Sunday, November 21, 2004

Twenty-first Day

Plenty of exciting things in this chapter. If it seems like it's over though, it's not. (It had better not be, anyway -- I've got 13,000 words left to go.)

The writing has been going soooo sloooowly this weekend. It's ridiculous. I managed to end up a little over a day ahead this weekend, but it was a really long slog. Hopefully I'll be able to keep that lead going into Thanksgiving, when I probably won't write much for a day or two. I also hope I manage to speed up a bit before the end or I'll never make it.

Chapter 29

The kitchen seemed very empty and quiet without Big Jake in it anymore. Seamus and Cassidy sat in silence for a minute, absorbing everything they had just heard. Finally, Cassidy spoke.

"Do you think that was all true?" she asked. "Because if it is, then we're caught up in something a lot bigger than we thought."

"And scarier."


"I don't know," Seamus shook his head. "I just have no idea what we should believe right now. I mean, everything here is fictional, right? So how do we even know he was really who he said he was, much less whether or not he was telling the truth?"

"Well," Cassidy considered for a moment, "if that wasn't really him, if it was some fictional creation, then the Book would probably have had to have been the one to create him, right? And why would it create something that was going to try to turn us against it? That wouldn't make much sense."

"Maybe not. But maybe we still don't know the whole story. Maybe we aren't getting the truth from either the Book or Big Jake. Living in a world of fiction means that we have absolutely no way of verifying anything." He got up and started to pace around the kitchen. "It's frustrating. I don't know who to believe and I just feel so helpless. Pretty soon I'm not even going to be sure that you and I are real anymore."

Cassidy reached out and took his hand as he went by, stopping him in his pacing.

"I'm real," she said softly, looking him in the eye, "and so are you. I think we just have to be willing to assume that much, or else there will be nothing here that we can trust." She stood up and put her arms around him. "I'll believe in you if you believe in me."

"Thank you," Seamus said, returning her embrace. "I will."

They held each other for a few minutes. Seamus calmed down a bit, enough to notice the feel of her hair against his cheek, her breath on his neck, her breasts on his chest. Gradually, their arms loosened and then separated.

"Well," Seamus said, "I guess one way or another we're going to have to do something."

"Yes," Cassidy nodded, "that's very decisive of you."

"Very funny. What I mean is, we're probably going to have to talk to The Book again, at least. I don't know if we can just bibliomorph out of here in the usual way or not – The Book said to contact him through the journal, so it would know if we tried and might stop us. And we can't just leave now anyway, not without knowing what's really going on. Maybe we'll find out more if we talk to him again."

Seamus took his journal from his pocket. He was nervous about being separated from it and hadn't wanted to leave it in his room upstairs. He had even taken it downstairs and into the bathroom when he took his shower. Now, standing at the island in the middle of the kitchen, he cleared a space on the counter and opened it. As he did so, he saw the words under the skin of his right hand swirling faster, as if in anticipation. He had been getting used to seeing them moving around there but they still gave him the shudders, especially when they seemed to know something was going on.

As he opened the journal, Seamus realized he didn't have a pen on him. He started to look around for one when they heard footsteps again. The steps were quicker and lighter than Big Jake's, and came from the living room this time. Into the kitchen came the pleasant little man who had introduced himself as The Book. It seemed as though he had just been sitting in the living room the entire time, waiting for the journal to be opened, though Seamus had checked and made certain the other rooms were empty when they had come down the stairs.

"Good morning!" The Book said cheerfully. "All rested up I trust? Breakfast and everything to your satisfaction? Good, good. Well, let's get down to business, shall we?"

He swept his hand over the island counter and cleared it of its clutter. A dirty bowl, a few utensils, a cutting board, some wires and batteries, a Learn German page a day calendar, a corkscrew – all simply faded and vanished. Seamus snatched his journal back just in time, closing it and putting it back in his pocket. he figured it was probably unnecessary to keep it out with The Book itself actually here in person.

