One of the joys of having an essay in Uncanny Magazine was doing the page proofs. Page proofs aren’t usually much fun. It’s your last chance to catch problems, but you don’t want to find big problems because they’re a pain to fix at that stage. For Uncanny, however, you have the option to proof the whole magazine, which means being able to read all the stories, poems, and essays before anyone else.
I particularly liked this story by Emily Devenport for the fact that it found something compelling in the work that science fiction all too often assumes will magically disappear with progress.
“You’ll see people in this corridor sometimes,” said my trainer, who was named Reed. “Don’t look directly at them, don’t talk to them, and don’t get in their way. They’ll just be passing through, and they probably won’t even be aware of you. But don’t take chances. Interfering with their journey could get them killed. Or get you killed. Understand?”
No way did I understand. But I believed him. “Yes.”
“Most of the time those people will look human,” said Reed. “Sometimes they won’t. You can’t let it get to you, and the best way to avoid that is not to look at them.”
His remarks would have surprised me if he had uttered them somewhere else. But in that hallway, they made perfect sense. Weirdness seemed to radiate from every surface, and the floor, even covered with that horrendous mess, was the most normal thing to look at.
As we continued deeper into The Effect, people passed us, just as he had warned. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from, but they all went the same direction, toward the Gate. Sometimes they were engaged in conversation as they walked, but I couldn’t make out what language they were speaking. I kept my eyes on the floor, and once the people had left us alone again, something occurred to me. “Reed—don’t the Journeyers care about the mess on the floor? Most people would be grossed out.”
“The Journeyers don’t care,” said Reed. “I’m not even sure they notice. They may be out of phase with this place. It’s the people who made the Gate who care. If all goes well, you’ll never meet them.”
I found it hard to fathom that the Journeyers didn’t care about the mess. That first day, and on many overlaps thereafter, there was blood as well as urine on the floor. Sometimes I wondered if a slaughter had occurred there, and the excretions had been provoked by terrible fear. Other times, it seemed more like something was marking its territory, angry because we had invaded the borders of its hunting grounds. I say its, because often the biological fluids on the floor did not appear to have a human origin.
As Reed and I made our way to the far end of The Effect, the hall opened into an odd bathroom that also contained a floor sink in one corner for wheeled buckets. The bathroom and floorsink were normal features of the basement, but they were enlarged and distorted by The Effect, which twisted the bathroom three–quarters of a turn counter–clockwise to make room for another hallway that intersected the main hall at an angle. One end of this new hallway disappeared around another curve, which arced away from the main hall. The other end continued for a few feet past the bathroom and terminated at a blank wall.
But when I glanced at that wall, I saw ripples spreading in circles from its center, as if it were a pool of water. I looked away.
“That’s the Gate,” said Reed. “That’s where the Journeyers go. No one who’s seen around that bend—” he jerked his chin toward the other end, “—has ever returned to tell us about it. So don’t get curious about it.”
I nodded and looked at the stalls. The fixtures inside also appeared distorted, and I fervently hoped I would never see the creatures for whom they were intended.
“Walk me back out,” said Reed. “Then you can get started.”