A steampunk serial adventure with a new author every episode!
Episode 1: The Hedgehog
by Dover Whitecliff
Hot. Smoky. Irritating. Any or all of which could pertain to the wildfire-permeated valley air, or the mélange of personalities on the bus. Or the perfect description of Kilpatrick’s commute from the cubicle farm to the coffee house off the freeway.
Cold Brew. That’s all I need. Thirty ounces of caffeinated goodness with just a pirouette of cream will erase Monday and make everything better.
Kilpatrick got off at the box store bus stop, shouldered the backpack, and hiked the last hundred yards to heaven. Only when Kilpatrick took the last step up from heat-shimmered asphalt to sidewalk did life take a turn for the interesting.
Kilpatrick froze. Poor air quality aside, it was clear that the sidewalk outside the coffee house was devoid of humans. Kilpatrick reached for the door handle.
“Down here.” Kilpatrick looked down. On the fake moss adorning a dubious potted palm next to the door, sat…
“Hedgehogs are illegal in California.” Kilpatrick said.
Always good to get the obvious out of the way straight off.
“That’s not my problem.” The hedgehog replied.
A. Talking. Hedgehog. Heat stroke, Kip. Only explanation. Took you three whole sentences to notice.
“Your Keanu Reeves impression lacks verisimilitude. It’s hot, it smells terrible out here, and we both have places to be. Down to business. Kilpatrick, child of Emma and Samuel, on behalf of Plato’s Bookkeeper, I request your services.”
“Call me Kip.” The first response was automatic. The second only a little less so. Kilpatrick was well read after all. “A librarian needs me to do something?”
“You’re smarter than you look.”
Remember your Grimm. Be polite to talking animals.
“Um. Thank you?”
“May I ask how you came to that conclusion?”
Roll with it. Humor the hedgehog so you can get your caffeine.
“Unlike Plato’s chair, there is no ideal Platonic form of a single book. Ergo. Library. Librarian. Keeper of Plato’s Book.”
“Well-reasoned. I was dubious when the Librarian…” Kilpatrick heard the capital L. “…sent me to this hellish place, but you’ll do. Right, then. Inside this establishment is a wee free library.”
Ix-nay on the sarcasm, Kip. Bad things happen when you annoy talking animals. Kilpatrick barely refrained from twirling the get-on-with-it finger. “Does the Librarian need a particular book? I can take you inside to look. Buy you a…I dunno…cup of tea? Water? Cake pop?”
“No time. Take this.” Kilpatrick blinked. The ornate key hadn’t been on the fake moss a second ago. “Go on then.” Kilpatrick picked it up. Small. Brass. Heavy for its size. “Reach in and put it in the keyhole on the back wall.”
“The library’s a box.”
“It’s bigger on the inside.”
“Your David Tenant impression lacks verisimilitude.”
“Touché.” The hedgehog winked. Winked. “Trust me.”
“OK. Back wall. Then what?”
“Find the Codex. You’ll know it when you see it.”
“That is my least favorite phrase. Ever. What does it look like?”
“I can’t say. Every time Plato’s Book explodes, the collection comes back…changed. But this is your book to find. Pass through the reading room, marine cryptobiology, slightly angst-ridden teenage romance, and take the fifteenth door on the left next to the difference engine. Once you’ve found the Codex, take it to the Circulation Desk. But do get your coffee first. One cannot start a quest without coffee.”
“Should you not be a hallucination, and should I go through the door, where will I be exactly?”
“In London, of course. Where it all began.”
To be Continued…