Thursday, November 18, 2004

Eighteenth Day

In which we find out more about The Book.

I'm getting into the sort of chapters where more stuff gets explained. Which means I have to figure it all out first. Ack. But it's kind of cool.

I passed the 100-page mark today, too, which was also cool. That's 100 pages in MS Word, Palatino 12 point font, 1.5 spaced. I have no idea how much that would be in a regular book.

Chapter 26

The house seemed quiet and empty when the went in. This wasn't necessarily unusual, since all of Seamus' housemates were on wildly varying schedules, and he could go without seeing a couple of them for days at a stretch sometimes. It all depended on the day, on work shifts and class schedules. Though when he thought of it, Seamus realized he didn't really know what day it was, or how the time had passed while they were gone. It had been December 17th when he and Cassidy had gone to the library. What was it now? He glanced back outside as he shut the door. It seemed like strangely nice weather for mid-December. Even for California.

Cassidy was standing in the entry way, once again watching the flashing lights and scrolling messages on Matt's various electronics projects that were scattered around that area. She was reading the slow parade of letters on the one she had noticed before.

"Hey," she asked, as Seamus started to go up the stairs. "Wasn't this the one with the mantra on it?"

He paused, looking. "Yep, that's the one."

"It changed. It says 'Welcome' now."

"Hmm. I guess Matt's been tweaking it recently. Maybe he wanted it to seem more visitor-friendly or something."

"It says, 'Welcome, Seamus and Cassidy.'"

"What? Okay, that's just weird," Seamus came back into the entry way again. "Matt hasn't even met you. How did he do that?"

He watched the message himself, but there was no mistaking it. They turned to another small bank of lights on the side wall. This one was scrolling the words "Please, come upstairs."

Seamus looked back up at the stairs and noticed now that the wooden banister seemed unusually clean and polished. Below the stairs was the pile of boxes and stacks of old newspapers that he expected to see. But somehow they seemed a little too neat and orderly, as if they had been carefully arranged into a mess rather than just tossed there.

"I don't think we're in Palo Alto anymore, Toto," he said.

Cassidy wasn't as familiar with the house as Seamus was, but he could tell that she also had the feeling something was not right. She looked up the stairs.

"Well then," she said, "I guess we'd better go up and find out where we are."

Seamus tried to take in everything as they went cautiously up the stairs, but he didn't see anything else that he could quite peg as being distinctly out of the ordinary. The silence of the house was more noticeable to him now, though. They took the smaller flight of stairs from the second floor up to Seamus' loft, and pushed the door gently open.

A man was there. He was standing idly in a corner when they opened the door, perusing the titles of the various books that were everywhere in Seamus' room. He was short and slightly round, though you couldn't really have called him fat. His clean shaven face was smiling and friendly, and his short brown hair had apparently been defeated by his eyebrows and was now retreating across his scalp. He wore a gray vest over his shirt and tie, and his jacket was draped over Seamus' chair.

"Ah! Hello!" he said warmly, as he hurried over to the door to shake their hands. "I'm so glad you could make it!"

Seamus and Cassidy allowed themselves to be ushered in, not sure quite what to make of it all. Politely disregarding their confused looks, the man gave a slight bow and spoke.

"Allow me to introduce myself: I am The Book. And of course, I already know the two of you, Mr. Gilbert and Ms. Martin. Please, have a seat." He pulled up Seamus' chair and offered it to Cassidy, who took it while Seamus sat on the corner of the bed. The man, or rather The Book, remained standing, smiling at them. "Now," he said, clasping his hands, "I suppose you're wondering why you're here."

Cassidy had assimilated the strange situation well enough by now to cut in at this point. "First of all," she said, "how about telling us where 'here' is."

"Ah! Of course! My apologies. Let me explain. Strictly speaking, you are not in any one particular place. At least, no more so than when you were in The Princess Bride, or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

"But we can't have bibliomorphed here," Seamus said. "Who's written a book about my house?"

"You're right," replied The Book, "this did not come from a book anyone has written. I created it myself." He beamed and gestured around at the room in general. "I think it came out rather well, if I do say so myself. Though I take it the messages downstairs were a bit too much?"

"Yes, that was a slight tip-off," said Cassidy. "But how did you make this?"

"Well, it was rather difficult, really. As you learned when you first found me under the library, I contain the complete text of every book ever written. However, it is extremely difficult for me to create anything original on my own, even though I have all the words I could ever want. I am simply not an author." He said this with a slight sigh and a note of regret. "However," he said, brightening again, looking at Seamus, "I took careful notes each time I met you through your journal, and soon had a good idea of your home. Then I painstakingly sought out and collected all of the various words I would need to describe it, and assembled them into the abode you see around you. That was the part of me I let you find in Count Rugen's torture chamber. Er… sorry about that mix up, by the way, with that eagle and all those other books. Hadn't planned on that…. Still – you made it in the end, didn't you?"

