The Librarian of the Dead

Doug Fine

Roughly did I cross the threshold from waking to sleeping (or sleeping to waking, if you look at it that way, as do the Tibetans). Either way, it is Life's Twilight Zone.
It was in this state that I first heard the voice.
"...if there's something waiting for you."
It was a the man sitting next to me at the bar, still in the same slouched over position as when I had begun to fade, it must have been more than two hours earlier.
"Only if there's something waiting for you. That's the key."
He had the classic hopeless boozer look -- which would apply 100 years ago and which you could still get away with in this part of Mexico. Long thick beard, high quality travel clothes well past worn. No spurs, but the boots would've allowed them. Probably a motorcycle rider. Or was.
Enough blood had flowed to allow the transition: I was back in the real world. I would've let it go. It's usually best to do that with semi-conscious mutterings. I had a flashing memory of a girl I didn't recognize in my Billings apartment many years ago.
But he was up now, too. Face raised off the bar if not sitting upright, probably stirred by my movement. The bartender's look showed relief.
"The Library, you see. If you happen to hear about it, and find it, there has to be something waiting for you. Someone has to want to contact you. Very long odds, as you can see, if you subscribe to old school rationality. Or statistics."
I could see that he was one of those drifters who had been in the World once -- maybe a professor, or a small town doctor -- and for whom you could never plot the course of cause and effect between heartache and drunkenness.
Hearing is a more voluntary a sense than most people give it credit for, and I was tuning in and out. I had problems of my own. I was on the run for more than one deal gone bad, as you may know, some my cause, some not. As usual in this life, it was the ones that weren't my fault I was more likely to pay for. Real enemies really aren't concerned with blame. Payback becomes like oxygen.
"....a room where a strange young girl can pull out manuscripts written by a certain class of people after their death. The Exegesis. The final essay. From beyond. They normally, like most people, never expressed ideas of such complexity or concreteness in life -- or indeed philosophy of any kind -- but still, the Girl had me understand, somehow in most of these documents it seems there is a hint of something fundamental and explicitly unexpressed about the author. If we didn't know better we'd call it the Aura, reading the manuscripts. Most are written in formal but not academic or overbearing styles considering the somewhat omniscient narrators; styles that they must teach in emergency classes after death, considering how few people can write during life. It all winds up giving the reader an 'I knew it all along feeling' upon finishing.
"I said to the Girl," the reject continued haltingly, "I thought it sounded like if you're gonna take the trouble on such a long shot communication from the Other Side, you may as well have a god, excuse me...a good reason. You've got the time to do a good job..."
At this the drifter emitted a small, deeply hoarse laugh. "She just looked at me with those amazing fixed eyes, up there in her room."
It's funny now, Vanessa, I realize upon writing you and having read many of these kind of documents, that those who were writers, their posthumous offerings are particularly bad -- boring sacrosanct sophism, as if refuting anything of worth they may have written or said during what most people think of as life. They must think themselves exempt from the post-mortem document-writing class. Usually their manuscripts are in complete philosophical contradiction to most of what they wrote in print. I find this comforting.
Mind you, the purpose for contact, as I was first made to understand by the drifter in the bar in Oaxaca, is most commonly for a loved one to explain the cause of another's unexpected demise or disappearance. Far less common is the memo from colleague to colleague adamant about improving the lot of the "living" world, deemed not irrelevant but self propulsive once viewed in the totality of all Time.
I remember the Drifter saying -- and I don't know how he could have known this unless the mysterious Girl Librarian had told him, "A janitor from Java is known to have written one of the most sensitive and elucidating treatises mankind had ever seen. Equal in scope to Plato, in love to Hesse. He was trying to explain to a cousin he loved about why his morphine habit had taken him over until he could no longer return."
So I first heard about the Library of the Dead from this perpetually sodden man in a bar, where I had disappeared of necessity for so long. He had just come from a place, he said, where he read the final thoughts of his brother, who, it turns out, had killed a man for the pleasure of it -- a murder for which another man had been sentenced to death. The brother later died in a car wreck.
The Drifter was planning to drink until he died. So far along was he toward that goal that his story to this point had exhausted his neurons and he couldn't remember the address as he passed from semi-lucidity to coma over the course of the night, and into the next morning.
"Santiago," is all that he would mumble into his whiskey, repeatedly. "Santiago."
After a fair amount of sleuthing -- a skill acquired as a matter of course by how I made my living -- I found the place; a tiny shack in a neighborhood of two story wooden dwellings one step up from being called a slum. I believe the current term is "working class." The people there were primarily home cleaners and servants. I arrived in the night. The girl was asleep but her Uncle woke her and she smiled sleepily, offered me tea.
As we climbed a wooden ladder to a clean attic, she told me something I didn't know. Though when I left the Oaxacan bar I became obsessed with the search, I hadn't absorbed the Drifter's words -- the details of the Library I am only aware of now. What the girl reminded me is that I couldn't choose which of the Dead I would read -- a tome had to have been addressed or directed -- or dedicated -- to me. The Drifter's words now made sense. I had come there molding the adolescent dream that my father -- who I hadn't seen since I was five -- might be trying to contact me. Given free access to shelves of dead men's writing, as in a conventional library, I had a vague thought of perhaps stealing posthumous writings of Newton or Lao Tse. If there was anything, I now prepared myself as a backup, it was likely to be in the form of a scatterbrained explanation from one or another of my crew members who had disappeared before a pay off, let a deal gone bad, or otherwise acted like the crook we all were. Many of these young lost souls (lost even when alive) considered me their friend and companion, a tag I let stick because it was useful and because it would be cruel to tell them the truth.
There was only one.
The Girl told me after consulting a thick index file in a worn loose leaf book.
She climbed into a small crawl space at the far side of the attic, closed the door leading to it, and I heard no sound for several minutes. Just as I saw the hatch beginning to open again, my eye caught a glimmer of silver or steel, and I spun around, just in time to see the knife blade disappear into my throat.
As I fell I looked into the face of my murderer, and it was an enemy. No, not one enemy I could name, but somehow an amalgamation of all those who rightly or wrongly sought my death during my horrible 23 years. As the life whispered out of me I crawled to the hatch where the Girl, the Librarian of Death, looked down at me without expression. She was holding the thin volume catalogued for me; a thesis, an essay really, of some 50 pages, I estimate. I thought to look at the author's name as a last memory of Earth -- to see who had wanted to contact me from the other side. I was two minutes too late.
The name on the volume was mine.
I send this to you now Vanessa, in life my only love, that you should know, should you ever find the Library and the inscrutable, pretty little Girl who I know will always remain such, why I didn't return to you from Mexico as I had promised.
Diego Marquez.

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