Life of a Librarian: Ch 6

I found myself in a small four-foot by four-foot by six-foot box of a room when I finally woke up.  I guess they figured that by confining me to a small enough area that I wouldn’t be stupid enough to invoke anything that would take up too much space.

“You are awake, Ms. Oppenheimer?” a male voice grated over the static-laden speaker in the ceiling of the room.

“And hungry,” I grouched.  My stomach was pinching.  I had blacked out for who knows how long.  I needed to stop making that a habit.

“Well, you’re going to have to deal with that for a little while longer,” the voice buzzed.  The electronics crackled and snapped.  Maybe they were trying to torture my ear drums.  If it was on purpose, they were doing a pretty good job of it.

“So, what’s a Shifter?” I asked the speaker.

“Something exceedingly rare, Ms. Oppenheimer.  In your case, we’ve never seen it,” was the reply provided me.

“Have I gone insane?” I asked.  I was able to just barely find a comfortable way to sit down.

“You were not done Phasing when we tested you and accelerate your development.  You were complaining about being left in your last room for three days.  That was to allow your mind to finish Phasing before testing to see where you topped out.  You were not finished Phasing when we let you out,” the man answered.  At least they were being kind enough to actually talk to me about this.

“Is Claude okay?” I asked.

“Why do you ask?” the man asked, a bit of surprise in his voice.

“He was pretty nice to me, and I wasn’t really playing fair.  I might be locked in a little box at the moment and hating the fact that you’ve all done this to me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still have, you know, morals,” I said.  I knew I was being a little underhanded in guilt-tripping, but hey, whatever was going to see me out of this box and into a food line.

“Yeah, he came out of it and is doing fine.  He’s taking a couple days off,” the static cracked.

“So, what do we do now?” I asked.

“We’re just trying to evaluate your psychological stance before letting you interact with anyone or anything,” he answered.  It occurred to me, while he was talking, that I could just recite an old nursery rhyme about a set of pigs having roast beef.  Bam, I had a plate of divine food in my hand.  Oh, god, that was the best meal I think I had ever had.  When you are starving, that first meal, whether it be flour paste or caviar, is always the one that you will remember best.

“I see you are capable of still Reading out what you need while in there,” the man noted.

“Am I not supposed to?” I asked, devouring the juicy, tender, savory meat like it was going out of style.

“Do you not have a headache?” the man asked, cryptically.

“Well, the static on your mic or this intercom really does suck.  You should see about getting a better electrician.  Other than that, I’m fairly used to having headaches when I haven’t eaten consistently.  Low blood sugar or something like that.  It’s an easy thing to fix as long as I can eat something,” I answered.  I was filling in blanks, though, that they probably had something going on to be giving me this headache.  It felt different than when I was low on food.  It wasn’t skull-splitting, but it sure was close to migraine level.

I heard a jingle at the door to my box of a cell.  It creaked open, and the light from outside was blinding.  I blinked up, feeling like a bat caught in high beams.

“I’m not really supposed to do this,” a male voice whispered.  I looked up to see a guard reaching a hand down to help me up.  I waved the plate of roast beef away, and it immediately disappeared.  I grabbed his hand and allowed the man to pull me to my feet.

 I followed him down the hall.  We walked for what felt like an hour until we hit a pair of doors labelled Reference Library.  He motioned me through the doors and locked them after I went through.  I dropped my head against the door. At least I wasn’t in the little box anymore.

I breathed out a frustrated sigh and decided to survey my new domain.  It looked like a massive legal library.  Tight, almost never opened binding reached far enough back that I couldn’t see the end walls in either direction.  I could be lost in here for the rest of my life and never find the exit.  I contemplated staying at the door, in case I really was placed here for that purpose.  My curiosity, though, got the better of me.  I wondered just how far the library could possibly reach and what kinds of books were on the shelves.  It was a reference library, after all.

I started out down the walkway, deciding not to delve too deep into the racks, always keeping near the wall that led back to the doors.  The shuffle of my socks on the carpet was all the noise of the tomb-like sanctuary until it was broken, three hundred rows in, by a scribbling, scratching sound.  I slowed, my adrenaline pumping.  For all I knew, they kept the minotaur in this labyrinth.  

“Jeb, is that you?  Can you go find me that book by Mintz on astral projection?  I want to see if it correlates with this one,” a familiar, male voice asked.  I peeked around the corner of the stack to find a plate of long platinum blond hair tied back with a brown rubber band.  A tight black shirt gripped hard muscle.  A pair of dark denim jeans bunched over bare feet.  A sword leaned against the table.  I quickly and silently Read out a pair of hand knives, all too ready to duke it out with the cotton candy clown of death all over again.

