Saturday, November 13, 2004

Thirteenth Day

In which Seamus and Cassidy have another encounter with Big Jake and find a very important Book.

I turned out over 3,000 words today which was really good, though I feel like that's practically maxing myself out, even for a weekend day. I just have trouble generating ideas fast enough to do much more, so I get a lot less efficient after the first 1,000 or 1,500 or so. Still, if I can do this again tomorrow, I should be in great shape for going into the third week.

Chapter 18

Seamus and Cassidy went down the stairs, both carrying their journals and pens. Cassidy got temporarily sidetracked by the array of blinking lights in the front entry way, where all the flashiest of Matt's electrical projects were on display. Seamus was heading out the door when he realized she was still behind, trying to read a message on one of them that was scrolling by, one letter at a time.

"I can save you the trouble," he said. "That one just says 'om mani padme hum' over and over. Sort of an automated mantra."

Cassidy laughed at that. She had an easy, comfortable laugh that made Seamus want to think of other ways to trigger it. No time for that now, though. They went outside to Seamus' car.

"The door handle on that side is busted, so let me get in first and open it for you."


It was only about a five minute drive to the library, and they got there at about 7:00. The parking lot was inconsistently lit, and Seamus parked in a dark area under a large tree. As they got out, a tall, dark figure emerged from the shadows.

"So, you're both here now, eh?" There was a hoarse chuckle, and Seamus recognized the voice of Big Jake. Seamus had never actually seen him standing up before, and he loomed menacingly tall over them. Seamus glanced over towards the library and could see the pile of bags and junk still resting in the usual place against the wall, waiting for their owner to come back, then back at the figure in the shadows, easily 6 foot 4, with that focused glint in the eyes that had come and gone during their last encounter.

"Yes, we're both here," Seamus said, trying to sound casual. He came around to Cassidy's side of the car and started steering her towards the library. Big Jake followed them.

"Think it'll take two of you, huh?" he continued. Cassidy was now looking quizzically from Seamus to Jake and back again. "Never know what you might find down there." Another hoarse chuckle, ending in a cough.

"We're just going to the library," Seamus said.

"Righ', righ'. Of course. Good thing you got them books with you," Big Jake glanced down at the journals Seamus and Cassidy each had clutched in their hands. "The books know where to go… the library… the books know… down… find it… me, Big Jake, I was jus' out for a walk…."

He was starting to ramble again, sounding more like the Big Jake who always tried to chat nonsensically with passersby. They were almost at the front door to the library now, and Big Jake turned aside to head back to his usual station. As he did, a small piece of paper came free from one of his many pockets, all stuffed with scraps and rags and odds and ends, and blew across the path. Cassidy darted forward to pick it up but Big Jake took no notice and was already facing the other way and pulling out his recorder.

Cassidy looked at the paper and then handed it to Seamus. It was only two or three inches square, ragged at the edges, old and worn. A single icon was printed on it, in what looked like it had once been gold ink, now faded to brown. It showed the outline of an open book, with a hand reaching out of it from between the pages, the fingers open and straining as though to grasp something.

"Have you met this guy before?" She asked him.

"Yes," Seamus replied, and told her about finding the key and running into Big Jake afterwards, and being a bit spooked by it.

"Interesting. I think this is going to be important," she said, taking the paper back from him. She opened her journal and slid the paper inside. Closing it, she stopped to look at the cover, moving closer to the light outside the library door.

"Look at this," she said. "I could swear this wasn't there before."

Seamus looked, and in the upper right corner of the cover, embossed lightly in the leather, was the same image of the book and the hand.

"I think I'll revise that statement," she said. "This is definitely something important."

A few people came out of the library, a mother holding her young daughter's hand, and the father pushing a smaller child in a stroller. The girl looked curiously at Seamus and Cassidy huddled together inspecting a book under the outside light.

"The light's probably better inside, you know," the man joked, "not to mention that it's certainly warmer," he added, noting the puff of breath visible in front of his face.

