Against The Tide

feastsandfables
4 min readSep 6, 2022

#2badpagesaday (37)

Photo by Giammarco on Unsplash

He runs his finger down the spine of the book.

It had been three days since he had stepped off the train. Three days since he was met by the stooped old man who shook his hand solemnly and walked him to the small motorised carriage.

Nothing had been said as they climbed onboard.

The strange machine stirred into life, and they were catapulted back into the upholstered seats by the sudden forward momentum. Bounced unceremoniously over cobbled streets, Tide’s curiosity was aroused by street after street of historic buildings.

By the time they entered the tall gates — which automatically swung shut behind them as they crunched up the gravel drive — he had found it all too much to take in.

Three days later, he was slowly finding his way around.

He’d been shown to his rooms that first night by the same old gentleman. Not a word had passed his lips. Tide relished that first evening. A fire was lit in the small sitting room. A tray sat on the wooden table next to the tall-backed leather chair. On the tray, was a simple supper; a meat pie, a shiny red apple, a slice of cheese, and a hunk of bread. Next to the glass of water, is an ornate goblet half-filled with wine.

Every day since the same pattern. Trays of food. The fire lit for him. Separate bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom. More space than Tide knew what to do with. A writing desk.

And books.

On the wall facing the desk, is the floor-to-ceiling bookcase.

The bookend on the second shelf down was a globe, marble at the base to hold the books upright. He slid it along, far enough to accommodate his own book, freed from its hiding place in the lining of his suitcase.

It looked at home there.

When he returned to the living room from the bathroom on that first day, he noticed the folder on the desk, a typewritten note clipped to the cover:

Your role is to source and assemble the books on the enclosed lists.

You have authority to access any building in Zone 4 and you are entitled to unfettered movement throughout the various college campuses. If you are challenged, show this Note of Authority.

Gather the books in your office in the Lodge House.

Seven tables have been positioned in the ante room, one for each of the Lists you are to assemble.

You may work with the Fellows who have been instructed to enable your mission. You are required to make notes and report weekly on your progress. You are required to include observations about the Fellows. This is particularly important work.

Signed: The Librarian

He had spent the rest of that first day exploring.

The freedom was dizzying. Fragrant gardens, fountains, and freshly cut lawns. Gravel paths lead from one glorious building to the next. The Lodge House was just inside the large gates he had entered the night before. A single-story stone building. Lead windows with ancient small panes of glass. The anteroom was blessed with a beautiful stained glass window, which cast colourful light on the seven tables arranged beneath it. A rainbow, thought Tide. There’s ‘gold’ at the end of a rainbow, he mused.

Remembrances. Good remembrances.

The Library was immense. Row after row of books, on shelving that stretched over two floors and from one end of the room to the other. The domed ceiling high above the marble floor was painted in heavenly scenes. How anyone could have concentrated in here, Tide had no idea.

Between the sets of shelves, a raised table, lit by a series of reading lamps. High chairs ran along both sides.

He carried the folder with him, unsure where to start.

The first day passed without any books being placed on any of the seven tables.

And the second day.

Now he is on Day Three and he is beginning to familiarise himself with the layout of the library. He has taken out one or two books, just to get a feel of them.

He runs his finger down the spine of the book.

It looks and feels familiar.

A Christmas Carol’, Charles Dickens.

He had scanned all seven of the Lists. Some titles tugged at his memory. They were the easiest ones to hold in his mind; a modest starting point. Now, he had found the first one. ‘A Christmas Carol’. He remembered it; he could hear his grandmother’s voice, reading to them all, part of the seasonal ritual.

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

He read the words, and luxuriated in the memory. Three days had been sufficient to convince him that it wasn’t an elaborate hoax. Three days to feel comfortable in these wholly different surroundings. Almost feeling ‘at ease’. Reading the words, his lips moved. The silence was deafening; he decided to speak them aloud … his voice cracked.

He tried again … “Marley was dead …”

The first book from the first List. The one marked ‘Chairman: Data’.

He heard the scrape of furniture on a floor, a chair on marble perhaps.

As he looked up, a shadow moved against the pale wall at the back of the first-floor balcony. He closed the book, conscious suddenly that he was being incautious. Being at ease; that wasn’t for the likes of him.

Three days in; he would still need to be watchful.

Always watchful.

He placed the book in the trolley and started to walk, his eyes taking in the titles as he moved in front of the beautiful oak bookshelf.

As he looked, he listened.

Ever watchful.

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