Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reader 5


It was hot and noisy.  Dozens of people of all sorts and descriptions, all sexes and species, were working over hot stoves, at hot ovens, stirring hot, enormous pots on pillars of stainless steel.  The writer, the Seeker, the lover and the butler negotiated the busy aisles between stations.  "Behind you," a ring-tailed Procyon said as he bustled through with a stack of dirty dishes.

Frank moved to let the creature pass, and bumped a human man at a stove.  "Sorry," he said to the man, who was wearing only a long apron.

"You should bet on the Cowboys," the man said and turned back to his work stirring the pot.  Frank nodded and moved on.

"What's the fastest way out of here?"  Ray was shouting as Brad slumped against him.  "I can't carry him forever."

There was an enormous crashing of metal pots and pans across the kitchen.  "Uh oh," a woman said.  Ray's eyes widened.  "Chef Jimmy's having a fit again," she said.

"Erika?"  He looked at Frank and handed Brad over to him.  "Erika, it's Ray."

She saw him and smiled.  "Pleased to meet you," she said.  "Isn't this a wonderful dream?"  The young woman smiled vaguely.

He couldn't help but stare at her.  Everything he remembered her being was in front of him again, he was overwhelmed.  "I suppose it is."

"Ray!"  Frank was forty feet away, near a set of double doors.  "Ray, don't stop! Come on!"

The writer leaned in to speak in the woman's ear.  "My name's Raymond George Briscoe and I'm going to marry you, we're going to have a long life together.  Remember my name and when we meet that I'm going to love you more than anything else in the world for my entire existence."


Frank's voice seemed so far away, like he was underwater.  Ray kissed Erika on the cheek and whipped around to make his way through the crowded kitchen to where he thought the double doors were.

"Over here," Frank said.  Ray came through a clutch of men carrying armloads of vegetables.  "You can't break off like that without me.  You'll be lost."  Frank hefted Brad up and all three went through the door that the butler Hodgkins was holding open.

"Gentlemen, we're running out of time," he told the three.  "We really have to hurry."

They moved quickly into the hall.  "Down the stairs again," Hodgkins said.  "As quickly as we can."

Since the stairs were wide enough to accommodate four people abreast, Ray took Brad's free arm and put it over his shoulder. "Let's go," he said.

Brad's head lolled forward as they walked.  "Keep going down," he said, his voice thick and slow.  "Keep going down's what she said.  The castle.  Keep going down the castle."

"That's what we're doing, buddy," Ray said.  He caught Frank's eye.  "What's wrong with him?"

"I don't know," Frank said.  "Could be he's just worn out.  He's been working for a long time to get here."

The stairs widened at the eighth landing and there were sounds on the other sides of the walls of the stairwell but still no doors.  They kept walking with Hodgkins leading the way.  By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, sixteen flights down from the kitchen, the stairs were wide enough to lay two men full length across them.

"Sir," Hodgkins said to Brad.  "Sir, this is where you are to walk on your own.  This is what you came here for but you have to do the rest by yourself.  Do you want to go on?"  He bent down to look into Brad's half-closed eyes.  "Sir?  Do you hear me?"

"Hear," Brad said. "C'n I have a minute?"  He wobbled and moved Frank and Ray to the left a step.  Shaking his head, Brad's eyes opened a little wider.  "Marion's here," he said, gaining a little strength. 

"Yes, sir," Hodgkins said.  "She's through that door there and you can see her when you go through it, but you have to do it yourself.  Your friends cannot help you.  You must stand on your own.  You must open the door."

Brad took his arm from Frank and almost tipped over, caught himself by grabbing harder at Ray's shoulder with the other hand.  "I'm okay," he said.  "Okay."  Ray watched the old man's face. 

"I'm just tired," Brad said.  "It’s been so long. I'm just tired."  He nodded at Ray, then stood completely up, removed his hand and arm from around Ray's shoulder.  "I feel good now," he said and straightened his coat, rolled his neck, closed his eyes and breathed in and out slowly.

He opened his eyes.  "I'm ready."

There was no creak, no sound at all as the door opened inward.  Brad went through first, then Ray who was followed by Frank and Hodgkins.  The room was another library, but much larger, extending back for what seemed like miles.  Rows upon rows of twelve-foot tall bookshelves, each with a ladder jammed full of esoteric and exotic volumes.  The door closed silently behind them. 