"Ha ha, yeah," Seamus gave a nervous laugh and they went inside.

They casually browsed around the video section for a few minutes, which was close to the basement stairs. When it seemed fairly clear, they snuck down, and Seamus gave Cassidy the combination of the lock as they went through. He didn't know if she would ever need it, but it seemed like a good idea, just in case. They found the room and Seamus unlocked it with his key, closing the door most of the way behind them, though not latching it.

"Well, this is it," he said shrugging and looking around. "If you're looking for piles of old books, this is the place to be."

"Wow," breathed Cassidy, slightly in awe. Her Computer Science major notwithstanding, she loved books as much as Seamus, and the room looked like a treasure trove of them.

"The question, though," Seamus went on, "is if there's something in here, where do we start looking for it?"

Cassidy focused again. "Well, like I said, I couldn't get my book to be very specific about anything…" She started to open it up and look at her notes, but then stopped. The new embossed icon on the cover was glowing a very faint gold.

"…but it looks like we might be getting something now," she finished.

"It wasn't glowing outside, was it?" Seamus asked. "So that probably means we're in the right place."

Cassidy glanced out the window in the door to make sure the coast was clear, then stepped out into the hallway. The glow faded away, leaving only the dull, embossed leather. She came back into the room and the faint glow came back.

"Okay, so now maybe we can start getting somewhere."

She walked a small circle around the only clear floor space near the door, holding the journal in an outstretched arm in front of her. The glow remained steady until she was next to the right hand wall, when it flared up slightly.

"It's over this way," she said. "Let's see if we can get back there."

Seamus helped her move a few boxes and shift a table, and they started squeezing through, following the bookshelves along the right wall. The glow on the journal cover continued to intensify as they headed towards one of the darker corners, away from the single dim light bulb.

They were almost to the corner when there was a sudden weakening in the glow. It flickered and nearly disappeared, then came back, fainter than before. Cassidy stopped, and swung her arm around her in a slow circle. Off to the left, the glow re-intensified. There were a couple of bookcases there, so they backed up a bit to go down the other side of them. The glowing symbol started growing stronger again.

When they reached the wall, they were faced with another bookcase. The symbol was pulsing now, though they still couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. Cassidy held the journal in front of each shelf in turn, looking for any change or reaction. In front of a shelf at about chest height, the pulsing quickened noticeably.

They looked at the books on the shelf, a bunch of trashy romance novels, then looked at one another with raised eyebrows.

"It seems your journal is into bodice-rippers," Seamus remarked. "I wouldn't have guessed it." He pulled a few from the shelf and flipped through the pages, but nothing seemed unusual about them, so he dropped them onto another stack nearby. Cassidy took a few more and did the same. Seamus was reaching into the shelf again when he heard a small clatter, as though something had been jostled by the books being removed. He reached back with his hand and felt something.

"There's a ring back here," he said, "attached to the wall. It feels like a drawer handle or something. Help me pull out the rest of these books."

They cleared the shelf and there was indeed a ring in the center of the wall behind them. Seamus gave it a tug and heard a creak from it, but it felt stuck. He jiggled it around a bit and tugged some more until something gave and he pulled the drawer out in front of them.

Inside was a single large book, square in shape, at least a foot and a half long on each side. It was bound in leather like their journals, but the entire cover was taken up with the embossed image of a hand reaching out of a book. It glowed gold.

Chapter 19

Seamus seemed to feel his journal throbbing slightly in his hand. He looked down to see that it now had a glowing insignia on its corner, matching the one on Cassidy's, and on the new book they had found.

