The mystery of the books


Dorus scratched his head. It was itching a lot recently. He probably had lice.

Just a few hours ago, Dorus had been talking to someone – a self proclaimed ‘freelance information broker’. This person had been obviously disgusted by Dorus’s appearance, which was understandable, as his red Silencer robes were dirty and sweat-stained, and he hadn’t washed for several days. But when handed a substantial amount of money, this person told Dorus where he would find Kerry Grail, the Wraith.

Dorus wasn’t to know this, but this person was also the one who’d told a certain blonde Frenchwoman that Ranajay had moved on, and this person’s name was not Chris Carbin. Dorus was never going to know any of this. As a matter of fact, there were a lot of things Dorus didn’t know – which, for a man who has lived for two lifetimes, is a little pathetic.

At the end of this day (which had included Jo and Kerry’s resituating to other temporary accommodation, the end of Robert Miles’s life, the end of the seventy-year-old woman life, Sandrine and Élodie catching a train, a man who wasn’t called Chris Carbin’s attempt to access a file on a memory stick belonging to an old friend AND Auntie Jo finding someone else who named their cacti), Kerry Grail was getting ready for bed.

They’d had a nice dinner with Payton and Claudia, but her eyelids had been drooping shut for about an hour now.

‘Ne’er mind, hen,’ Claudia said. ‘Ye’ll get a chance to go ben the library tomorrow.’

They were sat in the living room, which was mostly a mish-mash of green and red furniture, save for the picture of a rectangular cow. Auntie Jo put out her cigarette in the ashtray.

‘Maybe I should go up too,’ she said, pulling her olive shawl around herself. ‘I’m about to drop off.’

‘That’s fine,’ Payton said. He sat in an armchair near the fireplace – one hand playing with his whiskers, the other flipping a silver coin over and over in his hands. Kerry briefly wondered how two old people like these were able to stay awake so late. Her own grandma and granddad always had to go to bed very early, even, on occasion, before the sun started setting.

‘I’ll show ye tae yer rooms, then,’ Claudia nodded, getting up.

Jo stood up with difficulty in her heels and they let Claudia walk them up to the floor above. Kerry was shown her room first, and then she led Auntie Jo away.

‘Goodnight Kerry,’ she called.

‘Goodnight, Jo.’

The door shut behind her, and Kerry took a look round at the place she was going to be sleeping for the next few days.

It was celery-green.

She laughed and threw herself on the bed. She wished she hadn’t – it was a very hard mattress, not that Kerry minded too much. She crawled under the duvet as usual, and then noticed that the curtains were still open. She went to shut them, noticing a fine coating of dust on the windowsill. She didn’t mind this either. As far as she was concerned, it added to the house’s character.

There was a book resting on the pillow next to her. Curiously, she picked it up, holding it up to catch the cover in the light from the window. It was dark outside, but she made out the title on the front – ‘Coin Magic, or How to throw yourself into your work’.

She promised to read it first thing in the morning, and then got herself comfortable, wrapping the duvet round her feet and planting the side of her head in the pillow.

Twenty minutes later, she was asleep.


Kerry woke up from a short nightmare about clowns and people in red robes. For a few seconds, she didn’t recognise where she was. The walls were still green, but the furniture had shuffled and changed.

Then she remembered.

She lay there for a while, wondering what time it was.

Her phone was in her case, which was still downstairs. She got up, hoping to find a clock in the room. Perhaps Payton and Claudia were one of those sorts of people who put interesting clocks in every room.

She couldn’t see one.

Kerry opened the curtains. Outside were the gravel driveway and a few trees, and she saw the first glimmers of dawn. There was that orangey-pink tinge to the sky. Kerry had always thought of it as the Colour of Truth.

She decided she might as well visit the library early, while she was up. Taking the ‘Coin Magic’ book in her hand, she left the room and made her way up the stairs, and then across the landing and up the attic staircase. It wobbled and creaked as she went up, and she slowed down a tad, trying to be quiet.

The library was dark. Kerry breathed in the smell of old paper, and then went straight over to the sliding ladder, wondering whether she dared go up.

‘Good morning, Kerry.’

Kerry dropped her book in surprise. Lo and behold, Payton was standing on the attic staircase, his head and shoulders rising out of the floor.

‘I’m sorry,’ Kerry said. ‘I couldn’t sleep. I came up; I hope I’m not being rude... did I wake you? I’m sorry.’

Payton held up and hand and Kerry shut up.

‘You’re free to come in here when you choose,’ he said. His whiskers were in slight disarray. ‘But I wouldn’t use the ladder this early if I were you; it tends to rattle.’

‘OK. Yes, sorry.’

Payton climbed out of the floor unassisted and came over. He was wearing a dark red dressing gown and slippers, and those stripy blue flannelly ‘old man’ pyjamas.

‘Have you been reading this?’ he asked her.

‘Er, not yet, no.’

‘It’s very good. I think you should look over it today when you’re feeling more awake.’

Kerry was suddenly aware that her dull brown hair was tangled and pointing in every direction. She tried unsuccessfully to smooth it down with her hand. ‘Do you still practice coin magic?’ she asked.

‘I do. Mostly I take from my past self... using up those coins I put myself into all those years ago.’ He grinned and his whiskers moved on his face. ‘But I also have set up a number of coins round the house to protect myself and my wife. Should a burglar or house-breaker enter our home, for example, and we feared for our lives, we could whizz our whole physical form into...’ he walked across the library, ‘ of these silver discs on the wall.’

Kerry examined it in closer detail. It was about the size of a dinner plate. It did not have a queen’s head or similar emblem on the front, just a swirly whirly pattern dancing around the edge, and a shrieking eagle on the front.

‘That eagle isn’t really necessary,’ Payton explained, ‘but it’s an adaptation of our old family crest, and I think it looks better than just a big flat piece of silver.’

‘Is it real silver?’

‘Just an alloy. A very special one, but just an alloy.’

Kerry scratched her forehead. ‘They’re not all that big, are they?’

‘Oh, no,’ the old man told her. ‘Most of the coins used for Coin Magic are much smaller than this. I made this myself – with the help of a friend of mine.’

Kerry nodded. As large as this house was, it probably didn’t have room for a hammer forge or a coining press or anything like that. This was only roughly what Kerry thought, of course, as she didn’t know the correct terminology.

‘Perhaps you’d like to sit and read for a while, so I’ll leave you and you can come down for breakfast when you’re ready. There are some cereals out on the side.’

‘Thank you.’

‘One thing before I go,’ Payton said, pointing one hairy finger at the top shelf of a blue bookcase. ‘Those books at the top there... please don’t touch them or move them. They’re quite rare and old, and I’d hate to think of you sitting down to read one and setting it on fire with the merest turn of a page.’

Kerry nodded slowly. ‘Well, I won’t go near them then.’

‘Good,’ Payton grinned, stepping down onto the staircase and disappearing from sight.

Kerry waited until he was gone, and then meandered over to the sliding ladder. She ran her fingers over its rungs, promising herself that she would try it out before the end of the day.

Kerry glanced up at the old and rare books atop the blue bookcase, and wondered what they contained.

The End

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