Micro-fiction 098 – Find Me (Echoes series)
A lonely young man who overcomes his debilitating illness by reading, endless reading until one day his perspective is altered radically… Find Me. I first saw the words written in a book inherited from my grandparents, etched in beautiful calligraphy on the book plate of a guide to astronomy. “Find Me.” My early years were dominated by illness. I rarely attended the little local school, with a rare blood disease and treatment for it causing my further frailty. I didn’t think about what I was missing because I didn’t know any better, and going out into the big world was always a torture, with the sun in my eyes, and the noise of the streets. I felt safe at home, wrapped up in my blankets, curled up in the eaves of our ancient house, reading everything and anything. I loved stories about ancient civilisations the most, and space of course. Somehow I thought of them as the same, with tales of the past, and science fiction stories about the future each working their magic on me, mingling into a single fascination. I imagined myself as a warrior on the shores of Sumer, and a soldier at the edges of a galactic empire, an adventurer on Mars and a seeker of gold in pioneer California. My friends, at least those who had to be told that’s what they were, bought me comics and pulpy magazines, full of fabulous stories, while my parents filled my shelves with history books. On my tenth birthday I was given my prized possession, a tablet, like a mini computer, that gave me access to all the knowledge in the world, if only I could learn the right questions to ask. During the day I would read the books, but at night I would ask the tablet single questions. “Why is the Earth round?” “Where have all the gods gone?” “How far are the stars from earth?” “Where did the comets come from that destroyed the dinosaurs?” It was heaven, but of course the more you know, the more you know you don’t know and as I grew up I became aware of a particular anomaly that could never be explained in the books or online, the two words that haunted my world. “Find Me.” Sometimes the phrase would leap out of a page in a story, sometimes it was buried in an answer to a question on the tablet, sometimes I swear I heard it whispered in the breezes that danced around the eaves. Certainly it hunted me in my dreams, waiting for me in dark corners, slithering across the bannisters of my internal landscape. A little older I began to venture through the old house, leaving my tired eyes blinking, as I padded along corridors and found rooms I didn’t know existed, rattled at locked doors, and creaked floorboards. I became aware of an existence beyond my understanding, it was not world of the school or the children from the little town, nor the closed world of my attic life, but something closer to my dreams, shrouded and musky, with sunlight filtering in as though through a veil. Of course I was drawn to the dark, found it comforting, and I yearned for it to have substance, to rise up and hold me, or lead me by the hand. If I closed my eyes I thought I could conjure new scenes in front of me, beautiful fountains, reading rooms that stretched along valleys and up into mountains, huge glass galleries with machines and instruments that chattered tales of their origin and their use. Soon I began to see the patterns of the two words inlaid into the walls of everything, like old graffiti writ large along the hallway, or woven into the frayed carpets, the barely perceptible ceilings, even in the little crevices hidden under the bannisters, in the pillars. “Find Me.” In time I knew the upper levels of the old house so well I could wander around with my eyes closed, conjuring the physical form as I had known it before, but overlaying the adventures and events of the past and the future from my endless reading. I trekked up the Himalayas and threaded along narrow mountain paths, I plunged into the icey floes of the Arctic and swam with the salmon sharks, and, older, stronger I spacewalked at the edges of the solar system with the words imprinted onto the side of the Spaceship. “Find me.” Everywhere I went I felt the corridors and door frames, gliding around the rooms with my hand, inhabiting other worlds with my mind, and in time I found myself spacewalking more than anything else, for it brought me closer to where I felt the most safe, the most unique, the most complete. Everything I knew about space travel had come from books, but I knew the privations and the awe, the loneliness of the astronauts, and their yearning both to return home, and to stay in regions of space where Earth was no more than a speck of light, humanity no more significant than the tip of a solar flare. But I knew our life was not unique, our consciousness undiscovered anywhere else as yet, and the loneliness felt by some was a distillation of memories and stories in others. I lived for loneliness, at least, physically I was alone, but I had travelled so far in my imagination. “Find me.” Now I floated outside the spaceship, pulling at the tether, jolting at the end of its range. I heard the crackle of words from the telecom inside my helmet. I turned and seeing no-one did the only logical thing, I disconnected the tether from my belt. I floated free. I smiled. I lifted my arms for a moment and flexed my legs. I opened my eyes to see a light bursting from the other side of what I knew to be Uranus, and vast shadows in front of me consuming the stars. I heard a thump and looked down in my helmet. My hand felt a hard surface, and the spacesuit had disappeared. I lay on the floor, with pages of a book scattered around me. I looked up and saw a bookshelf, not my bookshelf with an empty space. Shaking my head I allowed my eyes to flicker around. I was surrounded by a vastness of spines, hardcovers, paperbacks, row upon row of books. “Find me.” I pushed myself up, noticing that my skin was translucent, flecks of stars, motes of ocean water and blue cloudy skies weaving and churning. I walked along the bookshelf and came to a corridor and lifting my head I found huge pillars of yet more bookcases peering over me, towers of knowledge and adventure, their shadows reaching further along. And above a dome swirled, painted with hundreds of figures, each of which moved and swam, and flew across its surface. As I walked further I found an auditorium with ethereal figures listening intently to an elderly speaker, a reading from another time, and beyond walls with hieroglyphs that shifted into motion as I ran my eye across them. I felt such joy, I allowed my legs to run, my feet lifting from the floor as though I jumped, and I passed books that sent smoke into the air, and others whose fragrance enveloped me, and the sound of birds in the distance, chattering the refrain of my life. “Find me.” And then they stopped. All was silent. *** “So you heard it too?” Another voice appears, paper thin, as though already worn through. I spin round. At the end of an aisle is a tall window, casting out to the valleys and spires of a sun-drenched day. And sitting in front is an old woman, who changes quickly to the form of a young man, then a robot, a child, a Pharaoh. “The voices have stopped.” I open my mouth for the first time in an age. “Of course they have.” The figure changes form again, this time becoming an astronaut, it dark visor reflecting the flare of the sun behind Uranus and the deep shadows of space. “You have found me.” “You? It is you?” “Oh yes, and it’s time for me to return to my shelf. This place might be timeless, but when you have work to do, it still wears you out.” Her voice teases a smile. “But what do I do? Where am I?” “Ah, you’ll find all you need to know here. It is the skeleton in the cupboard, the secret that dares not speak its name, it’s the Hidden Library at the point in time and space that should not exist, but without which no thing would have or will have been created. This place holds the names, the places, the philosophies and the lives of all things in the universe, from every planet, every moment of expansion, every big bang and big crunch, over and over again. Think of it as a secret garden of knowledge in its purest form.” The dark visor of the spacesuit nodded. “And so it needs tending.” I stutter. “It does.” The spacesuit shrivels, and falls to the floor. I reach down and find it is now a book. I pick it up and flick through its ancient, beautiful pages, illustrated in gentle hues and flowing figures, and try to read the words of a language I have yet to learn. I look around smiling, for I have plenty of time to learn, in this library of all space and time, for I seem to be the new librarian. “I found you.” These will be my last words for a while. [End] Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Vurbl and Stitcher and more. Also on this blog, These Fantastic Worlds. Text, image, audio © 2021 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam and Elise Wells, Logic ProX, Sound Studio, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, and Scrivener. More Tales, More Audio There are many other great stories in this series, including: The Green Man Kingdom of Lies Obesession Time Now Artificial Intelligence Clone Complicit Cosmic Hall Daily Mask Ophelia A.I. And a carousel of 10 audio stories from the podcast with information about submissions. Here's a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts.