Home > The Library at Mount Char(6)

The Library at Mount Char(6)
Scott Hawkins

“It will be later.”

“Like, when, exactly?” His hand curled into a fist.

“He doesn’t understand, David,” Jennifer said softly. “He doesn’t see time the way people do. Not anymore. Hitting him won’t change that.”

Michael, panicky now, flitted his eyes from Jennifer to David. “The mice have seen him! He approaches!”

David unclenched his fist. He rubbed his temples. “Never mind,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. He’s even right. Nobununga will arrive when he arrives. All we can do is make him welcome. Peter, Richard—collect the totems.” The twins bounced up, scrambling to obey.

“Carolyn—I need you to go back into America. We need an innocent heart. We will offer it to Nobununga when he arrives. Do you think you can handle that?”

“An innocent heart? In America?” She hesitated. “Possibly.”

Misunderstanding, he said, “It’s easy. Just cut through the ribs.” He scissored his fingers through the air. “Like so. If you can’t get it out yourself, send for me.”

“Yes, David.”

“That will be all for tonight. Carolyn, you can go whenever you’re ready. The rest of you stay close.” He glanced at the bull, uneasy. “Richard, Peter, be quick about it. I want to, um, get back to Mrs. McGillicutty’s,” he said, winking at Margaret. “Dinner will be ready soon.”

Rachel sat down on the ground. Her children crowded around her. In a moment she was entirely hidden behind them. Carolyn wanted to speak with Michael, but he and his cougars had faded into the woods. Jennifer unrolled her sleeping skins and lay back on them with a groan. Margaret drifted into orbit around David.

David rummaged around in his knapsack for a moment. “Here you go, Margaret,” he said. “I brought you a gift.” He pulled out the severed head of an old man, hoisting him by his long, wispy beard. He swung the head back and forth a couple of times, then tossed it to her.

Margaret caught it with both hands, grunting a bit at the weight. She grinned, delighted. Her teeth were black. “Thank you.”

David sat down beside her and brushed the hair out of her eyes. “How long will it be?” he called over his shoulder.

“An hour,” Richard said, running his fingers through the bowl of totems—Michael’s hair of the Forest God, the black candle, the scrap of Carolyn’s dress, stiff with blood, a drop of wax from the black candle. These would be used as nodes of an n-dimensional tracking tool that they were quite sure—well…fairly sure, at least—would point them toward Father. Well…probably. Carolyn had her doubts.

“No more than that,” Peter agreed.

Margaret took the head into her lap and began fussing over it—caressing its cheeks, cooing at it, smoothing its bushy eyebrows. After a moment of her attentions the dead man’s eyelids fluttered, then opened.

“Blue eyes!” Margaret exclaimed. “Oh, David, thank you!”

David shrugged.

Carolyn snuck a peek. Perhaps the man’s eyes had been blue once, but now mostly what they were was sunken and filmed over. But she recognized him. He had been a minor courtier in one of Father’s cabinets and, once, the prime minister of Japan. Normally such a man would be protected. David must be feeling bold. The head blinked again and fastened his eyes upon Margaret. His tongue stirred and his lips began to move, though of course without lungs he could make no sound.

“What is he saying?” David asked. After six weeks of banishment, most of them had picked up at least a smattering of American, but Carolyn was the only one who spoke Japanese.

Carolyn leaned in close, her nose wrinkling at the smell. She tilted her head and touched the man’s cheeks. “Moo ichido itte kudasai, Yamada-san.” The dead man tried again, pleading to her with sightless eyes.

Carolyn sat back and arranged her hands in her lap demurely, left over right, in such a way that the palm of each hand concealed the fingers of the other from view. Her expression was peaceful, even pleasant. She knew that Emily could read her thoughts easily. David, too, could sense thoughts, at least the basic flavor. He knew when someone bore him ill will. In battle he could peer into the minds of his enemies and see their strategies, see the weapons that might be raised against him. Carolyn suspected that he might be able to look deeper if there were a need. But it didn’t matter. If Emily or David chose to look into Carolyn’s thoughts, they would find only the desire to help.

Of course, genuine emotion is the very essence of self. It cannot ever be unfelt, cannot be ignored, cannot even be rechanneled for very long.

But with practice and care, it may be hidden.

“He is asking about Chieko and Kiko-chan,” Carolyn said. “I think they are his daughters. He wants to know if they are safe.”

“Ah,” David said. “Tell him I gutted them for the practice. Their mother as well.”

“Is it true?”

David shrugged.

“Sorera wa anzen desu, Yamada-san. Ima yasumu desu nee,” Carolyn said, telling him that they were safe, telling him that he could rest now. The dead man allowed his eyes to droop. A single tear trembled on the edge of his left eyelid. Margaret studied it with bright, greedy eyes. When it broke free and ran down Yamada’s cheek she dipped her head, birdlike, and licked it up with a single deft flick of her tongue.

The dead man puffed his cheeks and blew them out, the softest, saddest sound Carolyn had ever heard. David and Margaret laughed together.

Carolyn’s smile was just the right amount of forced. Perhaps she was overcome with pity for the poor man? Or maybe it was the smell. Again, anyone who bothered to peek in on her thoughts would find only concern for Father and a sincere—if slightly nervous—desire to please David. But her fingertips trembled with the memory of faint, fading vibrations carried down the shaft of a brass spear, and in her heart the hate of them blazed like a black sun.

Chapter 2

Buddhism for Assholes


“So,” she said, “do you want to break into a house?”

Steve froze for a long moment, his mouth hanging open. Over by the bar he heard a series of clicks in the bowels of the Automated Musical Instruments juke. Somebody had dropped in a penny. He set his Coors back down on the table un-sipped. What’s her name again? Christy? Cathy?

“Beg pardon?” he said finally. Then it came to him: Carolyn. “You’re kidding, right?”

She took a drag off her cigarette. The coal flared, casting an orange glow over a half dozen greasy shot glasses and a small pile of chicken bones. “Nope. I’m completely serious.”

The AMI juke whirred. A moment later the opening thunder of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” boomed out across the bar like the war drums of some savage lost tribe. All of a sudden Steve’s heart was thudding in his chest.

“OK. Fine. You’re not kidding. So, what you’re talking about is a pretty serious felony.”

She said nothing. She only looked at him.

He scrambled for something clever to say. But what came out was “I’m a plumber.”

“You weren’t always.”

Steve stared at her. That was true, but there was no way in the world she could have known it. He’d had nightmares about this sort of conversation. Trying to camouflage his horror, he grabbed the last wing off the plate and dipped it in bleu cheese, but stopped short of actually eating it. The wings there did not mess around. The smell of vinegar and pepper drifted up to him like a warning. “I can’t,” he said. “I’ve gotta get home and feed Petey.”

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