When I wake up my head is killing me. I'm lying on cold stone and the tower room is dark. There's a full moon outside and a beautiful shaft of moonlight is shining in the middle of the stone floor. I lift my head up and almost pass out from the dizziness. I move my head slowly and look around.
I am alone. The huge room is virtually identical to the octagonal room at the bottom of the stairs except for eight suits of armor lying crumpled on the floor, their weapons and accessories scattered. There are small rocks and pieces of stone here and there from the previous fight. I realize the thing, that thing, had probably used one of the swords to kill Mr. Gryphon.
Mr. Gryphon. I close my eyes, a hurricane of emotion threatens to tear through my body but I manage to it hold off. There isn't much time and I must stay focused. I stand up slowly and then limp over to one of the crumpled suits. I examine it as best I can in the light. The sword is too large for me to carry but it has a belt and a dagger so I unbuckle it and take it for myself. Something drips down my face and I think for a moment that it must be tears but it's blood from the wound in my head. I must get back to my Library so I can regroup and think of what needs to happen next. I can't leave yet, though. I need one of the swords. The seventh one is a smaller than the others and easier to carry. I'm too short to put it around my waist so I carry it instead.
I'm faced with the daunting task to getting down the stairs in the dark by myself with my hurt knee. I could call one of my blue doors but I have a feeling I need to make it down this tower on foot. No matter, the moon, my old friend, is full and will give me enough light to descend by. I make my way down as fast as I can holding onto the worn wooden railing so I don't fall. Each step jolts my knee and I start to cry from both pain and grief. I stop and will myself not to cry. I need to concentrate and crying will make me want to give up. When I get a hold of myself I realize that thing, that Stranger, has special powers. It has the ability to call my blue doors at will. Nobody has that ability except me. I wonder what this means, and who or what that Stranger is. I start the descent again.
I wonder also who has the power to kill Mr. Gryphon. It's true he died once but that's because I was run through with a sword at the same time. There was also that time where I was killed but he was unharmed. He's never died on his own before. I stop on the stairs, thinking. If he's never died before then that means...
And then I hear the sound of scraping on the stairs below me.
I freeze in place, gripping my sword, listening. I hear the steady step of someone climbing the stairs. I think about calling one of my blue doors or turning to go back upstairs but I decide to stand and wait because if it's that thing I can try to get Mr. Gryphon's head back. I grip the sword with both hands, holding it out in front of me. It's heavy and my left wrist is starting to hurt from carrying it. The dragging sound is getting louder and louder until I can hear it just behind the tower curve below me. The Tower stairs seem to be getting smaller, shrinking in on me. A cloud passes in front of the moon, casting everything in shadow. There's a cold breeze and I can just smell the sea. I wait, sweating. I feel stinging on my head as the sweat runs into the wound.
Because of the breeze I see the Stranger's cloak billow before it comes into full view. It's holding the sword it took but it doesn't have Mr. Gryphon's head. The thing stops and waits a few steps below me. The place below the hood is still nothing but blackness. It's as if the light itself has been absorbed where the face should be.
I take two quick steps and my sword sings as it slices through the air and cuts the Stranger in half at the waist. I lose my balance as I try to swing again, falling to the ground and then I roll down a few stairs. I look up at the Stranger and it is grabbing at its other half. I drag myself up to a tottering standing position, swinging my sword again. The Stranger grabs the sword blade, stopping its progress, and I slam against the stone wall from the momentum. I watch, the coldness in my chest stabbing painfully, as the Stranger's emaciated hand holds the sword blade. The blade should slice right through the fingers but doesn't. I pull on the blade but the Stranger holds steady. I pull again and the blade slices its hand, making it let go. I fall backwards, tumbling down the stairs, feeling something in my ankle crack. I cry out and the sword falls from my hand, clattering down the stairs.
I look up and see the Stranger crawling down the stairs towards me with only the top half of its body, terminator-style.
