An ancient book, a curious student, and a quirk in history come together.
|“Belief in the Lodestar Child was quite common in the late fifteenth century among the primitive mountain people of Mongolia.” Dr. Kramer scanned the bored faces of his college class. He pushed up the corners of his mouth and smiled broadly.
“Dr. Kramer?” Mindy’s hand shot into the air.
“Will this be on the exam? I mean, about the Lodestar Child. I don’t remember that being in the text.”
“It may. There will be a few questions on the exam that will not be in the text, but will relate to class discussions.” Dr. Kramer kept his smile. “So, those that have been attending will be rewarded for that. Those that haven’t might want to get together and compare some notes.”
Several students glanced around. A few sighed in obvious disgust. A quiet chatter commenced but quickly died down.
“Who was the Lodestar Child?” Mark blurted.
“The Lodestar Child was one in whom the wisdom of the ages had been bestowed. A Buddhist idea similar to the Dalai Lama, although some think the Lodestar Child pre-dates that. The child was to have a long life and be the leader of the people for many centuries, yet never lose the appearance of being a child. Most believe he was slain by the barbarians of the time. Some say though that he lived over 200 years. Religious leaders equated him to the anti-Christ.”
“Any books that we can study?” Mindy asked. Her fingers hovered over her laptop keyboard.
“Yes. I believe there is one at the University Library. I can’t recall the title, but I believe the author’s name was Gedun Ming. He’s Tibetan.”
“Thank you Professor.” Mindy’s fingers clicked on the keyboard, then she closed the laptop as she peered up at the digital clock displaying 10:59.
The bell rung and a cacophony of scooting desks and slamming books filled the air. The normal chatter of college students commenced. Dr. Kramer tossed his classroom notes inside his worn leather briefcase, closed it, and he heard the familiar clicks of the latches as he pressed them in. He strode out the archway and dodged a few hustling students as he pressed out the double doors. A dismal gray cloud deck and a biting wind greeted him.
Mindy gazed at the surrounding treetops. The last remaining leaves dangled on the tiny branches as the wind attempted to force them to succumb to their ultimate fate of drifting to the ground. “All things are circular,” she whispered.
She dipped her head at the onset of a wind gust. Her red scarf flapped in the wind. The cold seemed to suck all heat from her face, and her nose turned a bright ruddy color. She sniffled, but trudged up the library steps and opened the humongous cherry door.
The heat of the enormous library descended upon her, and she suddenly became aware of how cold her face was. She sniffled again. The hollow sound of her footsteps on the marble tiles deadened in the quiet of the huge hall. Three floors of bookcases dominated the scene with the only blemish being the information desk attended by the estimable Vera E. Brown, head librarian. A mousy woman full of energy and vigilant about the rules of the library, Vera loathed not being in control of even the tiniest aspect of her job. This attitude garnered her nickname – “Very efficient” Brown, mocking her initials.
Mindy shook off the cold and approached “Very Efficient”. She could probably take me right to the shelf. Mindy waited as Vera logged the last of a stack of books back into the computer. The last book to be checked in being “Crib notes on To Kill a Mockingbird”. Vera scowled at the title, tossed it into the return bin, and looked up at Mindy.
“Hello, Ms. Brown.”
“Well hello, Mindy.” Vera smiled.
“I’m looking for a book for Dr. Kramer’s class. He’s awfully difficult to get an ‘A’ out of, and I want to ace the exam next week. I’m going in with an 87% and I need to score a 95% or better to squeak out the ‘A’.”
Vera’s piercing eyes softened. “Now that is an unusual attitude. What was the title, honey?”
“Dr. Kramer didn’t know. But given he mentioned the Lodestar Child in three different classes, I’m sure there will be something on it. He did give me the author’s name though. I believe it was Gadoon Ming.”
“Gadoon? Odd sounding name. Sounds Chinese with the last name of Ming.”
“He said it was Tibetan.”
“Did he now? How is Dr. Kramer? He’s quite the professor. That silvery lock of hair, regal glasses, and standing about six feet tall…” Vera’s eyes rolled to the ceiling absentmindedly. Her frozen posture and reminiscent far-away look made Mindy chuckle.
“What are you laughing about?” Vera asked.
“Ohhhh… nothing. You just seem to be smitten by Dr. Kramer.”
“Smitten?” Vera waved her hand in the air as if brushing off an imaginary film of dust from a long lost memory. “Me? That’s silliness. We had one date and … well… that’s just preposterous.”
Mindy grinned. “Well all right then. Shall we get back to the book?”
Vera’s face tinged pink and she typed away at the keyboard. “There are dozens of authors with the last name of Ming. I believe you might mean Gedun as his first name. Is that right dear?”
“Yes. That’s it. Gedun. Do you have it?”
