This is the second part of an ongoing serial. Here is Part One. Updates every two days.
Unlike the torture-room, which had been far too clean for anyone’s ill, the rest of the sorcerer’s house was in a rather shocking state of disarray. The corridor was longer than it had any right to be, and as Anne tramped along she realized that she was getting taller and shorter at intervals, as if her very bones were hopping. The doors beckoned on all sides, some smelling of fresh-baked pie, others of liquid manure. All were marked with signs she could not read.
“Just an effect of the interworld walkway,” said the sorcerer, still staring into the back of his hand. “I’m afraid we’ll be here a while.”
It was clear that he was trying very hard not to apologize. Anne gave him two marks for effort, then struck off ten for situational circumstances.
“This is your house,” she said. “Are you telling me that you have a corridor in your own house which takes years to cross?”
“Decades, actually,” said the sorcerer, “assuming we move at our current rate. I had them install the standard walkway. I’m doing my best to insert a new door at a place closer to our current location, one that might just lead you to your room, but I’m a bit out of practice, so…”
“And there’s no way that you can get us there faster with your magic?”
“That would require you to know my name,” said the sorcerer, twiddling.
Anne shoved her hands back into the pockets of her sky-blue dress and kept on stomping. It was all she could bring herself to do, really. For all her bluster, the corridor scared her. Sorcery scared her. She’d never seen so many doors in her entire life, not even in the All-Shrine, and the thought that they could lead anywhere at all…
Her Ma never talked about Aunt Mattie. They’d been the closest in years and spirit, out of all Gramps and Grandmaw’s kids, and when Aunt Mattie’d disappeared Ma had nearly cried herself to death. It was why Uncle Matt had searched for as long as he had. He’d sworn he’d bring her back.
How had he found this place? What had he said to this pale sallow man, the sorcerer with eyes like blood and skin like milk? What had Aunt Mattie done?
Oh, she was quiet as a mouse, our Mattie. Such a good girl, always saying sorry for something or another… I wish she’d never been taken.
But Uncle George had always been too bold, too ready to say what he really felt, to bare his heart on his burly arm. The Gentilberry rule was this: you never talked about Aunt Mattie. Ever. Not in the farmhouse, not in the fields, not by the river, not anywhere. And especially not in front of Uncle Matt, not unless you wanted to see his soul shatter again, right in front of you.
But things unsaid were just like tapeworms - you could ignore them all you wanted, but in the end they were still there, inside. Wriggling. She knew that. No-one ever tried to comfort Ma.
Anne rubbed her eyes, suddenly aware that her gait had slowed to a pensive walk. She’d known about Aunt Mattie ever since she was ten, when Bryce and Lou had taken her up into the attic and whispered it to her, all solemn-like, hands cupped around their cousin’s ears. She’d never been so close to the truth until now.
“Mr. Sorcerer?” she asked.
“Almost there,” said the sorcerer, giving his fingers one last wiggle. “Just one minute…”
“What was Aunt Mattie like?”
The sorcerer blinked, then closed his hand. A square of rainbow light appeared along the wall, then spread, turning itself into the bright shadow of a door.
“She was a marvelous woman,” he said. “I tried very much to love her.”
Before Anne could so much as blink again, the sorcerer waved his hand and she found herself stepping through the door, marching through the threshold of rainbow light, into a space of gray and pink and the smell of fresh feathers.
There was someone there.