“Jeb?” Simil asked again, turning around.  Startled, he glanced at the knives in my hands before my face.  “Thaddeus?” He grabbed the sword hilt, blade flashing under florescent lights.  I stepped back, knowing that I could probably lose him in the stacks.  He unhanded his sword, and I eased my posture.

“What are you doing in here?” Simil hissed.  I wasn’t entirely sure if I really wanted to talk to him.  I wasn’t too thrilled to find out I had been left in here with him.

“A guard brought me here.” I let the knives vanish on a bid for neutrality.

“A guard?  No one was supposed to let you out of there,” Simil snapped.

“Well, he brought me here; not like I was trying to sneak out.” I leaned against the far stack, forcing Simil to turn around to look at me.

“You’re not going to flood the place or something, are you?” He stood.

“You’re not going to make it rain blueberries and teacups are you?” I crossed my arms over my chest to hide my need to pull my binder off my ribs and get some air in my lungs. I couldn’t remember how many days had passed since I’d been able to take a shower. The best I’d done in that locked cell was hand washing my undergarments and hoping they’d be dry in time for whatever was going to happen to me. I’d gone well past how long I could wear my binder. A headache was building and my chest was bruising and raw.

His lips thinned.  “So, you’ve been informed of the Mad Hatter.”

“Claude mentioned it before my quizzes.” I found a stinging spot on my left side and was not keen to let the stiff polyester touch it again.

“Claude’s trying to get over the fact that you almost drowned him,” Simil admonished.

“Claude seems like a nice enough fella, but you guys are the ones forcefully keeping me down here,” I countered.  I felt bad for Claude up to a point, but I wasn’t about to go all Stockholme syndrome on this guild.  Simil stared at me silently, waiting.

“What’s a Shifter?” I sank to the floor and leaned against the end cap of the stack. Drawing my knees up, I shoved my thumbs under the hem of my binder where Simil wouldn’t see. “Also, where’s a shower and a laundromat?”  

Simil gave me a second, considering his words. “A Shifter is an individual who can do almost the impossible in the guild.  They can Read out stories that they have memorized.  Most can only do it as long as they recite it out loud from a visual aid.  Most have to have an unReading verse that is actually spoken.  You, however, are one in very few who can Read out a story without having to say it and unRead it without having to recite a full line.  You are what most normal people would look at and think was a true magician.  Merlin was a Shifter,” Simil supplied.

“And what becomes of these rare Shifters?” I prodded.

“They become Simils,” the man’s voice warbled.  I let that sink in. 

“You are the first female-born Shifter I’ve seen; not to bring up what seems to be a tender topic, Thaddeus, but trying to be accurate,” Simil broke the awkward silence.

“There have never been female Simils before?” I asked.

“Very rarely – they are referred to as Deweys,” Simil answered.

“So, you’re a Shifter, and that’s why the guild uses you like a guard dog?  You can do what I can do?” I fought the prickle behind my eyes. If I persisted with the skin rawness and the tightness, it wouldn’t take much for a panic attack to set in.

“At least I have enough training not to go unBound,” he sneered.

“unBound?” I had a feeling I knew what that meant.

“Readers are able to bring out things by way of their emotions.  Sometimes, if a Shifter is emotionally pushed too far, they can go unBound, which is when they can pull off more Readings of higher levels.  It can have a pretty nasty backlash, though.  You really do use up a lot of energy on your brain generating something into reality.  unBound can also happen if you overRead.  If you have a limit of say, four readings – what an average guild member can manage, and you push yourself to five, you can go unBound.  You just become emotionally unstable and not yourself.  Most guild members though, if they go unBound, can’t Read out anymore while they are in an unBound state, so they don’t really cause chaos; they just end up having a nervous breakdown of sorts.  I must admit the guild does not have very good guidelines in managing individuals who Phase later in life.  It happens, but not frequently enough for it to be more than a once-every-other-year or so thing.  Frequently the guild deals in kids at about the elementary school range, and they are treated much differently.  Their parents are contacted, and the kids are enrolled in a guild-run private institute where they can be trained in Reading and managing their abilities.” Simil motioned for me to take a seat with him at the table.  I looked at his hand skeptically, wondering if it was really that safe to sit so close to him. I didn’t really want to. It meant rubbing at open wounds.  I decided it wasn’t going to matter too much.  If we had to, we could conduct a war between Shifters.