"Calm down, now," a sweet female voice said off to their right.  "It's going to be okay."

Ahead of them was a beautiful, dark-haired woman who knelt in front of a young man whose eyes were bright red and face puffy from crying.   He was probably eleven or twelve years old.  "Tell me what happened," she said, her voice was gentle as a fall evening breeze blowing an errant oak leaf across the street.

"I took my glasses off to rub my eyes," the boy said in between hucking, deep sobs.  "And now I can't find 'em."

"Jesus Christ," Ray said under his breath.

"Oh," the librarian said.  "Do you remember what books you were looking at when you took your glasses off?"

"No," the boy said a little impatiently.  He seemed to regain his composure then.  "Wait, maybe I was trying to find that one book by Asimov, the physics one."

"We should go look there then, shouldn't we?"  She stood up and smoothed her skirt down over her thigh.  "If they're not there, we can look in the lost and found box and see if someone turned them in, okay?"

"Okay," the boy said.  He pointed to the group of men staring at the scene.  "Who're those guys?"

"Don't you worry about them, Raymond," the librarian said.  "They'll wait for a minute while we find your glasses."  She nodded at them and walked the boy down the stacks.

Frank looked a question at Ray, who nodded.

"I remember that day," Ray said.  He watched the two disappear into a row between two shelves, then turned to the group.  "Frank, I was in fifth grade and terrified that my parents were going to kill me for losing my glasses."

"You don't wear glasses," Brad said.

"I did until my first trip here," Ray said.  "Not blind as a bat, but enough astigmatism for seven people.  My eye doctor couldn't believe the change.  She swore up and down that I must've gotten lasik surgery without consulting her.  She wouldn't see me for two years, wouldn't let anyone in the office see me, either."

Frank looked at Hodgkins.  "What did we see here, then?"

"A mixture of realities," the butler said.  "It's part of what the castle does."

"I thought the castle was neutral?"

Hodgkins shook his head and put on a sad smile.  "I'm afraid I don't know everything about the castle, sir," he said.  "I'm only a caretaker.  Here she comes."

The librarian was all business as she approached them.  Brad was invigorated.  "Marion," he said.

The lights in the room winked out behind her as she passed each stack.  Every step seemed to take an eternity, but her progress was steady.  She walked right up to the old man and put her hands on his cheeks.  "My love," she said and kissed him.

"I'm sorry," Marion said to Brad, patting his cheek.  "I'm so sorry I allowed this to happen."

He didn't say anything back, only touched his forehead to hers and rested his hands on her hips.  "My heart," he said. 

"I know," Marion said.  "It's okay to lie down now.  I'm here and I'll take care of you."  She looked to Frank and asked for help with her eyes.  They eased Brad to the floor with Frank rolling his coat up so that he could put it under the old man's head to make him comfortable.  "Rest now, darling," Marion said.  She put her hand on his chest, where she seemed to write something invisibly but for the slight trails of yellow light the gestures left behind.

Brad closed his eyes and breathed evenly.  "He's asleep," Marion said.

"We don't have much time, ma'am," Hodgkins said.

"I know," she said, standing up.  "Thank you for guiding them, Hodgkins."  Marion clapped her hands together and rubbed them.

"Ray," she said.  "You saw yourself?"

The writer nodded.  "I remember you," he said.  "You really worked at the library when I was a kid.  You helped me find my glasses that time.  I remember you being so beautiful and so nice."

Marion smiled.  "I'm glad," she said.  "I enjoyed that part of my life so much."

"I remember you guiding me through the castle, too," Ray said.  "What happened when I gave you that parchment?"

"You gave me the opportunity to be free," she said.  "I woke up and made my way back to the castle where I've been ever since, gathering strength and knowledge for the next battle."

Frank, satisfied that Brad was only asleep, stood.  "Strangiato's dead," he said.  "I don't know how."

Marion closed her eyes, seemed to say something under her breath and turned her palms upward.  A moment later, she looked at Frank and took a deep breath.  "I'd heard," she said, "but I didn't want to believe.  You saw him?"

"Yes," Frank said.  "Eyre recruited me to replace him."

"Ah," Marion said.

"So what do we do now?"  Ray pointed to the ceiling.  The lights were going out all around the large room and shadows crawled across the floor away from them, deepening and lengthening.

"Now," Marion said.  "We have to escape."


