As I opened my mouth to respond the usual way, with a smart-mouthed comment, I noticed something strange out of the corner of my eye.
The room, at least what I could see from my prone position, looked like a movie set for the interior of the Titanic. Heavy on the gilt and chandeliers, and pictures of people on the wall that all looked as though they’d swallowed a live fish and it wasn’t agreeing with them. All that wasn’t the strange part, though. The fact that the wall seemed to be melting…was.
I glanced at the wall and back at the Woman, just as she clued in, and a string of that strange trickle-purr language spewed from her mouth…but this time it was more like ice cold white-water over jagged rocks as crows cawed above. She jumped to her feet, holding back another spate of coughing by sheer force of will, and began unbuckling, unlacing, and unlocking the restraints that held me to the table.
Meanwhile, I was watching with no little apprehension as more and more of the “scenery” softened, liquified, and slowly began to drift down the wall. No idea what was happening, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. As soon as I was able to sit up I quickly finished off the rest of the restraints, swinging my feet off the table…which promptly disappeared, along with all the other furniture in the room.
The Woman in Red was finally unable to hold back another racking cough, although this one was interspersed with what I had to assume was her version of some very unhappy language. I moved to her, just as the floor seemed to tilt under our feet, leaving us at about a five degree slant upwards, toward the double doors. Deciding to act on my lifelong philosophy that cowardice is the better part of saving your life, I attempted to scoop up the Woman to carry her to the door.
I say attempted, as she didn’t move an inch, and I felt as if I had attempted to pick up a smallish pick-up truck. Through the cough, she shook her head, and straightened, holding her hand out to me. “I appreciate the attempt, Mr. “Blake”…but the support of your strong shoulder is all I need at this moment.” I moved so that she could rest her arm across my shoulders…felt like a couple bags of cement…and together we headed uphill toward the door. Where the walls had reached a certain point in their slow slide I saw behind some what appeared to be dirt, complete with very confused worms and plant roots, and behind the others, closer to the door, very old brick work…strange thing is it was placed…sideways?
All this was glimpsed as I struggled to reach the door, with a very beautiful and -very- weighty Woman as a complication. But finally we made it, and stood looking out into the hallway for a good five seconds before I could close my mouth. The hallway…although it’d be more proper to call it a tunnel, as it was round on all “sides” but the floor…was packed completely full with the strangest crowd I’d seen in my life…and believe me, that’s saying something.
Some walked, some scampered, some flew…a few even seemed to swim through the air…and all the traffic went one way. Up. The floor had tilted yet more, until everyone was climbing at about a 25 degree angle…which was fine for the flyers and swimmers, but not so much for the others. Then I saw one of the flyers pick up one of the smaller…things…and carry it to the end of the hall, where it promply dissappeared and the flyer came back for another. A pair of swimmers scooped another straggler, a lumbering fellow who looked to’ve been built of driftwood, up into a modified chair-carry and swam “upstream”…although slowed somewhat by their burden.
Around this point I realized that in the seconds that I’d been staring, the “floor” had tilted yet again, to an even steeper angle, and hurriedly waded out into the flow with the Lady. Startled by my own thought, I rewound and re-examined it, then turned to look at the object in question. Yeah, what my brain had instinctively recognized was a fact. This was not a Woman, or even the Woman…this was The Lady. Not that her appearance had changed any, or any other part of her…but every fibre of my body knew that this wasn’t someone to be fantasized about, or even casually admired…she was suddenly projecting an aura of majesty that I can’t say I’d ever felt before…or since, to be honest.
I carried/supported her out onto the sloped floor…and a movement out of the corner of my eye signaled the full collapse of the room we’d just left, leaving the door behind us looking down into a seemingly endless fall of black, rimmed with bricks and dirt until the light cut off the view. Gulping, I moved a bit further up the slope, as the crowd around us grew thinner and thinner, slowing to a trickle of the slower swimmers and flyers…and us. At this point the floor was tilting a few degrees every thirty seconds or so, leaving me struggling to carry Her cough-racked form a few feet at a time, pushed from behind by a small crowd of the…things who’d stayed behind for just this reason.
Suddenly, the weight on my shoulders disappeared, and I turned, startled, to see the Lady turn toward the tunnel wall and punch her right hand straight through, panting with effort. Turning back towards us…myself and the few flyers/swimmers left…she spoke, softly, in her strangely intriguing language. There was a distressed sounding reply from the group behind me, and her next statement was sharp, again very much a command.
With another distressed babble, and a few of them taking turns to duck out from basically holding me upright to touch her face, or clothes, or just press some unnameable part of themselves against her, we began to move upward again. I didn’t resist, as it was obviously her wish, so her voice from behind caused me to jerk in surprise and look back. “Thank you…Jake. I appreciate what you tried to do more than I can say. We -will- see each other again…I promise. After all, we still have to have that little chat!”
She laughed, lightly, once more the Woman in Red…until the floor began to tilt once again, and she called out urgently to the little ones who began to push harder. As I watched, she turned and punched her other fist into the brick wall, until she appeared to be embracing it…and then she was lost from sight as without her weight the flyers almost threw me up the tunnel.