Saturday, November 06, 2004

Sixth Day

In which the book Seamus found turns out to be very spiffy indeed.

Pretty productive Saturday today, with three more chapters, though I don't think I'm as efficient when I try to do as much. I end up needing to take more breaks, and it's hard to keep thinking of stuff without as much time for ideas to percolate. Still, it's gong pretty well. If I can do the same tomorrow I'll leave the weekend in really good shape.

Chapter 8

Seamus got home and went straight up to his attic room. Sarah, who lived in the room directly below his, was playing her stereo, and Seamus could hear it through his floor boards, but he had long ago learned to tune it out pretty effectively. He pulled the book out and set it on his bed.

He had never cared much for keeping a journal. His mother had gotten him one when he was seven, to see if his enthusiasm for writing would match his enthusiasm for reading. He had made a few half-hearted entries along the lines of "I went to school today. I read 27 pages of The BFG, by Roald Dahl. I did my homework and played outside." But he had quickly abandoned it.

Later in life, he had tried starting a dream journal. Then that was given up as well, when he realized that he just kept dreaming about the books he was reading at the time. He figured there was no point writing all that down when he could just go pick up the books again if he wanted to read them later.

At another point, early in college, he had tried keeping a regular journal again. He had kept hearing from older friends and relatives about how college was supposedly "the best time of your life," which made him feel like maybe he ought to record more of it to look back on during the dull, featureless years that were apparently heading his way. But it depressed him to think that it was all down hill from there and besides, it wasn't like Stanford didn't keep him busy enough as it was. So that journal didn't last more than a few months.

Looking at the blank, empty book on his bed though, Seamus thought he could understand the urge to write. Somehow it just seemed to call to him, begging for a pen to be put to its clean, white pages. He turned and went to the table that served as his desk and pulled a pen from the old jelly jar full of pens, pencils, scissors and a ruler. Then he turned back to open the book.

He noticed that the leather fastening was undone, leaving the cover invitingly loose and ready to open. That was a bit odd, since he was fairly sure he had tied it up securely back at the library. But he let that go and opened the book to the first page. There, in large letters as for the title page of a book, he wrote:

The Journal
Seamus Gilbert

He started a bit, surprised at himself. That seemed somewhat rash, just declaring the book his journal like that. For one thing, it wasn't even his. Well, okay, let's face it – he took it, and he knew he probably wasn't going to put it back. Still. And then another thing: What made him think he would actually write in this journal, and not give it up like the others? He didn't like the way he seemed to have committed himself to it already. It would be a waste of a good book if he only ever made two or three entries in it.

But it was done now. The book had been christened. He closed it again and put it on his pillow, then realized that he hadn't had lunch that day. His stomach was beginning to complain mightily, so he headed downstairs to find something to eat.

Seamus had very modest dietary preferences, his main requirements being "easy" and "cheap." He had never really learned to cook much of anything since he didn't care too much what he ate and thus didn't see the point in spending too much time or effort on its preparation. Sandwiches, fruit, canned soup and the occasional quesadilla formed considerable portions of his diet. The fanciest he ever got was making pasta from one of those Tuna Helper packages. Just dump everything in a pot for a few minutes and he'd be set. He had made some the night before, so he pulled the leftovers out of the refrigerator and put them in the microwave. He watched the plate rotating in the microwave as he munched on an apple.

He heard a slight creak of a floor board behind him and turned around. Nathan was standing barely a foot away from him, with one of his slightly disturbing grins on his face.

"Oh, hi." Seamus said coolly.

"Did I surprise you?" Nathan asked with a giggle. "I can always scare Sarah when I sneak up on her like that. It's hilarious."

"No. And you should really go easy on Sarah. You know she's high strung." The truth was, Seamus hadn't know Nathan was there until he was right behind him. But he was also somewhat used to Nathan's sneaking around, and he didn't scare easily so he was able to keep his composure without too much trouble.

"I know she is. That's why it's fun." Another odd giggle, and Nathan moved off to sit at the small kitchen table.

Nathan had only been living in the house for a few months. He was chronically unemployed and taking various medications for depression and, Seamus expected, probably for other things as well. His social skills were effectively non-existent. He spent much of his time holed away in his room, where he had an extra stockpile of food. That was preferable though, to the times he was out of his room, when he would follow the other housemates around the common areas, as though somehow feeding off their normal lives. Occasionally you could have a decent conversation with him, but most of the time he was just kind of creepy. He didn't bathe or shave very often, and his straggly hair accentuated the not-quite-right look in his eyes. Matt had taken him in as a favor to a friend, but everyone realized fairly soon that this wouldn't last. At least, they hoped it wouldn't.