"Shit," I say, "I can't believe this is happening." I reach back for the sword. I can't grab it but I can push further it behind me and out of the Stranger's way. The sword clangs behind me and I turn to crawl down the stairs, my ankle and knees are hurting and swelling up. Then the Stranger grabs my foot and I start yelling and kicking.
The fury and grief overflow and I'm yelling and kicking. "No, No, NOOO! This is my world. This is my place. You don't belong here. Let go of me, you MUTHERFUCKER!!!" There's a buzzing sound in response and the Stranger has both of its hands on my left ankle. In one quick motion, it turns it, my ankle breaking and destroying the tendons. I howl in pain and then I turn away and reach out to the darkness with one hand. A blue door fades into existence and I will it to open as I slam my fist into the blue wood. The door opens and I try to drag myself through it but that thing has my other foot. I pull and pull away from it but then it grabs the back of my leg. I turn and pull my dagger from its sheath and slam the blade into the Stranger's shoulder. The thing buzzes again and I smell an organic wet metallic smell, like blood with too much iron in it. The Stranger lets go of my foot and I move as fast as I can. I feel the fingers brushing my shoes and then something grabs me on the other side and pulls me through the door. The door slams shut and I'm lying on a carpeted floor. I cry, pressing my face into the floor, my ankle broken and my knees hurting.
"Miss Turtle," I look up, eagerly expecting Mr. Gryphon, but instead it's the Rocketeer. I stare up at him.
"What are you doing here? I thought you'd gone." Before he can answer me, there's a pounding on the blue door behind me. I turn and stare in shock. The thing is slamming into the door on the other side.
"That's not possible," I saw, sitting up, tears forgotten. I turn to the Rocketeer, "How is that possible?"
"I don't know but its going to come through, believe me. We need to leave. Right now," he reaches down and pulls me up. I yelp in pain but he is strong and steady. He has his arm around me, holding me up. We start moving and I see we are in part of my Library. All the while the pounding on the door continues until there's a breaking, splintering sound, and I turn back to see the emaciated hand shoving the broken wood aside. It must be standing up to be able to do that which means it some how mended itself.
In front of me are two heavy metal doors. We are in one of the satellite research areas, and judging from the specimens on the tables, we are in the botany department. The Rocketeer shoves open the heavy metal door and pulls me through it. There's a splintering crash and whoosh behind us and I know the Stranger has come through the door. The Rocketeer pushes hard on the door but the Stranger slams into it. I push too but the thing is strong. I try to get purchase with my one good foot but I can't, and I'm sliding backwards. The Rocketeer pushes as I'm slipping to the floor, knees and remaining good ankle screaming in pain. I can see the thing's billowing cloak and smell that wet metallic smell. Then we hear the sound of running behind us and more people help us shove the door closed. It slams shut and the Rocketeer slams the huge, heavy bolt into place.
I slump to the floor, the tears overflowing again. People are standing above me but I don't bother to look up at them. Someone leans down to me. I expect that person to be concerned about me but instead I hear, "Stop crying." I look up and it's April. I first met her in one of my nightmares. The nightmare was so disturbing that Mr. Gryphon and I went into it to talk to her. I wrote a wrenching three-part story about it. April and I eventually made peace and now she's part of my world. She looks a lot like Go-Go from Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill, Part 1."
"We've been waiting for you," she says, her voice laced with a coldness I haven't heard in a long time. The thing on the other side of the metal doors starts pounding again. "Don't worry," she says gesturing towards the doors, "It can't get through them."
"But it's in my Library. What is it? And how is that possible?" I ask. They all look at me, the Rocketeer, April, and some of my library staff. I can feel the force of the blows on the other side of the door. No one answers. Instead, April and the Rocketeer pick me up and begin half-carrying, half-dragging me out of the room. I notice for the first time the Library is dark. I wonder why the lights are out.
"It's about time you came back, Miss Turtle. Everything's gone to shit since you've been gone," says April, her perfect cut black bangs swaying.
