Arriving early at the library for her shift, Dinah let herself in and walked across the empty foyer towards the main desk. She liked to be the first one in before the library opened. She liked the quiet, the press of books and the motes of dust that caught the early morning light, glittering and glinting in the air around her.
Rounding the desk to leave her coat and bag in the staff room beyond, Dinah stopped short. Someone had left a cart of books out. Perhaps she wasn't the first one here after all? Leaving her coat and bag on a chair, she approached the cart. The topmost book was a weighty tome, blackened and covered in dust. It looked old. Very old. Curious, Dinah blew some of the dust off, then wiped her hand over the cover, revealing the title:
Dinah's 50 Book Challenge
A 500 leng? What on Earth...? Dinah thought to herself. I wonder if this is anything to do with Timothy Elizabeth Leng? She tried to rub off more of the black residue that obscured the rest of the title but was unsuccessful. So, instead, she opened the book.
On the page before her was a full size illustration that she couldn't quite make out. It was almost entirely black, but there appeared to be various entwined and writhing shapes, all in different shades of black. Dinah leaned over for a closer look. The picture really did have an extraordinary depth to it, so much so that an attack of vertigo overcame her, and she overbalanced and fell in.
"Aaaiiieee!" she screamed as she hurtled through the blackness.
Sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... came a whispered reply that seemed to emanate from all around her.
"Aaaiiieee!" a reprimanded Dinah screamed quietly before passing out.
~ ~ ~
Golden light attempted to force its way through Dinah's tightly closed eyelids. She wasn't falling anymore. Instead she seemed to be leaning against something hard and rough and it felt like her hands were resting on grass. Slowly, she opened her eyes. As her vision adjusted to the light, she saw that she was sitting on an expanse of grass against a tree. In the distance was an old mansion and between it and herself was a lake.
Dinah got to her feet and suddenly started as a hand clutched her shoulder lightly. She whirled around and was confronted with a dark haired young woman wearing black framed glasses and carrying a clipboard.
"Who are you?" Dinah gasped at the woman. "And where am I?"
"My name's Meredith. I'm the Continuity Girl" Meredith smiled weakly in greeting. "You're in the Norland estate."
"The... The Norland estate?" Dinah questionned. "As in from Sense and Sensibility?"
"Yes" the Continuity Girl answered after glancing at her clipboard. "Where else?" She gave that weak smile again.
"I'm-" Dinah started to introduce herself, but was interrupted.
"I know" the Continuity Girl said with faint triumph. "You're a Librarian! One of the guardians."
Before she could question her further, Dinah was distracted by a dour faced but handsome man coming out of the lake, his white shirt plastered to his torso. She spun around and confronted the Continuity Girl.
"That's Mr Darcy!" she cried, pointing at the soaked man who was wandering off.
"Umm..." Another intent look at the clipboard followed. "Yes."
"But Mr Darcy's from Pride and Prejudice, not Sense and Sensibility."
Dinah rolled her eyes in despair and looked out at the lake again. A rowing boat had come into view with two passengers. A blonde woman and a dark haired man in a blue shirt. They appeared to be having a quarrel as she heard the woman say, in a suspiciously British accent: I never liked you. This was followed by the man offering her something with his outstretched arm and saying, in a far more relaxed and natural British accent: My Darling, my hamburger.
Realisation suddenly dawned. Somehow, she'd fallen into her own 50 Book Challenge, but things weren't working out as she thought they should, as the people in the boat appeared to be Rene Zellweger's Bridget Jones and Hugh Grant's Daniel Cleaver, each uttering the title of Dinah's third and fourth read book this year, respectively.
"Look" she said to the Continuity Girl. "This isn't right. If I'm in my own 50 Book Challenge, why is Bridget Jones here? I haven't read Bridget Jones' Diary this year. And this bit" she pointed out to the lake "looks like it's from the film adaptation. And that Mr Darcy scene earlier was from the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, not the book! This whole set-up has a suspiciously IDV quality about it. Is he here? Messing about with the Cusp interface again?"
"Oh, I give up!" the Continuity Girl snapped, dropping her clipboard and stamping her foot on it petulantly. "You think IDV's actually going to read all these books just to make your experience here more realistic? Ha!
"You should know better than that. He's a lazy, lazy witch who left his AutoPolite to do all this based on the titles of the books you've read, and what he'd learned from TV. And so, I'm afraid you're going to have to put up with what you get. And me."
