5. in which danny receives a most unexpected birthday gift

•August 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

“Danny,” said her grandfather, holding out his hand. She placed her hand in his hand, and found that his was warm. “You are now a young woman. A beautiful, intelligent, strong young woman.” He smiled, and squatted down. “I’m so proud of you.” He hugged her (the raven leaped from his shoulder with a rasp). Then, he gestured with an open palm. “I want you to have this.”

“This…place?” she asked.

“Kind of,” he said. He stood. The raven settled down on his shoulder again. It seemed to eye Danny with its glistening black eyes. “Danny, do you know what I did when I was alive?”

“You drove Grammie bananas,” she said, glancing at the huge bird nervously, but still mischievous. Then, she said, “You fixed dolls.”

He laughed. The raven on his shoulder startled slightly; it flared its wings, croaked, and puffed its feathers. “Yes, and yes. But,” he said. “I was also a book hopper.”

“You hopped into books?”

“Yes,” he said. “I traveled into the worlds that books created. Let’s walk.” He offered her his hand again, and the raven took off from his shoulder. She hesitated, then took his hand, and they began to wade through the grass. The breeze was cool, and the air was dry — nothing like Florida. The grass “shooshed” in it. It tickled her as they walked.

“For every spark of an idea,” said her grandfather, “For every dream that is dreamt. For every thought that is thunk. For every word that is written…a world is born. An infinite number of worlds is born.”

“The multiverse,” she said.

“Yes! There are many gateways into these worlds, into these universes. Dreams are one of them. Books…are another.” He glanced at her and smiled warmly.

“When I was your age,” he continued, “I was given the gift to travel through books into the worlds beyond them. It was given to me by my grandfather, as it was given to him by his grandmother before him.”

She thought for a moment. “It’s like a recessive gene.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” she said. “It skips generations.”

He laughed, and squeezed her hand. “Is that what they teach you in school now? Back in my day, we learned how to fashion sticks and rocks into hatchets, and the discovery of fire was the news of the day.”

“Was not!” she giggled.

“Sure it was! Now, it’s the Human Genome Project.”

“Quantum physics,” she said.

“String theory,” he said.

“What’s that?” she said.

He smiled.

They walked for a few minutes until they came to the edge of the grass. There, they stood at the top of the seashore, looking down on a long, empty beach that stretched to either side of them, and on a wide, endless, jeweled ocean.

“So, what do you think?” he asked after several moments.

“I think it’s pretty,” she said.

He laughed and “tsked.” “Silly!”

She smiled. “I think I’d like it. To book hop.”

Her grandfather grinned at her and placed the tip of his index finger to her forehead. “It’s yours.”

And so Danny came to have the gift of walking into books.

When she returned to her world later, she found that no time had passed since she had gone away. She was still standing in the corner near the clothes machine — which smelled of soap — holding the book. The cake was still smashed at her feet. Her grandfather was gone.

Now when she smelled clothes detergent, she thought of her grandfather, and of an empty island world, and of birthday cake.

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Christie “Iamba” Bailey

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4. in which danny receives a most unexpected birthday guest

•August 6, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Chapter One

Danny could walk into books.

It was a gift she had received on her thirteenth birthday from her dead grandfather.

“Psssst! Danny boy,” she had heard a voice whisper. “Over here!”

She followed the voice away from the birthday party crowd to an empty corner near the clothes washer machine. A ghostly outline of a man stood there. He was tall, just like her grandfather, and he wore the same goofy grin, but his hair was as black as fresh asphalt and he didn’t stoop.

“Grandpa?” she said, and dropped her plate of cake.

“Hey, baby,” he said. And for a moment, the image flickered: he was grey, and creased, and delicate, like a creaking wooden frame stretched with aged leather. He smiled and he said, “I have something for you.”

It was a book. And when she took it from his outstretched hand, she found that it was solid and that she could take it from him. It was bound in black cloth, and the words on it were written in an alphabet that she could not read. They were pressed into the book with silver and blue foil. There was also a symbol — a cross with a loop. She had seen it before in Egyptian pictures.

