[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]
.It was the kind of weighty slab of wood I feared getting my fingers caught in, a real bone breaker; and as far as I could tell, it had no lock.Behind the door, a few feet back, a heavy black curtain.I pulled the door closed behind me and felt a bottomless twist in my gut, as if I’d sealed myself in a coffin and a gravedigger was about to start throwing dirt on top of me.I parted the curtain at the middle and stepped through, and saw a faint light overhead at the end of a long hallway.The hall reminded me of the ramp up out of the basement between the Bunker and Fort Eden, only it was shorter and tilting downward.There was a rail on either side, and on the sloping floor before me, grave black-and-white images.Looking down, I found that I was standing on a painting of Kino, the man from the book who’d found the pearl.He was floating down the floor in a canoe, his back to me.Farther away, there he was again, smaller in the distance, and again smaller still under a pale bulb of light at the end of the hall.The way down had the appearance of a man floating away from something, or into something; it was hard to say what the meaning was.I held one of the rails and started walking, but stopped short at the sound of a distant whispering voice radiating from the deep.It sounded like someone was searching down the long hallways of my mind, trying to find me but failing.I snapped a picture of the floor with my Recorder, then put in my earbuds and played the sounds from the pond in my ears: splashing water, voices, birds, and wind in the trees.The whispering fell away in the forest and I walked, pulling up my dark hood.The ramp leveled out at the bottom, where a black-and-white image of Kino painted on one side of an elevator door stood staring at me.In one hand he held the pearl, dripping with water or blood, I couldn’t say which.In his other hand he held the standing canoe, the top of which was cut off by the top of the elevator.To the right of the elevator door, a glowing orange button with a down arrow.Am I really doing this? I asked myself, my finger hovering over the gleaming round button.What if the door opens and it’s a shaft a hundred feet deep? I could fall in.Or worse, what if Rainsford is standing inside and I’m caught? What if he grabs me and pulls me into a room and shoves a helmet on my head? Then what?I tapped my Recorder off and found that the whispering had stopped.Dead silence as the painting of Kino, a big man with a face like stone, stared at me.His face did not say one thing or another, not Follow me or Turn back, you fool.It was a vacant stare, like the decision had already been made and could not be unmade.I willed myself to push the button.When the doors opened, I saw a small square window dead center against the back wall, a black zero painted on the stone behind it.I leaned my head inside a wood-paneled elevator and was relieved to find both an UP and a DOWN button.At least it goes both ways.If I go down, I should be able to come back up again.I stepped inside; and as the doors began to move in from both sides, the whispering started again.This time I had a harder time telling my thumb to touch the button of my Recorder, filling my head with sounds.The voice was hypnotic; it felt as if it was digging.It was trying to get inside.I spun the dial to a song I’d downloaded weeks ago and had heard a hundred times already: I wanna be adored, which I fast-forwarded into deafening guitar and vocals.When I looked up, the doors to the elevator had closed and I was moving.I pushed the UP button over and over, but it had no effect.I was going down to the very bottom whether I liked it or not.The inside of the elevator doors were painted, too, but Kino was gone.His canoe lay smashed against the rocks, broken into pieces.As the elevator moved down into the depths of Fort Eden, I wondered how deep I was going.Fifty feet, a hundred? The song played through and I started it again before the ride was over and the doors slowly began to open.I held them open but didn’t leave the safety of the elevator; outside the floor slanted downward, going deeper still.Kino and his canoe were gone, replaced by a floor of dirt and stone.It smelled of cold earth, a smell of being buried alive.The door didn’t act as an elevator door should, pushing against my hand every few seconds like a mouth trying to shut.I took my hand away and the doors held, waiting, it seemed, until someone pushed the UP button.“These are the rooms,” I whispered, though I couldn’t hear my own voice over the music.Outside my head, beyond the noise, the whispering voice would draw me deeper still, until the helmet was on my head and I was screaming.No thanks, I think I’ll pass.I ventured a foot against a flat stone outside, then another; and without really thinking about it, I found that I’d stepped out of the elevator and into the realm of rooms.“Ben’s,” I said, turning to my right first and then to my left.“And Kate’s.”I kept the music playing but snapped pictures as well: the walls, the doors.On Ben’s side a mural of bugs, like gothic graffiti or a paisley tie gone completely insane, and on Kate’s the same style of artistry, only swirling scalpels and drills and saws.I looked inside Ben’s blue room, where soft light bathed the chair in which he’d sat.Leaning inside the other room, I saw purple walls and the barber’s chair.The floor was flat in the rooms, unlike the one in the deeply sloping stone hall I stood in, which made the whole place feel like a crooked house at a badly run-down theme park.There was no sign of a wired helmet in either room; it was as if I’d dreamed the helmets’ existence from the start.On each of the doors, a square and a number, stenciled like I’d seen in the rooms with Dr.Stevens’s monitor.Ben’s door: number 1.Kate’s door: number 2.Beyond the two rooms, at the end of a short hall, was another thick black curtain.I pushed it aside gently and peeked through.Two more rooms, two more walls, and yet another curtain at the far end.I knew by what was painted on the walls that the rooms were for Connor and Alex.I snapped pictures of the mysteriously painted walls and the doors marked with a 3 and a 4.I didn’t need to go any farther, as the entire basement mapped itself out in my mind: there would be six rooms, three on each side of the hall, separated in pairs by dark curtains leading down, down, down.But I kept going anyway, drawn into the farthest depths of Fort Eden by what felt like a pure, malevolent force.Through the last hallway curtain I found a wall on my right covered with a painting of giant, swirling mushrooms and a locked door stenciled with a number 5.It had to be Marisa’s room, but the image made no sense at all.The thought of her sitting in there with that helmet on made me angry, but it also made me wonder: could whatever happened in there actually cure Marisa? As twisted as this place was, was it my obligation to take that from her? Nothing I knew of Marisa led me to believe that mushrooms had anything to do with what she was afraid of.It was a mystery that threatened to draw me closer in, until I glanced across at the other side of the hallway and saw a door with the number 6 on it.The wall was utterly blank, which stood to reason.I had been ignored or forgotten.I wasn’t there.I was alone.There wasn’t anything they could paint on my wall, because no one knew me.Must feel nice, being invisible.No chores, I imagined Keith saying at the doorjamb of room number 6.For some reason, in my mind’s eye, a bead of blood was trickling down his nose.Come on, you’ll love it in here.They got Death-boxes galore.Go home, Keith! I don’t want you here.I shook the cobwebs from my head and dialed up the volume on the song.Staring at the door, I knew the truth: room number 6 was my room.Probably it would be empty on the other side, too, which is exactly how I planned to keep it.There was one more door, at the very end of the long hallway [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]