Waffles walked forward and onto the window. We all looked down (to us) which was actually sideways (to the rest of the world) at the wall of the building next door.
“Well that’s disorienting.” I twisted my head to see if it would help. It didn’t. Above (for us) was the ceiling, which was actually an inner structure—like a solid tower within the tower. “Let’s keep our eyes on what’s in front of us.” And with that, we continued on.
As we had surmised from the outside, the tower didn’t have stories, but was rather one single, spiraling passage that climbed up and up—one long, twisting corridor, the floor of which was the inside of the windowed tower wall. At every moment it was like being at the bottom of a pipe that curled up behind us and up ahead. We could never see very far.
I found that I’d nestled down further into the fur. This place is a death trap. There was only one way in or out, and the space wasn’t wide. If something came up behind us…
After about two spirals, in the distance we saw somebody—or something—sweeping a part of the spiral that looked to be some kind of living room. Waffles padded to a space under a side table.
The curve of the space meant we could only see its feet: small and booted, with green legs coming up and into a dirty robe that we could smell from three meters away. It was sweeping with a broom that looked like a child had made it. It swept clouds of dust toward the window, which was, from our vantage point, in the floor.
Startled, Waffles jerked slightly, like he was going to flee, but then stayed still. Easy, boy.
The creature squatted and pushed the window open with a grunt. It was bipedal, about the size of an eight-year-old human, with patchy, moist skin that reminded me of the frogs of Quebec. Red, finger-length pieces of flesh hung from the bottom of its chin, swaying as it forced the window open. It looked to be the same kind of creature we saw at the well, but this one had a distinctly masculine look about it. A single, rhino-like horn emerging from between his bulging eyes.
Don’t look over here. Please don’t look over here…
He breathed heavily for a moment, recovering from the exertion of opening the window, then reached with long, padded fingers for the broom. He stood, and the creature’s head was occluded by the ceiling, which in this case consisted of a central support in the tower. If we stayed low and back far enough, we could see the creature’s feet but not his head.
Dichall put his paw on mine, and I realized I was breathing hard. I squeezed his paw back and tried to calm down.
The creature swept dust to the open the window… floor… window-floor? The dust fell “down,” out of the tower, before falling sideways to the actual ground outside.
There didn’t appear to be an easy way to get by him without being seen. A voice in my head told me to get out of there. But as scared as I was, how bad must it be for young Vivian trapped in here?
Then footsteps. After a moment we saw slippered feet enter the area in front of us.
“Gombree!” The voice was rough, like the mouth was chewing bits of glass as it spoke.
“Yes, madam Magnitrude.” Our small green creature’s voice so soft we could barely hear it.
“There’s a fly up there. I’m trying to eat!”
I let myself down off Waffles, steeling myself. The only way is forward. “I’m going to go in to get a closer look.” I got low and crept forward near the “wall.” Above the slippers was a human woman—or what appeared to be a human woman, anyway—wearing a long, pink dress and a crown. I narrowed my eyes. In this strange locus of horrors, here was someone dressed as a cartoon princess. Madam Magnitrude’s face was beautiful, by human standards, and she appeared to be about 19 or 20 years old.
Gombree followed Magnitrude deeper up the tower. When their footsteps were gone, I went back to the dog and my fellow Councilmice. “Some woman dressed like a princess. Let’s keep going.”
We spiraled on and found Magnitrude and Gombree hunting the insect she’d been complaining about a minute earlier. Waffles got under another table, relatively out of sight.
Gombree stood on a chair and swatted at the fly, hitting and knocking down a painting. The fly got away, and buzzed toward Magnitrude, who screamed and ran past us without notice.
Gombree stepped off the chair and tracked the fly with his gaze as it flew around the room. When it landed, this time on the seat of a chair, he raised his broom to swat it, completely focused.
“Kill it!” Magnitrude shrieked, covering her eyes.
This is our chance.
I patted Waffles on the head. “Go! Go!”