Chapter 1: Eira
It isn’t my first time to be in London. My maternal grandparents live in Reading, just forty-five miles away from the capital. I and my parents always come to visit them whenever their free schedules meet, especially with how eccentric my father’s work as an archaeologist is.
And neither my best friend Shannon, who’ve recently visited London with her parents just over the summer of this year.
Due to that, neither from the two of us have any intention to come along with the rest of our class for a tour around the city. And though this is a class trip, we’ve been allowed to come wherever we wish to be as long as we remain in pairs and always approachable by phone. Also, before we two left our hotel, we’ve informed our instructor where we are heading, and she mentioned something about the line that we better be telling the truth.
I don’t know what she is thinking where we are planning to go. I can’t even tell her that our intentions had been pure. Perhaps the only reason that she is curious of the reality of our visit is because we are the odd ones among the bunch of our class who’ve been ecstatic with the idea of having to tour London.
Shannon asked me a few days ago, before even hopping on to a plane and arrived here last night, that there’s a place that she absolutely wanted to go. And since I am so use with the surrounding of London already, I agreed to come.
I just didn’t know beforehand that she’s to drag me to the British Library.
“Please,” she begged me with those child-like eyes. “My parents would not allow me to visit when we’ve been here in London. This might be my one and only chance to do so. After all, to be in London and fail to see the largest national library in the world by number of items catalogued is a great mock for an avid reader and future historian such as me.”
“Okay, okay,” I chided. “No need to patronize your future to me. I’m coming with you.” I sighed as I fixed my glasses. “It’s as if I have a choice since we better stick together like glue and we’ve already received a clear-go signal from Miss Mackenzie.”
“That’s right!” she beamed, her green eyes twinkling in delight and visible excitement. “We better prove to her that we’re being honest that we’re really going to the British Library than wherever she thinks that we’re going.”
I absolutely have nothing against the British Library, to be honest. Since I was a child, every time that we’re going to London then to Reading to visit my grandparents, Dad will always insist that we better drop off by the said library as well. He told me once that the library itself had been his pivot link for him to have interest with strange and unsolved phenomena in the world that urged him to be an archaeologist.
Well, the British Library has an exhibit of different artefact every once in a while. Perhaps that’s what he is implying.
“No,” he told me once. “There are too many books in that library alone that you’ll never be able to read all of them throughout your lifetime even if you’re to start very young until you die.”
Somehow, the idea of being close to the British Library itself makes me miss Dad. He’s currently in an expedition to Greece with his team of archaeologist when they’ve speculated about a temple that is as old as the acropolis itself. Anyhow, when he heard that I’m heading off to London for a school trip, he said that I must stick with the traditions.
Given that that tradition coincides with what Shannon also expects to fulfil for her visit this time.
Before leaving home though, Mum told me that it wasn’t just the artefact that amazed Dad about the library. She said that there had been some books that were so ancient that even historians like her and archaeologists like Dad couldn’t read or understand at all.
“Where do you think shall I start?” Shannon whispers to my ear, afraid that her glee will even be caught and the others will look at us for her not taking in consideration the silence policy. After all, she just keeps an arm of hers loop around her after we two secure a borrower’s slip and immediately drags me with her to the very reading room. “There are too many books to choose from.”
“How about you let me sit on one of the chairs here as you look around for something to read?” I inquire, murmuring.
Despite the vastness of the very Reading Room with its segmented dome-like structure, countless of books shelved surrounding the perimeter with tables and computers in the middle, I still can’t help but feel claustrophobic with the idea. For a person such as me which is like a magnet to unluckiness and clumsiness, this is surely the worst for me to be in.
“Nonsense,” she says, rather loudly as if she forgets where we are at the moment. Before she draws more attention, she instantly ducks her head and stops herself before she even claps me by my shoulders that will certainly be a lot worse then. She murmurs close to my ear, “You know me in times that I am reading. It takes me hours that I almost lost sight of the time. I know that you’ll be bored with this set-up, so I suggest that you come with me and search a book that will interest you for those long hours.”
I frown a little at her as she guides me on to a nearby sit. I carefully find my place next to her. “I don’t even know what type of book will keep me interested for hours.”
She smirks as she faces the computer right in front of her. She easily comes up with something interesting for her to search through the catalogue and requests for it to be delivered to the Reading Room. “Well, anything will do, you know? What interests you so much?”
