Short Story: The Room Outside the Universe

‘Open the door.’

‘Are you sure? He said that we’re outside the universe.’

‘Well, why wouldn’t it be safe? We’re in a massive white room.’ She accentuated the word. “Maaaaaassive. There’s one door. If we are outside the universe,’ she said skeptically, ‘then how would we be in a room? We have to look, to find out.’

‘But didn’t you know, curiosity killed the cat?’

‘Well, what else is there to do?’ Hands thrown up in frustration, she paced away and paused. There really wasn’t anywhere else to go.

The room was massive and white, like she had said. The compass on their wrists indicated they were standing near the south wall. They couldn’t see the end of it and none of the other walls were visible. The floor was white and of the same hard, smooth material as the wall. It wasn’t glossy like porcelain or marble and it was harder than the walls of pulped up trees that they’d found on Earth. It wasn’t wood; it was too dense for that. Yet, the scrapings they’d taken had indicated that it was layered and each layer was white, pure white, at least down through the top three layers. There was nothing of interest in the room. Nothing but the door.

‘Well?’ She sighed. ‘What are we going to do?’

‘Sh.’ The tests had indicated the room was several kilometers in length, with an incalculable volume. They had few options. Either they took the black door, placing their faith in the mysterious voice that had declared them outside the universe, or they kept walking. Everywhere was white. It was like being stuck in a blizzard except they were indoors.

She was pacing again. The sound of her steps echoed loudly, which was technically impossible, given the volume of the room. Really, they should be making a dull click. Her shoes were soft soled save for the heel and toe, which were hardened graphite. Tap shoes she’d called them and attempted to demonstrate. She’d fallen over and he’d learned what laughter was.

‘What do you reckon the outside of the universe looks like? A large whorl of stars? A ball of fiery light? Perhaps…’ she smiled at the memory. ‘Jeremy would have said it looked like a pizza, with the stars as pepperoni.’

The Earth woman was strange. She had enjoyed her travels with the company but this? This may actually destroy her mind. Humans couldn’t comprehend a universe outside their universe. They knew it was expanding but they were unaware that something was pulling it outwards. However, she was right. There was nothing else to do but open the door.

The thought of opening the door prompted a strange emotion. It was more than apprehension. Perhaps it was terror? They had learned terror on Earth. Strange how different universes felt emotions differently. Galaxy 827 had felt hope more than anything. They had been the ones to invent sugar. It imbued every occasion with a sense of hope about the future. The sugar of Earth, however, was tinged with terror. Terror of growing old. Terror of growing fat. Terror of dying young, or alone. Wedding cake had been the worst. It was full of promise, hope and light, yet, when it came down to it, only two of its consumers would get to live that dream. The rest? Terrified of the fact that they were alone. Or terrified of the expectations that not being alone put on them.

The being sighed. Had they underestimated humans? Perhaps they were the best species, being able to live with the terror of life every day and then move past it, grasping at the glimmer of hope on the other side of the universe. What was better? Terror or hope? What would lie on the other side of the door? Stars? Pepperoni? Maybe even wedding cake… Now that would be a strange universe. Left to himself, he would have thought about it until their supplies ran out. His species were thinkers, pondering every possible eventuality. Time ticked on and she grew tired of watching him stand there.

Finally, with a sense of finality, she decided.

The handle turned. Two steps and a neat click as the door swung softly shut.


By Emma-Louise Groucutt © 2014


Review: A Discovery of Witches

As someone who was first acquainted with Deborah Harkness as a historian, I was intrigued when I found out her recent book A Discovery of Witches was a work of fiction. The fact that it debuted at number 2 on the New York Times Bestseller hardcover fiction list in 2011 made me even more determined to read it. When I started, I was immersed in the Bodleian library, and like all her other readers, I am now trapped, waiting to finish reading the All Souls trilogy.

It is apparent that Harkness’ life as a historian has influenced her work. The many hours spent reading in the Bodleian library and living in Oxford has given her description depth and detail that many amateurs would struggle with. A Discovery of Witches focuses on the life of Diana Bishop, a modern day historian like Harkness who calls up an enchanted manuscript from the depths of the Bodleian Library archives. Yet, Diana is not just a historian. She is a witch, descended from parents Stephen and Rebecca, who were themselves powerful witches. Their disappearance when Diana was seven years old meant that she now shies away from magic, believing that their talent was what got her parents killed. However, by calling up the manuscript, Diana has attracted the attention of every magical creature in Oxford, witches, demons and a 1,500 year-old vampire. She is thus forced to face her past and use her magic, in a quest that could reveal the origins of demons, witches and vampires and expose them to the humans they live among.

The fact that Harkness writes well and her story is well-researched because of her historical background means that the paranormal story about witches, vampires and demons, reads like historical fiction. The setting of the second book in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, in Elizabethan London, means the reader is convinced that possibly, just possibly, some of this work could be true. The introduction of famous alchemist John Dee and playwrights like Christopher Marlow makes her setting vivid. For those fascinated by the history of alchemy and Harkness’ historical works, this is well worth the read. Even if you are not a fan of historical fiction this novel could still be for you, with elements of romance and mystery abounding. So, if you want to read a forbidden love story that’s better than Twilight and are missing a magical world now that Harry Potter is (apparently…) over, try the All Souls trilogy – it’s a paranormal adventure for grown ups. Unlike the rest of us, you won’t have to wait long for the trilogy to conclude as the final part, The Book of Life, was released on July 16, 2014.

Other works by Harkness include the historical non-fiction John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of Nature (1999) and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (2007). Harkness is also the author of the blog Good Wine Under $20 (

Rating: 3.5/5

By Emma-Louise Groucutt © 2014 

Short Story: The Bleat

‘Bah,’ I said. ‘Baaaaahhhh.’ I lengthened the vowel.

‘Bill?’ The ewe to my right looked at me askance. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Absolutely fine, my dear. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.’ I lengthened the vowel again. ‘What a peculiar noise.’

‘There is a reason sheep speak, Bill. We don’t utter strange sounding elongated vowel noises.’ Thomas the elder looked down at me. Of course he did. The ram had take elocution lessons as a lamb. He wouldn’t understand the pure tonality of a good bleat.

‘Baaaaah humbug Thomas.’ I leant down and chewed some of the grass between my feet. Living by the Wall could be quite boring sometimes. One had to amuse oneself and eating grass was not as amusing as it had been. The old shepherd guarded us well. Too well in my opinion. No sort of adventure to be found. No fights against lions or quests to the other side of the world, to save a good looking ewe. After all, as a sheep, it was rather hard to cross the Wall. Firstly, the height was a bit too much to conquer without help and the rest of the herd would rather die then stray. Secondly, the gap that did exist was guarded by the shepherd, who turned away sheep and humans alike.

‘Baaaaaaaaaaaah,’ said one of the lambs. ‘Baaaaah.’ He played around with the length of the bleat. Thomas huffed and moved away, muttering loudly. ‘Damn youngsters! No respect for properly spoken English.’

I chuckled and joined in. ‘Baaaaaaaaaaah.’

And so the herd began to bleat.

Based on the Wall in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust

By Emma-Louise Groucutt © 2014