ONE- That one shelf
Today, Mr. Faelliyo has asked us to visit his mansion at the foot of Vestorwinds Hills for a brief luncheon. I had excitedly waited for the end of today’s sessions, as the library in the Faelliyo mansion has always been one of my favourite places to hang out. I love to look over the books, to feel them, and one day it’s my dream to read every single one of them.
As the classes drew to a close, I bid my friend Brittany goodbye and ran to my father’s car in the parking lot. He had to drop me and my mother off, and he couldn’t come, as he had an urgent meeting.
We drove home, picked up my mom, and left for the Faelliyo mansion.
“Good luck on your big meeting, Papa,” I say as we get out of the car.
“Goodbye darlings,” his raspy voice calls out as he starts the engine again and drives off down the road.
My mother and I turned away, heading for the vast marble staircase.
The Faelliyo mansion is two - storied, built in the style of medieval Italian architecture and almost entirely out of wood. The big oak doors marked Professor Faelliyo’s taste for old buildings, and the interiors were rather simple compared to the grand exterior.
Professor Faelliyo greets us at the door, leading us through the drawing room and to the dining hall.
A kind old man in his fifties, Professor Faelliyo has dedicated his whole life to learning. Even though he most likely has tonnes of information stored away in his brain, he’s not the kind of person who bores us with unending tales of hardships and bravery peppered with strange facts. Rather, all his dealings seemed to be tinged with a shade of melancholy. Which wasn’t much more than we could expect, especially not from a man whose wife passed and son had gone missing.
Tommy Faelliyo was my age when he vanished, causing his mother’s death and his father’s depression. As the Professor says, he was a charming young boy who shared his father’s enthusiasm for learning.
As we proceeded to the dining hall, the housekeeper Mrs. Ahima greeted us with a warm smile. She was an old lady in her sixties, and had probably been working at the mansion since the Professor was a kid. Despite her age, however, she was still graceful, and carried the spirit of a young maiden.
“Good evening, Miss and Mrs. Avra,” she greets us pleasantly.
“Good evening, Mrs. Ahima.” I say politely. “You look beautiful.”
She blushes a bit, and on seeing the Professor quickly asks us to be seated. We do, and she serves our meal, preceded by a short grace from my mother. I help myself to Mrs. Ahima’s delicious cheese spaghetti, chilled carrot juice and peanut pudding.
My mother and the Professor start discussing social issues, and since I don’t lend my ears to such things, I busy myself with the thought of going to the library once we are dismissed from dinner. My mind is on one of the bookshelves - the only one I haven’t looked at yet. All day, I’d been wondering what on earth could be on that shelf, though realistically it was probably just old non - fiction books like the rest of the library.
One could still dream.
“See, I swear that if I could possibly find another planet that can house human life, their planet would be the same as ours - polluted,” the Professor says, pulling me out of my reverie.
“But, Professor, that doesn’t make sense,” I blurt without thinking. “It’s not like there’s been any planet other than Earth that can support life.”
“I said possibly, not that it was definite.” Professor dabs at his mouth with a napkin. “It’s human nature to be curious. I suppose that’s what destroys our planets in the first place.”
I tilt my head. “I thought scientists always say curiosity is the most important?”
He looks at me through narrowed eyes, and I get the feeling that I had offended him. The rest of the meal was spent in silence.
The minute I am excused, I rush to the library, heading straight for that shelf. It was covered by old wooden doors, but there was no lock, so I reached to open it.
Some books must have fallen out of the shelf and had been leaning against the doors, because the moment I open them several heavy books crash to the floor, barely missing me. I jump away, tripping over a stool as I did.
“Nathalia, are you all right?”
I look up to see the Professor standing over me, looking concerned. He must have heard the noise and ran to check that nothing or no one had been seriously damaged.
“I’m fine,” I say, standing and dusting myself off.
He glances behind me, at the fallen books and the open shelf. “I thought I warned you against opening this shelf?” He gives me a shrewd look.
