Friday, July 10, 2009

One (In which an interruption occurs.)


(In which an interruption occurs.)

Russell Malconperry had a certain arrangement with the janitors who cleaned the British Library: they would stay out of his reading room, and he would help with the vermin control. It wasn’t a written agreement, nothing as solid as a contract, or even a memo, but it was quite understood by both.

Russell had broken the neck of the last, and only, janitor who had disturbed the dusty pile of Old English texts he had collected. It was the madness of the moment, a hasty mistake brought on by the scent of someone’s blood spiced by the momentary thrill of tripping over antiquity. He had almost been sorry. Almost. He thought it best not to remind the staff that he had been human once, and sometimes almost had emotions. He was too old for them now. They would wear him thinner and dryer than he already was. He kept reminding himself of that.

What Russell really liked—aside from blood, of course—was languages. The deader, the better. Old words as thin and dry as he was. He was conversant in Church Slavonic, Middle Welsh, Occitan, classical and medieval Latin, and Homeric Greek. It wasn’t enough. For languages, Russell would even give up that wet, salty, gushing warmth of delectability, and there had been no incidents since.

It was rather like being a priest, he sometimes thought. Giving up certain things in the hope that there would be others. He had been well-rewarded so far. Rat’s blood was a fair trade for the ecstasy of conjugation. But he craved conversation. He craved the past, pungently revived and able to open its mouth to speak, so he set out to find it. He opened a book.

It was not the sort of book that Russell usually read, one full of verb tenses and participles. It was, instead, a grimoire. The authors were cagey with practical details, but Russell had been a patient man, and he was still patient, though he was now something else. He had all the time, and all the books, in the world. And the janitorial staff would do nicely for the item on the 47th page.

Items needed for a resurrection:

Item one: Blood, just a little. Blood is thick with dreams and wishes, clotted with the incurable desire to live.

Russell nodded. He understood the need for blood. Blood was life.

Item two: Water from the birthplace of the person to be resurrected.

Item three: Dust.

The book didn’t mention whether the kind of dust mattered, but Russell supposed that it did.

“Excuse me.”

It was a woman, ordinary and in sensible shoes.

“I don’t believe that book is available for handling,” she said. “Much too old.”

“Madam, I too am too old for public handling,” Russell responded. “Do go away.” He hated interruptions. And sensible shoes.

No one had ever told Adelaide Grimbly to go away. “Anyway,” she said, tapping her finger on his desk. “You translated that wrong.”

Russell hated the ablative even more than sensible shoes. In his thinnest, driest voice, he asked, “And what would you suggest?”

“I wouldn’t,” Adelaide said, “suggest anything. I’ve always thought that translation was about tasting things for yourself. Dust into cake.”

Russell was so flummoxed that he gasped before remembering that he didn’t breathe. “You believe I should use a cake to raise the dead?”

“It was a metaphor.” The corner of her eyebrow lifted so high that it momentarily draped the curve of her forehead with wrinkles.

“I see.” Russell had stopped thinking in metaphor at the same time that he had stopped breathing. Vampirism, he discovered, had odd side effects.

She drew a line down the nearest wall and held up her finger, now downed with grey. “But it’s dusts, plural. Not dust.”

Sensible shoes be damned, Russell thought. She was smart. “You agree then that library dust would provide the proper medium?”

“It might. But then, theoretically, dust from several places might be even better. Thank goodness it’s only one kind of blood.”

“Of course, of course. Capture all the nuances of the sacred.” Russell nodded, then narrowed his eyes at her. “And the water?”

“I’d say the nearest tap would do.” Then Adelaide Grimbly tucked her hands into the pockets of her very sensible cardigan and walked away.


Russell dismissed that thought immediately. Resurrecting someone with tap water was simply not done. “Idiot female,” he muttered. He turned back to his books, making certain to change “dust” into “dusts” on the scratched out, ink splotched mess of his notes.

Then he heard the unmistakable clop of sensible shoes.

“Don’t even think of performing that ritual in the library.” Adelaide stood between two bookshelves, looking fierce and not sensible at all. In fact, she looked as if she might explode. “Well?” she said.

This interference was not to be borne. “And, madam, how will you be stopping me?” He smiled, showing the slightest edge of fang.

Adelaide ignored him. She hid her hands in her pockets again, and waited. Russell found himself picking up his papers, then gathering his pens. Adelaide stepped forward and picked up the grimoire.

“If you’ll just come with me. And, yes, the route we’re taking is sunless.” She walked ahead, through the complex abundance of bookshelves, and out a small door that Russell had always thought was a utility closet.

Instead of mops, or buckets, or the smell of cleaning supplies, it opened onto a set of obviously underused stairs. Fluorescent lights dotted the ceiling. They lit dust furring the steps, and the walls, and mounding the banister top in a miniature drift.

“You might gather the dust from here,” Adelaide said. Her shoes left no tracks in it.

Russell looked back again. The harsh light illuminated the smudges left by his steps. Only his. “You leave no tracks. What are you?”

“Just myself,” Adelaide said. “With very good shoes.”

Russell did not believe her, but he followed anyway. At the bottom of the stairs, a security guard sat behind an unfolded card table. He was playing solitaire. He looked up from his cards when they reached him.

“Miss Grimbly, he needs a visitor’s pass.”

“Yes,” Adelaide said. She waited. The guard, called “Bell” by his nametag, sighed. Then he dug under the peeling top of the table and produced a card. It was a burnt-edged square, utterly blank, and he handed it to Russell, who took it cautiously, not wanting to touch Bell’s hand.

Bell gathered his cards together and began to shuffle them. “Haven’t seen you for awhile, Adelaide.” Several of his cards flopped to the floor. He paled and ducked his head. “Er, Miss Grimbly, is what I meant. Beg pardon, ma’am.” He trembled as he picked up the fallen cards and fanned them on the table. They all belonged to the suit of hearts. Bell quickly hid them under the rest of the deck. Then he stood, patted his pockets, and extracted a large iron skeleton key, which he handed to Adelaide. “He’ll need to keep his pass.”

“Of course,” Adelaide said. “Thanks.”

Bell looked down at his table. Adelaide turned back to Russell.

Bell keeps us straight and forward facing. He doesn’t miss a trick. She walked toward a shadowed door. Russell looked for one more moment at Bell, gone nearly as pale as himself at her words. Though, in Bell’s case, it was a paleness brought on by wishing too hard to be the sort of person who could say something to make her stay.

“I suggest you keep up,” she said.

Russell touched his hand to his visitor’s pass, then turned and followed Adelaide’s voice into the shadows.


Bell closed the door after they went through. He made the queen of hearts appear between his fingers. He flipped the card back and forth, tapped the it against his chin, and tucked it gently into the cuff of his sleeve. Then he went back to his game.


  1. I'm happy you decided to collect the story here. I hope the idiocy of others won't prevent you from continuing the tale, which intrigues me mightily.

  2. Thank you. We're glad you're enjoying it.

  3. If I hadn't been told, I'd never have guessed how this story emerged. It's amazingly fluid, especially considering it was composed in bits!

  4. Hullo, Sandy. Hullo, Mikki.

    Thank you for enjoying it with us. It is a bizarre experience to write it. But much fun.

    (we are still writing it on Twitter, though more slowly. We're just not tagging it because of some of the attention it attracted.)