© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode One: Escape from Rand World
He sat in his rough basement studying the construction work about the red door. What more could he do, other than what he had already done? There was a new steel-enforced brick wall, with much heavier bricks, filled with concrete in all their hollow spaces. This basement was practically a bunker, and the door was made of steel, reinforced steel, pretty much a blast door, built to withstand a nuclear blast. Okay, so perhaps that was exaggerating things, just a tad. But this whole basement room was now a steel cage, floor, ceiling, and walls, and another steel door, newly hung, stood ajar at the bottom of the basement stairs. He supposed, eventually, he would install another steel door at the top of the steps, but really, that would be silly, unless he also made a second cage of the basement stairwell, which he supposed he would eventually do.
It had all cost quite a load of money, if you worried about such things—these days, Hank didn’t truly worry all that much about money. The stuff was almost meaningless, money, you could pretty much pick it off the ground.
Actually, they had been picking it off the ground, and channeling the gold and silver pieces through a network of quiet...appraisers and, well...specialists, and the money flow had increased. All seven of them were almost literally rolling in dough. There was nothing illegal about all of this, mind you, unless you considered breaking the laws of physics, or string theory, comparable to breaking some sort of moral code, or civil laws; who really cared about such things, come on, truly?
It had cost quite a lot to soundproof not only this basement, but the whole house, and disguise the windows to look like normal windows, whereas the truth was that the windows were opaque, and the lights that shone through were simple tricks. The windows were boarded over and reinforced with steel. You could get out, if you needed to (in case of fire or other emergency), but it would take some effort. They had pulled a whole lot of tricks to “hide” this house, while keeping it right out in plain view. You had to do your best, because of the...Them.
Because there would be the They, the guys all knew and understood the ever-present danger of They, always lurking, snooping and sniffing about, and that sooner or later They would begin to figure things out, at least whatever there was to figure out, in consideration of reality, and all that metaphysical hogwash. But Hank didn’t care too much about reality, and breaking the laws of physics, or string theory, not when they had been touched by...magic, of all things. Or at least, what seemed to them all, crazily, just like magic, it really did, but mind you, it probably wasn’t, not really—not magic; however, until they figured things out, understood everything a bit better, Hank supposed magic was a fine and old-fashioned word that you could pretty much apply to anything and everything that couldn’t fully be explained.
Was painting the door such a vivid red, was that a bit too much? Probably. But Hank wanted the door to stand there like the mythological red phones linking Washington and Moscow, dangerous, but necessary. Yes, red was the proper color for something so important as the door.
Rodney called the door the Rude Dare, and they all found this appropriate, any which way you looked at it. It was their rude dare, their red door, their dangerous touch of magic. Proof of the thing they always suspected, and now knew. Rude Dare, Red Door.
For years, Hank hosted the Viking Simulation Society out of this very basement—it had all been different, then, the furnishings, their purpose, the half-drunken discussions. They would issue their trite “All hail the Vikings!” and lift up their beers, or coffee for those in AA, every Wednesday night, knocking on the table three times and lifting their right eyebrows (not all of them could do the thing with the eyebrow, but they cocked their head appropriately). And they talked. And smoked (cigars and pipes, mostly, although a few of the guys were known to get a tad...whacky, every once in a while, not Hank, of course, not the whacky stuff, anyway, he was always a cigar man). Now, the table was gone, and all the silly decorations (toy Viking helmets and swords), and now there were mostly weapons—real weapons, including shotguns and bo staffs, pistols and watchman batons—and camping gear, tents and wheelbarrows, and other useful tools for their short excursions into that other place.
Back when this all began, a few months ago—that crazy Wednesday night when two worlds had suddenly...knocked boots—everything became different. They had discussed and argued over and about reality, of all things, in the distant days. And they had read books and argued over and about them. And they had smoked a lot of cigars. Jethro smoked his pipe, and his tobacco smelled much better than everybody else’s cigars. Things were very different now.
As a precaution, last month, the seven guys had purchased the house behind this house. They now had a full quarter-acre of land, which was entirely fitting, their Rood. And working together they had created a tunnel from that house to this house (it was not as extensive a project as it sounds, as both houses were set back off their respective streets, not too far away from each other, and so the tunnel only had to be about seventy feet long, to connect the two basements). It cost a fortune, but they had barely scratched the surface of their collective fortune.
