Wednesday, October 6, 2010

John S. Renfield: Day Three, Cont'd: The Books

From the Journal of John S. Renfield, Esquire.
Entry the third, continued.

Dear Diary,

    Today I got a job, learned the secrets of the universe, met a real Knight Templar, signed a contract in blood, gained two partners of dubious competence, began hearing voices, met a 200+ year old man who may or may not wish to bring about a devastating calamity that will wipe out half the population or more and possibly set civilization as we know it back to the stone age, agreed to bring him two of the major items that he requires in order to do so, and lied an inordinate number of times. Not necessarily in that order.

    Where to begin?

    I don't have a lot of time to dawdle; the stone is sitting in a votive candle by my elbow now, but I don't think that'll hold it for long. Can't risk letting it run out, but I can no longer think clearly with it in my hands. I believe it is draining my energy, as I feel more alert now, as well.

    Suppose I should start at the top, as with a proper narrative.

    Circumstances conspired so that the first and only of the jewelry stores that I visited was one 'Edgar's Antique Jewels'. I pulled up on my SlingShot just as another man was exiting his sedan. He was perhaps a few years older than myself, with quite striking looks -- not my type, but certainly worth a second glance; comparable to an angel in a Pre-raphaelite painting.

    The sign on the door was turned to 'closed', probably due to the clearly broken window beside it. I noted that the glass had fallen outward and been carelessly swept back against the wall. Beneath another sign had been added, 'P.I.s inquire within'. Curious, I followed the angelic young man. I remember that he held the door open for me with a mischievous little smile that didn't fit his face; I turned up my nose in answer and passed ahead of him.

    The front of the store was unremarkable for either a jewelry store or an antique shop, full of glass-and-wood cases, with the antique wood lacking the warm quality that most stores preferred. Remarkably, none of the cases showed any signs of tampering, save for one that sat directly over the counter and had been shattered. A sign over it read 'The Imperial Jewels'.

    A stooped old man sat behind the counter, inspecting a gem with a jeweler's loupe. He was skinny and pale, nearly bald but for a halo of thready white hair, skin wrinkled and marked with liver spots. He rose as we entered and rounded the counter, betraying a limp, a fused hip I'd wager. His eyes, though, were entirely too bright when they focused on me, no sign of cataracts or stigmas, though they felt indescribably old. "Lance DuBois?" he said. His voice was hoarse and just as thready as his hair, but it filled the room with little trouble.

    "That would be me," said the other man, stepping up beside me.

    The shopkeep -- whose full name I later learned to be Edgar Windsor -- glanced at DuBois a moment and then returned his attention to me. "Then who are you?"

    "John S. Renfield, Esq," I said with the merest of bows and a tip of my derby. "At your service." After a thought I kept the hat off.

    Mr. Windsor nodded, and proceeded to ask us for credentials. While DuBois provided him with a clearly exaggerated list of achievements (largely pet retrieval operations, I noted), I made good use of my experience and studied our client. When he turned to me, I was prepared with a few key observations. "Well, I'm afraid I have no resume," I said, "but I can see from your hands that you have not always been a jeweler -- from the callouses, I would guess a mountain climber or perhaps a professional baseball player. I would also guess that you were married, but were divorced not long ago -- or perhaps she died, I cannot say."

    He made an appreciative sound, impressed enough by my ability. "Some time ago, actually... but good, good. Yes, I think I shall hire the both of you... but first, tell me. I called Mr. DuBois, but what prompted you to come here?"

    I was hesitant to answer, and here is why: I had gotten a better look at the broken jewel case by this point, and set into the cushioning were three distinct impressions. One was a heart, one a helix, and one a star -- an exact match to the one resting snugly in my pocket. "I was... looking for jewelry. As far as I know that's not illegal yet," I lied rather unconvincingly. Windsor scoffed.

    "Sure you are. No, you're here for something specific. What is it, sweetie?" I noticed that his gaze had fallen, and realized that I'd slipped my hand into my pocket.