“The computer does show it, but strangely, it does not give a location. The only notation is H.I.S. – restricted. I’ve only seen that on the rarest of books. A Mark Twain short story being the last I recall. This is indeed peculiar. I shall look for this myself.” Vera punched the intercom button on the phone. “Julia, please come up and attend the front desk immediately.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Came a soft voice in reply.
Mindy and Vera waited in silence. Vera stared at the southeast corner, seemingly expecting Julia from that direction. After about a minute, a young black woman toddled toward them. Dressed in drab brown, she wore black rimmed glasses and was at least eighty pounds overweight. She opened the swinging gate on the large U-shaped information desk and plopped down on a stool opposite Vera.
“Have you finished shelving that last bin of books?” Vera looked at Julia.
“Yes.” Julia adjusted her glasses, stared at the floor, and generally avoided all eye contact.
“Good, stay up here until I return. Mindy and I are going to track down a book.”
“Ok.” Julia glanced up at Mindy and then set her eyes upon her fidgeting, twirling thumbs.
“Let’s go, Mindy.” Vera pushed through the gate and headed for the stairs. Mindy followed a few feet behind.
They climbed up three flights and Vera turned to the right and power walked down the hall. Mindy had to quicken her pace to keep up. They stopped before a gargoyle laden knocker on a non-descript door at the dark end of the third floor hall. Mindy peered around to see a few cobwebs, a chain-pull light above them, and a intricately designed brass railing anchored into the wall across from the door. Vera prodded her pocket for the key. She produced an old skelton-type key, put it in and a soft click deadened in the quiet. Mindy felt a chill run up her spine.
“Ms. Brown? Where does this door lead?”
“To the fourth floor. That’s where we keep the rare books.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize the library had a fourth floor.”
“Most students don’t. That’s why it’s restricted.”
The hinges groaned as Vera pushed it open. A gush of cold air greeted them and a darkened stairwell met Mindy’s eyes. She shuttered and clenched her fists. A rush of adrenaline shot through her system.
“Pp-p-p-p… p… perhaps we don’t need to … uhmm… go. I’m sure my notes on the Lodestar Child will be enough.”
Vera took a few steps up the stairs and pulled on a chain. A bare lightbulb lit throwing shadows of their forms into the hall. She gazed at Mindy. “Don’t be silly. We’re here.” Vera trotted up the stairs. Mindy swallowed hard and followed.
The dimly lit room had three bookcases in its middle. The air felt at least ten degrees cooler. The only window was one foot in diameter and positioned about twelve feet off the floor. It gave an eerie glow to the first bookcase while the other two rested in heavy shadow.
Vera clicked on the light. The two fluorescent bulbs did little to illuminate the room. Mindy’s teeth chattered. Their footfalls seemed to be consumed by the very walls.
“Come, child. This is a real treat. We have Mark Twain’s short story, a first edition scribed King James Bible, and a notebook carried around by Benjamin Franklin himself.”
“It’s so cold up here. This place gives me the creeps.”
Vera smiled. “Let’s find that book. According to the computer the title is 'Child of the Ages'. You check that bookcase.” Vera pointed to the one illuminated by the window.
Mindy’s heartbeat dropped a little. This is whacked out. At least I get the one in the light.
Mindy thumbed through volumes – Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Emoto… Her eyes grew wider. “There are some really old books up here. These people are famous. Author after author. I can’t believe it.”
“See. I told you it would be a treat. I… Here it is! 'Child of the Ages' by Gedun Ming.” Vera’s voice rose as a floorboard creaked as if on cue when she shifted her weight. Mindy heard Vera slide the book from the shelf.
A table with four chairs lay just beyond the bookcases. Vera pulled out a chair and gently lay the book down. Mindy sat next to her. Her curiosity bubbled inside her. “It looks ancient.” Mindy glanced between the tome and Ms. Brown.
“It’s exquisite. Look at the gold lettering in Mongolian. This is from the Sakya school and dated 1215 right before Genghis Khan’s death.”
Mindy looked at Vera in amazement. “That’s incredible. How would a book like that end up here in a small Ohio university library?”
“I don’t know, but the markings are clear. According to the logging card this was transferred from Yale and before that the University of Cambridge.”
“Wait. Mindy eyed Vera. How is it that you can read this? It’s Mongolian.”
“As chance has it, I studied Mongolian and their history in school. I don’t read it well. So, don’t depend on what I say. We’d have to get an expert.”
“I’ll fill that role.” A man’s voice was heard in the stairwell. The door at the bottom slammed shut, and the sound of the lock clicked.
Startled, both Vera and Mindy stood and glared through the aisle between the first and second bookcases. The hair on Mindy’s arms stood on end. Her breathing became shallow. “Who…whooo…. Who’s there?” She said.
A few creaks of the top steps and Dr. Kramer emerged in the dim light. “You don’t recognize my voice? Tch Tch. I am disappointed.”