They tried to pick the book up, but it seemed rooted in place, impossibly heavy, even for its large size. They opened it to find the pages covered in text, in what looked like the same handwriting as their journals used. It was densely packed, thoroughly covering each page. But when they tried to read it, they found that they couldn't. It wasn't that it was illegible in the ordinary sense, or even in a different language, it was that it simply could not be focused on. At a casual glance it would seem to be perfectly reasonable text, but when they tried to read it the letters seemed to shift and fade, and their eyes would be drawn away to other parts of the page, where the same thing would happen, making it impossible to concentrate anywhere long enough to decipher anything. It was very disconcerting, and after a minute or so of trying, Seamus had to pick up one of the romance novels they had tossed aside, just to reassure himself that he wasn't going blind.

"Hey!" said Cassidy, still staring intently at a page, "I could have sworn I just saw our names go through here."

"Really?" Seamus looked over. If he thought about it, it would kind of make sense that if they could find anything in that mess it would be their own names. It would be like the cocktail party effect – where you can pick out your own name in a different conversation from the hubbub of a noisy party – only visual instead of auditory. People are attuned to the appearance of their written name nearly as much as to the sound of it spoken. He started examining the page again.

"Are we in there?" he asked, focusing on the center of the page, as the words seemed to swirl hazily around his vision.

There was a slight flurry, and ink seemed to swirl in and converge in the middle of the page, then expand outward into an unmistakable


Then with another swirl, it was gone. Seamus and Cassidy looked at each other. Yes, they had both seen it. No, they were not imagining it.

"What's going on?" Cassidy asked the book. "What can you tell us? What are we here for?"

They didn't get a single, clear response like the last time. Instead, individual words across the page would fade into coherency one at a time, standing out slightly from the surrounding text before fading back into obscurity again. Pieced together, it said


"Hmm. Seems like it doesn't want to talk to us itself," Seamus said.

"Well, it's kind of difficult this way anyway. The journals are simpler. Do you want to see what yours has to say?"

"Sure." He picked it up from where he had set it on a nearby shelf and pulled his pen from his pocket. Opening it up, he saw the scribbled panic from where he had pulled Cassidy out from Oregon through the journal. He turned to a fresh page.

So, um… what's up here? he wrote, for lack of a better way to put his question. Cassidy read over his shoulder. Is this book like a bigger version of you, and of Cassidy's journal? What is it?

I am nothing,
the journal replied. It is everything.

Everything? How so?

It is a manifestation in your world of the combined literary genius and power of every book ever written. It is the source of all my power, and provides me with the words I use to communicate, for it has access to all words of all languages, in infinite supply.

We saw our names in there. Is there a book about us somewhere?

No, not yet. But there have been others with your names, so the Book knows them. And it knows you. You are the Key.

The Key? What do you mean?

You have the power to bibliomorph, to unlock the door between the worlds of fiction and reality.

What about Cassidy? She can do that too, can't she?

She has more ability than others, and she can do it with your help. But you are the Key.

"Did you know any of this?" Seamus asked, looking over at Cassidy.

"Well, I kind of suspected. About you being unique, I mean, though it never said anything so straightforward to me. I certainly didn't know what this book was that we were supposed to be looking for."

"Hmm." He turned back to the journal.

So… if I'm this "Key" thing, what do I do?

You must enter the Book. All will be made clear to you inside.

Okay… but how do I do that?

That is the test.

After that, the journal remained silent and would give no further clues.

Chapter 20

"I guess we're on our own for this part then," said Seamus, closing his journal. "Any ideas?"

"Well, the obvious thing to do would be to just try bibliomorphing into it," Cassidy replied. "But I'm not sure if it would work the same way. If this thing somehow contains every book that's ever existed, would that make it easier or harder?"

"I have no clue. Magic Key Boy or not, I'm as new to all this as you are." He set his journal down and looked at the Book again, realizing that he was now capitalizing it in his head, as the journal had done. It seemed appropriate, and it didn't have any other name that he knew of yet.

Seamus watched the words and letters fading and swirling, realizing now that they did so because the Book contained far more of them than would ever fit in any literal sense.

