Mystery Suspense Fantasy

Like a group of hooligans after a close scrape with the law, they were all giddy with adrenaline.

Once the laughter had died away, the three of them clinked their glasses together, downed their drinks, and allowed themselves to slip into a more somber mood.

Though she saw the professor snatch the mysterious black folder with her own eyes, she eyed Norman’s larger, battered acquisition: A fat, wrinkled, stained, bulging ream of handwritten pages. A manuscript.

Cathy addressed Norman directly, as the Professor looked on. “So, what did you get for your troubles, Norman?”

“The complete and original work of Nostradamus’ Predictions”

“Is that so? Wasn’t his work debunked a few years back?”

“Yes it was—rather thoroughly too.”

The professor added, “It was about the only thing that charlatans and scholars agreed on.”

“But you obviously had some faith in it.” Cathy observed with a straight face.

 “Nah. Well—yeah. At first. But the more I researched it. Pfff, I knew it didn’t make any sense.”

“And now?”

“Now?” He patted the pile of papers, gently. “Now I have proof.”

“Of what?” She asked, with a truly earnest look on her jewel-studded face. “That it’s the genuine article? With real predictive properties?”

“Bingo,” Norman said. Without elaboration.

She glanced up at Professor Morely who rolled his eyes in response. The question foremost in her mind was: How believable was a source, stolen from a secret library, in the hold of a boat, that was deeper than the harbor it was supposed to be floating in?

Norman seemed to have a vague grasp of the circumstances when he said, “I’ll probably have to self-publish, once I get it translated.”

“Shouldn’t you return it at some point?” Cathy suggested. “I mean, it supposed to be a library, so…”

“I’m not going back to that boat,” Norman blurted out. “Not without serious, reasonable, substantial—reasons. Library or not.”

The Professor fluttered his eyelids as if he was a dog with his head out the window. “All items checked out of the library must be returned. One way or another.”

This was not what Norman wanted to hear. “So you’re going to return the contents of that?” He was referring to the black folder.

“What’s in it?” Cathy wanted to know. “Can we see it?”

“Wouldn’t we both rather hear what Norman filched from his foray into the depths of… what depths were you in Norman?””

Norman’s response took Morley by surprise. “You know more about it than I do. It’s a miracle I didn’t get lost down there. If it wasn’t for the sound of Cathy’s voice…”

“Well what possessed you to rush ahead of me, Norman? You could’ve come out in Siberia or the mouth of a cave in Tibet. You’re a very lucky man, is what you are.”

 How about you tell us what you are.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Just before we entered the library you told me I was a ‘finder’ and Cathy was a ‘magnet.”

“Ah yes, and I knew I’d regret it.”

“What are you, then. Some kind of wizard?”

The professor cringed with a dramatic flair. “Perish the thought.

“You have something against wizards?”

“Having even the slightest part of me, up against a wizard, is the most repulsive thing I can think of. They’re unkempt pigs with no personal hygiene.” Cathy and Norman exchanged a look of mild surprise while the professor continued his tirade.

“They’re everywhere you turn. They seem to be proliferating somehow. They’re in your computer, at your computer, walking their dogs, talking with your cats, selling you things you never wanted on some crackpot easy installment plan.” His voice trailed off. Leaving him in a state much like he was before Norman asked the question, which he still hadn’t answered.

“So?” Cathy’s voice was like a gentle prod, from the horn of an enormous bull. When he looked to her for sympathy, there was only curiosity. “What—are you?”

“I’m a conjurer, Cathy, an innate conjurer.”

“A magician?” She seemed impressed and satisfied, while Norman seemed confused, but the Professor was incensed, mortified. “Certainly not. Magician’s are illusionists. They can’t be taken seriously, except by fools and drunks. In fact, most of them are fools and drunks, or entertainers, comedians, needy meddlers, desperate for attention.”

This was a whole new side of Professor Morely that, though she hadn’t known him very long, it was a fiery, spitting anger that she would never have guessed he possessed. “So—what’s a conjurer?”

“Conjuring, what I do, is I make things happen.” He reached for the manuscript that Norman had pilfered, causing Norman to grasp it more firmly. “What’s the matter, Norman? Don’t you trust me?”

“I hardly know you. Other than the fact that you’re a magician. For all I know you could make the damned thing disappear right in front of me.”

Professor Morely said, “Are you deaf, Norman? I just said I was not a magician. I’m a conjurer. If I could make things disappear, I would not be worried about the manuscript.”

“What’s the difference.” Norman said, his grip on the manuscript tightened.

“I’m trying to demonstrate, Norman, if you’ll just work with me for a moment.”

Norman would not release his grip on the manuscript, so the professor put one finger on top of it, and turned his attention to Cathy. “This—what Norman has found in his little expedition, is the original text of Nostradamus’s predictions.”

“Yes, so he was telling me.” Cathy said.

“You’ve heard of Nostradamus?”

“Sure, sure. Of course. Who hasn’t?”

“You’re not impressed with Nostradamus?”

“Mm-mm. No. Not really.”

“That’s because his predictions are all mixed up.”

“Oh. Is that what it is? I kind of felt like, there was something wrong there. So…”

“Yeah, but this is his original manuscript, complete, in order, with no missing pages, no gaps.”

“I suppose that makes a difference, huh?”

Cathy’s lack of interest was astounding, but the professor pressed on. “Imagine if you took the book, Moby Dick, and tore all the pages out and gave them to an ape to play with for a day. Then, you scooped them all up, what’s left of them, and put them back in book form, that book isn’t going to make much sense, is it?”

“No. I suppose not.” She said, “And anyone who was going on about what a brilliant book it was—would not know what they were talking about.”

“That’s right.” The Professor said.

“So-called intellectuals who raved about what an important book it was.”


