Deciding to at least think about things a bit – I was already months too late, after all, so what was the rush? – I strolled into the huge carpark-hall of wood-panelled walls and laminated doors. Fluorescent lamp held high in one hand and my precious, obscurely horrible lunchbox-case under my other arm, I looked around for anything that might provide me with a clue of any sort. Or anything that might give me a clue as to what a clue might even look like.
I crossed to one of the doors, and opened it.
I had no intention of stepping through just yet, but felt that my previous excursions had been a little slapdash in regards to proper scientific experimentation and observation. The first time I’d been entirely in the dark, basically stumbling into the opening doorway and finding myself emerging from Colonel McOldentimes’s cupboard. The second time, I seemed to recall I’d managed to register light before hurrying through to stagger out of the UTILITIES 3 fuse box cabinet. It was evident that stepping out was a one-way process, because as soon as I’d turned around I’d found myself faced with a completely innocuous article of storage infrastructure.
In neither case, however, had I really hung around to see whether just opening the door, looking out and then closing it again was possible.
I tried to tell myself that I’d been in a hurry. That it hadn’t really been my fault. Something about the cellar-space – its very unpleasantness, perhaps, but maybe something deeper and more fundamentally rooted in my dimensional sense of self – made it easier to just get out of there than it was to perform any sort of research. It was, I thought, most likely akin to the way locals viewed – or more accurately ignored – time travellers. Even now, with absolutely no idea where or when in the world I would be blindly stepping, a large fraction of my instincts were telling me to just go for it because it couldn’t be worse than this gloomy hole in the ground.
Well, not this time.
I peered at the murky rectangle revealed by the swinging door. I raised my torch, holding it right on the threshold of the doorway while being careful not to actually cross it for fear the one-way nature of the phenomenon would ensnare me, but it didn’t seem to illuminate anything. It was decidedly strange. On this side, the carpark-like basement was quite well-lit by the neon tube, especially as my eyes adjusted. I was tempted to theorise that the one-way travel physics of the thing meant that light couldn’t come through the other way, but that wasn’t quite the case. On my side of the door, the torch illuminated a rough circle of floor and random walls-and-doors to a radius of maybe fifty feet. On the other side of the doorway, slightly-rough grey grit was illuminated in a semicircle the width of the doorway itself … and that was about it.
Shaking my head, I closed the door and wandered over to another one.
This one, too, was too dark for me to see what I would be stepping into, although the semicircle of floor was some sort of faded linoleum. I tried switching my torch off, plunging the cellar back into darkness, but nothing filtered through from the far side of the door. I switched the torch back on, putting a stop to a surprisingly intense creeping feeling between my shoulder blades just as it was beginning to gather momentum. The instant I’d turned the light out, I’d become certain something was sneaking up on me in the dark.
I crossed to another door, clenched my jaw and switched the torch off, then opened the door. There was still no light, although a puff of warm and slightly-fetid air hit my face as though I’d just opened a door into the lair of some sort of huge animal that had just belched. I stepped sharply back, switched on the torch, and peered into the black rectangle. Again, nothing.
Acknowledging that this was some of the hastiest and least-scientific work I had performed since Creepy’s insistence that I attempt to duplicate his curry recipe using the scientific method as a means of proving a) that some things simply could not be answered by science alone and b) that he’d slipped laxatives into my share when he’d made the original serving, I cast a final disgruntled look around at the floor. There were still plenty of tracks and prints, but they told me nothing. I crossed to another door, grasped the knob … and found that it was locked.
This, at least, was new – although it was once again a fairly unhelpful kind of new. Mildly inspired, I tested five more doors. One of them was locked, three of them opened on unilluminatable floorspaces of various textures, and one fell out of the wall altogether, frame and all. It fell into the cellar as I sidestepped hurriedly, bringing a cascade of plank-bits and grit with it as it fell. There was nothing behind it except for a gravelly surface of crumbled concrete.
Sighing, I was about to go back to one of the doors closer to the trapdoor and just go through regardless, when I saw something up ahead, in the liminal space on the edge of the torch’s light. Something that didn’t match the verticals and horizontals of the walls-and-doors layout of the place.
It was another sharp diagonal. Another set of ladder-stairs.