Thanks for reading Reader. Come back next Wednesday Click here for part six of this seven part epic. Tell your friends won't you?

©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reader 4


The hallway was deeply and eerily silent.  There was no movement of air, no sound.  Brad, Ray and Frank walked cautiously, minding their steps. 

The fourth door swung open on silent hinges before they reached it.  Brad ignored it, walked past.  Frank did the same but stopped when Ray did.  The writer was looking in.

"Don't," Frank said.  His voice, though he was talking at a normal volume, was a bare whisper to Ray. "You know you can't go in."

"Hold on.  There's someone in there," Ray said.  "I can hear 'em clear."

Ray put a hand on the door jamb and stepped inside as far as he could without letting go.

"Where is it?"  The male voice was angry.  "Where did you stash it?"  There was a crash of glass and metal to emphasize the question.

"I won't talk to you when you're like this," a woman's voice said.  "You won't hear me anyway."

"What did you do with it?  Where is it, Emily?"

Frank's face darkened and he pushed past Ray into the room.

"WHERE," the man's voice roared like a thunderclap across a leaden sky, "IS IT?" .  To Ray's eyes, Frank appeared to turn ghostly the farther away he got from the door.

"Stop!" Ray said.  "Stop!  Frank, I almost can’t see you!"

Frank turned back to Ray.  "Stay there," he said.  I'll be all right but you shouldn't come in.  Just – Just give me a minute.  Stay right there."  His back to Ray, Frank turned the corner around the entry and was gone.

Ray tried to listen.

"It's put away," the woman, Emily, said.  "It's safe.  No one can take it."

"What right do you have?  Where do you get the balls to take the capsule like that?"

"You don't understand," she said.  "You never will, Simon.  Let it go."

"I can't stay with you," he said, his voice raised but not yelling.  "I can't live with someone I can't trust.  I loved you."  A long pause and what Ray thought might be crying, at least some sniffles.  "I still love you, but I don't trust you any more."

A longer pause.  "I'll move out as soon as I can," the woman said.  "I'll stay somewhere else until then."

A rustle of cloth.
"It was mine," Simon said.  Ray could barely hear him growl, imagined that he had the woman by the arm with his face close to hers.  "It was mine.  You have no idea what you've taken, what it can do."

"No it wasn't," she said.  "It was an accident that it was here at all.  And you have no idea.  Let me go.  I'm leaving."

The woman came around the corner very quickly, her purse slung over her shoulder, her skirts swirling around her.  She stopped just short of the door, right in front of Ray but didn't see him. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath.

"I love you, Simon," she said in a voice so quiet that surely the man in the other room couldn't have heard.  "Goodbye."  Ray moved out of her way, still holding the door jamb and she walked past him into the hall.

Not knowing what to do, Ray watched the corner for Frank to come back around and then curiosity got the better of him.  He stepped out into the hall to see which way Emily had gone, but there was no sign of her.  There was no sign of Brad, either.  Puzzled, he stuck his head back into the room and Frank came toward him, scowling.

"We have to go," Ray said.  "I can't see where Brad went."

"Follow me," Frank said, his voice hollow and sharp.  He went into the hall and continued toward the far end from where they entered.  "Stay close."

The writer took one last look into the room before following Frank and saw a middle-aged man staring back at the doorway.  His fists were clenched, his body shook and tears streamed down his cheeks.  "I'll find it again," he said.  "If it takes forever, I'll find it again."


"Yeah," he said in response. "Coming."  He pivoted to his right and followed Frank.  When he caught up, Ray said, "You find Brad?"

"He's up ahead," Frank said.  He was walking faster than before and his face was tight, focused.  Ray almost asked what was wrong, opened his mouth, closed it and tried to keep up.

They found Brad at the top of another stairwell.  "Down," he said to them and stepped onto the tread.  Frank and Ray brought up the rear.


"Sixteen flights again," Ray said, "and we come to a door.  Interesting."

"Don't think about it too much," Frank said.  "Tesseracts aren't easy to grasp on purpose."

Ray nodded and Brad opened the door.  The three men came out into an elegant sitting room with four leather wingback chairs, a bar, a huge chandelier and two sofas.  The wingbacks were arranged in a triangle around an octagonal table.  There was a piece of paper folded in half on the table.

Frank picked it up.

