Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chapter 16

As he took the journal from his drawer, it occurred to Seamus that there was a bit of a problem with this system of communication. He could write in his book whenever he wanted, but how on earth would he know when Cassidy was reading her copy? When it came to that, how would he even know if she still had the book at all? She had left so abruptly the night before, anything could have happened. Nothing for it but to try, he figured.

He opened it up, and saw nothing written below the thin blue line that had ended their last conversation. So he just wrote a quick note:

Hey, Cassidy. Are you there? It's Seamus.

He watched it for a minute, then added:

Hey, book – if there's anything special that needs to happen to send that to Cassidy's copy of the book, make it happen. (Please.) I don't know how I did it last time.

Still nothing. He decided to assume for now that it had gone through and that Cassidy simply didn't have her book open at the time. He'd give it a little while before he tried to think of something else. In the meantime, he left the book open on his desk, went downstairs to make a quick dinner, and brought it up to eat in his room where he could watch the book.

Around seven o'clock his waiting was rewarded. A slight motion on the open page of the journal caught his eye, and he looked over to see the small, blue script again.

Hi Seamus. Looks like this thing is still working. What's up?

Not much over here. Is everything okay over there? What happened last night?

Oh, that. One of my housemates had broken up with his girlfriend that afternoon and had just barged in, stark raving drunk. I needed to put the book away somewhere safe. I haven't told anyone about it, and I don't want to have to answer any questions about it.

Yeah, mine's a secret, too. It's just too weird to tell anyone about.

So speaking of weird, what else has it been doing for you?

Well, you told me about some of the other things that happened to you when you wrote in it. Here's what I think it was trying to get you to do….

And he described what had happened to him the first time he bibliomorphed unexpectedly, and then told her about his deliberate excursion into The Phantom Tollbooth. She seemed impressed. Apparently she had been working on the same thing, but still hadn't quite managed it. Then Seamus had an idea.

You know, he wrote, I wonder if there isn't a way for me to help you make it work. I mean, it all seems to be enabled through these books, and what we write in them, and these books are also the things that are connecting us and letting us talk to each other. There must be some way we can combine our efforts, right?

Yeah, that makes sense. So how should we do this? Pick a book first, I guess?


Seamus started scanning his book shelves, wondering which of his books Cassidy was most likely to have read. His eye fell on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, and he remembered the Monty Python line Cassidy had dropped the other day. If she were into that kind of thing, he supposed there was a good chance she'd have read Douglas Adams. He picked up the journal again.

We should probably use a book we both know. Have you read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

Only about five times. It's one of my favorites.

Great. Let's try that.

They decided to just arrive at the beginning of the book, for simplicity's sake and to avoid all that mucking about in hyperspace and on other planets. Granted, the Earth was about to be destroyed, but if they arrived in the morning, they'd have at least until lunchtime. Seamus still wasn't entirely sure how time passed when he was inside books, so he figured it would be safer not to spend too long there anyway. They way they would work it would be to each try to bibliomorph there at the same time, specifically including the other person in their description and visualization. The hope was that this would somehow allow Seamus to "assist" Cassidy, in case she still couldn't make it on her own. Seamus began to write.

Cassidy and I are in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chapter 1. It is 8 o'clock in the morning and we are outside Arthur Dent's house, though out of the way of the bulldozers. We are both watching from across the street, so as not to be noticed —

Seamus pushed aside a branch that was obscuring his view of the house. He realized that he was crouching down, hiding behind a bush. Perhaps he wasn't going to be noticed there, but he did think he should have been able to manage something more casual and less suspicious looking than that. He stood up and tried to look comfortable, as though he belonged there. Luckily, there didn't seem to be anyone around to pay attention to him anyway.

Then he remembered Cassidy and took a quick glance around him. To his right, there was a sudden shimmer in a roughly humanoid shaped patch of air.

"Cassidy? Is that you?" he whispered at it.

"…mus? … yes …e" the voice from the shimmering was faint and broken, but he was starting to see actual features in it, limbs becoming defined. Aiming for the part that looked like the shimmer's hand, he thrust his own hand in and grasped. A warm, solid hand met his and grasped back. He tugged, and the shimmer popped slightly and disappeared, leaving a girl in its place. She staggered slightly from the shock, but quickly steadied herself and stood up straight.

She was more or less the same height as Seamus – approximately five foot six – and he found himself looking directly into her eyes. They were a deep brown, nearly black, and did not seem to be the kind of eyes that would be easily averted. Her hair was as dark as her eyes and cut short. It stuck out a few inches in various directions around her head, seemingly of its own accord. One patch of it over her left ear was dyed blue. She had strong features that looked as though they would be equally at home smiling or serious. She wore jeans, and a baby doll t-shirt, dark blue with an orange "B" logo on the front.