“It’s a book,” she said.

He squatted down, now younger: maybe in his late thirties, his face shadowed with a ghost of stubble. “It’s not just any book,” he said. “Open it up.”

She did, and read the title out loud: “Liara.” Then, she added, “By…I can’t read that.”

He smiled. “Now,” he said. “Put your hand on that page, just like this.” He spread his fingers just so — into the V sign from Star Trek.

Her eyes widened, but she did as he said, because he was her grandfather, and because she had never argued with a ghost before. She had never spoken to one, for that matter.

“Now, say as I say.” He cleared his throat, and cracked a huge goofy grin, then cleared his throat again, and his face went somber. “Waka waka woo, waka waka waka wy.”

She hesitated, and then she repeated it.

And suddenly, she was no longer in hallway near the washer machine with spilled cake at her feet.

She blinked in the sudden sunlight and quickly scanned her surroundings. Her grandfather stood near her in the waist-high golden grass. He was more solid now, and she could see that he was wearing black: a shirt, and slacks, and a dressy jacket. But she wasn’t looking at his clothes. She was looking at his shoulder.

On it was the biggest raven she had ever seen.

“Oh,” she said. Then, without anything else to say, she added, “Oh.”

He smiled. “Welcome, dear little lady.” He spread his arm in an expansive gesture.

“Where are we?” she asked automatically, although she already knew.

“You know,” he said.

“I know,” she replied.

They were in the book.

They stood in the middle of a field of tall grass that rippled like the ocean in the breeze and shimmered golden. She stretched her arms out and spun slowly, her palms skimming the tops of the grass, tickled. The grass stretched far around them. On one horizon, she could make out a line of trees and the outline of mountains behind them. Opposite, there was a hill, and the remnants of buildings. The rest of the horizon was flat — filled with grass.

“Liara,” she said.

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Christie “Iamba” Bailey

3. in which danny escapes an embrace

•August 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Danny gasped awake to darkness, trapped in a warm, close embrace. She was drenched with sweat and short of breath.

Panic stricken, she struggled free of the enclosing limbs and sat up, only to realize that she was in bed with her lover.

He stirred beside her. “Roche, are you all right?”

She swallowed dry spit. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”

“Mmm. Love you,” he murmured. His arms, now free of the object of their embrace, clasped to his chest, as if lonely and seeking warmth.

Danny sat on the side of the bed, hands pressed into the mattress of soft ferns and moss, readjusting to reality.

Reality.Right.

She glanced at Drev’o. He was asleep again, his breathing slow and even. She felt a brush of distance and longing. As if to smooth over the emotion with humor, she murmured, “You could sleep through anything, you log.”

She stood and walked through an archway into the small, adjoining bathroom. A small stream of water ran continuously from a hole just underneath the ceiling, swirled through a basin at hip level, and disappeared into the floor. Danny splashed her face and stood over the basin, breathing steadily and listening to the sounds of the great tree creaking in the wind.

At length, Danny paced back into the bedroom and stood looking down at the bed. Her pose was awkward, as if she was unsure where to turn or where to step. A part of her wished to crawl back into Drev’o’s comforting arms, close her eyes, and return to sleep, lulled by the groan and gentle shifting of the tree.

However, a restless energy filled Danny. The dream haunted her far more than a mere nightmare should have. For the first time in nearly three months, she felt ill at ease and ungrounded in Seliy’a. She needed something else. Somewhere else. She craved a comfort and familiarity that even Drev’o’s warm embrace or the rocking of the tree could offer. She craved…home.

She hesitated in the archway, then strode to the bed. She kneeled onto the soft mattress and placed a light, tender kiss against Drev’o’s brindle cheek. Then, she pulled a book from the highest shelf of the book case and opened it.

