There was a clock on the wall behind the librarian’s reception desk. It was an old model; the kind that ticked and tocked and ticked again, but never chimed. Even so, it reminded her of her ntate-moholo—her father’s father. Lesedi’s grandfather had one at his house in Paraguay. She loved that clock.
When she and her parents had lived with him on their way to the States, she used to rush back to the clock every so often—seemingly always in the middle of playing with her cousins, or reading a book—to check and see if the minute hand was touching the twelve. Because when it did, it let loose a beautiful cascade of bells and chimes that made the hairs on her arms stand on end, and it sent warm shivers down her back.
She missed her ntate-moholo and she missed his wonderful clock. She’d always felt safe and secure in that little, run-down house. But that was thousands of miles and a million dreams away from where she squatted in the dark of an American Midwestern public library.
She was behind the desk, her eyes and the tip of her nose being the only things to peek over the edge of the pressed wood. Her eyes, though now long accustomed to the limited light of the silvery moon, were still not strong enough to gaze into the depths of the Shadows that lurked between the towering aisles of books. Lesedi listened carefully for anything betraying a coming beast or Fiction, but nothing reached her paranoid ears. Since the passing of the strange man a moment before, there’d been no more sound. No shuffling or signs of movement.
The Library had once again settled into silence.
Terrified, but still desperate to get out of the library, she chanced trying to stand. Little by little she raised herself from her post, more and more of her becoming exposed to whatever may be awakening or lurking about in the darkness.
A flash of pain knocked her back to her knees. Her hands pressed to the wet wound just above her right hip. Her formerly powder blue shirt shone black in the rays of the Moon. Lifting her shirt, she saw the golf ball-sized bite oozing blood and pus; skin like the torn ends of a blanket dangling over the open wound. Nausea gripped her, and the feeling of falling backwards—of a fainting spell—gripped the back of her neck. Shaking her head, Lesedi took a deep breath and replaced her shirt, wincing as the heavy, sodden cloth touched her wound.
“Masepa,” she cursed. Exhaustion—from pain, from her time in the library, from running and fighting her way to get to the reception desk—weighed her down and muddled her thoughts. Her body was begging her to rest, entreating her to sleep. “No. No, I’ve come too far.” She shifted her weight and tucked her feet back under her seat; gripping the edge of the desk for support, while she worked through her pain.
“It’s right there,” she reminded herself. “The exit is right there. I can do this. I… I can do this.”
The exit was maybe thirty yards beyond the desk, in the direction she was facing. A quick sprint would bring her to the heavy doors in no time; at least during the daylight hours. But now, in the dark of the library? As Lesedi peeked over the rim of the desk once more, she wondered how long it would take her to get there. The walk from the fiction section to the desk should have taken twenty seconds, max. But how long had it really been? Ten? Eleven? Fifteen years?
I can’t even remember how old I’m supposed to be.
Again, the image of the glass lens flickered in her mind’s eye, enticing her; a deep voice humming, calling from the glass.
No… I can’t… Her thoughts were beginning to muddle; churned into a well of noise, of desperation and anger and frustration and hope and doubt and fear all mixed together and bringing tears to her eyes. And underneath it all—driving it all—the image of the lens flickered.
Wiping her nose on her shirt sleeve, Lesedi let out a slow breath.
“Fine,” she said. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
Eyes still scanning the darkness, Lesedi reached down and rummaged in her backpack. She pushed aside crystal vials and bits of charred wood; she nudged past reams of thick parchment and paperbacks with broken spines; she reached all the way to the bottom of the pack, flailing her fingers about until she found it. Gathering it up into her palm, she removed her hand from her pack. A tiny growl echoed from within.
“Hush now,” she scolded the creature. “We can’t risk being found out. I’m hurt because of you, remember?” The growling subsided.
She gave the library one last sweeping gaze, and content (for the moment) that nothing was bound to sneak up on her, she sank back to the floor, careful to not pull or strain her injury. Leaning against the door of one of the cabinets, Lesedi regarded the small piece of round glass she’d removed from her pack. It was roughly the diameter of a baseball and it bubbled in the middle. Framing it was a beautiful copper casement; figures of priests and demons in varying states of exultation were formed out of the copper, as well as a strange, evil-looking script that was meticulously carved into the soft metal. She breathed on the glass, then rubbed away the fog on her shirt.
The last thing I need is for him to whine about dust on the lens. A fearful thought followed, and she wondered, Will I get out in one piece, this time? Will I find my way back?
Goosebumps rose along her skin, and her heart quickened at the possibility of losing herself. She’d come close—too close—all those times before. Would this be the time that all those fractures in her mind would finally give; would finally shatter?
“I’ve got to try,” she reasoned. “Every other option is too dangerous, and I need… I need to get out.” Her grip on the lens tightened. “Just be confident. Don’t let him scare you. You’re the boss, Lesedi. You’re the boss.”
Then taking a slow breath, Lesedi held the lens up to her eye—closing her other one—and spoke the summoning words.
“G’tha kra’xnoo tsi tsano… ygtraglf xpoa… pfiza nxotkl…” She paused for a heartbeat to touch her wound, then flicked a few droplets of blood on the carpet in front of her. She shivered in unease. I hate this part. Then she spoke the final word; a name. “Gespar.”
Lesedi watched as purple flames erupted over every surface, and a dark hole, edged in masses of writhing flesh and clumps of bloodied hair, opened in the air in front of her. Three eyes—pupilless, weeping, and glowing a sickly yellow—looked out at her. The smell of summer baked roadkill wafted over her. Lesedi was shaking.