|The Boys of Astrid Marx
Author: AriadneInLove PM
A historian finds herself the target of a vampire's deadly affection and a madman's plot to solve a 500 year old mystery.Rated: Fiction M - English - Mystery/Romance - Words: 2,793 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 07-03-07 - id: 2385361
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Boys of Astrid Marx
The eyes of solemn prisoners, long-since dead, called out for her to awaken them. With every page, she saw one more artist freed, saw one more soul float on to that corner of her imagination and become corporeal…
Astrid knew it was pathetic to measure her greatest achievements by the dust on the shelves of Rockbridge Library. She thought of the monotony of her life even now as she walked through the Hall of Judges, as she affectionately called it. It consisted of a giant hall with a giant roof and giant portraits of men with such menacing looks in their eyes that it made her feel like the tiniest ant in the hill, like something higher than herself looked over her and saw only to harm her. It didn't help that she knew all of their names by memory. It was hard not to read the shiny gold plaques while avoiding the watchful eyes. And this, she did often.
She was carrying far too many books for such a little person but she didn't seem to care. On the top of the stack in her arms, she had one of the antique leather-bounds from the 1880's collection propped open and was deep in Sir Arthur Marilee's recollections of quite a few homicides he had apparently admitted to just before his death. A trusty monk had written it all down and right now, she was nearly positive one of them if not both was Jack the Ripper. She gave a sharp laugh that came out more like a scoff and kept walking down the never-ending hall.
That's when she saw him for the first time. A new portrait hung on the wall. She stopped dead in her tracks, almost dropping Marilee's journal, and looked up with a slightly opened mouth. His eyes had the same menace but his smile captivated her most, so much she stopped dead in her tracks. It was not an evil smile or a threatening smirk. It was the smile of a child, a one-sided grin that spoke through ages. It screamed inside her head, "Devious…"
She smiled back at the portrait and kept on walking with the eerie sense that every menacing eye in that hall was staring at her as she went.
She reached a set of doors that took up the entire back wall of the hallway. It had once made her stop and sigh at its magnificence but now she just wished they weren't so hard to open every day.
She sighed and laid down the books beside the doors and began pulling for dear life to open the wall. The hinges squeaked with a deafening low pitch. She shut her eyes tight and opened the door just enough to squeeze through.
When she got inside, the walls of glass seem to bring her from a dreary past into a futuristic vision. The desks were of a shiny, smooth metal, drastically simple and modern and whatever plants were around the round room were the exact same cone shape.
Glass and mirrors made the moonlight coming in seem like a spotlight on her solitude.
She tried not to slip but the marble floor was not a kind mistress, even in white tennis shoes that made her feel like a nurse. Careful not to harm a single book, she laid them down on her comfy chair and began moving them into nice stacks on her desk, separating them by century and alphabetizing and so on. It was tedious but she had the patience of a saint.
She looked through the books with fine gloves, sitting down at her desk with her rectangular glasses almost slipping to the tip of her nose. Sunlight had begun to enter through the glass walls. It started to hurt her eyes so she took a 3-minute break to look outside. She was on the 5th floor of the building and below, cars had begun to leave their houses onto work. The industrial streets hid under fog and morning rain and seemed like it was the people, not her, that became ants.
She looked down at her watch. 7:15 AM. She sighed and went back to work, slightly slipping on the marble floor as her long jeans got caught under her heel. She turned off the lamps with great lifelessness and boredom, contemplating the pointlessness of it all.
Just as she went to sit down, the great oak doors slowly hinged open and closed again with a bang. Boss came in with a newspaper open in hand and a cup of coffee in mid-sip.
"Good morning, Astrid," he said, not bothering to look up, knowing all too well she was the only one crazy enough to willingly come to work 4 hours early.
She didn't look up either. "'Morning, Boss. Love the new hair. Are we feeling a bit Lennon today?" she responded. He laughed. She was the only one not afraid of him, at least not enough to make fun of his toupee every chance she got.
