I have had three or four failed attempts, but I’ve finally committed to one of Chuck Wendig’s flash challenges and last Friday’s theme was called “Ten Words Will Give You Five” – a random word challenge, where you had to incorporate five random words into a flash story. My words are undertaker, library, cube, dolphin and satellite. The result is the story “Self-fulfilling Prophecies”, in which I let loose a bit and just have fun with a few Bulgarian dimension jumpers on a job in the Library of Dead Books.
The cube hums and ignites on my palm, casting blue-bladed shadows across the spacious hall. Darkness parts but for a few metres to reveal shelves with their tops worlds above.
“People, you’re welcome to the Library of Dead Books.”
I gauge the small cube with dancing blue lights, a reaction to the Undertaker’s energy. In a few seconds, the blue dies down and this is the clear sign, the Undertaker has retreated to his or her resting place or left on errands. After all, books die every second and someone has to carry their essence.
So far, everything the merman priest explained checks out, though experience has taught me the missions with least hiccups tend to kill people.
“I know we’re being patient and all, but I’d just like to point out that the satellite signal will expire in less than 66 minutes, in which case we’ll be in a blackout for four days before the satellite locates this dimension’s frequency,” Dobrin informs once my greeting gets lost in the echo. To outsiders, he comes off whiny (not really far off mark), but his warnings have become a habit, a good luck charm, rather than nerves. He doesn’t even lose sight of the transmission box’s display.
“Less than thirty seconds, this time,” Maria chirps in and pats him on the shoulder twice. “Whining. Such an attractive trait in a man. Isn’t that right, Violeta?”
I shrug. I tend to leave my sarcasm on my home dimension. Something look forward to in a mission. Though the payment for this one is so sweet, I allow a smile. A tiny one.
“I like to keep things into perspective.”
Once the blue glow’s reach restricts itself to my palm, I turn on my torch. Let’s hope the Undertaker’s blind and unaware of modern or mystical technology, shall we.
“Maria, activate the tracking device.”
Here’s a standard merfolk tracking device recipe in three easy steps:
1) Find an old dolphin skull, cause they are so cute. (No, not really.)
2) Smear deep-sea shit (let’s just say there’s a distinctive smell involved) on it to coax a green-colored spirit manifestation. I guess dead dolphins are into coprophilia (a very legitimate lifestyle choice for other-dimensionals).
3) Wait until the green light consumes the smeared shit and acquires a dolphin shape.
Oh the joys of owning the patent to an interdimensional transporting satellite! You get to see the darnest things – namely a transparent, hovering dolphin tethered to its former skull.
I snap a picture. My son’s gonna love this.
“To the Mermaid’s Dead Books of Prophecies.” Maria orders and bathed in the green, I can see her belong to the merfolk – pale skin, tousled hair and glassy eyes (I might have to insist she takes a vacation).
The dolphin doesn’t need much coaxing and away we go across the graveyard of books.
“Forty five minutes,” Dobrin yells from below, thought what will that accomplish.
The dolphin remains a faded dot above me. Unchanged from last time Dobrin yelled the time left. The fucking books sit a kilometer above ground level and the year of rock climbing classes hasn’t prepared me for slippery bookshelves. Nevertheless, the library lays undisturbed. No Undertaker. No traps.
Simple. Perhaps too simple for comfort.
I measure my breathes and keep my pace. How I manage with the breathing mask riding up over my eyes is beyond me. All I feel is my foot on a new ledge. Every other sense has gone on a vacation, depth perception included.
Thoughts about the payment lessen the stress. I just have to reach the right shelf, activate the books’ fail-safe and then jackpot – a custom-tailored self-fulfilling prophecy for me. I can go and ask for anything.
On the thirtieth unlikeliest wish, I reach the dolphin’s snout.
“I’m here!” I yell as I pierce the wood with a spike and tie myself for support.
“Violeta, we have 25 minutes, so I’d appreciate it, if you hurry it up,” Dobrin yells back.
I reply by tossing book after book down. The dolphin’s snout points at each volume, so it takes a minute to drag all thirty three tomes down.
“Happy?” I ask, but there’s only cursing and coughing from below. Last time I work with my relatives on a mission.
“I wonder where the Undertaker is?” Maria asks as she stacks the latest books that aren’t volume number one. Finding the right one turns out to be tedious.
The cube translates the merfolk’s language, but every book I’ve touched has been a two digit number. “That merman priest really went over the top about the guy.”
“Who can say? Maybe he can’t see living things. Maybe he’s all about the books.” It’s Dobrin to answer. “Nine minutes by the way.”
“Oh come on, Doba. We’ll stay for four days. Maybe scan some other books and sell the copies for some couple of thousand,” Maria replies and sits atop her stack.
“I don’t see why waste the effort. We’re getting paid in self-fulfilling prophecies. Life can’t go wrong with an insurance plan like that.”
“But I bet you will live with your mother, once that’s done.” It’s cruel, I admit, but he’s not really employee number one. Before the comeback can reach his lips, the cube shows me the number I want to read.
“Aha, found it!”
“Finally.” Cue group sigh. Maybe we can even go home now.
I crack open the book and lay the cube over the text. Its surface lights up and the words on the first page, all faded and red, shift and swirl into Cyrillic letters.
As the letters form words and the words chain into sentences, I can see why the merman priest promised something as expensive for an easy job.
“Dobrin, how many minutes before the signal disappears?”
“Because the books have to eat to return their physical shapes.”
Then… The letters grow retinas and the book grows teeth and lips.
If you have enjoyed the story please share so in a comment or social media share and stop by next week, when I’ll have a stab at the next challenge “The Secret Door”. If you have are a participant in the challenges, drop me a line to come and check your work out.