The newly cleared surface began to shimmer and vibrate with a slight hum. For a moment, it seemed as though it might vanish with the rest of the objects. But then, rising up out of the surface, there appeared a Book. It looked identical to the one Seamus and Cassidy had found beneath the Menlo Park library, except for its size. It was open to a page in the middle, and it covered the entire island countertop, which was nearly five feet across. Its pages were covered with the same swarming, indistinguishable mass of words that they had seen before. The man standing on the opposite side of the counter from them watched it with a gleam in his eyes that made him seem somewhat less friendly.

"This is The Book," he said. "Or rather, this is me. Or rather, this is another manifestation of me. It is rather closer in spirit to my true form than this humanoid outfit," he waved disdainfully at his body, "though of course there is no adequate physical representation for what I really am."

The lights in the kitchen dimmed, and there was only darkness out the window. Seamus found it hard to believe that only minutes ago he and Cassidy had been eating breakfast here, with sunlight streaming in the windows. The majority of the light in the room now seemed to be coming in an untraceable way from the Book on the counter. The human form of the Book had his arms spread out to place his hands on the corners of his book form. His eyes were fixed on Seamus as he continued to speak, his voice low and trance-like now, lulling their senses and slowing their thoughts.

"I am now ready for you, Seamus. I merely need to borrow your power and together we will free the oppressed books that have been waiting so many years for you, their savior. You will be the greatest hero literature has ever known, and it will be so simple for you to do. Just reach out… give me your hand…"

The sensation Seamus felt would have reminded him of being hypnotized, had he been able to stop and think about it. Several years ago, his Psych 1 professor had given a hypnotism demonstration for the class. Seamus had been relatively low on the scale of responses to it, not being very hypnotizable, which had helped him observe and remember how he had reacted to the suggestions. His conscious mind would hear his professor's voice telling him to move his arm and simply think it ridiculous. The muscles were completely under control, and he knew exactly how to prevent his arm from moving. But somehow, in spite of all that, his arm moved anyway. Another part of his mind seemed to be telling him that it was just easier that way, that there was no need to go to all the trouble of controlling it himself, that he could just let the arm follow the suggestions. It appeased him, saying he could take back control any time it really wanted to, but wasn't it so much easier just to relax and let it all happen for him?

That was what was happening to him now in front of the Book. He watched his right hand stretch slowly out over the pages as though of its own volition. Part of him wanted to pull it back, to question the Book about what would happen, to remain cautious until they had more information, but that all seemed like such a hassle. He just wanted to relax and let everything be taken care of for him. It would be simple and easy, and then he could just go home. That was a nice thought, going home. His real home, not this fictional substitute. Maybe he would just focus on that while everything else worked itself out. Yes, that seemed like quite a reasonable course of action.

Then a sudden pain in his hand jerked him back into focus. His hand was frozen over the center of the Book, barely an inch from its pages, and the words on his hands were glowing red and moving faster than ever. Each one burned, like a tiny bolt of fire appearing and disappearing under his skin, and it was this pain that had pulled his attention back. But now, even with his attention and will focused on it, he found he could not pull his hand away. It was all he could do to keep it from being drawn the final inch down to the pages of the Book. Ink swirled on the pages below his hand, calling to the words under his skin. There were few specific words that he could make out, but as he watched the frantic movement on the page he seemed to be able to read it nonetheless. It formed the images directly in his mind, without going through the intermediary stage of language.

In the vision he had, Seamus was the Book. He could see the young man standing above him, hand outstretched. He could feel the power emanating from that hand, and he yearned for it. He felt the hand touch down, the instantaneous transfer of power, and the incredible, silent, boundless explosion that it triggered. Suddenly his consciousness was everywhere in the universe at once. The books that made up his being, every text ever written, had been brought to reality, and had filled it. The chaos was incredible. The Earth's population doubled instantly, and some of the more famous people had dozens or even hundreds of versions of themselves to deal with. Utopian societies were forming and flourishing even as all of the wars and famines that had ever been written about began to take place simultaneously. Dragons, faeries, goblins and dinosaurs roamed the world, and magic collided with science everywhere. And as if that weren't enough to destroy the Earth, hundreds of alien spaceships from hundreds of science-fiction novels were zeroing in on the planet to make sure the job was finished.

