Monday, April 30, 2007

Tales for Children by Luis Delgado

I. Fragment of The Native's Tale

Our tale begins at night, as the bright summer moon shines over the dark waters of the Bay. This is a Florida moon, a moon half-hidden in the smoky night air as our land burns to make way for the new settlement. Yet, it hangs so fully, I feel as if I could reach out and press my palm against it.

But dear children, do not be fooled by appearances. Things are not always what they seem. Beneath the calm waters lie many things that may harm you: the deep ocean fish with their fierce knife-teeth, the man-o-war, and the fire coral, born of Medusa's blood, and luring you closer and closer with its brightness. Stay far from this shiny bait, releasing its toxins upon touch.

Beware, my children. The moon shines down upon all of God's creations.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Writing on the Wall

"I'm lost," I say, simply, as Brad extracts the Architect's book from my hand. He holds a glowing roach close to the cover.

"Tales for Children," he reads.

"Research. For a new children's play. I thought, maybe The Great Library would give me some new...or old...material."

I bend down to pick up the two books Brad dropped.

"Secrets of Florida Flora," I read aloud. I start to pick up the other book, but Brad beats me to it. He pulls a lever and in a second, the shelves move to reveal a small reading room, with a few wooden tables, chairs, and reading lights. He leads us to a table and the shelves close behind us and recede into the darkness.

Brad thumbs through the plant book. "I've been doing some research myself. My client, he's been losing all his Bottlebrush trees to some sort of disease, thinks it's the city's fault."

Brad opens the book to a page displaying, on one side, a blooming pink Bottlebrush tree and on the other, the same tree, dead and blackened.

"Bottlebrush tree," I say softly, thinking of my favorite store. I pull out the other book he has hidden beneath the plant book.

"Oh," he says, quickly. "That's all my mom...she told me I had to start...planning."

I leaf through the book entitled "An Unenigmatic Engagement."

"Bring her a bouquet of red roses and bend on one knee because she will expect one, not two knees. Two knees might puzzle her," I read slowly.

"It's really old-fashioned, but you met my mom. She loves Eva."

"Shhhhhh!" A fellow Great Library-goer glares at us over her book.

"Sorry," I say to her. Then to Brad: "Eva's very...well-dressed."

"And she doesn't generally trip over people or read children's stories," says Brad, thoughtfully. "Which is okay, I guess." Brad takes the engagement book from my hand, pausing a second.

"Your hands are like a dead person's." He presses a glowing roach into my hand and the warmth starts to spread across my skin as my face also turns pink.

Francie, read the writing on the wall! Brad is engaged to Eva. If you're ever going to be more than a third assistant, you can't forget what you're looking for....

The writing on the wall...isn't that what the receptionist said? Read the writing on the wall. Then, follow it to the end...

I practically fly from the desk, looking for a door out of the room.

"Brad...The Great Library...does it have any walls?" I ask, excitedly.

"I know it has shelves, shelves everywhere...but no real walls...Francie?"

"Come on," I grab Brad's arm and pull the lever. The bookshelves creak open to let us through.

Sure enough, in a couple of minutes, we end up back in front of the portrait of Juan Rosado I/Luis Delgado.

"Help me here," I say, feeling my way around the edge of the portrait frame.

"What are you doing?" Brad asks. "Didn't the Librarian tell you not to touch anything?"

I lift the framed portrait off the wall and Brad runs over to catch it before it falls. Together, we set it on the marble. Behind the portrait is another frame, this one older, wooden, less ornate. Instead of framing a portrait, it forms a boundary around a blank, crumbled wall.

"Glowing roach," I say, breathlessly.

"What?" Brad looks confused. I grab the roach from him and shine it towards the wall.

Nothing happens. We're still staring at a blank wall.

"Are you gonna explain to me what's going on?" Brad is losing patience.

I look around us at the bookshelves, then up at the ceiling. The glowing letters are still swirling around in the sea of the dome. Without thinking, I lift the roach up towards the dome. The roach emits a sigh and lets out all the light it possesses. Its glow somehow reaches the ceiling and pulls the letters down towards the wall, filling the empty space, word after word.

"How...how did you..." Brad and I step back from the wall, so that we can get a clearer view.

"I'm not sure," I say, "but I need to read the writing on the wall."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Librarian's Suggestion

The Librarian pulls a rusty lever and one of the highest shelves begins to descend towards us. She floats up to meet it and runs her fingers across the spines.

"No one's checked this book out in several years," she says, "so it should be here."

She grabs a thin volume that looks more like a pamphlet than a book. She hands it to me delicately, as if the pages might disintegrate.

"Ponce de Leon and the Fountain: Tales for Children. By Luis Delgado," I read aloud. The Librarian clutches my arm earnestly, anticipating my skepticism.

"In his spare time, when he wasn't designing libraries or mazes, the Architect published several books of children's stories. This is the only known copy of his conquistador tales. As you might imagine, Luis was not especially popular as a children's writer. Most of his characters came to a rather bad end. But his tales of Ponce de Leon are so vivid -- I think they might just point you in the right direction."

Looking into the knowing, dark eyes of the Librarian, in which several long years and maybe a few hurricanes have left their mark, I'm inclined to believe her.

"Do you need my library card?" I ask, searching my bag. I hand her Officer Khost's card and she unravels it, looking at all the titles.

"Ahhh, this list, all these strange titles, from the highest shelves, reminds me of our Officer Khost." The Librarian clutches the list tightly and looks at me with immense seriousness.

