Chapter Nineteen

Harry stood and stretched his old muscles before turning toward one of the walls containing thousands and thousands of books. Sighing, I tapped my left breast pocket to assure myself the necessary tools were still there to satisfy the nic-fit I was enduring as soon as I made my escape in thirty minutes. I decided I could make it another half-hour, but no longer. I stood and followed Harry around the potted tree in the roomís center to the opposite wall.

"The first one is easy," Harry was saying, as I caught up with him at the base of one of the massive walls of words.

He reached out and pulled a newer looking, oversized book on astrology off the shelf from shoulder height. It had a bright, colorful, glossy cover displaying Jupiter and its moons. Reaching back to the frame of the bookshelf, he pressed a blue button and I saw the attached ladder at the other end of the wall start to slowly and silently slide our direction. Pressing the black button that sat below the green and blue buttons on the same small panel a moment later brought the ladder to a stop in front of us.

"But Iíll need your legs to get the other one we want," Harry said when the ladder had come to rest. "The blue button is left, the green one is right and the black one is stop. Thereís a panel every four feet up the ladder if you need to get closer, but I think I got you right where you need to be."

Harry reached up and pulled a strap I hadnít noticed yet that hung on the side just above eye level. It turned out to be a belt attached to both sides of the ladder.

"Step under this and pull it down to your waist. Tighten it up. It works like a seat belt. You can move up and down the ladder slowly, but if you fall, it locks and holds you in place. You ainít Ďfraid a heights or nothiní, are ya?"

I assured him I wasnít as he pulled the belt over my head and I tightened it snuggly around my waist. I was only doing it for him. Had I been alone, I probably wouldnít bother with the belt. "What am I looking for?" I asked.

"The yellow one on the second shelf from the top," he said, looking straight up. "Thereís no words on the spine but itís the only yellow one in that row. Youíll know it when you see it. Just place it in the basket." He pointed up. I spotted the basket about halfway up, attached to the right side of the ladder on some type of pulley system. "Iíll bring the book down in the basket while you climb back down the ladder."

Glancing at the books as I made my way up the ladder towards the libraryís high ceiling, they didnít appear to be in alphabetical order, but rather, in chronological order. The higher I got, the older the books appeared to become. The lower shelves all contained brighter, newer looking spines. The bookís titles and authors or illustrators were prominently marked for easy identification. This was clearly the ĎAstrologyí section of the library as the titles I read all pertained to the heavens, the stars, the planets, the galaxy and such. The higher I got, however, the fewer dust jackets I saw and the more pale the spines' colors became and then farther up, more frayed and dog-eared. The titles grew harder to read, some had no information at all on the spine. In the second row from the top, none of the books had words on the spines and the only yellow one, which Harry had managed to park the ladder directly next to, had no indication whatsoever anywhere on the outside of the book pertaining to what might be found on the inside.

I pulled on one of the thin cords on my right and the basket responded in the proper direction. I placed the book in the basket once it had reached my height and it started descending right away with Harry pulling the opposite cord from below. I thought about pushing the green button and taking a cruise down the length of wall just out of curiosity but my desire to get this over with so I could escape to some fresh air and pollute my lungs with some tasty chemicals got me down the ladder by the same time Harry was pulling the book out of the basket.

"Thatís the one," he said triumphantly, while I slid out of the safety harness.

I couldnít imagine this taking thirty minutes. There was absolutely nothing I could think of that Harry could show me in a book that would suddenly enlighten me to the truth in his stories. Man has always possessed a fascination with stories. Stories of the past. Stories of the future. Fact and fiction. Once they used natural paints and stone, now we use printing presses and paper. They used pictures and hieroglyphics. We use letters and words. But we have always told our stories. Itís just another one of those abilities that apparently Mother Nature hadnít thought to instill into any of Her own life creations. The ability to imagine. The ability to ask, "What if...?"

I knew that whatever might be found in his oldest books of this impressive library, whether intended to be fact or fiction by its author, would most likely be a mixture of both. And there was no real way to truly draw the line between which was which.

I was being as polite as I knew how, riding out the evening, but the timer was on. My patience would expire soon, but the next twenty-six or seven minutes, I didnít think would be a problem.

Harry turned left, leaving the basket and ladder where they were, both books tucked under his left arm, and walked towards the adjoining wall of shelves. We were only ten feet from the corner where the two walls met and I hadnít noticed the dark brown door nestled directly in the corner until Harry stopped in front of it and turned to see if I were following.

The book shelves framed the doorway on the hinged left side and directly above. The wall we had retrieved our books from met the right side of the doorway at a 90 degree angle such that the door must swing towards the new room or it would knock some books off the shelf swinging this direction. Picturing the layout of the house that I had traversed thus far, this had to be a tiny room behind the dining room we had eaten in, but there hadnít been a door to enter from that side. This door wasnít exactly hidden, but it did appear to be less conspicuous by design.

Harry reached into his pocket with his right hand and pulled out a small key chain. He selected a key from the few options available and inserted it into the doorís lock. Harryís bulky body filled most of the doorway. As he turned the knob and opened it just a crack before facing me once again, a stale musty smell, faint but obvious, slipped through the open space and lingered in the doorway with us.

With gleaming eyes and a mischievous smile, Harry turned to me before opening the door more than a few inches and asked, "Are you ready for your first lesson?"

I didnít actually have an immediate response to that question and Harry turned and entered the dark room as if he hadnít expected one.

I shrugged and followed. Twenty-five minutes and counting.

