Jason stares at his girlfriend Kelli’s left earlobe, a habit that has gotten him in trouble more than once. He has trouble focusing, especially in times like these, when she goes on long-winded rants about something he has forgotten to do or something he has done incorrectly. It isn’t that he doesn’t care, he does! Truly. But…
They are in Central Park sitting on a bench, surrounded by a flock of pigeons. Kelli places a hand on his arm, preventing him from retrieving the birdseed that he keeps in his pockets for just such occasions as these.
“Jason, you can’t just keep feeding them,” she says.
“But I’m giving them birdseed, not bread,” he explains.
“Yes, but if you keep feeding them birdseed, they’ll keep coming back and then someone inevitably will feed them bread.”
“I see,” he says, though in fact, he does not.
Kelli goes on, but Jason’s eyes have wandered to her earlobe again and his attention has strayed even further. He wonders what the pigeons would have to say about their conversion. He can almost picture it.
“Oy, just give us the seed, mate!” the one with the feather pattern that looked like a little mustache would say.
“Truthfully, I’d prefer the bread,” the fat one would sulk. Inexplicably, they would both have British accents.
Jason smiles. He imagines them with stylish hats and perhaps a cane for the mustachioed gentleman. No, how would he hold the cane? That didn’t make sense at all. A monocle then. Yes. And a tiny blue scooter for the plump one.
“Are you even listening to me?” Kelli’s voice comes unbidden, drifting through the fog of his thoughts.
“Yes dear,” he says reflexively, though in truth, he is far away.
And then he is falling.
At first, he thinks the planks of the bench have given way, but the sound of splintering wood or the jolt of impact never comes. In fact, he can still see the bench, but it is suspended strangely above him and rapidly speeding away. Or is he speeding away from it?
He is Alice falling through the rabbit hole. He is beyond the event horizon, rapidly spinning towards the singularity with no hope for escape. Soon, he cannot see the park bench above. He vaguely wonders what Kelli must be thinking in this moment; is she suspended in time unaware of his departure, or has he simply disappeared into thin air?
Soon, there is no light, no sound, and no wind whipping his hair to and fro. There is only the feeling of being pulled deeper into the dark unknown.
At some point, the pulling sensation begins to feel more like an expulsion. He is being pushed from thick, dense air into lighter, thinner air. He becomes lightheaded, as though he has just stood up too quickly. Abruptly, he feels his feet resting against the solid ground. A lightbulb flickers to life overhead and he finds himself in a small, dimly lit room.
There is no mistaking it, he is inside a janitor’s closet. A mop bucket rests in the corner, the mop inside it leans haphazardly against the wall. Assorted bottles containing various colorful liquids reside on a rusty shelving unit. Strangely, the ground is made of coarse cobblestones and thick tufts of moss grow between the cracks. There is a large sign posted on a sturdy mahogany door. In beautiful gold lettering, it reads:
WELCOME TO NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
WE KNOW YOU ARE HERE, SOMEONE WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY
WELL THAT MIGHT BE CONFUSING TO THEM
THE HERE PART
OH FOR HEAVENS SAKE JUST SHUT IT OFF
DON’T TOUCH THE MOP!
Perplexed, Jason jiggles the handle of the door. He is surprised when it opens easily and swings outwards into a hallway lit by sunlight pouring in from two large, unusual windows. One window is circular, and the other window is shaped like a crescent moon. He walks to the larger of the two, presumably depicting the sun, and peers outside. His knees wobble as he takes in the startling view.
He is in the mountains. Perched on the very top of a mountain, to be more precise. There are only snow-topped peaks and an ice-blue sky for as far as his eyes can see. The window curves dramatically outward, one half of a sphere. If he were inclined, he could climb inside the half bubble and find himself hanging perilously over the cliff face, a mere half inch of glass preventing his total obliteration upon the sharp rocks far below.
He gulps and steps back from the window. He is on top of a mountain. A mountain!
But… there are no mountains in New York City. Unless you count the sad mountain of tedious court documents on his work desk.
Is this a dream? He wonders. Or something more nefarious? Many times, Kelli had suggested that losing his mind was inevitable given his predisposition towards fantasy.
He turns and looks towards the end of the hallway where an impressive marble archway beckons him.
“Why not?” he says to himself, glancing once more at the stunning scenery that lay beyond the window. An enormous bird, which he convinces himself is some kind of eagle, glides serenely in the distance.
