asleep in the dark black sea Who: Gabe & Obed. What: Obed gets adventurous. A universe is born. Where: The fourth and eighth floors. When: Morning, October 13th.
For the first time in months, Obed had been sleeping soundly. Perhaps that was why the fourth floor intrigued him. Perhaps he longed for more strangeness, now that his nights has grown so blissfully mundane. Perhaps he missed the discomfort he had lost since Isobel had returned to him. It was odd, he knew, to want such a thing, and yet as he stood beneath rows upon rows of dangling, softly chiming keys he could not help but think that that oddity was precisely what had drawn him here. He had read the forum posts, the breathless reporting of the doors each key had opened, the insistence that some keys were more dangerous than others. But in the end there was only one way to know for sure.
He reached up and took a key. It did not call to him as some others did. He felt no resonance with it when he gripped its chalky shaft in the tight circle of his fingers. It was that distance that made him certain this was the right key to choose, at least to begin. It would open something new to him, something the being steadily waking within him might have not seen before. What might happen if he could show that creature something new? What would it feel like, to share a unique sensation with the thing that shared his shape?
Obed pressed the pad of his thumb against the key's edge, letting the serpent's tongue dig into his skin. He turned back toward the elevator. He could not say where or when he would try the thing, but he knew beyond doubt that he would. He nearly smiled to consider it. The doors opened not long after he'd struck the button; the elevator car had been close, trundling a man and his dog from the lobby floor upward. Gabe smiled wide as he recognized Obed.
"No Hanni today?" He queried. Spot sat on the floor of the elevator, looking glad to merely be seated. His tongue lolled from his mouth, tags quietly jingling as he rocked back and forth in the way only old things do. Gabe glanced down to Obed's hand, where he could see something held; a key, dangling, which made Gabe's brows do the opposite. He frowned, thinking how the floor had affected Rafe. "I see it's gotten into you, too, hm?"
Obed nodded as he stepped into the car beside the resting dog. He leaned down and rubbed Spot's ear with his free hand; the elderly dog's eyes closed in bliss, all but shoving his head into Obed's hand. "I can't say why," Obed admitted. "I certainly have enough to keep me busy right now. I don't really need to go off exploring rooms that shouldn't exist. But here I am." He straightened up. His hand rose, holding the key at their eye level. It did not look particularly menacing, but Obed knew the worst things never did. Curiosity had sunk its claws into him, and now he could not seem to shake them free.
"Hanni's with Isobel, and I don't have any work that's particularly pressing, so… care to join me?"
Gabe weighed the invitation; Rafe had told him about the leather room and the strange meal he and his friends had unwittingly imbibed in. Such stories were interesting in the telling (though perhaps not so much so for Rafe) and Gabe could not deny that his own curiosity about the rooms was piqued. After no more than a moment after Obed's question, he nodded.
"Sure," he said, switching Spot's lead from one hand to the other. Another beat, and the doors were opening to the eighth floor. "Lemme get the old man settled—do you have any idea what that one does? The things I've heard..." He lead Obed toward his apartment, opening the door and leading his dog inside, motioning for Obed to follow.
"Something about snakes, or so I've read." Obed closed the door behind them. He followed after Gabe, still turning the key over and over in his hand. He smiled. "There weren't any serious warnings, though, not like some of the others, so I can only assume it's nothing that awful. And I've never really had a problem with snakes."
He paused in his careful study of the apartment, turning his attention to his host. "Nice place," he said. "I haven't really had the opportunity to visit too many neighbors. I should probably get better about that."
Gabe undid Spot's lead, wrapping it around his hand as the dog made a beeline for a much-abused dog bed. Gabe glanced at Obed, smiling quickly.
"Thanks, the decorating... it's half mine, anyway. My assistant at least made sure my things got from point A to point B." He took the lead to a nearby closet, where a whole shelf was accommodating his pet's necessities. Once it was closed, and he mentally double checked that he had what he needed (wallet, phone, keys, as good as any of them might do him upon entering these rooms that seemed like they were to another plane of existence), he gently slapped his hands on his thighs as he looked back at Obed.
"You know, you're always welcome. Maybe we could have dinner one night; you, and do you know Rafe? He makes the most delicious Brazilian food—"
He glanced down to the key in Obed's hand, a simple reminder of why the other man was even present in his apartment. "Ah, right. Well, do you want to try it on a door in here? Or we can go back out in the hallway..."
"Here is fine, I think," Obed said, "as long as you're OK with that. Then when we can get out of wherever this leads, we'll be somewhere private and relatively safe. I think. And when we do get out, I'm going to take you up on that dinner offer. Homemade Brazilian food sounds delicious." He smiled, contemplating Isobel's reaction to his atypical attempts at socialization.
