‘The Very Strange Adventures of a Travelling Knight: Part 5 – The Insect Dance’
Out in the corridor, the Giantess was waiting for him. Phillip found he was incredibly relieved to see her. The huge blue woman had come to be a steady point in this ever changing world.
‘Did you understand what the Lion said?’ she asked.
‘I think so’
‘Think?’ She’d seen through the lie. He knew exactly what he had to do and saying it out loud to her would make it all too real.
He sighed. ‘I have to find the Goblin’s book to save the world from what I saw. And there are five people in the Library who can help me to find it’
She nodded in approval. For a moment she thought that she was going to pat him on the head.
‘Quite right’ she said. ‘I’ll take you to the first of them’
They set off back down the long corridor.
‘How do people come to be here anyway?’ asked Phillip. ‘Are they all brought here by force like I was?’
She shook her head.
‘No, sometimes they come here by choice. Sometimes by accident. And yes, sometimes they are brought because they are needed. The Library exists outside of time so can be accessed from any time, as long as you know where the doors are’
Phillip stopped. ‘That doesn’t make any sense. At all.’
The Giantess laughed, the mocking laugh that he rather liked.
‘Well no, it probably doesn’t. We can look it up later if you want’
Phillip glanced at the book lined shelves to his right, as though the answer might be there. A title on a battered blue book caught his eye: The Watsons – Jane Austen. Chapters three to thirty four. With romantic ending. And next to it, a similar book titled The Watsons – Jane Austen. Chapters three to thirty four. Even more romantic ending. And then The Watsons – Jane Austen. Chapters three to thirty four. They all die.
‘These works are all fiction’ said the Giantess. ‘The Geography section is elsewhere’
A silver sphere suddenly shot from behind them, passed between them and flew down the corridor. Before it reached the closed door at the end, it had faded away into nothing.
‘Another passing thought?’ asked Phillip.
The Giantess suddenly reached out and grabbed the shelf to her left. With a long, drawn out creak it swung open to reveal a small, grey metal-walled room.
‘The elevator’ she announced and looked at him expectantly.
‘Umm…what’s an elevator?’
For a moment she looked confused and then her face cleared.
‘I’m sorry, I keep forgetting that you were born before such things were invented’
That made his head hurt so he decided not to think about it until later.
‘What does it do?’ he asked.
‘It’s a room that goes up and down through the Library. It will take you to the first person you need to see’
She smiled at Phillip.
‘Well, in you go. I shall see you later on’
Partly to put off entering this elevator thing that he really didn’t like the sound of, Phillip decided he should say goodbye to the Giantess properly. If not with a kiss then at least with the smile that he knew set so many girls’ legs wobbling.
He reached up a gauntleted hand to raise his visor. It wouldn’t move. Not so much as the smallest degree. He tried again. Still the visor wouldn’t move. And then Phillip remembered the flower, in its panic, spraying the strange fluid on his visor. The acrid smell of burning at the time. It had sealed the metal visor shut. Phillip was, for now, trapped inside his metal helmet.
With a sigh, he lowered his hand. As long as it was fixed before he needed to eat, he could stand it. A shame the Giantess would have to wait to see how handsome he was though.
‘Goodbye for now then’ he said and stepped into the small room.
He turned to face the Giantess who was reaching out to close the concealed door behind him.
‘Is there anything I should know about this person before I met them?’
‘Are you frightened of insects?’
‘No, of course not’
Except spiders and moths whispered a more honest part of his mind.
‘I’m sure you be fine’
She swung the door closed. Although he could see no candles, the room was not instantly plunged into darkness. For a few moment, Phillip stood waiting. He began to feel silly, just standing in what, after all, seemed to be just a cupboard.
And then the floor dropped, his stomach was in his mouth and he threw himself to one side, grabbing onto the wall for support.
Down and down went the room and yet the floor and walls and ceiling were still exactly as they had been before. From somewhere Phillip heard a clanking, grinding sound like the chains that lowered the drawbridge at home. Where they what worked this magic? Still he did not let go of the wall. What would happen when they hit the ground? Surely they would smash into a thousand pieces like a fallen milk jug?