“They’d be wrong. Completely wrong.”


She looked at Norman, who was watching her keenly, as the professor added more of his fingers to the top of the manuscript.

“What a tizzy that would make in the academic world. Eh Norman?”

Norman shrugged. “That’s their problem—bunch of old anonymous blowhards anyway. You ever meet an academic? Ever have one approach you at a party and go, ‘Hello, I’m an academic. What d’you do for a living?’ Bah. What’s your point, Morley?”

When he turned his attention to the professor, that’s when he noticed the professor was gripping the book with both hands, while he, Norman, merely had one finger on it. He was so astonished, he recoiled physically, breaking all contact with the near sacred stack of predictions.

Before he fully digested what had happened, Morley shoved the manuscript back across the table, almost violently, and it would have landed in Norman’s stunned lap, but for Cathy’s quick reflexes, reaching out a hand and halting the manuscripts progress. She took one quick look at the professor and knew that his actions were deliberate, not accidental.

Norman, embarrassed and fooled, said, “I hope that wasn’t supposed to prove I can trust you somehow.”

“It wasn’t. That was simple misdirection. That’s what magicians do.” The professor turned to Cathy. “What do you think of that old manuscript?”

“That one? I think it’s important.”

“Do you think it has value?”

“Without a doubt,” she replied.

“Do you think that Norman values it as much as you do?”

“Not in the same way, no.”

“You realize that you had entirely different feelings about that manuscript a few minutes ago.”

“I do,” she said.

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“No.” She said, a hint of amazement in her tone. “Not at all.”

The professor turned to Norman. “That’s conjuring.”

“All you did was change her mind.”

This gave the professor a momentary pause. “Please. Feel free to change her mind yourself. Convince her that you care more about that manuscript than she does.” Norman looked at Cathy’s face, her determined expression. Her mind was already made up.

The professor added, “I didn’t just change any ordinary mind, Norman. I changed her mind.”

And she seemed as proud of his achievement as the professor was, if not more so.

In the ensuing silence, the black folder gained all of their attention. took center stage. Lost in thought, Professor Morely held the folder flat on the table and had been unconsciously spinning it, round and round with the tips of his fingers. Norman and Cathy glanced at each other, then sat in pained silence, watching the professor, waiting for him to acknowledge them.

Norman began to tap his fingers on the table impatiently, when that had no effect after about a minute, Cathy decided to delicately broach the subject. “Professor Morely, I don’t mean to seem harsh or insensitive, as close as we all are now, but if you don’t tell us what’s in that Goddammed folder… I’m going to rip it out of your hands, fold it in half, for ease of handling, and shove it through your sphincter—sideways.”

“Ha, a very, ah, good, visual, description, my dear.

“Quit calling me ‘my dear.’ It’s demeaning, especially the way you say it.”

“Very well. My apologies, my--, (he almost said it again). My most patient colleague.”

“What’s my name? Say my name.”

“Your name is still Cathy, I’m afraid.”

“You fuck. Is it that hard? Really?”

“You’re not a Clang, Cathy.”

“It’s CAGE, you idiot. Not Clang. Cage, Cage, Cage.” She banged the table with her hand each time she said it.

“That’s worse,” the professor said, quietly. “That’s not you, Cathy. You’re not a cage.”

“I feel like I’m in one,” she said, with such an excruciatingly robust expression of face, body and hands, it was possible to think of her as almost anything, except something hard and unyielding, and yet, that was her nature. Her current posture was as fiercely unyielding as ever.

“Well, maybe we should look at the reasons why you feel that way, rather than embracing the notion itself. But here’s my point.”

“Here’s my point,” Cathy spoke over him, “seventeen-hundred and forty-five words, and we still don’t know what’s in that black folder? We want to know, the readers want to know. Enough drama already. Tell us what’s in the damned thing.”

“Here’s the thing…”

“Oh for God’s sake, not another story.”

The professor held up his hand for patience. “The thing is—I don’t know.”

“How could you not know?” This should probably be sung by the chorus when this becomes a play. “How could you not know?”

He pointed at Norman’s bloated wrinkled manuscript, “Him, Nostradamus, that’s what I’d been searching for, that’s what I made the deal over. Somehow, Norman goes in ahead of me, receives my ‘parcel’ and thinks it’s his, so I grabbed this instead.”

“And you don’t know what it is.”


“Because you haven’t opened it yet.”


“How do you know it isn’t the water or electric bill from the marina?”

“It isn’t. I would know.”

“Well,” there was a long expectant pause. “When are you going to open it? We don’t have all day.”

“I was going to wait for the next chapter and tell the story looking backwards from the future. I think it’ll be instructive to let our great-grandchildren tell the story from their perspective.”

It would be so much easier for Norman and Cathy to understand, if Professor Morley could admit that he was a sorcerer. Even as a sorcerer, it takes considerable skill to find a secret library, let alone enter one, but the primary precept of sorcery, prevents sorcerers from admitting what they are. Only sorcerers can enter the bowels of a secret library, with permission from the librarian. Others might enter, at the librarian’s discretion, but they can never leave. Norman was the only exception that Morley had ever heard of.

And while librarians are like gate-keepers, secret libraries have barbicans, manned by the world’s most formidable gate-keepers. To find a library without a librarian was a mystery demanding investigation.

He took the folder hoping it might solve the mystery of the missing librarian. And that, is the subject of the next story.

May 25, 2024 02:04

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Mary Bendickson
18:53 May 26, 2024



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Jim LaFleur
11:19 May 25, 2024

Your descriptions bring the scenes to life, making the reader feel part of the adventure. The discovery of Nostradamus’ manuscript and the secret library only adds to the mystery. You certainly used multiple prompts well. Can’t wait to read more! You have an intriguing series here.


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