I slid into the seat across from him. It would be harder to swing his sword with the table between us.  He had quite a pile of rather old astrology and alchemy books laid out on the table.  Most of it was written in a script of late English that I couldn’t read well enough to understand the context.

“It’s probably a blessing to the guild that you are not proficient in more than English,” Simil commented.  He had noticed my glances at his books.

“I’m not sure it would have been a good thing if I could either,” I conferred.  Just because I had this new ability, didn’t mean I liked it.  

“Most Shifters are found when they are in elementary school and are trained to be able to read quite a lot of languages to a point of proficiency so as to have the most potential for the guild.” He started closing up the books.

“How are you able to read stuff and not have, you know, Peter Pan come flying out of your books?” I motioned to the texts.

“It takes time to learn how to block off your emotional attachment to the content of the book.  Fiction probably isn’t as fun that way, but when you allow your emotions to muddle in with what you read, well…you know what happens,” Simil shrugged, making piles.

I stared at him, rather openly and unabashed.  He stared back.  He looked familiar to the extreme.  It was confusing to no end.  The eyes and the hair were really throwing me off, though.  I didn’t know anyone with blond hair the length he had his, or a man with a pink and a black eye.  “Why do I know you?” I asked, finally willing to make a fool of myself.

“Probably because you went to school with me,” Simil blinked.  

I stared at him, searching his face. I made for a shot in a nostalgic dark. “Wyn?” I asked, still trying to accept the complete change that had taken over.

“Took you quite a while to see it, huh?” He dropped my gaze to rub at a shoulder.

“Sylwyn-fuck-what’s-your-last-name? What happened to you?” I shot from my seat to get a closer look before checking myself and sitting back down.


“Aethelweard, thank you.”

“I’ve been with the guild since I was four. Got to go to a college of my choice, but then I had duties to the guild, and things happened, and I ended up being made the guild’s acting Simil for this branch.” He motioned to his two-toned eyes.

“Does the Chair know that we knew each other? That gonna get you in trouble?”

“Not yet.  I will have to tell them soon, but they are busy, as always.  Because the Chair isn’t even informed of Shifters’ names – it just isn’t of great importance to them; they didn’t realize that we’ve spent quite a bit of time together already.  I must apologize for the treatment you received in the courtroom and during the last few days.  I must tell you also that, by the fact that I ate the Mad Hatter, I do have split personalities now.  If the guild is in danger, the Mad Hatter tends to rise up and muck about with my actions.  I cannot tell you how sorry I am about the whole sword thing.” He cast an angry glance at the sword in question before warning eyes came back to me. “But we have to be careful to keep everyone safe, you have to understand that.”

“What do you mean by you ate the Mad Hatter?” I was not touching that sword as a topic.

He glanced away from me, shifting restlessly.  “You have an idea of how to project your emotions outward to the world and bring out something you Read, right?” he asked me.  I didn’t really get it yet, but I had a decent enough grasp to nod my head.  “There’s a type of reverse process to it, where you actually build the thing you read inside of yourself.  You run a deep risk of going unBound permanently, but if you can manage not to, you “eat” the experience.  That emotion you built up so heavily manifests sort of inside of you.  If it’s a character from a book, it’s like inviting them to occupy a space in your head.  You willingly develop a second personality.  Simils are almost always provided with a strong-willed character that is different from their normal personality.  The guild does try not to repeat characters.  We’ve been through so many.  I’m kind of at a loss as to why they chose Alice in Wonderland this term.  That book is such an l.s.d. fest; it was rather a dangerous move.” He twisted his fingers on the table.

“You get that Ph.D. you were after at least? I’m assuming you got your Masters. I had that set of gap years taking care of Uncle Tad for mom, so I’m a bit behind, but tell me you at least got there.” I wanted to pull him from that guilty look he had climbing all over his face.

“I’m over here telling you about this fantastical thing about books becoming reality, and you’re asking if I got my Ph.D.?” He snorted, covering a smile before it could escape into the wild. “You haven’t changed much.”

“Been trying to change a lot, really. Not as much as your mismatched eyes, but if eating Atticus Finch would mean the rest of the Chair getting my gender right, I might just go along with being an apprentice Simil.” I leaned back in my chair and set my ankle over my other knee to regard Sylwyn with a teasing smile.

“When’d you finally come out, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“About a month before Uncle Tad and mom died.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t think that pain’ll stop any time soon, but Uncle Tad really got a kick out of me wanting his name for some reason. Said it was so old-fashioned that it was probably better for me to have grown up with my deadname just so I could survive to finally use it. Bullies or something like that. 

