We stood before two lifts. I looked at them dumbly; nothing here was even remotely like what I had expected it to be. It was all so… normal.
"I don't know where Marcus is so it might be easier if we just take the stairs" Nate said, pointing to a door over to our right that had the words "FIRE STAIR" emblazoned on them in bold, green letters. I nodded, what he'd said didn't make that much sense but I decided it might just be easier to go along with him on this one. Nate went over to the stairs and held the door open for me. The stairs were exceptionally normal, everything concrete with metal hand rails, twisting and turning their way below my feet and up to unseen heights.
Nate opened the door onto the first level. The corridor was dim and I could only barely make out basic shapes, all weird and twisted. There was a slithering noise and a tentacle shot out of the gloom towards us. Nate shut the door with a snap, I could hear the thing hit the door with full force – the noise it made booming up and down the stair well.
"Well he's not in there" Nate commented and ushered me further up the stairs. We opened door after door. Each corridor was different and there were various things inside them, clearly the corridors had been designed to suit their inhabitants. Some of the corridors were dark, others had light pouring out, so bright I was nearly blinded. One corridor even appeared to be underwater – some sort of force field preventing the liquid from pouring out through the open door.
When I had finally stopped trying to count how many floors there were in this place Nate finally announced that we had gone through the right door and that this was the level that we needed to be on. My thighs were screaming by this point and my feet hurt, so more than anything I was glad for the break – the long walk to this place definitely hadn't helped and I had never been particularly fit. On the plus side, I would assume that that little problem might be on its way to being fixed, especially if there was going to be more walking or running away from things. Frankly I would prefer the walking.
The corridor that we entered actually looked like one you would find in a normal hotel. There were doors to either side and fluorescent lights as well as side tables with vases of flowers and watercolours of seasides and yet more flowers. That was where the normalcy ended unfortunately. The lights blinked and flickered in a rather malevolent way and a layer of mist covered the floor, hiding whatever was underneath and swirling around my ankles. It was a rather unnerving experience- the mist was so thick that my brain kept expecting it to be solid and support my feet, instead I continued to experience a horrible momentary falling feeling just before my foot hit the floor. I tried to ignore the crunching noises that accompanied each step.
There was a loud crash and the wall to my right exploded in a shower of bricks and mortar. I yelled and Nate pulled me back just as a small shape flew through the opening and landed against the opposite wall with a wet thunk, sliding slowly down to the floor in a crumpled heap.
A large shape blocked the hole in the wall. The heap of clothes muttered something and climbed to its feet revealing that it was as small man. He stalked angrily towards the monster and stood before it, hands on his hips.
"Get back in there!" he said, barely raising his voice
The monster promptly ignored him, as could only be expected. The man sighed and shrugged as if to say "well at least I tried" and then, showing an agility I would not have expected from someone who'd just been thrown through a wall, jumped up and grabbed the thing by an ear, bring it crashing down to the ground as he landed. Apparently that calmed the monster down, it o clambered slowly to whatever it used as feet and ambled slowly through the hole in the wall and back the way from which it had come.
Nate went over and clapped the smaller man on the back.
"Trolls, huh?" he asked casually, "you know it's gonna take you forever to clean all this up Marc'"
He jumped about a foot in the air.
"Where did you come from?" he yelled
"We've just been standing here for about ten minutes, you seemed a bit busy though, no wonder you didn't notice us"
"Us?" the other man sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers, "please tell me you haven't taken up the usage of the royal 'we' again and also that you haven't, in fact, decided to keep another human pet"
That startled me, I wasn't aware that there had been a large amount of humans here before me. Nate had only made it seem like a handful had made it here. I made a mental note to ask him about it later. Nate of course chose this moment to push me forward.
"I believe introductions are in order, Marc' this is Joy, Joy this is Marcus, Lord of Monsters. Play nice you two"
We, just looking at each other, like neither of us could quite believe we were in this situation and weren't sure what we should do next. To break the silence I said the first thing that popped into my head
"What was that thing?
"Troll" Marcus replied blithely, "a very hungry and very angry troll to be precise" he seemed a great deal more cheerful when he realised that I wasn't about to try and bite his head off. Frankly I could sympathise with him.
"Troll?" I repeated faintly, "how does a troll fit in a place this size?"
Marcus appeared to be gaining more confidence the less I knew about the place, he smirked.
