widening eyes, “I think we’ve established I know how to work one of your,” her hand flittered through the air, fingers dancing. “Things.”
“That’s good – you’ll need to.” Avery pulled back on the lining of his coat, and motioned for Grace to step forward. The only question is can you keep up?”
“I can do it. Whatever you’ve got waiting.”