And then it was over. The motion just stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Gingerly, Phillip released his grip on the grey wall. He took a very deep breath and tried to convince himself that he wasn’t going to be sick. He suddenly remembered the girls that used to tremble in his presence. Well, whose legs are wobbling now he thought?
Slowly he approached the wall in front of him. It was as blank as the other three but, it stood to reason, it must lead outside as that was where the door had been.
Before he reached the wall, it slid upwards. Not sideway as before, but upwards. Beyond he saw what looked like a huge chess board, only the squares were green and black. Cautiously he took a step through the door.
He found himself in a world of squares. Green and black alternating in long repeating lines on every wall, on the floor and on the high ceiling. The room – it must be a single room – was both vast and somehow close, as though the walls were secretly moving around him. It was beautiful and yet it was a cruel beauty. He looked around, seeking the person he was supposed to speak to. What would it be this time? Another stone figure? He could see no-one.
And then he looked up. One of the black squares was different to the others. Bigger, it’s sides less even. And it was moving. The lines of the square expanded outwards and a shadow detached itself. A man sized shadow with wings and growing from its head, horns. No not horns. Feelers, twitching from side to side.
The shadow swept towards Phillip on transparent wings. He saw a face of pale grey skin and huge, bulging circular eyes. The form landed in one of the green squares in front of him. But it did not land on two legs. It landed on four. Four spindly legs. From beneath its wings, there emerged two narrow arms, each ending in two long, bony fingers.
Phillip looked at the thing that stood in front of him, a moth the size of a man, and he almost screamed. But the insect screamed first.
‘Go away!’ it shrieked. ‘Get out! We don’t need your sort here! Why don’t you get out and leave us alone? Leave us alone!’
Phillip fought down his terror. If this creature was frightened, perhaps he had less to fear from it than he thought, even if was wishing desperately that his mother was here to chase it away.
‘I need…I need your help’ he said.
‘Help?’ repeated the Moth. ‘You expect us to help you? After all you’ve done to us? Rude! Rude and stupid and… oh damn, I need to move squares’
So saying, it launched itself up in the air and landed in one of the black squares a few feet away. It stared at him.
‘Well, we have moved’ it said. ‘Shouldn’t you too?’
Phillip looked down at his feet. He was standing on a black square. The surface was perfectly smooth, like marble.
‘Where to?’ he asked. ‘Where should I move to?’
‘To a green square, obviously’
The Moth made a sound like a snort.
‘Why?’ it repeated. ‘It asks us why? So as not to be punished of course!’
Accepting that this creature must know more about the dangers of the room than he did, Phillip took a side step into the green square to his right.
‘Is that all alright?’ he asked.
‘Well it’ll do we suppose. Wasn’t very graceful, was it?’
The criticism stung him. His grace was justly famous.
‘It’s not easy when you’re wearing armour’
The insect regarded him steadily for a few moments.
‘We don’t know what that is’ it finally said. ‘Is it something they do in your hive?’
It took a moment for Phillip to understand the question. It thought that he was an insect too. No better than a beetle or a bluebottle!
‘It certainly isn’t!’ he retorted, angry despite how his stomach was still heaving at the sight of the huge Moth. ‘I’ll have you know I live in a castle not a hive, like some bee!’
The Moth suddenly hissed.
‘A castle? Like a…’ it gargled unpleasantly somewhere in its throat. ‘Like a human?’ it finished.
‘We don’t like humans’
Its voice got higher and angrier.
‘Horrible, cruel humans making us dance for their enjoyment. Horrible, horrible humans. We don’t want any humans in here, crawling all over our nice, clean walls!’
Sometimes, Phillip’s father had taught him, a lie was not only necessary it was the right thing to do if you wanted to stay alive.
‘No’ he said. ‘I’m not human. I’m from another…tribe’
If it were possible for an insect to sigh with relief, the Moth did. But then its antennae twitched again in agitation.
‘Black square, black square’ it cried, while launching itself sideways into one of the green squares at the far end of the room.