“Now that you ask me that… I am interested on the same field as of my Dad,” I tell her.
“Then, what about if you search for something that will remind you of him? He’s in Greece right now, isn’t he? Why not read something about Greece then? I start to wish that we can travel to Greece one day as well!” she exclaims.
Before I can even say something to quiet her down, the nearby people busy reading on their chosen books and doing their researches stop for a moment to turn in our direction. Their heavy and analytical gazes are telling me that we are indeed becoming quite eccentric that we seems to be missing the idea of where we are right now.
I flush, smiling sadly at the people as I mouth my apology. Shannon doesn’t seem to mind it or even notice the situation as she receives a notification that her requested book is ready for pick-up.
I am almost finish with assuring the people who’ve turned to our direction with mouthed apologies when I suddenly feel the chill in the surrounding, causing me to stop and hurriedly turn my attention to where I feel that daggering feel. In the end, when I do so, I only find the presence of people coming in and out down another hall leading to another reading room in respect to certain studies that the library has to offer.
“Hey, are you all right?” Shannon manages to ask me this time as quietly as she can. She lowers the thick book that she had requested for and looks on to the same direction I have my eyes pinned on. The worry on her voice is audible, and I start to feel guilty about making her curious at the same concept that I do. “Something wrong?”
I shake my head as I turn to her with a small smile. “It’s nothing. It seems to be just my weird thinking getting a hold of myself again.”
“If that’s the case, you better find a book that will interest you right now because you’ll certainly need to tell me something that will catch my attention, or else, you’ll die out of boredom with the silence in this place for the hours I am to take reading this,” she tells me with an encouraging smile.
“Yeah.” I nod, at the same time that she heads on to start with reading the book that she had asked for.
Me, however, I try to act as calm and natural as possible. I keep my eyes pinned onto the computer ahead of me and start scrolling down catalogues and catalogues of books that the British Library has to offer.
At the same time that I still feel that cold shiver at my spine that starts to prick me restlessly. Another quick look at the same direction heading to the other reading room through my peripherals is all I need to make me believe that I am just being delusional at the moment.
But I can swear that just a few minutes ago, indeed, someone from that respective direction had been looking at me intently. So intently than the people who’ve stopped reading to turn at the moment that Shannon had been loud herself. Much more of a stare that is both sinister and deadly; a look that is giving me the feeling that someone is planning something against me.
By lunch time, Shannon drags me out of the reading room in order for the two of us to find something to eat. She said that as compensation for me to come along with her, our meal is her treat for me. And she started saying how sorry she is for not even asking my opinion about this in first place, thinking that she’s somehow obligated to do so for doing so. After all, throughout the time that she had been busy reading that thick book about Egyptian pharaohs, she didn’t even bat an eye at me at all and I am left scrolling to the list of books right there.
“You wish to be an archaeologist, right? Like your father?” she suddenly asked me over lunch.
“What’s with this all about?” I countered, munching over my own meal.
“Well, I’ve told you to watch out for any books that regard Greece in order for you to match with that of your dad’s current expedition. And yet, you didn’t. Perhaps you’re the type of a future archaeologist who is much more interested with other things.”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“You know what I mean!” She frowned at my lack of interest and enthusiasm, taking a frustrated bite on her sandwich. “Your interest with archaeologist seems to be more of inclined to analysing artefacts than discovering them! Some sort of like unearthing some ancient scriptures out of those hieroglyphics. Or even decoding something from the past.”
To be honest, I am actually interested with everything that has to do with history. It is one that actually made me to be easily friends with such a popular girl as Shannon. My mom is also a historian, so it is no surprise that I’ll have such adept interest with the past as well. But being an archaeologist is the field work of a historian. Those people that others called to be “the detectives of the past” or to the worst notion be titled as “the stalkers of the dead”.
But… I understand one thing that disappoints me to have such wild dreams in becoming a successful one in the future, indeed.
I have that unluckiness and clumsiness magnet with me all the time. Seeing how my parents work, I understand that everything is crucial, important and delicate. And for a person like me, instead of finding out something from those precious recollections of the past, I’m certainly just inviting more trouble in destroying such relics.
“That’s why, why don’t we head on to that section regarding rare books! Surely, there will be some books there that will interest you, as well as I!” Shannon suggested, bringing the two of us to the Rare Books and Music Reading Room after lunch.