They dug the twenty-foot deep trench right out in the middle of the day, rumbling their rented backhoes and dozers, cutting a swath from one house to the next, as if they were just fixing the plumbing (very deep plumbing, apparently), but they had brought in the large prefab tunnel pieces at night, setting and locking each connection in place, and then covering the tunnel with thirteen feet of soil, even planting trees and rolling out lawn to disguise the soil disturbance, and then they had set up the beautiful wrought-iron fence between the two houses, thus completing the ruse.
They had done it all in a week, skipping all the permits and permissions, and of course forgetting to mention the subterranean construction so that it would never appear in any city-filed plans or blueprints.
Now, generally on Sundays and Wednesdays, the guys met and parked at the back house, which they called Crash House (ensuring that some cars were parked in the luxurious garage, while others were parked right out on the driveway, and only one vehicle was ever parked on the street, and they made sure to rotate this practice). They entered Crash House through various entrances, turning on lights and televisions and radios, plus a few iPods packed with conversation, and then headed down into the basement, and then over to this house, which they called Cross House, for that is what they did here (plus the whole Rood thing, of course, their Rude Dare).
Officially, the backyard work between the two houses was just a fancy landscaping job, and they laid ornamental bushes, a stone pathway, a small meditation maze, stone benches, and a wide pond. It was all of it lovely, the cosmetic deception hiding their secret passage.
Even the tallest of them need not worry about bumping their heads in the seven feet of tunnel clearance. They had seven feet of height and four feet of width, and it proved to be a bright and airy tunnel, with overhead LED lights set every ten feet of tunnel juncture. Quiet fans blew at either end, bringing down fresh air, with solar panels installed discretely at both Crash and Cross, keeping the tunnel lit, fresh, and off the grid. It should also prove watertight, as they had packed the soil beneath with two feet of sand, and then a layer of gravel over that, with a run-off shield on the top. And now there was nary a hint of any kind of subterranean passage connecting Crash and Cross.
Still, if They got any kind of wind of this, They could photograph the whole works from the air. And then how They would roll in, taking over, claiming everything for Themselves, those They, the Them.
For years the Wednesday night Viking Simulation Society had been their version of church, arguing about reality, but now it was much more than that. Nowadays, they rarely discussed books, or sat about arguing. Now they generally met and went through the red door, armed to the teeth. They did all of their arguing on the other side of the red door, but they were sure and certain to keep their voices very low.
Because they had witnessed some of the things that might appear on the other side of the red door, strange things that lived there, and warred, and died.
But it was what was on this side of the red door that bothered Hank.
Yesterday, John called and told him to get one of his big old Yellow Pages books that nobody ever used anymore, but not the Yellow Pages, just the White Pages. They hardly remembered who created these monster volumes, the old phone company, or the cable company? They were relics, these vast compilations of numbers and names and listings. Hank complied, and found an old one, the huge kind that practically listed a whole city in two volumes, each volume ten inches thick.
“Tell me, Hank, what are the two most common last names?” John had demanded, and Hank could hear him breathing, loudly, which was unusual, because John was the quiet one, rarely excitable—hell, he drove a Prius everywhere he went, the two were practically inseparable.
“Smith and Jones,” Hank had replied, hardly pausing to consider the question.
“Which volume do you have in your hands?” John asked.
“A through J,” Hank replied.
“Okay, tell me how many Jones are listed in that massive tome in your hands,” John said.
“What, you want me to count them?” Hank said, chuckling.
“Yes, let’s see how long it takes you.”
Hank complied, and flipped to the end of the book. He searched a bit, and then gawked, staring into the open White Pages. His hands began to shake.
“Well?” John asked.
“About five, Andy Jones, Arthur Jones, um, a few others, Amos and Alfred,” Hank said, disbelieving. In this huge book of last names, he found four with the surname Jones.
“Is that kind of...weird?” John asked. “And what name are you looking at, mostly, where you should be looking at Jones?”
Hank started flipping pages, page after page, counting fifteen pages of the same last name.
“Well?” John said, impatiently. Hank could almost hear him nervously tapping his foot.
“It looks like ten pages of your last name,” Hank said. “How in the world could there be a million pages of Galt, for crying out loud?”
“Right,” John Galt said. “If you go find the other half of that White Pages, you will find about twenty pages of Reardons, if you can imagine something as stupid as that!”
“But it’s not spelled the same,” Hank said, “in the books it’s Rearden, with an E! I’m Reardon, with an O.”
