Decker stood in the entranceway and allowed his eyes to adjust to the gloom. The room was roughly square and looked a bit like the inside of a church, although there was no altar. At the other end of the room were two doors, one at either side. On the floor were many hard wooden benches. Many of these benches were covered in sheets of paper, and on these were many drawings and sketches.
He looked up and noticed that the walls, too were covered with paintings and drawings; fantastical, surreal imagery that held the eye in a vice-like grip and would not let go.
Decker tore his eyes from the paintings on the walls and looked to one of the corners. A girl of about nineteen stood there, working with great speed and dexterity on a painting of and owl with five wings composing its eleventh symphony. The girl’s hair stood out madly from her head and she was wearing elaborate robes. What struck Decker most about her, however, were her eyes. They shone brightly out of her head and seemed to pierce through his skull and out the other side. At first he thought that the girl might be mad, but then a thought jumped into his head; this might be the sanest person he would ever meet.
The girl peered at him with her burning eyes.
“Oh, you look very much like him. Very much like him indeed. I’d be careful if I were you, for that one is deep trouble, and you should avoid being associated with him. But from your looks, that may not be possible.” The girl smiled. “Yes, the resemblance is too close. Trouble will come to you, I fear.”
“What? Who are you talking about?”
“You’re late, you know,” she said. “But that’s alright. I thought I wasn’t going to finish it.”
The girl said nothing, but simply turned back to her musical owl. Decker wondered what she was talking about, but then looked to her right. On the wall next to her was a large painting of a tall man with long brown hair wearing a hat and a trench coat. The hat and the coat were the colour of twilight. Images flicked and flitted across the fabric of his coat, but could not be made out. Decker knew exactly who the man in the painting was. It was him.
The painting showed him walking down a street of dream, through mists of scrambled thought and lurking insanity. Behind his doppelgänger was a shadowy figure, half-concealed by the screaming, tumbling mists. From his open hand tumbled a few grains of sand, which became part of the mists, even as they left his shadowy palm. The figure looked familiar, like an old, half-forgotten acquaintance. Decker looked back at the image of himself. Perched on his shoulder was a raven.
“Nevermore,” whispered Decker. The girl laughed, a musical sound that seemed to become part of, and draw its vitality from the many images in the room. Decker looked back at her.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“The wrong questions, those are,” answered the girl. “No doubt you’ll discover that in time.”
“I don’t understa-“
“Eleven,” said the girl suddenly.
“Be wary of it. Yes, very wary indeed! Do you know what it signifies?”
Decker looked up at the raven. Did it just turn its head and look back at him? He could not tell.
“Death,” he whispered.
The girl laughed again. “But for whom?” she said softly and looked down at her hands. Suddenly she looked up again, at something behind Decker.
He felt a hand placed on his shoulder.