If you haven’t started this story from the beginning, this one won’t make too much sense. I suggest you start here before continuing.
Sarah automatically headed toward her car, and was surprised to find Jack heading toward his truck.
“Hey,” she called to him. “I parked over here.”
Jack eyed her. “You’re kidding, right?”
She hit the remote once, unlocking the car and letting the taillights flash. Jack should easily be able to read which one. “Why would I be kidding?”
“I’m not letting you drive. No offense.”
If Sarah had anything in her mouth, she would have spit it out. “This is my home town. I know where we’re going.”
“Then you’re welcome to navigate.”
“Uh, no. I’m driving.” A part of her knew she was being petty, that it didn’t matter really, but she wasn’t going to be chauffeured around, especially at the mercy of some men she barely knew. She was going to take her car, or not at all.
“If we find the library, we’ll want to have the trailer,” Jack protested.
“You’d leave me behind over your precious trailer?” she asked, incredulous.
Victor stepped in then, hand on Jack’s shoulder but looking at Sarah. “We have two cars, and two drivers. We can figure this out, can’t we?”
She watched Jack sigh, and for a moment she thought he’d argue again. Instead, he looked at her with a smile, though it was easy to tell he was far from happy. “I’ll follow you. Fair?”
“Sounds good.” Sarah realized that she let it get out of hand, so she shrugged, hoping her thoughts came across as lighter than before. “I’ll race you!” She flicked her keys around into her palm and pranced almost all the way to her to the car before a thought struck her. “Victor?” There was only one of him. “Want to ride with me?”
The older man looked between them, but Jack hadn’t turned around from his own destination. A flash of broken sadness crossed Victor’s face, but once he looked to Sarah again, he was projecting nothing but that dry nod. “Sure.”
“Want to talk about it?” she asked as soon as he had seated himself in the car next to her.
For a supposedly ancient human being, he was not a great liar. “You can answer no,” she told him as she started up the car, teasing. Then she realized she hadn’t answered his question. “Jack.” Just in case she wasn’t clear.
As he answered, Victor was checking the mirrors even though Sarah was the one pulling out of the parking spot. “I haven’t figured out how to reach him yet. His fiancée was my student, his mentor was my childhood best friend. Yet him? I don’t know.” The worn man sighed heavily.
“You probably remind him of them. Both of them,” Sarah told him. She had barely heard the younger talk about either. She didn’t even know his mentor’s name. The only reason she knew Julia’s is because Victor had told her.
“But he worked so well with both of them.”
Sarah didn’t want to be insulting by saying it, but this wasn’t about them, not really. “What do you two have in common? Besides them.”
She glanced at Victor when he didn’t answer right away, but he was staring out the windshield, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe we should figure that out, then,” she suggested, hoping to cheer him up.
“Why not?” Had she overstepped her bounds?
Something akin to a chuckle washed over form the seat next to her. “I’m glad you’ve decided to join us, Sarah.”
Finding Old Town was much easier than driving in a style Jack could keep up with. For all his macho-bravado at wanting to drive, he never stole a yellow or even gunned it to the speed limit in order to keep up with Sarah. She decided this was proof that she had made the right call and was, in fact, the better driver, despite whatever stereotype he may be trying to reinforce.
As the speed limit on the freeway dropped, she could see the town clearly divide din two. On the left were all the historical buildings, complete with crumbling bricks and polished placards in front. On the right was the populated part of the town, complete with a blackberry stand and gas station with prices far too high for being this close to the city. She pulled in, finding a parking spot with RV parking nearby for Jack and his precious trailer to fit.
“Ready?” she asked the pair, watching the traffic pass between them and the ruins.
“You seem excited,” Jack commented.
She glanced over her shoulder at him and grinned. “Exploring ruins, finding a long-lost library, saving the world. What’s not to be excited about?”
“That’s certainly a… dramatic way of looking at it.”
“This area has always been on my someday list. It’s always a good day when today is that someday.”
Traffic lulled, and Sarah took the opportunity to dart across the freeway. The men followed her with less certainty, but equal results.
“Don’t you have a someday list?” she asked. Victor led the way to the crumbling building all the way to the left, though it wasn’t closest. He must have decided to systematically search instead of going with their instincts. Or, more accurately, Jack’s instincts, as he was the one most likely to remember anything.
Jack stepped up beside her, also watching and following Victor. “Bucket lists aren’t really a thing with us.” She’d always hated that term – bucket list; it sounded like she was waiting to die, not deciding to live.
“Why not?” she asked without thinking. Together they followed Victor to his first chosen building.
“We don’t really die,” he explained slowly. She felt him glance at her again, and when she looked his way, he had a small grin on his face. He was quite handsome when he smiled.
What was she thinking? Sarah shook her head, realigning it with their task at hand.
“Anything?” Victor asked as soon as they reached him.
“Nothing interesting, no.”