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Christie “Iamba” Bailey

2. in which a forest speaks

•July 31, 2008 • 1 Comment

For one dizzying moment, Danny couldn’t tell if she was standing in the middle of a city street or a medieval forest.

Then she realized that the vast trees of immeasurable girth that towered around her had once been buildings. They had become completely enveloped in ropy tendons of tree trunk, until they were like huge banyan trees that spanned entire city blocks. Their leaves blotted out the sky, and their roots had erupted streets.

Here and there, some buildings had not been completely engulfed yet. Their top stories poked up from the constricting vines as if struggling to escape the assault of strangulation. Their glass windows were dark, and empty window frames gaped like the empty sockets of skulls.

With an electrifying jolt, she realized that there were skulls. Ropes had been strung up between the branches, spanning over what had once been the city street. From these hung skulls. Human skulls. Hundreds of them.

The inhabitants of the city.

Danny’s breath caught in her throat, and before she could even recover, a voice from beside her — behind her — all around her — hissed, “You are too late.”

Danny whirled to find a vine as thick around as a man reaching toward her. She got the distinct impression that the vine was speaking to her.

Then, full realization dawned on her: the forest itself was alive…and sentient.

“Do you like my ornaments?” said the voice, as Danny turned to run. Something pressed around her ankle, and she realized with horror that a creeper had hold of her.

“I think you would make a lovely addition,” said the voice.

She began to scream. The man-sized vine closed around her face, and squeezed.

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Christie “Iamba” Bailey

1. in which danny dives into a book

•July 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Prologue

In her dream, Danny stood behind the customer service counter of Barge and Nelson, trying to explain to a customer that her book would not “turn on,” because books were not meant to be turned on.

“But there’s supposed to be a button right here,” insisted the woman, pressing a finger against the hardcover’s spine. “Just last week I bought a book from the same publisher with Ghandi as the narrator. This one must be defected. I want my money back.”

Danny felt her entire body pulse with anger. “Ma’am, there’s nothing wrong with the book, but if you go up to the cash register I’ll call the –“

At that moment, a tremendous crash sounded from behind them, toward the children’s section. Screams rent the air.

Without excusing herself, Danny tore off toward the noise. People were already running helter skelter away from the area. Danny dashed past the science fiction section and skidded to a stop. Half of the popular fiction shelves had been toppled over like dominoes, and the divider that split the children’s section from the rest of the store lied in ruins. For a moment, Danny gawked. Rising from the chaos of splintered wood and spilled books were humongous writhing snakes. No — vines.

Like the tentacles of some ancient, roused sea god, the vines wrapped and curled around bookshelves. As she watched, the vines constricted around a help desk until it exploded in a spray of wood chips. The computer monitor that had been sitting on the desk flew like a missile in Danny’s direction. She threw herself toward the ground, arms folding over her head instinctively.

By the time she had sprung back onto her feet, the tentacle vines had eaten half of the science fiction shelves, and she could see that the children’s section was being similarly destroyed.

“Shit!” she swore, and — as everyone else ran screaming — she leaped straight into the heart of the chaos.

Danny vaulted over runners and ducked past creepers. She jumped, tumbled, staggered, leaped. Her feet caught on vines and precarious piles of books. In moments, she was in the thick of the vines, ducking angry shoots and windmilling her arms as the very ground writhed beneath her feet.

She grabbed a slab of wood that had once been the side of a book case and pushed it out of her way, splinters scoring her palms. She began to dig through the pile of books, tossing them every which way.

Finally, she uncovered a patch of blue carpet. And lying on that patch of blue carpet, at the bottom of the pile, was a single oversized book.

The book lied on its back, pages open. It was from these pages that the vines rose up, as if reaching through some dimensional window.

A vine as thick as her leg snaked quickly toward Danny. It began to curl around her like a whip. She had no time to think, only react.

Like a diver, she threw herself headfirst into the book —

— and tumbled into a crumbling cityscape.


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Christie “Iamba” Bailey