By Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik
I would let them consume me,
Swallow me into the pages
And take me far away
Into lands of magic and mystery
Where nothing is impossible
And all is imagined in the mind,
Into a land where anything can be true
And yet all us comprised of lies; stories,
Into lands of heaven and hell
Where I can fight for good
And consume all evil before me,
Until it becomes me
It was not a long time ago, dear reader, that my narrative takes place. It was in the summer a few years ago, when I found myself employed for the first time in a small library not far from my house. The whole affair was quite peculiar. I was offered the job without any references or even a CV as I was still in education and the interview questions were far from the norm; all about the paranormal and do I believe what I read in stories and I could go on but I do believe I’ve made my point. I was interviewed by a young man whose name I never caught. As I understood it, he was leaving to job as he was moving to the city and the employer Professor Uriel (a man I never did find out the first name of) required someone to replace him. It turned out, that person was going to be me. When I was offered the job (having been the only candidate) I was thrilled because it seemed fairly easy and the hours worked well and the pay was excellent all things considered. I was informed that I was to begin work the following week.
I arrived for my first day with an unusual spring in my step. On the face of it, there was nothing unusual about the outside of the building apart from the elaborate swirling architecture that adorned the entrance and the pointed turret that sat on the left side of the structure. Indeed, the building was gothic, but it was in no way sinister for it’d been here longer than I had and it was a library. As I entered, I noticed an odd fragrance in the air, it was unlike anything I had ever smelt before with tones of honey and warm bread and ink and parchment and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on, which I now know to be the smell Uriel’s Machine as its getting powered up.
I first saw Uriel through the gap between the door and the wall as I walked into the main library. He was sitting quietly behind a large oak desk eating a piece of toast with honey lavishly spread over the top. I soon realized where the smell was from. He was a tall man with lively blue eyes and dark hair which he seemed to brush from his eyes every few seconds. He wore a black suit with a clean white shirt and a no tie. He saw me as fast I observed him and greeted be with a simple word of “Visitations” scarcely looking up from a large leather bound book he was reading. Unsure of whether to approach him, I waited at the door and smiled at him. Shaking his head and brushing his hair from his eyes once more he looked at me and smiled back. “Do come in,” he said rather quietly. I entered slowly as if I was afraid he would be scared of a sudden movement and no sooner had I made it half way into the incave in which the desk was situated, he returned to his book. As I got closer, he looked up for a moment and indicated the seat opposite him for me to sit in and looked back at his reading materials once more. As I sat he looked up quickly and said in a rather worried tone “Read this.”
“Out loud, Professor?” I said rather confused.
“It doesn’t matter, just read it and tell me what you see.”
Still most puzzled, I read the page of the book he passed to me over the desk. Well, I tried to read it. It certainly wasn’t English. Nor another other language I had ever heard of. “Professor, I’m not sure I understand this. Is it in Latin or something?”
I passed the book back over.
“So it’s not just me? That was good to hear. I thought I was losing my mind a little for a moment."
"Well, it isn’t good to hear in the slightest because that means that there is something very wrong with this book. Seriously wrong. My dear, could you run and fetch the other copy of this book we have? Then I’ll see if it’s got the same issue.” He seemed to trail off as he finished and looked at an arch way to indicate to me the way to the books.
I put my bag on the floor and wandered into the library. It was massive. And empty. The library was empty. And it was completely silent. The place was full of books. Old books. I walked between the rows of shelves and my footsteps didn’t seem to emanate any sound, yet the floor was old dented wood. When was the last visit by the public to this place? And if it was so irregular for a visitor to come visiting, why did they engage me for the summer? It look me a while to find the particular volume he had requested and when I did I had to blow the dusk off the book to reveal the title deeply embossed in faded gold letters into the royal blue leather covering. The Enchanted Forest. I opened it to see the letters in the same condition as the other copy. It made no sense. And the pictures were inky and perfect and in no way spoilt. It was wonderful. Inky trees and rivers and a stag with swirling swooping antlers and a dragonfly soaring above the waters, his willowy reflection swimming into view from the facet of the river. It looked for a moment almost as if the inky scene was moving. But that’s not possible. Remembering my task, I took the royal blue book back through the archway to Professor Uriel. He was waiting anxiously having finished his honey toast.
