The Old in the New.

Earth as we know it is no more. Pollution and war have wiped out most of humanity, now only one community remain.
Jenna lives in the Hotel. After a series of events she finds herself sucked into an adventure, full of things that she could never have imagined.

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6. Chapter 5.

    Silence greets me as I gingerly step out into the thin corridor. The lift doors close, and the sound of it whizzing back to the known floors snaps the silence in two, if only for a moment. This corridor is also grey like the ones in the main Hotel, but the metal it’s made out of is rusting and damaged in places. My steeps echo as I travel further along. It’s a single corridor, no doors, just one turning off at the left - I can’t seem to speed up to get there faster. It’s almost like my subconscious is too afraid of the fragility of the place to make any movements that might destroy it. I reach the left bend in the corridor and stare down into the dim light. I don’t know where the light is coming from, it’s just there. Small step sized jumps are carved into the corridor which lead down into a black hole. From what I recall, they’re called steps. 

    The first step creaks when I put my full weight on it. My hand grabs the railing on the right to put less strain on the step and I start to descend. After travelling down about fifty steps, I can feel the air get a bit staler and older. Leaving the metallic scent of the Hotel behind, corridor starts to smell like nothing I’ve ever smelt before - something slightly rotten. I remove my hand from the metal and start to jog down the rest of the stairs, my breathing changing into short bursts and my vision going fuzzy round the edges from the exertion. The air is definitely harder to breath down here. My rapid footsteps clatter down the metal stairs, round and round, down and down. What’s it going to lead to? There are definitely no cameras here anyway. Next thing I know, when I put my left foot down, I hear a dull snap and I sink into the floor up to mid thigh. Gasping with pain, I widen my eyes so that they adjust to the dim light. Instead of metal, the stairs are now made out of what looks like very old wood. The very top of my leg is visible, but the rest waves in the thin air of whatever is underneath. I don’t want to think about what might be under me now.

    Drawing in deep breaths, I wiggle my leg out of the hole that it made in the rotting wood. I can feel jagged pieces scrape down it on the way out in little jabs, but I keep pulling. Eventually I’m free and I look down to see what damage has been done. The guard’s trousers are ripped and my thigh has a few grazes on which look like they’re bleeding. I lick the corner of my t-shirt and clean them the best I can, before beginning to tread more gingerly on. The dim light of the staircase starts to lighten and the metallic smell of the Hotel completely disappears. Suddenly, the stairs appear to narrow and a levelling out of the ground comes into view. I can feel my heart trying to break its way out of my ribcage with nervousness and excitement and can feel my limbs starting to shake. Twenty steps left. I start to make my movements quieter as I’m almost certain that I’m going somewhere that I’m not meant to be. Ten steps. The wooden floor below is getting closer. Five steps. My breathing stops for a second. Zero steps. I look up, stepping forwards as I do so. Before my eyes and brain can comprehend what I see, both feet vanish beneath me, and I fall through the old floor, my head smacking against the floorboards and knocking me unconscious.

    Pain throbs through my skull when I start to regain consciousness. The receptors in my  skin start to respond to what they are feeling and a sense of unknown comes over me; enough to make me reel. The bottom half of my body hangs freely beneath the board and my forehead is sticky. With effort, I will my eyes open. I fell through like I did on the steps. A small amount of blood is congealed on my temple and the area around it. The pain in my head heightens. Large splinters press against my chest. My vision blurs. Darkness again. I groan and pull my eyelids apart for the second time. Before I pass out again, I haul myself out of the whole and lay myself flat out on the unnatural wooden floor, lying still for a few minutes to wait for the dizziness to subside. Somehow I get my legs underneath me and manage to force them to support my weight. A feeling of nausea swims into my head and I stumble a few paces to the left, smacking into what feels like some kind of railing. My stomach feels like it’s being twisted into a thousand tiny spirals, and I lean over and vomit on the floor. The bitter stench makes me feel even worse. Legs which I don’t feel quite belong to me drag my body a good distance away from the puddle of my breakfast and collapse back down. My head is spinning still and my eyes keep fluttering open, not being able to focus and then shutting in defeat. I need to lay down. The side of my head touches the floor. I feel myself slipping away again. No. What if I have concussion? I need to stay awake. My whole body protests and I feel the pitch black close in on me, bundling into my mind and suffocating my senses. Then, bliss.

    Next time my brain becomes fully aware, it feels like I’ve slept for hours - not in a bad groggy way, but in an awake and clear way. Surely it must be the next day? I no longer feel sick, although I can definitely smell it from somewhere behind me…I’ll need to move away from here before long. Eyelids unclamping slowly, I stand up and look at where I am. I gasp.

