Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Palace of Madmen

Interestingly enough, I visited the Palace of Madmen once (or the Changing Maze, the Sanctuary of Dreams, the Labyrinth of Many Names, the Heap, or whatever else you care to call it). I stumbled across one of the back doors. There are no front doors. I suppose you could say that I didn't actually go in - I only took one or two steps into the first room, keeping a tight grip on the knob of the door so that it couldn't get away. I'd heard about the place before. It's almost as hard to leave as it is to enter.

The one room I saw was roughly round, like the bottom floor of a tower, with an assortment of spoons and egg whisks branching like trees out of the ceiling. Mice fluttered through them and hung from prehensile tails. The floor was covered with mushrooms in every imaginable color, from amethyst and aquamarine to copper and cinnabar. A family of six-legged toads appeared to be eating spaghetti and jam on a checkered blanket on the largest one. Upon seeing me, they squeaked, turned immediately into bright green spiders, and attempted to hide against the tomato-red cap of their mushroom.

Of course, they were probably really hiding from the hooded burreler who walked into the room a second later, swinging a large pair of hedge shears on the end of his impossibly long tail. The hood on his head flowed seamlessly into a pair of chain-mail overalls festooned with buttons and elaborately braided green onions. Upon entering the room, he proceeded to shave the fluff off of a small mushroom-patterned carpet, the bristles off of a hairbrush growing among the spoons and egg whisks, and the fringe off of a large mushroom shaped like a lampshade. He was quite efficient. It took him roughly five seconds. All the mushrooms promptly crawled into the floor, spider-toads, picnic blankets, and all, shutting the stonework neatly behind them.

The Palace of Madmen takes in all types of lunatics, and - as far as I've heard - makes more sense to them than the outside world. Like most people on Hamjamser, the vast majority of them are friendly and perfectly harmless. Unfortunately, not all of them are. The maze welcomes the dangerous ones just as readily; it simply keeps the rest of its inhabitants safely away from them.

With the mushrooms gone, the burreler turned a pair of wild, sea-green eyes to me, which was when I noticed that he himself had no fur whatsoever, and his typical black-and-white burreler stripes were actually made up of tiny ceramic tiles stuck to his bare skin. He eyed my hair angrily, swinging his shears and muttering something about flagellated herring.

That was when I left. I didn't know whether or not the maze's protection applied to casual observers. I wasn't particularly eager to find out. The door made a faint ringing noise when I closed it hastily, and the knob folded itself into the faded purple wood with a sound like a silver crab retreating into its shell, leaving no trace in the seamless wood of the door.

When I stepped back, the door frame had gone as well. Only a rectangle of faint purple remained, no more than a stain on the plain wooden boards of the wall where it had been. The window next to it looked out onto the fog-draped fields around the little abandoned cabin.

There had been nothing in the sad little one-room building except the purple door, and now there wasn't even that. Wisps of fog drifted in through the window, split by the few remaining shards of glass. The floor and walls held nothing but shadows and a faint rectangle of purple. There was nothing to see. I left.

The Northern wall of the cabin, where the purple door had been, held only the blank, empty window on the outside. I hadn't noticed it on the way in. There was nothing particularly noticeable about it now. The boards were gray and warped in place. They had obviously stood there for decades, never disturbed by even the hint of a door, much less a purple one to a building out of a dream.

The cabin might have only existed to have the door in it, the one that had opened, shut, and vanished completely. I don't know why. Probably, there was no reason. It just was. That's how the maze works.

There was nothing to see, and there were quite a lot of hills between me and the town of Skither, and the thought of spending the night on the fog-smothered grass by (or in) the empty cabin with the door that wasn't was not particularly appealing, so I set out across the bedeweled grass without much hesitation. The cabin was lost in the mist when I looked back.

I've never found it again. And believe me, it hasn't been for lack of looking.

Anyway. This drawing is based on other stories I've heard of the Palace - from scholars who have spent their life writing in great detail about their few, cherished glimpses of it, from travelers like me who have stumbled across a door or two, and - very rarely - from a few of those who have lived there. There are not many of them. There are even fewer who ever leave. Most of them would rather die. Their descriptions are strange and ambiguous; real words, in the real world, are the wrong shape to hold stories of the Sanctuary of Dreams. This is the closest I can come to making sense of the least senseless accounts. I doubt I will ever attempt to draw my own glimpse of the Palace.

This is not a picture of the Labyrinth of Many Names. It is only as close - I hope - as a sane mind can come to it.

(Dedicated to Colin Thompson, Ursula Vernon, Tanith Lee, and James Blaylock.)

