by Jason Clark
Sergeant John Diles stepped out of his car onto the overgrown curb. His legs were quickly covered knee-deep in bright yellow dandelions. Diles was more than a little bit nervous. Even after 10 years with the station he hadn't ever had to deal with a disappearance of this sort. The small white house visible over the lawn was the home of the missing man, Nick Shwarts. Diles fought his way through the lawn to the front door.
The white front door, old paint peeling, swung open as he pushed on it. Diles drew his gun as the door came fully open. He didn't expect anyone inside, since the occupant had disappeared, but it always paid to be cautious.
Nick Shwarts' name was the only solid fact the neighbors around really agreed on about him. Rumors abounded about what he did inside his little shack of a house, but no real facts could be collected. Shwarts kept completely to himself; it wasn't even known if he had a job, and what it was if he did. He never caused any trouble, though. And now, he had simply vanished.
Diles figured that the man had been gone for a long time to have the neighbors call in. He may have even been gone for months. The house displayed this, for the lights were all out, presumably because the electric bill hadn't been paid in a while. A fine thin coating of dust lay over everything. Picking up the phone, Diles heard no dial-tone. "Won't be able to call in from here," thought Diles.
Looking around the room, Diles saw a bathroom off to the right and a small kitchen through a doorway straight ahead. In the corner to the left of the kitchen door there was a small desk on which sat a worn typewriter. On the floor, piled by the old desk were two-inch binders, rising like a tower to the ceiling. Diles walked over and ran a finger down the spines of the binders. They were labeled in volume numbers. The top one was labeled in neat print, "Volume 1," the bottom one, "Volume 53." Each binder was thoroughly stuffed. It dawned on Diles that these were all one consecutive work. The elusive Shwarts was a writer, and a prolific one at that.
Standing on his tip-toes, Diles pulled the first binder off the top. He walked over to the cot just a few feet away and holstered his gun. Seated on the end of the bed, he opened the dark blue cover. The first page was blank, so he turned to the next. On the top was the word, " Introduction." Below, Diles began to read:
"As of today, May 28, 1992, I begin my life's work. This and the ensuing volumes are a saga, the product of my soul and mind. I hope that this is worth the effort, but if it wasn't, I cannot tell. This is my life, embodied in ink and paper.
Diles turned the page and began to read the novel, for which Shwarts had apparently worked so hard. Diles figured that if he read the work, he may gain some clue as to what happened to the man. "I'll read a little bit," he thought. "Maybe someone will come out and finish it all later."
It began simply enough. The words formed a vivid picture of a small planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. It was the seat of power, the governing capitol for a galaxy aflame with war.
Diles stopped for a moment at the end of the first paragraph and sighed heavily. The story was very well written; Diles could feel it tugging at him already. A little voice down inside him said, " You love this! This is marvelous!" Diles tried to shake off the feeling of wonder that covered him, but it wouldn't budge. He couldn't understand it, because he didn't normally read very much, only police reports and the paper. But this, somehow, was different from every other novel he had tried -- unsuccessfully -- to read.
Diles plunged into the next paragraph and was quickly engulfed in the story. The characters came alive before him. The alien worlds and sensations became real, there for him to explore. He was unaware of the passing of the afternoon to evening as he turned page after page hungrily. When finally it was too dark to read, he went out to the car and brought in his flashlight and some extra batteries. Tossing himself and his cargo onto the bed he turned on the light and found his place again about a third of the way through the first binder.
* * *
Time continued to pass without Diles noticing. Morning dawned and he was halfway through the second binder. Flipping off the light absently, Diles went to the kitchen, feeling rather hungry. There he found a box of stale crackers and returned to his reading with them. Munching slowly, he blazed to the end of the binder and set it neatly on the first. He grabbed the third and began it without breaking stride.
By dusk, the third through seventh binders lay on the floor with the first two. Diles was frantically reading the eighth when a knock echoed through the house.
Diles looked up at the door, his eyes blurring as his conscious mind began slowly to work again. He reluctantly pulled himself to standing and answered the door. An officer from the station stood there, hand on his pistol butt.
"Hello, Sergeant Diles. We were a little worried when you didn't report in." The man's hand fell from his gun. "I'm conducting a thorough investigation," Diles
answered, all too quickly.
"Well, could we send some help down?"
"No thanks. What's your name?"
"Detective Birkholder, sir."
"Well, Mr. Birkholder, would you like to leave?"
"Uh, yeah." The detective turned and began to leave. Diles slammed the door and hurried back to the cot. During the night, volumes eight through 14 ended up on the pile, set there neatly before he hurried on to the next binder.
No one interrupted during the next day, so he was at 21 when he had to turn on the light.
His eyes were bloodshot and his body was worn ragged from lack of sleep, but still he didn't stop. His mind was completely oblivious to the physical world. Only the limits of his eye speed were noticed as he tried to read faster and faster. The plot was thicker and more realistic than anything Diles had ever imagined, though his mind didn't take the time to register that fact. Nine volumes passed onto the pile as he pushed himself on while dawn shone through the narrow front window.
* * *
He continued his reading for another day and a half, when, as he read volume 53, another knock came at the door. Diles cursed as he looked from book to door, book to door. In the end he decided to ignore the increasingly insistent knocking at the door. They can wait, his mind told him. You're almost there, only twenty more pages! Hurry!
For a few moments the knocking ceased, only to be replaced with the hollow thudding of a police door ram. Diles was on the last page as the police flooded in. His eyes took in the last paragraph, the last sentence, the last word -- and then it happened.
Before the policemen's eyes, Diles vanished. They all blinked, but it was no illusion. Diles was gone, in the same manner as the book's author.
The men looked the house over thoroughly, then left two men on guard. The others went back to the station, leaving the two to watch in the near-empty room. They looked around and ended up after some time examining the binders.
"What do you think they are?" asked one man.
"I know one way to find out," said the other. He pulled out the binder labeled "Volume 1." Holding it between them, they began to read the introduction.
"As of today... *
Story copyright © 1995 Jason Clark <JDaystrom@aol.com>
Digital image rendered by Romeo Esparrago <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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