Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ninth Day

In which Gabriela discovers the mysterious book room, and Seamus meets Cassidy.

It was tough getting going tonight, and I didn't think I'd be able to come up with anything, but I managed alright in the end. That day off sure was dangerous, though. It would have been really easy to just let it slip into two days and eventually lose it entirely.

But anyway, I managed about 2,000 words in three hours. A good amount, though not enough to get me caught up.

Chapter 13

Seamus could hardly sleep that night, thinking about what had just happened. He had actually gone inside a book, had interacted with the characters. It was incredible.

It occupied his thoughts for most of the next day at work, as well. Luckily, he already had the data entry job on automatic pilot, so he was able to devote a fair number of brain cycles to considering the possibilities of this newfound ability. There were still so many questions about it.

He started to plan out the experiments he would do, to determine the details of how the system worked. One of the most important things to find out about was how his "book body" was related to his "real body." If he was injured in a book, would that carry over to real life, or would it disappear when he came back, as though he had woken up from a dream? Could he bring objects, or even people, back with him? Would readers of the book be aware of his presence in it? He couldn't think of a way to test the last one without letting someone else in on his plans, and he couldn't think of anyone he was ready to trust with that yet. But there were still a lot of things that he could test on his own. He couldn't wait to get home and try it again.

The day dragged by, as temp job days frequently do, but eventually it was six o'clock and Seamus headed home. When he got there, he went straight up to his room and pulled the journal from the drawer, where he was now keeping it in a desire to have it safely hidden, rather than in an effort to forget about it. He opened it up, hoping to see another message of some sort waiting for him, but there was nothing.

Okay, no big deal. It hadn't really been a particularly chatty book anyway. There was no reason for it to have a note waiting for him every day. He took up his pen and wrote the date for a new entry. It was the fourteenth now.

Alright, I'm back. I'm going to go back into The Phantom Tollbooth again, since that seems like a safe place to experiment a bit more. So I'm in the same little car as before, but now I'm arriving at Dictionopolis. The market is open, and there are words and letters for sale everywhere. I'll buy a few of them to taste and see if I can bring them back. And, um… let's see, I think something should be happening now.

The book remained silent, and Seamus remained in his room. He felt slightly silly.

Should I be more specific? Give more details? Okay. I'm standing at the booth with all the individual letters, tasting an "A" with Milo. Tock is there with us, as well as the Humbug and the Spelling Bee.

Still nothing. Seamus carried on describing the scene in as much detail as he could, even to the point of including page numbers, and quoting passages verbatim. The book remained exactly as responsive as an ordinary journal. He had to flip back to earlier pages to see the previous messages he had gotten, just to convince himself he hadn't imagined the whole thing.

He moved on to a different book, and tried to enter Logan Montstuart's life through Any Human Heart, but had no luck there either. He even tried The Life of Pi again, though he was careful to choose a safer scene than the one he had been in before. Eventually, he closed the book in frustration and gave up on it for the evening.

He kept thinking about it through work the next day, though more worriedly now, wondering what had gone wrong. Was it something about him? About the book? He hadn't hallucinated it all, had he? He couldn't have – the writing was still there, for anyone to see. Not that anyone would, of course. At least, he hoped not.

It was a Wednesday – his volunteer night at Project Read. He wondered if he would get a chance to slip down to the basement again tonight. He was curious to see if there was anything else interesting down there, or even a clue of some sort about the journal. He had put the key to the basement storage room in his pocket that morning, just in case.

His opportunity came at 5:15, when his supervisor Laura informed him that she had to leave early that day. It was the company's policy that Seamus couldn't be there working as a temp if his supervisor wasn't around, so he would have to take off as well. This was moderately ridiculous, since Laura worked down the hall from Seamus and didn't really do any supervising at all now that he had the hang of the job. But there was no point in arguing. The half hour's pay cut was annoying, but he knew what he would do with the extra time. He went straight to the Menlo Park Library.

The library was busier at this time of day than it had been on Saturday morning, and it took Seamus a few more minutes before he found a chance to slip downstairs comfortably unnoticed. He went along cautiously, trying to listen ahead for any other people who might be down there, but though the lights were on he didn't run into anybody. The key let him into the book room with the same rusty reluctance as the last time, and he turned on the dim light.

The room seemed more or less unchanged since the weekend. Still full of books and dust, and not much else. Interestingly though, the shelf where Seamus had found the journal, previously empty and clean, now held as many books and as much dust as the rest of the room. He didn't really know whether to be surprised at that or not.

Now that he was here of course, Seamus wasn’t quite sure exactly what he was going to do. Go through the shelves and bags and boxes of books one by one? Hardly. Nothing else seemed to be obviously noticeable, as the journal had. So he just started working his way deeper into the room, squeezing between the stacks, skimming the titles of whatever books were visible near him.