"Yes, well. Do you really want to go there, Yoko?" he joked back. She smiled but still didn't look up. When she didn't keep up their charade, he stopped with a hand on the doorknob and his newspaper under his arm.
"Are you all right, Astrid? You seem..." She didn't respond. He walked over to her and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk. "When was the last time you slept, Marx?"
"Don't worry 'bout it, Boss. I'll get over it. Just adjusting again, I guess."
"Well we understand, love. If you want to take more leave…"
"No!" she interrupted. "Don't even think 'bout it, Boss. I'm not going nowhere, you hear me? I've been walking this library since I could crawl and nobody's going to rip me from her… no matter what's happened and no matter what's going to happen."
Boss, the poor British man, looked at her with great sympathy in his heart. But that went away soon, as he refused to believe her doggedness.
"Bloody damn Americans!" he said, slamming his fist on the metal desk. "Are you insane, girl? Your brother just died! You can't tell me that hasn't affected you. I know it has. I've been here just as long as you and I know every twitch on that face, and let me tell you, I've never seen you as far away from reality as I see you now."
Astrid wanted to cry. Boss was like a grandfather to her and there was no lying to him. Even in this grand city, she felt like the sophisticated country bumpkin, all too susceptible to the rigors of humanity's many imperfections. But not around Boss. He was a country Brit. And he was more of a father than she ever knew.
So when she finally looked up at him, her glasses slipping, a tear escaped her and she looked away. He put a wrinkly hand over hers and told her with tired eyes, "You go on, girl. Life in a box is an eternal jail cell that only someone doomed to purgatory can tell you will putrefy you inside. Get out of here… before you end up alone like me."
She didn't understand what he meant. She figured she got the gist of it: she was ruining her life being trapped in the library. But there was more there, more he wasn't saying, and ulterior motives did not dwell well on her.
Astrid took his advice nonetheless and got up and out of there, pulled the door open and leaving all her things behind, made way back to her apartment where she packed her things, muttering to herself the things her mother once told her about superstitions and the dead coming back to haunt them if they died in anger.
She wasn't going to be there when they came.
She slid down the wall in a corner, hugging her knees and rocking herself to stop crying, but the sprays of blood still lingered before her in that room, of that house, she never went to anymore.
It took her two days to get up from that spot. She counted it with the footsteps of the wandering souls outside, the laughter and the squeaking of the bed above. She could usually tell from the drunkenness of their step that happy hour had just ended. She knew this wasn't healthy.
Every time the phone rang, she knew it was the library. Nobody else bothered calling her. But it was on that second day that she decided to get up from that corner and pick up the phone.
She would come to think it was fate that she picked it up that time. It wasn't.
It was Boss, as she imagined it would be. But his news would shake her out of her mourning.
"There's been a robbery. They've wrecked The Hall," he said, not bothering with pleasantries. She didn't even bother to think before grabbing her keys and running, through the rain, all the way to the library. She got up to the hall, slipping quite a few times, and slid her way to Boss who was cornered by two policemen. When she saw the paintings, a hand went to her mouth.
Every single portrait had been slashed diagonally and cleanly. All except one.
She went to the last painting in the row, the first one that popped into her head because frankly it'd never left. The man's painting, the one with no name, had been left intact. She walked up closer to it and stared right into its eyes then down to his lips.
His smile was different. "Boss?" she whispered then said again louder. He came over. "This isn't the same painting."
"What are you talking about?"
"Look at his smile."
"Exactly! He was smiling before. How long has it been here?" she asked, turning to him and grabbing his collar forcefully.
"I don't know. A week maybe. You think whoever brought it in might have stolen the book?" he replied, a little scared.
"What book?" she yelled.
"It was in the private section." He was trying to be cryptic. He didn't want to tell her.
"Which part of the private section?" she asked through gritted teeth.
"The 1400s," he finally answered and she let go. The 1400s were the library's most valuable collection, all brought in by her and each kept in individual glass boxes for display. They were so old and valuable that some had been replaced with replicas for public viewing. It was a historian's paradise, her paradise. There wasn't a thing in the collection younger than 500 years old.