"Well, yes," said Seamus. "I suppose we did." He was beginning to ache all over, now that he had had time to sit calmly and notice it, and his clothes were torn and stained with drying blood. Cassidy was in the same state. He couldn't help but think they could have gotten through rather better, but they had indeed made it. The Book seemed to take no notice of their condition.

"Anyway," he continued, "that's where we are. While I was at it, of course, I also put together this little character that I could use for talking to you." He gave another of his slight bows, with a modest smile.

"Very nice," said Cassidy politely, since it seemed like a comment of some sort was called for.

"So, shall we talk about why you're here, then?" asked The Book. When they nodded, he continued, addressing Seamus first. "You are here because you have a special power." He turned briefly to Cassidy. "You have some talent as well, of course, but it is in Seamus that the true power resides."

"He's the Key, according to the journal. Whatever that means."

Seamus felt a bit uncomfortable with everything suddenly focusing on him like this. Center stage was never his preferred place in life. The Book went on.

"Yes, he certainly is. You, Seamus, have the ability to unlock the boundaries between books and the rest of reality. You have seen this already in your adventures bibliomorphing with your journal. But you have the potential to do much, much greater things."

"Greater things? Like what?"

"There have been many books throughout the history of literature, Seamus. Far more than you can ever imagine. And do you know how many of them are still known and read today?"

Seamus shook his head.

"Almost none. The fraction of the total is so small as to be negligible. This," he said, his voice now very serious, "is a tragedy." The Book began pacing the small room now. "The vast majority of books have been forgotten, abandoned to dusty shelves and ultimately to dust itself. Thrilling stories of long ago, vibrant characters – all gone. Why, just think of the books beneath your library! Some of them have been there for decades. Once each summer they are brought out to see the light of day and to be callously ignored and passed over at the annual book sale. Then back in the basement they go, for another year. In the far corners of the room there are books that are no longer reached, even for that. Eventually they will rot and crumble and die and be lost, with no one even to grieve for them. And this is just one room, in one library, less than a century old. Think of this on a worldwide scale! And ever since the invention of writing!"

The Book's speech was growing impassioned by now. Seamus and Cassidy watched, transfixed by the immense sorrow and suffering of the world's forgotten books, wondering why this had never occurred to them before.

"And that," said The Book, focusing in on Seamus again, "is where you come in. All these books still live within me, and can be resurrected to live in your world as they once did. You are the Key. With your help, we can connect your world with ours, and fill it once more with this lost, forgotten knowledge and lore. Will you do it? Will you help us?"

"Y-yes… yes. I mean… I'll try," Seamus stammered, jolted back to himself.

"Excellent!" crowed The Book happily, once more back to its former, jollier self. "I knew we could rely on you!"

Seamus was in a bit of a haze now, though. However much time had passed in the real world, he figured it had been at least 24 hours on his personal time since he had last slept, possibly more. And those hours had included things like fighting a Blood Eagle and dodging instruments of torture. He was wiped out, and in no state to be absorbing so much new information. He could see that Cassidy was trying valiantly to stay alert and attentive, but her eyes would occasionally glaze over as well. The Book still seemed not to notice. It was probably not used to dealing with live human beings – it was used to characters in books that could easily skip sleeping or eating all the time, depending on what the author feels like describing.

"Excuse me," Seamus said, as The Book seemed to be taking a breath for its next extended speech. "We've had a very long day, and I'm really not in any shape to help anyone or do anything just now. Would it be alright if we slept for a bit? Could we talk more about it all in the morning, or tomorrow, or however time works here?"

The Book stared at them for a second, as though only just realizing that it was faced with two exhausted, dirty, bruised young people.

"Why of course!" he exclaimed. "I am so sorry. I won't keep you any further right now. Please take as long as you like to rest up. You'll find that this house is more or less complete, so you will have beds, bathrooms, food in the kitchen, and anything else you might need. I'll even set up a good 8 or 10 hours of nighttime outside for you. You can find me again at any time through your journal." With that, The Book excused himself from the room and vanished.

Seamus and Cassidy heaved simultaneous sighs of relief at the quiet and calm that followed The Book's departure. Seamus stood up to offer Cassidy the bed.

"I can sleep downstairs in the guest room," he said. "Or in one of my housemate's rooms. I don't think The Book put any other people in the house."

"Are you sure?" she asked hesitantly. "I mean, yeah that guy seemed friendly, but I don't know if I'm comfortable about the two of us being separated. There's just too much weird stuff going on. Are you sure you don't want to stay together up here?"

"Well, it's kind of a small bed…"

"It's okay with me, if it's okay with you."

"Alright, then."

They kicked off their shoes, which was about all they had the energy for at that point, and crawled gingerly into the bed, awkwardly figuring out an appropriate way to lie next to each other. Looking for a place to put his right arm, Seamus put it tentatively around Cassidy, then relaxed when she curled into it and put her head on his shoulder. They were asleep within seconds.