Armitage - Chapter 7 - Unreal Possibilities (Part 3 of 3)
Refusing to believe the ludicrous notions that her mind kept churning up, Madeline finished her breakfast with Ben and Abby and made her way to the library to put in some more work on her Jack the Ripper paper. The world around her may have been going crazy but she still had deadlines to meet.
Leaving the cafeteria, Madeline left the building through the nearest exit and made her away across campus towards the library. Smiling hellos at the few people she knew her mind raced with fragmented thoughts from the conversation she just had, as well as the one with Sergeant Thomas at the safety meeting, and before she knew it she had arrived at the library.
Madeline attempted to shake off the nagging thoughts that were bothering her as she reached into her bag and turned off her phone. Refastening the clasp of her bag, she said good morning to the librarian on Reception and entered the lift, bound for the History section on the second floor.
Returning a brief good morning from a student waiting to get in the lift, Madeline found a vacant table and set her bag down, fishing several textbooks from inside. Checking her notes from her last lecture, Madeline flicked through one of the textbooks until she came upon the relevant section and began reading. She knew she had to concentrate but the events of the last few days kept playing on her mind and after she had read the same line five times she decided that she was far too distracted to study. Sighing in defeat, Madeline began to pack up her things but while reaching for her bag she accidentally knocked one of her textbooks to the floor, and out of it fell a small piece of paper.
Knowing she had yet to read that particular textbook, Madeline frowned slightly at the small white oblong of paper as she picked it up, wondering what it could be. She thought it might have been a makeshift bookmark used by another student but turning it over she found some writing that caught her attention:
Blinking in disbelief, Madeline saw her name staring back at her along with what appeared to be a reference number for Armitage University Library, but what puzzled her was how it could have gotten into her textbook. Then it hit her, the hooded figure had been in her dorm room the other night; he could have left it for her. Her mind racing once again, Madeline bit her lip as she deliberated on what to do, and after a few moments’ thought she decided to check it out. Standing up and shouldering her bag, she held the piece of paper tightly in one hand and set off in search of whatever this number referenced.
It took a little bit of time but Madeline eventually found herself in the right section, Folklore & Mythology, and going along the shelves she found the book she was looking for, Myths & Legends of Eastern Europe by Phillip Cohen. Taking it off the shelves she wondered how this collection of stories and fairytales could possibly be important but seeing as she had spent the better part of fifteen minutes searching for it Madeline decided to at least take a look at it. Seating herself at a nearby table, Madeline fished her glasses out of her bag and began to examine the book.
It was written in 1973 by folklorist Phillip Cohen and as Madeline had expected it was filled with the kind of tales that got made into cheesy horror films and got told around the campfire, not the sort of thing that she would normally waste her time on. She read a few pages before getting bored and remembering how she had come to find this book in the first place she began flicking through to see if anything had been left behind in the pages. It was a silly notion, she thought to herself, but if it was important enough for the hooded figure, whoever he was, to break into her room and sneak a note into one of her textbooks then Madeline felt she would at least look through the whole book before giving up.
Not finding any scraps of paper or hidden notes, Madeline was approaching the end of the book and began to wonder whether she was the victim of a woefully unfunny prank, when she came at last to the book’s Bibliography. If nothing else caught her attention in the book one of the cited works certainly did, not just because of the heavy pencil line encircling it but also because of the surname of the author.
Madeline saw the name instantly, having read and written it so many times over the past several weeks, Walter Sickert, a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case, but this work was by an S. Sickert. Madeline had researched the life of Walter Sickert enough to know that he was a painter, not a writer, and that he had a brother named Bernard but no relatives that she knew of with any name beginning with S, plus this book had been published in the 1950’s, several years after Walter Sickert had died.
The book was called 'How I Became A Vampire'.
There was that word again, vampire, thought Madeline. It seemed to be cropping up in the most unlikely of places. Sergeant Thomas seems to think there’s a killer on the loose in Armitage who either thinks he’s a vampire or wants the world to think he’s a vampire, and then Ben spends most of this morning trying to convince me that Professor Mason of all people is a vampire. Madeline truly didn’t know what to make of it all but she felt she might get some answers, perhaps, from this absurdly titled book, if it still existed.
Jotting down the bibliographical entry, Madeline put the folklore book back on its shelf and walked over to the nearest library reference computer. Unfortunately, neither the title of the book nor the author came up on the system so Madeline decided to track down a librarian, just to be sure. She found one stacking shelves just around the corner.
‘Excuse me,’ she said politely.
‘How can I help you?’ asked the librarian, whose nametag said Rebecca.
‘Can you tell me if the library stocks this book?’ Madeline handed the piece of paper with the reference on it to the young librarian, who looked at it for a second or two.
‘Hmm, the name isn’t familiar. Have you checked it on the system?’
‘Yes,’ nodded Madeline. ‘I didn’t get anything for the title or the author.’
‘Let me just check my computer, I’ll know for sure then.’
‘Thank you,’ smiled Madeline. Rebecca returned the smile and walked over to the help desk and sat down in front of her computer. She checked the reference that Madeline had given her and entered the information on to her computer, while Madeline stood patiently in front of the desk.
‘I’m sorry, I’m not finding it either,’ said Rebecca. ‘Is it important?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Madeline, realising that she really didn’t. ‘It could be.’ Rebecca looked at Madeline for a moment before continuing.
‘Well, Armitage doesn’t have too many bookshops, so if it’s important you could always check them out.’
