Sometimes we are overwhelmed by choices as we slip through cracks in the walls and sidle up to the secrets within. These crooked buildings have stood too long for their crevices to be free of hidden treasures, hidden trifles. Hidden traps. Mysteries proliferate in these catacombs, but we are never braver than when we delve headfirst through the crawlspaces and wriggleways; our cultivated cowardice (gorged on dirt and danger!) is too thick and heavy to slither in after us. It prowls, restless, until we re-emerge to meet it.
Inside it is never the same. Why else would we have burrowed through ten, twelve, a hundred times? Once I squeezed in and discovered the decaying skeleton of another explorer, suspended in space by shrewdly plaited cobwebs; other times I find impossible fields and rust-ridden cityscapes that stretch endlessly into the distance, bucking and curving in on themselves like Escher portraits. The variety is dazzling, though rarely pleasant. Yet we push through and onwards, proving nothing to anyone. Sometimes, we are ambushed.
The horrors dwell in sight unseen, they say.
It is called the Great Behind, or the Great Ahead depending who you ask. Vance says it’s existed since the very first Architects arrived here and started building their false-seeming structures. The people who lived inside, used the tortured spaces for commerce or recreation, never once suspected that behind their walls lurked impossibilities and profane perversions of moral building codes. How could they? Bleed-through to the Outer was rare, nigh unheard-of — and incidents were quickly covered up by the Architects or their agents: disguised, explained away or dealt with in the most euphemistic sense. Smoke without a fire is no cause for alarm, they reasoned.
As intrepid explorers, we are afforded some degree of incredulous respect. Well, not so much — it is more a disbelieving admiration for the danger we plunge purposelessly into. Respectable citizens of our society have no business in the Great Wherever; no possible enticement exists that could persuade them to poke so much as a single whisker down the rabbit-hole. And so there is a degree of shunning, too, with the dumbfounded respect, but we make do with what we get. After all, we are tolerated and that is quite enough to be getting on with.
Reginald disappeared a fortnight hence. No search party was sent forth as would be for an ordinary person; instead, a kind of numb respectful silence prevailed among unhappy citizens. This informal foot-dragging is always the way when an explorer goes missing, and as for us?
We held our own vigil, murmuring fervently because it could always be us next.
Image credit aJVL on DeviantArt