Glory unlocked the gate. Gozala and Mike followed her up the stairs. A car had parked a few spaces away and its two occupants seemed to be arguing, but she paid them no mind. She’d noticed since moving in that though her neighborhood was upscale, her neighbors were still pretty much jerks. They had the same problems poor people had, and all the money to make them worse.
Though it was too early for outdoor plants, she’d alternated massive white and black urns in preparation for potted trees along the edge of her porch. Protective wards were painted into the interiors, and Glory had used the urns themselves to hide other symbols chipped directly into the stone beneath. When she added trees in the spring, probably hawthorns for their protective thorns, the power of the wards would be increased tenfold. The fact that they were alive would make them that much more powerful. Living wards were always more powerful, though less durable. She didn’t expect to be living here forever though.
Gozala and Mike seemed to have no trouble as they approached the door. Entering, Glory stepped to the side and waited for her guests to follow her through. Gozala looked at her suspiciously, looked at the house, then shrugged and stepped through the opening. Mike didn’t even pause as he followed her into the house.
“Was I supposed to, like, burst into flames or something?” Gozala quipped.
“No, nothing like that. I just had to make sure… for my peace of mind.” She considered telling them about her sister, but decided against it. “It’s not important,” she ended lamely. They probably wouldn’t be around long enough for it to be something they needed to know. She’d almost have been relieved by Lori’s lack of interest, if it didn’t make her feel completely paranoid and distinctly helpless. It didn’t seem like the police were looking for Lori at all, and she didn’t know the first thing about detective work herself. She briefly had considered hiring a PI, but she didn’t want to put anyone in danger.
“If you say so.” Gozala replied, looking around curiously. “So are they going to deliver the book tomorrow? We can come back then.”
“No, I have it here.” Glory touched the slight bulge under her jacket reverently. “Let’s go to the library.”
In the library, she sat at the long table which dominated the room. To her mind, it was the room’s best feature. The old books in their shelves were nice, but the thing that made it a library and not just a room with books was the heavy oak table under the tall plate glass windows. In the morning, the sun would shine through the stained glass trim and paint the room in welcoming rainbow colors. This was her domain, more so than her home or the bookstore had ever been. It surprised her to no end that, despite everything, for the first time in her life she felt content someplace. Her home and this room, were inviolate, or as close to it as she could hope.
Glory gently removed the package from its nest within her coat and lay it on the table. For a moment, she forgot anyone else was in the room as she removed Geber’s manuscript from the large manila envelope the auction house had placed it in for transport and carefully undid the twine securing the canvas wrapping around the pages. Inhaling the scent of ancient vellum, she careful spread the pages over the table top. There were only eight, but the writing was so crabbed that the author could have used eight more without making effort to fill the space.
Pulling open a drawer at the end of the table, she removed a jeweler’s loupe headset and slid the visor onto her head. This wasn’t the first time she’d dealt with a handwritten manuscript, and she did not want to miss the smallest detail. Gozala laughed and Glory looked up, her eyes made large and watery by the magnifying lenses. Reaching into the drawer, she pulled out a magnifying glass and offered it to Mike who at some point had pulled up a chair to sit opposite Glory.
She’d noticed in the car, but more so now, that a sickly sweat aroma seemed to cling to him. Perhaps it was more noticeable in the warmth of the house. Perhaps it was just because of the magnifier she was wearing, but his skin was more than just pasty. It looked as if it were flaking and sloughing away. She could still not see his face under his hoodie, but something told her she really didn’t want to.
He didn’t say a word as he took the glass from her hand and bent to the paper closest to him. Gozala wandered over and briefly glanced at one of the pages before returning to the shelves to examine the old books there. Apparently Mike was the scholar, and Gozala was the muscle. That was actually a scary thought for some reason.
“Your books are really boring,” Gozala announced some time later. “I figured you were a serious collector with how you went after Geber’s manuscript.” Glory wasn’t sure how long they’d been pouring over the pages, in Latin and old French she was relieved to see, but it was completely dark outside. At some point someone must have turned on the light, but she honestly didn’t remember if she had done it or one of her guests.
“They came with the house. I keep my collection someplace else.” Glory replied absently as she looked up, then stood. It was getting late, and she was not being a very good host. “Are you hungry? I don’t have any food in the house, but I could order a pizza.”
“No thanks,” the little girl replied with a shrug, as if food were something with which she need not concern herself. Mike said nothing, just continued examining the paper in his hand.
“There are guest rooms if you’d like to lie down, or if you’d like to watch TV.”
Gozala considered it a moment, then shrugged again. That seemed to be her favorite default mode of expression. “Okay. TV sounds good.”
Glory led her to her room, where the only TV in the house was located. If Gozala ended up falling asleep in there, it wasn’t as if Glory needed the bed. After turning on the TV and giving Gozala the remote, she paused in the hall outside the room and looked out the front window. The car that had parked when they pulled up was still there, and she could just make out the silhouette of someone sitting in the passenger seat.
“What is it?” Gozala asked from the bed when Glory continued to stare out the window.
“There’s someone sitting in a car out there, and I’m pretty sure they parked when we did.”
Gozala jumped from the bed and inched up to the window, attempting not to be seen as she looked out. It would have been cute if Glory thought she was just humoring her, but the little girl’s expression was completely serious. A nervous frown spread over her face as she peered into the darkness, then she practically ran back to the library. “Mike?” she cried anxiously. “We have to go.”
He looked up, but said nothing, just gave a slow shake of his head.
“Yeah, we do. I think Miskatonic found us.”
He balled up his fist and slammed it against the table. It was the fastest Glory had seen him move and his hand made an unpleasant moist sound as it struck the table. He looked down as if surprised. Lifting his hand, splattered bits of his flesh stuck to the surface like wet clay.
“Okay, now that’s pretty gross right there, Mike. You have to be more careful,” Gozala said sternly as she took his hand and examined the damage. She reached into the pocket of his hoodie and removed some gauze. The way she wrapped it around his wound evidenced the fact that it wasn’t the first time she’d had to fix him up. He made a sound, the first sound she’d heard out of him, but it was little more than a rattling sigh. It could have even been an errant gust of wind outside.
“What does Miskatonic University have to do with the people outside?” Glory asked, trying to ignore the bits of Mike still stuck to the table. Whatever his illness, it wasn’t any of her business. At a guess, she’d say it was leprosy though.
“Mike used to go to school there. He kind of stole something from them.”
“What? A book or something?”
“No,” Gozala looked back at Glory sadly, “Me. He stole me.”
to Book 3, page 5