    I’m standing on a large wooden balcony, which has steps leading down to a lower main floor. On that floor, shelves and shelves of coloured objects curl and bend around in each other, like they had got frozen whilst they were midway through a complex dance. Light from an unknown source illuminates the wooden labyrinth, layering shadows over each other,  and the pleasant smell of old things permeates the air. Silence stretches to breaking point across the large room, only my hushed breathing threatening to break it, and the lack of anything or anyone, holding it. Thick beams of wood rise from the far off corners, soaring over the tall bodies of shelves and converging at a single point at the middle of the roof of the room. I walk over to the stairs and start down them, being extra careful about how much force I put on them at once. As I descend, my feet leave crisp footprints in an inch of dust - no one has been down here for a long time. When I disturb it, it starts swirling around me in white flurries and settles in my hair and in my throat as I inhale it. I cough and the sound echoes around the square room, warped by the corners and dips of labyrinth. I reach the ground level. The shelves tower over me, reaching for the ceiling and causing me to topple backwards when I try to find the top. The multicoloured objects that I saw earlier turn out to be faded blocks that line the insides of the shelves like velvet, following their winding layout and creating an abstract look. 

    Arms outstretched, I can rest one hand on each shelf that creates the labyrinth and I do, running my hands along the gnarled wood as I follow the narrow pathway. I leave an elongated indent in the thick layer of dust as I walk; the areas that I disturb creating an iridescent cloud which I travel in. Sounds glamourous, but you should really try inhaling dust on every breath you take.

    I reach the centre of the labyrinth. The wood of the shelves of both sides of the walkway join to make an arch for me to walk through. The actual middle is a large circle, made up of many other arches that have been created from many other pieces of wood. Four crimson, threadbare sofas sit in a square nearby, a small table between them and cushions strewn over their once-plump padding. Walking to the middle, I gently lower myself onto the nearest one and take a moment to realise what’s going on. I think I’ve found a room from the Before. And actual intact place that the long gone people have been. Have they sat on this sofa? Touched this table? Breathed this air? Did they know that hundreds of years in the future a girl would be in the same place that they were, thinking about them? A rush of interest and exhilaration surges through me.

    One of the coloured blocks from the shelves lays on the table in front of me. I reach out and bring it into my lap, my hands running over the slightly coarse and oily material that it’s covered in. I rest it on it’s side and it falls open, thin yellow sheets of something fluttering down to rest on both sides. I stare, astonished. In the documentaries that I used to watch so many of, it briefly mentioned these things that they had in the Before called books. They’re like our digibooks nowadays, except they have no technology in and are made on something called paper - I have in my hands an artefact from the Before. Ink-printed words are arranged in neat lines across the small sheet of paper, and more words are found on every page rather than just on the same piece of technology. Someone printed this a long time ago. A very, very long time ago. That fact alone, I can’t get over. Closing it again, I turn it over and look at the title: “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” Who’s Harry Potter? Some famous person from before I was born? What’s more, why is he with this stone? It can’t be much of a companion seeing as it’s an inanimate object and all. The illustration on the front shows a boy with a zigzag line of his head, holding what seems to be a stick in his hand and standing in front of a large black vehicle. 

    I open the book to a random page and start reading. Five sentences in to the passage, I feel a whoosh of air around me, and I look up. The library had vanished. In it’s place, I was standing in a long street lined with shops and swarming with people in shimmering multi coloured dresses and hats. I walk over to the side of the street to a shop which seems to sell some kind of stick called a wand, and carefully tap a young looking boy with jet black hair on the shoulder. He turns around, jumping when he sees me.

“Excuse me, would you mind telling me where this is?” I ask, hands still clutching the book.

The boy look surprised that I’m speaking to him. “This is Diagon Alley” he says and continues to regard me with a puzzled look on his face.

“Okay, thanks.” I turn away. That wasn’t helpful at all.

I feel the cold metal of metal on my wrist and look down. A band wraps around it, glinting in the sun. How did that get there? I reach for it and pull it off, looking up as air starts streaming past me and the objects around me blur into a palette of blending colours. I squish my eyes shut, not daring to move or breathe.

    When I no longer feel precarious, I look around again. I’m back on the red sofa in the library, the book about Harry Potter resting in my lap. Everything is exactly the same as when I left, except now the clouds of dust have settled back onto the floor. Somehow I just got inside that book. Before I got transported there, I was reading about Harry going to buy his wand, and when I got there I think I was standing outside the very same shop. I turn to the front cover - the boy that I spoke to must be the same boy who is on this book! And the band? Looking down at my wrist I can see that it’s no longer there; I must have let go of it when I was being moved back to the library. Or…what if when I took it off, I got transported back to the real world and out of the book world. That makes sense, because as soon as I removed it, the street started to warp and change. A twinge of desire prickles in my stomach. I want to go back. Wait though. Hesitancy enters my mind. What if it’s dangerous…I’d better let someone know where I am and what’s happening. Scrambling with the manifesting need to get back into the book, I draw my digibook out of the rucksack and open a message programme - I send a message to Cat:

 

Hey Cat,

I hope you’re doing okay J

I need to keep this short. I’ve found a library under the Hotel which has loads of books in. You need to get down to floor -4 by hacking the keypad of the lifts. Anyway, I read a few sentences of a book and I got transported into it’s world. I think had a conversation with the main character! After I’ve sent this, I’m going back; I just thought I ought to tell someone where I am…who better to tell than you.