“Oh, okay, that makes me feel a lot better,” John Galt said.
“Well, we always thought it was a major coincidence,” Hank said, dropping the big White Pages volume onto his foot. “Our names, the seven of us, getting together, Reardon and Galt and Taggart, Mouch and d’Aconia—but that’s what got us started, you know, on the whole simulation hypothesis, it’s what brought us together. We hardly even bothered about it.”
“Yeah, well then why in the world did you say—Smith and Jones?”
“Don’t we think of those as the two most common? I mean, wouldn’t anybody say that?”
“Yes, you would think so. Want to see another neat trick?”
Hank sighed. He stared into a space for a long while. None of this should surprise him, not any of them, not after that Wednesday night when that guy—Stacey Colton—had come blundering through the brick wall of the basement. Nothing should surprise them, ever again.
“Yeah, well then why in the world did you say Smith and Jones?”
Hank felt it, the weirdness. It was uncanny, but he couldn’t help it, he said it again, just the same as he had before.
“Don’t we think of those as the two most common?”
“Yes, you would think so. Want to see another neat trick?”
“Déjà vu,” Hank replied, gulping. Perhaps the strongest case of that uncanny feeling he had ever experienced. He felt that maybe he was having a stroke.
“Yeah, I know, me too. I knew we would, now go ahead and look at those pages and pages of Galt again.”
Hank was almost too afraid to retrieve the book from the carpet. He sat down next to it, and leaned over the White Pages, cracking it open at the back. He stopped counting after about ten pages of Jones this time.”
“Twelve pages?” John Galt asked.
“Yeah, probably twelve pages of Jones, but I pretty much gave up the ghost after just a few, and I only find five Galts, not five pages, but five names, with your name twice,” Hank said. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. But that has to be the first time anyone has purposely triggered déjà vu for me. You knew that would happen?”
“Yeah, I triggered it earlier today, with Smith. It’s the system supplying the proper details, only when necessary. I’m just surprised that you didn’t come back holding the K through Z volume. I hate to say it, but I think we live in a cheapo simulation.”
“So what are you concluding?”
“That we live in a world based on the novels of Ayn Rand,” John said. “Something along those lines. Probably the Rand Institute is running it.”
“They don’t have anything to do with each other, do they, I mean the Rand and Rand? You know what I mean.”
“Maybe. Who knows? But think about it, what in the world is not connected to Ayn Rand, I mean as we know things?”
“I don’t know, that sounds a little, I guess, silly, don’t you think? Sure, she’s generally accepted as the greatest novelist in history, and Atlas Shrugged has pretty much replaced The Bible, but still, our whole world is hardly...based on her.”
“Well, not to us, from inside—but whoever is running this, this thing, who knows what angle they’re using? Like, how would life be different if everybody was oriented to think the way Ayn Rand thinks? Honestly, I’m not sure that Ayn Rand was the first woman president. Does the name...Obama, mean anything to you?”
“Kind of familiar, I’m not sure.”
Hank thought about it. They had figured the simulation part—or maybe they hadn’t quite accepted this reality as a simulation, but they had obvious proof of multiple worlds, or at the very least...another world, an alternate world. They had living proof, their Rude Dare.
“Quick,” John said. “Name the three greatest novelists, without thinking.”
“Um, okay, I’d have to say...Fyodor Dostoevsky...Victor Hugo, and I can’t think of the third, I don’t know, Ernest Hemingway?”
“Unusual choices, not the three I come up with off the tip of my tongue, but you didn’t mention Ayn Rand, did you?”
Hank considered. That was weird. You almost had to say Ayn Rand, right? I mean, really everyone agreed, didn’t they? Okay, so some people would say Herman Melville, and others would say John Milton, or Miguel de Cervantes. But I mean, come on, everyone accepted Ayn Rand as the greatest writer. She was the first female President of the United States, and that was the least of it—she was the mind that pulled together Canada, the U.S., and Australia, all through reverence of the ideas in her novels, wasn’t that all true?
Or was it? Perhaps that’s just what the system was feeding him.
That was yesterday. It made Hank want to run through the red door. He hadn’t, he had resisted. It was a basic rule, they should never go through alone. And, if possible, there should be at least one of them waiting in the basement. They had tried using walkie-talkies, but as soon as someone crossed the threshold, all contact severed.