He follows the hallway and turns the corner to discover, much to his surprise, that he is inside a bookshop. Before him is a row of enormous bookshelves, twenty feet tall and packed with hundreds of tomes of all shapes and sizes. He thinks this must be the back of the shop because it is not well lit and, though he cannot be certain, he feels that this is an area that is not often perused. There is a tall library ladder leaning upon the nearest shelf. When he touches it to confirm it is truly there, his fingertip comes away dusty.
Jason weaves between the stacks and contemplates the bizarre book titles until something stops him in his tracks. If he wasn’t convinced before, he knows now for certain that this is not just any bookshop, for there are very strange things afoot. Long snake-like creatures float dream-like through the air overhead. They slip in between books and emerge in the neighboring aisles. The beings are covered in iridescent scales that vary in color; sea green, crimson, and magenta. He stares at them dumbfounded. They pay him no mind, content to drift around lazily finding new crevices to burrow into.
Certain now that he is dreaming, he shrugs and continues his tour. What else can I do? Eventually a book catches his eye. The book is a belligerent shade of orange and has a title so strange, he cannot resist pulling it off the shelf to examine it more closely.
“How to Tame a Nakumata and Save Your Lamp Oil” by Arthur Addlebury. There is a gilded image on the cover which shows a creature with a cat head and large hulking dog’s body. It is wearing what appears to be long, flowing ceremonial robes. It is holding an oil lamp between its paws and casting a deceitful look over one shoulder.
Jason opens the book to a random page and sees a drawn picture of the Nakumata holding the head of a human victim whose body lays in a heap beside it. The author had felt it necessary to fill in the blood with red ink, as though to emphasize the horror. Grimacing, he read a few lines of text at random.
“Although the Nakumata is elderly by its very nature, often only transforming after the age of seven, it should not be assumed that this correlates with weakness. In fact, its age plays a significant role in its degree of cleverness. Often, a Nakumata that appears on the cusp of death from old age is considered the wiliest and therefore the most dangerous. Precautions must be taken when approaching a Nakumata, though which safety measures are the most advantageous is part of a contentious debate.
“For example, Anthony Gourdheim recommends wearing a clear quartz pendant enchanted with protection charms such as physical shielding and anti-bamboozlement. However, there have been several known instances where this safeguard was employed, and the unfortunate individual was still torn to pieces. Therefore, let it be known that I, Arthur Addlebury, am resolutely for Gourdheim being dismissed from his wizarding faculty position at Ratliffe and furthermore prevented from making unreliable recommendations in the future. (For more information about Anthony Gourdheim being a poser and fraud as well as an incompetent baboon, please see my other published work, “The ABC’s of Gourdheim; Artificer, Black-mailer, Con-Artist.”)”
Jason furrows his brow. What kind of self-respecting author would write such a thing? And what the hell is a Nakumata?
“Heyyoooo! Stop right there!” a voice calls out.
Jason turns his head and sees a tall, thin woman scurrying towards him with a stack of books in her hands. She looks harried, her salt and pepper hair sticks up at odd angles and a tendril of smoke billows up from a large burn mark on her gaudy purple sweater.
Panting, she finally reaches him and snatches the book from his hands with surprising agility. “Just what do you think you’re doing out here, laddie?”
“Why aren’t you behind the Dissociation Door?”
“I… the what?”
Just then, a short, squat man comes running from the same direction as the woman. He runs in a strange, cartoonish way where his feet lead the rest of his body by a full 20 centimeters. He is nearly as round as he is tall and he is wearing a bright yellow sweater, giving the impression of a flustered pufferfish. He has small green wings protruding from his back that flutter uncontrollably.
“Madame… I… came… as... quickly as… I could…” the man wheezes.
“We’ve got a live one,” the tall woman says. She pats at the burn mark on her sweater and then gestures towards Jason.
Jason stares at the two of them while the short man assesses him. Before the man can say anything, Jason blurts out, “Those can’t possibly carry you, can they?”
“Do what now?” the short man says.
“The, well, your… wings. They’re too small for flight, aren’t they?”
Jason asks, reaching out a hand to touch them.
The man hops back a step, knocking his head against a nearby bookshelf, causing the shelf to wobble slightly. The tall woman casts him a dark look, but the man isn’t paying her any attention, for he is full of righteous indignation.
“How RUDE!” he shouts.
“Clyde,” the woman stage-whispers crossly. “Quiet down! There are customers!”
“But did you hear what he said about my lovely wings?”
“Well, he’s not exactly…”
“Don’t say it!” the man holds up a small, chubby hand. “Just don’t.”
