Trinity

Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Set your story in an eerie, surreal setting.... view prompt

28 comments

Fantasy Sad Mystery

The thin hiss of a distant ocean rolled around the library’s barrel ceiling. I didn’t have long left to find her. We couldn’t miss our boat. 

I walked past an iron staircase that corkscrewed through the floor and up to a level above. Would climbing to the upper levels offer me a better view of the library and increase my chances of finding her? The shelves of the upper levels were partially visible from where I stood near the library’s heavy doors; they were empty. The books had been stripped from the age-bowed ribs that had held their weight, scavenged by unseen librarians and sent somewhere safer. Fearing the twisting black staircase that led not just to the upper levels and their creaking greyness, but also spiralled down to the darkness that hid the rising tide, I backed away from it, and began to move further into the room.

The room was illuminated by pools of light reflected in the gloss of the polished parquet floor. The reflected light had no source. The pools bled and stretched, moving with me, showing me the detail of what was close, while offering only an impressionist’s sketch of the distant end of the library where a pale shape beckoned.

The shelves around me on the main level were also empty. There had been books here earlier, when we had come to visit, before we had left to catch our boat. The books were gone now.  The other visitors, with their hushed multi-national chatter and curious indifference, were also gone.  She was gone. I had to find her; we must not miss our boat.    

The ceiling-high shelves flanked the main passage of the library, their ends bearing details of the works they had held. Peering at one of the signs I saw only blots of ink, illegible violets swelling and blooming over saturated paper that sagged against the glass of its brass frame.

My need to find her pulled me further into the library, between the two rows marble busts that faced each other from their pedestals at the end of each shelf. The ocean’s hiss grew louder and split now into the suck and pull of its steady pulse.

The busts were all of the same milk-tooth marble, sculpted to softness by the same creator. Some were familiar, but I wasn’t sure why. I looked into the hollow eyes of each one that I passed and felt that they offered me a clue, that their presence increased my chances of finding her. I began to move more quickly along the line of heads, sparing each less time as the light from the floor shaded the sculptor’s cuts and caused marble lips to roll in time with the grinding waves, which grew louder all the time.

 I stopped at the bust of a man I recognised. He had been in the library with us. Horse-broad and wristless, he had examined the books with us during our earlier visit. We had asked him the way to the boat. He had informed us that he too intended to catch the boat and had given us careful instructions, which I could not now remember. I wondered why the books had been removed to safety but the busts had not. Lighter now, rendered in marble, the man did not mind. The water could no longer hurt him. I followed his mineral gaze to a point behind me in the middle of the library’s aisle.

A waist-high display table stood at the mid-point between the heavy entrance doors and the shrouded shape at the opposite end of the room. Inside the table’s display case I saw my mobile phone lying on smooth red baize. A video call was in progress. A woman looked out of the cracked screen, a bright light shining behind her head picking out loose blonde hairs that poked out from under her tight green cap. Her mouth formed words as she stared intently from the phone. The glass of the display case kept her questions from me and the sound of the coming waves surged with the phone’s flashing battery icon. The thumbnail image in the corner of the screen showed only the camera’s point-blank view of the blood red baize that held the phone. Feeling that the woman was trying to help me, I stooped low over the case and began to ask her where I should search. As I opened my mouth water ran from it, a trickle of saline drool at first, beading the surface of the display case’s glass giving the woman the compound eye of an increasingly concerned insect. A wave boomed and a stomach of brine fell from my mouth onto the glass. It splashed to the floor where it ran in the direction of the doors to meet the tide which was now swelling into that end of the drunkenly listing room. Another deep boom from beyond the doors sent a foaming sheet of black water rolling over the floor towards me. As the water touched the leg of the display table the hair-fine crack in the screen of my phone germinated and the woman was gone, lost under a web of jet. 

I ran. My pools of light kept pace and began to flicker, a tint of blue rising in them as iron rose in my salt-ripped throat. Fed by the foaming tide the spars of the shelves groaned from the walls to extend across the aisle in front of me. My need to find her had kept my will strong enough to pass through the lattice, although the gap was far too small for my body.

Moving now in the blue pools of light, the black waters gushing through the creaking shelves behind me, I approached the pale shape. My light leapt to it, glimmering around it, showing me a pedestal. The word Trinity was carved into it, below the dripping fringe of a plastic sheet that hooded the bust that it held.

With a final surge the howling tide took me and swallowed my light.

Rising as wine-dark water, I flowed over the contours of the bust as the hood floated away. Sightless but irresistible, I caressed the face that I knew so well, carved cold and still by the sea.  

I had found her, and I knew that we had not missed our boat. 

July 09, 2023 18:56

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28 comments

Michał Przywara
20:39 Jul 11, 2023

Others mention surreal, and that's apt. To me, this is a story of loss. There's a driving need in it, to find her, to get to the boat. It's dreamlike, or maybe more nightmare-like. This is reinforced by the odd setting itself, a sinking library, by the driving need, by half-remembered things, by the cellphone inexplicably being there but still not providing much help. I'm picturing a drowning. Probably the woman. Possibly, also, the narrator. Maybe this is his last semi-conscious moment before finally succumbing, or maybe he's a ghost. O...

