Friday, April 21, 2017

The Alchemist's Widow: There is a Book Bigger than Myself, The Wizard’s Lair & Perceptions Aren’t Everything

<<Parts Seven & Eight

Parts Nine - Eleven

There is a Book Bigger than Myself
The winding path we took through the stacks left me dizzy and a bit less confused than I had been recently. Which was not entirely reassuring. We skirted a pond filled with emerald green water and strange fish with lamps on their heads. I suppose it made it easier to read the books contained on the rocky shelves lining the pond.
One fish folded out onto itself.
“That fish is a book.”
Chester paused, took a peak and nodded. “Moby Dick. He has grand delusions.”
“Or delusions of grandeur.” Variel commented.
I rolled my eyes. “Either way.”
Each cat shrugged and took off again. We went further back into the twisting ways of the shelves, having to avoid a section of shelving that seemed to conceal a smoking furnace. Or a dragon, I was almost certain I’d seen a serpentine tail tug back into the center of the smoke.
I shook my head to clear it of the idea of dragons and kept going, nearly losing the furry guides once in midst of a bog created by old copies of western serials and harlequin romances.
The stepping stones through the swamp were strong, iron-bound copies of War and Peace, it made sense in a twisted sort of way. I skipped gingerly over the decaying pages and muck to reach the safety of the solid floor composed of H.G. Wells’ novels.
“Is it much farther?”
“Just a bit more.” Chester called back. “Just a skip and a jump really.”
The skip was a crack in the floor at least two meters wide and far, far, deeper. While I watched, a piece of the crack’s side wall crumbled and fell. I didn’t hear it hit the bottom. The cats took the high road, jumping onto the left hand shelf of the two that crossed over the crack to scurry across the broad shelf like a bridge.
“I can’t jump this.”
“Grab hold of the shelves and shimmy across love,” Variel said, sitting at the edge on the other side. “Just hold tight to the shelves.”
I swallowed down my fear, wishing I was either big enough to jump the crack or small enough to walk the shelf like a bridge. I went to right hand shelf and stepped up onto the bottom shelf, gripping tight the one closest to level with my shoulders.
I closed my eyes tight, and started to slide across.
“Just a little further,” Variel encouraged.
I kept moving, kept sliding. I opened my eyes to look, and noted the length left to go. A shudder ran down my spine that I recognized as fear. The taste of it in my mouth was at once familiar and foreign. I didn’t know the last time I’d encountered fear. Not fear like this.
“Come on dear.”
I kept moving. The shelf here was dry, brittle and just as reached the halfway mark, it snapped beneath my feet. I shrieked as I was left hanging just by my hands.
“I can’t hold this!” I screamed. I felt tears, hot and cold running down my cheeks. “I don’t want to die…”
“You’re not going to die! Just keep moving!”
My nerves didn’t believe my cat. But the bookshelf did.
Calm down, Spellbinder. It said. We will help you.
There was a sudden solidity beneath my feet. A large book, bigger than myself, was floating beneath them.
Let go, the book will take you across.
All my life, I had trusted in the inanimate. I let go and allowed the book to float me across to the other side. I stepped off the book and onto solid ground. The book gave a bow like motion and settled onto the floor to open up.
The first page had bold block letters.
David Henry Crowley, Alchemist
“This…this is David’s book.” I touched the pages gently, it had rescued me. Just as David would have if he’d been there. “Will this really tell me where he is?”
“It should,” Chester said, sitting with his tail curled around his feet. “Look for the latest entry.”
I carefully turned the heavy parchment pages, soothed by the hushed tones. The newest entry was three quarters of the way through. I had to climb onto the pages to hold them down whilst I read.
“The Alchemist walks. He goes through a darkened door into the Wizard’s lair—” I read aloud, but the entry stopped there. “He’s with the Wizard.” Another shudder ran down my spine. “Where is the Wizard?”
Both cats looked at each other and then at myself. “He’s not easy to find. Well, no one has ever found him. And plenty have looked,” Variel said.
I climbed down off the book. “Well, I’m going to find him. And I think, I think I know how.” I straightened my shoulders. “If Maurice is right about the Wizard, he won’t pass up an opportunity.”
“What are you going to do?” Chester asked.
Variel seemed to understand. “No—Catherine—”
“My name is Catherine Crowley.” It was the magic of three. My name, spoken three times in Nowhere. I felt something, something not of myself, rush through me and everything around me went dark.

