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Adventure Fiction Thriller

Jonathon couldn’t believe his eyes. There was no way of telling from the outside of the building that this room was even here. He had discovered a small entrance discreetly hidden behind a shelf of old, rarely looked at, even more rarely used reference books gathering dust in the northeast corner of the library. Traversing a small tunnel, it eventually opened up into this large room, bristling with items that defied description. The only reason he had even been looking there was a term paper he had to write on artists forced into hiding from the Spanish Inquisition.

   He hadn’t had much luck and had been desperate, leading him to this dark corner of the university library. The young, overachieving, student had been thinking he’d had to work pretty hard at this paper to maintain his 4.0 GPA. He’d taken the class on classic art thinking it would be an easy A, but it turned out to be even more involved and difficult than some of the classes for his major.

   “Oh . . . my . . . goodness,” he exclaimed, taking in the sight of all the scrolls, texts, and unique antiquities tucked into every nook and corner of the space he’d discovered. Ambling slowly through the rows of shelves, he noticed scrolls and tomes with words written on them in a format he’d only seen in movies. He couldn’t even tell if it was English or some other language, the words looked so different.

   Passing the collection of texts, he moved his gaze to the articles on other shelves lining the back wall. There was a crude, jewel encrusted crown, the tag on it said, King of Persia, circa 2,000 BCE. There were also weapons and other items of jewelry with tags that dated them from centuries long gone by.

   At the end of the shelf, he came upon an interesting looking item. He thought he knew what it looked like, but it couldn’t be that, could it? He leaned in, straining to see what was written on the tag. Are you kidding me, he thought to himself. The tag said: scale of last dragon believed to walk the earth circa 667 AD, United Kingdom. 

   Curiosity got the better of him and he reached out to pick up the scale to get a closer look when a voice startled him,

   “Young man, if you touch that I will cut your hand off at the elbow!”

   Jonathon jumped, his head narrowly missing the shelf above his head. What surprised him even more was from whom the harsh warning had come. It was the chief librarian, all five feet nothing of her, and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet, on a good day. Though she wasn’t an imposing figure with her physical stature, the look in her eyes gave Jonathon a cold shiver all the way down his spine. The glare emanating from her piercing orbs glaring directly in his direction made him wholeheartedly believe if he touched the relic, he would be pulling back a nub.

   “I-I-I’m sorry ma’am,” he stuttered, “It’s just that I never in a million years would have dreamed something like this existed. I just wanted to see how real it felt.”

   “Well, you just keep wondering, youngster,” she said, the buzzsaw tone in her voice exuding the continued warning about touching the piece, “I didn’t risk my neck procuring that just to have some young whippersnapper like you putting his dirty mitts all over it.”

   Procured it? Where on earth would she even get something like this and how would this diminutive elderly lady be risking her neck to get it?

   “Yes. I procured it. A few years ago, from some very unscrupulous individuals that had no intent on letting it out of their possession.”

  She must have read the confused look on his face, answering his unspoken questions.

   “Again, ma’am, I’m sorry. I was dumbfounded by all the artifacts in here. If these tags are correct, there is a fortune in items in here!”

   “It may be worth a fortune out in the real world, but it’s priceless in here, where it’s kept for the knowledge and history it brings to the Society.”

   “The Society?”

   “Yes. The Society To Retain Ancient Talismans, Manuscripts, Objects Safeguarded, or STRATMOS. An ancient order that was established to preserve pertinent items of history, keeping them from destruction and the evils of humanity. And here you are, somehow stumbling into one of its most prized treasure troves. How exactly did you manage to gain entrance young man?”

   “I’m not exactly sure myself, ma’am. I was going through the books on the back shelf of the library, pulling them out to check the titles, when I pulled one and it moved the entire bookcase out about a foot and a half. I thought the thing was gonna fall on me! I saw what looked like an opening in the wall behind the bookcase, so I checked it out. And . . . here I am.”

   “Dammit. I knew that old time lever was gonna be found someday,” the older lady sputtered. “I told the council there had to be an improvement in the doorway, but they said it would be fine, nobody would be looking back in that corner. I guess you showed them, didn’t you?”

   The look she gave him made Jonathon quite uneasy. It was rather foreboding, and it conjured a frightening thought in his head.

   “Oh my God! Is this one of those secrets that they talk about in the movies where they say, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you?!”

   That utterance elicited a hearty chuckle from the scholarly woman. However, Jonathon was still not convinced he was wrong about his fears.

   “No. No young man. Nothing that drastic. Although you do pose quite a problem to me. You, nor any other student, for that matter, damn near everyone else, are not supposed to know this exists. What you’ve stumbled across is only privy to two other members of the faculty here on campus. We are the remaining members of STRATMOS at this university. Once, we were a dozen strong, both procuring and cataloging all the numerous items you see around you. Between excursions gone wrong and old age itself, the others have all passed.”

   “Excursions gone wrong?” 

   With a twinkle in her eye, she looked at the petrified student in front of her.