I love you,

Jenna

Xxx

 

    I replace the digibook and start fighting a battle in mind. One side, the red army, think that it’s took dangerous to go back - what if somehow I can’t get out or get hurt in the fictional world? The other side, the green army, urges me to go and discover what awesome things I could find - I’ll probably never have another chance after I’ve left the library or been found by the guards. The two armies meet in the middle of a desolate field, swords clashing in my head, opinions thrown against each other. The green side wins. I’m going back. Pulse increasing, I flick through the pages and stop at a random paragraph. I don’t look very far into it before I start reading. Five sentences in and I feel the air sucked out of my surroundings and feel my body compressed like I’m being squeezed down a tube - I try to keep my eyes open this time. It’s a weird feeling; I know that something must be around me, but nonetheless I feel an emptiness in what must be the place between book world and the Hotel. The swirling colours start to form vague shapes as I get closer to discovering where I took myself. These shapes then mutate to form figures, objects, even sounds somehow, and then suddenly I find myself fully out of the library.

    As soon as I begin perceiving the book properly, my ears are assaulted by a cacophony of noise. Hundreds of young voices mix with a whistling sound and the hoots and scampers of various kinds of animal. I’m standing amongst a throng of the people in the dresses again on a platform. A long, cylindrical transport machine sits alongside the raised area, doors open, children scrambling to get aboard. It’s the same thing as was on the cover of the book. If the woman next to me is calling it the right thing, it must be a train. Odd, it’s not even hovering. I allow myself to get carried towards the open doors amongst the various shuffling people. This place is so different to the Hotel: the walls are made of brick, not metal, the inhabitants aren’t only wearing grey, and I haven’t yet seen any technology. I climb aboard the train.

    Heart thumping faster as my sense of adventure heightens, I walk down the central walkway of the carriages, looking in on various groups of people - some as young as eleven, but some as old as eighteen. My anxiety spikes when I consider going through the glass doors and introducing myself to try and meet a few fictional characters, so I carry on down the isle, searching for a less busy compartment. Finally, I reach one that seems nice. Inside are two boys; one with flaming red hair and the other…

It’s him again! The one from the front cover, Harry Potter! The train’s horn blows and we shudder to a start; I’ve really set off now. Eager to meet the protagonist of what was obviously a very popular book considering by how much is had been worn away at, I slide open the door and address them both.

“Hi. Is it okay if I sit in here with you? The other rooms are almost full.”

They exchange a look.

“Sure” the red haired one said, “as long as you don’t mind me having Scabbers out.”

“Scabbers?” I ask, and he points towards the snuffling nose of a rat who is sitting next to him.

Surveying the eager rodent, I sense something strange about it, but stop myself from asking further questions. Instead, I go down and sit next to the window on the opposite side, a seat away from who I assume to be Harry.

“I’m Jenna.” I say. Best make a good first impression if I’m going to get good answers out of them.

“I’m Harry” replies the one I’m sitting next to. I knew it! “That’s Ron over there” he says, nodding his head towards his friend. A strange thrill jumps through my body. I’m sitting on a fictional train, watching fictional scenery go by and having a conversation with fictional characters in a fictional world. I feel like screaming with joy. If only when I go back to the library I could find some of my favourite books.

    I begin to think of something else to talk about with them, but a sharp rap at the glass pane of the door interrupts me. A girl, about the age of the two boys walks in, her hair rather frizzy and with a slight upturn of her nose. She asks to sit with us. We say yes. Her name turns out to be Hermione Granger. An air of intelligence radiates from her, and I daresay that she tries her best to make it apparent to all three of us that learning is what she does best in a manner that borders on intolerable. Her voice interrupts me again.

“You’re Harry Potter?” 

“Yes” Harry replies, pushing his mop of hair away from his forehead and displaying that jagged line that the illustration said he would have. So not only am I in a real book, sitting next to the main character of it, but he is also some kind of celebrity. Can my day get any BETTER? For the second time, I try to swallow the urge to do a happy kind of dance. 

“Wow, what a nice bracelet” says Hermione, leaning forwards to grasp my wrist.

“No-” I shout, but it’s too late. The bracelet has gone from my wrist. My face contorting into a grimace, my eyes close and I feel the now familiar rush of air and the something-but-nothingness that comes with it. 

