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Jay drew a deep breath and tried to chill the fuck out.
It was only natural to be wired. Everything had changed around him. He’d lost his job, moved away from his family, and had left a big, fairly diverse city in favor of a free home in the middle of Whitesville, Nowhereland. On top of that, his aunt’s disappearance from here had him on edge—why else would he be overreacting so much to the normal curiosity of the neighbors?
He got out of bed, heading down the darkened hallway to the office again, and browsed briefly for a book to take back to bed with him. He didn’t plan to read much—no point in getting himself woken up even more—but a little bit would help distract his spiraling thoughts.
Listlessly, he cast his gaze over the bookcases, but found himself instead drawn to the pile of books he’d made on the desk. In the dim light from the moon outside, he read I had the Library Dream again in Grace’s handwriting, and shifted The King in Yellow to the side to pick up the slim, leather-bound volume immediately beneath it.
When he’d glanced through it earlier, it had seemed to be someone’s fictionalized account of having visited a library on some far away world, and the mythologies he’d written down from the books there. It must, he realized, be the inspiration for Grace’s stories about the library between the stars that she would travel to, the mysterious histories of impossible people that she’d read there. Maybe she, too, had lain awake some nights, unable to sleep, and flipped through this volume to give her brain something harmless to explore in the night.
A library dream sounded just fine to him.
He took that slim volume back to bed and propped himself up, reading by the light of the bedside lamp. Although it was fiction, there weren’t exactly chapters—just sections about different subjects, the author’s ‘notes’ on the things he’d read in the library there. Creatures that could pass through time by entering mirrors, gods who mourned that they had been forgotten, the creature at the center of the universe piping music out for the cosmos to whirl to. All things the author had only read about secondhand in this library between the worlds, nothing he had encountered himself, nothing he could be sure was accurate. But, the fiction demanded of you, if he had ended up in a library between worlds, who was he to doubt the stories he read?
Jay put the book on the bedside table, clicked the light off, and closed his eyes.
The painting in front of him was of an impossible city, black domes and ebony spires and a lake that reflected two pallid moons hovering in the sky. Jay examined it uncertainly, hands tucked behind his back, then glanced around.
On either side of the painting were bookshelves; each of these were filled with orderly books, none of which had any titles on the spines, but each of which were slotted away as if they belonged in that spot. They were probably organized by subject, he decided, or this wouldn’t be a library. Still, he found himself oddly reluctant to take any off the shelf to try to prove his theory.
Instead, he wandered, weaving around old, heavy wood tables and through the stacks. Each of the shelves rose from floor to ceiling, marking out a maze that he didn’t think it would be possible to remember, let alone find his way back in. All of this he did in silence; he couldn’t hear anyone else in the building at all, no shuffling or breathing, not even the ticking of a clock. Just his own movements, horribly loud in the oppressive silence.
As he rounded corner after corner, shifting between the openings of shelves while trying to keep as close to the wall as he could in order to make a path it would be easier to follow, he began to realize that the building had no windows, and paintings were used in their place. Each showed a new scene, different from those previous—here, a view of a great tomb at the base of a ruined city, half-drowned in stagnant water. There, a vista full of burrowed holes, five suns burning overhead.
“Excuse me,” he heard behind him.
He jumped, whirling, and was surprised to see a lovely woman standing there. She was no more than thirty, with heavy dark hair bound back in a plait and dark, dark eyes, smiling at him peacefully.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone else was here.”
“No,” she agreed. She looked him over. “I’m not sure you should be here yet, though I’m sort of glad you are.”
“Uh.” There was an intensity to her, an energy in the way she held herself, that intimidated him. It wasn’t just that she was impossibly attractive, but something else, something that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He felt alert, like he couldn’t take his eyes off her or he’d regret it. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t have permission. You should have a sign before you come here,” she said, as if that explained anything. “You came from Kingsport?”
“Yes,” he said. That feeling grew, but it was his dream—of course she’d know that. “What do you mean, a sign?”
She nodded to herself, her expression decisive. “Well, there’s plenty of signs you can get in Kingsport,” she said. “You could even get mine, if you want—I’ve got people there! But I’m not the only one, if others suit you better. Honestly, you might already have aroused interest, bearing the blood of a waking-worlder as you do.”
Was there such thing as a semi-lucid dream, he wondered. He had meant to dream of a library, and knew he was dreaming, but he didn’t seem to have any control over what was happening. “I’m not sure what a sign is.”
“A symbol. A mark. A gift. Get one—well, at least one,” she amended, seeming amused at herself. “Most people could never bear more than one, but with the current situation, we all need to cooperate for now. And it’s so interesting when something changes.”
“My aunt’s house is a mess,” he said. “Finding anything might take a while. What do you mean by ‘current situation’?”
She shook her head, hair slithering over her shoulder to fall in front of her chest. It didn’t sit quite right, and he tore his eyes away from that to her perfectly-proportioned face again. “No,” she said. “You can’t take any real information away from here until you bear a sign. As is, you’re in danger.”
His heart was beating hard. The dream felt like it was shifting, edging on nightmare. “In danger?”
“Not with me, of course,” she said, and smiled. Her teeth seemed too sharp, somehow. “I can protect you. But anyone can come here, and right now, you don’t bear anyone’s favor. So go and get it before you come back. And when you come, try to come back the proper way. When you use only your own mind as a doorway… well, that’s dangerous too. You can’t shut and lock your mind the way you can a real door. All right?”
“I don’t understand,” he began, but she put a friendly hand on his shoulder, warm and with the perfect amount of firmness, and turned him.
The painting, most recently of that burrow-filled wasteland, now showed Aunt Grace’s bedroom.
“Go home,” she said. “Find a sign, or signs. Help us, and win our favor. But be careful. It’s a dangerous world out there.”
She didn’t specify which one.
Jay woke up, and for a moment, he didn’t know where he was, not recognizing the angle of sunlight, the shape of his ceiling.
And then reality clicked back into place. It was morning, and he had a lot of chores ahead of him still.
“What a weird dream,” he muttered to himself. He glared absently at the book on the bedside table—thanks for nothing, Dr. Shrewsbury, he thought at the author.
Well, no point in letting himself dwell. He got up, changing back into his clothes from the day before. First thing first, he needed to bring in the bins of his belongings and find somewhere to put them, both so he could get dressed properly, and so he’d have room in the car to start packing up some of Aunt Grace’s things to take into town.
He headed to the front door, intent on doing that, then frowned down at the welcome mat. For a moment, he thought the piece of paper that he saw there—one which had clearly been slid under the door—was just some sort of flyer.
But it was standard 8×11 printer paper, and when he picked it up, he saw that someone had handwritten just one sentence on it:
Have you found the Yellow Sign?
“Well, fuck,” Jay said aloud. What the hell was he supposed to do with this? Go around to ask the neighbors who did this? Maybe see if he could ask after Camden, who at least had seemed relatively friendly, and see if he knew whatever this yellow sign was.
Or maybe, he thought, he should just ignore it. He had a lot to do, and this was probably someone’s prank—one that just happened to be unnerving after the dream he’d had the night before.
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