She completely forgot about the paintings and slowly walked upstairs to the 12th floor, dreading seeing her collection ruined. Luckily, no other glass cases were smashed and nothing was cut. The book that had been stolen had not been brutishly broken into. The glass case was intact beside the base. She looked at the inscription at the base to see which one it was.
"The Daemos Tiria," she read softly. "On loan from the collection of Sir Willian Dextry."
She thought of Sir Dextry when she went to meet him when he first donated it. He had been an old and careful collector but he had died several months ago and had no one to want it back. Who else would get that book specifically when there were so many other ten times more valuable?
She walked back down to The Hall, staring at the floor like a beaten woman lost in thought. "Which one was it?" Boss asked.
"The Daemos Tiria. I picked it up off a British lord a year ago. But… it makes no sense," she said.
One of the policemen, both of whom looked extremely annoyed that they got stuck chasing after a single stolen book, asked, "What was so significant about it?"
"Well it was written in an obscure Latin dialect. Very few people in the world can read it so I'd say start there. It's supposedly the bible and history of a cult in the 13th century that supposedly, secretly, owned a third of Spain and may have had a direct influence on the monarchy," she said, with great emphasis on the uncertainty behind it.
"Why would anyone want it?" the other policeman asked.
She smirked. "Everyone wants to own valuable things, because we hope it will make us valuable. But whoever did this is a collector, and wealthy. They didn't even trip the alarm. They hired experts."
"You don't think it could have been someone from the cult?" he asked.
"As far I know, the cult never lived past late 14th century and had been losing power for decades before its collapse. But sure, there could still be one or two out there."
After they left, she found herself in front of the painting again. She didn't care that she was soaking wet in the same clothes she'd come to work with two days ago. She just stared at it like every thought she'd ever had fell pale in comparison to his eyes. They were blue but nothing out of the ordinary. She remembered Dextry though. The old man had practically begged her to care for it with her life.
"Boss?" she said, hearing his footsteps coming closer behind her. "Can we get an X-ray of this portrait?
She turned around and answered, "There's something it wants to tell us." He nodded and told her to go back home.
"You look like crap. Take a bath," he said, half in jest. She nodded back absentmindedly and went home. Two cold showers later, she still couldn't stop thinking of the man in the portrait. She started to get angry and frustrated. She felt like she had seen him before yet knew with certainty she hadn't.
An hour into sleep, a thought woke her. She jumped up out of bed and, in her pajamas, ran to the library. When she got up to the 12th floor, the room was already lit, waiting for her. The glass case had been put back over the empty base but she didn't care. She was there for the book in the case against the back wall. It wasn't the same book as before. In fact, it wasn't even of the same era. The title had worn off the leather cover. She realized it was a journal. Before even opening the case, she ran to grab some gloves, and later settled down in a corner to read it with great delicacy.
It was written in ink in plain old English. It was much older than the Daemos Tiria. It spoke of a man in love with a French woman, a lady of the court. He was her servant and lover. When she died, he tried everything possible to bring her back but she was too far gone. Instead, he made a deal with a demon to send her to Heaven, as she had committed adultery, in exchange for his own wretched soul. The demon granted it, as far as she could read, but he came to realize he could not die. The demon had also taken his mortality so he could never be with the woman he loved. The last three pages were the same sentence, written over and over again…
What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?
She turned to the final page and saw it had been smeared red like someone had tried to reach for it with bloody hands. She didn't mourn for the person. She mourned for the book. She closed it and rested her head back. What were the thieves trying to say to her? She went to read it again when she turned to the dedication page. It was just as old as the other pages, as was the ink. It was yellowed over but she could still read it.
"This is for Astrid..."
She suddenly forgot how to breathe and tossed the book aside. She kept telling herself it was a dream, that it wasn't possible or just a coincidence, but someone was playing with her and they wanted their presence known. She didn't even manage to leave the 1400s before she collapsed on the marble floor
TO BE CONTINUED…