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. 

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