paulmundane

General and somewhat random story things

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Khell 04

The library was a maze of giant bookshelves; all carved out of thick grey. The ceiling was a massive slab of the same grey stone; and was held stories above Khell’s head by massive pillars. The shelves seemed to go on forever in every direction, and each was full with thick leather-bound books.

Khell wandered cautiously amongst the bookshelves. She considered calling out for help, but couldn’t find her voice. The silence of the library was infectious, and Khell felt weird about breaking it. Besides, Khell hadn’t seen anyone in the library yet, and she wasn’t sure who would come looking for her if she yelled.

Though Khell hadn’t found any people in the library, she had passed several odd metal statues. All of them had round cauldron bodies of thick black metal, with a wide oven grate door on the chest. Their arms were a spindly mix of cogs and rods, ending in oversized black bracers and equally oversized hands. Their legs were a similarly thin, with giant cogs for knees and big black iron boots. The statues all had stovetop heads, with round steam gauges for eyes. There was one at the end of every shelf; all identical save for a different symbol on each of their shoulders. Khell wondered if the symbol was a type of number.

The statues were odd, but Khell found the shelves of the library to be even stranger. They were made of the same grey rock as the rest of the library, and had been carved to look like they’d grown from the floor.  Khell had tried a few times to touch the books, but her fingers had always stopped a few inches short. It wasn’t that there was anything solid stopping her, just a strong urge to keep her hands to herself, and a mental conviction that whatever book she was reaching for wasn’t the book she needed.

Khell walked the aisles of the library, keeping her hands to herself. Khell had begun to think the shelves went on forever when she finally found the edge of the library in the form of a wall made of windows.  Like the shelves, the window seemed to spread out forever in both directions.

Khell looked out the giant window to blue skies and lazy clouds. The library was high enough that Khell couldn’t make out the ground below. In the distance, Khell could make out a few islands of floating rock; topped with towers, and hooked by great chains to the unseen ground below.  Khell imagined that the library was the same; a building on an impossible floating rock island.

Khell put her hand against the window. The rings from the book were still on her fingers, and the bracelets on her wrists. Khell tried pull them loose, but had no luck.  She only noticed now how badly her hands were shaking.  The shock of being transported to a strange library was fading, and being replaced bit by bit with panic. Khell breathed deep, and tried to ignore the shiver running through the whole of her body. She had somehow been taken from her home, and dropped in a giant silent library. She stared out the window again. “Where am I?” she asked out loud.

Despite being no more than a whisper, Khell’s voice shattered the silence of the library. Somewhere nearby, Khell could hear the sudden sound of books dropping, followed by light cursing. She didn’t think twice as she rushed towards the sound. At this moment, Khell just needed to see another person; any sign that she wasn’t alone.

Khell was not prepared for what she found as she turned the corner. Hovering around the dropped books was a pug; held aloft by a frantically beating pair of small wings. It was wearing a fine silk shirt and soft leather pants under captain’s coat that draped long past its feet. The dog chewed on a stubby cigar, and stared bug eyed at Khell.

The pug seemed as surprised to see Khell as she was to see it. “Look,” the pug offered in a thick gravel voice. “It’s going to be hard to believe, but I swear there is a good explanation as to why I’m here.”

Khell stuttered without producing words. She doubted there was any good explanation for a flying, coat wearing, talking dog. “Where is here?” she managed. “Where am I?”

“You don’t know?” The flying dog raised a sceptical eyebrow. “You’re in The Library, Kid.”

“A library,” Khell repeated. “I kind of guessed at that.”

The dog scoffed; thick cigar smoke escaping from its jowls. “Not a library,” it corrected. “The Library. The Great Library of the Cog-work Kingdom.” It looked Khell over carefully. “I guess you’re not with them then?”

“I don’t even know who they are,” Khell admitted. She stood there, staring awkwardly at the flying pug. “I’m Khell,” she introduced finally.

“Fenway,” the dog returned. He slid some of the books back onto the shelf before offering a paw to shake.

Khell shook Fenway’s paw politely. “How are you doing that?” Khell asked. She meant the flying and the talking, and even the smoking a bit. Fenway assumed that Khell was talking about the books.

“Bit of a trick I figured out,” he admitted proudly. “You see, the repulsion field keeps you from picking up a book you’re not supposed to have, right?”

“Right,” Khell agreed. She had no idea what a repulsion field was.

“Well, The Library knows what book you want because you know what book you want.” Fenway tapped his temple with the butt of his cigar. “So all you have to do is really believe that you need all the books. Convince yourself; and The Library will let you take whatever book you want.”

“Oh.” Khell looked around them. “Why would you need all the books?”

“I don’t,” Fenway admitted. “I’m not even sure I need one of them.”

“I don’t think I understand,” Khell said. “If you don’t even need one book, why bother thinking about having all the books?”

“Because that’s the job, Kid.” Fenway huffed, shuffling a few books around. “We were told that something would be amiss in The Library; and we’d know it when we see it.” He chuckled. “So here I am, thinking real hard about wanting all the books until something pops out.”

Fenway stopped messing with the books suddenly.  He chewed his cigar, and muttered to himself. “Something out of the ordinary,” he mused. “Something out of place.” He looked Khell over with a scrutinizing eye. “How did you say you got in here kid?”

Khell began to tell Fenway that she didn’t know how she’d appeared in The Library, but she was interrupted by a sudden rumbling, and the sound of rock rubbing against rock. She watched with fascination as the stone floor bled upwards along the front of the shelves, forming a thick lattice. “What is that?” she asked in awe.

“That’s bad,” Fenway replied. He gripped Khell’s shoulder, and gently pushed her down the aisle. “We need to get moving,” he explained.

The air of the once silent library was now a cacophony of grinding stone, as the shelves protected themselves from intruders. Over the din, Khell could hear a sharp noise of creaking metal, and the thud of iron boots on the stone floor. The metal statues were shifting and coming to life.