"I'll show you, come over here"
I followed him over to the hole in the wall. Looking through I gasped. Where I had expected a fairly average hotel room to be was instead an entire forest, complete with a cloudy sky high above it. It was simply amazing.
"That's how every single monster that has ever been imagined are able to fit into such a small space." Marcus explained smugly, "They're separated onto different floors depending on where they were made up or who came up with them. Each race of monster then gets their own 'room' in order to stop them all destroying each other – we learnt that the hard way. Though some of the stronger ones can break through the walls and need levels all to themselves. Of course they can all still interact with each other, they can converse and such, they just can't touch each other. The dynamics are fairly similar to how the Mimameith and your Earth interact."
"So what…" I said slowly, "they're on a different plane of existence or something"
"Yes! That's exactly it!"
"I'd say Joy wants you to give her the grand tour" Nate interrupted
"I do?" I asked, surprised
"You do?" Marcus took my question for a statement, his resulting excitement was almost ridiculously extreme and I didn't have the heart to tell him that there was nothing I would love more than to sit down. I forced a smile.
"Of course I do! Let's go!"
That was how, nearly an hour later, I ended up all the way at the bottom of the stairs again. This time prepared to take the lift thank goodness. I was perfectly ready to not move for a while.
I will admit, getting a tour was pretty fun though. It was also terribly confusing – not everything could be ordered into just one category so many of the monsters were just placed where they would best fit in. There were all sorts of places for keeping them as well. Marcus showed me through deserts where Egyptian gods roamed, the mountainous halls of the Jotunns and dark forests where elves and orcs seemed to be locked in an endless battle – neither side able to make even a mark on the other.
There were more terrifying places as well. Dungeons where skeletons clacked and ghosts howled, dark places where the only thing to fear was an all-consuming shadow. There was even a terrifyingly cheerful looking floor devoted to different types of clowns. Happy clowns, sad clowns, blood-soaked clowns clutching gore-streaked axes.
Some of the floors were smaller than others. Marcus explained that this was because some groups of people only believed in a small amount of monsters. I met them all, all the monsters from my childhood and those of countless others.
"Do you make your own monsters here?" I asked at one point
"Sometimes" Marcus replied, "none of us are particularly good when it comes to the imagination though, except the Nathaniel, but after a while you realise that his ideas are pretty much all the same"
"HEY!" Nate objected, "I'll have you know that if you take a person or thing and you put eyes and limbs on it where they're not supposed to be, and then add a few tentacles for certain aesthetic qualities, it really freaks people out."
"… and that's why we leave the imagination up to you humans" Marcus concluded.
I laughed – I was actually starting to enjoy myself and I was having fun for the first time since I had arrived in the Land of Mim. Unfortunately, I was still occasionally reminded that many of the monsters wanted to eat me. Huitzilopochtli wanted to rip out my heart and there was something in a dark corridor that whispered in an oily voice exactly how much it would relish feasting on my entrails. A basilisk complimented me and then expressed the desire to add me to its collection. Frankly I was surprised it had a collection at all, the amount of popularity they had in mainstream media.
"Silly Romans," it hissed in reply, laughing, "And the poor fools who don't believe I still exist"
I was strangely calm about meeting all of my childhood fears – I think it was because now they were physical things, not just a fleeting shadow or a creak of floorboards. As we neared the top I realised that we had skipped a floor.
"What was back there?"
"Oh, it's really horrible, you don't want to go in there" Marcus hurried to assure me
"Can't you at least tell me what was on that floor and I can make up my own mind about that?"
He sighed and shared a pained look with Nate,
"It's the vampire floor"
"Really? Vampires?" I scoffed, "so you're fine to let me go wandering around within reach of the freaking Dunwich Horror but not a bunch of lousy vampires?"
"It's embarrassing" Marcus complained, "they used to be fine – feasting on the blood of virgins and murderers alike, they used to terrify people. Now they just sit around moping and writing bad poetry and cheesy romance novels. I mean really – when was the last time you feared that a vampire was going to turn up in your room In the middle of the night and drain you of all your blood?"
"I was never really afraid of vampires" I say blankly, "It was more the bears for me"
Marcus paused, he had been about to say something but clearly my reply had thrown him off. He thought for a moment.
"You live in Australia" he pointed out
"There aren't any bears there"
"Seriously? You haven't heard of drop-bears? I would have thought those things would be running rampant here"
Marcus looked genuinely confused, "I don't know what a drop bear is – are you entirely sure that they're made up?"
