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Aldous

She frames it like she saw on a TV show once, studs at sixteen inches, or anyway the breadth of two spread hands. Without sheetrock, she panels the walls in masonite, like an old movie set facade. You could tear it apart with any crude pry bar. Maybe one day somebody will.

It’s not quite square, the little room. When she looks it over she mostly sees the flaws. But it’s her own.

Aldous found two brass numerals, backstage: the number that comes after twelve. She tacks them to her door to nowhere, and opens it, and leaves the house behind.

Aldous

She feels the end of the world stroke her throat with fingers like truth and death. She swallows. A tear crawls down her cheek.

Aldous opens her burning eyes. The auditorium is empty. She is, as always, alone.

Backstage there are stacks of dusty pine, newspaper, buckets of nails; the thing about the theater is you’re always building something. It’ll take time to lug it up through her little trapdoor, but time she’s got.

One final thing her father showed her: you can’t just leave the house. You have to give it something. You have to build the last room yourself.

Aldous

Aldous puts the book back and walks to the next shelf, then pulls down another. Darren Darya Daryl Dashiell–wrong way. Two shelves back. Three. Ban Barathrum. Closer. Aldaea. Alder. Aldi.

Aniridia.

It’s a misplaced word. Aldous is certain her name should be there: Alejandro comes right afterward. Someone’s been messing with the order of things.

She replaces the slim volume. It’s not a name at all, is it? Greek roots: an, without, and then Iris, rainbow, messenger of the gods. But she never claimed to be getting their mail in the first place.

Aniridia leaves the library, determined and bound.

Aldous

The rule for solving a maze is this: put your shoulder to a wall and walk. This works less well for a maze with doors in it, but Aldous knows better than to try mapmaking. The rooms here don’t play fair.

The library, for instance, is stalking her. She keeps smelling it behind her, dust and wood acid and the cruel alchemy of glue. She doesn’t trust it, but it must be trying to tell her something.

She enters, finally, and pulls a book down expecting blank pages. Instead it’s full of handwritten names: Cording, Cordovan, Corey, Corinna, Corinne, Corwin, Cosette.

Aldous

Aldous begins to hurry, then to jog as she follows the yarn back toward the entrance–not rewinding the ball, just wadding it into her hands. She comes to the room with the chair in the corner and stops.

The yarn is cut.

The games one plays in dreams are never fair. Aldous grasps this knowledge hard, pulse pounding, as she stuffs the yarn back into her bag and turns away from the lie of its origin. She’s still not hungry. Her watch has stopped.

A labyrinth is a device for holding monsters. Aldous sets out to look for its heart.

Aldous

Aldous steps from a room empty and innocent into one that is not.

The walls are covered in gouges–no, she sees after a moment, hash marks in groups of five. A prison calendar (though the door has no lock). The corners are grimy, the smell strong. Rust runs in dark blobs down to the basin of the old water pump near the wall.

Aldous summons her times tables and tries to count the days: ten thousand? Tens of thousands. What happened here? She picks up a wadded paper from the corner and smooths out a child’s drawing of a cat.

Aldous

Inside are three more doors and a trap leading down. With the rising certainty of dreams, Aldous avails herself of the secret of Ariadne, and takes the ball of yarn from her bag. She was never going to finish that scarf anyway.

Room opens upon room; some are furnished, most bare. Windows hint at a dim moon, though she’s sure she shouldn’t see it in that many directions. The widely-spaced floorboards mewl beneath her weight.

It smells like dust and childhood. Unraveling her way through the labyrinth, Aldous remembers her father paint-stripping, bare-chested, a kerchief on his head.

Aldous

Once Aldous has made up her mind to leave the train at the next stop, it seems to be a long time in coming. They plunge into a tunnel, or so she assumes; but when the train brakes, she understands that the darkness is open and infinite. The platform floats in a pool of black.

But a decision is a decision. Aldous steps out into the glow of an old lamp, before a bench and a sign that just says 12.

There’s a door. As Aldous walks toward it, a moth pings feebly off the globe one more time, and falls.

Aldous

Swedes like to pretend the ghost train lives in Kymlinge, but you can see it anywhere: at Eureka, at Haxo, rushing past Bull and Bush and its moldering stacks of secrets. Its name is Silverpilen, and it’s both easy and impossible to catch. You just can’t board if you know what it is.

Aldous, unromantically, had her face in a paper when she embarked. She’s not sure how long she’s been riding it now; her watch dial spins, and she never hungers. She’d ask the conductor, but if it’s his voice on the intercom, she doesn’t want to see his mouth.

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