Khell followed Fenway’s prompt, and walked quickly away from the moving statues. “What’s going on?” she asked. “What are they?”

“Cogstables,” Fenway answered briskly. “They think we’re stealing from The Library.”

“But, can’t we just tell them that we’re not stealing anything?” Khell suggested.

“The Library would know we’re lying,” Fenway replied.

“But…”

“I can explain it all later,” Fenway interrupted. “But right now, we are in big trouble.” Fenway’s gentle push on Khell’s shoulder became a frantic shove. “Run,” he insisted.

Khell ran, Fenway flying close behind. They dodged through the shelves, avoiding the statues as they shuffled to life. Khell could hear them gathering behind her and Fenway; a steady rhythm of metal beating on stone. Khell ran until she nearly dashed against the giant window.

Fenway cursed in his gravel growl. “Ok,” he accepted, “this could work. We just follow the window till we reach…” He looked both ways, finding their path blocked by Cogstables in all directions.

The Cogstables surrounded Fenway and Khell. Their glass eyes glowed red, and fire flickered in their bellies. White steam poured from their stove pipe heads. They reached forward in unison, giant grasping hands flicking open and closed as they moved towards Khell and Fenway.

“We’ve got a situation over here!” Fenway at the top of his lungs. Somewhere far off in the library, a deep voice yelled a response, but Khell couldn’t hear what it was.

Fenway nodded at the sound of the other voice, and reached into his coat. He pulled out a handful of matte black balls with long wicks. “Alright,” Fenway said, moving between the Cogstables and Khell. “We just need to hold out a minute.” Fenway lit the bombs with his cigar, and threw them liberally at the approaching metal men.

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Khell 03

By the next morning, Khell had convinced herself that Old Snapper had been a figment of her imagination.  A heck of a convincing figment, but a figment nonetheless.  She woke in the library again, and though the sleepwalking left her concerned, Khell refused to dwell on it. It was likely just part of the stress of a major move, she decided. By tonight, her room would be set up, she’d be sleeping in her own familiar bed, and that would be the end of waking up in the library.

Dad was in the living room, building forts out of the boxes in an attempt to sort them. He’d cleared enough space to hook up the television, because essentials are essential.  Khell poured herself a bowl of cereal, and had no trouble convincing her dad that a short cartoon break would make the rest of the work easier to bear.  It was Saturday after all.

After a couple hours of ponies and super heroes, Khell and her dad began the heavy lifting.  More, Khell’s dad heavy lifted, while Khell did some moderate lifting, and pointed out where all the heavy stuff should go. The movers had done a pretty good job of putting boxes in the rooms they belonged in, but there were always some mistakes.

Spread out, Khell and her father’s boxes and furniture were pretty sparse. This wasn’t that surprising, as they’d moved from a small two bedroom apartment to a huge two-story old house. Still, having their stuff in, even if most of it was still packed, made the house feel a little more like home. It smelt more like home, if nothing else.

By lunch, Khell and her dad had lost much of the little steam they’d had. They idly rifled through boxes, and sorted random knick knacks into random drawers. Dad finally went to set up his new office, while Khell went to sort her own stuff in her room.

Khell didn’t really have that much to unpack. Mostly, she owned clothes and books, with a few of her old toys scattered in as decoration. Instead, she spent much of the afternoon shoving furniture back and forth, trying to find the perfect set up. When she was interrupted by a soft knock on her door, she’d expected her dad to tell her it was dinner.  Instead, she was mildly surprised to see Ana standing in the doorway.

“Your dad let me in,” Ana explained, inviting herself into Khell’s room. “He said you’d be up here, unpacking and stuff.  You want some help?”

“I’m mostly just shoving things,” Khell admitted. “There’s not much to do really.”

“Are you going to paint in here?” Ana asked, looking around the room. “I could help.  I painted my room recently.”

“No,” Khell replied. Khell would have liked to paint her room, but she had doubts that her dad would let her just because. “It’s ok the way it is.”

“You sure? Now’s the time to do it; before you finish unpacking.” Ana smiled. “I’ve still got half of bucket of red; it might do one wall at least.”

“You did your room red?” Khell couldn’t hide her surprise. “Like dark red?” Dark colours were a pretty big on the not allowed list. They were not allowed in apartments at least.

“More of a fire engine red,” Ana corrected. “Red with a black trim.” She flicked her bangs. “I’ve got sort of a motif going on.”

“It must be nice,” Khell replied; a little bitterly. “I’m pretty sure my dad wouldn’t let me dye my hair.”

“Yeah well, my grandpa didn’t really let me,” Ana said. “I just did it, and he grew used to it. I mean, it’s just hair, right?” Ana sat down heavily on Khell’s bed.  She idly wiggled her big toe; sticking out of a hole in her striped socks. “I figure he was more worried ‘bout what folks would think,” she continued. “I figure folks can’t think worse, so why not have my hair the way I want, right?” Ana saw the confusion in Khell’s eyes, and answered before she could ask. “I’m trouble. Ask anyone in town.” She struck up a pretty good yokel accent, and snapped a pair of imaginary suspenders. “That Ana Hickory; she ain’t nutin’ but a bad egg.”

“But why?” Khell pressed. “What’d you do?”

Ana shrugged.  “Nothing.” She admitted. “Not yet at least.”

“But that’s not fair,” Khell insisted. “If you didn’t do anything wrong…”

Ana rolled her eyes. “Welcome to small town living Khell,” she declared. “Everybody knows everybody; and everybody knows everybody’s business.” Ana paused a moment. “If your parents messed up somehow, everyone would just expect you to do the same, right? Well my folks messed up bad; bad enough for me to live with my grandpa. People talk.”

“Oh,” Khell replied. She wasn’t really sure what else to say.