     I’m in the library again. It all happened so quickly - not a moment ago I was within the words that are displayed in front of my eyes. Now, nothing. By nothing, I mean reality. Standing up to put the book back down, I feel the blood rush to my head and I stagger a little. My eyelids ache and feel heavy under gravity; it’s late already? I’m certain that it wasn’t much past midday an hour or so ago. That’s enough time in a fabricated world for now, it seems like my body needs something solid and real to anchor itself on to sleep. Drawing the blanket from the depths of my rucksack, I rest my head back on the sofa and let blackness dim my senses and engulf the mind.

    In the dream, letters are floating all around me as I swim amongst them through a dark tunnel. The air is thick, and it feels like I am swimming through setting concrete but I keep going, travelling towards the light that has flashed into existence ahead of me. Echoing around the tunnel, the noise of a ticking clock plays, the sound waves warped from bouncing off the letters, so it becomes more eerie to listen to. The letters speed up and I struggle to keep pace with them. One bumps into my back and takes me whirling down the tunnel at terminal velocity and right into the bright glow of whatever is ahead. I brace myself for impact, but none comes. Instead, I feel the area around me heating up dramatically as if it’s on fire, and is getting hotter the nearer we get to the light. On the brink of becoming painful, the light and the images in my dream vanish and I awake to the gently glowing library.

    Stretching out my badly stiffened muscles, I unfold myself from my horizontal position and retrieve my digibook and a packet of food from my rucksack. With my teeth I tear the packet open, and eat the contents - there’s a vague taste of porridge somewhere amongst the beige slime. Gulping it down, I check my messages - Cat’s replied!

 

Hiya Jenna,

I’m okay thanks, although it’s a bit weird without you around. My job’s taking up most of my time, but I’ve managed to enquire to see if they’re  searching for you. Apparently they are, but it sounds limited to only the places that they know - no mention of freaky hidden libraries! I’m so relieved that you’re okay…I had been thinking about what we could do if you couldn’t find anywhere safe. It sounds awesome down there, but please be careful. You don’t know anything about the books or what or who else is down there - hopefully nothing/no one bad, but you never know! You must come back up here if it’s safe soon!

I love you,

Cat

Xxx 

 

I grin and hold my digibook up so that I can capture a picture of the labyrinthine library. Attaching it to a message for Cat, I caption it with a purposefully cheesy “Wish You Were Here!” and smile even more when I picture her reaction to the hideous tag line. Message sent.

    I replace the digibook back into my bag. What to do today? I can feel my desperation to go into another book getting almost unmanageable, so decide on the spot that it would be best to do a bit of exploring for the right book first. Hauling the rucksack onto my back, I decide to take the arch opposite the one I came into, which leads to quite an old section of the library. As soon as I step through the arch, the change is immediately evident. A stale stench works its way into my nostrils, and fine cobwebs drape lazily over book covers and the corners of shelves. Judging by the depth of the footprints I’m leaving, this place has been left untouched for far longer than the other bits. I take a left. The dust gets thicker; it’s now up to my ankles. To be honest, I should find it disgusting or at least impossible that the dust is that thick, but seeing as my experiences with going into another world yesterday, I shrug it off with no more than a second though.

    My windpipe becomes more prickly and my coughing more insistent and painful, so I swing my rucksack down and retrieve a large square of cloth from an inside pocket. With deft fingers, I place it over my mouth and tie a tight knot round the back of my head. Hopefully that should block the path of any more annoying particles are floating around. I wait for two more turns, then take the right passageway. When I walk forward again, my feet sink a considerable distance more into the dust and feeling around with the bottom of my foot, I can feel a couple of steps. Resisting the urge to turn back and avoid this ridiculous amount of dust, I raise my arms a bit higher and wade down the two steps. Now the dust is up to mid thigh. This is getting weird. Not that it wasn’t before, but really…dust almost up to your hips is a bit too much. Looking back, I try not to laugh to hard when I see the pathway that I have carved - at least it will be easier to get back when I want to and I won’t get lost. I make a conscious decision to only continue for a few more turnings. I go right again. The books here are so faded that their colours are neutral - ranging from grey to very light brown. Struggling to reach the side of the thin isle, I stand on my tip toes to get one down from above my head. The font of the front is old and outdated…I think it was popular hundreds of years ago, but I can’t be sure. I fish through random facts and figures in my head until I find the name - Comic Sans I think it’s called.

    Like in those adventure films, I come to what could be considered a fork. A tall thin bookshelf split’s the passageway that I’m currently in into two even thinner pieces; one heavily lit by an invisible light source, the other with it’s entrance shrouded by a tattered curtain. To go or not to go? That is the question. Deciding that I may as well put a bit more excitement in my exploration of this unknown place, I reach a hand out and try to pull aside the curtain. As soon as my hand closes around it however, it dissolves into tiny shreds of fabric and falls to rest on the top layer of dust. I brush the rest aside and step in.

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