“Mom. I don’t think she ever fully got it, but she tried. When I got mad at her for not getting my name or gender right, she pointed to the fish and told me his new name was Herbert and had me try that for a couple weeks. Thing died before they did. Power went out at the house ,and the pump stopped working. I slipped quite a few times, even when I was really trying. Anyways, I ‘laxed a bit with her. She gave birth to me after all; she and Uncle Tad had called me my deadname the longest. She tried harder when she saw me make an effort with the fish. I think she just wanted me to be a bit more patient and to know that she really was trying. Anways,” I drew up my shoulders if only to put the feeling behind me, “Thanks for making an effort. I’d rather a sword to the neck and my pronouns used right than to take tea with someone calling me my deadname.”

Sylwyn rubbed at the back of his head sheepishly. “Not sure thanking me makes a lot of sense here, Tad.”

“Deus. That was the arrangement I made with Uncle Tad. That I’d be Deus, and he’d be Tad while we were all together. I’m not sure about hearing it from others yet, but if you’re looking for a shorter version than Thaddeus, I’d like Deus, Wyn.” I offered.

“Deus then. You asked about a shower, maybe a change of clothes? If you absolutely promise you will not set fire to the building, I can see about getting you somewhere to change. Come on. The books can stay here for the night. I’ll come back to them in the morning.” He rose and sheathed his sword.

“What will they do with me now?” I followed him down the stacks.

“Depends on what you do for them.  If you work with them, they will most likely put you in line to become a Dewey or a Simil. I guess you’d want to be known as a Simil, but I don’t know if they’ll call you that, sorry.  If you work against them, they will come at you.” He grabbed his shoes off a random shelf as we passed by and paused to tug them on.

“And you?” I asked. “Also, why were your shoes on a shelf?”

“I can try my best to help you overcome this challenge.  As it stands, you are the least of the Chair’s concerns.  Though a rare shifter, what the Chair is after right now is answers to the disappearance of Chyril,” Sylwyn stumbled while tugging on a shoe, and I caught him before he could tip a stack. He was denser than I thought he’d be, and my breath caught when I realized he was also a full head taller. 

I snorted. I hated being stuck short. I wanted his height. “I never did get to meet her.  I take it she’s someone in the guild?” I straightened out my shirt after he let go.

“She was part of our antique metaphysics manuscript research division.  When she disappeared, she was in the midst of looking over a series of legends on spirit-based creatures from China.  One of the manuscripts disappeared with her.  Though it was not worth as much as many of the manuscripts we have here, it still could become a problematic document if it fell into an anarchic Reader’s hand,” Sylwyn pursed his lips.  

Goosebumps ran their way up my arm and neck.  This didn’t sound like a good thing. “Spirits?”

“It was a prelude to the Shanhaijing,” he supplied.

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“The Shanhaijing itself contains within it a series of geographic descriptions for finding mythical creatures, such as serpents large enough to consume elephants whole, or the more famous nine-tailed fox. Crap, hold up, I need to deal with some of those books I left out. Thought I could leave them, but…” He lead me back to the table and started piling them up in an ever increasing percarious tower.  “Here, carry this for me would you?” He handed me his sword.  

Good lord, I didn’t know just how heavy those things could be.  The fact that he could easily manoeuvre that thing like it was plastic was intimidating.  “Jeez, where did this come from?” I hefted it to keep it from dragging on the floor.  It was at least half my height, though now that I actually had to admit it, it was more like 3/4th, but I don’t like saying I’m short.  

“It’s a degen I pulled out of a 15th century military arts manuscript that was discovered near the Rhine last year,” he said nonchalantly.  I blinked at him.  Just how many languages did he know?  I sighed, knowing there were just too many questions I would be asking.  “What does the prelude contain?” I allowed myself to ask.  Snakes were becoming a reoccurring theme recently, and I figured that was probably a more important question at the moment.

“The prelude contains descriptions of the various gods that have companions and command these spirits.” Sylwyn opened up one of the books from the shelf and slipped one of his texts into it. 

The book from the shelf was nothing more than a box I realized.  I looked around me.  The books in the library weren’t just new, never before read manuals.  They were all boxes to keep the old texts safe.  The library suddenly felt even larger than before, if that was possible.  “Gods?” I continued to follow him.

“And when those are let loose, we end up with some seriously big problems, not just for the Guild.  You know how much the Guild pays various governments just to keep quiet to cover stuff up?” He turned to me, his pink and black eyes drawing at my soul.  

I felt like a deer in headlights. “I don’t know anything about you, do I?”

“No, but I hope we can get along well.” His smile could have been endearing or a threat, and I wasn’t sure which one to pick.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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