He was about halfway to the back of the room when he heard the door creak behind him. His heart skipped a beat, wondering who had found him down there, and how he would explain his presence there. He turned around to see Gabriela standing in the doorway.

"I found you!" she laughed.

Seamus relaxed slightly and smiled. "Yep, you sure did. How did you know I was down here?" He started working his way back towards her.

"I saw you come in, but you didn't see me, so I followed you. But I couldn't open the lock at the bottom of the stairs, so I had to go back up and I took the elevator and then I looked all around and couldn't find you again until I saw this door open and then I found you. Where are we? Is this a secret place?"

"Um… yes. Yes, it's kind of a secret. Let's try not to tell anybody about it."

"Okay! We can come hide down here, huh? If we wanted to. It'll be like a secret fort! Is it all just full of books? Why aren't they upstairs with the other books?" She had wandered a little farther into the room and was peering into a box.

"Yeah, just a lot of books. I think they save them down here for the book sale or something. Hey, we should be getting back upstairs before your mother wonders where you are."

"Okay. Can I take this one?" She had pulled a small, tattered paperback from the box.

"Let me see it."

Seamus took the book. It was a copy of Redwall, by Brian Jacques, another favorite from his childhood. It looked safe enough, though he flipped through it to make sure it contained actual pages from the book, and nothing that looked like another bibliomorph enabler. Not, he knew, that he would necessarily be able to tell. Still, it made him feel better to at least check.

"Sure, go ahead. Keep that a secret, too, though. And we should probably bring it back here when you're done with it."

They went back upstairs and headed for Project Read. A few times that evening, Seamus was sure Gabriela was about to tell her mother about the room she had found downstairs, but she kept the secret admirably, much to his relief. She started reading Redwall while Seamus installed a new phonics program on the computers, and she seemed to be quite enjoying it. Seamus told Maria the book was a loan, and Gabriela could just give it back to him when she was done.

Chapter 14

Seamus got home around 9:15 that evening, kicked his shoes off and put on some fuzzy slippers and sweatpants. He liked wearing cozy clothes on cold winter evenings. He made some hot chocolate, too, and took it up to his room. He didn't want to get his hopes up about the journal, so he figured he might as well be comfy.

Again, the journal came out from the drawer and again, there was no message waiting for him. Again, a new date for a new entry.

So, are you going to talk to me tonight? he wrote.

Goodness! What a way to start a conversation! We haven't even been properly introduced yet.

Seamus was startled. The words had appeared quickly, and in a new handwriting, small, slanted and energetic. It was more like an actual person's handwriting than the elegant script that had come out of the book before. Also, the ink was blue, as opposed to the black that everything had been previously. The writing continued.

Why don't we back up and try this again. I'll start this time: My name is Cassidy.

I'm Seamus.

Nice to meet you.

You too, I think. Though I have to confess I'm at a bit of a loss as to what's going on right now. This isn't the book talking, is it? Why haven't you written before? Are you real or fictional? Where are you?

So many questions! It's nice to meet a man who doesn't talk about himself all the time but still – you want to give a girl some breathing room. I didn't expect a bloody Spanish Inquisition.

Ha. Monty Python. Nobody expects a Spanish Inquisition.

Yes. :-)

And you're one of those people who writes out their emoticons even when they're not typing.

Apparently, yes. But let's get you some actual information before you start psychoanalyzing me through my writing habits and British humor references. First of all: yes, I'm a real person, as I assume you are?

As far as I can tell, yes. Though I've been having my doubts recently.

Good enough for now. I'm in Oregon. I'm a student at PSU (the "P" is for Portland). And I've stumbled into this the same way I expect you did. I just found this book and started writing in it.

Yeah, me too. I found my copy in the basement of a library here. I'm down in California, by the way. Palo Alto (in the Bay Area).

Cool, I know where that is. I have an aunt who lives down there. Anyway, this book was talking to me for a bit, kept asking me about books I had read. Weird things would happen when I answered – I'd see flashes of scenes from the books, just briefly appearing around me. I'm not sure what that was all about. Then a few days ago it told me to wait. Didn't say for what. I wasn't able to get anything else out of it until tonight.

Interesting. It was only a few days ago that I found this book. On Saturday.

Yeah, it was probably the same time. So I'm thinking: the book…

The writing stopped. Seamus waited a few moments, then wrote:

Yes? What about it?

The response came back, the writing hastier than before.

Crap. I gotta go. Find you later.

And that was it. A thin, blue line stretched across the journal page below the last words. Seamus guess that meant this Cassidy person had closed her copy of the book. He closed his too, fastened it, and put it away.

Curiouser and curiouser, he thought.