It was fun to play around with the simulation hypothesis, especially after watching The Matrix or The Thirteenth Floor. But to actually begin to accept it as reality—I am made of numbers and this whole world is being generated in a computer program—that really screwed with your whole mind, with your whole self-esteem. It made you feel that everything was fake. That you were fake. And damn it, he didn’t like those feelings.
It was pretty easy to accept an alternate world, especially when you had your face rubbed in it. But did it mean that the other world, on the other side of the red door—was that a simulation, as well? Or was that the real world. There definitely seemed to be a whole lot more depth on the other side. Colors were more vibrant, the air was actually...tasty! And the water there, oh, it was magnificent, it was magic itself.
The other side was a more complex simulation, and their side was, what? Pixelated? Grainy?
He felt dread building in his chest. Everything seemed heavy. In church, he remembered, they would have called this the spirit of heaviness. Yes, it was depression, but something more, like something conscious was nudging at him. And it was beginning to terrify him, slowly, creeping, and surely. The dread—something is coming, what is it? The dread—it is almost too late, it might be here, even now, even at the door.
He strode circles in the basement, keeping well away from the red door. Hardly thinking, he strapped on his holster with the big forty-four magnum, clipped on some extra speedloaders to his belt, and took the big Bowie knife and looped it through on the other side of his hips from the pistol. He grabbed one of the prepped bug-out backpacks with tent and sleeping bag, and unlocked the red door, and seized up one of the big spears. This all might seem like overkill, but Hank knew that it wasn’t. In fact, he would be going through dreadfully unprepared. Was he really going to do it, go through, alone?
There was lots of fear, where Rood Der was concerned, of all the many things that might come through and burst open this steel door as if it were nothing more than yards of aluminum foil stretched over the opening. It was not a question of if something came through, but when; however, the true fear was that Rood Der might someday just...go away. As it had at one time not existed here, what if it returned to that state of nonbeing? That was the creeping dread that hounded him through the nights, what if someday they could no longer pass through?
This was Tuesday. If something went wrong, no one would know about it until tomorrow night; if he got into any kind of trouble, there would be nobody to rescue him, nobody to come and get him. Plus, time was very different on that side. He could be there for days in the next twenty-four hours in this room, even weeks over there before anyone from here came looking. As things stood, this world was the usual, every day, normal world, and over there, oh but that was the magic.
But he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t wait any longer. That thing with the White Pages, that had shaken him, the way John had triggered the déjà vu. The dread pounding in his chest and between his temples, damn it, but he couldn’t take it any longer. He had to escape—maybe not permanently, but perhaps for just a holiday.
He swung open the red door. There, on the other side, was the brick wall, and there about the bricks was the chalk line he had drawn, more than three months ago. When they put in the steel door and this interior block wall, they had ensured there was at least two feet of dead space between the red door and the original brick wall. He checked to ensure that his several emergency keys were there, present in his shirt pocket, pants pocket, and in his backpack. Everything seemed reasonably ready, so he stepped inside the red door, and pulled it closed at his back.
Hank heard the locks engage.
He was here, now, just moments away from magic. He, a fake boy, was about to become...real. He only needed to breathe in, and step forward. It was similar to passing through a waterfall, only not so cold or startling, but you did feel the ripple, a textural difference in the two changing realities. This, right here, where he stood at this moment, was where two worlds embraced.
This was their portal. He inhaled. And stepped through.
Hank sighed, the cool, almost chill breeze touching his face. Seasons seemed to be changing here, although they had never experienced any real weather extremes, temperature extremes—here, it seemed almost perfect, all the time. He opened his eyes. He didn’t think about why he always came through with his eyes closed—the first time, he had his eyes wide open. Now, he always enjoyed the bliss of opening his eyes to the colors, the vividness, the sheer breathtaking ethereal beauty of this world.
Far away, mountains rose in astonishment all about the hilltops and valleys. The peaks stood like monuments against a crystalline skyline of vivid, almost lurid glowing cyan—skies couldn’t look like this, could they? But the colors here were too much, until you grew used to them. Too much in a good way. Hank was no artist. Even so, these colors spoke to him, they communicated, all these deeps hues, the purples in the distant mountains, and the blues in the glimpsed mountain ranges even farther beyond, peaks and ridges, valley after valley, there was a whole world unexplored and opened to them here. The colors seemed balming, healing, the greens—he doubted he ever understood what the concept of green actually meant, until he came here—where it all was almost too good to look at, for any length of time. After a while, you had to close your eyes, and just...sigh. Yes, oh yes, but it was good, being here, in another world.