He held the key out to Gabriel. "It's your house. You should do the honors."
A blush of a smile crossed Gabe's face, but his hand accepted the key regardless. He turned it over in his hand, half expecting the white substance of the key to rub off on his fingers. The serpentine curve, the tongue that seemed to caress his palm, did not at all make him feel uneasy about slipping it into a lock and finding out where it might lead. He let out a gentle sigh, and turned toward his front door, casting one glance back at Obed.
"No time like the present," he said, pressing the key into the deadbolt. Despite the key's size and the fact that it looked nothing like his own house key, it slid between tumblers without hesitation. Tongue flicking out not unlike the shape the key was molded into, Gabe turned it and slowly opened the door.
The hallway was gone, instead replaced for a room that seemed made of stone. Gabe glanced back at Obed again, not worried that his friend would leave him behind but simply a question—thoughts? He stepped out into the wide room; the walls were curved, and millions upon millions of what looked like rocks built a tall wall that led up to an uncovered ceiling. After a moment, Gabe realized that there was a vast sky overhead. Before he could announce these thoughts to Obed, the walls moved.
Obed's lips parted on a gasp. He had tried to anticipate what would be behind this door, had tried to prepare himself for what he might find. No amount of forethought or creative thinking could have prepared him for this. He stepped out into what should have been the hallway, keeping close to Gabriel all the while. One hand outstretched, he moved closer to the walls, his fingers tracing the stony patterns that shifted continually. It felt alive, whatever it was; faintly breathing, gently expanding and contracting even as he watched.
He started to ask a question, but the words felt meaningless the moment he'd thought them. After all, Gabe would have no more idea what this was than he. Answers would only come with observation, if they came at all. So Obed moved closer, his shoulder brushing his neighbor's, and stared up into the sky that had no right to exist there.
"So many stars," he breathed. His voice was quiet, as if he feared to disturb whatever lay coiled around them. "I can't remember the last time I saw something like this."
Gabe opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off as the walls shifted again; it was this time that he noticed the top and the bottom of the walls shifted in two different directions, and that they bowed inward as they did so. He waited, stopping to watch the change as the walls moved outward, carving something beneath itself.
"It's amazing," he finally agreed, tilting his head back and up. It wasn't long before his gaze was pulled back toward the wall. Just before it moved again, he pointed out how the thing moved, how it seemed to flow against itself and yet remain intact.
"Do you think... what is it?" He fell to muttering, unable to articulate himself in that moment. He watched the giant wall continue to expand, moving outward, and saw the dirt beneath their feet. Suddenly, something burst into being in the sky. His head fell back, eyes wincing at the bright light that had suddenly come to be, one hand rising to shield him. Then the star was simply there, shimmering in the distance.
"I don't have the faintest idea what's happening right now," he commented, laughing a little. Not nervous laughter, but an excited, almost joyous sound that he was merely glad to be a part of whatever it was they were seeing.
Obed shook his head. "None at all," he agreed. He fell in beside Gabe, pressing close as the walls shifted yet again. He blinked away the brilliant afterimage of the star's birth, focusing on the still-dark ground below. It moved, and they moved with it, shifted downward at a speed that should have been disconcerting. But though the ground moved, it held them steady and upright, solid and smooth in its downward transition as a well-maintained elevator.
The walls stayed close around them—too close, if Obed was honest—even as they carved a great valley beneath them. Grass sprang up, a soft, thick carpet under their heels. More lights winked into existence above them: some brighter, some dimmer than the one that had come before. Somewhere a wave crashed, breaking noisily on a shoreline that had not been there moments prior. Obed shook his head and looked to his companion.
"It's creation," he said, his voice a reverent whisper. "Of what or by what, I can't begin to guess. This is…" He shook his head, and a low hiss came in answer. It was a loud, rasping sound that seemed to come from all around them; there was nothing for it to echo off of, and yet it did, all the same.
The sound sent a chill up Gabe's spine, one that made him drift closer to Obed for the simple comfort of another human form. His arm brushed against the other man's before he stepped back. It suddenly struck him that the walls around them were not made of stone, but scales.
"I think it's... It's a giant snake," he whispered, suddenly in awe of what wrapped around them. He peeked behind where they stood, and saw the somewhat relieving sight of his own front door, which stood out behind them almost eerily with no other walls to wrap around it. As Gabe turned his head back to the enormous serpent coiled around them, another rustling sound emerged, and the walls took on a translucence that he could not completely identify.