"What's it say?"  Brad seemed impatient, looking around.  Shelves filled with knickknacks and small photographs lined each wall.  The door behind them closed with a quiet click.  "There's not another door," he said.

"Right," Frank said and held out the paper to Brad.  "We're supposed to wait here.  A guide will take us the rest of the way."

"Whiskey anyone?"  Ray was at the bar with a glass in one hand, a bottle of Lagavulin whiskey in the other.  Brad held out a hand, Frank nodded, Ray poured.

"I've been in this room before," Ray said, sitting down.  "There was a caretaker, Holden or Hudgins or ---"

"Hodgkins," Frank said.  "George Hodgkins, right?"

"Yeah," Ray said.  "That's it. You've met him before?"

Frank shrugged.  "Maybe.  Maybe I haven't met him yet.  Time's weird for me."

Ray frowned then looked up at Brad.  "Sit down," he said.  "We're gonna be here a while.  Might as well as relax."

Brad darted back to the door.  He tried to turn the knob.  "Locked," he said.  "This is the only door and it's locked."  He pounded with his fist.  "We're trapped."

"Brad," Frank said.  The other man didn't turn around.  "Brad."

The old man turned, his eyes closed.  Frank went to him and put an arm around Brad's shoulders.  "It won't be too long," Frank said.  "We'll be on our way again in a bit.  Sit down and try to relax.  There aren't any enemies here.  The castle is trying to help us find her."

Brad collapsed into the wingback much the same way he'd collapsed at the hotel.  When Frank stood up, he saw that Brad was crying silently.  Frank walked around the table to the last wingback chair and sat, resting his arms on the sides of the chair.

"So," Ray said, "what is this place, really?  What do you know about it?"

"It's a kind of way station," Frank said.  "It's in the mittelmarkes, between the real and the unreal."  He frowned.  "You already knew that, though."

"But what I don't know is what the - what did you call it? - the mittelmarkes is. Are. Am."

Frank snorted a little, deriding the question.  "What you really want to know is who's in charge."

Ray rolled his eyes, caught.  He snatched a glance toward Brad who was burrowing into the side of his chair, then faced Frank.  "Yeah," he said.  "Kind of."

"You're not a religious man, then?"

"No.  Not really.  God and the devil, angels and demons, vampires, werewolves, none of it's really real to me, but it's fun to write about, think about and explore the possibilities."

Frank leaned forward.  "They're real, but the names are different.  Men didn't get it quite right when they started to think about it.  Except maybe Lovecraft and some of the others."  Frank waved his hand at the ceiling.  "It's the crazy ideas that are real, Ray.  The safe ones are just wishful thinking."

Just then the door to the sitting room opened.

"Good evening," the man in the doorway said.  He was dressed in the black uniform of a butler.  "Are you gentlemen ready to move forward?"

"Hodgkins?"  Ray stood up.  "You're George Hodgkins, right?  Do you remember me?  Ray Briscoe."

"Of course, sir," Hodgkins said.  "I would welcome you back, but events are moving quite quickly and we have a limited amount of time to get you through to the basements."

He came inside the door and stood to one side.  "Mr. Martin, Seeker, Mr. Briscoe," he said leaning slightly forward, "if you please. We should go now."

The hallway was different. It was very plain and extraordinarily well-lit.  None of the four men cast shadows as they walked and the carpet was blood red with gold diamond accents.  Ray stayed close to Brad who was moping and not at all the energetic old man he'd been prior to arriving in the sitting room.  Frank walked just behind their guide.

"Hodgkins," Frank said.  "Is this place part of the Chondria or does it belong to Brahmen?"

"Neither," the butler said guiding them to a stairway.  "We'll go down if you don't mind.

"The castle," he said as they descended, "is part of the Abstract.  A neutral player in the game of the cosmos."

"I've never heard of the Abstract."

"I'm not at all surprised," Hodgkins said.  "Most of the players in the war between Chondria and Brahmen haven't."

Frank pondered this as they walked downward, six flights, eight, ten, fourteen, sixteen. Ray was holding Brad up by the time they reached the landing, a thin affair that extended into darkness on either side of the door they stopped at.

"Welcome, gentlemen," Hodgkins said, "to the Kitchen."


Thanks for reading Reader. Come back next Wednesday Click here for part five of this seven part epic. Tell your friends won't you?

©2010 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 

You can buy the whole story, and any story from this website for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email.