Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Twenty-third Day

In which Gabriela stuff and Nathan stuff happens.

Now that I'm not trying to get my characters to fight bloodthirsty eagles, save the world from destruction, or have sex with each other, the writing is going a bit faster. Of course, it helped that I've had these scenes in mind for a week or two already, so I could write them relatively quickly. There's still going to be more tricky stuff ahead.

Chapter 32

Cassidy woke up before Seamus did the next morning. Gently disengaging herself from the tangle of limbs and sheets, she leaned over a planted a kiss on one of his eyelids. He opened his eyes and smiled as she came into focus.

They took their time getting up and showered and breakfasted and then it was time to make a couple of phone calls. Seamus called his temp agency, apologizing for his sudden disappearance and giving them a vague excuse about a family emergency. The agency wasn't too pleased about it, but they had already managed to find someone else to finish the job, so he was off the hook. He decided to beg off for the rest of the week as well. If there was any time he deserved a vacation he figured, it was now.

Cassidy called her roommates back in Oregon. Luckily, finals at PSU had finished the week before, and one of her roommates was already away for winter break. The other had spent the entire weekend at her boyfriend's place, and hadn't even noticed Cassidy had been missing. So Cassidy simply said she had left for break already as well, and was sorry she had missed saying good bye. A phone call to her parents explained that she had been invited to spend part of winter break with a friend but would be home well in time for Christmas.

For the time being, they put off the task of getting Cassidy a plane ticket back to Oregon, not wanting to think about separating now that they were so recently enjoying being together. Cassidy's journal had been left next to the Book below the library, and had been consumed along with it in the flames, so it didn't seem she would be able to work her way home that way. In fact, they weren't entirely sure bibliomorphing was going to be working at all anymore, with the main Book destroyed. But they were in no mood to experiment with it to find out.

Seamus took Cassidy to the nearby Stanford campus, and they spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon walking arm in arm and talking, with Seamus periodically pointing out some of his favorite spots, or telling stories they reminded him of from his undergrad years. Soon, though, the rain that had been threatening since the night before began to fall. It started out as light sprinkles, giving them a head start to get home before the real downpour began. As they got back to Seamus' room, only somewhat damp, they heard the first crack of thunder, and the sound of the rain on his attic skylight intensified.

The flashing light on Seamus' answering machine caught his eye. There was a separate phone line to each room in the house, so he had his own number. He went over to it and pressed Play. The message was about an hour old.

"Hi Seamus, this is Deborah over at Project Read." Her voice sounded distressed. "We've got a problem over here. What I mean is, um… well, what's happened is that Gabriela has gone missing." Seamus caught his breath, and Cassidy came over from the other side of the room to listen more closely. Deborah went on. "I only found out about it just now when I got in to work, but apparently she's been missing since yesterday. Maria is absolutely distraught. She's called the police of course, but they haven't been able to find anything yet." They could hear Deborah pause to take a deep breath. "Anyway, I just wanted to check in with you. At the very least you ought to know what's going on, and… I don't know… maybe you might even know something that could help. I don't know when you last saw her or anything, but we're just checking with everybody we can. Thanks."

The message clicked off and Seamus and Cassidy looked at each other, slightly in shock. Then Seamus snapped out of it and grabbed the rain-spattered coat he had just taken off.

"Come on. We've got to go find her," he said.

"But where are we going to go?"

"To the library, of course." He was already at the door and heading down the stairs. Cassidy closed the room door behind her and hurried after him.

On their way out the front door, Seamus grabbed an umbrella from a small communal pile of them that was kept in the entry way during rainy weather. One of the struts on the umbrella was broken and dangled like a broken wing, but he didn't bother to put it back for another one, and they huddled under it while they went out to the street and unlocked the car. The rain was bucketing down by this point.

They reached the library after a short, silent drive, and once inside Seamus began striding purposefully towards the back of the building.

"Aren't we going to go to Project Read?" Cassidy asked, noticing the sign pointing off to the side wing of the building. "We can check in with Deborah, see if there's been any more news since her message."

"Nope. We're going downstairs," he said, not pausing as she caught up to him. "Gabriela knew about that room. She found me down there once, and I made up something about a secret fort so she wouldn't tell anybody."

"Do you think that's where she went?"

"I don't know. But do you remember if we closed the door yesterday?" Cassidy didn't answer. "Neither do I. So I think we'd better check."

They hurried down the stairs with far less caution than they had come up them the day before, but luckily they didn't run into anybody on the way. When they got to the basement and turned down the side hallway, they could see a dim light coming through the slightly open door to the room that had housed the Book. They ran the last few yards and burst into the room.

It was completely silent, and felt as empty as a room filled to bursting with books could feel. There was no sign of Gabriela. As with every other time they had been in that room, it gave the impression of not having been disturbed for years. Then Seamus caught sight of a book that had fallen to the floor slightly in front of them, a small paperback, face down in the dust. He picked it up and read the cover.

"Redwall." he said, almost to himself.

"What's that?" asked Cassidy.

"Gabriela was reading it. She got it from this room that time that she found me down here. She must have been back. And now something's happened to her. Damn!" he slapped the book against his thigh in frustration. "I shouldn't have let her take it."