“I-I’m sorry,” I lie. “It’s been a while since you told me. I just forgot I wasn’t supposed to open it.”
“Well, I’m telling you now. It’s just old research books in there, ones that I don’t want damaged, although you might have done your job on some of them.” He nods towards the books on the floor. “I’d prefer it if you don’t open this again. Do you understand me?”
“I understand,” I say, swallowing.
“Browse anything else you’d like. I’ll get Mrs. Ahima to clean this up.”
“No, it’s fine!” I say quickly. “She’s probably too busy to bother with this. I can do it. It’s no problem, really.”
The Professor exhales. “Fine. Just call Ahima if you need anything.”
I nod and fake an innocent smile. “Sure. Thanks, Professor.”
With that, the Professor walked away again. I immediately turn to look at the stack of books once he’s out of sight. A smaller one at the top of the pile catches my eye, and I pick it up.
It’s a diary. But instead of normal “Dear Diary” entries, it’s filled with jargons and calculations, and even a diagram of some kind of spaceship on one page. It is streamlined, and the angles are outlined and circled so many times that I figure they must be important. Measurements are marked neatly in the Professor’s handwriting, which I have to admit is very nice.
I put the diary back on the shelf and open what looks like a photo album. The pictures were all of a boy around fifteen or sixteen, which I immediately deduce to be Tommy Faelliyo. I flipped through page after page, photo after photo of this boy’s life. Occasionally, the Professor and his wife will show up on the pages. It’s like holding fragments of memories in my hands.
Memories, and for some reason, a spaceship.
I hear a mock cough behind me, pulling me out of my thoughts. I turn, scared that it was the Professor, but relaxed once I saw who it was.
“Hi, Mrs. Ahima. Sorry for the mess, I was just, uh . . .”
“It’s no problem,” she says, waving my apologies away. “I was going to reorganize this shelf anyway, at least, if the Professor would let me.”
She turns to leave, but I stop her. “Mrs. Ahima, can I ask you something?”
She nods. “Anything you need, dear.”
“Well, you know, um . . .” I decide to stop beating around the bush and get to the question. “How did Tommy disappear?”
Mrs. Ahima freezes. Slowly, she replies, “Did you read any of the journals?”
“I - I just saw some albums and notes.” I stammer.
She sighs, and sits down on a nearby chair. “I suppose you should know.”
I sit down beside her as she starts to tell the story.
“The Professor and his wife loved Tommy very much, Nathalia. He was a very energetic boy - naughty, sometimes, too, but I loved him for it.”
“I saw a spaceship in one of the Professor’s notes,” I venture. “Does that have anything to do with it?”
“The spaceship is what the Professor worked six long years to build. He was determined to explore space, and he knew the only way to do it was to make a vehicle to do so. I don’t know all the technicalities, I’m not a scientist. On the day before the first launch, both the spaceship and Tommy simply vanished into thin air. Mrs. Faelliyo was devastated and fell deathly sick. She passed away a week later.”
Mrs. Ahima nods, then gets up from her chair. “I wouldn’t tell the Professor that I’ve told you. It’s still a sensitive subject for him. Let’s pick up these books.”
As we were cleaning, I slip the notebook under my sweater.
That night, I can’t sleep. I keep reading and rereading the notes, just trying to figure out what this all meant.
I have several theories, all of them seeming to be nothing more than ideas. Could Tommy have launched the spaceship himself? Maybe he accidentally went out into space and died there. Or the spaceship crashed somewhere else in the world.
That’s stupid, I chide myself. A 15-year-old boy can’t pilot a spaceship. He couldn’t get to outer space, that’s for sure.
It also struck me as strange that the two things stolen from Professor Faelliyo were his most important possessions; his son and his life’s work. Perhaps someone had been out to get him? If so, they’d certainly succeed.
Eventually, my frenzied train of thoughts began to dwindle, and finally I found myself drifting into sleep.