The House Of Everything
Dr Skin wiped up the last of the gravy from the plate with a forkful of chicken and ate it, savouring it just as much as the first bite. Burping, he pushed the plate away and rubbed his stomach.
“That,” he said with genuine enthusiasm, “might just have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.”
The man with no face bowed slightly as he took the plate and put it on a nearby tray. “I am glad you enjoyed it, sir.”
Skin had been eager to get on with the next stage of his journey, but the offer of a roast meal had been far too tempting to resist. The meat had been perfectly tender and the vegetables had also been cooked to perfection, the whole meal liberally covered in thick rich gravy and an even thicker cheese sauce.
Skin patted the pockets of his jacket, looking for a cigarette, but came up short. Luckily, the man with no face was on the case again and offered him one out of a silver case along with a light. Skin took both gratefully and was not surprised to find the cigarette was one of the best he had ever tasted. It was a disgusting, uncool habit, and Doctor Skin fucking loved it.
“You’re a star,” he told the man with no face. He took a long drag on the cigarette as he studied his blank features. “So, you got a name? Or is it like the nose on your face?”
“I have no name,” he replied, not surprising Skin at all. “I have only existed for as long as you have been here. I came from nothing and will return to nothing when you depart.”
“That’s a pisser. Well, I can’t just keep calling you nothing. Mind if I call you Clive?”
The man with no face tilted his head slightly. “If you wish. But may I ask, why Clive?”
Skin stood up from the table and wandered past some of the unfamiliar portraits that hung on the wall. “I knew a Clive when I was a kid. Nice guy. Died in a tragic gardening accident.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“Not your problem, Clive,” said Skin. “But there is just one thing…”
Skin suddenly spun around, grabbed Clive by the lapel of his jacket and pushed him up against the wall. “You’re not one of these guys who is all nice and everything, but as soon as I start to trust you a little you turn on me and start beating the crap out of me, are you? Because I’ve had more than enough of that lately. It’s getting really old.”
“I am here to serve,” said Clive, entirely unconcerned about being slammed up against the wall. “I can not harm you. I do not wish to harm you. I have been brought into existence to see you on the next step of your quest. I have no other purpose.”
“Excellent!” grinned Skin, letting Clive go and slapping him on the shoulder. “Let’s get on with it, shall we?”
“Of course,” said Clive as he straightened out his suit.
“But if you do cross me, I’m going to carve a happy face into that blankness of yours. You dig?”
“Absolutely,” said Clive, raising an arm and leading Skin towards one of the heavy wooden doors that lead out of the room. “This way please.”
“It would be my pleasure,” said Skin. He headed towards the door and even though Clive waited for him to make a move, the man with no face still managed to reach the door in time to open it up for Skin.
Nodding, Dr Skin left the room.
The hallway was just like the room he had just left, smelling of age and disuse. Dimly lit, with dark wooden walls and scarlet carpet, Skin though it would not look out of place in an old horror film.
“Which way?” he asked Clive as he looked up and down the hallway, neither direction indicating anything.
“That is entirely up to you, Doctor,” said Clive. He pointed to his left. “That way lies all utopias, filled with all the realism that can be mustered. No lies, no fantasies, just the truth.”
“Sounds like a laugh. And the other way?”
“Ah. Pure fantasy lies in the other direction. Every possible figment of the imagination. All the great stories and all the mediocre tales. Every choice leads to another level.”
“You’re losing me, Clive.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I assure you, that was not my intention.”
“Nah, I’m getting used to that, more than anything. Okay, what do you reckon? Left or right?”
“It is not my place to say.”
“I thought you were going to say that.” Skin fished around in his pocket until he found a coin. Pulling it out, he found it was a type he had never seen before, with an unfamiliar female face with a short haircut wearing glasses on one side and an intricate spiral on the other.
“Okay,” he said, resting the coin on his thumb. “Heads, we go left and take in some reality. Tails, we stick with the fantasy.”
Clive silently watched as Skin flipped the coin, but it vanished in mid air, right at the apex of its arc.
“Huh,” said Skin, before shrugging. “Fuck it. I never had much use for reality. Let’s head right.”
“As you wish,” said Clive, leading him in that direction.
Skin followed him for a while in silence, but there was something that disturbed him about the quiet atmosphere in the hallway and he decided to try and get more answers out of the man with no face.
“Where am I anyway, Clive? This place seems awfully familiar.”
“I would like to tell you, but I really do not have any idea,” answered Clive. “This is just a House.”
“House of what?” asked Skin, finishing off his cigarette and dropping the butt inside a large brass vase.
“Just a House. Perhaps you would have a better idea of what it all means if you looked inside one of the rooms.”
Clive gestured at one of the doors they were passing and Skin decided to take him up on the challenge. He opened the door and peeked inside.
He had expected to see another room similar to the dining room they had just left, but Skin wasn’t really all that surprised to see a thick, lush jungle inside, a hot sun beating down on the vegetation through a cloudless blue sky.
As Skin continued to look, he saw an incredibly muscled man leap through the trees right in front of him, wearing nothing more than a loincloth with a knife stuck in it. He hollered out with animal joy as he leaped onto a vine and swung through the air. Swinging close to Skin, he caught his eye and winked once before disappearing into the trees, followed closely by a group of angry neanderthals, chasing after him, paying no heed to Skin as they brandished their spears.
Clive closed the door again and waited patiently for Skin to move on.
Skin just stood there and grinned. “Fucking hell. Was that fucking Tarzan?”
