Saturday, November 20, 2004

Chapter 28

Big Jake had taken the seat across from Cassidy at the kitchen table, so Seamus pulled up the stool by the counter for himself. He was still nervous around Big Jake, but also intensely curious. He remembered the peculiar comments Jake had made to him outside the library, the first day that he stole the key to the basement, and the time he and Cassidy had gone in together. Maybe that was all about to be explained.

Big Jake looked thoughtful for a moment, as though deciding where to start. Then he leaned his elbows on the table and began.

"My real name," he said, "is Jacob Steele. Professor Jacob Steele, as a matter of fact. Don't laugh. You may not believe it, but it's true."

Seamus and Cassidy had their attention completely fixed on him, but were certainly not about to laugh. As unlikely as it seemed for this man in front of them to have been a professor, they knew that pretty much anything was possible, given everything else they had gone through over the last few days.

"I taught literature at Stanford," Big Jake went on. Noticing the start of recognition from Seamus, he added "This was well before your time, of course. A good 15 or 20 years ago. I don't even know for sure anymore. I was younger back then, young for a professor, though I don't remember my age. So many things have faded, especially time."

His voice dropped a bit, and Seamus wondered if he was going to lapse back into his old mumbled ramblings. But Big Jake merely looked contemplative for a moment before continuing.

"I taught a few classes – a freshman writing course, history of the short story, that kind of thing. But one thing that always fascinated me was old, rare books. I collected them, any that I could find and afford. So as you can imagine, I soon began to spend a great deal of time with Stanford's special collections, in the rare books division. So much time, in fact, that it became a problem. I was neglecting my work and my students. I would go in sometimes and emerge hours later, not really sure what I had been doing in there all that time. And then I found it.

"It was a small, leather bound book, unmarked, un-cataloged, blank inside. I didn't know what it was or why it was important, I just knew that it was the reason I had been drawn there. I found a way to smuggle it out with me, and I took it home.

"I began writing in that book, and it began writing back to me. And then it began pulling me in, much as it did for you, I expect. At first just a few visits to some of my favorite classics – I still felt like I was in control, and I loved it. But then I got in too far. I met the entity that controls all of this and it had me trapped. It said that I had a power it needed, and spun me shining tales of its noble goals. I was taken in by this and foolishly agreed to do what it asked of me.

"I read when it asked me to, and wrote when it asked me to, pouring all my creativity into my tasks. And as constantly as I was giving myself to it, it was draining me. I discovered too late that it was not really me that it needed and wanted. I was just a tool it was using on its way to a greater goal. But by then I was helpless. All of my energies were flowing outward to the Book, leaving me none to defend myself or escape.

"And yes, the Book is what I was creating, a physical manifestation for the real world of the force that now had control of me. I was not the one it was looking for, the Key. The Book would help it find that one. But the Book had to be created first, and to do that required a human being. Nothing created entirely in and by forces of fiction could have a sustained presence in reality. So it used me. The greater the Book grew, the weaker I became.

"But also as the Book grew, I started to become aware of what would ultimately happen if the plans succeeded. What it is aiming for would mean the complete destruction of the world as we know it. Old books will not simply be brought back to recognition, but brought to life. There will be a complete merging of reality and fiction, to the point where each term is meaningless. Everything that has ever been imagined will exist at once, bringing contradictions, chaos and collapse to the entire world."

Big Jake paused here, letting this sink in. Seamus and Cassidy simply watched him, not knowing what to say.

"Eventually, of course, the Book was finished and I was of no more use. I was a mere shell at that point, barely conscious, with no thoughts of my own. I had no idea how long I had been in the service of this power. It spat me back out into reality homeless, jobless, nearly mindless. I wandered up and down the state for a few years, getting by I never knew quite how, but then found that I kept being drawn back to one place in particular: the Menlo Park Library.

"I didn't know it at the time, but that was where the Book had been installed, and was waiting for you to come along. The remnant of my old self that remained in me was drawn to it; the one miniscule part was seeking the whole that had left it. And that part, weak as it was, grew stronger from the proximity. I began to come across random memories and images from my past, though at first it seemed more as if someone else's thoughts were intruding on mine. I gradually pieced them together, though they always remained clouded over by my new persona.

"Those small pieces of me were what recognized you and what you were doing. They knew also that they had to find some way to warn you, but they were powerless in that world. And so, with incredible, painstaking efforts, I managed to pull together the most complete, coherent version of my former self that I could, for one final bibliomorph. And that is what you see before you. Big Jake yes, but also Professor Jacob Steele. I will probably not last much longer here, but I had to come, to make sure that you knew what you were facing."

He leaned back in his chair, slumping, looking like the effort of talking had worn him out.

"Wow," Cassidy said at last. "That is incredible. Seamus, what are we going to do about this?"

"Hold on," said Seamus, still focused on Big Jake. "How are you telling us all this? It doesn't make sense. We're inside the Book now – at the very least it should know that you're giving away its secrets, and I'd expect it to just do away with you entirely."

"No," Big Jake replied wearily, "it doesn't know about me. It can't. All that is left of me is the one smallest part that it could never pull away. It took everything else, but what remains is undetectable to it. It will never know I was here."

As he spoke, Seamus could see him starting to blur at the edges. "We're starting to lose you," he said.

"Yes, I must go. I do not have much strength left. Remember what I told you, though. If it gains possession of you the way it did of me, the results will be far more disastrous." And with that, Big Jake faded, flickered, and was gone.


Post a Comment

<< Home