This was the 2011 Launch Day Special.
Elizabeth Darcy woke up on the cold floor, choking against the tentacles around her neck. The slippery suckers chafed against her skin as they circled ever closer around her, squeezing out the last —
She shook her head. No. Another nightmare. She opened her eyes and looked along the line of the floor to where her husband lay. There was a greenish cast to the light in the room.
‘Fitzy?’ she said. ‘Are you all right?’
He said nothing, so she shuffled herself over towards him and shook him.
Her husband groaned and mumbled something incoherent about a probe.
‘No, Fitzy dearest, it’s me.’
‘Ah, good … good. No probe then?’
‘No, there is no probe, although for the life of me I have not the faintest idea of what you speak. Is it one of those things that men discuss when we ladies are not present? I have ofttimes pondered on this.’
‘Then again, ‘ said Elizabeth, ‘I suspect this may be one of those occasions when I am glad I am not — ’
She was interrupted by a clattering from the far side of the room, followed by a curse.
‘Have at you, evil fiend!’ said a voice. Elizabeth raised herself to her elbows and looked up. She saw a man in uniform, slashing wildly about himself with his sword.
‘Ah, Mr Wickham,’ said Elizabeth. ‘Pray sheath your weapon, sir. I fear you may be fighting a phantom of the night.’
He stopped, put his sword away and smacked his head with his hand.
‘You are right, madam. I have no idea what got into me.’
‘’Tis of no consequence. We have suffered visitations by similar fancies.’
‘Where are we?’ interrupted Darcy. ‘This is intolerable.’ He stood up and began to pace up and down. ‘It’s a disgrace!’ he shouted.
‘Actually, it’s a cube,’ said Elizabeth. ‘With holes in the centre of each wall, so that perhaps ’tis in fact a series of linked cubes, wherein a path may be found to the exit. Perhaps even — ’
‘I don’t care what dashed shape it is’ said Darcy. ‘They have no right to put us in it. Whoever they are.’
‘Calm down, my dear,’ said Elizabeth, getting to her feet.
‘Yes, best to stay — ’ began Wickham.
‘Keep out of this,’ said Darcy. ‘I still don’t trust y— ’
‘Fitzy, I really — ’
Elizabeth watched in alarm as the two men squared up to each other. But they were interrupted by a movement in the ceiling above them. The grille was being removed from the hole in the centre and two female legs were coming through it, followed by a body. Then the body plummeted downwards and landed on Darcy, who collapsed back onto the floor.
‘Charlotte?’ said Elizabeth.
Charlotte looked up, her eyes the size of moons. ‘I have been in a blue room,’ she said.
‘Ah,’ said Elizabeth.
‘This room is green. I want to go back to the blue room,’ said Charlotte.
‘G-ood,’ said Elizabeth.
‘Can I get up please?’ said Darcy.
Darcy staggered to his feet once again and resumed his pacing up and down.
‘Fitzy, my dear,’ said Elizabeth. ‘Perhaps ’twould be for the best if you were to preserve your energies? Who knows how long we may be trapped in this place? Or perhaps we should try to find a way out?’
She lifted up the grille in the middle of the floor. All four of them peered in.
‘’Tis a red room,’ said Charlotte.
‘I will go first,’ said Wickham.
‘No, I will,’ said Darcy.
‘Neither of you will,’ said Elizabeth, removing her bonnet. She dropped it into the hole and watched in horror as it was cut to shreds by hidden knives.
‘Ah,’ said Darcy and Wickham simultaneously.
‘Maybe that man will be able to help us,’ said Charlotte, pointing towards the wall.
‘I’m sorry?’ said Elizabeth. Then she saw him. Where had he appeared from and when? Slumped against the wall opposite them was a dishevelled specimen with several days’ growth of stubble and a pallid demeanour.
‘Pray who are you sir?’ said Wickham, drawing his sword. The man shook his head and began muttering to himself and dribbling.
‘See what he is saying,’ said Elizabeth. Wickham went over and squatted down next to the man. He appeared to listen intently to him, asking questions from time to time. Finally, Wickham shook his head, stood up and came back to them.
‘Well?’ said Elizabeth.
‘I hardly know where to begin,’ said Wickham. ‘He claims to be some kind of writer. Apparently we are in a sort of — what was the word? — limbo, wherein we are held pending a decision on whether our story is to proceed further.’
‘Limbo?’ said Elizabeth.
‘More intolerable mumbo jumbo,’ said Darcy, pacing up and down again. ‘Limbo mumbo jumbo.’
‘Fitzy — ’ began Elizabeth.
‘Want to go back to the blue room,’ said Charlotte.
‘Oh, for heavens sake,’ said Elizabeth. ‘No-one’s going anywhere until we know the next room isn’t going to cut us into little pieces. Wickham, did the gentleman over there give us any more clues?’
‘Well, he said the only way we’ll escape from this limbo is if we can somehow persuade everyone reading this to buy a book of some sort and create demand for a sequel.’
‘Ah! ’Tis a metafictional construct!’ exclaimed Elizabeth. ‘We have encountered this kind of thing before, have we not? And yet there is a fourth wall — six if you count the floor and the ceiling, and we may as well since this is a perfect cube — so ’tis not a conventional authorial intervention — ’
‘May I suggest we simply kill him?’ said Darcy. ‘If he dies, maybe the story dies too and we become free once more? Wickham, your sword please.’
Elizabeth held up her hand. ‘I fear ’tis not so simple. We risk being trapped forever if we proceed in that manner. No, I think our best course of action is to do as he says and try to persuade our readers to buy the book. But how?’
Wickham gestured towards the writer. ‘He told me ’twas the most fun you could have with a bonnet on.’
There was a brief silence as Elizabeth contemplated the hole in the middle of the floor. ‘’Twas such a pretty bonnet too,’ she said with a sigh.