“Just another character,” said Clive with a shrug. He gestured again down the corridor. “They’re all here.”
“Who? What do you mean by them?”
“Every fictional character that has ever been created, they are all connected to the House in one way or another. They’re all here.”
Skin looked down the corridor and even though it was still dimly lit, he suddenly realized he could see it stretch on and on, far further than it ever could if this was actually a real building. In total clarity, Skin could see there were millions of rooms, stretching off into the distance.
“No way,” he whispered as his head struggled to get around what he was seeing.
“I assure you, sir. There is every way.”
Skin giggled, slightly more high-pitched than he had intended, but he didn’t care how he sounded. He began jogging down the corridor, looking inside rooms at random.
Through each door he saw an entirely different world. He saw people in dark helmets dispense justice in a huge futuristic city. He saw a man in a tuxedo fight a tall bald man while they both dangled out of the back of a burning plane. He saw spaceships pushing the boundaries of the galaxy as women in bright tight jumpsuits fought creatures made of rock with karate chops and dropkicks.
He saw a jungle compound where severed heads lay on ancient temple steps, a small logging town that appeared innocent but reeked of hidden evil and a group of dark-skinned men wave to ghosts gathered on a bench beneath an old tree.
He saw a city of darkness where deformed men upheld hidden honors, a bright village where individuality was destroyed and a lost London where vampires mingled with all levels of Victorian society.
Skin couldn’t help himself, opening doors at a whim, gazing on the hidden universe within and moving on to the next. He lost track of all sense of time, opening up hundreds of the doors as Clive faithfully followed close behind.
The wonders of the House seemed to be never-ending, so by the time he came to a room where all he saw inside was a small lake surrounded by dark cabins, he paused. It was dark through the doorway, although a full moon gave some light as it reflected off the surface of the water.
“Well,” said Skin, “this one suc-“
Suddenly, a huge figure wearing a white hockey mask and a tattered boiler suit appeared around the edge of the doorway, pushing out with a rotting hand and keeping the door open as Skin tried to slam it shut. With his other hand he raised a huge machete and brought it down towards Skin’s head.
Skin stopped trying to slam the door shut and ducked as the machete just missed taking his head clean off. He stepped back as the huge madman walked out into the hallway.
He swung at Skin with the machete again, but Skin was ready for him this time and caught blade between his two hands. He twisted, trying to yank the machete out of his attacker’s hands, but he held fast and swung his arm around, picking Skin up off the floor and slamming him into the wall.
“I’m terribly sorry,” said Clive as the madman moved in on Skin. “I wish I could help, but I really do not know how.”
“No worries,” said Skin, kicking his opponent in the groin as hard as he could as he came closer. The man in the hockey mask tilted his head slightly, then reached down and picked Skin up by the ankle, dragging him back towards the doorway.
Skin continued to kick at him with his free foot, but had no effect on his assailant. He was dragged back through the door and tossed onto the ground near the lake.
Breathing deeply, the man in the hockey mask tried to take Skin’s head off again with the machete, but Skin dived out of the way and leaping up, ripped the mask off the bigger man.
A rotting face leered at Skin, devoid of any emotion other than pure hatred. With the mask in his hand, Skin punched him right in the face, a disturbing squelching noise coming from the blow.
As his opponent finally took a step back, Skin dived for the door, rolling through it and screaming at Clive. “Close the fucking door!”
“That I can do,” said Clive, stepping forward and slamming the door shut just as the madman was about to come through it again.
Dr Skin stayed on the floor for a moment, breathing deeply before looking up at Clive and grinning.
“Guess I should be more careful who I mess with in this place, huh?”
Clive offered him a hand up. “Once again, my deepest apologies, Doctor. I can’t be involved in any kind of conflict. I have absolutely no knowledge about fighting. At all.”
“Nice to know,” said Skin, taking the offered hand and getting to his feet. “Don’t worry about it, Clive. A bit of fighting is to be expected. It isn’t a proper quest without it.”
“Would you care to examine more of the rooms?”
“I don’t think so,” said Skin with a shake of his head. “I’ve had my fun, but I think it’s time to get on with it, don’t you?”
“That may be the best course of action.”
“Right. So how exactly do I move on from here?”
Clive pointed down the corridor. “Well, I think if you walked out the front door of the house, you may get the desired result.”
Skin looked down the direction Clive had pointed to and saw that there was a door in the middle of the hallway, a door that had not been there an instant before.
“That’s convenient,” he muttered as Clive moved forward to it.
Clive stopped as he put his hand on the doorknob. “Are you sure you want to move on?”
“I haven’t been sure of anything in a long, long time. But to be frank, that’s the way I like it. Open it, Clive.”
The door swung open and Skin moved up to it. There was one concrete step right outside the doorway and beyond that a sight Skin could barely comprehend.
A smile spread across his face as he stared out the door, the glittering lights on the other side reflecting on his eyes. “It’s beautiful…”
“So they say,” said Clive. “Good luck, Doctor. All the best.”
“Thanks for all the help, Clive,” said Skin, turning back and patting the man with no face on the arm.
“And thanks again for the meal. It was fucking excellent.”
“I exist only to serve,” said Clive with a bow.
“Yeah well, you’re pretty fucking good at it,” said Skin. He nodded once more, then stepped through the doorway.
“Oh wow,” he said, just as the door closed behind him. “This is wonderful…”
The instant the door closed, Clive faded away, leaving the hallway empty, disappearing into oblivion with the certain knowledge of a job well done.