In front of the big green door standing at the helm of 13 Rue de la Presentation is an ornate wrought iron gate. Behind the big green door of 13 Rue de la Presentation is a tea-stained tiled corridor that leads to a set of wooden steps, which in turn lead to six floors. On every one of the six floors are four doors. Behind each of the four doors on all six floors are 24 worlds. And in each of these worlds, nothing is the same.
Over the threshold of Number 12, for example, where Mrs Considine lives, lays a tatty old rug spun from twine that is fraying in every possible part. Stepping over this will lead you to a bare brown table with nothing sitting on it other than an empty glass with a brown stain around the inside from Mrs Considine’s coffee. As a 58-year-old single woman, she swears she has no need for knickknacks cluttering up the place. Everything she owns has a function, such as the axe she keeps by her kitchen sink. But we’ll learn more about that later.
Let’s look into Flat C – for none of these worlds are named with any rhyme or reason – which is guarded by a grey, grubby door that’s as thick as a rhinoceros. But don’t be fooled by appearances, for it’s in fact as light as a feather. It’s made from an unbustable Bakelite and will open at the lightest touch. Be sure to keep your eyes closed, though, because the sunlight in Flat C is so bright, you need to protect your eyes before you can open them. Step in – eyes closed remember – and run your hands along the wall beside the door until you hit a shelf. On that shelf are lightshaders. They’re slim and small, with an elasticated strap like swimmers’ goggles. The rubber will feel too tight as you stretch it, but once on, you won't even notice them.
No, the first thing you'll notice is the sheer silence. Not a noise can be heard within Flat C, not the whisper of breath that leaves your lips, nor the beating of your heart. Try clapping – nothing. Shout. Nothing. Silence smothers this world.
Secondly, you'll realise that there’s nothing around you but rolling green hills. Look down, place your fingers in the thick grass and search for a blue piece of string, the kind you’d use for a washing line. Pick it up and work your way along it. One mile will pass, then another and you'll be tempted to stop for a rest, but don't. Human flesh can't take the exposure of this environment more than six hours at a time. Any longer and you’ll fizzle up and die like a foil crisp packet on a fire.
Mid way between mile two and three you'll meet a man. Well, as close to a man as any creature can be. Rollin is about as tall as a park bench and his personality is as rough as one. His features are flushed and cherub-like, and his dress sense is straight out of the sixteen hundreds – all tights, ribbons and capes. Some say he resembles a child in a Guy Fawkes costume, but don’t tell him that.
"Where the hell have you been?" he hisses upon spotting you. Dumbfounded, you stop walking. “Come on, there’s no time to waste,” grunts Rollin as he ushers you down some steps you swear weren’t there a second ago and quickly follows behind.
The stairs lead downwards through a dark tunnel onto a filthy, rain-soaked street that appears to have brown lumps strewn across it. Rollin barges past you and tugs you along by the hem of your shirt, past the scattered lumps, which on closer inspection you realise are old, paper McDonald’s bags. “Where am I?” You wonder, and as if reading your mind, Rollin says, “This is Flat C.”
The sunlight doesn’t reach the streets of Flat C, which lie in gloom beneath those beautiful hills. Here humans can at least survive, if not all that happily, for grey all the while won’t make for a smile. That’s not why Rollin is grumpy, though. He’s not even human, he simply has a disgruntled disposition.
“Why are there McDonald’s bags everywhere?” You ask Rollin. He stops suddenly and you bump into him. “What else is there?” He frowns. Then you frown and Rollin carries on tugging you down the street.
As you walk you glance around at the ashen world. It’s not quite night time, but there’s no sun either. Low, brick tenement buildings huddle against the narrow pavement. You try to peer through windows, but there’s too much scum lining them to see anything clearly. Some glow and others are dark. It’s outside one of these dark houses that Rollin now stops you. The door is regular size, but at a point just above your ankle sits a keyhole that Rollin bends to shove a Yale into. He turns a handle that’s a little higher than the lock, hops over the doorstep and starts scraping his ribbon-clad boots on a frayed mat.
Without the lights on it’s difficult to see where you are, but in silhouette you can just make out a table. Rollin flicks a switch in a plug socket and the lights come on. There’s Mrs Considine’s empty glass with a coffee stain, you note to yourself. “This isn’t bloody Mrs Considine’s flat,” snaps Rollin. ‘That motherfucker,” he spits. “This is MY house, but she keeps leaving her shit all over it.”
Rollin starts gasping for breath as he awkwardly rips off his thick little cape and takes a couple of puffs from a mini inhaler he pulls from his pocket. He scowls. You knit your brow in confusion.
Originally published in Shelf Heroes, Issue B.