A tense silence ensues.
When Jason cannot contain himself any longer, he ventures to ask, “So, what is this place? Have I finally lost my marbles?”
Glad for the momentary distraction from the uncomfortable topic, the woman replies, “This is Neither Here Nor There, the most illustrious bookshop in all of Froelvane. I’m Lottie, the owner. This is Clyde, my custodian. As for the other bit, I’m afraid that isn’t for me to say,” Lottie looks him up and down and then shrugs. “It’s true that most of your kind have had some kind of… mental break.”
“Yes, well, you’ve dissociated yourself here, haven’t you?” she explains wearily, taking her horn-rimmed glasses off her face and cleaning them on her sweater. “We get a few of you every year. Had to make a place for you to pop into. It can be dangerous in here, for the ignorant.”
“Oh. So, the Dissociation Door is…” he trails off, thinking.
“Yes, you must have read the sign. You weren’t supposed to leave. Had I not been detained,” she gives Clyde an accusatory look, “I’d have fetched you sooner and sent you on your way.”
“Well, the sign was quite odd, and I was confused.”
“You don’t say?” she purses her lips and Clyde grins sheepishly.
“Well, we must tolerate each other’s little foibles around here, I suppose. Clyde collects magical objects, even from garbage bins, evidently. The sign is a product of a magical stenographer recording an unfortunate exchange between Clyde and me. It broke shortly thereafter, and now I have to hire an expert to remove the lettering from the door, as it seems quite content to stay where it was stuck.”
“But why is it in a Janitor’s closet?”
“You certainly have an awful lot of questions. Why don’t you follow me to the back, and we’ll get you sorted?”
“You’re just going to send me back to New York, aren’t you?” Jason asks morosely.
“Well, you certainly can’t stay here, can you?”
Lottie’s gaze softens. “Dearie, won’t your family be looking for you? Your friends?”
“I’m not sure they’d care, to be honest. And frankly I’m not sure I do either. This is the most exhilarating thing that has ever happened to me, and I’m not even sure if it’s real.”
Lottie huffs at his admission but appears thoughtful. After a long moment, she asks, “Are you good with your hands?”
“Yes, very good. I do some woodworking occasionally. And I can type very quickly. I have good handwriting. I love, um, doing the dishes? Well, not that much,” Jason rambles on, trying to think of his better qualities. “I had a pet snake once.”
“What in the world does that have to do with anything?”
“You know, the, er, the snake things,” Jason gestures to the floating creatures above him.
Lottie looks up, and then pinches the bridge of her nose in exasperation. “Those aren’t snakes, boy, they’re Bakunawa. Good lord, you really have a lot to learn.”
Hope blooms in Jason’s eyes. He knows she can see it.
“Are you good with a crossbow?”
Jason’s hope dissolves quickly into alarm. “Why would you ask me something like that?”
“Never mind, that can be trained.” Lottie throws her hands up. “Okay, alright. You’re hired, but on a tentative basis only. Do you understand?”
Jason nods enthusiastically.
“What did you say your name is, again?”
“Jason, you’re the new assistant custodian. Clyde will train you,” Lottie says. Clyde looks aghast.
“Clyde,” Lottie continues, “You’re promoted to Bookseller. Congratulations.” Tears spring from his black currant eyes and his tiny wings quiver violently. His feet lift a centimeter off the ground, and he leans askance, zooming out of view. A moment later, the sound of a crash resounds as he collides with an end cap. Then, from beneath a pile of books, comes a garbled, “Thank you, madame! I won’t let you down!”
“I seriously doubt that,” Lottie mutters. She gestures for Jason to follow her. “Well, come on then laddie, let’s get some paperwork started.”
Meanwhile, a million miles away, a woman named Kelli snaps her fingers repeatedly in front of her boyfriend’s vacant eyes.
“Jason? Jason, can you hear me?”
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This is fabulous. I want to read the series. The imagery is gorgeous and I feel like I am there. Also the transition from such a common interaction in our world and dropping into a magical world is phenomenal. Love this! Write a book please!!
Hey Haley I don’t have much to say about your English. Clearly you are very gifted in the art of writing. The story was, however very confusing. It feels odd for me to comment on the plot because writing is an art form and very subjective to personal preference and life experiences. however, if this story was written to have an audience and readers who are supposed to like and enjoy your story, i personally did not feel like that. Correct me if I am wrong but I assume the lore and the names don’t actually come from a mythology or story in t...