A little story dedicated to Aloft Incumbent
Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha
Of all the libraries in all the world she had to walk into mine. No, my name’s not Rick and I don’t own a bar. I don’t even drink much anymore, but a warm brandy with a sweet companion would not go amiss in these dusty halls.
Books, books, books everywhere I look: in rows and columns of literary accountancy, duly classified and ordered; mulch for future minds to take root and grow in, or wilt and die of boredom.
I was nodding off over the conjuration for inferior spirits in my Grimoire - OSURMY + DELMUSAN + ATALSLOYM + CHARUSIHOA + MELANY- when the great double doors of the old building creaked and grated open with a crash. The light streamed in from the gothic arch of the doorway and turned the dancing dust motes into a galaxy of diurnal stars.
Framed in the entrance was the tall, bony figure of a man, wearing an incongruous beret, and by his side a smaller, girlish form. With the light behind them and the sudden shock of the illumination, I could not see the figures clearly, but the man appeared to be wearing dark glasses, which he did not remove in the gloom of the vaulted entrance.
There had been a similar disturbance a month or two before - I lose track of time in here by myself – when two men had made a quick tour of the building, scribbled some notes and left. I surmised they were an estate agent and perhaps a solicitor from their appearances and demeanour. One had remarked that the building should be torn down to make way for a state school, but that some covenant prevented this. Then they left, crunching down the gravel path to their horseless carriage.
The library sits on land that had once housed monks, living behind Ethelbert’s great cathedral constructed around 604AD. The present building, though, is a peculiar neo-gothic edifice with a pointed cupola of sixteen segments. Beneath every second window juts a double tier of shelves; three stories high, each with its iron balustrades. It was from this vantage point that I looked down on the interlopers.
Running to the centre of the radiating shelves the girl-woman danced in a circle, staring up at the cupola and declared, “This is all mine, I can’t believe it Poppa, it’s really mine.” The man moved slowly forward and rested his hand on one of the carved reading tables, bending a stiff neck upward to look at the shafts of light streaming from the dome. “You’ll have to find a buyer, but who would want such a crumbling relic? The rates alone will send us broke in a couple of months.”
“But there was money too, I want to use some of it to open it all up again, so everyone in the world can enjoy these wonderful books,” she replied.
The man, saying nothing, looked at the ground before making a move towards the door.
“Wait Poppa, wait,” she cried in alarm, running towards him, “I have to look at the books, we can’t just leave them alone again after coming so far.”
Removing his glasses, he turned to embrace her briefly. “We have to see the solicitors, what was their name?”
“I forget. I don’t care what their silly name is. Humbug and Humbug or some English name.”
“Oh yes, Humboldt and Humboldt,” the man said. “You’ll have to come, we’ve done the inspection and now we have to sign the papers.”
With a last look round, she followed him towards the doors, which were pulled together with difficulty, slammed home and locked.
The sound of their departure resonated in the gloom, leaving a peculiar ring of emptiness in my ears. The girl reminded me of Teresa (honey haired after the dark of treacle moon), but perhaps younger than the Venetian’s nineteen years. Memory, for me, is like the surface of some unfinished sculpture; smooth in the completed parts but rough in those unweathered by time. Who I was then is not who I am now, a wraith of times past wandering along the bookshelves, looking for an as yet unwritten life.
It is many years since this tomb was filled with warm bodies: sitting at the oak tables, rifling through file drawers, requesting access to the rare books section or furtively stealing books they were too ashamed to buy. An endowment from a wealthy 19th Century industrialist, soon to become a Baron, had seen the library built and stocked from the great house of its founder; not me I hasten to add. This remark may seem strange, but my identity is uncertain until sculpted by the author’s hand. Until that happens I am imprisoned in this library until imagination attains a sharper reality.
Now, where was I before the interruption? Ah, yes, the spirits which are so neglected in this peculiar phase of human history when science takes the lead in the empire of materialism. It seems I may have use for FRIMOST, BRULEFER and maybe SIDRAGOSAM. But then I would need a material body, which is hard to get. I must conjure the body of the fair boy; though unusually red he may be pleasing to her. But maybe she won’t return and I will have to find something else to think about.
My heart leapt in anticipation when the key next turned in the lock, but it was only a pair of contract cleaners dressed in blue overalls emblazoned with the logo SCRUBUCLENE. After a long search for a tap one was duly found but the water had been turned off to prevent burst pipes in winter. The electricity had been turned on the week before and the pair contented themselves with vacuuming the vast expanse of floors and walkways and doing some cursory dusting of books and shelves. During this cacophony I took refuge in the cellars where my silk lined sarcophagus provided welcome relief from the noisy intruders.
Like the chrysalis of a giant Amazonian butterfly, I sleep for a long time. My sleep is not intermittent as I remember human sleep to be, but simply an awakening into a clear but terrible land. When I awake into each dream, I am truly free, and no longer bound by invisible bonds of my intangible wraith like existence in the library.
Now, in this high place, the wind is cold but the unnatural power of my blood makes me hot with desire for action. Raising my arms, I unfurl my wings and spring from the precipice, borne up as much by the magnetic force of my being as by the gusting wind.
When I awake again to the living death of the library, my head is filled with burning memories, of strange encounters and deadly strife, of ravaging and death peculiar to the spirit world, of heightened cravings satisfied, for the time being.
I struggle up from the tomb, weary from the dream. Head pounding, sore eyes stinging. The memories of life quickly fade into the grey walls of the cellar with its illusion of solidity. I struggle back up the stairs into the library, to the strains of unfamiliar and rather primitive music.
The girl is dancing round one of the long tables, book in hand, stuffing something into her mouth, which could be nuts or perhaps chocolate, but I cannot see clearly yet through my half closed eyes. She seems to have been here for some time, judging by the mess on the table, which includes some kind of musical device, which makes a very loud sound echoing through the empty space of the hall. In my human existence there was much excitement at the invention of the pianoforte, but now pianissimo has given way to a not entirely unpleasing rhythmic fortissimo from a relatively tiny instrument. One almost expects Gabriel will have to come up with something more impressive than a long tube of brass for his next visit to this god-forsaken realm.
I see from the clock over the main desk that it is nearly half past three in the afternoon (who keeps winding the clocks, I wonder).
I quickly call upon CLISTHERT to change day into night. The clock remains unchanged but the windows become dark as night instantaneously falls. I always thought it queer that day breaks and night falls but remains intact.
The girl stops in mid jig at the sudden change but does not scream, as she surely would have done if the pendant lights had not been turned on. I realise my error as she rushes to the door to investigate, and struggle to remember the spell for locking doors.
Quickly, quickly, Yes! ABRACADABRA becomes ARBADACARBA and works both ways, the door is safely secured; she cannot escape.
Unprepared as I am, there is one spell that is second nature, the art of making, and I use it now to make myself appear: Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha.
I spring down from my perch and land at her feet. She jumps back in terror but then bends down to pick me up, holding me in her arms, her alarm at the diurnal catastrophe seemingly relieved by my sudden appearance.
“Oh what a beautiful boy,” she says, “I’m going to keep you forever. Wait until I show Poppa what a lovely pussy I’ve found.”
I purred contentedly, and vowed to bide my time until the circumstances were right for my next transformation.