Compared to the Main Reading Room, this reading room has more desks present, placed in rows and columns that almost resemble a classroom set-up. The walls are filled with shelves of who knows how rare those books are, surely most of them had been important manuscripts that costs quite a fortune for just one small torn on a page or whatsoever. Also, this reading room does not the same aura as I anticipate of it.
Of course, when I heard the term ‘rare’, I start imagining that the reading room will have that fill of history and antiquity. But those assumptions had been all thrown to the window when I am met with a classical set-up. One of modern feel; the titles of the books here are the only indications of its historical aura.
The two of us head on first to the Enquiry Desk to ask the reference specialist about the most appropriate material for Shannon’s interest with materials that might be in regards to Ancient Egypt. Lucky her that the librarian had been too kind to provide her a list of books possible to quench that thirst of her for more information. I start to even wonder how come a beautiful lady as her will have more interest with books and sticking along with a clumsy person such as me than with the fame that will surely follow her throughout the school.
“By the way, ma’am,” Shannon adds on to inquire once again the librarian at the Enquiry Desk. As if she remembers something, she immediately continues, “My friend here is having trouble about what book will interest her in all of the many possible topics that can be accessed here.”
It takes a few more seconds before I realise that she is asking for something that will surely interest me on my place. I chide, closing my hands on her arm to start pulling her away, “Shannon! There’s no need to—”
“She’s into everything that is rare. Perhaps you can recommend her about something,” Shannon continues on with a smile at the librarian’s direction.
The librarian giggles lightly before answering, “The items we have on shelved in this Reading Room had a wide collection of such reference works relevant to the study of early printed books and music. Most of them had been those printed before 1850s. Though I am afraid to say that most of the books that are shelved were more of English history, I am sure that with just a walk-around and a quick read of the titles by the spine will be enough to arouse the interest of your friend, miss. After all, you’re in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room of the famed British Library in the first place!”
“O-Of course, ma’am!” I stammer, blushing with embarrassment as I try to duck away. I start to put all of my effort in dragging Shannon away from the Enquiry Desk to inquire more for my sake. “S-Shannon, come on now. You’ll not be able to read all of those books on the list if you’ll not start checking on them right now.”
“Thank you, ma’am!” Shannon remarks before she finally allows me to drag her away from the Enquiry Desk and she’s back on dragging me to the section of the reading room where the first book on the list could be found.
I manage to let go a sigh the very moment that it had been just the two of us within a perimeter that we alone can somehow murmur to each other. The nearest stranger from us is about two rows away, completely intrigued in whatever he is reading for him to almost snore in his sleep. I use the moment then to ask her, “What’s with that?”
“Well, I don’t want you to be bored this second time,” she answers with a light of a smile on her voice as she trails her eyes onto the list given to her and then to the row of books there. “This time around, you must find something that will interest you if you’re so sure that you want to be a successful archaeologist like your father!”
“Sha, you don’t need to scold me about it,” I tell her with a strained smile. I pout, looking away to appear interested on the trail of books present. Most of the titles by the spine are written in a language that I can’t even understand. “You know that to be an archaeologist is just a dream for me. It’s like I’ll ever be one.”
“I don’t think that it will just remain to be a dream, you know?” She says as she takes one book from the shelf, checking off the first book on her list. She turns to me the next second with a serious expression. “You don’t even know what’s going to happen in the future after all.”
“What I am telling is that… you know how clumsy I am. Have you ever heard an archaeologist who is one? And one who attracts danger than luck?”
“Well, we’re passed half the day already and you’re still not bumping into any clumsiness yet, Eira.”
I raise an eyebrow at her. “Might I remind you about what happened during breakfast?”
“You know that the guys in our class are a jerk. The coffee stain on that shirt will be removed with proper washing,” she murmurs.
“It’s a good thing that I manage to remove the smell from my hair.” I take a strand of my short and shaggy hair to take a sniff of it, ensuring that I indeed successfully removed the smell from the incident during breakfast. “But we’re still not over with it. That train…”
“We still manage to make it here early. Nothing to worry that we miss the train when you trip during our chase. It’s my fault that I urge you to run for us to catch it up.”
“And during the ID surrender?”