The Wizard’s Lair
I opened my eyes. My body was cold, and the stone floor I lie on explained that. I pushed myself off the floor and onto my feet.
“Catherine Crowley…” a sibilant whisper just to my left. The man standing there was not David, but he was someone I knew.
His hair was just a shade shy of black, though in the dark, it might as well have been black. His eyes were dark and glittered with some emotion I couldn’t fathom. Some emotion I’d long ago forgotten.
“Catherine.” His voice was breathy. “You—”
Me.” I stood tall, well, as tall as I could stand in the perception of myself. “Where is my husband?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Alchemist. David. Where is he?”
William’s eyes went wide. “David…is the Alchemist?”
“And you’re the scumbag that everyone in Nowhere is afraid of. Irony,” I snapped.
“I don’t hurt anyone. I just…keep the reputation up to avoid conflict. And my ex-girlfriend.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Where is he? His book told me he’d be here. The books do not lie. Not to me.”
“And the books are a bit behind. He hasn’t been here in some time. He came here, yes. But—he left.”
“Where did he go?”
“Catherine…if I’d known that he was your husband. If I’d known what you were…”
“Well, our family is just full—of secrets.” I breathed down shaking dry sobs. “Where is he?”
He stepped forward and kneeled to put arms around me. “He told me he had to run. That…someone was after him. He never told me who. We were actually pretty good friends. He was one of the few people that knew that I’m fairly harmless.”
“There must be something. He must have left something.”
He pulled away, a frown on his face. “What’s your other name?”
He rushed away to a table that had been hidden from sight by the darkness. Candles lit on their own around him as he shuffled through the contents and came up with a small wooden box. “He gave me this.” He crossed back to me and pressed the box into my hands. “He said it was for Spellbinder.”
I took the key from my neck and slipped it into the heart-shaped lock. There was a click and the box popped open. I retrieved the key first and slipped it back around my neck before pushing the box open further. Inside, there was an envelope.
I lifted it free of the box, which I returned to my brother. The envelope wasn’t sealed and contained a folded slip of paper.

Dearest Catherine,
Know that I would never leave you unless all other avenues were exhausted. I feared for your safety, and the safety of our child. My family has no love for you, as you well know. But before you jump to conclusions my love; they are not the ones that took me from you.
There is another, darker, power. He is the root of all danger in Nowhere and he discovered who I was in the world with you. I had no choice but to run.
I know you’re frightened and I know you miss me desperately, for I feel the same for you. But this is where the journey ends my love. Stop searching for me. You will only bring more pain to yourself and our child.
You can find a new life.
I will always love you,

I folded the letter back up and slid into my pocket.
“Well?” William asked.
“He wants me to stop looking.”
“Are you?”
“No.” I shook my head. “He doesn’t know I lost the baby.” I looked up at my brother. “But then…most of you didn’t even know I was pregnant.”
And by the look on his face, I gathered he was amongst them. “My god…Catherine. I didn’t know.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve been really insensitive. I—I guess I was afraid. I’d never seen anyone love anyone, like you love David. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” I swallowed down hurt feelings and let forgiveness flavor my words. A shiver of ran all over my skin and suddenly I felt so tired. “I have to find him. I know he’s in danger. I just know it.”
“Was there anything else in the letter? Anything about who was chasing him?”
“He said it was a dark power. Something more dangerous than his family. More dangerous than you.”
The darkness behind the darkness.
It was understanding so clear it shined off his face like a beacon. “You can’t…Catherine…you can’t.”
“What is it? Who is it?”
He blinked rapidly, shaking his head and chewing on his nails. “Someone everyone in Nowhere is afraid of, even me. Even the Librarian and the Enchanter fear him.”
“Fear who?”
“Winter. He…he is more dangerous than you can ever know.”
“Winter, the season?”
“No. Winter, the person. He’s cruel and cold and ruthless. And he hates David. He’d do anything to hurt him. Anything.”
“And I’ll do anything to get David back.” I met my brother’s eyes. “Anything.”
“Well, in that case, we’re going to have to go back to the other world. There’s only one way to get to Winter, and it’s out there.”
“Great. Let’s go.” 

