Chapter 7.1

4 0 0

We turned the wall of his bedroom into a map, taping up big sheets of artist's paper from an old class, shoving piles of books and unwashed dishes and dirty underwear and two scuffed snowboards out of the way to make room. He transferred our notebook sketches to the wall and we filled in the rest from memory. It was imperfect, because stairs down there ran up and down and the wall was flat, and also because the hallways twisted at weird angles and we didn't have surveying equipment to sort them out. But it was a start.

It was also painfully incomplete. There were dozens of doors we'd never tried, branches and halls we'd only glanced down. And almost everything we had seen split off from that single hall off the big room, the one we'd tried on a whim our first time down. Other than peering around the first couple corners, we hadn't explored the other four halls at all.

Niko swept a hand across all the empty space. "We're fucked."

"Look," I countered, "we know the other versions of us found a key, somewhere. And we also know the two sides are staying almost exactly in sync. Close enough to spill coffee the same way."

"Not close enough to leave the same fucking note."

"Still," I pressed on, "that means the key can't be too well-hidden. We could have almost found it, walked right past it. Maybe the only difference was a momentary decision about which door to go through, what wall to glance at."

"Doesn't matter." He stirred his coffee, morose, and sat it down to cool on his dresser, next to a half-empty older mug growing a skim of mold. "The other me already got to the key on this side and took it through with him. There's no key left to find."

"We don't know that. And besides, we have no idea what else might be down there. We need to keep looking."

He rubbed a hand through his hair, a familiar gesture, but he looked changed. His eyes were getting sunken, from lack of sleep or some more worrisome deficiency. His face, so often laughing, hadn't smiled in days.

"Synchronicity," he said. "That's the problem."

"How do you mean?"

"I think we're getting out of sync with them. Day by day, decision by decision, we're losing our lockstep. And the farther out of sync we drift, the harder it gets to go back."

"Speculation," I said, tired.

"And the deeper," he pressed on, "the deeper we'll have to go to find another way through."

"Bullshit." But I didn't have energy to argue with him. Clearly, we couldn't solve anything from up here. We needed to go back down. We had to fill in the blank spaces on that map.

Our first Expedition departed the next morning. With a capital E, Niko said, to show we were taking this shit seriously now. We had backpacks, trail mix and energy bars, lots of flashlights and batteries, twine, spray paint, a compass, graph paper, whistles, and rope. Despite everything, I think the prep got us fired up a bit. If answers were down there, we'd find them. We skipped class and I called in sick to work, and we both agreed if necessary we'd do the same tomorrow, and the next day. Finding a way back was top priority.

"They're not our grades anyway," Niko said with a smirk. I sensed a slippery slope here vis a vis morality and nihilism, but I wasn't in the mood to debate philosophy with him. I wanted to move. To delve. Find some answers.

We chose one of the unexplored halls off the big room, and decided to explore as much of it as we could, until we'd mapped it all or got too tired to keep going. We picked the one at the far end of the room, opposite the stairs back up. Right away we found something different.

SubcutaneanWhere stories live. Discover now