By Louise Norlie
She observed their strange rituals in silence, taking careful notes. To escape she needed knowledge. The workers sported waxed mustaches. They trotted ladders through the halls and wove them through the doors. From a vantage point on the tenth stair she saw each and every door on the second floor and the door on the first floor she called the final door. This she guessed to be an exit door but she could not reach it. A huge baby guarded it with fierce brandishes of a syrupy fist. She called the baby Cerberus though it had just one head.
The workers hosed down the rugs and sprayed the potted plants with glaze. They boxed vases and unpacked crates of fine china. Minor collisions prompted an excuse me muttered with averted eyes. Whenever the clock struck a new hour the baby cried. In the evening, the workers reposed and she sat among them. They gazed out the one and only window with gasps of admiration. Apparently, the light show was for their benefit, the handiwork of some distant god. She traced the arcs of distant flames and fires for signs and symbols. The result was that she saw herself from a vantage point high above. The window was a shrinking yellow square and she was distinctly alien, the odd one out. She felt the eyes of the workers upon her and hid behind the curtains. They insisted with mute gestures that she rejoin them. It was not generosity, she felt, but joy in seeing her so conspicuous. Their eyes became huge terracotta orbs. From their vantage point she was a puny and helpless thing, destined to drown, bailing water from a sinking ship.
The night pressed close with hammering. The house grew larger beneath the auspices of hidden violence. The workers argued in the secret whisperings of an unknown tongue. Their mustaches moved stiffly due to liplong scars. Sounds of shattering plates and crashing metal were the backdrop of their stoic faces. Her feet crunched on tiny shards in dark corners. Red fluid oozed from slits beneath the doors. This she pretended to ignore while ladders slid past longer than freight trains.
She recorded her hypothesis faithfully. With the longest telescope the stars were words of it. She now believed the workers were not moving, only building. From time to time the walls bleached translucent. The light shows came more often, the windows grew in size. The yellow-brown eyes of the workers pressed against them like butterfly wings. People in glass houses, she repeated, not remembering the rest.
Giving up on the exit door, she took a nail to a wall and began to hammer. Fizzures spread as the edifice let out a protracted groan. She heard footsteps behind her, many moving as one. The workers had ganged up at last. Unprecedented, the baby rose to its heels, stomping heavy as a marauder.
It was too late for a furtive escape; the cracked wall was impenetrable. She sought refuge between the potted plants as the baby drew near. She swung wildly and found its flesh to be soft, pillowy. She punched it to deflation. It shrank letting lose a piercing howl from its wrinkled face. The workers encircled them both. The baby wriggled with rage. She was to blame for it being forever stunted. Its chubby fingers pointed toward her in condemnation, first the right hand then the left. Traitor! Spy! the workers chanted.
The new walls flapped and shredded. They became arms that grabbed her, imprisoned her. The workers were the building blocks of this strange place, she realized, their motions a charade. Her lips were the only part left free. Held aloft she screamed, Cerberus soaring by her side, while the light show flared its spectacle above.
Bio:Louise Norlie’s publications have appeared in Mad Hatter’s Review, Unlikely Stories, Behind the Wainscot, and elsewhere. She has contributed to Sein und Werden in both its print and online manifestations. Her writing has been anthologized by Dead Letter Press and Bettany Press. Visit her apathetically maintained blog at louise-norlie.blogspot.com.