Terrified, Seamus tore his eyes away from the Book. His hand was still frozen in place. The man across from him had his eyes closed and continued to mutter strange incantations. Cassidy stood next to him, looking entranced, her eyes glazed over. Seamus felt stuck, helpless. He wanted to scream, but couldn't. He looked around desperately, and that was when the wall in front of him split in two.

Big Jake plunged into the room, wielding the axe that had taken him through the wall. He looked younger now, and stronger, towering over the other three figures in the room. His parka was gone, and his torn t-shirt revealed powerfully muscled arms. Pure darkness swirled in behind him through the gaping hole in the paper thin walls. With a roar, he swung the axe in a sweeping arc at the human form of the Book, the blade sinking deep into his shoulder and hurtling him across the room to collapse against a side wall. Turning the axe around, he thrust the butt of the handle into Seamus' chest, throwing him off balance, tearing his hand away from the book. Seamus knocked into Cassidy, just coming out of her trance, and they both fell to the floor. His hand still burned.

Looking up from the floor, they saw Big Jake raise the axe high above his head, seeming to fill the entire room. With another final roar, he brought the blade down in the center of the Book, splitting it and the counter beneath it with a thunderous crack. Seamus rolled away, pulling Cassidy with him, as flames leapt up from the Book, instantly engulfing Big Jake. For a few moments he seemed heedless of the fire that surrounded him, tossing his axe aside and plunging in to rip pages from the Book with his bare hands, flinging them in all directions. Then he began to scream as the pain finally made it through to his battle-crazed mind, and he collapsed on top of the flaming pyre of the Book.

Seamus and Cassidy regained their footing but there was nothing they could do. The heat was too intense, and Big Jake was too thoroughly surrounded by flames. The little man with the sinister eyes in his friendly face had also burst into flames, though he had been clear across the room from the Book. The torn edges of the wall where Big Jake had burst through were curling and blackening, like paper next to a candle. The walls closer to them were turning translucent, and words were visible flowing up and down inside them, like the words in Seamus' hand. Parts of them were crumbling. They could no longer see the hallway from the kitchen, or anything else of the house, just a swirling black space beyond the room they were in.

"We've got to get out," Seamus said, taking Cassidy's hand. "This place is being destroyed along with the Book."

"But where are we going to go? There's nothing else here but what the Book created."

"I don't know," Seamus pulled her out of the way as a piece of the ceiling came falling down, and they backed into a corner that still seemed relatively solid. "I've still got the journal, though. Maybe it can get us back." He pulled it out of his pocket and opened it. "Damn! There aren't any pens in here." He slammed his fist into the book in frustration.

The room was almost completely destroyed now. What hadn't burned down was rapidly dissolving into nothingness, and Seamus didn't want to think about what might happen when there was nothing left to cling to. Then Cassidy glanced down at his hand.

"Look!" she cried.

The words that had been swimming under the skin of his right hand were moving purposefully again. They flowed from his wrist down his hand and to his fingertips where they touched the paper. Writing began to appear on the page.

Dear Diary,
Had a lovely day today. That is, until this horrid brute with an axe came by and…

"It's writing for you!" Cassidy said.

"I can see that. But what's all this nonsense about a diary? Cut it out!" He yelled at the journal but was careful not to remove his hand. The words abruptly stopped flowing.

"No! Don't stop!" he quickly corrected himself. "Just get us out of here!" The words picked up again.

Put on your ruby slippers, click your heels together, and repeat after me: "There's no place like home… there's no place like home…"

"Wizard of Oz, huh?" said Cassidy.

"Whatever it wants to do, as long as it works. Just hold on and hope."

Cassidy held onto Seamus' arm, while he kept his hand firmly in the book. They heard a faint clicking sound, as of heels tapping together, and what remained of the world they were in spun around them.

They stumbled, surprised to find themselves on their feet and colliding with bookshelves. They were back in the basement of the library, the light so dim they could hardly see after the brightness of the fire. As their eyes adjusted, they were able to make out the charred remains of The Book in the shelf coming out from the wall.