“It could be worse,” Ana assured Khell. “At least I’m not going to spend the next few years being called the new girl.”

Khell made a face.  “Is that what I’ve got to look forward to?” She frowned as Ana nodded.  “Great.”

“Hey, the offer’s still on the table,” Ana reminded her. “If you want to, you can come with me when I move to the city.”

Ana didn’t wait for an answer.  She stood up, and stretched cat like. Ana pointed at a stack of boxes in the corner near the door. “So, do you want some help with those,” she asked. “Or are they some sort of secret boxes?”

“Nothing secret,” Khell replied. She gently prodded the pile of boxes with her toe. “It’s just books,” she explained  “I can’t decide if I should set up my shelves, or if I should put them all in the library.”

Ana’s eyes lit up. “You have a library?” Her tone was almost too eager.

“You didn’t see it?” Khell replied slyly. “I mean, you must have passed it in the hall.”

Ana made a show of avoiding eye contact. “Yeah, I saw it,” she admitted finally. “I didn’t go in yet. I mean, I figured you’d want to show it off.” Ana tugged on the edge of her arm warmer. “I’d want to show off if I had a library to tell you the truth.”

Khell smiled. It was nice to find someone else excited about books. “I haven’t really looked over all the books,” she admitted. “I’ve just been obsessing with this one.  It’s got some intricate lock on the front, but it’s…”

Ana waved her hands. “Don’t tell me,” she insisted. Her face beamed with excitement. “Show me.”

Khell led Ana to the library, and straight to the strange book. Ana went right to playing with the rings on the cover.  She chewed on her lower lip as she shifted them about the page, and seemed only slightly surprised when they refused to leave the front of the book.

“It’s like one of those magician tricks,” Ana said after playing with the rings for awhile.  “Like; the rings are linked, and you think they can’t be pulled apart? And then someone waves a hand over them and voila!” Ana gave the rings a bit of a different tug, and opened her hands in a full ‘ta-da’.  The rings, however, stayed together.   Ana frowned.  “You just need to figure out the trick is all,” she insisted.

Khell watched as the rings slid back into place as soon as Ana let go of them. “They keep doing that,” Khell commented. “They keep going back to their starting position.  I wonder how they’re doing that?”

“Magnets Maybe?” Ana guessed. She shook her head almost immediately. “They don’t move right for magnets.  It’s more like they just know where they belong.”

“What, like magic?”

“Hey, we got attacked by a giant ghost turtle yesterday,” Ana reminded Khell.  “I’m not ruling out anything.”

“No; I guess not.” Khell watched Ana worked the rings. She hadn’t wanted to admit, but Khell had been mentally calling it a magic book since she’d found it. Khell was happy to find someone who evidently didn’t consider that to be crazy. “Do you think you can open it?”

“Maybe,” Ana replied.  “I got a thing for puzzles,” she added. “Bit of a weird obsession I picked up as a kid.  I figured it as a skill I’d need; in case I ever had to open or close a puzzle box super fast.” Ana looked expectantly at Khell, and was disappointed by the lack of response.  “You and me watch very different movies,” she muttered.

Ana pushed and pulled at the rings, finding that there were set ways that they were willing to move. She nodded towards the book in the end; not having opened it, but at least having catalogued the rings, and the movements they were willing to do.

“Ok,” Ana explained with a flourished wave. “There’s four major rings, and then twenty minor rings.  Five little rings in each bigger one. The little rings will move about, but only inside whichever major ring they’re in.  The major rings move about, but only until they’re blocked by a minor ring.  Everything goes back to their starting points if you let go of them.”

“Ok,” Khell said. She pulled five of the lower rings along the cover, finding it easier to do by hooking them one to each finger of her hand. They put up a bit of resistance, like she was pulling them across water. They made a small click as they met the edge of their major circle, and buzzed slightly. “It feels like they’re spinning,” Khell commented. “It’s sorta weird feeling.”

“Don’t let go of them,” Ana pleaded.  She tilted her head, and smirked at the book.  “I think you’ve got it.”

“I do?”

Ana didn’t answer right away.  She mimicked Khell’s hold of the minor circles, but in and upper corner.  This time, as Ana wrangled the smaller circles under her fingers, the click was more audible.  There was a quiet humming coming from the circles now, and the ones under Khell’s hand were vibrating.

Ana smiled triumphantly.  “See,” she explained. “We’ve got to move all the circles at once; that’s why I couldn’t get it.  No one person ever could; it’s a four hand job.” She put her fingers in the other circles on her side, and clicked them into place.  The book buzzed angrily. Ana looked expectantly at Khell.

Khell frowned at the book; her hand hovering over the last of the circles. She wanted to know what was in the book, and she wanted to solve the puzzle. Still, there was a very cautious voice in her head reminding her that books don’t have magic circle locks.  Books don’t vibrate like ignored cell phones. In the end, curiosity defeated caution.  Khell pulled the small circles under her finger tips, and clicked them into position.

Together, the girls slowly slid the four major rings apart.  Unlike before, they didn’t slide back into position along the front of the book.  Instead, the rings shot free of the book.  The small rings ran up the girl’s fingers like rings, and the larger rings flew up their arms; hula-hooping on their wrists like eighties bangles. The band that ran the width of the book sprang open, and slapped on the table with a heavy thud.

There was a moment of ominous silence before the book split open.  Its pages flipped madly, and light shone from the center of the book. It was so bright that it hurt Khell’s eyes, but she couldn’t look away.  The sound of the turning pages reminded Khell of bird’s wings, and deep beneath that, she swore she could hear chanting. Khell strained to hear the words, even as she strained to see the pages flipping past.

Even over the light, and the chanting, and the self turning pages, one thing stood out as particularly strange to Khell.  All the pages that fluttered past were empty.  There was no weird scribbles or strange pictures. There were no spells, and no arcane scripture.  In fact, the book had nothing at all.