“Dr. Kramer. What are you doing here?” Vera asked. Her rigid posture relaxed a smidgen, but her eyes stayed fixed on him.
“I knew you’d come, Mindy. My prize pupil. The highest score in my class in years. Bordering on an ‘A’. Bright, driven to succeed. I knew you’d be here with Vera.”
“Why did you lock the door?”
“Just as a precaution really. We have some business to attend to. Don’t we Vera?”
“What business?” Vera and Mindy stated together.
“Come now. Wasn’t Mindy coming and asking for the book enough of a clue? The Lodestar Child was real. I’ve searched for a direct descendant for years. He only had one son and every son after him was an only child. Some kind of Mongolian curse. But now, a daughter. I’m surprised. You don’t even know your own lineage. How do you suppose you picked up reading and speaking Mongolian so easily?”
“My parents were killed in an accident when I was two. My aunt raised me. You mean to tell me that I’m some kind of royalty? I’ve been up here dozens of times and yet never seen this book. Where did it come from?”
Dr. Kramer laughed. Mindy inched toward the darkest bookcase – scanning for places to hide or run to, but none presented themselves. “Let me tell you. It wasn’t easy. I had to grease a lot of dean’s pockets to get that book here. Of course, sadly the paper trail has been lost.”
“What is this book? And what is this business all about?”
“Power. The Tibetan’s were a superstitious bunch. They wrote all their spells down in those ancient monasteries – totally locked away and hidden from the world. Banning all foreigners this book survived through war after war. The key was to find the heir. The one who could by their very touch activate the book. It’s all in there. You see how it glows when you touch it?”
Vera’s hand rested upon its cover. The gold lettering sparkled around her fingertips. She pulled her hand back.
“I just want you to read the book. That’s all. Read it and touch me on the hand. A blessing for my children and yours, Vera. We can have the next Lodestar Child. He will be filled with all the wisdom in that book, and much more. You know there’s a spark already between us. All you have to do is ...” Dr. Kramer moved forward. The light streamed from the tiny window and struck the side of his face making it half dark and half light. “Be with me.” His hand extended toward Vera.
“What about her? Why did you lure her here?”
“That was necessary. I think you already know why. I apologize, but I know your medical history. You can’t carry a child.”
“But she can.” Vera turned toward Mindy. “A surrogate.”
“Oh, no. I will never be a surrogate for you two! You’re both crazy!”
“Think of it. You will be the giver of life to the One – He who will bring peace to many nations. We must have a surrogate, and you would be perfect. Think of the history involved.”
Mindy’s voice quivered. “I need to think about it.”
“Open the book. Let me show you its power. Perhaps that will convince you. Vera read the eighteenth page starting with the second paragraph.”
Vera flipped open the book and turned to page eighteen. She read the Mongolian words quietly. The strange words soothed her. She stared at the open book as it glowed brighter and brighter. Trance-like she stood there immobile listening to every word. All fear left her, and the room spun until darkness overwhelmed her.
Mindy awoke to the sounds of birds chirping. She felt groggy and her eyes were blurry. She lay in a warm, soft bed. She attempted to lift her head but the effort was too great. She looked around. Her sight cleared slowly. A light breeze wafted through a nearby window.
“This is so strange. Where am I?”
“You’re awake! You’re at St. Gertrude’s hospital, honey.” A woman’s voice stated.
Mindy blinked several times, but could only see an outline of a portly blond woman dressed, she guessed, in standard hospital garb. “Why is it so bright in here? Who are you?”
“I’m Belinda. I’m your attending nurse. You’ve been in a drug induced coma for the last four months. Such a nasty fall you had.”
“Fall? What fall? I don’t remember. What happened?”
“From the roof of the library. You don’t remember?”
“No. What about Dr. Kramer and Ms. Brown? What happened to them?”
“Dr. Kramer, the professor and Ms. Brown, the head librarian. Where are they and what happened to the 'Child of the Ages' book written in Mongolian?”
“Oh, Dear. You need to rest more. You aren’t making any sense.”
“But that’s what I remember. Dr. Kramer tracked down Vera who was some descendant of a Tibetan ruler. Please, I need to have you check it out.”
“All right. Just rest.”
Mindy thought of little else the rest of the day. She called a few cousins, but didn’t relay the Lodestar Child story. Even she thought it sounded crazy now.
Belinda approached Dr. Kramer and Vera in the hallway.
“She remembers?” Vera inquired.
“Yes. But just stay calm. As long as we stick to our stories and hide the book. She’ll just come off as being crazy.” Belinda bounced her look between the two of them.
Dr. Kramer nodded. “Yes, and nothing will stop the Lodestar Child from being born.” He reached out and patted Belinda’s tummy. “Nothing.”
2nd Place Twisted Tales December 2010