Well now, wasn't that just a terrifying thought. Mind you, now that I'm in the Land of Mim, I wouldn't have to worry about real scary things. Hopefully.
"So does everything that humans invent end up here?" I asked,
"What happens when they invent new monsters, what happens to them?"
"Well, sometimes they'll fit on a floor that's already there so we just make a new room for them. At other times I have to make an entirely new floor for just one monster. Eventually the floors do fill up though because people will start thinking similar things and build on the ideas of others."
"So can I see the vampires now?"
I was genuinely curious, mostly because Marcus seemed really hesitant about showing me,
"No, I don't really want to have to deal with them; I'm not in the mood. I'd be peeling them off you like leeches, they're all about romance these days. It's quite sickening."
I sighed, I'd wanted to see everything and know as much as I possibly could about the inhabitant of this strange place. I guess that wasn't going to happen after all though. I decided to give it one last try, just to be sure.
"Please?" I asked plaintively,
"Oh fine then" Marcus huffed, rolling his eyes, "I don't understand why you're so desperate to meet them" he muttered.
Frankly I was just surprised that my persistence had finally paid off.
"Annoying isn't she?" Nate remarked,
I elbowed him in the ribs,
"And pointy too!"
"Well you can annoy each other then, goodness knows you're annoying enough as it is Nathaniel. You don't need a human girl to egg you on"
Nate grinned at Marc's remark,
"No, but it does double the fun!"
Marcus sighed and opened the lift door on the vampire's floor.
It wasn't as dark and depressing as I had thought it would have been. When Marcus had mentioned moping and romance I had mental pictures of a bunch of Goths sitting around a dim room with plush lounges and lamps casting a dim red glow that was barely enough to see by. Instead, the entire floor was well-lit with mirrors bouncing all the light around, creating the appearance of a large, airy space. I was surprised; mirrors were one of the last things I had been expecting, especially with a bunch of vampires hanging around. I arched my eyebrows questioningly at Marcus, wondering if he had taken me to the wrong place. He sighed and rolled his eyes, opening a door to his left. Poking his head through, he yelled at its unseen occupants,
"Hey, you lot, there's a nice human lady here who wants to meet you"
I was immediately mobbed by a group of tall, pale beings. As it turns out, I had been right about one thing – there was gothic clothing in abundance. The vampires hovered around me, reaching out to touch me and occasionally professing their undying love and giving me the most outrageous compliments. It was really quite terrifying. I glanced pleadingly over at Marcus and Nate for help. Marcus just shrugged and smirked at me, as if to say " I told you so, you brought this upon yourself. Nate just stood grinning, traitor.
"This is just plain embarrassing"
A mournful and heavily accented voice sounded behind me. The vampires made noises of annoyance and dispersed as I turned around to see a tall, dark man with a thick moustache. I recognised him at once.
"Vlad the Impaler? I said, surprised, "But, you're real!"
"They made me a vampire" he muttered darkly, "I was terrifying and bloodthirsty so they made me a creature of the night"
Vlad gestured towards a trio of pale, unimpressed-looking women behind him. I realised that they were the only females there apart from myself.
"My wives and I used to strike fear into the hearts of grown men and children alike, humans wrote books and produced motion pictures, describing our terrifying nature. We were unnatural and horrifying. All that was ruined as soon as these fops came onto the scene." He sneered at the other vampires, "Frankly, they all make me sick. They call themselves… Vegetarians." he shuddered in horror, "Even in the most fanciful novels I was still scary, but now… They aren't even mildly more powerful at sunrise or sunset! They do nothing but mope" he spat.
I decided not to mention to Dracula that I'd never been afraid of vampires anyway. I just smiled and nodded at him until Marcus decided that enough was enough and finally came to my rescue.
"Oh thank goodness!" I exclaimed as the lift door closed, "I thought I would be stuck there forever!" I slumped against the wall, feeling exhausted, "Why didn't either of you do anything earlier? Even Dracula was depressing to talk to!"
"I did warn you" Marcus said, I sighed,
"That you did" I agreed, albeit grudgingly
After that however, pretty much everything else was on the upside. I was thankful that we'd seen everything there was to see, if I'd had to deal with banshees or something I don't know what I would have done. Probably told them to drink some concrete and harden up.
