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.”
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.