"But I've been here, haven't I? Somewhere below my consciousness? Haven't we've been having our usual adventures?" I ask as we turn right and make our way across the great reading room and under the massive dome above it. Moonlight is streaming through the windows, in strange broken patterns. I look around, "Stop," I say. We stop and I stare around at the main floor of my Library.
It's not only dark but books are piled on the floor instead of the shelves and I see the main entrance has been barricaded. The stained glass windows now have steel bars across the them. I feel a breeze because some of the windows have been broken. There's glass everywhere. The tables and chairs have been overturned and some of them are smashed. The massive dome above has a network of steel bars over the stained glass.
"What happened?" I ask, my voice faint and hoarse.
"While you were gone with Mr. Gryphon that thing attacked the Library. It killed many of the staff before we were all able to get here," says April. I make a choking sound but she ignores me. "T-Rex managed to hold it off for a bit. We thought it was going to be fine when he bit the thing in half but it has regenerative powers and it's able to make itself whole again. Rex finally grabbed the thing and dragged it outside while we barricaded the doors. The fight was horrible, but the Stranger managed to kill him all the same."
"Rex is dead?" I start to cry again but everybody ignores this. T-Rex with his 6th grader toilet humor was gone. He was always teasing Mr. Gryphon about how I was his "girlfriend."
"Yes, he's dead," says April, her voice weary, "He turned to powder immediately but his skeleton remains outside the door." I hang my head and they start walking again towards my suites.
"We barricaded the rest of the windows while the Stranger tried to smash its way through them. Thank God you insisted on thick glass and lead supports on your windows. It was only able to smash through a few of them," said the Rocketeer.
We stop at the entrance of my suites and the Rocketeer raps on the door. There's a pause as someone from the other side looks through the peephole and the door flies open.
"Oh my GOD! You found her. What happened? Is she all right?" It's my 36 year old self. She's wearing an oversize sweater as usual. She's chubbier than me and has long hair too. In one of my stories I found her in a cave deep underwater and we swam out of it together. She drowned and disappeared as we swam up the black waters for the surface but she ended up here anyway because we'd rescued each other.
"She'll be fine. Out of our way, we need the doctor," says April briskly. My 36 year old self closes the door behind us, locking it as we make our way to the clinic. There's free health care for everyone in Miss Turtle's world. I see my Dead Self whom I discovered in another story. She's usually so relaxed but I see her old face lined with worry. There's more library staff, all wearing long tattered robes. They smile when they see me.
"I can't believe this is happening! What happened to my universe?" I say, crying some more.
"Sure, you've been up on the roof in daylight with Mr. Gryphon having tea for months on end but you haven't been paying attention to anything going on down here.
"Mr. Gryphon," I say and I hang my head to cry some more.
"Shut up! We need you to focus on what's going on. We're all in trouble and you need to do something about it," April's voice is now ice cold angry. I recognize that tone.
"We're going to get you fed, patched up, and then we're all going to sit down and have a talk," says the Rocketeer.
"Who asked you?" I say, sniffing.
"You did since you left me here. Remember? You dreamed up and left me here," he says. He's still really cute even when he's annoyed with me. I notice that his glasses have been repaired since I last saw him.
"I thought you dreamed me up," I say. He look away from me, frowning. We are almost to the clinic. I'm feeling a grave helplessness where the cold fury used to be. I can't stand it anymore.
"For God's sake, People, what is that thing?" I finally shout. Both the Rocketeer and April stop.
"Miss Turtle, we weren't going to tell you this until you were seen by the doctor but I'm sick of your crap so I'll tell you now," says April. She is speaking slowly. "That thing, that Stranger, is you."
I gape but nothing comes out. I know deep down that she's right. I know this because there's no one who could kill Mr. Gryphon except me. I close my eyes trying to shut out the rest of implications of this truth. No one speaks again when we get to the clinic. I'm hurt and exhausted.