“Blank?” Khell commented after the book was finished its light show. “Who’d go to that much trouble to seal up a blank book?”

Khell looked up to Ana, searching for an answer, but Ana wasn’t there.  The library wasn’t there either; at least, Khell’s library wasn’t there.  Instead, Khell was standing alone in a vast room of stone pillars and huge bookshelves.  The room seemed to go on forever in all directions. Khell looked back to the book in a panic, but both it and the table it had been on had vanished.

Everything was gone, and Khell was alone.

Yeah…

Today’s post will be up tomorow.  It needs some buffering, and being Valentines, I have a choice between fixing up some prose, or hanging with my wife.

 

I make my choices, I stand by them.

Khell 02

Originally, Khell and her dad had planned to sleep on inflatable mattresses in what would be their new bedrooms.  After some exploration though, it proved to be less of a great idea.  The entirety of the old house hadn’t been lived in for the past few years, and needed a good sweep at the very least. In the end, dad and Khell set up camp in the basement, near the fireplace.

Though Khell would never admit it, she was happy that they’d ended up sleeping in the basement.  Without her own bed and her own stuff, her new room was just another strange place in a strange house.  Khell wasn’t sure she was willing to sleep there alone just yet.

Not that Khell was getting any sleep here in the basement.  It was far quieter in the country than it had been back home.  There were no cars; no people walking around outside.  There wasn’t a neighbour’s radio playing, or even neighbours for that matter. Instead, Khell lay on her inflated mat listening to the sound of the wind, and the crackle of the fire.  There were various creaks and groans as the house settled, and somewhere upstairs, there was a dripping faucet.  Khell had never known quiet could be so loud. It was when dad started snoring that Khell accepted that she wasn’t getting to sleep any time soon.

Khell snuck out from beneath her covers, and crept up the stairs to the main of the house. She’d expected the old house to seem creepy at night, and was amazed at how bright the rest of the house was in comparison to the basement.  Even without the lights on, the night stars shone through the many windows, and lit the house adequately.

Systematically, Khell tracked down each noise she could hear.  She found the dripping faucet in the second floor bathroom that she didn’t know existed till now.  She found a part of the window plastic was loose, and flapping in the wind; though there was nothing she could do about it right now.  There was, in fact, little that Khell could do about most of the noises the house made; she hoped that just finding them would let her sleep though.  Rattling vents, loose floorboards, squeaky window panes; Khell catalogued them all.

In the end, Khell found herself standing in the middle of the library.  She’d been certain that she’d felt a breeze come from the otherwise cozy room, but after checking the large round window, she’d found none.   She could still hear the wind in the library, but it didn’t seem to be coming from outside.  Khell did a few circles, and came to the conclusion that the draft was coming from near the central table.  She checked the ceiling, and she checked the vent in the floor, but neither seemed to be the culprit.

Khell shook her head.  The breeze was stronger now, and carried the crisp smell of winter.  It seemed to be coming from the center of the table, but there was nothing there but the book she’d found earlier.  Absently, Khell picked it up, and played a bit with the moving circles on the cover.  She ran her hand along the edges of the pages, and nearly dropped the book in surprise.  The breeze was coming from inside the book, as was a slight whispering sound.

“That’s not possible,” Khell told absolutely no one. She tried the latch again, but it still held the book tightly shut.  Khell felt the edges, and still there was a breeze.  Deep inside the book, the wind whispered sounds that nearly made words.  Khell stared at the book a long time before finally holding it to her ear.

“Khell,” the book whispered.

Khell awoke with a start, and looked about.  She was sitting in a large leather chair in the library; and from the ache of her back, she could guess that she’d been sleeping in the chair for hours.  The book was on her lap when Khell looked down; and was still sealed shut. There was no wind escaping its binding, and there was no whispering.

Khell put the book back on the table, sure that she’d just dreamt the whole thing.  After all, books didn’t have their own weather; and books didn’t whisper your name. She tucked the last of the night to the back of her mind, and went to find her dad.  She could hear dishes and movement in the kitchen, and was certain he was there preparing breakfast.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Khell demanded as she stormed into the kitchen. “I was sleeping in the library.  I mean…” The rest of Khell’s complaints dried in her throat as she looked around.

Khell’s dad wasn’t in the kitchen. Instead, sitting at the table, was a girl about Khell’s age.  Her hair was coal black with fire engine red tips; the same colors as most of her clothes. She wore old striped socks of the same black and red, and had transformed a second pair of striped socks into arm warmers.  The girl smiled at Khell’s confusion, and ate a bowl of cereal.

“Your dad’s outside,” the girl offered finally.  “My grandpa’s digging you folks out.”

“Oh,” Khell replied quietly. She wasn’t sure what else to say.

“I’m Ana,” the girl added. “I guess I probably should have started with that.”  Ana thought on it.  “Hello, I’m Ana, and your dad is outside,” she tried. “Yeah, that would have been better.”

“I’m Khell,” Khell introduced. She rubbed her arm nervously. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting guests.”

“Yeah well, we sorta surprise visited,” Ana explained. “Grandpa saw you folks pull in yesterday, and saw that your car was still at the bottom of the hill this morning.  He figured he’d come and dig you out.” Ana nodded. “Neighbourly, and all that.” Ana took another spoonful of cereal.  “Same idea of neighbour and all that, he said I should show you around town today, if you’re up for it?”

Khell nodded her agreement.  She wanted to get dressed and eat some breakfast first, but seeing town with someone was better than seeing it without.  Besides, she really didn’t want to be around when the movers arrived. In less than an hour, her and Ana were outside, ready to go to town.

“This has got to be a big change for you,” Ana commented with a gesture to the property. “I mean, you’re from the big city, right?” She didn’t wait for Khell to answer.  “I’m going to move out there.  You see if I don’t.”

