Ancora Io (Part 18)
(this is a continuation of a novel, Ancora Io, started here. The full text can be found here.)
Betty shook her head and took a long breath.
Father Luis asked, tentatively, “Are you still on the line?”
Betty shook her head but said, “Yes. Very curious, don’t you think?”
“That I have a dream about you and me discussing my retirement, and then, outside of the dream, you continue the encounter without drawing breath.”
Father Luis, who every day dealt with far more bizarre and frightening coincidences in his library of religious and spiritual books, chose to be non-committal and slightly enigmatic, “Maybe.”
Suddenly, Betty felt herself holding her phone a little too tightly, and, just for a moment, she felt short of breath. She told herself, ‘Get a grip.’ Then she thought quickly, “The only explanation I can think of is that we were either never asleep. Or that I am still asleep.”
Through the phone, she suddenly heard the sound of the monastery bells calling the monks to station, and she thought as they finished tolling, she heard Father Luis mutter something darkly under his breath. She said, “Beg pardon?” just as the soft sound of the bells reached her bedroom window the conventional way.
Father Luis laughed, “That has never happened before. Now the bells have called me twice. I am sorry, I have to go. Perhaps we should meet later today. Coffee at mid-afternoon at that little café that sells spells and potions?”
“Wait, where did you get the message you gave me?”
“It was the top page of a manuscript left in a basket, outside my dormitory. I apologize. I must go.”
Betty replaced the receiver on its stand and gave herself a quick pinch. She said, crossly to herself, “I must still be asleep. It must have been those two glasses of red wine. I will see Thelma this morning and tell her that my mind is made up. I am too old for this.”
She rose and prepared for the day ahead, keeping a weather eye out for any telltale signs that she might still be wide asleep.
She took a deep breath and opened the front door, fully prepared for a blast of cold dark air.
Instead, in a basket left just outside her door, she saw a manuscript in front of her, and she reached to pick it up. She felt its unbalanced weight as she drew it close. The title, “Chronicles of Eliza,” was written in a black pen. Below, in a fainter hand, is written: “by Jess.”
Betty frowned. It was most irregular for an author to put a manuscript outside the Town Librarian’s door. She would need to talk sternly to Thelma about the activities of Thelma’s writer group.
Betty’s eye caught a yellow post-it note on the front of the bundle. Involuntarily, she read it, “Dear reader, this story should be read alone, at night, even though it is being written here from time to time, on paper.”
Betty thought to herself, ‘Fat Chance.’ She marched back inside and shut the door behind her. On her kitchen table, she frowned again as she saw an unopened bottle of red wine and an empty glass waiting her. She tried to ignore the possibility that she had had no wine the previous night as she untied the ribbon that bundled the pages of the manuscript together, careful not to scatter the loose pages within. But there was no order there.
Betty’s eyes settled on the unnumbered top page.
“I came to the portal on the Jenolan River. A trek along the Jenolan River below the caves and beyond the Blue Lake will take you to places unimaginable.
If you do step through this portal, a portal of ordinary natural power, you will never be able to go back to the world you knew. Not because of magic, nor the sharp smell of herbage all around, nor the gin you drank last night.
If you must go back, you will go back to a world changed. It will be a world where the colors are faded, and the shadows are darker.”