I have no idea how long it had taken us, but my tour had finally ended and I was starving and dead tired. Admittedly I had been having too much fun to notice how hungry and tired I really was until we stopped. By then I wasn't sure what I wanted more - a giant burger or a giant bed. Not for the first time I wished I was a sleep-eater. Though if I had been I wouldn't have been able to experience the joy of actually eating the food – it would just be a thing that happened while I was asleep, I wouldn't be able to appreciate foods deliciousness. I have given this a great deal of thought.
My stomach rumbled, expressing my hunger before I could say anything. Marcus looked at me in surprise. Why is everyone here surprised when I'm hungry or tired? As far as I was concerned they were the abnormal ones for not needing to eat or sleep.
"I'll see if Iris can fix you something to eat" Marcus said, no prompting needed
"Oh goody," Nate enthused, "I don't know how she does it, but her cooking is definitely the best"
Marcus looked at him blankly,
"That's probably the combination of arsenic, cyanide and crushed glass that she keeps especially for you"
"I don't think I'm hungry anymore" I mumbled to no-one in particular,
"Oh don't worry," Marcus told me cheerfully, "She doesn't want to eat you yet, you're still much too skinny for her liking"
Wonderful, all the confirmation I needed to know that literally everything here wanted to eat me, even the surly receptionist.
We took the lift back down to the bottom floor. Iris looked up as we walked in.
"I'm not making anyone a sandwich" she said, before any of us could say anything.
"Wow, she's good" I whispered to Marcus,
"That's why I hired her" he replied under his breath then to his receptionist he said, "Don't worry, it's not for Nathaniel. Joy here is hungry; she'll probably need something more substantial than just a sandwich too"
I nodded in agreement at this mention of more food. That was always a plan I could get behind. The receptionist immediately went into professional mode. She was probably just excited at the thought of fattening me up for her own lunch I thought glumly.
"Well then, that's a completely different story isn't it?" Iris said, smiling at me in a rather predatory way. I felt a cold shiver run up and down my spine, "If you'll all just go and wait in the dining area I'll be right back out"
"Can I have a sandwich while you're at it?" Nate called out to her retreating back
Iris disappeared through the door behind her desk.
"Let's not stand around" Marcus said, ushering me and Nate through a different doo into a large dining room. As I sat down at a large table surrounded with chairs, Iris entered carrying several covered dishes. She set them down on the table and left the room, soon returning with two more, one of which she pushed in front of Nate.
"Enjoy your food" she spat poisonously before turning smartly on her heel and swiftly exiting the room.
"Don't mind if I do" Nate said to himself.
I was starting to think that he didn't understand sarcasm. I found that fairly worrying, especially if what Marcus had said earlier about Iris actively trying to kill him was true.
I took off the dish covers and started to eat.
As I finished eating, a bell rang, endlessly pealing throughout the room. The sound bored in through my ears and reverberated around inside my skull. Nate and Marcus looked at each other.
"There's no way you can talk your way out of this one Nathaniel" Marcus said
Nate sighed and stood up.
"Oh all right, but Joy has to stay here"
I started at the mention of my name,
"What? Where are you going? Why can't I come? Can I go anyway?" I asked, desperate to know what was going on.
Marcus raised his eyebrows at Nate.
"I'll get Iris to look after her" he glanced at me, "and make sure she doesn't get into any trouble"
I opened my mouth to complain but Nate cut me off,
"That would probably be for the best" He agreed.
My jaw dropped in shock. For as long as I had known him, which admittedly wasn't very long, Nate had never passed up on an opportunity to make trouble for someone. He turned to me, his face serious. A sudden wave of fear washed over me.
"Joy, I need you to promise me that you won't leave this room alright? Iris will make sure you have everything you need and will keep you company while we're gone. Whatever happens please, Don't. Leave. This. Room"
I nodded dumbly. Something in his tone brooked no argument and left me feeling cold and weak. Marcus stuck his head out of the door and called for his secretary. She appeared immediately. He spoke to her quietly for a short while and she nodded, stepping into the room. As the door shut behind her, a portal appeared. Marcus stepped through, closely followed by Nathaniel who tossed a casual, "Stay safe", over his shoulder as he left.
With that, the two Lords of the Land of Mim were gone, leaving me with a surly secretary whose only reason for not eating me at the very moment was because her superior had told her not to.
I settled down for a long wait.