Ana continued on, as much to herself as to Khell.  “I’ll finish high school, cause I’m already in the midst of it, but I tell you girl; first chance I get after that I’m out of this town.” Ana looked Khell over as though measuring her up.  “You can come with, if you like,” she offered.  “I mean, coming from the city; you can’t be that impressed with Quarrytown, right?”

Khell shrugged.  “I haven’t actually seen the town yet,” she admitted. “We just got here yesterday.”

“Are you kidding?”  Ana trudged through snow drifts as she walked around the house.  “You live up here on King’s Rock, and you haven’t even seen the town yet?”

“King’s Rock?” Khell repeated, following behind Ana.  “Why’s it called that?”

Ana didn’t answer right away.  Instead, she waved an arm towards an outcropping of stone; prompting Khell to look over. Khell edged up the rock, and stared down the hill.

Khell gasped as she looked down.  “I can see the whole town from here,” she said. “I mean; the downtown at least.” She looked back at Ana, and rolled her eyes. “And that’d be why it’s called King’s Rock,” she noted.

“Yup,” Ana replied.  She walked back to her grandpa’s truck, and pulled a long wooden toboggan from the back.  “Nice thing about being up here is that you have the best route to town as well.” Ana thought about it. “Well, during the winter at least.”

Khell stared at the toboggan uncertainly.  “I don’t know,” she replied slowly.  “Isn’t that a bit…”

“…Childish?” Ana smirked at Khell.  “Sure. Probably is.  It’s certainly unladylike; if you care ‘bout that sorta thing.  You know what prim and proper gets you around here though?” Ana pointed at the town below, then off to the other side of the hill towards the road.  “It gets you an hour and a half walk to town.” Ana patted the seat of the sled.  “This is much faster.”

Khell looked at the hill.  What she was actually going to say was ‘isn’t that a bit dangerous’, but felt it’d just sound foolish now.  Ana was already setting the toboggan down on the edge of the hill.

Khell looked at the trees along the hill, and thought about the random rock cliffs that grew around her driveway as she sat behind Ana on the wooden toboggan.  “You know a safe path down, right?” she asked.

“I know a path down,” Ana replied.  “Least I’m pretty sure there is a path Gravity has a lot to do with finding it.” She looked back at Khell, and gave a half shrug.  “I’d probably hold on tight, if I were you girl.”

They managed to make it down the hill without impaling themselves on a tree, though Khell was certain that they’d come close to two separate occasions.  They did manage to flip the toboggan a few times, and actually ramped it over a large rock once.  In the end, the girls were covered in snow, and giggling with the adrenaline rush. Ana dragged the sled behind them as they walked into town.

Khell looked about.  The downtown looked the same as it had on her pamphlet, save for the flowers being replaced by large drifts of snow.  The streets were quiet; seemingly devoid of life. There were a few people here and there, but not many.

“Where is everyone?” Khell asked.

“School or work,” Ana replied with a shrug. “Almost no one is in town during the day.” She pointed off down the road. “Factory up there makes cement; or packs cement; or whichever. If you don’t work there, it’s because you don’t work in town.”

Khell nodded.  “I forgot that there’s school still,” she admitted. Holidays were coming up, so there was little reason for Khell to start a new school quite yet.

“I wouldn’t sweat it,” Ana said. “I forget there’s school sometimes too.”

Ana led Khell down the quiet streets to a little coffee shop called The Steamer.  It smelt of fresh bread and ground coffee, and Khell liked it right away.  Plus, it was warm, and Khell was not. The woman behind the counter smiled friendly at the two girls as they entered The Steamer.  Her smile faded immediately as she recognized Ana.

“You turn right round and walk back out that door Ana Hickory,” the woman commanded as she picked up the phone.  “I’ll be calling the school right away; you see if I don’t young lady.”

Ana put her hands up in a mild surrender.  “Relax, Ms. Lois,” Ana insisted.  “My grandpa knows I’m not at school today.”  Ana pushed Khell forward, using her like a shield.  “This is Khell,” she introduced.  “Her and her dad just moved into the old Allens place.”  Ana smirked.  “Grandpa’s digging out their driveway, and I’m playing tour guide.  Figured I’d start her here.”

Ms. Lois narrowed her eyes dangerously at Ana, but she put the phone back on its cradle. Her scepticism was replaced with a wide smile as she looked from Ana to Khell.

“Well of course,” Ms. Lois agreed happily.  “Where else would you start?  Welcome to town,” Ms. Lois beamed.  “Kelly was it?”

Khell rubbed her arm.  “Just Khell ma’am.”

“Well.” Ms. Lois’s smile faltered ever so slightly.  “That’s interesting, isn’t it?” She rolled Khell’s name around her mouth a few times, as though trying out a foreign language.  “How do you like some coffee, Khell?”

Khell sat with Ana at one of the large booths near the window.  From here, Ana was able to point out most of the interesting places in town.  The bookstore was directly across the road; looking sad with its papered over windows. There was a hardware store beside it, and a second hand clothing store beside that. Down the road was a restaurant, an ice cream parlour (that was closed for the season), a sports outlet, and a few knick knack stores.

“That’s about it,” Ana announced, finishing her virtual tour of the town. “Nothing that you’d find in the city.  No mall, no McDonalds.  Nothing much at all.”

“I think that’s what my dad likes about it,” Khell agreed.

“Yeah; it’s an old people’s paradise,” Ana agreed.  “What about your mom? Is she looking forward to moving here?”

Khell fiddled with a napkin. “It’s just me and my dad now,” she admitted quietly.

“Ah, sorry,” Ana said. She shrugged. “I understand what it’s like,” Ana told Khell.  “It’s just me and grandpa, which I guess is the same really.”

Khell looked over at Ana.  “Are your parents…” she wasn’t sure how to politely finish the sentence.