"But... But it's my birthday!"
"Which is why you've got even this half-hearted attempt at a birthday post."
Dinah folded her arms and sighed, turning away from her tainted 50 Book Challenge.
"What's that?" she asked, pointing to a tower in the middle distance.
"That funny looking tower-thing over there."
"Oh, the Spine Tower" the Continuity Girl answered. "I forgot you'd be able to see it as you're a Librarian." Again, she managed to say librarian reverently with a capital L. "It's supposed to be a nexus to every book, to every thing, that has ever been written."
"Is it now?" Dinah said quietly. "Come on. We're going to take a look."
"Oh, but we can't! It's forbidden!"
"Forbidden, eh? We'll see about that. Librarians can go wherever they like!" Even trainee librarians Dinah hoped to herself as she set off for the tower, closely followed by the Continuity Girl.
Having been a member of The Coven for long enough to know how these things worked, Dinah tied her hair up into a bun and balanced her glasses on the tip of her nose in a stereotypical librarian fashion as she approached the tower and it's armed guard.
The guard visibly trembled as he saw a Guardian storming directly toward him.
"Halt" he managed to say unconvincingly, and barred the way with his rifle.
"Do you know who I am?" Dinah asked imperiously, glaring at the poor guard over the top of her glasses.
"A... A Librarian, Miss?"
"That's right. Now let us pass."
"Well, Miss... You see..." the guard started to object.
Dinah drew herself up and narrowed her eyes as she brought her index finger to her lips.
"Ssssshhhhhhhhh!" she hissed.
The guard's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed in a terrified faint.
"There" Dinah said smugly. "That took care of that."
"Wow!" the Continuity Girl gasped at the power of Librarianship, and they stepped over the prone guard and into the Spine Tower.
"Wow!" This time it was Dinah's turn to gasp in awe. The two of them stood on a wooden platform that stretched from the door they'd just entered to the centre of the tower, where there was a circular wooden column inset with thousands upon thousands of little drawers. Encircling the wooden column were the stone walls of the Spine Tower, which were themselves inset with thousands upon thousands of wooden doors just like the one they arrived through. A network of ladders, platforms and catwalks, all linked to an interlacing gridwork of bronze tracks and rails on the inner wall and central column, provided access to each door and each drawer.
Looking behind her at the door, Dinah noticed an intricate brass clockwork device attached to it, a bit like a combination lock. One tumbler showed a complex set of numbers, remarkably similar to the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Next to it were two dials, one showed a name, the other a title. Dinah gently spun the last dial. The Sense and Sensibility legend rotated out of sight to be replaced with one baring the words Pride and Prejudice with a very precise 'click'. Opening the door slightly, she peered through. The landscape out there certainly wasn't that which she was in before entering the tower. How curious, she thought.
Carefully walking along the centre of the wooden platform that led to the central drawer column, and grateful for the elegant brass railings that would prevent a nasty fall to however far down the bottom of this tower was, Dinah approached the Continuity Girl, who had opened a drawer and was looking at the cards inside.
"How far up this tower do you think we are?" the Continuity Girl asked. "Do you think it's bottomless?"
"No. It has a bottom" Dinah replied, taking a card from Meredith. "The numbers have to start somewhere" she said as she studied the card. "Somewhere very, very far down. Don't let's fall, OK?"
"OK" the Continuity Girl gulped.
Looking up, the drawer column and the tower walls disappeared into a hazy golden-brown light. "I just don't think it has a top..." Dinah trailed off. "At least, not yet" she added.
As she put the card back in its drawer, Dinah noticed her hand shaking slightly. Must be the height, she thought to herself. Then she noticed that it wasn't her that was shaking, it was the card drawer. In fact, it was the entire central column. Each drawer was rattling against its runners as the column vibrated.
"What's causing that?" she asked. The Continuity Girl just shrugged. Dinah looked around, then gingerly peered over the railing, down into the depths of the tower. "Shit! What the Hell is that?"
The Continuity Girl also looked over the railing, and there, undulating quickly up the central column, one hundred or so feet below, was a gigantic grub-like creature.
"Oh my gods!" she gasped. "It's a Bookwyrm! We've got to get out of here. Now!"
To be continued...
* Not affiliated with Michael Jackson in any way, thank goodness.