Wednesday, February 6, 2013
12. Daniel Joins The Party
Standing in the dark alleyway between a dental office and a dry cleaning establishment, Daniel focused on the building across the street where some kind of party was in full swing. This was an unexpected obstacle, one that was going to make everything he had to do that much harder to accomplish.
Running a hand over his face, he felt the stubble rasp against his palm like sandpaper. He hadn’t slept, or eaten much beyond a couple granola bars since leaving San Francisco this morning, driving fourteen hours straight. It had been imperative to stay ahead of Cantrell and off the grid, ruling out a quick and easy two-hour flight that could be traced. Though the drive had been exhausting, it had given him the invisibility he needed, and endless miles to think. Arriving in Seattle, it hadn't taken long to get his bearings, find the University District, and then the bookstore.
Somewhere in that building was the woman who's book he’d stolen, the book that had burned into his body, leaving him marked with a name emblazoned in elegant lettering on his chest, and her entire soul journey crammed into his mind, filling every corner of his brain. Would she know him, as he now knew her? Would she remember how many times their paths had crossed, lives entwined? If not, what could he say to make her believe him?
A mummy, a zombie and two witches staggered along the sidewalk, laughing with the abandon of the almost drunk. Daniel watched them go up the front porch steps and enter the bookstore, party noise spewing out for a brief moment before the door closed. For Christ’s sake, it was Halloween?
Weary, Daniel leaned a shoulder against the brick wall. He was bone-tired and maybe not quite rational--he could deal with that--but the tight ball of fear that curled in his gut was becoming too heavy, as much a burden as the book.
Since stealing it, time seemed to stand still, then speed up, stop altogether, then jerk forward again. He hadn’t had a moment’s peace since crash landing back into his safe room two nights ago, the book melting into his flesh, burning the shirt off his body. The echoing shout of an outraged Warden intensified the unbearable pain inside his skull as images of people and places, the cacophony of a hundred voices, flooded his mind, sweeping away coherent thought.
Daniel didn’t remember much of those first hours, he was too busy being consumed by the burning agony in his chest and the data dump into his brain. Unable to stop or separate himself from the barrage of memories and details that belonged to her, they ripped into his head, shoving aside his own thoughts until his defenses collapsed and he lost the struggle.
After an unknown period of time had passed, he gradually returned to awareness. Managing to drag himself across the floor to the small bathroom, he was violently sick. Repeatedly. Too unsteady to stand, he clung to the edge of the sink and weakly turned the faucet. Hands trembling, he splashed cold water on his face, rinsed his mouth, then with cupped hands began drinking like a man dying of thirst. When he began to feel marginally human again, Daniel slowly rose to his feet, then bent to dunk his head under the faucet, shivering as the cold water ran in icy rivulets over his shoulders, down his chest. Carefully straightening, he looked into the mirror, not yet ready to lower his gaze, see the damage caused by whatever the book had done to him.
He also wasn’t ready to see a pale, unfamiliar face peering back at him. Frowning in disbelief, he leaned closer, staring into green eyes, now darker somehow, the amber flecks barely discernible in the haunted, thousand-yard stare; sooty shadows under his eyes made him look like he was ill, or hadn’t seen the light of day for weeks; his cheekbones had a sharper, more chiseled look that was startling. What the fuck had happened to him? Stomach roiling, unable to postpone the inevitable any longer, Daniel took a deep breath, clenched his fists, and deliberately lowered his eyes to his chest.
Instead of the terrible black and blistered skin he expected to see, the flesh looked...new. Smooth and healthy. Arched across his upper chest, the word Lilith was embedded with a graceful flourish as if it had always been a part of him. Raising a hand, he hesitated a moment, then lightly touched an emerald letter with a shaking finger. In an instant his mind began to flicker with countless images not his own. The pain was staggering, and with a deep groan he blindly groped for the rim of the sink to stop himself from falling to his knees. Hanging his head between outstretched arms, Daniel took long, deep breaths, willing the pain, the images to stop. Christ, he thought, no wonder a soul book has never been stolen before. It meant excruciating pain and agony, no doubt leading to certain death when your head exploded.
Between bouts of crushing pain and debilitating nausea, Daniel spent the next day and night trying desperately to return to the Library, give himself up to the Wardens, accept his punishment, forfeit his life if need be, anything to stop the torment. But, for the first time in his life, the way would not open for him. No matter how he tried, struggled, thought or imagined, he could not enter the Ethereal.
Now, in the cold darkness of a strange city, Daniel yielded to his weariness, lowering himself to the cement step at the alley entrance to the dry cleaners. Resting back against the door, he idly watched the party activity through the large windows of the bookstore. After so many hours in the car, his entire body was vibrating, everything around him surreal and alien. Except for the woman across the street. A woman he knew more intimately than he knew himself now. His stomach churned, anxiety making him feel as queasy as those first hours when he'd returned from the Library. He knew he should eat, but that would have to wait until the party was over, and after he'd talked to her.
Closing his eyes, hoping to rest, even for a few minutes, he wasn't surprised to find himself reliving another event from the book. Daniel had slowly learned, between the pain and retching, that if he didn’t fight it, but let the scene play out, he wasn't affected as much. And that was about the same time he'd realized just what it was he was seeing, and what it meant.
In the early morning hours—was it just this morning?—Daniel had finally understood. He was the only person, other than Lilith herself, who could have called the book. Somehow Cantrell had known, which explained the burglary set up, the blackmail, though he was pretty sure the bastard hadn’t planned on the book burying itself in Daniel's chest. Other than the pain and the puking, that part of this whole mess made Daniel smile.
Spurred into action by his revelations, now knowing who she was, Daniel had done a quick search on his computer, relieved to find Lilith within striking distance. Throwing clothes into a bag, securing the house for an extended absence, he had driven out of San Francisco as if a legion of Hellhounds were breathing down his neck--and considering how things had been going, they were probably on their way.
Seattle was easy to reach by car, allowing him to stay under the radar and with luck, slightly ahead of the Cantrells. The hard part was going to be convincing Lilith he was telling the truth about the book, their connection.
Suddenly restless, Daniel jumped to his feet. He couldn't wait any longer. Quickly crossing the street, he took the steps two at a time, paused with his hand on the doorknob, sucked in a deep breath of chilly October air, then opened the door to noise, laughter and the fragrant spice of books.