“Nah.  They’re both alive,” Ana said.  “Alive and well; I guess.”  She sipped her coffee, and poured another healthy portion of sugar into it.  The two girls sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Hey,” Ana asserted suddenly.  “You haven’t seen the quarry yet.” She grabbed Khell’s hand, and dragged her out before she could protest.

The quarry was a good ten minute walk out of town. Khell and Ana took turns pulling the other in the toboggan once they’d left the main road, which made the walk take all the longer, and yet made it feel that much shorter. Before Khell knew it, they were leaning on a small fence, staring at the ice covered quarry.

“It’s over 100 meters deep in some areas,” Ana explained with a wave towards the rock pit.  “It’s pretty deep every part though.  Some say that there’s still work equipment at the bottom; you know, pumps and generators and stuff.”

“Does anything live in it?”

“Oh yeah, tons,” Ana replied.  “frogs, turtles, and fish.”  Ana shrugged “Don’t honestly know how the fish got into there, mind.  I mean, the lake’s landlocked right?” she thought on it a moment.  “I guess someone dropped the fish off, and then they, you know, however fish do it.” Ana mashed her hands together, to suggest fish ‘doing it’.

Khell giggled, and gave a nod. “typical lake stuff though,” she commented.

“Well, all ‘cept for Old Snapper of course,” Ana replied. She smiled slyly at Khell’s look of confusion.  “Old snapping turtle,” she explained.  “Older than me; maybe older than even my grandpa.”  Ana leant in as if sharing a secret.  “He’s been there forever really; or at least as long as there’s been water right?  Folks say he’s at least the size of a motor boat.” Ana held her hands out wide, to suggest size.  “He could be bigger.”

Khell looked over at the quarry, then back at Ana, then to the quarry again.  “Nah,” she said finally.  “It’s not possible.  I mean, what would a snapping turtle that big eat?”

“Well,” Ana offered. “There’s always a few kids that go missing every year.  Tourists mostly.”

Khell shook her head again. “You’re having me on,” she insisted.

“If you say so.” Ana laughed. “No pulling the wool over your eyes, huh city girl?” Ana stepped over the small fence, onto the ice. She motioned for Khell to follow.

Khell stepped onto the ice reluctantly.  “Is it safe?” she asked.

“Sure,” Ana replied without a second thought.  “It’s been real cold lately, so the ice is good and thick.  You don’t want to go too far out, mind, cause it never freezes completely over, but so long as we stay to the edge here, it’s safe.”

Khell slipped and slid as she followed Ana out onto the quarry.  She watched her feet as much as she watched her new friend, and listened for any ominous cracking noises.

“Do you think it’s weird that folks like walking on the ice?” Ana asked suddenly.  She ran a bit, and slid along the lake surface.  “I mean, when you think about it, it’s really just walking.  Heck, if you don’t have skates, it’s walking with difficulty.”  Ana spun an amateur pirouette, and laughed as her feet slid out from under her as if to prove her point.

Khell helped Ana up, nearly falling over as well in the process.  This really was just difficult walking, but it was still fun.  “I’ve never really thought about it,” she admitted.  “I guess it’s just different, right?”

Ana brushed the light snow off of her pants.  “You know what I think?” she asked rhetorically.  “I think it feels just a little forbidden; just a little wrong.  I mean, walking on a lake?  You shouldn’t be able to do that.  I know it’s ice, and I know that’s just part of winter, but I think deep inside, your brain thinks you’re doing something impossible.”  Ana kicked off into another slide.  “Tiny winter magic, right?”

Khell nodded a quick agreement, but didn’t take her eyes off of the ice.  She was certain that she’d seen something move below them.  “We should get back,” Khell suggested suddenly.

Ana looked over at Khell.  For a moment, she looked like she was going to argue, but it faded as she followed Khell’s gaze to the ice.  A dark shadow slid beneath them as something huge shifted.  It was easily the size of a bus, but rounded off.  The monstrosity moved slowly; lazily, but it was steadily moving towards the girls, and certainly getting bigger as it came closer.

“No freakin’ way,” Ana said.  “It can’t be.”

The ice groaned and buckled as the huge shape scraped against it beneath them.  Its head was visible, though blurry, as it chewed at the ice beneath the girls.  Khell could easily have fit in the monster’s mouth if it were to get through.  She slid and fell as she tried to run.  The whole of the quarry seemed to shake.

“Old Snapper!” Ana screamed.  She grabbed at Khell’s hand; nearly falling herself as she dragged Khell to her feet.  The girls ran and slid as they desperately rushed to get off the shifting ice.  The ice bucked, and shattered as Old Snapper surfaced with a train roar of a hiss.  The girls were flung forward, and landed with a crash in the snow bank at the edge of the quarry.

Suddenly, everything was quiet. Khell and Ana laid in the snow on the bank for a good few minutes before daring to look back at the quarry lake.  The ice was untouched, save for their footprints.  There was no break; not even the slightest crack. There was nothing suggesting that a giant turtle had surfaced.

Ana stood up, and brushed herself off. “Well,” she said. “That was new.”

“That was new?” Khell stared at the ice.  She screwed up enough courage to tap it with her foot, but drew away immediately as if it were lava.  “That was impossible. We were attacked by a giant turtle!”

“Giant ghost turtle,” Ana suggested. “In that it didn’t break the ice.” She rubbed her arms, and stepped a good bit away from the ice.  Finally Ana shrugged. “I’m going to state the obvious, and suggest we don’t mention this to anyone, right?  I mean; who’d ever believe us?”

Khell stared at the ice. It had broken with enough force to throw them through the air, and yet it was untouched.  “Yeah, who would?” she agreed. She’d been part of it, and even she wasn’t sure she believed it.

That night, Khell dreamt cracking ice and giant turtles. The whole of her dream played to a soundtrack of flipping pages, and singing books.

