Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Disappearance of Rothko Ladhiffe: Chapter Three

Click here for the entire story.
Click here for the previous installment...

I knock on the door, expecting to hear a gravelly voice on the other side asking me who I am, who sent me, and whether I’m one of them. Then should come the familiar sound of him pumping his shotgun, along with a warning about his connections to the press. If he does end up agreeing to let me in, he should spend no less than fifteen full seconds unlocking all the deadbolts, possibly even removing a bar. Instead, I hear a regular, cordial voice that tells me it’s open, and to come on inside. I flip open the button of my sidearm holster, but don’t take it out. So far, I have no reason to believe there’s danger on the other side of this door, but it is a door, and I can’t know for sure. I walk in, expecting to see stacks of newspapers, creepy taxidermy animals staring at me with looks of horror, and maybe a package of niche food the government tried to design for soldiers in the 1970s that they don’t make anymore. Instead, it’s a clean apartment with pictures of family members on the ledge, and throw pillows on the sectional couch.
“Go ahead and have a seat,” he calls from the back. “I’m just finishing up here. Would you like something to drink?”
I barely manage to eke out a, “no, I’m fine, thank you.” I do sit down, but keep my hand at my hip. Sometimes just finishing up means they’re making sure their taser stick works, or simply that they’re giving me enough time to feel comfortable before jumping out with a loaded crossbow.
After a couple minutes of me worried for the worst, a man walks in rubbing his hands with a wet wipe. “Sorry about that, I was just finishing up the map of the dwarven continent. I can’t get the coastline right.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Oh, that’s one of things that I do. I draw maps for fantasy writers who want to add a little more immersion to their canon.” He presents his hand. “Hi, I’m Ciro Alinari.”
“Detective Kallias Bran. I rudely don’t shake his hand, instead opting to show him my badge. I’m not here on official business, though. Did Shaw give you a heads up?”
“No, but I’ve been expecting you,” he replies.
“How’s that? Can you see the future?”
He laughs. “No. I also made the school district maps. I received a call from a very confused administrative assistant asking me whether the city used to be larger. I told her no, but you and I both know that’s not true, is it?”
“So, you remember it?”
“Not exactly. Remembering is gonna be tough, if at all possible. But I do have this.” He walks over to the wall and pulls down a giant map roll hanging from the wall. “No, not that one.” He puts it back, then pulls it again. Not a different map, but the same one. Except it is different. It somehow changed while it was rolled up. “Not that one either. One more try.” He puts it back up, and pulls it down for the third time, revealing this time a full map of Springfield, including the missing schools.
“Where did you get this?”
“I made it,” Ciro says. “I did it with this.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pen. It’s shaped a little strange, but it’s not otherwise special. “I don’t know why, but every map I make with this thing is wrong. This whole section here doesn’t exist, but somehow...the pen thinks it does. I remember drawing this, but I don’t know why I would, or did, rather. Best I gather is that the city is getting smaller.”
There are so many questions, and so much I don’t understand. I know the city is receding, but I don't know how it’s happening, why I didn’t notice before...or how I see it now. But the most pressing question now has to do with RL, and his merry band of friends. “What does that have to do with missing children?”
“What missing children?”
“They were at a school lock-in...at a school that apparently no longer exists.”
He thought about this for a moment, obviously having never heard of anything like this before. “They must not be missing. They must have been erased from the timeline.”
“Why does one of the mothers remember her son then?”
He thought some more, but this time searching for the right words. “Maybe it’s like a disease. Pathogens attack individuals differently. We all react in our own personal way. Some of us don’t get as sick as others, and some of us don’t get sick at all. Sometimes a fluke in genetics just makes certain people immune to certain diseases. This mother may remember her son when no one else does just because of the law of probability. A hundred percent coverage is difficult to achieve in nature. There’s just always something. Something getting in the way.”
“It’s happened to me before. I could see things, and know things, that no one else could.”
“Really? Tell me.”
I tell him about Escher Bradley, and all I’ve been dealing with for the last ten years. I talk about the house, the elevator closet, and the other dimension. I list the children I met there, how my memories would regularly be erased afterwards, and how I’ve received treatments to retrieve them, but never did get their names back. That must be it. That’s why I can sort of remember the old Springfield. My brain has been taught to, but it isn’t perfect; it can’t give me everything.
“I need to find this child,” I plead, fairly certain he’ll never be able to help me. “Please. I can’t get back to that house, but I need a way in. They’re not gone, they’re not dead, they’re just somewhere else. There must be some other house with some other elevator.”
“I’m sorry, man,” he says. “I would have no idea. Have you tried the internet?”
“No, I don’t really like that thing.”
“Well, you can find just about anything there. It may take you awhile before you land on something real, but there should be tons of information about other dimensions, and invisibility, and whatnot.”
“I guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot,” I say, up for pretty much anything at this point. “You got a computer?”
“Unfortunately, mine is being worked on. They have them at the library, though.”
“All right, fine. Let’s just hope it still exists by the time I get there. It’s on the edge of the border.”
“I would go with you, but I really gotta finish this coastline.”
“It’s fine. Thanks for your help.” He turns to head back to the other room, and I turn to leave. “Hey, wait. How would you recommend I start my search? Ya know, to avoid all the garbage?”
“Start local. If the mother remembers, and you remember, and I remember...then somebody else probably does too. They might even remember more than we do.”
I make it to the library and get to work. I pass by the computers, and end up just walking to the catalog cards. I’m more familiar with how they work, and it’ll be faster if I just do it how I’m used to. I’m not opposed to technology, I’m sure computers will do wonders for our future, but I don’t have anyone in my life who can get me into them. People my age really need a son, or a niece, or someone young to roll their eyes and teach me how to doubleclick.
I spend an hour there before the librarian finds me and asks if I need any help. Well, yes, I do; there’s nothing here, but I’m also embarrassed to ask. I got lucky when Melantha suggested I speak with Alinari, but no one else is going to have so much understanding. No one else sees what I see.
I decide to swallow my pride and take what help is available. “I’m looking for anything weird about the city. Any freak accidents, or unexplained missing persons, or hell, even ghosts.”
She nods. “We have a special room for local information. Here, I’ll take you to it.”
“Thank you so much.”
She leads me through the stacks and to the back where they haven’t even bothered turning on the lights. She takes me down a creepy hallway, under a few cobwebs, and around piles of cardboard they haven’t thrown out yet. She then opens a set of double doors to the outside and ushers me through.
“I don’t understand.”
“You came in the West entrance, but that half of the library is already partially gone. If you can see us disappearing, then you need to get out of here before it’s gone for good. Go to the original branch. You’ll be able to find what you’re looking for. Remember these numbers. Nine-nine-nine. Nine-nine-nine.”
“What? I didn’t know the library was disappearing. If you do, why don’t you leave too?”
She shakes her head. “I’m the only one who can protect the books.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Just go. The farther you are from this place, the sa—”
Then she was gone, along with the rest of the library. They just suddenly blink away; like somebody flipped off the switch that made them appear to the world. In their place is another open field, which I’ll have to start getting used to seeing.
The original branch of the library; the one that was built when this was a wee little town. Easy enough, except that I parked my car on the other side of the building, and now it doesn’t exist anymore. Click here for the next installment...

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