Edward said, "Why did we come up here?" We were at the top of the steps and my heart was pounding. I didn't know how to answer him. I just wanted to get away, and the only way out is up.
"Jennifer just burned to death," said Kadin.
"Hey, you don't know that's what happened," said Perdita.
"She was a pile of ash," said Edward, "And the door nearly caught fire."
"And we're in an all-black world where a man in a tophat told us we were governed by metaphor," she shot back. "I say we look for more information."
"Like what?" Said Edward.
"I could go downstairs," said Kadin. "See if anything has changed."
I made a noise. I'm not sure what noise, but Kadin responded to it. He looked at me, smiling.
"Do you want to come with me?" He said.
The staircase, behind the gaping doorway, looked blackened and steep.
"No," I said. "I think I'll wait. Just hurry back."
"Oh, okay," he said, and he turned and went downstairs.
The new floor was one big, open room, with a long, rectangular pillar in the center -- the staircase came up to where we were standing, then, around the other side, went up further. I checked, but the coal-black door going up was shut and locked.
Forming a triangle within the room were three large, leather chairs, thickly cushioned. And the walls, every inch of them, were shelves, and every shelf was filled with books.
Kadin came back upstairs. "It's the same," he said. "Nothing has changed. On the bright side, that means we can still get to the food."
"So, what do we do now?" Said Edward.
"I think," said Perdita, "That we need to talk about symbolism. There were obvious signs downstairs when Jennifer died, and I think we need to explore that for our own safety."
"Okay," said Kadin, "Well, there were only four beds."
"There are only three chairs here," I said.
"That's disturbing," said Kadin. "Jennifer slept in the bathroom, which was where she died. But there's only one room on this floor, and we're all in it. So I don't know if that helps."
"Her dress was fraying," I said. "You mentioned that, Perdita."
"So?" Said Edward.
"Well, it looks like we've all got different sorts of significant clothes. Kadin has that red patch. Her clothes were fraying, you don't have sleeves..."
"Red patch?" Said Kadin. He looked down at his shirt, and that must have been the first time he noticed that there was a square of red fabric over the orange, right over his heart. "Huh," he said. "What about yours?"
I stepped closer, and we all stepped into a tighter circle to examine each other's clothes.
"Your dress is sort of shinier than the rest of ours," said Edward. It was -- all four of the articles of clothing that we showed up wearing seemed to be made out of the same rough, dyed wool, but mine was more finely woven.
"Yours seems kind of glimmery," I said to Edward. "Come closer? Look, your vest is sewn together with gold thread. It's all woven through it, too."
"Cool," said Edward. Then I didn't want to keep looking at him, so I turned to Perdita.
"Oh," I said. "Look, yours is coming apart at the seams."
"Why would you say that?" Said Perdita.
"What? I was just telling you. Is there any thread here? Can we mend it?"
"What's wrong with you? Are you trying to kill me?"
"What are you talking about?" Said Kadin. "Relax."
"You relax," she said. "There are only three chairs on this floor. So obviously one of us isn't making it up to the next one. I don't want it to be me." She backed away from the group, just a little bit. "Why would you just go and say that I'm coming apart at the seams? Do you not realize how horrible that is?"
She started to turn red, flushed with frustration. "I need to do something." She looked around her. "Jennifer didn't eat." She pulled a book off the shelf, and stormed over to a chair, and sat aggressively in it.
"There," she said. "I won't be the one not doing what this floor demands of us. Whichever one of you wants to not read, be my guest."
Edward walked over to a shelf, and started reading titles aloud. "Snail and Peace, The categories of the Snail, The Snail Diaries, I think these books are all about snails." He shifted over to the next set of shelves, and kept reading. Kadin and I also stepped up to shelves. "Snail Murders," he said.
"Quest for the Golden Snail," read Kadin.
"Snail gods," I read.
"Mine is called "The Luminiferous Sludge of Man and Snail," said Perdita. "And it's fantastic."
Edward pulled a book off the shelf, then walked over to and sat down in a chair. "What'd you get?" Said Kadin.
"How to Win Snails and Influence People," he said.
"Cool," said Kadin.
He and I walked over to the far end of the room, near the chair facing the closed doorway concealing the stairs.
"What do you want to do?" He said.
"I don't want to steal the seat," I said. "But I don't want to be the only one standing."
"Why don't we share it?" Said Kadin.
The chair was certainly big enough. I pulled two books off the shelf, "Snail Upwards" and "The Anatomy of A Snail," handed one to Kadin, and we stood in front of the chair, and sat down together.