Khell 01

Moving sucked under normal conditions. Khell had moved from apartment to apartment hundreds of times in her fifteen years, and could attest to that. Still, all of those moves had been in the same city. Khell had only ever had to change schools once. She’d never really had to say goodbye to friends, and she’d never really suffered more inconvenience then having to pack and unpack (which admittedly is a big inconvenience).

It was different this time. This time she was moving to a place called Quarrytown; four hours north. Her grandparents used to have a house and a bookstore there, and now, due to wills and ownership and legalities, she and her dad owned a house and a bookstore. Goodbyes had to be said, and new schools had to be planned. There was still packing and unpacking, but now it involved a truck that would show up in Quarrytown a day after Khell and her dad. Moving always sucked, but this felt different. This felt much worse.

Khell read the brochure for the hundredth time, hoping to find something to be excited about. The front page was a wide shot of Quarrytown’s main street. All the downtown buildings looked like they were carved from slabs of limestone, and were drab to look at; even decorated as they were with flags and flowers. The picture tried to look all summery and fun, But driving up the snow covered highway, Khell was having trouble picturing it.

Quarrytown lived up to its name only by default according to the pamphlet. After all, it had a quarry. In fact, Quarrytown had one of the largest quarries in the area, and had been a real rock mogul in its heyday. Quarrytown still had a major cement production company, and a thriving tourist industry, but the quarry was no longer in use. Left abandoned, it had flooded, and was now considered one of the greatest swimming holes in the area.

Khell wasn’t sure what it took to be a mover and shaker in the world of granite stone sales, but she could understand why anyone who wanted  to be one would set up shop in the area. Looking out the passenger window, she could see nothing but rock on either side of the highway, and hadn’t for the past hour. Giant wind blown cliffs that looked to be made from misshaped bricks rose up on either side of the road; topped by great pines that seemed to be clinging desperately to the rocks. Rocks, and trees, and snow. Tons of snow.

“There was never this much snow back home,” Khell commented, breaking nearly an hour of silence. It wasn’t that she didn’t talk to her dad normally, but after a few hours alone in a car, conversation can run dry.

Her dad rose an eyebrow. He’d been humming tunelessly to the radio for awhile, and seemed surprised to hear Khell’s voice. “You get a lot more snow this far north,” he agreed after a moment. “A lot more of, well, a lot really. More snow, more stars, more animals. And not just more racoons and pigeons either,” he added. “Deer, and coyotes, and owls. Things you’d never see in the city.”

“Wolves? Bears?” Khell thought a second. “Wolverines?”

“We’re not far enough north for wolverines,” her dad muttered. He chuckled quietly, and Khell was pretty sure he was making ‘snikt’ noises in his head.

“So just wolves and bears,” Khell verified. “Great.”

“Well,” Her dad said. “We’ll try to keep them out of the house.”

“The house,” Khell echoed. Her dad said that they’d spent numerous summers in her grandparents old place, and Khell had been hoping that she’d remember it during the ride, or see something that sparked a memory. None of the continual rock cliffs were looking familiar so far. They’d stopped coming north when Khell was very little; back when mum had originally become sick; back when they’d all stopped doing anything.

Dad mistook Khell’s silence for despair. He patted her knee. “I know this seems tough,” he offered. “Moving always does.  But I promise, you’re going to love it.”

Khell forced a smile. “Yeah, dad,” she said. “This’ll be great. I’m sure.” Khell hid back behind the brochure, and let her smile fade. She was sure of a lot of things, but this tiny rock town being great wasn’t one of them.

The trip to the house didn’t bring Khell and her dad through the majestic streets of Quarrytown, or even near the famous quarry.  They instead pulled off the highway onto a series of small country roads that led to their new property.  Dad parked the car at the bottom of their new driveway, and whistled low as he stared up the rock hill to their new home.

Khell hopped out, and trudged through the calf deep snow to stand beside her dad.  The driveway wound all corkscrew up the hill; or at least the parts she could make out did.  The whole of it was under the same thick layer of snow that the rest of the area was. She couldn’t even see the house from here at the bottom of the driveway.

“How are they going to get the moving truck up that?” Khell asked.

Her dad shook his head.  “That’s what we pay them the big bucks for,” he offered with a chuckle.  He smiled at Khell, but she didn’t return the favour.  Dad sighed.  “We’re likely going to have to shovel it,” he admitted.

“The whole thing?” Khell looked up the driveway with disdain.

“It’d be silly to only shovel half of it,” her dad replied.  His ambition faded somewhat as he looked again up the hill.  “Tell you what,” he offered.  “Lets just get up there, warm up the old place, and see what we can see.  Maybe we can find the number for a plowing company that’ll dig us out by tomorrow.”  He shrugged.  “Snow like this, someone in town’s got to be cashing in, right?”

“Right.”  Khell agreed. She wanted to be helpful, but shovelling a mile of snow was pushing her limit.  Khell watched her dad unload the trunk of the car, and took some of the lighter bags from him.

It was a slippery walk, and Khell almost lost her footing on several occasions.  The driveway winded around rock outcroppings, and through a small forest of great pines, which together did a fine job of hiding the house until Khell and her dad reached the top of the hill. At the end of the driveway was a small clearing with a snow covered picnic bench, a forgotten truck, a tiny shed, and of course, the house.

Khell wasn’t sure what she’d pictured the house looking like, but she was sure this wasn’t it. The old house was made of limestone bricks of varied color and varied size.  It had two floors, but it looked as though the first floor was only grudgingly accepting the second.  The windows were round, and placed at random intervals on either floor. A stone chimney jutted from the side of the house, and carried up over the top floor in a lazy zigzag.  In all, the house looked like it had been built by someone who had a lot of rocks, and little time for planning. The only thing of the house that looked new was the closed porch that ran around the front of the house.