And the air, it smelled good. There was an actual clean tint to the scents, like floating ginger and cinnamon, stirred in the ether, spicy, like pine, but moving, as if the smells and scents and the aura of smell was just...alive.
This was the other world, the place they had taken to calling Sky Valley, because even though the land fell away into a rocky crevasse with streams flowing down into a faraway river, it just seemed that they were embraced in a giant’s hand, held up against that flawless sky that looked like a suspended ocean, glittering with shards of turquoise. Things sparkled, damn it, it made him ache inside—could this be real?
When they had come through here the first time, a battle had raged, one man—the Pugilist—did all manner of acrobatic martial arts, right here, dancing across these stones, singlehandedly cudgeling wave after wave of massive Vikings. And then that other thing, that Titan, some kind of dragon or great serpent, it had come, and it had consumed and then shat out great piles of Viking refuse. Weirdly, in the slimy piles of shit, there wasn’t much meat, as if the serpent contained the bodies, and voided all gear.
This world had great beauty, but correspondingly great violence. Here, you could live hard, and die even harder.
The seven of them—Hank, Rodney, John, Barney, Frederic, Jethro, and Ron—had come here, and collected gold from all the bodies, both strange coins, and raw nuggets. They had also dragged all the decomposing bodies down into one of the ravines, and stacked them. They had brought wheelbarrows through the portal to move the bodies, and gasoline to burn them, along with bags of charcoal. They collected plenty of ancient rotted lumber—at one time in the distant past, a forest had lived and died here in this small valley. They had burned the Vikings in a great pyre.
They set the fire and then hurried through the portal back to their side, and the next week when they came through it was as if much time had passed here, and the ashes were already mostly scattered in the winds of this world. Yes, that was the dirty work. But the gathering of the gold made it worth it, it was all work they did not mind doing, it was all so strange and exotic, and meaningful. This world and its treasures had changed their lives on the other side, but more, it was cleaning them, from the inside to the outside, on this side.
It was as if here, on this side, they became more...dense? More molecules, could that be it? A denser, more fully realized...reality?
Now, Hank just sat, right there just inside the portal, where they had moved and stacked some of the larger stones—not exactly boulders, but each rock they moved weighed in the neighborhood of three and four hundred pounds. They had made a little wall, about five feet high, just three feet removed from the invisible portal. They couldn’t draw a chalk line around the door, not on this side, for it stood unseen in the very air, about four feet wide, and seven feet tall. And they had stacked another retainer wall of smaller stones just on the other side of the portal (even though you could not enter it from that direction, they had done plenty of experimentation in the first few days). When going back that way, you stood here with your back to the small retainer wall, and they had stacked stones on either side to display a little runway, just up to the portal itself, and when you wanted back you just strode up almost to that smaller retainer wall and then you were through and found yourself facing the steel door, just on the other side.
Here, even with all the dangerous things—Vikings, as well as some other kind of warrior that the Vikings had slain, short and meaty guys with tattoos, and a Pugilist warrior spinning a shillelagh, and giant scorpions down by the river, and that train-sized serpent—here, sitting in this clean air amidst this riot of color, and the dread was just not here.
Dread and depression did not seem to work very well in this world. It was filtered right out of there, dialysis for the soul.
Hank sat and inhaled, cleansing his lungs. He set aside his backpack and weapons, and he sat and stared, breathing deeply, luxuriating in the freedom of a world without a Them. Damn, but it was good. Yes, that was really good.
The thought of where he was, it still sent shivers of terror ricocheting up and down his spine. It still raised the gooseflesh on the back of his neck, because he was here, and that other world, where he came from, it was all operating along without him, a machine chugging along at a slower speed. And he was here, in a place he was certain he had dreamed about, a none-too-subtle blending of Heaven and Hell, this Sky Valley.
Was it rude of them, daring this? The red door dared them, and they rudely accepted the challenge, because come on! How dunderheaded did they have to, to actually leave their world? And now here Hank was, in this place, luxuriating upon the stone and breathing the air, and he felt more alive than he had at any other time in his entire life.
Vibrant life flowed through him like electricity, crackling, and he threw back his head and howled, smiling, as tears streamed down his face.
He was here! He was here!
Read the Next Episode.
The Prequel to Rood Der: Vestigial Surreality: Vikings
© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode One: Escape from Rand World
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© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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