    I cleared my throat. "Well, I was here to... you see, I have this stone, and I wanted to get a professional opinion on it..."

    "Well, that's fine, sweetie. Let's see it, then."

    My fingers tightened around the star. "There's... there's just one problem. I see that of the jewels you've had stolen, it rather closely resembles one of the impressions, and I would rather not be accused of anything I haven't done."

    His expression changed. It had never been particularly friendly, but now it became quite serious, almost sinister in my eyes. "You mean the Imperial Jewels. I have only ever had two of them. You must have the Blood Star." The stone warmed in my hand. "Well, let me see it, then, sweetie."

    I drew the stone from my pocket and held it out to him without relinquishing my hold. He barely glanced at it. "How did it come to be cracked?"

    "A butane explosion."

    He scoffed again. "Hardly. Such an item is not damaged by such mundane methods."

    "It's the truth."

    "Not all of it."

    There seemed to be no use dissimulating to this man. However, there was still the matter of DuBois. I glanced meaningfully at the other man.

    "I called him for a reason, sweetie. Tell me what happened."

    "There was... an old house, and a fire... being, in the basement. It demanded my lighter in exchange for my freedom. The lighter exploded."

    The old man nodded, apparently satisfied. "Yes, he always did have too much pride for his own good. Tell me, how old are you?"

    I didn't see much point in lying about that. "21."

    The furrows etched into his brow deepened. "And how long have you been a detective?"

    "I've been... practicing since I was a child."

    "Hm," he snorted. "I've been in this town fifty years searching for that stone. In less than twenty you've found it... and brought it to me. Curious."

    "...Dumb luck?" I proposed, curling my fingers around the stone and bringing it close to my chest. I could swear that it felt relieved.

    He nodded, distracted now. "Perhaps."

    DuBois, in this time, had been rather thoughtful, and now finally spoke up. "You say you found that in an old house? Abandoned, near 58th? I was there this afternoon, found the body of a puppy that'd been cooked."

    I blinked. "Well... sounds like we have a place to start. Aside from here, of course."

    "Of course. Now, sir, I have a few questions for you..." DuBois turned to Windsor.

    "And if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to take a look about the place?"

    Windsor nodded. "No trouble. Go on ahead."

    I proceeded to make my way about the store, keeping half an ear on the conversation going on nearby. There was nothing of note in the front that I had not already seen -- no sign of glass on in the inside of the window, no damage to the other cases, no footmarks and no signs of force or picking to the door. I went around to the back, catching a mention of a book as I passed, and found no criminal signs on that door either.

    The back room was small and dark, even less inviting than the front, and I found myself shivering though it wasn't particularly cold. I'd been shivering sporadically all day, really, but it seemed worse in here. It was sparsely furnished, with a desk and bookshelf against one wall, the back door at another, and a curious trap door set into the floorspace between them. It looked like it would be far more at home in a bank than sitting in the back of the jewelry shop -- but, if anything, it looked very secure. Too much so.

    I determined that it was locked and that it would be very rude to attempt to crack it, and so moved to the only other thing of interest in the room: The bookshelf.

    ...And here is where my recollection becomes rather less than reliable.

    I know that there was one book that caught my attention, as it was clearly the most worn of any of them. Windsor was very much occupied with DuBois, so I turned my back to them and slid the book out. The first page proclaimed it to be 'History of the World, Volume 3'. I closed it again, and let it fall open naturally. As well that I did, for there upon the page was a reproduction of the Star so precise that it was nearly a picture, and with it two other stones -- a heart and a helix. The image was labelled 'The Arcanite Trium', and the corresponding passages explained that they were 'responsible for all life', 'created by the smith-gods' -- of which there was a long list of increasingly obscure names, Hephaestus among the ones I did recognize -- who were 'tasked with this by the leaders of the pantheon' -- another long list, including Yahweh, oddly. It referred in vague tones to a 'Genesis' that occurred when the jewels came together. After the entry came pages upon pages of notes in innumerable languages. The earliest that I recognized -- Cuneiform, the language of the first known civilization -- only began to appear on the third to last of at least forty pages.