Perceptions Aren’t Everything
“This isn’t a good idea.” William said, staring at the open door that led into my bedroom.
“Of course it is. For one thing, I need fresh clothes. For another, no one has clue where I am except you and Maurice.”
“He’s…the Locksmith.”
Before he could ask further questions, I went through the door. I found it slightly odd that the way out of Nowhere was simpler than the way in, but didn’t question it too much. You just don’t question things too closely in my experience. It only leads to pain.
William was out right after me. “Maurice is the Locksmith?”
“How long have you known?”
“A few hours. Not long.”
“Well, actually it’s about four days,” Maurice said from the doorway.
I sighed. “Great.”
“Um…Catherine…?” Maurice, and William too, were staring at me as though I’d grown an extra head.
“What?” Why was William still so tall? Why was Maurice so tall? “Oh no…” I took a peek at myself in my dressing mirror. “Oh no, oh no…You said perception was only in Nowhere!”
“It is.”
“Then explain this!” I gestured at my child-self. “This is not normal!”
“She’s right,” Maurice said. “This has never happened before.”
“Well, at least the family won’t recognize her and toss her the crazy bin.”
That was a point I could get onboard with. “Okay. So, where do we find Winter?”
Maurice looked at William. “You told her about Winter?”
“You aren’t surprised that I came out of Nowhere?”
“Not really.”
William looked at me. “You’re right Catherine, this family has way too many secrets.”
“Back to point, where do I find Winter? David…I know he has David.”
Maurice sighed. “There’s only one door to Winter’s territory. Your key will open the lock.”
“Where is the door?”
“I’ll take you there.”
We’ll take you there,” William corrected. “I want to help.”
“All right.” Maurice sighed. “Just remember, Winter is a dangerous man and he will stop at nothing to keep what he thinks is his.”
I steeled my shoulders. “David is mine, and no one will keep him from me.”
Maurice and William exchanged a look, but they at least had learned the most important lesson a man can ever learn.
Never step between a woman and the person she loves. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Upcoming Appearance! (Updated)

Hello all! You may have seen me mention this on Twitter or elsewhere, but I'll be attending the International Steampunk Symposium as a panelist at the end of April. I'll be puttering about the writing panels, but my main involvement is with the two panels Sophia and I put together.

The first is already up on the Pandora Society blog.

Steaming Ahead: Navigating Indie & Self-Publishing

A look at the differences, pros and cons, and how to get started self-publishing or with a small press. This discussion will be led by Sophia Beaumont and Ash K. Alexander, veteran authors in these publishing waters.


Our second panel is also up!

Datamining: Writer's and Research

It's historical research 101, basically, so if you're curious about the methods and madness that goes into historical research, this is the panel for you.

The convention runs April 28-30th and Sophia and myself will be there for the duration. I can't wait to meet all of the other attendees and panelists, and I'm particularly excited to help all of those attending on their publishing journey in any way that I can.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Alchemist's Widow: Nowhere is Better than Here & The Dewey Decimal System is Irrelevant

