Printed from WriteWords -

The Gateway - Ch 2

by  ChrisCharlton

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2003
Word Count: 1797
Summary: Chapter 2, the updated short version - thanks to Terry especially for his feedback.

Chapter 2 - Surprising encounters.
Stars, spinning, flashing, blinded him. Then they were gone.
Josephs eyes opened wide. He was no longer in the wood. He was in a large, round room with smooth, grey non-reflective walls. Soft white spotlights in the ceiling provided a warm light from above. There was one huge, ancient looking bookcase against the wall in front of him - but that wasn't what grabbed his attention, or the attention of Daniel who was standing just in front of him.
Sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose on an enormous tasselled cushion was perhaps the strangest creature he had ever seen in his life. He looked like a huge, multi-coloured troll. He was amazingly ugly; his face was all lumpy as if it were covered in warts. His long nose was sharply pointed and when the creature moved his head (which he did now to look at Joseph) the tip of it quivered and wobbled back and forth, as if it possessed a life of its own.
The creature was clothed in the strangest assortment of multi-coloured clothes and hangings, all draped artfully about, around and on top of him, apparently at random. There were tassels and frills, patterns, stripes and spots. He was an explosion in a paint factory: the mother of all late night cheese-eaters dreams. And the whole thing was topped off, like a cherry on a bun, with the strangest looking cake-like hat that you could imagine. It was composed of layers, one loosely flopping onto another, with icing-like folds of bright pink material topping it all off. Tassels of gold dangled at intervals around the edge, and a silver bobble was 'tastefully' positioned in the centre. Staring at it – and it was the kind of thing which did demand a good, hard stare – Joseph couldn't see how it could possibly stay upright.
The creature moved. A mouth yawned from the bottom of the creatures' over-sized head, to display an amazing number of perfectly white and ordinary looking teeth. It smiled broadly, little beady eyes twinkling merrily.
And then it spoke.