    I am not a man of tongues. I speak english, a smattering of russian, and know how to curse in french and german, but I am not fluent in any but my mother tongue. I certainly cannot read anything not set in Roman characters. And yet, the scripts before me flowed as if I had been reading them all my life. They were all on the Genesis; notes, suggestions, possibilities, conjectures, even arguments, passed down through countless ages and generations. Some suggested waiting until planetary alignments or comet passes so as to use the energy to fuel the Genesis; others referred to taking energy from the earth and bringing about an age of ice in the process; still others recommended fission energy while further notes encouraged fusion as more efficient. I was still of a mind to record my findings, and so took a few pictures of relevant pages with my cell phone and then set the book back.

    And then I saw Volume 1. I should have listened when my mother told me that curiosity killed the cat.

    (Wait, no. That was the Star. Hah.)

    Volume 1, like Volume 3, was a thick book bound in an unfamiliar fashion, with paper so thin it could be onionskin, yet not half as frail. The words were written, all written, in scripts I am certain were not english but that were legible anyhow. All six books were like that -- I think, at least, as I do not have a clear memory of books 5 and 6. Some few pages into Volume 1, it was as if I no longer even needed to read them -- as if the books had opened a pathway directly into my long-term memory and began transmitting information far faster than I could begin to comprehend. I have spent the entire rest of the day slowly regaining bits and pieces of the information, as my mind finds and sorts it to someplace that it can be recalled. I will endeavor to recreate as much of them as I can into my index. What I do remember now is thus:

    Volume 1 spoke of the creation of the universe, science on the level of Quantum Mechanics and beyond, explaining the creation and workings of the building blocks of atoms and how they would all eventually slip back into the void -- how the universe would end.

    Volume 2 told of the first consciousness arising, apparently at random, and was the first God. The book called it 'Ohm', though it had no need for a name. It believed that it had created the universe, and in turn it created other gods, who in turn created more, and from them came the diverse pantheon that we know today. This book also followed through far into the future, to a time when the gods also would end.

    Volume 3 told of life and magic, of how to manipulate and trick the energies of Reality in order to create the desired effect, and how life too would eventually be destroyed.

    Volume 4 spoke of the creation of the Multiverse, and it was here that I could no longer keep up. Volumes 5 and 6 I can hardly recall at all, except that they spoke of meta-science, the creation of creation itself, and things that I simply could not comprehend.   

    When finally I replaced the last volume, I was reeling, barely able to keep my balance much less do anything else. I felt like I had when I was under the Star's spell, only this time it was so much worse. There was no lethargy, no sleepy compliance, no awe. Nothing but the pounding of blood in my ears and the tunneling of my vision and a feeling of terrible weightlessness, that I was detached and floating free because the outside world didn't make sense anymore, or it made too much sense, and I had no anchor to grasp at because everything is 90% air anyway and I could see the molecules zipping through to make up for lost space, and I had the notion that I should feel vertigo or motion sickness except that I had no connection to my body anymore anyway, and I wanted it to end except that time meant nothing anymore, it could be forever or a fraction of a moment and it would all be the same. This was no dawn of understanding, it was an assault, and I honestly didn't know if I could withstand it.

    I awoke -- the closest word I can come to for what happened -- still standing before the bookcase, one hand steadied against the spine of the last volume and the other clutched around the Star, comforted by its already-familiar warmth. I still swear I could not have been there less than an hour -- days, even -- but I could still hear Messrs. DuBois and Windsor talking at the front of the store, and my cell phone told me that it had only been two minutes since I'd walked back here.

    I stood there long enough to regain as much of my shattered composure as I could find, and returned to the front.

    "Find anything?" DuBois asked me.

    I shook my head.

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