<<Parts Five & Six
Parts Seven & Eight

Nowhere is Better than Here
“Catherine?” There was the barest of touches, fingertips resting on my cheek. “Catherine?” A voice I knew…not David. A hint of French. “Cheri?”
“Maurice?” I opened my eyes. The large, pleasant smelling man stood over me. He removed his hand from my cheek and smiled. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought you might need these.” He reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a silver key and a piece of chalk. “It amazes me that you could lose them so quickly.”
I took them from his hand, but my own was shaking. “I don’t understand…”
“Neither did I—until you stepped into my little patch of Nowhere.” His eyes twinkled, flashing bicolor.
I felt my eyes widen, the key whispered for understanding. “You? You’re the—”
He pressed a finger to my lips. “I am what I am.”
“You could have asked my door to open you know.” I spoke around his finger. Of all the things to say, that popped out of my mouth. Of course, it wasn’t like there was a right thing to say when one found out their brother-in-law was a…a…whatever the hell it was that we were.
“Sorry, that would have been suspicious. Your mother was right there.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I didn’t know David was the Alchemist. The two look nothing alike. Besides, he only ever referred to his wife as Spellbinder. How could I know it was you?” He shook his head. “Granted, looking back it was an obvious connection.”
“Yeah…but how did you not notice me talking to…everything?”
“I only noticed it after David…left. I assumed it was a manifestation of grief. You lost your husband and your child in the space of hours. Who was I to say what was normal?”
“I have to go back to the manor. Mr. Crowley is hiding something.” I sat up and was immediately reminded of the duck gown. “I’ll need some clothes I think.”
“You’ll need more than clothes. Francis Crowley is a dangerous man. They know him in Nowhere as the Enchanter. His power lets him control people. I assume it’s why he’s dislikes you so much.”
“I don’t understand.” I swung my legs out over the side of the bed.
“Your power over the inanimate protects you from his power. It might even protect you from the Wizard’s power…” He looked thoughtful for a moment before shaking his head. “In any case, Crowley isn’t who you need to talk to. I should have thought of it earlier actually.” From the pocket of his coat he drew out a book.
Through the Looking Glass?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Mr. Carroll had quite a few things right. Mirrors, rabbit holes, windows, doorways…they can all lead you someplace unexpected. They can lead you to Nowhere. Alice…she is a real person that came to Nowhere through a rabbit hole, and again through a mirror.”
“So, Mr. Carroll came to Nowhere.”
“No. Just Alice. Of course, her name isn’t Alice and she certainly wasn’t a little girl but perception made her different from reality. We call her the Librarian. She has the power to bring written word to life. In Nowhere, her power is unmatched. She can create anything. A very large part of Nowhere is under her control. What you have to do is find it. Find the Library and talk to her. Because believe me, if anyone knows where David is, she does.”
“How do I get there from here? The only door I know of is in David’s lab.” It wasn’t like the hospital staff would just let me walk out of here.
“Get dressed, and I’ll show you.”
“So you control all the doorways to Nowhere?”
“I do.” He knelt by the door, fiddling with the keyhole. “It’s my power to create passages. I also come in handy if you lock your keys in your car.”
I snickered. “And you married my brother because?”
“I love him, and he’s a very unique man.”
“I’ll give you that.” Edward was a good man, but unique was the only way to describe him. Edward was a therapist that specialized in hypnosis. Apparently he made a good living getting people to quit smoking.
“He’s a lot like you.”
“Like me?” I snorted. “I doubt that.”
“You used to restore antiques right? You like to fix things. I assume that’s because you feel for them. You love every object you come in contact with. Edward is the same way, but with people.”
“He’s not—”
“One of us? No. Just a good man.”
“He’ll die long before you will, won’t he?”
“Yes.” He stood up, sliding his tools back into his pocket. “We’re all set.”
I let the uncomfortable subject slide away and put on my coat. The chalk was in my pocket and my key was back around my neck. “I’m ready.”
He opened the door, revealing the same black threshold as the door in the lab. “Be careful, cheri.”
I nodded, and stepped through the door.