(Image copyright Nigel Tangelo / Ross Emery.)

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Anonymous Beauregard Preposturous said...

I am elated to read your accounts of the hooded burreler. It is a great boon to me to learn that I am not alone in my dreadful experience. Many a year ago, when I was just a stripling, I followed my inamorata of the day into a small cabin. She, the frisky coquette, was leading me in a delightful game of hide-and-seek. In fact, she had been hiding and I had been seeking for most of the morning. A man of less aplomb than myself might have wondered, indeed, why she chose such secretive nooks in which to tuck herself. It was almost as if she were eschewing my enthusiastic cupidity, if that were not such a laughable thought. I saw her enter through the open purple door of a weedy, ramshackle shanty and I thought she had at last settled upon a spot for our game to end, the dear rustic. I followed with alacrity. But there was no sign of her inside. Rather, I found myself in a room full of mushrooms and frogs and other items of such horrific nature. I am known far and wide as an epicure, but never have I suffered such pangs of nausea as I did that day, surrounded as I was by the raw materials of sumptuous feasting. As I scurried to find the door and make my egress, I heard the sound of snipping. I never saw the source of the sound, but when I finally escaped that horrid building, my hair had been cut back to the skin. Me! Without hair! All who know me can attest to the gloriousness of my coiffure and the pride I take in my walrus mustaches. I was forced to send regrets for all of my dates for the next several weeks. Oh, the heartbroken disappointment of all of my sweethearts when I canceled our engagements. I still weep to think of it.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Nigel Tangelo said...

Well, it would seem that the hooded burreler spends most of his time lurking near entrances to the Palace, then. I suppose that makes sense - if he spends all his time there, he must have exhausted most of the nearby sources of hair, leaving only the ones from outside. I wonder what he does with it all.

Just out of curiosity, was the door you entered by anywhere near the town of Skither? It sounds remarkably similar to the door I used, but I have never heard of any door to the Palace of Madmen showing up more than once in the same place. The inhabitants of Skither, Vanister, and other small, remote towns say that they see doors to the Palace fairly often - at least, often compared to the rest of Hamjamser - but never the same one twice. I realize, of course, that you had other matters on your mind at the time, but I am intrigued.

Speaking of other matters, did you ever see that particular sweetheart of yours again?

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Beauregard Preposturous said...

As a matter of fact (and kind of you to ask), I had yet another freakish fright related to that mysterious door! One morning, when I was trimming my newly grown hair, I opened the drawer of my vanity to retrieve the clam-encrusted nippers that are so indispensable in creating the perfect jagged fringe. On the shelf and under the nippers, there was a tiny door! I was fearful, as you can imagine, but curiosity won out and I opened the door most cautiously. From inside, I heard the sound of my sweetheart, conducting a blue floo choir, if you can believe. She is a fine conductor and no one can match her peerless incomparability in arrangement for blue floos. However, her voice has a particularly abrasive (and memorable) quality when she corrects the choir members and hearing that sound from within the tiny door, well, I don't know which scared me the most -- the thought that I might get pulled into that dreadful palace again or the thought that she might somehow come OUT. I suddenly remembered why I always preferred her when she was running away from me. At any rate, I was forced to give up both the vanity and my lodgings. Who, I ask you, can live with the possibility of imminent visits from a blue floo shrew? You?!?

8:46 PM  
Blogger Nigel Tangelo said...

I have always been somewhat in awe of anyone who cuts their hair. The occasions when I have hair are unpredictable enough that I'm reluctant to discourage it.

As for blue floo shrews, I must admit that I would be reluctant to meet one up close. I have been to several of their concerts and enjoyed them immensely (I have been told that my taste in music is odd, but it is actually merely omnivorous. With the exception of Thiglian SmashBang and the harmonic drone choirs of Sconth, I have never heard a type of music I didn't like). Blue floos are rather difficult to listen to for long, though, I find; their habit of leaping off the stage and latching their teeth into the noses of the front-row audience is rather distracting. I imagine it must be even more so for the front-row audience. I always take care to sit near the ceiling, if possible.

I am glad to hear that your (erstwhile) sweetheart has become harmoniously employed, if in a somewhat unusual and secondhand manner.

Of all the Palace doors I've heard of, none were small enough to fit in a drawer. Fascinating. Would you be willing to impart the address of your former lodgings? If the current owner still has the vanity and will let me look in it, I would be delighted to see if the door is still there. They rarely seem to vanish until someone has gone through them, even partway; unless a shrew decided to explore, it's unlikely anyone would have gone through a door that small.

10:42 PM  

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