No matter how hard he tried, Isaac just couldn't understand his peers. Or, more precisely, he couldn't understand what they found so fascinating about drama. To him, who was sleeping with whom and who had said what behind whomever else's back was at best a headache and at worst a train wreck that drove apart his friends. At the very least, they could go out of their way to avoid causing trouble; yet, as far as he had observed, they deliberately would rant about what they found annoying about whomever happened not to be present at a meet-up, going as far as to derail other discussions to do that. Even with that aside, they spent so much of their time glued to their phones that he sometimes felt as though they weren't interested in talking civilly at all, that the conversations were nothing more than distractions from their distractions. Ultimately, it was just a frustration, broken only by moments of actual pleasant bonding that were barely frequent enough to justify spending time with them.
The past couple of weeks, regrettably, had had precious little of said bonding. His friend Daniel had been pursuing a girl Nicole for the past several months; she, it seemed, had no interest in committing to anything more binding than a dentist appointment, but lead Daniel on anyway due to her love of attention. Meanwhile, mutual friend Jacob had very recently learned of his longtime girlfriend Maria's infidelity – with multiple partners, at that – and, being aware both of Nicole's incidental attraction to him and of her promiscuous nature, ran to her arms for some personal comfort despite his earlier promise to Daniel that he'd explicitly avoid doing something like that. They had tried to keep it a secret from Daniel, but he eventually found out, and the resulting firestorm now threatened to shred the decade-old network of friendships to bits. Isaac could do little more than try to calm down his friends and hope that the matter would pass soon.
He trudged inside from his walk around the neighborhood. Drowsiness clouded his thoughts; he had taken to napping in the early afternoon, and the blazing summer heat during his walk had utterly exhausted him – the heat was such that he could barely walk out to get the mail without getting both sticky and stinky from sweat. Scarcely taking a moment to kick his shoes off, he shuffled up the stairs into his room and collapsed onto the bed, staring blankly out of the window that dominated the southern wall. Was it really so difficult to keep a promise to a friend? Did years of friendship mean nothing in light of romance-induced despair? These last few thoughts swirled in his mind for a moment, then left, shutting off his lights on the way out.
Isaac found himself standing in his room, the air pleasantly warm and smelling of incense, his beaten-up sneakers gripping his feet as though they had actually been tied. On an impulse, he turned on his TV, only for it to take on a mirror-like reflection of the room. The next channel was snow, falling heavily in the heart of a thick forest; the one after that was an image of his friend Jacob sitting and watching a TV, which was showing a program of Daniel yelling at Jacob and then subsequently punching him in the gut. Isaac shut off the TV – as usual, there was nothing good on. Turning to his nightstand, he picked up the book that he was apparently currently reading. It bore the title, “Title Illegible,” and, leafing through it, he saw that it contained numerous diagrams of different plants, all of which – according to the labels beneath the diagrams – were members of the Orchidaceae family. The pages were thick, and yellowed at the edges; he could feel the individual fibers composing them.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something different about the view from the south-facing window. He turned and saw that the typically unremarkable view of the surrounding suburbs had been replaced by a magnificent canyon view against a dark, overcast sky. An old, squat stone structure sat on top of a hillock bordering the precipice, its doorway invitingly open. His inner explorer roused, Isaac marched to his bedroom door and threw it open, only to be confronted by the front face of the stone building. It stood a short distance away, spaced by a stretch of dusty red rock. His curiosity piqued, he placed the book with the illegible title outside of the doorway, then ran back over to the window. Sure enough, he could make out the book sitting in front of the building, though the structure of his room was nowhere to be seen.
He stepped outside of his room entirely, picked up the book, then turned to look at where his house would be situated based on the view from the window. Nothing was visible save for more of the canyon, along with a lone pair of mountains far off in the distance. The entrance back to his room was little more than a door-sized paper-thin rectangle bearing an image of his room, invisible except from the front. The outdoor air was cool and still, full of the earthy smell that precedes severe storms – indeed, a faint echo of thunder reached him from the distance. After a moment or two further of examination, Isaac marched forward over the threshold into the dark interior of the stone building, absently brushing the dust from the cover of the book.
The passage stretched on for longer than seemed possible from the exterior. As Isaac advanced further, the fading light from outside was replaced by a dim glow from deeper inside. Eventually, the tunnel ended in a steep staircase. A pommel was set into the terminus of the hand-rail, shining a soft yellow and illuminating the passage; though the exact mechanism of its luminescence was unclear, he was nonetheless grateful for its light. He started down the stairway; the railing was of an unfamiliar metal, its cool smoothness interrupted by coarse patches of tarnish. It seemed that, with each step downward, the air grew ever so slightly wetter and mustier, the corrosion on the railing ever so slightly more prominent.
After a while, he arrived at a landing. A pommel of similar effulgence sat in the wall directly opposite of the barrier separating the ascending and descending flights of stairs. Of immediate interest was the door ensconced beneath this light source. It appeared to be made of oak, and featured a highly detailed image of an open book carved in bas-relief on its surface. With surprisingly little effort in consideration of the size of the door, he walked through.
He entered into a large hallway, modestly lit by more light-producing orbs identical to those outside set in the ceiling. It extended off until the walls seemed to meet together at a point, and said walls were lined with full bookshelves for as far as he could see. The door closed loudly behind him. It seemed to spirit away the dungeon from which he had came – the previously thick and humid air had become warm and dry, and the floor featured clean carpeting rather than stone. A small table sat nearby the doorway. Without much thought, he placed the book with the illegible title on the table before wandering off to the wall on the left.
