There is a place where missing things go. That much I know...
|Uncle Frank had always been a quiet man. He had always been a private man. Now, as of 9:04 on a bleary Tuesday morning in late December, Uncle Frank was a dead man.
He'd never mentioned the tumour, so other than the occasional cough that lasted far too long and seemingly reached far too deeply in his lungs, none had suspected Frank was on borrowed time. But that's simply how he was: 'a bit under the weather' at worst, far more preoccupied with the lives of his family to talk about himself. He was a man who had neatly compartmentalised his entire life, with a place for everything and everything in its place, to the point at which most of the mourners who attended the funeral had never even met. People who had known Uncle Frank for decades shook hands with close family for the first time, and every one of them had their own Uncle Frank that they had loved and lost that day.
For Lawrence Taylor, Uncle Frank (really some distant cousin of his mother's, but 'uncle' was close enough) had been almost a friendly stranger. They had bonded over a love of books, but visits had been few and far between for the last few years, and though he had always thought kindly of the old man, and eagerly awaited the next exciting read he unfailingly sent him come Christmastime, Lawrence had never truly known him as he would have liked. Thus, it came as a great surprise when he discovered an envelope with his name neatly written on it, hidden in the spine of an old leather-bound book on the centre of Uncle Frank's writing desk.
Lawrence and a few cousins had gone to see to Uncle Frank's suddenly vacant North London flat, as there was much that could be given to charity, as well as a few bequeathments to make. When they arrived, he was stunned to see bookshelves from wall to wall in every room of the house; there was even a small one in the bathroom. He had heard that Uncle Frank had always wanted his own bookshop, and clearly he had turned his home into one. The classic authors like Dickens and Shakespeare were enshrined within the living room in place of a television, and an entire room was dedicated to historical works, both fiction and non-fiction. A rusted gramophone sat in one corner, but aside from that and a few boxes of dusty records, the house was filled with books, books, books. Lawrence was amazed. He hadn't even heard of a majority of the titles on the shelves, and he felt himself to be quite well-read. Frank simply seemed to be an expert on any conceivable thing, as long as it lay bound in leather and printed on a page. There were even stacks of well-thumbed essays and papers on topics from all areas of the literary spectrum, many in Frank's own hand (recognisably the same that had written the cards every Christmas). As he was sifting through these papers, Lawrence's hand found the old book, lying half-buried on the desk.
Something drew him to it instinctively, and he carefully retrieved it. The book was covered in pressed gold symbols he had never seen before, that almost seemed to pulse and twist in the low light. They obviously formed some kind of language- but not one he could recognise. Yet they somehow felt... familiar. When he gingerly cracked the cover to take a peek, he was unable to read any of the script inside. Lifting it gently to the light, he felt a sudden fluttering of paper, and his eye caught the envelope that had slid out of the spine and spun lazily to the floor.
“For Lawrence Taylor, the boy who loved to read”.
Lawrence opened the envelope and began.
“My dear Lawrence,
When you find this letter, I am sure that I will be gone. My health is not what it was, so whilst my life is still my own I am writing this in the hope that you will continue my work. As I am sure you have gathered, the books that line these four walls are my proudest possessions. I have spent a lifetime with the printed word as my dearest companion, and I have been deeply grateful that you have both shared my enthusiasm, and indulged me in my literary passions.
I hope that you do not mind me asking one last favour of you. You may remember the puzzles and games we used to play, where I would leave clues for you to find and solve. If you do – please consider this one last adventure. I have spent my life trying to solve this puzzle, and regrettably it seems that I shall not live to see its end, so it is my greatest wish that you might take up where I have left off.
The book you have found this in is written in a lost language, no longer used by any peoples of the Earth. I discovered it in the souks of Marrakech as a youth, hidden (as these things often appear to be) in a stall owned by an old man with a withered black hand and a glass eye. I had thought it a simple curio, but when I failed to decipher it and returned to the stall to speak to the proprietor, both man and shop had vanished. I have kept this book with me ever since, and my life has been spent trying to uncover the secrets within.
A few years ago, dear Lawrence, I began to make progress. I was able to track down another object, a tablet carved both in this mysterious script and a variant of proto-Sumerian, and I began to make a cypher, which (unless this book has been pawed through before you arrived) should still rest within its pages. The cancer that has taken me has been growing in my lungs for a long time, and the closer I have come to the door of Death, the more progress I have made with the script, and the more books and carvings I have been able to gather. I have my theories, but no evidence with which to back them up, and no time left to gather it.
I must now be brief. The book tells of a place called the Land of Lost Souls. It says that within the Land of Lost Souls there is a Library of Lost Things, an immense archive of treasures and knowledge lost to the ages. It is my theory that the books and tablets I have found have come from that library. Moreover, the book you are now holding is the last of these possessions I have retained. They have been disappearing, Lawrence. Slowly at first, but they are definitely disappearing. I sent a colleague a carving earlier this year, to see if they had ever seen the like before. They called to ask me why I had sent an empty package by First Class mail and marked it Urgent.
I am now convinced that these artefacts are not simply disappearing, Lawrence.
I think the Lost People are taking them back.
Please, keep this book close. Help me finish what I have started, Lawrence. Please.
Lawrence was stunned. Sure enough, a tattered sheet lay pressed within the pages of the book, filled with symbols matching the ones on the cover, alongside possible translations and numerous corrections. Erratic, barely-legible notes and cryptograms littered the margins, phrases that could only mean something to their author. “Not I – remember Bucharest!!” and “NB: correlation to Sum. Unclear, concept unf.”. Could he decipher not only the script but Frank's notes too, given only one lifetime?
He knew it then that this would probably cause a lot of trouble, and that it would almost definitely be absolutely, totally worth it. He had loved his uncle's puzzles, though as a child they had usually ended up in a carefully hidden chocolate and not the greatest lost archive this side of Alexandria, perhaps even greater. Who could say no to such an adventure?