"Somehow I don't think it would work," he said. "The fraction of this Book that I've read is just so incredibly infinitesimal that I don't know how I could make a strong enough connection with it. Think of the other books I've managed to get into: The Life of Pi was one I was right in the middle of at the time, and then The Phantom Tollbooth and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are ones I practically know by heart. They were all easy for me to connect with. I could see myself inside them. I don't know where I'd start with this one."

He realized he was still holding his pen in his hand. "I wonder if I can write in it, though?" He glanced at Cassidy.

"You could try," she said.

Seamus looked down at his pen again, then watched the words in the Book for a few more moments. It wasn't clear where he could actually write, with everything that already covered every page of the Book. So he started to carefully lower the pen down towards the paper, hoping that the words might clear and make a space for him.

On the contrary, the words seemed to bunch together beneath his pen as it drew closer, forming a dense, pulsating area of ink, with words and letters still flowing in and out and around it. He drew back and the ink dispersed. Lowering the pencils again in a different corner of the page caused a new mass of ink to collect there. This time, he let the pen touch down.

The ink began swirling faster when the pen touched it, and before Seamus could move his hand to write anything, it had covered the tip of the pen and was heading up towards his fingers. He felt a cold shock when it touched his skin, feeling like it went through him, rather than onto him. With a small cry, he dropped the pen and drew his hand back.

He looked at his hand — it looked like the pages of the Book. Faint words scurried beneath the surface of his skin, occasionally rising and darkening enough to be legible before moving on again.

"Oh my god," said Cassidy softly. "Are you okay?"

"I… I think so."

Seamus didn't feel anything unusual after the initial shock, but the sight of it was unnaturally creepy. He pushed up his sleeve, but the words seemed to be limited to his right hand, and weren't spreading. He didn't like to think what might have happened if he had held on longer. He pushed some books onto the floor in a very uncharacteristic disregard for their well-being and sat on one of the tables. Cassidy sat next to him, and gave his other hand a squeeze.

After a few minutes of watching his hand, Seamus shook his head and stood up.

"I'm going to have to get myself a glove or something," he said, with a weak smile. "This is going to drive me batty if I have to look at it all the time."

"You're sure you're okay?"

"About as sure as I can be with this weird stuff on my hand. I feel alright, so I'll just have to assume I am for now. Let's see if we can figure out something else to do with this Book now."

Cassidy looked at her watch.

"You know, we've been down here longer than I thought. The library probably closed a while ago. Do you want to go upstairs? I could stand to get out of this room for a few minutes."

"Yeah… yeah, that might be good."

They closed the book and pushed the drawer back into the wall. Seamus tossed a few of the books back on the shelf, but neither of them thought it would really be worth putting everything back the way they found it. They would just be coming back down here again, and it wasn't like anybody else frequented the room.

Upstairs all the main lights were off, though there were still a few left on along the sides, just enough to let them see where they were going. They didn't want to turn on anymore, since they would be visible from outside. It felt good to move about in a more open, less dusty space. Seamus wandered into the children's room of the library and sat down on one of the couches, leaning back and enjoying the soft cushions after the book table downstairs. Cassidy followed and sat down with him.

Seamus looked around at the rows of books surrounding them in the dim light, thinking about the incredible number of words in the building. It occurred to him that it was a bit like being in the Book already. Every one of these books was contained in the Book, as well as countless others. It gave him an idea.

"Cassidy," he said, sitting up straighter. "I thought of something."


"That Book downstairs contains all books, right?"


"So there must be a connection from every book back to the Book, right?"

"Well, I suppose so, in some sense. I don't really know what such a connection would be like, though."

"Neither do I. But what I'm thinking is that we can start by going into a normal book – any book – and then working our way from there. I'm not sure how that second part will work yet, but this at least gives us a place to start."

"Hmm, interesting. It's probably worth a shot."

"Let's go find a good book."

Seamus got up and started walking purposefully towards the main Fiction section. They paced the aisles for a few minutes, squinting at titles in the dim light.

"Here we go."

Seamus pulled out a copy of The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.

"This should do nicely."