A cursory examination of the books populating the nearby shelves revealed that they were all worn-looking hardbacks, and that none of them had titles that he recognized. He reached out and took a book entitled, “Darling Danny's Diatribes,” opening it at random:
And there are those that say that, when one invokes my anger, one should be fearful, for my wrath will drive me to strike down those who have wronged me. Amen, amen, I say to you, my wrath is not unjust, and will move me to smite the wretched and the loathsome. If those among you who bring forth my rage are among my beloved, however, I will stay my hand, for does not the soldier pardon his fellow warrior who wounds him by accident in the fierceness of combat? For the bonds between us outshine our vagaries and our shortcomings, and ill-temper and its ilk may never stem the camaraderie that flows forth from us.
Isaac replaced the volume, then grabbed another that bore the title, “The Twins”:
As much as the melancholia will have been caring dearly and endlessly for her, the blossom will have been making things exceptionally and astonishingly difficult for the melancholia, particularly and especially regarding activities that will have been notably heavy in terms of socially-defined expectations. Of course, this will not have been resulting even slightly from malice; instead, her existence alongside hers will have been causing chiefly their suffering, as they will have been singularly whole while simultaneously unmistakably discrete individuals. That is to say, those whose natures will have been judgmentally and intolerantly inclined will have been looking unfairly and inconsiderately down upon the Twins, as the latter's intimately united yet irrevocably separate nature will have been something vastly exceeding the understanding capacity of the former's frustratingly narrow mental faculties; their perplexingly unusual nature will have been the wellspring of their maddeningly incessant and unfailingly discouraging social alienation.
Though, perhaps incredibly, there will have been one who will have been fixating steadily and monomaniacally on the Twins rather than expectedly showing disdain and contempt for them. And, ironically, they will have been severely dreading this individual despite how he will have been proclaiming honestly a desire to assist them, as he will have been harming them irredeemably and unforgettably through a dreadfully unfortunate incident shortly prior. He will have been dividing the consubstantially united Twins: While the protective blossom will have been hating him continually and for remarkably long before this incident, the vulnerable melancholia, considerably quicker to forgiveness, will have been self-destructively reluctant to eliminate him wholly from their lives; this hesitation, which will have been stated both directly and implicitly though words and actions respectively, will have been contributing fundamentally to the bafflingly dogged persistence of the divider.
He inserted the book back onto the shelf, his head aching – perhaps it'd be best to examine only one or two more before proceeding further downstairs. He squatted down and removed one from the bottom row, a volume labeled, “The Short Stories of D. S. Orten.” One of the pages had been dog-eared:
The Queen of Desire
There once was a Queen born from the desires of a man. She lived in his head with his other desires. She loved the man, but she wished to rule the world. He loved her, too, so one day he cast a spell and made a body for her. She said, “Thank you, my love, but I must leave you now to rule the world.” He said, “I made you and showed you love. You will stay here with me.” She could not convince him, so she slew him and then took over the world.
He blinked, then glanced over at the next story:
The Girl with the Blood-Red Hair
There once was a town of people, all of them sick and sad. A new person arrived one day. She was a girl with long hair as red as blood. She helped the people, working miracles that made the town healthy and happy. But after a long time the work made her tired and turned her hair white. She demanded to be paid back for what she did. So she took the blood of all of the people in the town to make her hair red again.
He shut the book and stuffed it back into place, suppressing a slight shiver. He turned and walked back out through the heavy door, picking up the book with the illegible title as he passed it by.
He started down the next flight of stairs, the echoes from the resonant slam of the door ringing in his ears. The railing was completely coated in rust, the air thick enough to irritate his throat. The weak wash of illumination from above had faded almost entirely; his hand was beginning to ache, his palm growing raw, from gripping the corroded bar with such force as not to tumble down into the void from a misstep. The ringing in his ears had loudened rather than quieted, a crescendo of tinnitus that progressed in tandem with his descent. It gradually became more definite, almost musical – in fact, if he didn't know any better, he would've sworn that it sounded like...
He groggily sat up in his bed, reaching for his ringing phone. He groaned inwardly: It was Jacob, who undoubtedly had some pallid justification for betraying his friend that he wanted to tell Isaac rather than said friend for whatever reason. As if disrupting his waking hours wasn't enough; now his naps were taking a back seat to drama?
As his listened to the rapid-fire slang characteristic of his friend, his eyes widened in pleased surprise. Apparently, Daniel had approached him and wanted to discuss the matter civilly, assuring him that – despite Jacob's paranoia to the contrary – he had no intention of assaulting him or even starting a shouting match with him because he valued their friendship too highly to throw it away over one incident. Of course, both he and Daniel wanted Isaac present, the former as insurance to help keep Daniel calm, and the latter for “consulting” – or, more accurately though unstated, to act as a supporting witness should Jacob try to deny anything.
He agreed to join them, unwilling to let this spark of potential harmony between his friends be extinguished before it could blossom. Though he likely would never understand how anyone, friend or stranger, could derive enjoyment from such conflict, perhaps he could at least nudge his friends into merely sharing stories of drama with one another rather than inciting it amongst themselves.