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The Library

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by KJC



What happened to the clocks?


Alan could not remember how long it had been.  What happened to the clocks?  The year was 2170 AD . . . was it not?  Or was it 3170?  Or 1870?  And what of the time?  What was the time?  Was it more than the counting of hours between a sunrise and a sunset?


The young man stumbled through a dark forest.  The world as he knew it was dark.  What lay behind the dark expanse called the Atlantic Ocean?  Surely it was nothing.  If there was something, it could only be just as dark as the land he was walking.


He had walked for days and did not know why he had started to travel.  How long had it been?  Was it when his parents had died?  Was it after he saw them cannibalized by neighbors he had grown up with?  Was it when he lost the safety of the shelter he had lived in all his life?


No.  He knew when he started walking.  It was when he began to wonder where the clocks had gone.


It was more than just the clocks, though.  Something seemed missing.  No one wondered about anything anymore.  There was no thirst for knowledge, no hunger for unknowns.  There was only the need for survival in a cruel world.


The forest around him pressed in as if to suffocate him.  No one liked forests.  They were not safe.  Many who entered them did not return, and none would ever follow their trail to see what had become of them.  Stories were told that those who mentioned books were taken into forests by unseen entities and never heard from again.  Why books?  What was wrong with them?  Alan had never seen one in his life.  What was it about the books?  And whatever happened to the clocks?


Alan was coming up on a canopy of vines dangling over the trail.  The vines looked like a large gnarly curtain, stretched across the trail for a purpose, but what the purpose was, Alan did not know.


Tentatively reaching out his hand when he came up to the vines, the feeling of dread came upon him, overwhelming.  He pushed the vines aside with a bit of effort, and gasped at what lay beyond them.


Before him was a beautiful pure white building set in a sun glazed clearing.  He had never seen anything more beautiful in his life.


The building was huge.  A large, pearl-white dome set on top of the building, and carved white pillars were arranged around the building.  Two sets of dark wooden doors were secured in the front of the building, their entrances firmly shut.  Vines embraced the pillars, climbing gracefully up the beautiful surfaces in an effort to reach the sun that hid behind gray clouds, peeking out occasionally to taunt all in the surrounding area.


The one thing on the building that most caught Alan’s attention was the beautifully etched golden letters above the doorway.  Library.


He stared at that word so hard, that he staggered out from behind the vines and nearly tripped on a fallen tree branch.  It was as though he was afraid the word would disappear.


“Library . . .” he whispered to himself.  “Li-brar-y.”  He sounded out every syllable, tasting the word like a piece of cake.


What was it?


He stepped closer, afraid the building would vanish, afraid it wasn’t real.  Was this what he had been looking for?


The letters flashed above the door as a ray of sunlight struck it.  Library.  The word seemed to have almost a mystical meaning.  How did the building get there and what was it for?


There was only one way to find out.  Discarding his cloak on a fallen tree, Alan wiped the sweat from his brow and walked up the steps of the building.  His steps were cautious, his stance as though a deer ready to take flight.  The building was like none anyone had seen, and just knowing that he could be the first person to set foot into the phenomenon was enough to put Alan on the edge.


Cautiously, he reached out a hand to touch the smooth wood of the doors.  A brass handle jutted out at waist level, and Alan grasped it tentatively and pulled down.


The door cranked open to a peaceful cool darkness within.  Alan could make out large figures in the shaft of light that hit the room from the doorway, but what they were, he could not tell.


Not far before him, he could make out a long table with a few objects sitting on it.  His heart pounding, he made his way forward.  Behind the table, a wide stairway with gracefully carved handles led down into a black pit, another level or a basement perhaps.  There were hundreds of shelves on the main floor, which Alan decided to explore first.  The shelves were neatly placed and in perfect rows.  The shelves were jam packed, and Alan gasped when he reached them and discovered what they held.


Books!  Thousands and thousands of books!  There were books as far as the eye could see on the whole main floor, filling every shelf to maximum capacity.


The shock of his discovery made Alan’s knees weak.  Who had ever heard of such a thing?  Never had he seen a book in his life.  They were only spoken of in whispers.  There was one old man who claimed to have seen one years ago in his hometown, but his sanity was also in question.


Of course everyone knew the basics of how to read, but the only purpose for reading was to read signs or directions scratched in dirt.  Here was a whole resource, with billions upon billions of words to read.


Alan browsed through the shelves for several hours in wonder, pulling out a few titles that interested him.  One in particular jumped out at him: “The Great War of 2060,” by John A. Fowler.