Sarah spotted no fences, no hanging chain barriers to keep them out, so she stepped off the sidewalk and into the roofless building. There was a “BLACKSMITH” sign painted over the window, but no other indicators this place was any different from the others. Besides the placard, which she had neglected to read. On further inspection inside, there were scorch marks along the back corner, though if it came from the work once done here or some fire that had eventually emptied the building for good, she had no way to know.
Sarah couldn’t help but wonder at all the stories as they passed from place to place. Many of the buildings shared a wall with another, so they all lined up neatly. Victor was more closely examining the spaces inside, while Jack was focused on the outside, but there honestly wasn’t much to see. The history was cool and all, but all thoroughly explored as tourists like herself visited.
They were in the fifth of six buildings when a change visibly overtook Jack. Sarah hadn’t bothered to return to the sidewalk between buildings, but she could see him stop and stare. Alarmed, she glanced around, but she couldn’t see anything of interest, especially not inside the building where Jack was facing. They were alone.
Jack only shook his head, swallowing as he stared around the ruins.
It was a church, Sarah could tell on a second glance. Posts ran deep into the ground for a raised platform on the far side, away from the street where it could easily be imagined a pulpit would stand. An empty circle in the brick wall behind it probably once held stained glass. Even a stack of bricks on the west side could have once sheltered whispered confessions.
The younger man simply swallowed again as he stared around. Victor was by his side a moment later, hand on Jack’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. The pair behaved like father and son together, at least as it seemed to Sarah. The scene was beautiful, despite the eerie sadness that had descended with the change in Jack.
“This is where they held my funeral. I watched as they carried my body –” His eyes traced the center of the room, from the far end to next to him, then behind into the freeway. “I – I promised myself I’d never come back.” Yet here he was. It was clear Jack shared her thought, though no one voiced it.
“Her funeral,” Victor clarified, reassuring. “They carried Lucy’s body there, not Jack’s. Not yours. Harold promised himself he’d never return, and he fulfilled that promise. You are more than them.” It struck Sarah how absurd this all might sound to an outsider – to her, even, this time yesterday – but it made perfect sense now, even compelling Jack into a slow, then hurried nod.
“Tell me about her? Lucy?” Sarah’s theater training formed a character in her mind around the name alone, but this was real life, she knew. More important was the personality anyway. Getting in the mindset of the character might be helpful in their quest to find the library.
“She was meticulous,” a half-laugh escaped Jack, “to a fault. Stupidly organized. Wrote down everything. Even carried a –” he watched his own hand open and close twice – “journal-notebook thing. In a time when ink was expensive and writing cumbersome, she was never without.”
The description made sense, considering that Lucy had penned an entire library. Sarah didn’t have to prompt Jack to continue.
“Harold didn’t need to handle any of the funeral arrangements, even,” Jack informed them, eyes following an imaginary procession across the freeway. The historic cemetery wasn’t far from their vehicles, Sarah knew.
“Did you want to visit her grave site?” Sarah asked. It might trigger another memory, and this area was too picked over for any clues to be left behind by tourists.
Victor shot her a strange look, but didn’t argue.
The suggestion seemed to snap Jack out of his trance, however. “It’s a good idea. More likely she left clues there than here.” He turned and bolted across the freeway before Sarah could catch up to where Victor had been left behind on the sidewalk.
A question burned in her as they watched the next entourage of traffic go by. “How did he not remember that sooner?”
Victor’s eyes were on Jack, not the cars as they sped across their vision. “All of his mentor’s memories are in him somewhere, just as mine are in you now.” A disturbing thought. “Without her consciousness in him, though, he doesn’t know which memories exist in order to call them up. They need to be triggered. Scents are some of the best ways to do that, if you can, but places work too.” Traffic slowed, and together they jogged across.
“Hence my delusions last week.” Yesterday.
“They were real. They happened.” His tone was almost chastising. Right. They happened to him.
“No need to apologize when learning something new.”
Jack was in their line of sight, though he hadn’t waited for them after he finished crossing. He had spotted the iron gate that let people into the graveyard and nearly reached it.
Suddenly Victor’s step stalled beside her. “Go to him. Hurry.” She glanced at the older man, but his eyes were elsewhere.
Another threat? Already? “I can help,” she offered.
Victor turned to her with an aggression she immediately recognized as motivated by fear. “Now.” The order was clipped and pointed.
She could see the grove of trees Jack had disappeared behind, but hated to leave Victor with whatever it was that scared him so. She didn’t know how to help, though.
Suddenly a thought struck her, one that motivated her feet obey, running to the man closer to her age. She may not be able to help Victor, but she could help Jack.
The younger spun, eyes landing on Sarah as soon as she rounded the Iron gate separating the cemetery from the tiny town. “What?” he asked, ever alert.
“He sent me away, to you.”
“He didn’t say.” Was she disobeying Victor by saying something? “He was scared, Jack.”