The Dewey Decimal System is Irrelevant
The winding road hadn’t shortened in my absence. Variel, however, was waiting for me. Her tail twitched in greeting.
“You look worse. Did someone hit you?”
“Francis Crowley, actually.” I stretched. “I need to find the Librarian. So says the mighty Maurice.”
“Ah…so I take it he told you then.”
“He did. And why didn’t you tell me who he was?”
“I assumed he would tell you when he was ready. As for the Librarian…” She stood up and turned. “I can take you there.”
“Remind me to scratch out Crowley’s eyes, won’t you?”
I smiled. “Will do.” I stretched, getting back into the groove of my shorter legs and arms. “So, will the Librarian give me the information, or will I need to bribe her with something?”
Variel shrugged. “It depends on her mood.”
She started walking, and I skipped to follow her. “So she’s temperamental.”
“She’s a bit mad actually. But then, most of the semi-permanent residents of Nowhere are.”
“Good to know.”
Walking in Nowhere is a strange experience. We passed the territories of persons I’d prefer not meet. Skull decorated trees covered a stretch of over a mile in length along the road in one, another had the road pocked with pits of boiling cheese and still another was a broad grass field where chickens the size of steer pecked and preened.
Variel ignored it all, intent on the road ahead and some destination I could not fathom. So it was when a great glass building, like a green house in style and shape, rose in the horizon, I did not expect it when Variel paused.
“That’s the Library.”
“It looks like a greenhouse.”
“That’s a good way to put it.” She stretched. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
She took off again, and before too long, we were at the foot of the Library which rose at least four stories above the earth. A grand door faced the road. Built of glass, it was stained and covered in flowering vines. Whatever image it depicted was obscured.
“Knock thrice and then back away. If she’ll see us, she’ll open the door.”
“And if she won’t?”
“We should run.”
I shook away my nerves and steeled myself for the door. My knock rang out, bell sounds. I knocked three times and stepped back. The door opened, whispering greeting.
“I think the door likes me.”
“Good. That should make things simpler.”
“Simple isn’t always best.” This from the woman who popped into the doorway. She appeared to be no older than myself in the other world, but her hair was blonde and her eyes blue. She wore a dusty housecoat and wire rimmed glasses perched dangerously on her nose.
“Are you…the Librarian?”
“I am the Librarian and I mean you no harm.” She smiled. “I mean you no harm, I mean you no harm.” There was a fuzz of light and the words appeared over her head in light for a moment and dissipated in a shower of golden sparks. “There, bound and promised. Come in.”
 “Thank you.”
She stepped back away from the door and allowed us entrance, Variel keeping close to my feet. “I suppose you’re here for information.”
“I’m looking for my husband.”
“The Alchemist, yes. I have a book on him…though where it is…”
The “where it is” became more of a difficult question as I got a clear view of the interior of the building. The glass walls and ceiling were tangled with vines that let in meager light. But inside those walls…Spiral stairs led up to three loft levels raised above the floor we stood on by Greek pillars. And everywhere there were shelves. Taller than myself and taller than any shelves I’d seen before.
There were books of all shapes and sizes, piled on shelves, heaped on the floor, covering tables and occupying chairs. The Library was a maze of books and shelving and disrepair.
“How will we find it in this? Do you use the Dewey Decimal System or something?”
She flapped her hand. “Psh. The Dewey Decimal system is irrelevant. I use my own system. Everything is sorted chronologically. Of course, time is relative in Nowhere, so it’s chronological to my own personal life. The 1800s are over there.” She pointed to the stairs to the second loft. “The 1900s are left of the tea room,” she waved her hand in a vague direction. “1844 has its own room downstairs and personal memoirs, which don’t apply to the time line, are all on the fourth floor.”
“So where do I find David’s book?”
She tapped a finger against her cheek. “Well, it’s probably with the personnel files in the eastern wing. I believe I keep everyone’s books there. You’ve even got one.”
“Can I see it?” I was curious to know what it would say.
“Oh no, that’s against the Rules. And believe me; you don’t even want to try looking at the rules. Takes up my whole sub-basement that one.”
“Can you show me where this wing is?”
She snapped her fingers and an orange tabby cat slithered off a nearby shelf where apparently he’d been sleeping. “This is the Librarian’s Cat, also known as Chester. He can help you find the book. He knows this place better than I do.”
“I can help too,” Variel complained. “I’ve been here before.”
“But you aren’t the Librarian’s Cat.” Chester mrowled. “I will help the Spellbinder.”
“Well she isn’t going with you alone.”
“Is there anyone in this place that can resolve a situation without arguing?”
Both cats turned to me, guilty looks on their whiskered faces.
“If that’s done, let’s go find David’s book.”
The cats nodded, and with tails raised, they took off into the stacks. I sighed, and with a nod to the Librarian, took off after them.  
Parts Nine - Eleven>>