[Image Credit: “Castle in the Sky,” Mranda Wildman]
Chase found me on the third floor of the downtown library. He said his mother was across the street drinking coffee in the modern art museum’s café. He walked over to the window and pointed. I got up from the long table I had chosen to give us room for his decimals. At the window, he and I looked down and waved at a figure who may or may not have been his mother. It looked sunnier now, since I had first shown up at the library this morning.
An internet group I found online had created a library RPG. They left clues on a blog that led to other blogs, obscure sites, and YouTube videos where players could find numbers that corresponded to book ID numbers at the downtown library. Inside the books would be newspaper clippings, postcards, bookmarks, and concert flyers. Players would post what they found online and theorize on why that particular piece was found in that particular book. Some players claimed that they had gone to the concerts and the locations from the postcards and that they had found other clues, but there was a community of players who thought that way of playing was a red herring. I was among those who believed everything was self-contained, that which was important anyway, all within the library.
There was a stamp on the paraphernalia that I considered canon. It was small, a quarter of inch on all four sides. Perfectly square, black and white, but with incredible depth, like something out of Blake. It was a stamp of a brick and mortar castle tower built on the sand mound of a tiny island, mid-fall into ocean water. This small stamp was found on much of the paraphernalia and within every book that a canon clue was found.
The story was of two brothers, Doctor Robert and Mister Ducks. Doctor Robert had hidden himself away, within a pocket, and Mister Ducks was looking for him. Although Doctor Robert had not himself created the pocket, he had found it and had furnished it, molded it, made it his own. The pocket was nothing before or without Doctor Robert. He had discovered it by realizing he had known it was there all along. He only allowed himself to recognize what he already knew.
One player posted a picture of two pages from a collection of essays by Philip K. Dick, specifically from the middle of “How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.” Across the two pages are soft penciled drawings that someone has clearly attempted to erase. In the top left corner of the left page (188) is a rabbit’s head peeking out a turtle’s shell, with a turtle’s tail and a turtle’s legs and feet, everything turtle but the head. On the bottom right corner of the right page (189) is the body of a rabbit with a turtle’s head. They are both drawn in side profile, on all four legs, slowly crawling across the book’s crease toward each other. The stamp of the tower falling into the ocean is there in the belly of the turtle with the rabbit’s soft body.
That morning I arrived at the library early to find this book, to verify for myself. There were six books of collected essays by Philip K. Dick at the library that day, not to say there were not others circulating, not to say the book was checked out and returned to another branch. Of the six, three were duplicates and did not contain the essay at all. Two contained the essay, each on different pages and neither overlapping pages 188 and 189. The last book contained the essay “How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” which started on page 185 and definitely overlapped onto pages 188 and 189. I checked the printout that I brought with me, and sure enough these pages were identical to the pages I carried in my pocket. But there was no rabbit, and there was no turtle. I held the book close to my eyes and searched for smudges, for erase marks. There were none. I did not find the stamp in any of these books.
I imagine it does not matter much anyway. I am not officially playing the game. I have not registered on the blog. I have not posted on the message boards. I have not met up IRL with any of the players from any sub community. I did not write any of the flash fiction, although I did occasionally read it. I occasionally saw tall men in dark trench coats roaming the third floor, but I knew without a doubt these were trolls. I sometimes watched who I understood were players staking out parts of the library, waiting for a glimpse of who was really leaving the notes. They would sometimes make eye contact with me, and I would look away, realizing I had been staring. I did not wish to engage.
After Chase pointed to his mother, impossibly small like a tower falling into the ocean, we sat down at my table. I had been working with Chase for a few months after answering a Craigslist ad his mother had posted. He was a brilliant kid excited to move on to fifth grade who had trouble with his decimal places. But even when he was confused, he moved with fervor. Although a few librarians had complained, I allowed Chase to stand up during our sessions and write directly on the wooden table with a series of dry erase markers I kept with me at all times, held tightly together with a thick rubber band. Chase liked to have color options which he correlated to what his mother was making for dinner that night. Blue markers were for fish. Orange markers for chicken. Red markers for meatloaf. One time he had forgotten to ask his mother what they would eat that night, and he walked all the way back down to the museum café and then all the way back up to me before he could start. Although I carried a green marker with me, we never got to that meal. I also brought an eraser and wet wipes with me, which I periodically had to prove to librarians would wipe the table clean.
This day, like other days, Chase said, “I forget. When I divide, do I move the decimal to the left or the right?” He looked up from the table, red marker stains on his index finger and thumb as he pinched the arc of his glasses, leaving a faint red spot right between his eyes.
I always had to think about it too. We were both visual learners. I craned my neck to see the problem he had written on the table from his point of view.
“To the left,” I said.
“I have trouble remembering left from right,” he said.
“If you make an L with both hands, the one that makes the correct L shape is the left one,” I said.
“I never remember that,” he said. “I try to remember that my left eye is blind. I point to my left eye and go from there.” He pointed to his left eye.
“Whoa,” I said. “That definitely works.”
“Yeah,” he said. “But only if your left eye is blind,” he said.
“True,” I said. “I didn’t know that. About your eye. I had no idea.”
“I forget about it,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll cover my left eye with my hand, and nothing changes. That’s usually when I remember.”
When Chase left, I waited at the window where he had pointed down at his mother. As he entered the crosswalk, a woman entered the crosswalk from the other side, distracted, looking up at the window I looked out, but I did not think she saw me above, let alone her son below. As they closed in on each other, I held my hand up to my eye, and right as they were about to meet, like the rabbit in the turtle’s shell and the turtle with the cottontail, they disappeared.
David Rawson is the author of A Jellyfish for Every Name and Proximity (ELJ Editions).