He felt a small buzz in the hand holding the book, and wondered for a moment if he had slapped it harder than he meant to. But then he held it up again and they saw that the cover illustration had changed. Gone was the little mouse with a sword, standing in front of an abbey with red brick walls. In its place was an icon of a book, with a hand reaching out of it, grasping.

The image flared briefly with gold light, then faded, disappeared, and the adorable little mouse warrior was back on the cover once more. Seamus and Cassidy both jerked their heads up and scanned the room around them.

"There!" said Cassidy suddenly, pointing to a book sticking out of one of the boxes on a table a few feet in front of them. The icon was glowing on its cover now. Cassidy leapt forward and grabbed for it, but by the time she had it in her hands, it was back to being an ordinary copy of Sense and Sensibility, slightly battered and inscribed "To Geraldine, with love from Arthur. December 25, 1987."

Seamus spotted the next one a moment later, the flash of light coming from a book just out of reach on the next table. That one was followed almost immediately by another, still farther on. Then the image began moving between books fast enough to create a discernable trail through the room. Seamus and Cassidy watched transfixed, knowing they would be unable to clamber over the boxes, shelves and tables fast enough to keep up with it. It snaked randomly around the room at first, up and down the bookcases, across the tables, then headed unmistakably towards the back corner along the path they had cleared on Friday night when they had first discovered the Book. They hurried after it, now that they had a relatively open route available, but it stayed easily ahead of them. Book by book, they saw the image flash across the covers as it headed straight for the drawer full of ashes that still stuck out from the wall. It appeared for the last time on the cover of the book closest to the drawer, one of the many romance novels that had filled the shelf in front of it. Then there was a pause, and the drawer gave a jerk and a shudder, and then slammed itself shut back into the wall. They reached it a second later and found only the wall, smooth to the touch, with no sign of a handle or of a drawer of any sort.

Chapter 33

"It's got her," Seamus said, staring at the blank wall behind the empty bookshelf. Then he slammed his fist on the shelf and spun around, heading out of the room.

"Seamus!" Cassidy called, hurrying after him. "What are you doing?"

"We've got to get her back."

"Yes, but how? Where are you going?"

"I'm going back to get my journal. There must be a way back in."

"But the Book was destroyed."

"The Book was destroyed, yes," he was on the stairs now, taking them two at a time. "But something was behind the Book, remember? Something that pulled Big Jake in to create the Book for it. Something that wanted to use to Book to get to us. To get to me." They had reached the top of the stairs and he was now practically speed-walking back across the building.

They were almost to the exit when they saw Deborah, who had come up to the circulation desk to talk to Susan. She caught sight of them as well and hurried over.

"Seamus! Did you get my message?"

"Yes, I did."

"Oh, it's so horrible. She just disappeared." Deborah was wringing her hands distractedly. "I wish there was something we could do…"

"Look," said Seamus, interrupting her. "I think I know something. I think I may be able to find her."

"Really? Where?"

"I'll explain later. I need to hurry though. I'll call Maria and then let you know as soon as I find out anything, okay?"

"Okay…" Deborah began, but Seamus and Cassidy had already turned and hurried out the door.

The house was nearly empty when they got back. It was still Tuesday afternoon, so most of Seamus' housemates were at work or classes. Nathan, unemployed, was the only one at home. He had started a fire in the living room fireplace, clearing enough of the books and assorted odds and ends from the vicinity to make things at least moderately less hazardous, though everyone in the house knew they'd never have a chance of passing a serious fire inspection. Seamus and Cassidy hardly took notice of him though, as they headed straight up the stairs.

As they neared the top, though, Seamus slowed down, looking up towards his room.

"Didn't we shut the door?" he asked.

"Yes," said Cassidy. "I did. You rushed out too fast."

"Did you lock it?"

"No, I don't have the key." She looked up and saw the door ajar. They went in.

In the room, some of the dresser drawers were hanging open, and various books from shelves and piles had been strewn across the bed and the floor. Seamus went straight to the drawer where he had hidden the journal, wishing he hadn't left it behind. After their last escape from the Book he had figured it was safe to stop carrying it with him everywhere.

The journal wasn't in the drawer. They quickly looked through all the books scatter around, but it was gone. Then Seamus stopped.

"Crap," he said. "Nathan's here isn't he?" They both ran back down the stairs.

They found Nathan sitting on the living room couch in front of the fire, unshaven, hair uncombed, still wearing his bathrobe even that late in the day. He was leafing through the journal, smirking and snickering. Seamus stopped in the doorway.

"Give that back, Nathan."

"Maybe I don't want to," Nathan replied, tauntingly. "It's so cute, the way you two were writing back and forth to each other. I've got to see how it ends."

Seamus lunged for the journal, but Nathan saw it coming and pulled it out of the way, elbowing Seamus aside. Seamus leapt back instantly, grabbing at the book Nathan now had clutched to his chest, and the two fell to the floor, wrestling over it. Cassidy ran in, grabbing at Nathan's shoulder and trying to pry his arms apart so Seamus could grab the journal.

For a second, the three people hit a kind of equilibrium, where they were all exerting as much force as they could but in such a way that there was no net effect and they were momentarily frozen. Then Nathan suddenly released his tension, flinging his arms wide and throwing both Seamus and Cassidy off balance. In the same movement the journal left his hand, flew through the air, and landed directly in the fire.