Danny sat alone in the furthermost corner of the deserted library surrounded by a comforting barricade of books. This was the place where he felt safest of all. This was his little kingdom where he could while away the days without anyone bothering him. And after all the excitement of this morning he felt he deserved a little solitude for a while. Pausing in his book, he reflected on the events of the last day or so. They were certainly exciting but then again excitement was not something he really wanted. Excitement usually led to trouble of one sort or another and he had already had more than enough of that in his lifetime. No, best to leave all the exciting things to people like Jack and Dorritt – they were eminently better suited to it. He realised, with relish that he could find all the excitement he ever needed in books. He could travel around the world and through all the ages of time without ever having to leave the comfort of his chair.
With a contented sigh he turned the page and began a new chapter in a new book. What bliss!
He looked up from his book dismayed to hear the sound of footsteps as someone else entered the library. He slunk further down in his chair and hid behind his book.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere. What on earth are you doing hiding in here?” asked Dorritt in some exasperation.
Danny peered over the top of book. “Um. Hiding. And reading.”
“There’s no time for that. We have to help the others?”
“Jack and William. They’ve put Jack in the Dungeon.”
“The Dungeon?” repeated Danny, visions of a medieval torture chamber flashing through his mind.
“It’s not a real dungeon. Everyone just calls it that. It’s actually the coal cellar but it’s still pretty grim. We’ve got to break him out so that we can find William. He’s disappeared.”
Dorritt glared at him. “Will you stop repeating everything I say? It’s getting to be really annoying.”
“Sorry,” apologized Danny who hadn’t been aware he had been doing it. “But what do you mean he’s disappeared?”
“Just that. No one knows where he’s vanished to. You saw him in the infirmary. He could barely move.”
“Maybe he’s run away?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think he could have made it very far in the state he was in. The Christian Brothers have searched everywhere for him and now they’ve given up. I don’t think they really care if he disappears forever. It’s one less problem for them if he does.”
“But even if he has disappeared what does that have to do with us?” asked Danny, quite reasonably he thought.
“We’re his friends. It’s our duty to help him if he’s in trouble.”
Danny pondered this suggestion for a moment. “I’m not sure you could really call us friends. We’ve only known each other a day and most of that time was spent fighting.”
“Exactly. Once you’ve fought alongside someone and saved them from defeat that means you are forever responsible for their life. It’s part of the code”
Danny felt completely bewildered by this. “What code?”
“The friendship code.”
Danny felt even more confused. He searched his memory for any reference to the “friendship code” in any of the many, many books he had read. “Did you just make it up?”
Dorritt impatiently frowned at him. “No. It’s real. Now come on we have to bust Jack out of the Dungeon then we can start searching for William.”
Danny reluctantly put his book down and rose from his seat. “Actually, I think I might know where he’s gone to.”
Jack sat in the complete darkness of the coal cellar and imagined how great it would be to be a pirate. He wasn’t absolutely sure if there still were such things as pirates but he decided that he would do his best to resurrect the fine and noble and tradition of piracy. He began to devise a plan. First he would have to escape from the Dungeon, then he would have to stowaway on a ship to the Caribbean, then he would have to find a suitable collection of motley scoundrels to be his crew, then he would have to steal a ship and then the rest would be plain sailing or at least plain pirating. It all seemed to be so easy. The only really difficult bit seemed to be escaping from the coal cellar. This had him completely stumped. It didn’t help that the place was so dark that every time he tried to find a way out he ended up bumping into another pile of coal.
He heard the sound of footsteps from outside and guessed that someone was approaching the door to the Dungeon. Here was his chance to escape! He scrabbled around for a suitable weapon. Inevitably, all he could find was a lump of coal. It would have to do.
The footsteps halted. He moved quietly over to where he guessed the sound had come and stood ready to attack whoever came through the door.
A moment later he heard a whispered voice. “Jack? Are you in there?”
Before he could answer another voice whispered, “Maybe he’s already dead?”
“I’m not dead,” he protested. “But I might die of boredom if I don’t get out of here soon.”
“Hang on,” said Dorritt, "I’m going to try the lock.”
Jack could hear the door handle twisting and rattling and then a dull thump as Dorritt threw herself against the door. This caused a small mountain of coal to come tumbling down on Jack.
“It’s no good,” he shouted. “I tried that earlier. This damned door won’t budge. You’re going to have to steal the key.”
There was a pause as Dorritt and Danny considered this suggestion. “Where is it?” asked Dorritt
“No idea,” replied Jack.
“That’s not very helpful,” commented Dorritt.
“I wonder how they deliver the coal?” asked Danny.
