I looked suspiciously at the second set of ladder-stair-things. Then I turned to look back at the ones I’d descended from the floor next to the Prism, just in case I’d gotten myself turned around and was looking at the ones I’d come down.
If I had gotten turned around and was looking at the ones I’d come down, then there was still a second set. Of course I had no way of knowing which was the ‘new’ set, except that I was 95% sure I hadn’t gotten so turned around that I’d lost track of the trapdoor through which I’d descended.
And again, I reminded myself, it didn’t really matter. If I climbed back up into the Christmas swampocalypse, I would still be in an undesirable time period and would come back down here. And if I didn’t … well. Where and when did this second trapdoor – because presumably it was a trapdoor – lead? And was it even two-way? There was only one way to find out.
I crossed to the foot of the ladder-stairs. They didn’t seem noticeably different to the ones I’d climbed down. Perhaps a little more varnished, but still not exactly glossy. But nor were they worn. They were just … sort of elderly. I looked up.
There wasn’t much in the way of light to show the location or outline of a trapdoor, but I did see – after I turned the torch off again for contrast – a few flecks of light that could feasibly line up to make a square. It was probably my imagination, but it seemed slightly warmer here, too, the air moving in a sluggish convection effect against the left side of my neck. All the more reason to turn my torch on again in a hurry, even if it was a little embarrassing how eager I was to do so. If it was only me down here, I had nothing to either be scared of or embarrassed about. If it was only me.
Grunting, tucking the torch under my arm along with the case I’d found in the last cellar so I could climb without switching the light off, I scrambled up towards the top of the ladder-stairs.
The trapdoor was heavy, but I found the hinges on one side and put my shoulder into the far side to push it up. I was rewarded with a sharp increase in the light- and warmth-levels … and with a gritty, salty face-full of dry sand that cascaded down on three of the four sides as I pushed the trapdoor open. I suddenly knew where I was, even if the when could probably still stand to be narrowed down.
Hold on, though, I thought as I braced my shoulder against the boards, fumbled my sunglasses onto my face in a hasty survival motion, eased the trapdoor higher and climbed another step-rung-thing to poke my head out into the blinding desert glare, this isn’t right. The altitudes just about lined up the last two times, but how does the level under the Prism correspond to under the ground back in the Barnsley Prison ‑
Someone fired a rifle at my head.