The microwave timer went off and Seamus took his plate out. He sat on a stool by the counter, since that's where there was a bit of free space to put his plate.

"I saw you coming home on your bike," Nathan said. "From my window."

"Yep. I'm sure you did." That was another thing Nathan liked to do: monitor the comings and goings of the other housemates from behind his curtains. Seamus usually just made a distinct effort not to care about it, since he figured any show of annoyance would just encourage him.

"You looked like you were in a hurry. Where were you coming back from?"

"Just the library."

"The library, huh? You were gone an awful long time. I think you left before 10 o'clock this morning, right?"

"Yeah. Well… I did some other errands and stuff today, too. The library was just the last place I was at before I came home."

"Ahhhh. I see."

They were silent for a while, and Seamus ate quickly. He got up and went to the sink to wash his plate.

"So did you get anything at the library?" Nathan had stopped staring at the kitchen table and was focused on Seamus again.

"No… no. I was just returning something that was going to be due before I made it back there on Wednesday."

"Oh, okay. Only I thought I saw you holding something when you came in. Like, holding it against your side, you know?"

"Um… I think I just had a bit of a side-ache. From biking too fast. That's all."


"Anyway… I'm just uh… heading back upstairs now. I'll talk to you later."


Seamus climbed the stairs with the usual feeling of relief that followed taking leave of Nathan. Back in his room, he picked up the journal again and opened it to his title page. There it was, "The Journal of Seamus Gilbert." He turned the page.

At the top of the next page, on a sheet that should have been blank, he read the words:

Welcome, Seamus.

Chapter 9

Seamus closed the book, then opened it again, slowly. The words were still there. He blinked, put the book down, and walked around his room a couple of times. He opened it again. Still there.

He didn't entirely know what to make of this. Years of reading science fiction, fantasy and adventure stories had given him a keen imagination. But he had never truly believed that anything this magical, this fictional, would ever happen to him. Had he?

He wondered if he was only seeing it because he believed it, or wanted to believe in it. He tried to think of some other likely, rational explanation. Had somebody snuck in and played a trick on him? Nathan was downstairs the whole time Seamus had been out of the room, and Sarah was still in her room below with her music playing. She wasn't the sort of person to do something like that, even if she had known about the book, which she didn't. None of the other housemates – Matt or the two grad students, Todd and Claire – were home at the time. So much for that possibility.

Had the words been there all along? Unlikely. Seamus hadn't checked every page when he was in the library, but he did flip through the whole book and pay extra attention the first and last few pages, thinking that's where something was most likely to be written. And his own name being there would have been just too much of a coincidence anyway.

So there we have it, Seamus thought, pacing the room. Either we've got something really paranormal going on here, or I'm just crazy. There's not much point in trying to make sense of anything if I assume I'm crazy, so I'm going to have to go with the first hypothesis and just see where it takes me.

He took a deep breath, then sat down at his desk with the book in front of him. He opened it up, and picked up his pen. Below the welcome message, he wrote the date. December 11, 2004.

He paused for a moment and watched it, but nothing happened. So he started to write. He didn't know what to write; he just knew that it was a journal and was therefore meant to be written in, so he'd better start.

Well, here I am, he wrote, though I don't really know what I'm doing.

It was a lame beginning, he knew. And his writing was already starting to slant on the unlined paper. But he kept on.

What should I even write about? Should I just write about what I did today, like in an ordinary journal? I found this book today, that's what I did. But you probably know that – you were there.

He shook his head. Already talking to the book as though it were a person. Oh well.

I don't really know why I did that. It just seemed… important. And that drew me. Maybe because so few things in my life seem really important. I mean, look at it. I make my living working for a temp agency. My Stanford degree seemed kind of cool, but hasn't really been much use. Those things are a dime a dozen in this area anyway. Of course, when it comes to that, I suppose I could just up and move somewhere else. It's not like there's much keeping me here. I don't have a girlfriend, and all my closest friends are fictional anyway. But I don't exactly have a reason to go anywhere else, either. What do I want to do with my life that I would be willing to put that kind of effort towards? Nothing that I can think of.