"Do you...is there a head...or...?" He could not be sure where the serpent began nor ended, and the idea made him deeply uncertain of their safety. "It's making, but ... hopefully it doesn't find us intrusive..."
"God, I hope it doesn't."
Obed slipped his hands into his pockets, suddenly considering the wisdom of his earlier hands-on approach. The serpent had not seemed to notice them, and he hoped they could keep it so until they could escape. Now that it was identified, some of what they saw seemed better contextualized; Obed narrowed his eyes, peering at the scales paling before their eyes. He blinked, suddenly realizing at least some of what they witnessed.
"It's shedding," he said. "What do you suppose happens when it's finished with that?" He looked back to the coils; the shedding, if indeed that's what it was, seemed to be hastening. "I suppose we'll find out soon enough…"
Nodding, Gabe shuffled in place, his body showing his desire to drift back toward the door that had brought them to strange and yet wonderful display. His gaze, however, remained wholly centered on the sight before them. The skin continued to slough off the snake's long, rotund form; Gabe leaned toward the giant serpent, suddenly, as he realized there was something behind the skin.
"Do you see—" He started, and that was when the water freed itself from its bonds.
It rushed toward the two men, giant, 10-foot waves cresting over the hills and valleys that the serpent had carved in its path away from Gabe's apartment door. At first, it seemed slow to break free, and then it was rushing, flowing swiftly to encapsulate the two men, quickly winnowing the small patch of land they stood on to a mere island.
Obed managed to gulp in a deep breath before the water spilled over them. He reached out and grabbed Gabe's arm, tugging him closer as the wave battered against them. Logic told him the door had to be near; the water was rising, carrying them back up toward where they had begun, and neither of them had walked especially deep into the room. With his free hand he grasped for the doorknob, but in its place he found only silt and debris. He kicked toward the surface, dragging Gabe as he went, and at last they broke free of the waves.
"The door," Obed gasped. He let go of Gabe and kicked toward where he thought it should be; Gabe followed Obed's dark shape in the water, as closely as he could. Obed still saw nothing, but he felt as though something loomed closer with each hard kick. A few strides more, and his fingertips brushed against a solid wall. He dipped down under the water, fingers outstretched and splayed as he continued his search for their exit.
He found it after what seemed like an age; he put both hands on the knob and twisted hard, opening the door and spilling both of them out into Gabe's perfectly dry, perfectly safe apartment. Spot jumped up from his spot, walk-running over to his master's sopping wet form, promptly licking his face.
Gabe pushed the dog back, as gently as he could, as he held his arms up, staring down at the wet prints their bodies made on his hardwood floor. Nothing else in the apartment was wet; nothing even looked drizzled on, and his front door was whole and intact. He glanced from it to Obed next to him, one hand reaching to adjust his glasses.
"Well that... that was quite the adventure," he commented. As soon as his glasses were back in place, he glanced toward the deadbolt on his door and noted the key was gone. He carefully climbed to his feet. "Did you...?" He glanced at Obed, motioning toward the door to ask if he'd taken the key, somehow.
Obed shook his head. He patted his waterlogged pockets, but came up with only more water and wet silt. "I don't know," he said, for what felt like the tenth time in the last hour. He raised himself to his feet with perhaps a bit more struggle than his friend. He reached for his shirttail and rang it out, spilling more water to the floor. "I guess a disappearing key is an easy trick to pull off compared to a giant snake." He pushed a hand through his wet hair; one lock stayed almost upright, swept back like a cowlick.
"I suppose one of us should update Miss Bernard's forum post," he said. A wry smile twisted his lips. "And I should definitely get home and change. I'm not sure how I'm going to explain this to Isobel."
Gabe shook his head, grinning, his mind already calculating how many towels would be necessary to start mopping up the floor. Spot was already licking at the water, despite Gabe trying to hold him back with a well placed foot.
"If it helps, you can say I pushed you in the pool?" Gabe held a hand out to shake Obed's. Obed took it, chuckling, and shook his head. "Thanks for the invite, though, and the impromptu swim. It was...definitely an experience." His mind was spinning and he wanted to already dart across the hall to start telling Rafe all about it, up until he remembered the cannibalism experience his significant other had dealt with. He sighed quietly, glancing down at his own clothes.
"For once, I'm glad my unit has its own washer and dryer..."
Obed laughed again. "You'd be welcome to mine if you didn't. I owe you that much, at least." After giving Spot a small pat farewell, he turned and headed for the door. "I'm going to take you up on that dinner offer, for sure. If there's anything you want us to bring, let me know." Then he excused himself and slipped out into the hall, which blessedly bore no resemblance whatsoever to a snake-borne sea.