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Chris Miller
21:05 Jul 11, 2023

Hi Michal, Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave such considered feedback. It is very much appreciated. I was aiming for surreal and ambiguous, but still with enough coherence/structure to make it work as a story and suggest the type of things that occurred to you. Russell Mickler also mentioned the Myst games in relation to another of my stories. Maybe I should check them out? Trinity - The setting is based on the library of Trinity College in Dublin. I visited last week. Very evocative place. (I flew, no boat to catch)

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Chris Miller
21:05 Jul 11, 2023

Hi Michal, Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave such considered feedback. It is very much appreciated. I was aiming for surreal and ambiguous, but still with enough coherence/structure to make it work as a story and suggest the type of things that occurred to you. Russell Mickler also mentioned the Myst games in relation to another of my stories. Maybe I should check them out? Trinity - The setting is based on the library of Trinity College in Dublin. I visited last week. Very evocative place. (I flew, no boat to catch)

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10:53 Jul 13, 2023

Michal, you have some interesting ideas here, but I wanted to note that the wine-dark sea is from the Odyssey, which brings up a whole bunch of other boat and estranged love possibilities.

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Chris Miller
11:15 Jul 13, 2023

It is also from the lyrics to More News from Nowhere, one of my favourite songs by the great Nick Cave, who is know to be keen on Greek mythology.

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Michelle Oliver
00:34 Jul 10, 2023

Surreal, like a dream. It read like a painting, so many interesting interpretations and twists that allow you to frame and then reframe the reader’s perception. Clever and engaging.

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Chris Miller
07:05 Jul 10, 2023

Thank you, Michelle. It was quite tricky to do something open to different interpretations which still holds some kind of coherent shape (I hope!) Relieved to hear it remains engaging, always the main goal. Thanks for reading.

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Marty B
06:18 Jul 14, 2023

I pictured the rows of marble busts, those who had gone before into the boat, being transported to another realm. The books were stories of their lives, gone now as they had ended their stories. A loss of a woman drives the man, and they end up lost together in the cold sea.

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Chris Miller
06:54 Jul 14, 2023

Really nice interpretations, Marty. Your idea about the significance of the missing books is very interesting. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave your comments.

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10:56 Jul 13, 2023

What I'm getting here that I didn't see anyone else say is that the library is on the boat that sank with the lovers aboard. Surreal is what you were aiming for and you hit it, and, as usual, your sentences are so good that it hardly matters what the story is about.

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Chris Miller
11:28 Jul 13, 2023

It wasn't what I was going for, but there is no reason at all that this couldn't be happening on a cruise liner with an elaborate library. I suppose when you think about it a cruise ship already represents a collection of incongruous ideas. Almost inherently surreal. Thanks as ever for your well-read comments and valued praise.

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Mike Panasitti
07:14 Jul 12, 2023

True to the prompt: very eerie and surreal. Does the narrator become water at the end? Far more interesting than drowning.

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Chris Miller
07:29 Jul 12, 2023

Hi Mike, Yes, he is either the water or travelling in the water at the end. He left his body when it couldn't fit through the gaps in the shelves.

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Mary Bendickson
22:50 Jul 09, 2023

Gripped and confused equal good description.

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Chris Miller
07:06 Jul 10, 2023

Thanks Mary!

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Kevin Logue
21:50 Jul 09, 2023

This had me both gripped and confused, which sure as hell equals surreal ha. There was a touch of Lovecraft's The Outsider in this for me, can't pinpoint why it reminded of it. Possibly the style as apposed to the plot.

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Chris Miller
22:30 Jul 09, 2023

Thanks, Kevin. I'll definitely take "gripped and confused" for this one. I really should check out some Lovecraft. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Good luck with whatever you are working on.

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J. D. Lair
20:09 Jul 14, 2023

Definitely surreal Chris with a lot of cool clues along the way (busts, missing books, etc.) Almost felt like an in-between scenario where he wasn’t quite dead yet, but we get to piece together what happened through this limbo experience. Well done! We went with the same prompt and I think had similar ideas, though they are vastly different stories lol. Excited to read all the stories this week. Eerie/surreal/horror/dark are my favorite types of stories.

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Chris Miller
21:15 Jul 14, 2023

Thank you very much, JD. Glad you enjoyed it. I've always had a soft spot for surrealism in art and literature. Good luck with whatever you are working on.

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Hatt Genette
23:19 Jul 17, 2023

Strong Piranesi vibes

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Chris Miller
06:39 Jul 18, 2023

Yes, the sculptures and the water. Can't deny it. I liked Piranesi, but the end did have a bit of an "and it was all a dream" feeling.

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Russell Mickler
02:54 Jul 17, 2023

Hey Chris! Oh, really liked how this opened. Sounded very Escher. I did see the loss in this story but I really liked the imagery, the pools, the library and frothy sea foam. The gap was too small for my body, like, he's leaving that place and takes to the sea... but the eerie bit for me was the video call ... Nicely done! R

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Chris Miller
06:52 Jul 17, 2023

Thank you, Russell. I thought the video call was one of the more nightmarish ideas. Pleased you enjoyed it. Hope the writing and the real-world work are both going well.

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Russell Mickler
17:32 Jul 17, 2023

Grin thanks buddy. I’m on vacation this week in Vancouver BC - at the Botanical Gardens right now - and I did a little outlining for the current prompt :) we will see if I can get anything submitted in time! All the best - R

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Qaseh Nuzrin
13:11 Jul 15, 2023

This is so amazing, it has a very interesting plot.

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Chris Miller
13:42 Jul 15, 2023

Thank you very much, Qaseh. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave such a kind comment.

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Sarah Saleem
09:33 Jul 15, 2023

Surreal and descriptive, it is like describing a hazy dream.

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Chris Miller
10:56 Jul 15, 2023

Thank you, Sarah. Pleased you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

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