"Explorers? Adventurers? Excellent!" Out of that huge, bizarrely dressed creature, came a deep, yet surprisingly soft and cultured voice. "I do always look forward to meeting new and stimulating people. Please, be comfortable." He gestured behind them.
“Eeep!” exclaimed Joseph. Behind him on the ground was another huge cushion like the one the troll was sitting on, only this one was red with green stripes. He was sure it hadn’t been there before. Daniel also looked surprised, but did look relieved to see Joseph beside him.
Automatically – they were both still in shock - the boys settled themselves onto the cushion; it was actually rather comfortable. There was a moment’s silence as the troll appraised the boys, and somewhat nervously, the boys appraised him back.
"Well, let's not be shy. Shall we begin with introductions? Yes? Then I will go first. My name is Cromwell. I am the Door Warden. And you two young gentlemen are?" His eyebrows rose and with an amused smile he peered intently at the two boys.
“My name is Daniel", blurted Dan in a rush, his shock beginning to fade. "And this is my brother, Joseph. Where are we, please, and who are you? And what's a Door Warden, if you don’t mind me asking?" With the immediate shock now wearing off, both boys were beginning to look around them. Joseph was still gripping his stick, his knuckles white with the unconscious effort.
Cromwell's smile broadened and he bowed slightly from the waist. "Delighted to meet you both, I'm sure."
"Where you are? Well, right here of course. More precisely I would hazard a guess that what you meant to say was 'where is here?’ Now that is a much harder question for me to answer! As to who I am? Perhaps you also meant to ask 'what I am?'" He smirked, looking as if he was enjoying himself.
“Lets start with where 'here' is. This” said Cromwell, waving vaguely around the room, “is not, strictly speaking, a place at all. It is a place between places, the gap that separates one place from another. Think about it - if you go from one room to another, then first you are in one room, and then you are in the other. But for the briefest of instants you are in neither the first room nor the second - you are in between. That is where you are now. But instead of being between rooms, you are between worlds - universes, if you prefer. This is the Gateway – a doorway between worlds."
And then Cromwell paused and the smile faded. "But you surely know all this, or how else would you have come to be here in the first place?" His expression became thoughtful and his eyes narrowed.
“A short test, I think,” he said after a brief ponder. “Look at this, boys.”
He raised a hand, extended two fingers in a most peculiar gesture, and gestured three times, seemingly drawing a shape or symbol in the air.
The boys gasped and leaned backwards. A faint blue glow had appeared on the tip of each of the troll's outstretched fingers. The symbol he was drawing was becoming visible as a faint afterglow in the air. The brothers watched, fascinated as the glow gradually brightened. Then Cromwell said something - a word or just a sound maybe - it came too quickly for either of the boys to recognise, and the blue glows separated from Cromwell's fingers, split, and flashed towards the boys heads. Then vanished.
“Yaaa!” exclaimed each boy as their heads instinctively jerked backwards, but nothing else seemed to happen. Everything was as before, except Cromwell was staring at them intensely. A moment later, each boy began to feel the most peculiar thing.
It started like a warm breath on the backs of their necks. This developed into an almost indescribable tickling moving up their heads, but inside their skulls, rather than out on the skin or through their hair. It wasn't painful or even uncomfortable; just very, very strange. It was almost as though someone or some thing was inside their heads, rummaging around. It made the boys want to twist around and look behind, or even inside themselves.
After his initial surprise, Daniel had a terrible urge to do something about it. It was like an itch that had to be scratched. After a moment of mental twisting and twitching, he seemed to find what was itching - which he then promptly scratched! The itch vanished. Sound odd? He did something he couldn't explain; exercised an under-used muscle he didn’t know he had, and the itching went away. A couple of seconds later, Joseph's expression of concentration lifted as he did the same thing.
A look of incredulity, and perhaps even shock transformed Cromwell's face. The tip of his rubbery nose quivered.
"Well I never," said the troll slowly. He face had a serious expression as he continued. "I am surprised: shocked even, and that does not happen often."
"This is a very serious situation you are in, my lads. Very serious, and I am some judge, I assure you." He was talking slowly, taking particular care over his choice of words, "It seems to me that you are the unwitting victims of an elaborate plot, the purpose of which currently escapes me. But my nasty suspicion is you will not like what it is when you find out. No-one comes through here by accident, and no-one comes here for fun. I am disturbed, boys, disturbed.
“Tell me, have either of you boys any idea who could be behind this?”
“No,” spluttered Daniel, shocked. “We had gone for a walk in the countryside when we saw something in the woods.”
“You saw something, you mean,” Joseph interrupted.
“OK, I saw something. We followed and came to a tree with this big black oval embedded in it. We both touched it, and here we arrived. But how do you know it’s a plot?”
“And what kind of plot could it be?” added his brother.
“As to how I know, well, I’m guessing much of it. But some I suspect from of my mind probe.”
“Mind probe?” asked Daniel, incredulously. The light dawned. “That tickling sensation and the blue lights!”
“Exactly!” stated the troll. “I should really apologise for the intrusion, but as it happens, it served a useful purpose. First, it showed me you weren’t sent here as a joke from my brother.” He had a slightly embarrassed look on his face. “We do tend to do such things to each other, just to relieve the monotony. I used the probe to see what he was up to – but it wasn’t him, not his style.
“Second, what shocked me is the way you boys shrugged it off so easily. You are not meant to be able to do that, boys. Well done! There is more to you two than meets the eye.”
“But was that magic?” interrupted Joseph. “What you did there – did you cast a spell or something?”
Cromwell laughed. “You might call it that, but I’d call it technology, even if it is somewhat more advanced than you are used to. It might as well be magic, though, as far as you are concerned.”
Dan looked impressed. “Wow!” he breathed, then looked suspiciously at Cromwell, “So you read our minds then?”
“No I didn’t, and that’s the point. I got enough to realise my brother was not involved – he sort of leaves a mental fingerprint – and then you kicked me out! Don’t worry,” the troll chuckled again, “you’re secrets are safe!”
“Can I ask a question, please?” said Joseph, tentatively.
“How do we get home again?”
“Ahh. Don’t worry – I can simply open another portal back to your world. You’ll be home very shortly, I can assure you”
Joseph looked relieved. He tapped his stick gently on the floor, head down, looking embarrassed. A large flake came off the end.
“But that does leave the question as to why you are here, doesn’t it?” continued the troll.
“Hmmm,” said Daniel, then he added, “but you didn’t really say what this place was, or who you were.” He looked around. “And you called this the Gateway – but where’s the Gate?” All around the walls were smooth and featureless.
“Ahh yes,” exclaimed Cromwell. “Your other questions.” He frowned. “In order to answer those, I’m gong to have to go back to the beginning, and I think the best place to start is with me. You asked who I am, and what a Door Warden was? Well listen and I will tell you.”