Wow. Seamus wondered if journal writing were always like this. If so, it would get pretty depressing pretty quickly. Maybe regular journal writers knew something he didn't. Maybe they just had more interesting lives. On the other hand, they could all just be depressed. Who knows?

Well, okay. To be fair, there is Project Read, which I suppose is kind of important. It's a worthy cause at least, though I don't feel that I really do a whole lot for it. Just a couple of hours a week on the computers, which are just a peripheral part of the overall program anyway. And heck, I spend a lot of the time just goofing off with Gabriela. So yeah… I don't know. What am I doing here, anyway? I pick up a pen and some weird book and I just start babbling. This is silly.

Seamus tossed the pen aside in frustration, but still took care closing the book and fastening it shut. The feel of it was comforting. It seemed to say "It's okay, I'll accept whatever you want to write and tuck it safely away. Don't worry about it." He liked the way the back flap folded over protectively.

He looked around the room. It didn't seem quite right to just toss the journal on one of the many stacks of ordinary books, so he tucked it under his pillow.

Chapter 10

That night Seamus dreamt no dreams but slept more soundly than he had since he first discovered the room beneath the library, and even more soundly than he had within recent memory.

He woke up Sunday morning around 7:30, before anyone else in the house was awake. He liked that time of day, especially in the winter. He made himself some hot chocolate with his breakfast, looking at the gray sky out the window. He had resisted the temptation to open the journal again as soon as he woke up, preferring instead to be fully awake and breakfasted before discovering what else might be in store for him.

When he got back up to his room, he took the journal out from under his pillow and opened it. There was his title page, as before, and the welcome message on the page following it. So that at least hadn't been a dream. Seamus' entry started below that, and carried on to the next page. Underneath his final words, he found a new message.

Do you know what you can do?

It was written in the same script as before, somewhat slanted, with slight flourishes on the descenders and ascenders of the letters. It was the sort of script Seamus had always imagined one would find on ancient manuscripts or treasure maps. He had no idea what it meant, though. He wrote in the book.

I don't understand. What do you mean "what can I do?" You could be telling me I can go take a long walk off a short pier for all I know. What's going on here?

He stared at the page, wondering if he needed to close the book or go away or something, to give it time to respond. But as he watched, letters began forming below his words. They didn't just fade into existence, but were written as he watched, as though by an invisible hand. They were deliberate and unhurried, and in the same script as before.

What have you been reading lately?

Seamus wanted to snap at it and tell it not to change the subject. The last thing he needed when trying to make sense of a magical book was for it to start trying to make small talk with him. But he took a deep breath and decided that it was probably best to go along with it and see what happened. So he picked one of several books currently on his reading list.

Well, I'm about a third of the way through The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. It's about this Indian boy, Pi Patel, who was traveling across the Pacific Ocean with his family and their zoo when they got shipwrecked –

Suddenly the book was gone. The pen was gone. Seamus felt the floor swaying beneath him and realized that his room was gone as well. Shrieks and howls assaulted his ears. He was crouched on a tarpaulin that was stretched over half of a lifeboat. The swaying came from the motion of the waves, and the noise was coming from the other end of the lifeboat.

A hyena stood on the body of a zebra, which was still kicking slightly in spite of being surrounded by its own blood and entrails. The hyena was snarling and howling in a stand off with an orangutan, who was roaring, waving her arms, and thumping the sides of the boat.

Seamus glanced to his side and saw that he was not alone on the tarpaulin. A young Indian boy was looking at him, though his face was too drained and exhausted to register any surprise. Their eyes met and held for a moment, as their ears were saturated with sound – the orangutan's bellowing filling the lower registers with the hyena's howls above it.

The zebra snorted, still struggling, and sent some of its own blood into the water. Almost immediately, the sharks were there, thrashing around the boat and thumping it with their tail fins, looking for the source of the blood. Seamus started to panic, and began scrabbling across the tarpaulin, as though there were somewhere he could go to escape. Another thump, and then a larger wave tilting the boat. He slipped, lost his grip –

– and then found himself collapsed on his bed. His heart was racing and he was covered with sweat. He took some deep breaths, then sat up and clutched the back of the chair by his desk.

"What the HELL was that?!" He almost yelled it, then cringed at how loud it sounded in the quiet Sunday morning. The book couldn't hear him anyway. He snatched up his pen.

What the HELL was that?!

That, replied the book, was bibliomorphing.