Gideon sat at his desk in the corner of the bookshop and carefully opened the mysterious leather bound tome. Tiny motes of dust leapt up from it like freed prisoners from the darkest dungeons.
He took a sharp breath in anticipation as he turned the first page. A soft whisper of violets ghosted from the paper as if at one time there had been flowers pressed inside. A flicker of doubt nudged him, this was pretty ancient dust. There could be all kinds of contagions in it. He shook his head, that was a ridiculous thought for an educated man.
The world skewed and tipped. His back hit a hard surface, followed immediately by his head. He was lying on a cold stone floor and above him were low rafter beams. This was not the beautifully carved ceiling of his bookshop.
He hurt everywhere. It wasn’t the pain of a sudden impact injury, but a deep aching throb that seemed to ooze around his body. He rolled his eyes left, then right. There was a person stretched out to either side of him. Guessing from the wailing and groaning, there were at least a dozen other people suffering in this room.
Panic rose as he coughed and struggled to catch his breath. He tried to move, to call out, to wake himself from this too vivid a dream. A primal scream threatened to tear through him, but nothing more than a sickly moan escaped his lips.
Heavy footsteps slowly made their way towards him. He moaned again as some pointy object was jabbed in his gut. He stared in horror at the man standing over him. The long black coat, the cane and the beaked mask. Fear overwhelmed him. He stopped moving. He stopped struggling. He stopped fighting to breathe. Darkness claimed him, thick and cloying at first then blessed and welcome oblivion.
Gideon lurched up with a terrified whimper. He scrabbled to his feet then promptly vomited and dropped to his knees. Cold sweat trickled down his back and he gave a nervous laugh of relief. “Bloody hell.” He muttered.
Whatever mad hallucination that was, this was his bookshop. These were his old worn floorboards, there was his own chair toppled over on its side, and that was his very own hand carved ceiling.
The smell of violets drifted towards him, drawing his gaze towards the book. It sat innocently on the desk, firmly closed as if it had never been disturbed. The old store clock that he refused to wind up because it made too much bloody noise, gave a single jarring tick.
Gideon was not alone.
He became aware of a figure moving towards him with quiet tap tapping footsteps, like wood on wood. A small woman stopped in front of him and he struggled to comprehend what he was looking at.
Her skirts were made of ancient scrolls, layered together as if they were the frills of a petticoat. They were tattered and worn, the skirts drooping in places where some of the scrolls were missing. Her blouse looked like endlessly pleated parchment, faded with age and full of holes. Her bodice was made of the spines of tattered books that wrapped around her torso. Some of the spines were missing, leaving inky black spaces that seemed to draw him in.
“Historian, you found my book.” She whispered with a whistling lisp. Her voice was like an old wooden flute, dry and neglected, and in a single airy tone. He gasped as he looked in to her face. Perhaps once it had been highly polished wood but now the whirls of the woodgrain were faded and pocked with dry rot. Her face was framed with a garland of birch leaves in place of hair, the leaves all browns and oranges like the leaves at the end of autumn. Her eyes bore a feint flicker of light, pale violet like a cold twilight sky.
“This is now your time. You must rebuild the archive.” She placed her finger on his lips to keep him silent and the clock ticked once more.
Dust motes rose from every part of her, swirling through the air towards him. She sighed as if a heavy burden had been lifted and the books and the scrolls burst free. He tried to duck and shield himself as pages whipped feverishly around him, though he couldn’t stop himself from trying to catch a glimpse of the texts. As if summoned, the inks danced from the pages and streamed before his eyes. It was endless lines of histories and knowledge. Tales of long forgotten lands filled his mind and smothered him. He tried to peer through the chaos, to call out to the woman but there was nothing there, only a fury of a dust storm. Gideon screamed out in panic, inhaling half the dust cloud and choking. The old tome flew at him as if flung in rage. It hit him square on with a thunderous clunk and darkness claimed him once more.
It was cold when Gideon woke up. He ached from lying askew on the floorboards for who knows how long. He sat up and looked around the bookshop, everything seemed to be in order, everything neat and tidy. He had no idea why he’d been lying there. Had he fallen from the ladder while trying to reach the top shelf? He rubbed his throbbing head and frowned at how dry his skin felt. He could smell violets and noticed an old leather bound tome on the floor beside him. It was certainly big enough to knock him out if it had fallen on him. He turned it to read the embossed inscription on the cover.
“The Ledger of Time.”