“That’s not very helpful either,” replied Dorritt in annoyance.
Jack thought for a moment. “Yes it is. Danny you’re a genius. There must be a coal-shute somewhere.”
“Okay. We’ll see if we can find it. Come on, genius.” There was a begrudging admiration in Dorritt’s voice.
Jack could hear their footsteps moving away. Stage one of my plan seems to be working he thought to himself gleefully. It won’t be long now till I’m a fully-fledged pirate.
A minute or so passed and then he could hear a loud metallic rasping sound from the other side of the Dungeon. He groped his way towards the sound and then shielded his eyes as a shaft of bright moonlight suddenly hit him. He peered up through his blackened fingers at the faces of Danny and Dorritt as they peered curiously down at him.
“You look very odd,” commented Danny.
“Thank you,” replied Jack. “Now how about giving me a hand to get out of here before I turn into a lump of coal?”
Dorritt reached down her hand and hauled Jack up.
“That’s much better,” he said wiping the coal dust off his clothes. “It was getting very tedious in there.”
He picked up a handful of snow and rubbed his face with it. “How does that look?”
“You missed a bit,” replied Danny helpfully.
Jack rubbed another handful of snow across his face. “How about now?”
“You’ve still got a bit on your forehead and on your chin and on your ear and…”
Dorritt grabbed each of them by the arm. “Come on you two we haven’t got any time to lose.”
A stealthy, silent snow had continued to fall over London that night, shrouding the sleeping city and all its secrets in a crisp clean cover of white splendour. Snow fell upon the cathedrals and churches, upon the empty streets and the frozen parks and upon the three orphans who now crept through the cemetery as they clambered over the icy gravestones unknowingly moving ever closer towards the great adventure which awaited them.
Each of them felt uncertain and alone in the eerie silence of the cemetery, each reminded of those that had trod this same earth before them and now lay frozen and still beneath the icy ground.
“This place really is creepy at night,” whispered Danny, shivering in the freezing cold.
“Can you feel it too?” asked Dorritt in surprise. “I know it’s a graveyard and it’s meant to be a bit spooky but somehow this place feels wrong.”
“Like it doesn’t want us to be here,” suggested Jack his normally buoyant tone seeming oddly subdued.
“Something like that,” agreed Dorritt.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” asked Danny.
“I’m beginning to,” replied Jack.
Dorritt, who had been leading their way through the gravestones stopped suddenly and turned to face Danny and Jack.
“Stop it. We’re scaring ourselves. We’re nearly there so let’s just focus on finding William and then we can go back where it’s safe and warm.”
Jack suddenly looked very serious. “I’m not going back. I’m running away.”
“Where to?” asked Danny feeling very surprised by Jack’s sudden revelation.
“The Caribbean most probably,” replied Jack casually as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
“And what are you going to do there?” asked Danny.
“Will you two get a move on? It’s freezing.”
Jack shrugged and the three of them continued to creep through the cemetery.
They reached the gate that led into the rose garden and stopped.
“Do you really think William will be there?” asked Dorritt doubtfully. “He will have frozen to death by now if he is.”
Danny didn’t answer. He didn’t want to admit the possibility.
“Only one way to find out,” reasoned Jack pushing the gate open.
The rose garden was empty except for the multitude of statues.
Dorritt, Jack and Danny looked around the snow-covered garden in deep disappointment.
“No sign of any life here that’s for sure,” observed Dorritt. “I guess even the roses have died under all this snow.”
“And definitely no talking statues either,” said Jack tapping the head of the nearest statue with his bare knuckles.
“It does seem quite peaceful though. I can understand why William liked to come here,” said Danny.
“Especially compared with the cemetery,” agreed Jack.
“Why do they have all these Greek statues in a Catholic place?” wondered Druitt.
“The orphanage wasn’t always Catholic. It was built in seventeen-seventy-two by Sir George Dawcett who was renowned for his passion for Greek classicism,” Danny beamed, glad that all his extracurricular reading was proving useful.
“So who are all these statues supposed to be?” asked Dorritt.
Danny was in his element. “Well, the one with the thunderbolt is Zeus. The one with the trident is Poseidon, god of the seas. The one with the lyre is Apollo god of music and prophecy. The one with the funny shaped helmet is Athena goddess of wisdom.”
“What about this one? She’s very pretty,” asked Jack gazing up admiringly at one of the statues.
“That’s Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.”
“And what about the one with the funny little wings on his feet?” asked Dorritt.
“I’m Hermes,” replied the statue.
There were several moments’ stunned silence in which Danny, Jack and Dorritt simply stared in pure astonishment at the statue which had apparently just spoken to them, and which now seemed to be regarding them with an amused expectancy.