‘Thank you,’ said Madeline.
‘You’re welcome,’ said Rebecca.
Madeline decided that while she was still in the mood to entertain what she deemed pure flights of fancy she would head into Armitage and see if she could track down this book. Getting into the lift she asked herself what she expected to find in this book, if she could even find it, and her internal quarrel would have no doubt continued had she not virtually ran into Mike Newman when the lift doors opened.
‘Oh, Mike, I’m sorry,’ she said, smiling weakly.
‘That’s okay,’ said Mike, stepping back from the lift and allowing the doors to close.
‘How are you?’ asked Madeline, who could not help but still see the bruising on Mike’s face.
‘I’m fine thanks,’ replied Mike. ‘What are you up to?’
‘I’m just off into town.’
‘Well…’ began Madeline.
‘You know it’s not safe,’ said Mike concernedly. ‘How about I come with you?’
‘I wouldn’t want to put you out,’ said Madeline. ‘Besides, don’t you have class?’
‘Nope, I was just on my way to the third floor to check my e-mail, but that can wait. Shall we?’ Mike extended his arm, causing Madeline to giggle slightly.
‘Okay,’ she said, taking his arm. Madeline didn’t feel comfortable telling Mike exactly what she was heading into town for so she came up with a quick story that she was shopping for a relative who collected obscure books and that seemed to work. They tried the large chain bookstore first but were unsuccessful, as they were at the next store, and the next. Feeling a little silly for coming all this way on what was rapidly turning out to be a wild goose chase, Madeline walked in silence until Mike stopped outside a small shop in one of the side streets of Armitage.
‘Do you mind if we stop in here so I can pick up some comic books?’ asked Mike, jerking his thumb towards the door of a place called Shelob’s Lair. Madeline surveyed the place and wondered why she had never seen it before, but when she inspected the window displays she realised that unless she was heavily into comic books, Dungeons & Dragons or Lord Of The Rings she would have no need to ever shop there. Thinking her search had been a total waste she shrugged and followed Mike into the store.
Allowing her eyes to grow accustomed to the gloom of the shop interior, Madeline was greeted with shelves of comics, memorabilia, collectibles, figurines and trading cards. A stocky young man in a Firefly T-shirt stood behind a counter and nodded a greeting at Mike as he approached.
‘’Sup dude?’ said the man. ‘Woah, what happened to you?’
‘We got mugged the other night,’ said Mike.
‘Dude, that’s harsh. You okay?’
‘Yeah I’m alright, a little sore but I’ll live.’
‘Cool. So, who’s your lady friend?’
‘Madeline, this is Zeb. Zeb, Madeline.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Zeb,’ said Madeline, extending her hand.
‘Likewise,’ said Zeb, smiling.
‘Are they in yet?’ asked Mike eagerly.
‘Just got a fresh batch in this morning,’ said Zeb, grinning.. ‘Of course I kept one back for you, my man.’
‘Thanks Zeb, you’re the best.’
‘True.’ Zeb reached under the counter and pulled out a packaged comic book that he handed reverently to Mike. He then turned his attention to Madeline. ‘So, what brings you out my way?’
‘Oh, I’m just with Mike,’ said Madeline.
‘Yeah well I was expecting a visit from the esteemed Mister Newman here, but I don’t recall seeing you around before.’
‘We were looking for a book, for a present,’ said Mike, as he slipped his new comic book into a plastic bag.
‘Well, why not go to the Barnes and Noble the other side of town? This neighbourhood’s more for the collector than the casual shopper.’
‘We tried everywhere,’ said Mike, not realising Madeline really didn’t want to reveal her reasons for hunting high and low for a book. ‘But Madeline’s cousin’s really into obscure books, apparently.’
‘Is that a fact?’ said Zeb, raising an eyebrow.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Madeline.
‘Well then you’ve come to the right place after all,’ said Zeb triumphantly as he walked back from the counter to a curtain in the very corner of his shop. ‘Because if I ain’t got it, it don’t exist, capishe?’ Pulling back the curtain, Zeb revealed a room that Madeline could clearly see was full of books. She looked at the proprietor, who stood to the side of the door and gestured with his hand for her to enter.
‘Thank you Zeb,’ said Madeline as she came around the counter. ‘I really appreciate this.’
‘No problem,’ smiled Zeb. ‘Any friend of Mike’s is cool with me.’ Madeline entered the room and was instantly hit by the smell of dust and paper; a smell undeniably linked to large deposits of old books. She fished the bibliography reference out of her pocket and began scouring the shelves in the vain hope that Zeb may have actually picked up the book she was looking for in his travels.
‘Bingo,’ said Madeline with a grin, as she pulled out a dusty tome and gave it a quick wipe.
‘You find what you’re looking for?’ asked Zeb, poking his head round the curtain.
‘Yes, thank you,’ smiled Madeline. She noticed an old armchair sitting in the corner of the room and nodded towards it. ‘You don’t mind if I…?’
‘Help yourself,’ said Zeb, pulling the curtain closed to give Madeline some privacy. ‘Mike and I’ll be out front when you’re done.’
‘Okay, thanks.’ Madeline let her bag fall from her shoulder and she placed it next to the armchair before sinking down into the comfortable, worn fabric. Looking at the book it seemed almost strange the trouble she had gone to just to get her hands on a copy, and now it was finally here in front of her it felt a little anticlimactic. Nevertheless, she had worked hard to find this book so she was determined to find out what was so special about it.
So she began to read.