All the man inside the house of books had known was solitude. He did his job, tended his books and outside of the very occasional delivery of new books by train, no one ever visited. The sound of a strange voice in the hallway after such devastation, the sound of any voice for that matter, was cause for alarm.
“Where the FUCK am I?” the voice said again. He stood as still as he ever had in his life, unsure. A string of curses and shouts flew from the hallway. Deciding to take some kind of action, he moved as quietly as possible through the carnage of the living room.
“Is someone there?” came the voice from the hall. The man in the house of books continued slowly, towards uncertainty. The world tilted away from him, his certain future of living out his days in this house now in doubt. A floorboard creaked. The voice from the hall said, “Is someone there?”
The man in the house of books put a hand into the open doorway facing the hall, waved and carefully followed until he could see into the hall. The man was wearing what could only kindly be referred to as rags, had long hair past his shoulders and a beard that reached his belly. The ragged man’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Are you the Scribe?” The man in the house of books nodded. The ragged man looked around and breathed heavily through his nostrils.
“How long?” The ragged man looked around the house, taking in the damage. “This place…” He walked in a small circle, avoiding books. “If I survived, where’s Esme? Where’s her book? Where’s her book!”
The ragged man began opening books and tossing them aside. Languages he’d never seen before were written on the front pages of these books; names he didn’t and would never recognize were tossed carelessly aside. “No, no, no, no,” he said. He opened and tossed more and more books. The man in the house of books tried to pick them up and begin restacking them, but the ragged man’s mania was taking over the room. “Where is she!”
The ragged man stalked through the house of books, randomly opening and tossing books away when he didn’t know the name in them, the tenant of the house of books following. Making his way to the living room he found the tome that had formerly held him. A red book the size of a dictionary, the thin vellum pages were filled with words arranged in two columns, but more than half the book was burned away, charred and still smoking. The ragged man could only stare at it. There were other books nearby - some barely held together - most charred to greater or lesser degrees, loose pages fluttering here and there. “Esme,” the ragged man said and collapsed.
The man in the house of books could only watch the newcomer wail and cry.
At last, a silence between the two men stretched and snapped when a pile of books fell over behind them. The ragged man met the other’s questioning stare.
“I’m one of the Chondria’s longlifers,” he said. “The book ran out of pages. It had to let me go. There’s no such thing as ‘to be continued’ in Brahmen’s world, is there?”
The man in the house of books considered this and nodded.
“Glad you agree,” the ragged man said. “Is it okay if I call you Scribe?” The ragged man’s erstwhile host shrugged.
“Good,” the ragged man said and reached out a hand. “I’m Jimmy.” They shook hands. “Where can I clean up?”
There’s a roaring in your ears. You can’t think, you’re angry beyond anything you’ve ever felt before. The roaring is just white noise, as loud as you’ve ever heard. You scream, raging at the darkness.
You’re wet. You realize that the floor you’re standing on is rock and it’s wet, too. The roaring is not just in your ears --- it’s in the air to your left. You turn right and the roaring is behind you and you can feel the spray of water on your back. You close your eyes tight as you can and open them, hoping they’ve adjusted to the lack of light now.
You can see dim shapes in the darkness. People? You can’t tell so you walk forward, slow and methodical, feeling your way with your bare toes. You run your hands over your torso and realize you’re bereft of clothes but you’re not cold. The roaring is lessened a little as you walk. Your eyes are letting in all the light there is and you’re confident you can see.
Your right foot is dangling in the air and you nearly fall forward. Instinctively, you twist your body to fall backwards. You land heavily on your hands and knees, then your elbow gives and you roll to your right. Scraped and bruised, you try to catch your breath. You tell yourself you’re safe. You think your heart will pound out of your chest.
You feel for the edge you nearly toppled over, patting your hands carefully in front of you until you find it. It seems to go for dozens of feet in either direction, so you decide to go back toward the roaring.
You realize it’s a waterfall and when you get there you can’t see through it, you can’t see around it or under it. It’s a perfect wall of rushing water so loud that it shakes you to your feet. You take a deep breath, feeling the atomized water slipping into your lungs, then take ten steps backwards. You run at the wall, shouting.
The water slams into you and you don’t go forward as you hit it, you go down. You are bashed with the force of ten gravities for a hundred feet into the churning pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Shouting was a bad idea because now you have no air in your lungs and you’re turning over and over in the pool. You don’t know which way is up so you can’t swim.
You see a face in your mind, the love of your life and you kick and flail your arms in an approximation of swimming. The current pulls you along and what you hope is upward and your lungs burn. You push, you pull and finally you’re on the surface, treading water, floating on the current downstream.
Catching your breath again, you see the gibbous moon above and a light on the shore to your right. You swim for the bank and the house with the light on.
“Hey, Scribe. Hey, wake up.” Jimmy was waving his hand in front of his host’s face. Startled, the man in the house of books fell off the dining room chair he always sat in. The formerly ragged man stood up straight and looked down at the human heap. “Wow, sleeping with your eyes open,” he said. “You’re stranger than your predecessor.” Jimmy bent now to help the man in the house of books to his feet. “Upsy-daisy’s how it goes.”
The house of books had only ever known silence since the insulated man’s arrival. He’d never seen anything, other than the volumes lining the walls, to indicate that anyone else had ever occupied this space. To have some sort of confirmation that at least one other person had been imprisoned this way was a small comfort.
The two men looked at each other, the Scribe embarrassed. The formerly ragged man was dressed and much more presentable. Jimmy had shaved off the beard and kept a mustache, his hair barely touched the tops of his ears.
The man in the house of books had sat down for only a moment when sleep had come upon him. He had meant to clean up more of the mess while the former prisoner had showered and shaved. He’d picked out a shirt, pants and shoes for the escapee then tried to re-establish order in the house.
Jimmy said, “Show me the outside door.”
The man was nonplussed, reassembling himself as much as possible, frowned a question to Jimmy. “Yeah,” he said in answer. “I’m leaving. I need you to show me the right door. I know you know which one it is.”
They walked to the front hall facing the door that led outside. “There are all sorts of alarms going off now,” Jimmy said. “The Wolf is on his way.”
The Scribe shrugged.
“Hm. I’d invite you along, but I’ve got business in --- well, elsewhere, anyway. I hope you understand. I can send help when I get a chance if you want.” A nod. “Okay,” Jimmy said. “Here goes, then.”
He put his hand on the doorknob tentatively, then firmly grasped it and turned it, heard the latch clack open. “It’s that easy?” The man in the house of books nodded. Jimmy stepped through without looking back. The Scribe closed the door behind his friend and smiled.
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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