Let us start with the Treacle Mines, because if we begin with those, things will get less weird later, and varying the flow of weirdness is good. In order to make a Treacle Mine, you will require half a pound of tupenny rice, Half a pound of treacle, a small clockwork musical device, and half a kilo of high explosive. Arrange matters such that the clockwork musical device activates the high explosive when it finishes its highly original tune, and wrap the treacle and uncooked rice around it. Uncooked rice is important, because while it is soft enough to not ruin walls, it will do nasty things to the flesh of anybody nearby. The treacle, I believe, is just for dramatic effect.
The Treacle Mine is the favoured weapon of a group that the DoX refer to as the â€œToffiaâ€, a collection of formally fictional characters now attempting to clone their own brand of family values into the real world from their own, primarily funded by the import of sugar from their world into ours.
I may have lied about the â€œless weirdâ€ part.
My name is Simon Dâ€™Lysian, and I belong to an â€“ altogether now â€“ shadowy governmental ministry devoted to the research and de/development of things the public donâ€™t need to know about. This is called the Department for the Extraordinary, and gets initialled as DoX for trendy, latter-twentieth-century funding reasons. I am part of a small active team within the department, and am usually safe from â€œwet opsâ€, where currently â€œwetâ€ is translating as â€œdownright stickyâ€.
All of this is relevant because when I got into the office this morning there was a package on my desk which, when opened, started something that sounded like a musical box. It went:
#Half a pound of tuppenny rice#
â€œWhat the hell is this?â€ I asked, deceptively reasonably.
â€œGET DOWNâ€, shouted a voice from across the office
â€œI am not hiding from a damn musical box, Daisy.â€
#Half a pound of treacle#
â€œNot kidding, Simon. Get behind something â€“ away from the box â€“ now. Itâ€™s a bombâ€
Daisy is a mythology expert, and someone Iâ€™ve known since I was roughly five. However, on this I have to trust her, because she has more experience in getting blown up than I do. It relates to how we got into the department, which started whenâ€¦
#Thatâ€™s the way the money goes#
…Iâ€™ve got some hiding to do. I dive behind a partition wall.
There is an ear-shattering explosion, a sensation of momentary pressure and of fine white dust, and then of pain in my head.
In the dead centre of an explosion, itâ€™s not unusual for the actual components of the bomb to be relativity unharmed, which is the only reason I can think of for hearing, as if from a long way away:
#Goes the weasel#
Before I passed out.
I come to a couple of minutes later, I think, still on the floor of the office. We appear to have become slightly more open plan, as the plasterboard partition wall I hid behind is now unable to perform itâ€™s previous singular function. There is an eiery silence across the entire office, which I realise is entirely becuse my ears have stopped working. Like I am surfacing from a deep dive, they recover, and as the fire alarm kicks in I quickly wish they hadnâ€™t. At some point over the next few hours I gain the information exposed at the top of the chapter, tell my story truthfully to the director, and lie convincingly to the floor above us who are not DoX cleared. My habit of being in the office at 7:00 appears to be the only thing that stopped it killing anyone in the office, but the fact that Daisy was in that early â€“ which doesnâ€™t happen often â€“ was the only thing that saved my life. That puts us about equal.
Interestingly, it appears that dense fruit cake goes though the mail X-Ray looking exactly like high explosive, and vice versa. So when they found traces of treacle on the outside, the mail room had jumped to an outstandingly wrong conclusion. Fruitcake is now banned from being posted to our office, a specific direction that will confuse new employees for generations, until it becomes â€“ like the British law allowing residents of York to shoot arrows at any Scotsman from that townâ€™s walls â€“ just a silly thing on the books that people point and laugh at. From tragedy to comedy in a distressingly short time.
I am, obviously, sent home. Being blown up in the office is one of the few causes that doesnâ€™t need a psychological report and note from my mother to get me time off to recover, apparently. I am told in successive meetings to take some time off to recover, to be in early tomorrow to head the retaliatory strike, to use more of my banked holiday, to make sure I get all my reports on the event finished by close of business today, and to go home immediately because I look like death. Like a good automaton, I follow the last instruction, and return to the House of Doors.
The House does not come from the DoX, at least not directly. It belongs to Beth, who is another of our team, and someone else Iâ€™ve known years. It is not normal. It is a reflection, perhaps, of the media tastes of the people within it, but Richard describes it as â€œThe Monsters Inc. Warehouseâ€, Claire as the more Feistian â€œHall of Worldsâ€ and me and Daisy â€“ who would crash more cars if Neil Gaiman wrote street signs â€“ as the â€œHouse of Doorsâ€. From the outside, itâ€™s a small terraced house with a front garden and gate-shaped hedge, and opening the front door doesnâ€™t affect that observation at all. If, however, you go into the basement, you will discover a door that seems to lead into the house next-door, and which contains our actual house.