   “You don’t think all these old, antique, hard to acquire items were freely turned over to a society for preservation, do you?” she snorted a small quaint laugh. “Not at all. Sometimes the owner’s quite reluctant to part ways with their treasure. Sometimes it’s the locale in which they’re hidden that’s also very unforgiving. More than a few Society members have lost their lives in the pursuit of history.”

   Jonathon felt his jaw drop. He was having a hard time fathoming this whole reality the small, unassuming spinster was unraveling to him.

   “Close your mouth, son. You don’t want to catch any flies in it.”

   He snapped his jaw shut, embarrassed to having been caught so dumbfounded.

   “So, if you don’t have to kill me, and believe me, I’m extremely grateful for that, what are you going to do with me?” Jonathon asked, both intrigued and concerned.

   Putting her finger to her lips, brow furrowed in deep thought, she formulated her answer.

   “It looks like I have a couple options. One. I could tie you up, stick you in the corner, and just barely keep you alive, keeping you quiet forever.”

   The young student felt the color wash from his face at the thought of this option.

   “Two. I could let you go free to walk around campus, blab all about this hidden room, showing everyone and their brother the priceless treasures the Society has worked to keep undisclosed for centuries. Thereby dismantling everything some very good people have given their lives for to keep a secret.”

   Jonathon felt a little color come back with the mention of this course of action.

   “No, I don’t like that option one single bit. Too much effort has gone into this effort across the centuries for one stupid boy to totally screw up. I’m thinking option one might be the better choice at this time. Less work for me and more of a certainty to it.”

   Legitimately questioning her sanity, Jonathon started moving toward the little old lady, confident he could easily push his way past the frail looking woman.

   “Outta my way, grandma! I’m not sticking around for you or anyone else to try and hog tie me and leave me in a corner!”

   Reaching out to brush the old woman out of his way, the young student felt her hand on his wrist and then the world started twisting and turning in every direction. When it finally stopped, he found himself unceremoniously deposited onto his back, the wind knocked out of him, his arm held in a very uncomfortable position made worse by any small movement by either him or his captor.

   With her foot planted firmly on his chest, his appendage painfully being held in place, he saw her once again twinkling eyes looking down at him in a very condescending manner.

   “Don’t be too embarrassed, sonny. Bigger and better men than you have tried, finding themselves in the very same predicament you find yourself in right now. I will caution you. Don’t struggle. It’ll only hurt more.”

   Not believing such a tiny old lady could actually hold him here, now that the element of surprise was gone, he attempted to get to his feet. It was a mistake and a lesson he learned very painfully. He wasn’t sure what she did, but when he tried to get up, he felt a pain shoot through his arm, down his spine, shocking his body in an electric bolt of agony that immobilized him.

   “Told you so. Young man, this is not my first rodeo. What I lack in stature I make up for with years of experience and training. Last warning. If you try to get up again, before I’m ready to let you go, if I decide to do that, I will shatter your arm into at least a dozen pieces.”

   The pain had subsided, but there was now an increase in pressure in his arm that thoroughly convinced the young man, she wasn’t kidding. In the total deflation of defeat, he slumped to the floor, limp, free of any resistance.

   “Good. Now that you see things my way, maybe we can have a conversation about option number three.”

   “Option three?”

   “Yes. Something I thought of as I was deciding whether or not to break your arm.”

   The librarian released her hold on Jonathon’s appendage, stepping back away from him, implying that he was clear to get up off the floor.

   “Let’s sit down and have ourselves a civil conversation.” She motioned to a pair of chairs that were situated in one well-lit corner of the room.

   Rubbing his arm to get the feeling back into it, Jonathon slowly moved over to where she had indicated, cautiously easing his way down onto the cushion, keeping one eye on his captor at all times.

   “It’ll be OK in a couple minutes. Once the blood starts flowing back into it,” she said, smirking at him.

   “Good to know,” he replied.

   “You’ll forgive me for not having any refreshments for our chat, but I was not expecting any company. Certainly not a snot nosed kid from campus.”

   Jonathon made a face at her. He resented being referred to as a snot nosed kid. He kept himself rather well groomed for a young college boy.

   “Oh. Dear, if you’re going to get butt hurt at every little comment, you may not be cut out for this line of work at all,” she said in a sad tone.

   Puzzled, he asked, “what do you mean, not cut out for this line of work?”

   “Option three. I am in need of an assistant. The artifacts keep coming in and since my last partner, my husband, was killed chasing down a rare piece in the jungles of the Amazon, I find myself up to my eyeballs in work trying to balance life between the library on the outside, and the vault here on the inside.”

   Jonathon’s wheels started turning. If she was hinting at what he thought she was, he was liking this much better than option one.

   “There are some restrictions and responsibilities that come with the position, though. You’d have to abide by those or option one may come back into play.”

   His eyes went wide with that. This was serious, he thought. A nod of his head let her know to proceed.

   “First off, it’s a secret society for a reason. We keep it a secret. There are things that the general public is not ready to learn about. If these things were out there in the real world certain people would try to take advantage of this information and use it for ill gain. When the Society feels the time is right, an artifact, or some piece of knowledge is ‘discovered’. So that’s your first challenge, keep this all a secret. The penalty is very steep. Releasing something that is not ready to be publicized can get you . . . disappeared. Comprende?”