Cassidy had been taking in Seamus' appearance at the same time, noting his slightly tousled, light brown hair, his glasses, his thin build. Then she glanced down. Seamus realized they were still holding right hands. She smiled at him.

"So. You must be Seamus. Good to meet you." She gave his hand a squeeze and a quick shake, then let it go. He laughed.

"Yes. And in the flesh this time. Glad you could make it."

She was looking across the street now. While she had been busy materializing, Arthur Dent had run frantically out of his house and had flung himself down in the muddy path to stop the advancing bulldozers. Mr. Prosser seemed to be having a word with him right now.

"You know? Adams was right about that house," she said. "It really does more or less exactly fail to please the eye. Wow. So we're actually inside The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is awesome. I hope we get to see the part where Ford Prefect convinces Mr. Prosser to take Arthur's place in the mud. I love that scene."

"Me too. That's not until nearly lunch time though, I think. There's probably not much to see here for a few hours."

"You're right. Shall we go for a walk, then?"


They strolled for a while down the street, passing some hoses, then later the Horse and Groom pub, and a few small shops. As they walked, they talked.

Seamus learned that Cassidy was a junior at PSU, majoring in Computer Science. One night she had been studying in the library and fallen asleep. When she woke up, she found that it was past one in the morning, and the entire building was closed down and dark. She had debated just thrusting her way out through the emergency exit (thus triggering the alarm system) but then decided to explore a bit, by the moonlight coming in through the windows.

In the process, she had noticed what seemed to be a particularly intense, focused moonbeam, cutting across from one of the windows, between two rows of shelves, and landing on a bookcase on the far wall. She followed it and took out the book it had landed on. The book itself was forgettable – something about the political history of Chile. What caught her eye, though, was the leather bound journal that was revealed behind it when she removed it from the shelf.

From her description, it sounded identical to the journal Seamus had found, and of course they both knew how that connection had worked out by now. They continued walking and talking for a while, moving on to various other subjects. They talked about where they lived and their housemates, shared college stories, and Seamus told her some of his impressions of life after graduation. He found himself unusually comfortable talking to her. Usually it took him a long time to warm up to someone new, if he ever did at all, which was certainly not a given.

Just as well, though, he thought, there's something strange going on that's brought us together, so we'd better be able to at least trust each other.

They were walking back past the Horse and Groom again when they heard a dull, rumbling crash coming from back in the direction of Arthur Dent's house. A moment later, Arthur himself burst out of the pub, screaming at the top of his lungs.

"Stop, you vandals! You home wreckers! You half-crazed Visigoths, stop, will you!"

Seamus and Cassidy's first reaction was disappointment that they had forgotten to go back and catch the scene with Ford and Mr. Prosser. The time had just slipped away from them, it seemed. But their second reaction came close on the heels of the first, and they glanced up into the sky to see Vogon ships lowering slowly from the sky, like enormous, yellow, windowless office buildings.

It was definitely time to leave now.

"So how do we get back home?" Cassidy asked, her voice serious but calm.

"We need something to write on. Damn, I should have thought to bring something."

Ford Prefect burst out of the pub and headed after Arthur Dent.

"Let's go in there," Cassidy said.

They slipped in, hearing the bartender nervously calling for last orders. There was some confusion from the recent scene, not to mention the news that the world was about to end, and no one noticed them. Glancing around, they saw a table with an abandoned newspaper crossword, and a pen. They rushed over to it and turned the paper over to find some blank space they could write in. Seamus explained how he had gotten home the last time he had bibliomorphed.

"You go first, though," he said. "I think it's a bit easier to get home than it was to get here, but I already know I can do it, so I want to make sure you get through all right first."

"You don't have to be all gallant for me, you know," Cassidy replied, taking the pen and paper anyway. She began to write, as Seamus had described.

I am Cassidy Martin, and this is my journal. I am sitting at home…

Seamus watched her write, then shimmer, then by the end of the paragraph, disappear completely. He gave a sigh of relief. Outside, though, he could hear the Vogons telling the whiny little Earthlings that they really should have made it out to Alpha Centauri once in a while if they didn't want to get blown up, so he knew it wasn't time to relax yet.

He took the paper up himself and chose another blank space in the margin, already focusing on the image of himself back safely in his room.

Send me home, send me home, he thought. And hardly had his pen touched the paper than the world flickered around him and he found himself back at his desk. He dropped the pen and collapsed back into his chair. Looking at the clock, he saw that it was nearly one in the morning. With a bit of a wrench, he realized that meant he would have to be waking up and getting ready for work in about six hours. He gave himself another few minutes to calm down, then took his clothes off, crawled into bed, and barely remembered to flip the alarm switch on before falling instantly asleep.


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