"Francie, I know we've only just met, but I need you to promise. Look after the Officer. His line of work is most dangerous. I have been lighting candles for him."

I start to speak, but the Librarian quickly stops me.

"I'm sorry. Of course, you're the Officer's assistant. So you know more about his work than anyone. Please, find a quiet nook and I'll be back with your stamped card." She picks up a glowing roach and presses it into my hand before I can protest. In a second, she has floated away down a dark corridor.

I turn around and try to head back the way we came, but the shelves seem to form a sort of maze, leading me further into the bowels of The Great Library.

It seems that no matter which way I turn, I end up back in front of the grinning portrait of Juan Rosado I/Luis Delgado. I set the glowing roach down on the marble, thinking that it might lead the way, but it sees its chance at freedom and scurries between the shelves, leaving me in total darkness.

"Librarian," I call, trying to stay calm. The word echoes in the darkness. For some reason, the lack of light sends my mind spinning. Max -- where was he, anyway? He'd been skittish since the opossum incident, then disappeared. Officer Khost -- his connection to The Great Library and its Librarian, and what kind of detective was he? The Historian, The Architect, The Queen, Grandma...and Ponce de Leon's three points -- connecting (or disconnecting) us all.

I feel my way around a corner. Above me, I can barely see the glowing letters swirling around the dome. I try to follow the letters, like a beacon, and pull the levers that move the shelves in their general direction.

I seem to be making some progress (haven't seen the portrait in a few minutes) when I hear footsteps. Somewhere close.

"Hello?" I say, but no answer. I start to back away, instinctively.

I turn a corner and stumble into the arms of a man in a grey coat. He drops his pile of books.

"Francie?" says Brad, shining a glowing roach at me. "What are you doing here?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Shelves of Unreachable Mysteries

"Most people who come to The Great Library are looking for something," says the Librarian, "but they don't always know what it is."

She takes out something glowing from her pocket. It looks like a round glow stick, like the ones you get at concerts. But the glow stick flutters its wings and falls to the marble floor with a quiet thud. It scurries ahead of us, leading the way.

"Glowing roaches," she says. "If you can't get rid of them, you might as well put them to use."

We descend into the shadows, as rows of bookshelves turn mechanically to let us pass. I'm glad the Librarian seems to know where she's going; without her, I'd be completely lost.

"The Great Library doesn't follow the Dewey Decimal System. This is, in part, because of the predilections of its patron, Juan Rosado I," says the Librarian.

"Juan Rosado. Founder of the Red Coral Society?"

"The same. So, you already know Juan's story. But what you may not know is that after Ponce de Leon died, Juan Rosado returned to La Florida. He commissioned Spain's most renowned architect, Luis Delgado, to build him an elaborate library that would house not only his master's correspondence, but a collection of books and papers never before catalogued. The Architect (as he was called) was known throughout his native country for designing several of its architectural disasters, such as the Palace of Cracked Mirrors and the Maze of Sorrows. The Architect was a notorious drunkard, had a crippled thumb, and expressed his bitterness towards authority by constructing elaborate tunnels, secret passageways, and trap doors in all of his structures. Many a patron disappeared after touring his new commission, never to be heard from again."

"Sounds like a real charmer," I say. The Librarian pushes back one of the shelves to reveal a rather gloomy-looking portrait.

"Another example of the Architect's sense of humor. His portrait of Juan Rosado I."

My entire body turns cold. The first Juan Rosado's family resemblance to the last Juan is unmistakeable. But the eyes -- so similar to Rafe's, they could be brothers.

"I'm not seeing the humor," I say.

"Turn a bit. See? One step and voila! A second profile -- of the Architect. Luis inserted his own image, like a signature."

I step back and forth, watching the two images merge into each other, the Architect grinning all the while.

The glowing roach scurries by and ducks between the stacks. The librarian pulls a lever and moves a shelf to follow it.

"This system of levers and pulleys. I think I've seen it before," I say, recalling the cage in the Historian's house.

"Really?" she asks. "That is most interesting. You see, Luis Delgado died of malaria before he finished The Great Library. That's why the letters on the ceiling swirl around. He didn't have time to engrave them."

I look up at the letters, still swirling aimlessly and running into each other.

"I'm sure you're in a hurry to begin your research," says the Librarian, "so here's the abridged tour. The Great Library is divided into mysteries. Each tower of books holds a different one. For instance, many of our visitors are delighted to explore our equivalent of the "relationship" section of your mega-bookstores. Men seek to find out all the mysteries of women and vice versa. I'm sure one day I'll understand all this, but it seems rather silly, if you ask me."

"Mysteries..." I pull a book off the shelf. The cover reads: "Why Didn't He Call?" The librarian grabs the book and quickly reshelves it.

"The most obvious mysteries are on the bottom shelves, or easily reachable with a normal-sized ladder. But the library's greatest mysteries...well, they might as well be unreachable. Some are even locked up, and I have never found the key."

Far across the library, I can dimly see the books locked behind the metal cage.

"So, mysteries like..."

"The Fire in the Glades, for example. I have been looking and looking for books on the Fire and my mama, but I cannot reach them. So I must depend on gift-books from my dear Officer Khost for all my psychic nourishment."

The Librarian looks thoughtful, then scoops up the glowing roach and points it towards a dusty shelf.

"I think I know just what you're looking for."