The room was made entirely of stone and there was a curtain across the window that was heavy enough to block the light pouring through it. A hard breeze moved it restlessly, playing sunbeams and moon shadows one against another on the floor. "This is where I saw her when she was alive," Brad said. "This is the room where she talked to me and told me it wasn't going well, that so many were missing or gone or dead."
Ray bent over double and retched. He dropped to his knees and vomited hard, splashing the stones with the remains of his dinner and the bourbon.
"God," he said, coughing. "It's like being on that boat and going over the falls again. I can hear Wilber laughing at me. Christ." He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. Brad helped him to his feet.
"Yeah," Ray said. "Why didn't you throw up?"
"I've been looking for him," Brad pointed at Frank, "for three years. I've puked plenty of times. I'm used to traveling like this, I guess." Brad let go of Ray and turned around. "This is the place. We're in the right place."
"Which way?" Frank nodded to one door in the stone wall, then the other. "Any ideas?"
Brad made sure that Ray was okay and studied the two doors. He came to a decision. "The left one," he said. "I think."
"What happens if it's the wrong door?" Frank looked over at Ray, who only looked a little pale now.
"We can't afford to be timid," Ray said. "I don't know what'll happen if that makes you feel any better."
"Right. Here we go." Brad took a deep breath then reached out to grasp the doorknob, stopped six inches from it. "Not this one," he said. "Something's wrong with this one." He turned back to his two companions. "We need the other door." He walked to it, twisted the doorknob and it opened outward onto a wide, darkened stairwell.
"Well, it's all very Horace Walpole so far," Frank said. "Isn't it?"
"Very goth, yes," Ray said. "That's an odd reference for a former cop."
"A cop who reads, Ray." Frank clapped a hand on the writer's shoulder and they all descended the winding stone stairs.
"We must've gone down four or five flights' worth of stairs," Brad said. "I can't believe we haven't found a floor yet."
Ray shook his head in the gloom. "This happened to me last time," he said. "I don't know how long we have to climb down, but it'll take a while, probably."
They kept walking, their footsteps echoing off the stone walls that curved around the stair. They could see well enough to not fall or trip, but not more than half a dozen steps ahead.
"Tell us about Marion," Frank said.
A long silence followed as they kept treading the stairs downward. Finally, Brad took a deep breath. "She's the magush for our sphere," he said. "By which I mean our sphere of perception, not just Earth."
"That sounds like a Persian word," Ray said.
"Yeah. I don't understand all the levels of magick that're involved, but apparently it's one of the oldest that she's responsible for," Brad said. "I joked that she was some kind of Sorcerer Supreme, and she never corrected me."
"Go on," Frank said. "What did she tell you in the dream where she gave you the splinter and the instructions?"
"That she loved me, that I should find the Seeker, that he’d --- I mean you, would help me find Ray," Brad said. "Only took ten years."
"I haven't exactly been off the map," Ray said. "I published four books in that time, I'm on the web, I did a couple of book tours. Why not just find me?"
"I wasn't supposed to," Brad said. "When Marion gives instructions, she's very specific, very insistent that I follow them step by step."
"Very important when dealing with magick, Ray," Frank said. He reached out to touch the stones that made the curving wall and found them cold and damp. He shivered a little. "I'll be glad when we're out of here," he said.
Ahead of them was the rectangular outline of a door. "I see it," Ray said. Twenty-seven steps later Brad reached out to the heavy iron ring and held his hand near it.
"It's good," he said. "Who wants to go first?"
"I will," Frank said. He pulled the ring. The door opened easily, swinging wide on well-oiled hinges and stopping easily.
The room on the other side of the door was a magnificent library with a second-level balcony and a ceiling easily forty feet high. The second level was attainable by a stair straight ahead of them but required anyone interested in getting there to negotiate a winding path through a maze of stacked volumes. There was one aisle off to their left, another about twelve feet ahead that bore off to the right.
"Where's the door?" Brad said, craning his neck, searching.
"There're no titles on these books," Ray said picking one up and flipping through it. "This one's a biography of some kind." He picked up another book. "This one, too." A third and a fourth volume, a fifth, sixth from another stack. "Are they all biographies? These are all handwritten, too. What kind of library is this?"
"Don't forget where you are, Ray," Frank said. "This place isn't here or there. Things probably aren't what they appear to be, either."
"Upstairs," Brad said. "We've gotta go up there." He pointed to the right side of the upper level.
They walked single file down the little path through the library: Frank and Brad intent on gaining the stairs; Ray ambling behind them looking at the stacks of books. The stairs, mahogany and exquisitely worked by a master carpenter, were bounded by ornate newel posts at the bottom, elegant rails with magnificent balusters carved to resemble achingly beautiful women and men. There were no books on the treads which were about six feet wide.
"Up we go," Brad said.
"Look at the millwork," Ray said, sliding his hand up the velvet-smooth rail. "I've never seen anything like this."
"Let's not look too closely," Frank said.
Up they went.
They turned right at the top of the stairs. The upper level was cluttered with more books on either side of the balcony that wound around the entire room. Ray picked up another book. "These are empty." He fluttered the pages of a second volume. "Who could've done all this?"
"Come on, Ray," Frank said. "Let's stay on point and stay together."
"Right," Ray said. He clapped his hands, then rubbed them together. "Shall I go through the door there?"
The door handle was subtle in it placement, recessed in the back of the tallest shelf of the bookcase it was in. He held his hand near, ready to grab it or pull his hand back if he sensed anything wrong. "It's not hot, not cold," Ray said. "It also appears to be the only door in the place. Wow. These shelves are amazing. See the detail?"
"Ray," Frank said and nodded toward the door. "Let's go."
The writer pulled on the handle and the door swung open as easily as its counterpart did below. Ray stuck his head into the hallway, turned it to look both directions. "All clear," he said and they went through.
The landing was wide enough for four people to walk shoulder to shoulder. "Down," Brad said. "Marion said we're supposed to keep going down."
"Those look like the stairs I took," Ray said, taking a step back. He swallowed hard. "They get weird."
"How so?" Frank put himself between Ray and the top of the stairs, got the writer to focus on him.
"You'll walk and walk and walk and never seem to get anywhere," Ray said. He snapped back to himself all of a sudden. "The numbers of the floors skip all over, you're never sure if you're going where you're supposed to or not."
"We have to go down," Brad said. "She insisted. You coming?" He reached out, his hand rested on the very plain newel post, connected to the very plain rail that descended the very plain steps.
"Yeah," Ray said.
He and Frank followed Brad down.
"Fourteen flights," Ray said. "We've gone fourteen flights down and nothing: No doors, no landings, nothing."
"Hold on," Frank said, looking over the rail. "There's light down there. Two more flights."
They scuttled down the stairs like children in search of ice cream. The steps ended in a small landing that allowed for more stairs to be there, but there were none. "End of the line," Ray said. "We go through here."
The doorway was open and full of light. A long hallway with deco patterned rugs and a dozen doors on either side stretched out before them. The three men stopped just inside the doorway. Ray put a hand on Brad's chest.
"Hang on," he said. "Go slow and don't believe anything you see. There may be some kind of manifestation, ghosts and such. Aural hallucinations, that kind of thing."
"No," Frank said. "I'm still new in this role, but I can tell you there aren't any indicators of that kind." His eyes seemed deepset in his skull, shadows dark enough to hide the whites. "Just walk. We'll be okay."
Brad stepped away from Ray and started walking slowly. Ray looked sidewise at Frank, then they followed.
They passed three doors without incident.
Thanks for reading Reader.
©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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