Shannon sighs heavily as she smiles at me. “Well, enough with this. It’s still not the end of the day. Surely, something good’s about to happen today. That’s for sure. So… look on at this shelves of rare books. Perhaps something will catch your interest in order to lessen my guilt that I dragged you to boredom.”
“All right. All right. I’m going to search for one,” I remark, fixing my glasses again.
She smiles at me, much brighter than earlier that it is not an exaggeration to say how blinding it is. “Then, for us to avoid further damage or whatsoever, you come along with me. The next book is on the other shelf there. We walk slowly so that you can also leisurely pick a book of your liking. And who knows, perhaps it is not only Ancient Egypt that interests me but also others? Not to mention that these are truly rare and antique materials, if I’m to be honest.”
“Yeah,” I agree, trailing the shelf with curious eyes as I try to read the titles by the spine of the books. Majority of them were written in Old English than those of other languages from Western Europe. I don’t think that there will be some books that will interest me at all if this is the case. Not to mention that since these books are already labelled to be “rare”… I don’t think that I have the right to even touch these books with my clumsy hands. “The rarer they are, the scarier I am about having to be near them.”
“Come on. You’ll surely do fine. The antiqueness of them will surely make you be much extra careful, Eira,” she says, hugging that thick book she had first recovered that is very visibly an old and ancient one; given the thick hardcover of its binding and everything leather that suggests the many years it had overcame to survive in this time to still be used than to be preserved in some fine glass under a museum.
“I don’t think that it is enough to make me be at ease. Your words only make me wish to cower being a hermit where there is no way that I’ll do damage to anything as important as these ones.”
“Stop with the melodrama. It doesn’t suit you, you know? You’re much more of a fighter than this. And I am speaking with all honesty, even though I know that this is not the right place for us to talk about this. Given that this is a library. And not just any library, but this is…”
Suddenly, Shannon’s words start to fade away to the point that I am no longer listening and I find myself stopping right at the newest shelf that we come across to. This shelf at the farthest side from where most of the desks in the reading room are. This one at the far corner from the main entrance; and the one much greatly away from those who’ve been gathered to read on here. Well, to be honest, I will not be stopping at all and stop listening on if my eyes haven’t catch sight of a peculiar book among the already odd bunch.
It is not at all different compared to the others. The way of binding resembles those of others. It doesn’t have a title that is explicitly weird; but it is the only book that doesn’t have any words on its spine at all. Not to mention that when its surrounding books, or the population of all others had shown decay of history, this respective one appears completely new. In short, this very book that catches my eye is undeniably weird. The oddest one in the already rare ones.
“Eira?” I hear Shannon calling out to catch my attention. I hear her footsteps drawing closer back to where I am standing, transfix at the sight alone of the book’s spine. The worry and curiosity on her voice had been much more evident when she is finally standing next to me, asking, “Eira, what is it about? Have you found one that interests you?”
“Probably,” I mumble.
“Probably?” she asks, turning to me with a raised eyebrow and then back to the numerous books on the shelf. She is trying to figure out which one from all of them had made me stopped.
“It’s just that… This book.” I reach out to take the book from the shelf. I try all I can not to quiver and panic, the common reflexes that I do have that are all associated to my clumsiness as Mum usually told me. I easily hook the book’s top away, sliding it effortlessly from the shelf. I turn the book to face its cover to see what I’m not expecting at all.
The book is bounded in red leather. Unexpected for a book printed all the way back in history. There’s still no title on its surface, not even a hint of the author or whatsoever. It seems like it is just newly covered with leather, obscuring the original bounding to preserve it still. But that will be a backlash for the other rare books on here. The only other imprint on the cover is the golden silhouette of the familiar Welsh dragon with a crown on its head all the while embracing a sword. Framing the cover of the book is an intricate filigree design, making everything else weird.
“That’s an odd one you’ve got there,” Shannon comments on next to me. “No title. Not even the author’s name on the cover. It is a great mock, you know? Try opening it. Perhaps the title and the author’s name inside it.”
“Y-Yeah.” Levelling the book on my hand, ensuring that I have a tight grip of it on my own, I slowly open it to reveal the first page. My displeasure and disappointment in finding out the title of this book and even its author heightens much more when the thing written on the first page is a cursive writing of a language that is incredibly foreign to me.