The house stretches. There is no other way of explaining it, really. If you stand still and push deliberately against any wall of the house, it will roll away from you as if it was on well-oiled castors. The room next door will be the same size, the doors in the hall outside will be the same distance apart, but the room inside will be bigger. One of the rooms that was there when we moved in is full of doors, all closed and leaning up on each other in two rows. If you take any of these doors and put them up against a wall in the house â€“ it seems to click â€“ then the door now leads somewhere. One row of doors appears to have more rooms for the house â€“ from kitchens to bathrooms to swimming pools to games rooms to entirely empty rooms â€“ and the other to places. We havenâ€™t explored the other set of doors much â€“ weâ€™re not entirely sure where they go (Theyâ€™re not labelled) or how weâ€™re supposed to use them.
There is also a pile of windows. I have no idea where the perfectly manicured lawn that sits outside my office is, or who they are who play croquet there every sunday, because the window doesnâ€™t open. The view is pretty, though. I call up Daisy to see if there are any books about the Toffia in the house â€“ she found a Library door soon after we moved in â€“ and she tells me where to find their history. I spend the day reading up on the people who, for reasons I canâ€™t understand, tried to kill me today. Me, specifically. The parcel had my name on it.
Some hours later Daisy, Beth and Richard came back with some shopping and plans to get me out of the house, ultimately defeated by a far better idea to play card games and discuss what had happened this morning.
â€œThis is Lab standard five card Plux, Play starts with Daisy and proceeds clockwise, Current rules are Draw One Play One.â€
â€œDrawing Card, Playing a Psyion. So who do you think posted the bomb?â€
â€œPretty sure it was the Toffia, The stuff you showed me said it was one of Grettleâ€™s favourite bow-shots. Richard? Your turn.â€
â€œSorry, Clockwise, yes. Playing aâ€¦ Paladin. Oh, and drawing a card. Pretend I did that the other way around. Didnâ€™t Grettle get thrown back after that stuff in Cambridge? Beth?â€
â€œDrawing a card. Yes, Grettle got put back into fiction after that, and she hasnâ€™t really been heard of since. Not sure if sheâ€™s still involved in any of the day-to-day sugar trading still. Playing this Library, incidentally. I can do that before I put a character out, canâ€™t I Simon?â€
â€œYou can. My turn then. Drawing a cardâ€¦ and playing a rules change, Draw one play two. As my second cardâ€¦ Hm. A Keep, I think. The thing that worries me, apart from the whole â€˜being blown up thingâ€™ is that Iâ€™ve no idea how we got on the Toffiaâ€™s bad side. We, or me, specifically, rather than DoX as a whole.â€
â€œNot sure, though there is a rumour that Bull was going to put us on the Toffia stuff today anyway, which means someone in Dox is reporting back to Grettle. Drawing aâ€¦ ooh, playing my new trade window Richard? Do you have any resource cards?â€
â€œGo fish, Daisy.â€
â€œWrong game. Right. Playing this Forest then. Richard.â€
â€œOkay, Drawing a card, playing a Cave, Playing my Keep, Beth?â€
â€œOkay, I get a Book for the Library, and draw a card. Playing aâ€¦ Knight, apparently. And a rules change. Draw one, play two, one action. My Action is to get another book, and to hand over play to Sir Dâ€™lysian.â€
â€œThanks. Right. Drawing an entirely useless Peasent, which at least gives me something to defend my Keep.â€
â€œOr Keep itâ€
â€œYes, thank you Daisy. Second card is a Farm, Action is to get a food from my new farm. If we have a mole, would explain why weâ€™ve been moved in, I suppose. As much as Kay might not like it, weâ€™re probably their best bet.â€
Kay is the departmental head for our division of the DoX, specialising in fictional affairs. The discovery that the worlds of fiction do actually exist caused something of a stir in the scientific community when it was first mooted, but it was quickly debunked with hard science before it hit the media. It is some of the most convincing science you will ever read and, considering the subject matter, it is amusing that the debunking report is entirely made up. Fictional worlds exist, the imagination is just a spectator onto a subconsciously controlled world, which is entirely safe and good while the â€œspectatorâ€ part holds true. The recent literal tendency towards metafiction â€“ â€˜fictionâ€™ which discusses the idea of the removal of the forth wall in previous fiction â€“ has provided the DoX with a severe problem, in the form of self-aware fictional characters. The realm of fiction where fairytales exist is somewhat prone to this, not least because the recent retellings of them have drifted somewhat towards the picturesque and innocent, making them easy marks for characters who know the score. This isnâ€™t a major part of DoX (Fiction)â€™s remit, however, The final word of â€œDepartment of fictional affairsâ€ is not there for decoration. The single biggest problem we have is the growing number of people whose fantasy is Fantasy, with disturbingly predictable results.