I wish I could have told you it was a dark and stormy night. I wish I could stand before you and swear that the lightning flashed and the thunder crashed, igniting the night’s sky with a furious cacophony that blinded and deafened those that witnessed it. But no, to state such a thing would be a lie that would sour this tale. To begin with truth means that I the storyteller can be trusted and believed by you the reader. And so I will inform you that the day was unbelievably plain, a touch overcast perhaps but by no means a memorable Spring morn. I was on a working holiday, just graduated from University and keen to explore what it was like to work in libraries overseas. The hustle and bustle of the city of London was a great place to throw myself in at the deep end and I embraced the opportunity. Coming from Australia I had assumed that the London summer would be warm too. I was so wrong. Within days of my settling into a small, unassuming flat I knew I needed warmer clothes. Just around the corner from the flats I had discovered an Op-Shop opposite a great café. What better place could there have been to acquire warmer clothing at a reasonable price.
The elderly man who sat behind the counter nodded as I entered and the bell chimed. Immediately his eyes dropped back to his newspaper while I looked over the shorts and t-shirts that filled the racks, not a winter item anywhere. After ten minutes of franticness I discovered at least five polo shirts I was not going to buy. My sigh of obvious frustration was interrupted as I discovered the old man by my side.
“Cannot find what you are looking for, son?” he asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” I replied, surprised at his sudden arrival.
“Pasty skin, Australian accent… I peg you as a book worm,” the old man continued, unperturbed by my reaction, the caution evident in my voice.
“Guilty… I suppose,” I responded, still unsure.
“Who is your favorite writer?”
I pondered for a moment, deep in thought. This was an important question.
“Atwood and Morris seem to be winning the awards lately, but for me it has to be a classic… Poe, Irving, even Robert Lois Stevenson had a darker side.”
“The darker the better?” enquired the septuagenarian. “We have the perfect item of clothing for you out back.”
Intrigued but still distrusting I patiently waited. What returned was the greatest cloak I had ever seen. It was light weight, dark in colour and lined so offered sufficient warmth to cope with the northern summer.
“This is just what I have been looking for. How much would you like for this fine cloak, my good man?” I asked, obviously keen.
“Twenty quid?” suggested the older gent.
Strange, a twenty pound note was all I had in my pocket, my spend limit for the planned additions to my wardrobe. I considered haggling but the gleam in the man’s eyes made me pause.
“It is meant to be…” he murmured. “It is meant to be…”
I left the shop wearing my new cloak, twenty pounds lighter but satisfactorily warmer. Checking the pockets for my flat keys I discovered a library card for the local library. The name on the card was faded, but the barcode was still clear. I was hoping returning a lost card could be an inroad into an overseas career.
The library branch had a gothic feel on the outside, a pair of my favorite piece of architecture, the gargoyle standing guard above the pair of front doors. Beyond those doors the library had tried to take on a modern guise while evidence of that original thirteenth century building style could still be spotted by those like me who knew what to look for.
The head librarian, an elderly dame who liked my accent was quick to discover my love of historic buildings and she took great joy in showing me more than just the books and movies that filled the shelves of a modern day collection. Like a lady of mystery the library held within its walls a number of secret passageways that led to rooms below where forbidden tomes and strange treasures were stored. Few visitors to the library were aware such historic riches rested in such an unassuming place. I knew of only a dozen thus far that the head librarian had thought me ready to see. On that day she hinted I was to witness yet another.
The plain, mundane day with the overcast sky could not go by fast enough. The head librarian had informed me that she could only show me the secret places after the library shut for the day. It was now a ritual for us that I shout tea first at the pub around the corner. Cod and chips with mushy peas was the price paid to discover which book to lift or which stone to slide to cause a shelf to tip or a floor cobble to become slightly ajar. It considered it such a small price to pay for such a joyous thrill.
“I do so declare, tonight I take you up!” cackled the head librarian, a gleam in her milky blue eyes.
I tried to ignore the half eaten flakes of fish stuck between her teeth and listened intently for any clues as to where I would be going, how we would get there and what I may be seeing. There were none. Just a mix of mischief and excitement reflected in those ancient eyes, a youthfulness that seemed quite out of place. That look sold me and I willingly followed my guide back to that library we both loved so dearly.
I was disappointed to discover there was no secret passage, just a ladder leading up to a very dusty attic. Aside from dusty old books on dustier shelves I noticed what seemed to be an empty glass cabinet.
“Come! This is what I wished to show you…” announced the head librarian. One rickety step at a time she had followed me up into the attic. Standing beside me her milky eyes stared intently at that cabinet.
I coughed, unsure of what I was expected to do.
“Go… Open the door and witness…” the old lady urged.
As suggested I strode toward the glass cabinet. As I drew closer I suddenly felt a presence. It was big, huge, something far larger than that cabinet before me. I looked to the head librarian for answers. That same youthful mischievous gleam was what I received and hand gestures I get closer.
As my hand eased open the cabinet I felt the door push open, a force other than mine causing it to swing free. The cloak from around me was stripped away and drawn within the glass box. As it wrapped around the essence within it was revealed to me.
“At last… At last… It is reborn…” murmured the old lady.
“Indeed my dearest,” added a third voice, the man from the Op-Shop.
My head was so full of questions, but I could not pull away from the scene before me. As my cloak enveloped the force encased in the glass I witnessed the revelation.
It was an unnatural beast with a head like a large octopus upon the body of a scaly lion. Feathered eagles wings made me wonder if the creature could fly. Five eyes encircled a fang filled hole. It was like a Greek or Roman monstrosity that if I were to play hero I knew I would be insufficient.
Then the creature reached out, not a physical connection but one of the mind, my thoughts and memories. It gently probed at first and then reached deeper with a greater hunger. I felt like it was not just the end of my life I was witnessing. This was the end of the world, all worlds and the beginning of another. The old gods were returning and I was happy.