Dad looked expectantly from the house, to Khell, and then to the house again.  “So?” he asked.  “What do you think?”

“Why are the porch windows Saran wrapped?” Khell asked.

“The windows.”  Dad rapped on one of the thick plastic covers.  “It’s to keep the heat in,” he replied matter of factly.  “In the spring, we’ll take them all down.”  Dad looked expectantly for Khell to answer.

Khell looked hard at the lopsided house. “We should get inside,” she said finally.  Her feet were getting cold.

“Yes,” her dad agreed, sounding a bit crestfallen.  Still, he smiled as he fumbled with the keys.  “See the whole place, then decide what you think.”

Inside didn’t impress Khell much more than outside did.  The house had a thick dust and age smell to it, mixed with stale air, and a hint of rotten wood and oil.  Old furniture was covered by thick white sheets, which in turn were covered with a second sheet of dust.

The light gave a dull yellow glow when dad finally found a switch.  He led Khell down the hall to the kitchen, and then to a set of stairs going down to the basement. Khell pulled back, and stared at her father sceptically.

“You’re going to start the tour in the basement?” she questioned.

“It’s a finished basement,” he assured her.  “Not a, you know, creepy old house basement.  Besides, we need to warm the place up before we can get comfortable.”

“Warm the place up?” Khell couldn’t imagine why the heat wouldn’t be on already. After all; the lights were working, albeit barely.  She followed her father down the stairs.

Her dad said nothing until he’d led Khell past more covered furniture, and shelves of random boxes, to the far end of the basement.  “The old place has a woodstove,” he explained, pointing to an ancient cauldron shaped stove.  “We need fire to heat the house.”

Khell put her hands on her hips.  “You don’t know how to make a fire,” she stated with a smirk. “You can barely handle the ordinary oven.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” her dad replied, mocking hurt. “I can make fire.  Heck, people start fires by accident all the time; it can’t be that hard to do on purpose.”  He opened the gated mouth of the woodstove, and began to jam flammables from the pile nearby into the opening.

Khell watched over her dad’s shoulder.  He stuffed the woodstove with a full week of old newspapers, as well as a small tree’s worth of twigs.  Two giant logs crushed the whole mess down.  It looked like a pretty good start to a fire, though really Khell was just guessing as she’d never made fire exist before.

Dad nodded at his work.  He patted at his pockets, and looked up at Khell.  “Hey, you haven’t taken up smoking have you?” he asked.

“What?  Dad, no.”

“Good,” dad said.  “It’s a terrible habit. Never start.”  He stared into the open wood stove.  “Of course, if you were smoking, or if I was, one of us would have a lighter.”

Khell watched as her dad patted his pockets again; as though a lighter would magically appear there.  She giggled despite herself.  “Maybe the fire will start itself accidentally,” she offered.

Dad made a face at Khell before he stood, and began to search the shelves.  “There’s got to be some matches or something, right?” he said.

Khell watched her dad rummage for a while before standing up as well.  “I’ll go check upstairs,” she offered.  “Maybe the kitchen?”  Khell took her father’s grunt and dismissive wave as  a yes, and went back upstairs.

Khell searched through a few kitchen drawers, finding silverware, dishes, and a particularly large collection of elastics.  She did not find a lighter though, and decided to see what the rest of the first floor had to offer.

The main floor was all connected by a long central hallway; capped on either side by the living room (at the front) and the kitchen (at the back).  There was a bathroom; with a large claw footed tub, and flower printed tile walls.  There was a small sitting room that Khell was certain would be called a study, though she wasn’t sure.  There was an even smaller room that didn’t hold any purpose that Khell could see.  She named that the cloak room because why not? The living room had a pair of couches, and a piano, but no T.V. Finally, there was the library.

Khell had always been a fan of books, and would be lying if she told anyone she wasn’t interested in the library.  It was nearly the same size as the living room, and full ceiling to floor with shelves of books.  There was a large table in the middle of the room, lost under a stack of books waiting to be sorted, and a small nook near a large round window, perfect for just sitting and reading. Khell ran a finger over the spines of some of the books as she walked through the room.  She supposed that it shouldn’t be surprising that her grand folks had liked books enough to have a library; they did own a bookstore after all.

Of course, the library also seemed the least likely place to find a lighter.  Books and fire were never big friends after all. Khell sighed, and made a mental promise to come and check out the books soon. She was just about to close the library door, when she heard a soft thump from inside.

Khell held the doorknob, but didn’t look back in right away.  She was neither an easily frightened, nor superstitious girl, but this was a new unfamiliar house, and strange noises could really spook anyone.  Khell listened for a good few seconds for any more noise before she screwed up enough courage to look back in the library.

When she finally did look back in the library, she found that one of the books had slid from the table, and was lying on the floor. Khell mentally chastised herself as she picked up the stray literature.

Khell stared at the book.  It was older than any book she’d ever seen.  The cover was coated in a rusty red leather; worn thin along the edges.  The book’s spine was a thick brass hinge, and the corners had gilded brass protectors hammered on.  The title of the book was a series of markings Khell had never seen before, made of inlaid iron.  Below that was a large curled symbol of interwoven circles atop a thin metal band that ran the width of the book, and held it closed.

Khell squinted at the title of the book with a strange feeling that the markings would make sense if she stared at them long enough.  She ran a hand over the circle symbols, and found them to be warm.  The circles of it felt loose, like they could be moved about. Khell wondered if they had anything to do with the band sealing the book.

Khell’s heart skipped a beat as her dad’s shout broke the silence.  “I found one!” he yelled from the basement.  “Little magnetic box on the side of the pipe!  Ingenious really.”

“Alright dad!” Khell yelled back.  She put the book down on the table, and headed back towards the basement stairs.  Already the house was filling with the thick black smoke of her father’s first attempt to start a wood stove.

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