No sooner had I reentered the room he began “My dear, did you see that? The stag ran across the page and the dragonfly flew over the river!”
I looked at him very confused.
“Oh my this is all far worse than I had feared! We don’t have much time. I’m too old to be able to go, my aura has settled. Yours hasn’t. I can see it in your eyes. You’ll have to go. But I warn you, if something happens to you in the book, it happens in real life. I always feared this might happen. The Imagination has been corrupted and I only have an idea of how to fix it. I’m so sorry to ask this of you but if I do not, I fear The Imagination will fail and all these books will become defunct and…” he trailed off again “I’m sorry, but we don’t have much time.”
I didn’t understand what he meant.
“You take one book and I’ll take the other and I can watch what’s happening inside and if anything happens to you I can try to imagine a way to save you but my mind is not what it used to be.” He finished, catching his breath.
He stood and shepherded me out of the room and to a small oak door with a rusted lock and a pointed crest.
“Professor. I still don’t know what’s happening.” I shouted almost angrily.
He didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t know what to do. Was it possible that he thought that I could enter the book and do something that would fix the words so they weren’t jumbled or whatever it was that was wrong with them? Professor Uriel was such a strange man. But I could see in his eyes that he seemed to genuinely believe that I could help and perhaps there was an adventure to be had. He unlocked the door with a large coppery key from his inner blazer pocket and ushered me through. To my surprise, the room was not a broom cupboard and in fact was very large with a glass ceiling and three glass walls with shining crystalline panes and oaken lattices which gave the place the appearance of the greenhouse. “Professor, please tell me what’s going on” I insisted.
Uriel turned back to be calmly and whispered in his previous permissive tone “My dear, he is back. The Shadow Master. I met him first when I was at university and he tried this in my books. But then my imagination was strong enough to use the machine and I could fight him by myself but I am too old now. I fear if you do not help, The Shadow Master will take over and The Imagination will be lost.” He finished, his eyes wide.
“This one, ” he stated proudly. Uriel indicated a large machine in the corner of the room with what looked like a red velveteen seat and a fan at the rear. What looked like a podium in copper sat ahead of the seat. “My dear, you sit there and put the book on the platform and believe that this will work," he said very quietly. His quiet tone scared me. He quickly ushered me to the seat and I looked at him with eyes full of trepidation, what was going to happen? Who was The Shadow Master? Was Professor Uriel insane? If I put the book on the platform and sat in the chair and believed (whatever that meant) would anything even happen? “Take the compass, it’ll guide you, and bring the book with you so you can see it all unfold.” He put the compass in my pocket along with an old ink pen “And please don’t forget to believe. That’s the most important bit. If you don’t believe The Imagination won’t work. Hurry. The Shadow Master won’t wait and neither will The Imagination.”
My body began to shake as Uriel’s large wrinkled hang pushed my shoulder down, allowing my body to fall permissively down and sink into the cushioned seat. Uriel looked me in the eye and placed The Enchanted Forest down on the podium open to the first page; an inky willow tree with swirling branches and a twisting trunk and beautiful sweeping leaves, bowing to forest floor. An odd door with a pointed crest (not unlike the one Professor Uriel had taken me through previously) stood at the base of the tree trunk. Closed.
“Goodbye” Uriel whispered. He slammed a green button with the sweaty palm of his left hand and the world began to flash before my eyes. A shining cascade of colour flashed and twinkled in the corners of my eyes with nothing but inky blackness ahead of me accompanied with a strange noise. Was I entering the book? That wasn’t possible. None of this was possible. But maybe it is was because Uriel believed in it. As the sound became less frequent and the pitch became lower, I found that the array of light shades that were flashing in the corners of my eyes were changing more slowly and became decidedly green and grown and blue. I found myself reaching into my pocket to check the copper compass Uriel had given me was still there. It seemed to be rattling a little inside its metallic shell. I held it steady. I braced myself as the colours stopped changing.
And suddenly, everything stopped.
Drink - warm mead
By Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik