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Hidden ~ or Protected ~ Knowledge Uncovered
A wet miasma of smoke, concrete and caramelized wood surrounded Max. Moving with studied care demanded by his bruised form, he turned his head to where he thought was up. His guess was apparently correct. It had to be gravity compelling the granulated waterfall of rain dampened soil and debris o the once-grand edifice onto his battered body in response to his slightest movement. He surmised it had been gravity that had drawn him down, past the basement, and into this place of dampness, rainbows playing across wet outcroppings of beams that once held gilded ceilings.
The impact must have knocked him senseless, but for how long. In this chasm, day and night appeared to have no relevance. Max blinked as a flash of incandescence flashed across his face like a floodlight. Blinded for a moment, he tried to still his breath as he cupped his free hand over his eyes. There it was again, framing the forms that had resulted in his descent into this apparent abyss.
His day had begun, as five out of seven did, to the summons of the alarm clock. As a senior adjuster, he could have stayed in the office doing phone or paper claims. Since this past summer’s vacation, however, he found himself choosing the on site inspections more often than not. He had also surprised his co-workers by returning with his vacation moustache in place. They teased him at first about the salted growth, but he thought it easier to ride that out than having to explain the scar it concealed; not merely the one souvenir he had brought back from his vacation, but the only tangible proof that it hadn’t all been a dream, if not the early onset of senility.
Today, he had picked up the file on the Metropolitan Library, which had apparently burned to smoldering wreckage over the weekend. A historic landmark, the City required verification that it was not arson, but happenstance, before they could collect the remainder of the renovation fees from the Building Commission. He made a quick stop at home to pick up his gun; thankful he had renewed his concealed carry permit, and then headed through the dilapidated Warehouse District to record the irreplaceable damage. He found the building cordoned off with police tape, but was able to walk along the perimeter and photograph what remained of the centuries-old library. No books, furniture, or marble were recognizable, the fire having molded them into irreconcilable configurations of post-modern art.
The light appeared again and widened in scope, a doorway framing the figure that had drawn his eye as he made the second circuit around collapsed building, this time recording the perimeter at ground level.
Nobody will believe this, he thought, but raised the camera to his eye as he had when he first saw the form. Then, eye affixed to the viewfinder as he walked, he had not seen the hole through the debris until he was sliding down the embankment to this abyss, seemingly deeper than any blueprint recorded for the building.
“What are you doing, there’s nothing left to savage,” a high-pitched voice sounded from the other side of the door. The hooded form turned, pocketing a golden key framed in the light, before responding.
“We can’t be sure. We have to try and save what we can. It is our calling.”
“But not at risk of detection. If the grounders knew we did this, they would immediately destroy all records of knowledge and ignorance would reign once again. Recall the era of the Black Plague. Ignorance decimated much of the world’s population, ignorant and innocent.”
“That’s why we have to go. We must try and save what knowledge we can, so humankind will learn and not repeat the horrors of the past. Not only is it our duty as Gnomes, but to avert further damage to all realms of Earth.”
“All right, I’ll go with you. We’ll see if we can find any tomes of knowledge or joy still intact. I do sometimes feel that it’s a futile effort. Where ignorance is easy, knowledge requires effort, and these mortals have become so accustomed to their ease.”
Max watched, again not sure if this was a dream or hallucination caused by the bumping on his head, as another figure appeared in the doorway, this with auburn hair framing an exquisite diminutive face, atop a perfectly formed body that could have stood no more than five four feet from the ground. She appeared as a fairy creature materializing out of the shelves of books he could now see behind her.
“Look, one of them is here,” she shouted, pointing towards him. Max scrambled, ignoring stretched tendons and bruised muscles. Backing upward, he found finger and toeholds with one hand, as he watched them climb across the pitted boulders of the former library through the clicking viewfinder.
A welcome creosote scented breeze signaled his return to the surface. Max pocketed the camera and hoisted himself over the lip just as an auburn halo preceded the attention of an old broom slammed with untoward force against his chest, dislodging the camera. He leaned forward to grab for it, only to watch an oversized palm close around it as the other being clambered to the top of the opening. Max took one more hit from the broom as he pulled himself out and ran not for the safety of his car, but the gun in the glove box. Disengaging the door lock with his remote key, he pulled open the door and reached across the seat in time to see the hole disappear, collapse into itself, under a large block of twisted metal, pushed with not much apparent effort by the hulking beast.
Glad I didn’t try fighting that one,” he grimaced. Now I’ve really got to get that camera. No one will believe this! He gunned the engine as the pair jumped in an old Chrysler beater, heading north, out of the city and toward the lake. Max followed the pair through dusk shaded narrow streets luckily devoid of mortal inhabitants, as he noted the speedometer passing 80 miles per hour. Once on the Shoreway, hugging the Lake, they dodged only a few late rush hour commuters. The old beater kept accelerating, at times on two wheels, disregarding the gravity of the winding road. Max’s Escort was gaining on it, however, pushing 100 miles per hour. He saw a flash of auburn hair whip out the driver’s window just as the car missed a turn and gravity took hold, compelling the vehicle down an embankment into the Lake.
Max slammed the brakes, doing a 360 before stopping on the embankment where tire tracks cut through the mud. He jumped out and, following the tracks, ran toward the bubbles signaling the sinking vehicle. His conscious thought was of the camera, but he saw the petite face with the golden backlighted halo.
He dove into the chill water and reached in through the driver’s window, pulling the limp girl out by her arms and dragging her to shore. He set her down unceremoniously as she bit his hand, apparently revived. Turning to return for the other, Max found he didn’t need to. A paunchy fist doubled him over and he lunged forward, his head connecting with the other’s midsection, momentarily bending him double. Max avoided the return blow, feinted and landed a jaw snapping cross cut. He grabbed at the shoulder bag hanging from the massive neck, snapping the strap. Not waiting for a return blow, he ran back up the tire trail to his car, tossed the bag in the back seat; and pulling his gun from the glove box, fired a couple rounds to slow the swiftly encroaching pair. He gunned the engine, leaving the running pair behind.
After several miles, Max lowered his speed to the limit drove, one eye still on the rearview mirror, until he spotted a vacant roadside rest stop. He pulled into the picnic area and pulled the bag from the back seat. Opening the flap, he retrieved his sodden camera, wincing at its ruin. He upended the bag and watched a key drop to the back seat. So he’d lost the pictures, but he had their key, the proof of what he’d seen.
But what to do with this proof, and what tomes of knowledge and joy did the locked door, in fact conceal? If the Gnomes spoke the truth, whom could he trust with its knowledge? Max pocketed the key and started the car, heading for the relative familiarity of home, if only for awhile.
Word Count: 1437
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