My parents had been interested with other languages that I try my best to catch up with them. Not to mention that they’ve asked me to study one after another since they’ve ensured that I’m already good with my English and Welsh. They continue on hiring tutors until recently to oversee my learning of other languages that even require a different form of writing system to the Latin phonetics. And that’s surely what makes me disappointed with this book among all; since for me who’ve been a polyglot myself, this is my very first time to see such writing form at all.
To top it all, the writing had been on script. A weird writing system, and a weird combination of symbols if they are really letters to begin with. There are less spaces in between each word, and there are even written notes of the same writing system on the margins.
I am starting to wonder if there had been someone who’ve already worked on with decoding this one.
The part of me who’ve been a born archaeologist for scenarios such as this makes me giddy. It makes me wish to ponder onto this strangeness on my own. For some reasons, this book’s existence makes me interested to quench my boredom as I wait on for Shannon as she takes the rest of the hours busy with the collection regarding the antiquity of Ancient Egypt.
As I skim onto the writings on the already old and faded yellow paper, knowing too well how fragile they are just by looking at them without even touching to feel the history that this book had in order to remain this intact, I freeze… as I notice the familiar sense and shiver on my bones like that one of earlier when I and Shannon had been on the main reading room. The same feeling I have when I take in the consideration that it appears as if someone is watching us… me.
“I’ve finally found you, my girl.”
The voice that seems to have been whispered by my ear forces me to look to the side, away from the row of books next to me, and then behind me. Trying to find the direction where that feeling and sound comes from. I am trying to keep myself grounded, wishing that I am not shaking so badly and that the book I have on my hold will remain firmly there before I caused some fault all due to my nervousness.
“I finally found you.”
Before I realize what I am doing, I am already falling backwards. The book no longer on my hold as I try to catch my own fall. At the moment that I am sitting on the floor, I realize that everyone else in the room had turned in my direction. Based on their expressions, I’ve surely done something that makes them turn their attention to me.
This is embarrassing. But… that voice and this feeling of being watched…
“Eira!” Shannon calls out to me, immediately kneeling next to me as she places back the book she’d earlier recovered beside her. She leans close to me, worry absolutely visible on her green eyes. “Eira, are you all right?”
“I…” I struggle to say something, just as the dread and coldness on my bones slowly dissipates. Yet, the haunting feeling of someone always watching, someone right there sending chills in my nerves, and that voice that I’ve heard too close… it will not even go away that I can sense how badly I am shivering myself in fear.
I hear a sigh from an elderly man, clearly disappointed. “Do you even know how valuable every book there is in here? These books are rare and unique. Perhaps the only one of their kind left in the world, if ever there were others. Since the loss of the Library of Alexandria, the knowledge regarding history are too hard to be acquired once more.”
When he draws closer to the shelf just next to me, I realize that he had been holding that very book without a name of its own. He is returning that respective book back to its place from the shelf, clearly intent of not allowing me to take another glance of its odd writings. Given his uniform, I will say that he is one of the head librarians here.
“I-I’m sorry,” I mumble, biting my lower lip in embarrassment of my own self.
“If you’re to search for another series of books from this section, I advise you to take very extra precautions,” he warns to both me and Shannon, but I can feel his eyes heavily on me. As if he can see right through me that I am more of a danger to these books than all of the collections here combined to rain down on me. As if the word “clumsy” is written above my head in neon lights. “The books here are way beyond your age, young women. Also, keep your reactions to yourself. Kindly observe silence.”
“We’re very sorry, sir,” Shannon continues apologizing on. “We’ll keep ourselves reminded of that rule.”
The man’s dark eyes, through the thick-lenses of his round glasses, settle on to me as if he is analysing me from head to toe. The frown he has didn’t disappear, making me wonder if he is looking at me as a disgust or whatsoever. I’ll say that he hates me; and my clumsiness had earned a spot at that as well. He slowly turns to look at Shannon next before saying, “Young lady, I suggest that your friend needs some rest. She seems completely shaken.”
I gulp in hard, decoding his words that he is telling us to back off and leave this library. I know that it is a wrong idea for Shannon to drag me along with this, given how my day started with a series of misfortunes already.
I am to speak up already to tell him that I am fine and I will not dare try to make another stunt like this again, but Shannon, with a very visible concern look on her face, as if she herself is guilty with what happened, resigns to such inhuman command, “Yes, sir. I am sorry about what a scandal our behaviour had caused.”