As quickly as he could, Phillip moved to the black square next to his.
‘Why do we always have to be in different coloured squares?’ he called.
From the other end of the room, the Moth called. ‘Those the rules! Always one colour after the other and never two in the same colour. That’s the way things are, the way the game is played. A new square every three minutes. Each minutes makes one side of the square side and the player makes the last side’
It’s like a chess board, thought Phillip. One for a game played on six boards at once it seemed. He couldn’t help but be intrigued. Winning games was something he was very good at.
‘So when does the game end?’ he demanded. ‘I mean, how do you win?’
‘We never win. The humans watch until we make a mistake or they get bored. And then the square becomes death. Blue fire and then gone’
‘That’s horrible’ said Phillip quietly. He had often hunted in the forest, but that had been because such things were expected of a young knight. This cruelty was just pointless.
The Moth nodded its head vigorously.
‘Horrible, horrible humans. Glad you are not human. We thought you looked like one in the shape but not the face’
‘Face’ echoed Phillip and then realised what it meant. It thought the visor was his face.
‘Yes. Pretty, pretty shiny face’ breathed the Moth and its two arms quivered.
Great, thought Phillip. Now a colossal insect fancies me. That’s just what I need.
‘So’ he said quickly. ‘How long have you been kept in here?’
‘Move to green square!’
Phillip moved forward into a green square. The Moth launched itself forward and landed in the black square directly in front of his.
‘How long?’ he asked. He could see the tiny, lipless mouth in the long face now, moving with a chewing motion as it spoke
‘Here? Not long. We were in a much bigger place before, many, many rooms. Many of us trapped and forced to dance’
Like dancing bears, thought Phillip. And the spectators killing them if they got a step wrong.
‘Then one day’ went on the Moth, we were here. In this one small room. Only us ever since’
That was when Moth must have been brought into the Library, thought Phillip. Only it hadn’t realised. It had been somewhere else, maybe the world of the terrible war, kept as a toy for the amusement of others. It had been there so long that it didn’t understand anything else.
He suddenly felt a terrible sadness and pity for the Moth. This thing had scared him out of his wits when he first saw it. Now all he wanted to do was help it. Set it free.
‘I think you can stop now’ he said.
It squealed in horror.
‘No! Never, never stop!’
He shook his metal bound head.
‘It’s time to stop’ he said quietly. ‘Time for you to rest. To be safe’
And he stepped forward into the Moth’s square.
‘Safe’ whispered the Moth. ‘Stopped and safe’
It sunk down to the floor, wrapping its wrings round itself and drawing its legs underneath its body. Phillip hesitated then reached down and patted the trembling back.
‘Rest now’ he told it. ‘You must be exhausted’
The reply came like the lightest breaths of wind.
‘Yes. You rest too. You must be tired too’
And Phillip realised that yes, he was more tired than he had ever been in all his life. He sank down on to his knees in the square beside the insect. Just a few minutes he told himself. I’ll just close my eyes for a few minutes…
When he woke up, Phillip was floating in the middle of the chequerboard room. In the wall facing him, one square had fallen away and beyond was a blaze of white light. Somewhere in the light, a gleaming form like a giant dragonfly flew joyfully back and forth, up and down, side to side, in an ever changing pattern. No-one one movement was ever quite like another
A voice called ‘Thank you!’ and the form was gone.
Phillip was amazed to find tears of happiness rolling down his cheeks. I’m crying tears of joy for an insect, he thought and laughed out loud.
He was even more amazed when he realized that he was hovering in the middle of the room on long, gossamer thin wings that had sprouted from the back of his armour. They trembled with the barest of movements yet held him up with ease. And somehow, he could feel through them, into his mind. Hecould catch movements of the air and a sense of some of the shapes nearby. The Moth had left him with a remarkable gift, he thought.
And then he remembered about the book he was supposed to be looking for. All thought of it had gone from his mind the minute he entered this room. Oh well, he thought, maybe the next person I meet can help.
And with an instinct he never knew he possessed, Phillip flew through the opening and out into what lay beyond.
Damian Mark Whittle