“Stay here.” Jack swore, including Victor’s name in his curses as he brushed past her shoulder. She wanted to go with him, but a finger blocked her path, jabbing at the gravestone on the ground. “Stay.”
Obedient, Sarah watched him take the same path she had until he disappeared into the grove of trees that separated the noisy road from the pensive graveyard.
What now? Her heart was slowing – eased by the peaceful environment – despite the unknown threat that kept her company away. Good thing she had brought her own car. She didn’t want to get stuck now.
What was she thinking? She had no reason – no right – to abandon them like that. But she wasn’t exactly a help, either. Not with the threat, anyway.
Maybe with the library? Sarah turned to the grave Jack had been staring at when she arrived. There was a short monument at the head, topped by a lean and warrior-esque female angel, looking down at a book in both hands. Sarah had to smile. From what little she knew about Jack’s predecessor, the statue seemed fitting.
The thin slab of concrete that marked the grave underneath hadn’t fared as well, with many cracks spider webbing across the face of it. The name was still legible, though:
DAUGHTER OF KNOWLEDGE, MOTHER TO ALL
The weathering made the words difficult to read, connecting portions of the letters so that the TT combined to look like an arch, and the C in the first name looked more like an O.
A thought occurred to Sarah as she looked down, pondering the woman. Lucy had planned her own funeral. Could she have hidden the library here? There were no mausoleums, no obvious places to hide an underground passage or place to store large quantities of books. Sarah wasn’t about to start digging up graves in search of some mythical library. And Jack remembered the funeral, so it probably wasn’t this one.
There might be a clue, though. One that the public would overlook for more than a century? Unlikely, but Sarah saw no harm in determining that for herself.
The angel’s book? Where else? It would take a bit of a climb, but she could make it. With a glance around to ensure privacy – she was alone – Sarah pulled herself up onto the pedestal, on even footing with the angel.
It was shorter than her now, so Sarah could clutch the head for balance as she looked over the shoulder at the book. Gibberish. There was enough to make it look like text, but no spaces and very few vowels. Enough detail to show five paragraphs total, but not enough to decode. Sarah scanned for a patter, but spotted nothing apparent. Dead end. Well, it was worth a shot.
Just as she was letting herself down, Sarah noticed something. The first letter of each paragraph was round. OCCOC. A clue?
She hopped down and stared at the monument again, otherwise bereft of text. Something circular, maybe? The pedestal and the gravestone were both rectangular. Sarah could tell without trying that the angel wasn’t going to spin away.
The only text was the gravestone. Sarah knelt by it again, examining it closer. The crack connecting the ends of the C ran deep. It could be. Couldn’t it? Sarah scraped the debris away from the carving and crack, and the concrete rocked like a knob as she touched it. Unaware what compelled her to test her theory, Sarah pushed a finger at the center of the letter.
It stiffly receded.
Alarmed, Sarah recoiled, and the concrete slid back into place. What had she done? Sarah waited a full ten seconds for something to happen, though she had no idea what to expect. A monster worthy of an episode of Star Trek could be released to hunt her down, or perhaps a poison gas come to wipe her out, despite the fact that she was outside.
Had she imagined it?
She pushed it again, this time hearing a small scraping from the pedestal synchronized with her movement. The sound was definitely real.
Every book and movie she knew exploded in her imagination at once, all suggesting that this was it: a secret passage, unlocked by this button.
But what about the O? The book had read of Os and Cs. Scanning the gravestone again, Sarah pushed the third letter in KNOWLEDGE, but it didn’t budge. None of the others, either. Was it a red herring? No, it wouldn’t make sense to leave that clue next to the Cs. This open to the public, it made sense to hide the library behind a second layer of security. Maybe a number, not a letter? Why not? Sarah pushed the zero in the second date.
It fell away too, same as the C had. Another scraping from inside the pedestal, from the other side. Pushing both simultaneously, it was obvious something had been lifted out of place, unlocking something inside.
The only problem was, once she released, it fell back into place. She couldn’t hope to move the pedestal with both fingers jammed into the gravestone.
“Well, I don’t like leaving him there,” Jack’s voice reached her.
Sarah spun, partially proud for her discovery and the rest guilty for disturbing the grave.
One of Victor’s arms hung lower than the other, telling Sarah he had been injured in the fight. He should have let her help!
“What did you do?” Jack asked.
“Figured it out,” Sarah responded, feeling particularly sassy. “Well, nearly,” she amended as she faced the angel again. She waited for the men to catch up before kneeling and demonstrating. “Watch this.”
The scraping in the pedestal had to be obvious, even from their standing position.
“Huh,” came Victor’s response.
Jack waited a little longer before responding. “That’s it?” Wasn’t it enough?
Victor stepped forward. “It was meant for two people to open. A mentor and a student.” He examined where the pedestal met the granite foundation. “Jack, if you would?” he asked as he stepped back, dangling his arm uselessly. “Sarah.”
She pushed both, easily hearing the answering scraping. Jack leaned into the angel the moment Victor was clear.