“Did you two hear that?” asked Dorritt.
“Yes,” Danny and Jack answered in uncertain unison.
“Danny?” Dorritt’s voice wavered as she spoke.
“Yes?” replied Danny, his voice no more than a hoarse whisper.
“Those audio-visual hallucinations you were telling us about. Can they happen to more than one person at a time?”
“Not usually. Virtually never.”
“Then that means that the statue really did just speak to us,” said Jack voicing the unwelcome thought that was in all of their minds.
“Of course I did,” said the statue somewhat impatiently. “Why do you look so surprised? I used to talk to mortals all the time. I am the messenger of the gods, after all.”
“That was a very, very long time ago,” Danny was surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth.
The statue appeared to sigh. “Well, it has been a few thousand years. Julius Caesar was ruler of the known world last time I was here. I suppose things may have changed a bit since then. You mortals closed all the doors, you see, it made it very difficult for me to deliver my messages.”
“The doors?” asked Danny incredulously.
“Yes. The doors between the worlds. You haven’t forgotten about them already, have you?”
“Worlds?” asked Danny in complete confusion.
“You’re doing that repeating thing again,” whispered Dorritt.
“Yes worlds,” continued the statue. “Worlds within worlds within worlds and so on and so on.”
“Do you have a message for us, Hermes?” asked Danny.
“Yes.” An expression of agony momentarily contorted the statue’s face. “The Furies know I am here. I do not have much time. Your friend needs your help. There is a great threat to the both your world and mine. The titans… You must pass through the door in the wall… You must find your friend… you must stop…”
And then the statue was silent and still.
Jack reached up and touched the frozen marble with his fingertips. “He’s gone.”
Danny turned to the other two, an expression of complete bewilderment on his face. “This is turning out to be a very odd day. Very odd indeed.”
“Yes. And it seems like William wasn’t lying or hallucinating after all,” commented Dorritt thoughtfully.
“And it sounds like he’s in a lot of trouble. How are we going to help him?” asked Jack.
“I suppose we have to start by finding that door Hermes mentioned,” Danny suggested somewhat doubtfully, “Shame he didn’t tell us where it was.”
“It’s in the wall behind you,” said Dorritt.
Danny and Jack both spun round to look where Dorritt was now pointing.
Sure enough there was a wooden door set deep in the stone wall behind them.
Jack frowned at it. “I’d swear that wasn’t there before.”
“It wasn’t,” Dorritt told them, “It just appeared at the same time Hermes started talking. Look how the snow doesn’t even seem to touch it.”
The three of them approached the wooden door with some trepidation. They paused just in front of it and peered at its black wooden surface.
“It looks ordinary enough,” observed Jack, “Just like thousands of other doors.” He brushed the surface with his fingertip. “It feels real enough.”
They were silent for a few moments contemplating the door.
Danny was the first to speak. “What do you think we should do?”
Each of them felt reluctant to state the obvious.
Dorritt took a deep breath. “Let’s do this together.”
They each laid a hand on the woodwork.
Jack glanced at the other two. “On the count of three?”
“Okay,” they answered in unison.
They each pushed on the door and it slowly swung forward.
“Well I certainly wasn’t expecting that,” said Jack.
They gazed at their reflections which gazed back at them in immense perplexity.
“It’s a mirror,” exclaimed Danny.
“I’m not so sure,” said Jack frowning at his own reflection. He prodded a finger at his reflection.
His finger disappeared.
“It’s not solid,” he exclaimed. He pushed his hand further in. “I can push my hand all the way through to the other side. It feels warm. Like sunshine.”
“What do you think is on the other side?” asked Danny overcome with awe.
Jack grinned. “There’s probably only one way to find out.”
Leaning slightly forward he pushed his arm in up to his elbow. He leant in a bit further. “That’s odd,” he said. He leant forward a fraction more and then fell completely through disappearing utterly from sight.
“Jack!” Dorritt and Danny both yelled.
They held their breath waiting for him to re-emerge.
“This is really, really bad,” observed Danny unnecessarily. “We have to do something.”
“You’re right,” Dorritt grimly agreed.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward disappearing into her own reflection.
Danny stood alone in the freezing cold rose-garden feeling utterly lost and alone and without any idea of what he should do next. The sensible action would be to run back to the Orphanage and tell everyone what had happened. He knew that no one would believe him but at least he would have tried to do the right thing. He also knew, with a terrible certainty that the moment he left the rose-garden the door itself would disappear as though it had never existed.
As he stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed with indecision. Two small hands suddenly appeared out of the doorway, grabbed him by the arms and pulled him into the silvery darkness.