Three chronic conditions have followed me most of my life. The least serious is a low level pain in my knee and wrist caused by a car accident I had when I was sixteen. The next is back problems caused by bad posture and a life spent huddled over books and keyboards. The final is insomnia, a condition I can trace back to no one cause. I either have an overactive brain that forces me to lay awake staring at the ceiling and listening to podcasts until everything shuts down or I was born on the wrong side of the globe. Experience has proven that I enjoy the nightlife of Europe just as much as I do here, so that second part may not apply.
I also have sinus problems, but I consider that a lifestyle choice rather than a condition.
When these three elements combine, it makes for an interesting time. Muscle spasms in my back cause my body to wrench, hurting my knee and throwing the notion of sleep out the window all together. Enter the muscle relaxants.
Let me say right now, I am no noob to the world of substances, both over the counter and back alley. Muscle relaxants, however, are not in my personal area of expertise and present such a level of near holy devoutness in me that I have never been tempted to abuse them. They save me, put my body in a calm place and my mind in such a haze that I have at times called them “recharge pills.” When my body turns on itself once a year or so, those little pills become my blankie and my woobie, allowing me to have a peaceful day and night and maybe another day of dreamless sleep.
Until yesterday. Yesterday I dreamed.
I was standing behind the circulation desk in the library. The desk circled around me, trapping me. Beyond was nothing, a blank blackness. To my left on the desk sat a stack of books. In my hand was a stamp, wrapped in leather with the base made of stone. In front of me was an old copy of Murder on the Orient Express. The pages were frayed, the cover torn. I brought the stamp down on the book and heard a hiss. Small curls of smoke came up and around my hand. I lifted the stamp to see the word BANNED emblazoned on the cover in a bright red tinged with soot and scorch.
I put the book to my right and reached for another book.
“You gonna do that all night?”
I looked up and Brenda the Viking Librarian was standing in front of me. She looked just like the last time I saw her. A homely woman in life, death had granted her color on her cheeks and almost lit the mane of blond hair with a ghostly light. A striking bronze plate covered her broad and expansive chest. A wolf fur draped over her shoulders like a cardigan sweater. The leather skirt was pleated, stretching down to the tops of fir-lined, stylish heels. At her waist was a broad leather belt studded with runes.
“Brenda?” I asked.
She nodded. I tried to run to her, but the circulation desk surrounded me. I went to climb over but Brenda put up a hand.
“Don’t. Not here. It’s not safe. Stay in the desk. Hold the stamp. It will protect you. Do you remember what I told you last time?”
I thought back, back to almost a year ago when the ghost of our dead reference librarian had appeared before me. You would think I should remember every second of that experience, but it was like trying to catch smoke.
“I told you about the three great evils. ‘One will arrive behind you, one from within, and one will save you.’ You have not listened. You have allowed the evil invade the library. Great danger is coming.”
“What kind of danger?” I asked, “Brenda, help me. One person’s already dead. I’m losing control.”
“You never had control, that is what you do not see. Others control, allow you to think you are more. What they do not know is you are, you are more... And it took three to bring the evil. Three have died and brought what came.”
“You mean the circus people?”
Brenda nodded, “They were the first. They opened the door. Ava was the second that will allow the evil to fly in and come from behind. You must stop them before they become three and overcome.”
“Stop who? What do I do? I don’t understand.”
“Find the murderer. You already know them. That will start the path to the ones you seek. The ones you must weed from the garden.”
I started to get angry. I felt the stamp in my hand start to become warm.
“Because you are the last. If you are undone, everything is undone with you. Stay strong. You have done good, boy. Now do more.”
She started to fade away. I called after her but she faded into the inky black. I pushed over the stack of books and screamed.
That’s how I woke up. Screaming and thrashing. My sheets were wet with sweat and I tore them off of me. In my hand was the small stone stamp, fresh dark red ink staining the word BANNED across the bottom.
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