   Another nod. Jonathon started to feel a buzz in his stomach with the thought of the adventure he was about to embark on.

   “Second. Listen and learn. This is a dangerous business. The certain people I mentioned earlier? Some will be trying to procure these items using any and all means at their disposal. They don’t regard human life the way we do. You are a roadblock to their success, and they have no compulsion whatsoever about removing that roadblock in any way possible. Do you get where I’m coming from?”

   A third nod. The young man was reeling and having a hard time finding his voice, so he did the only thing he was capable of doing to acknowledge her at this point.

   “Lastly, commitment. This is not a part time gig. You can have a life, there’s nothing stopping you from that, but the Society requires your commitment to the cause. We are a dedicated group. It is a lifelong journey to procure and protect the items, artifacts, and knowledge we possess. Do you feel you can commit to this cause, long term?”

   “Yes. I believe I can,” he said, finally finding his voice.

   “Good. Then I believe a formal introduction is in order. My name is Mrs. Margaret Dayne. I’ve been here at the university for thirty years and a Society member for thirty-seven years. My husband and I were posted here to protect this very room. I lost him five years ago while on an expedition to procure an item. Others bent on procuring that item first took it upon themselves to eliminate the competition. I have a burning desire to even the score, but I have to temper my rage for the greater good. Now, that’s enough about me for now. Who are you?”

   Jonathon gulped at this revelation. This was real. The danger was actually there. He reconsidered his decision for a second, but felt he was in too deep already so he might as well follow through.

   “Jonathon Pryor, sophomore, business major, originally from a small town in cow country Wisconsin. First in my family to go to college. Scared as hell right now but looking forward to the opportunity.”

   “Welcome to the Society, Jonathon. Hope you survive the experience.”

   Jonathon’s world was drastically different after that day. Every waking moment was filled with his two realities. His regular student life was filled with studying, turning in papers, going out with friends, the normal college stuff.

   His Society realm was filled with activities he never dreamed he would be a part of. He assisted Mrs. Dayne cataloging items on the shelves, preparing them for storage and preservation, some of the items being thousands of years old. Along with sharpening his mind he began a regimen of sharpening his body. He learned self-defense moves like the one that had incapacitated him during their first meeting. His physical workouts were meant to strengthen him for the expeditions he would eventually be embarking upon. Rock climbing, scuba diving, parachuting was all done, sometimes under cover of darkness to keep a low profile. The whole time it amazed Jonathon that this little old lady was a master of many tasks, physical and mental. She was an amazing instructor and mentor.

   Diving headfirst into all aspects of what STRATMOS did, Jonathon surprised even his parents. They were shocked when he asked to stay at school over the summer to take classes. The real reason he asked, though, was because he wanted to keep the momentum going in his training. His thirst for knowledge and all he was learning drove him.

   One day in the late summer after his junior year, he was busy cataloging a new shipment of artifacts that had discreetly arrived in the room when Mrs. Dayne came in. She sat down next to him and smiled.

   “Jonathon, I have some news for you.”

   “What’s up, Mrs. D?”

   “It’s time.”

   “Time for what?”

   “Time for your first expedition. I got word from the council, and they believe, along with me, that you are ready to accompany me.”

   “Where, when, and what are we going for?” he asked excitedly.

   “To England. We’ve got another lead on where to find Excalibur. Yes, that Excalibur. But I will warn you, the last time I went looking was when I lost my husband. You still in?”

   Butterflies permeated his stomach; all he could do was shake his head vigorously up and down.

  “Congratulations then, Jonathon. It’s time for you to venture out from behind the dusty bookshelf.”

November 09, 2023 16:53

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5 comments

Shirley Medhurst
16:05 Nov 14, 2023

Really interesting concept here, Timothy. This was a lovely touch - certainly made me chuckle: “Oh my God! Is this one of those secrets that they talk about in the movies where they say, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you?!” I also liked the surprise element of the « frail old lady » beating the crap out of your MC 😂 Well done!

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Timothy Gabriel
16:17 Nov 14, 2023

Thank you for the kind comment! I try to throw a little “surprise” into my stories whenever I can. I think it’s a little more entertaining. Thanks again!!

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Shirley Medhurst
17:07 Nov 14, 2023

Absolutely agree 😁

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Andrew Gibbons
19:20 Nov 12, 2023

Thanks for writing and sharing! It's funny, I was gonna go along the same idea and themes you've got going on here, but decided to go with Ghosts, etc, but I'm really glad someone else went down this route. That was a fun read and I love the endless potential the subject matter can create. If you've never seen it Warehouse 13 is a fun a television show about a similar government society that protects and collect items with powers, you may enjoy it! Really enjoyable story overall with plenty of extra potential for a series. The characters ha...

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Timothy Gabriel
00:52 Nov 14, 2023

Thanks for the kind words!!! I’m so glad you enjoyed the story!

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