Every week in Friday Free Web Fiction I post a first draft scene from my work in progress (WIP), or a short story, or an excerpt from one of my books. Today’s offering is from my Prunella Smith WIP, The Lock Smith’s Secret.
I’m in the ephemeral city again. Celestial bodies sparkle around me, seen clearly through the transparent luminous walls and floors. I’ve arrived at last at the floor where the Locksmith has his room, and I walk down the corridor towards his light. Below me lies countless floors with countless corridors and doorless rooms, and more rise above me, but the man in the end room hunched over his work is the only soul in the entire city—or at least that I can see. I suspect that people inhabit these rooms in some way, but I can’t see them. Or maybe there really only two people in the whole universe—me and the locksmith.
My feet make no sound on the floor made of light—surprisingly solid for something that looks so baseless. I stop outside the room. A wall with no door separates us. Disappointment washes over me. What did I expect, that one would magically appear when I arrived?
The locksmith sits at his bench with his back to me. Should I call out or wave to get his attention? I can’t bring myself to do either—after all, I don’t know this person. He wears some kind of leather vest and a tool belt adorned with pouches and the tools of his trade—a small hammer, several files, and tin snips hang from leather loops. He turns to the side, revealing chiselled cheekbones and a full mouth. Steampunk-style magnifying glasses—like small brass binoculars on a leather strap—cover his eyes, and a dark burgundy cravat fixes the neck of his white shirt, which is pulled up his forearm, held in place by a broad metal bracelet-style clip. Strands of messy blond hair flop over his forehead. He’s completely focused on sanding a key—the rasping sound carries through the walls—and though I want to connect, I feel I can’t, not just because there’s no door, but because I sense that this is his world and perhaps I’m an intruder here.
He blows on the golden key in his hand, then lifts it to eye level and turns it this way and that, inspecting it. He swops hands and holds the lock end while he inspects the ornate gothic design on the head. It shimmers in the light of the desk lamp which spills in a circle from beneath a large copper shade. Apparently satisfied, he stands, pushes his stook back behind him and, key in hand, walks to a wall—not the one I stand behind. If I were to wave this would be a good time, but I don’t. I stand still, transfixed by the grace of the Locksmith’s movements. He takes a deep breath and regards the wall, as an artist might with a blank canvas, then with a sweep of his arm, he draws the shape of a door with the key. A trail of luminous light flows from the end like ink and eats through the wall as acid might on soft metal. He dabs the key at the door and a door knob appears. I shake my head in amazement.
In this world without doors, the Locksmith has created a door with a magical key. I wave, but he doesn’t see me; his eyes remain on his door. He drops the key into one of the pouches on his tool belt and snaps the fastener closed, then reaches for the doorknob and opens the door.
I gasp and my eyes widen in amazement. Through the door, a real world awaits: one with solid forms. I glimpse white futuristic-style buildings and a clean city street populated with short-haired people in pale, soft clothing. A sleek hovercar passes without a sound. The Locksmith steps through the door into the futuristic world.
‘Wait,’ I shout. ‘Wait. I want to come too!’
The door closes behind him and disappears as if it had never been, and I’m left alone in the corridor. Alone in the silent city. Alone with questions I can’t answer. Will he come back? I look at the keys hanging on the rack beside the workbench, about twenty of them in all different shapes sizes and styles. Do they each go to a different world? I figure they must, and that, therefore, he must come back because surely he’ll want to step through all the doors into all the worlds. All I need is a key to make a door in the wall before me. If I could get into that room, I could go all sorts of places.
I press my hands against the wall and sigh; it’s still solid. I scan the floor for as far as I can see in all directions and even check the ceiling in case a key is hanging there somewhere, but nothing mars the smooth, clean lines of this building etched in light. Not even a spec of dust. What now? I slump to the floor and sit with my back to the far wall of the corridor so I can see into the Locksmiths room. I shall wait until he returns. What else can I do in this vacant city?
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Mark Morris says
I’ve heard some call it ‘Slipstream fiction’. The multi-genre fiction, I mean.
Tahlia Newland says
I haven’t heard that one. It doesn’t immediately give me a sense of what it means though.