Shadows began to grow in the doorway when a strange shriek rent the air inside the building, echoes bouncing off the walls in increasing pitches that made Alan’s ears ring in pain.  As the strange sound subsided, he noticed a glow of light emanating from the back of the building.  He paused.  Should he face the unknown or flee?


His curiosity overcame his fear.  He advanced down the long aisles of books towards the back of the room, following the light to a large empty expanse in the back of the building, devoid of any items except one: a metal stand upon which sat a large book, its pages open.  In the space where one of the pages would be, a strange whirling light was forming.  The light filled the space within the book and Alan shrank back, his heart pounding in fear.  No matter how hard he tried, he could not break his gaze from the light in the book.  After what seemed like an eternity, a ripple rent the surface of the book’s light, and a small shape fluttered through.


It was a butterfly.  As soon as it had appeared, the light fled the book’s page, leaving the book dark and quiet.  Silence spread through the building.


Alan cautiously stepped toward the book.  Upon the butterfly’s arrival, it had fluttered to the ground, appearing to be resting.  The butterfly was a beautiful dark purple, and its delicate wings opened and closed slowly as it rested.


Keeping an eye on the butterfly, Alan stepped up to the book and examined it closely.  If the light came again, would another butterfly come out?  What in the entire universe was this?


He touched the book cautiously.  Its surface was smooth and cool, its pages holding a faint musty scent, brittle with age.  Alan stepped all around the book and its stand, looking at it from all angles, but could not figure out how the butterfly had come out of the book, or where it had come from.


A burst of color flashed in the corner of his eye, and he whipped sharply around to see the butterfly take off into the air, more colors revealed in its wings upon flight.  It soon disappeared from his view, the deepening shadows in the Library hiding its path.


The book before him was still, silent, not revealing its secrets, and not explaining itself.  He stepped around the book several times, knocking on its smooth surface, pulling away pages to observe no markings whatsoever.   How had the butterfly come through?  It could not have just flown through the book’s light.  He had seen with his own eyes that the butterfly had come from the light within the book.


How could that be?


Alan sighed and slumped down onto the floor.  Here was another question that could not be answered.  He had wondered where the clocks had gone, where the books had gone . . . and here was one question that seemed to have no discernable answer.  He had found the books, yes, but what about the clocks?  What about this book?


As he sat musing over those questions, a flash of light caught his eye, startling him so that he leapt to his feet.  It was the butterfly!


Fluttering delicately above his head, it circled him several times before heading deeper into the Library.  His heart pounding, wondering what would happen next, Alan followed it.


The butterfly flew erratically, dancing around a few bookshelves, seeming to look for something, and coming to rest on the book that Alan had pulled out and forgotten.


“The Great War of 2060,” by John A. Fowler.


As he stood looking at the butterfly and the book, Alan felt foolish at the thought that instantly entered his head.  Could the butterfly be trying to communicate with him?


It walked unsteadily across the surface of the book, its bright purple wings gently opening and closing, seeming to steady it.


“What is it?” Alan said aloud.


Patiently, the butterfly sat on the book, not afraid of the young man at all.


Slowly, carefully, Alan leaned forward and picked up the book.  Without knowing why, terror filled Alan’s heart, a strange aching familiar feeling settling in his mind.  What if the book the butterfly apparently wanted him to read was the answer to his questions?  Why would this fear be of wanting to know the answers to his questions?  The book seemed eerily familiar, and he had a sense of déjà vu, a feeling as if he had read this book before or seen it in another place.


Human curiosity was too much for him to bear.  He opened the book as the butterfly fluttered to a nearby shelf.


Confusion filled him as he tried to stumble through several passages in the book.  He was used to reading building signs and scratched messages on tabletops.  It would take him long to assimilate an entire paragraph.  Impatiently, he shut the book. 


The butterfly fluttered agitatedly about his face then raced back towards the book on the stand in the back of the Library.  Alan followed it, “The Great War of 2060” still in his hand.


The butterfly was too fast for him, however, and by the time he had reached the book, a light was beginning to form in the pages of the book.  The butterfly dodged through as a shriek rent the air.


His heart pounding wildly, Alan approached the book and touched its surface.


There was light all around him as he pressed through, and there was pain. It was a strangely familiar sensation.  He opened his mouth in a soundless scream, not knowing what was happening to him, but he knew that his body was not as it had been.

Then he was through.


A cascading wave of agony washed over him as he blinked hard then looked down to see the book grow dark in his lap.


“You’re back.”


He looked up to see an old and weary man standing at a bookshelf nearby.  The Library was dark, silent, unchanged.


“You almost overextended your stay that time,” the man commented.


Then Alan remembered.  He had come back to reality.