* * * * *

Harry flicked on the light switch beside the door and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust as I walked in behind him. The lighting in here was three times as bright as the library had been all evening, twice as bright as the dining room for dinner. In here it was high noon. The ceiling was low once again in here though still a couple feet higher than normal. There were no windows and no doorways other than the one we had just entered through. The room itself was quite a bit larger than I had imagined on the other side of the door, about half the size of the piano parlor next to the entry, but it felt much smaller as it was crammed full of what looked at first like old junk. As my eyes adjusted to the bright lights of the room, the old junk began to take on the air of old valuable junk. After looking around for another thirty seconds from the doorway, the room became a storage room for a museum. Here were all the exhibits that were either awaiting their turn on the floor or had been replaced but not yet displaced. Many of the items looked Egyptian, probably artifacts sent back by Janis and Co. Although most looked from origins that I would not be able to distinguish so readily. In here were more books, too. A very small book case compared to any in the other room, but at least a hundred more very old looking books filled all five of its shelves.

Each wall was very busy. One was covered with maps. Large maps, small maps, old cracked and yellowed maps. I couldn't see from the doorway what areas they were covering, but I figured I could probably guess a few correctly. The only two couches in the room were beneath the maps, away from the wall to allow closer inspection of any map without moving anything out of the way. The wall next to that, straight ahead as we entered the room, had the small book case and was covered with ancient-looking masks hanging from hooks, each, I was sure, with its own intriguing story behind it. The wall housing the door we had entered had large items leaning against it as well as three life-size stone statues that must have weighed a ton a piece. They looked like those old wooden Indian statues you'd see by the front door of the old general store, except these weren't wooden and they weren't Indians. Two of them had human heads atop their human bodies, one did not.

The final wall to our right was lined with wide shelves filled with small statues and goblets and tools. It looked like something you might find in the main tent of an excavation site, minus the dirt.

Speaking of dirt, however, there were also several barrels mingling among the statues to our left that appeared to be filled to the brim with dirt and the center of the room looked like a giant sandbox. Actually, it was more like a sandbowl. It was about two feet high and ten feet in diameter. The sides sloped inward in bowl fashion. It was made of the same thick, white stone as the three statues and looked to weigh twice their weight all put together. How they got it into this room could have been a mystery rivaling the construction of the pyramids themselves. It was three times the size of the only door in this room. And it was heaping full with dirt. Yellowish, off-white dirt.

"So what do ya think?" Harry was asking, obviously proud of this roomís collection of history.

"What is all this stuff?" I finally asked, knowing full well there could not be one simple answer. Then more specifically, "How did you get that thing in here?" I pointed to the bowl of sand, the roomís center piece.

"Shkarbala," Harry said, ever smiling. "Benny found that one himself two years ago in the ancient city of Tulum. It is right off the Caribbean Sea in The Yucatan, the old Mayan Territories. He and his money got it shipped out of the country before they ever knew he had found what he had found. Maybe they never did know. He told them it was a giant bird bath he had custom made from local stone for his front lawn in Texas Ďcause in Texas they liked to have the biggest of everything and now he had himself the biggest damn bird bath in the U.S. of A. Benny has a way of makiní people believe any olí thing he says. Itís kinda like his gift, though I ainít never seen no shine on olí Benny. But he do got a way Ďbout him. So he had it flown out of the country with three helicopters within minutes of approval, before they had a chance to investigate or change their minds. Then in Havana, Cuba he got it aboard a freight liner to the States, paid off a couple people, supplied his own cranes and transportation immediately upon the ship docking back home, and suspended it here next to the house with a crane until the floor was laid underneath it. Once the floor was done, the crane lowered it to where it now sits and the room was added to the house around Shkarbala."

"What is it?"

"Shkarbala was like a primitive satellite dish linking mortals to the immortals. It was used for rituals and sacrifices, intended to communicate with and to please the gods. Only the royal recipients and their closest advisors were allowed near it and they were kept under close guard at all times. Legend was that the Immortals had personally hand crafted seven of these Shkarbala and had given them to the seven most powerful mortal leaders on the earth of that era. They did not come without a price however, and several were soon destroyed by the same Immortals that had made them when payment had not been fulfilled. Only three were said to have survived. Benny knew what he had found the moment he had laid eyes on it. Heís been readiní up on that kinda stuff his whole life. He put on his best poker face and played out his story, and here it is. The only known Shkarbala in captivity, though only truly known by a handful of people."

"Not if you keep showing it to everyone you invite over for dinner," I said sarcastically.

"No one outside the family has actually seen it once it got crated up in Tulum. It was in the crate the entire journey. We removed the crate after the room had been completed around it. Benny did a real good job of keeping a tight lid on his find, mostly thanks to arranging its transport in record time."

"You showed it to me and Iím not in the family," I pointed out.

Bennyís smile broadened a hair. "You will be."

* * * * *

So. How about magic? Do you believe in magic? I never believed in magic. Ask me then if I believed in magic and Iíd say no. Deception, trickery, double-joints, advantageous physical defects, all a yes. Magic, no.

Ask me now if I believe in magic. I guess Iíd have to ask you to define magic first.

* * * * *

Harry moved over to the couches beneath the wall of maps and I obediently followed as I had all evening long. The floor had no carpeting or bear skin rugs. There were no lamps, all the brightness coming from some track lighting near the tops of the walls. The ceiling was bare.

Harry sat and motioned for me to join him. I sat next to him as he opened the larger book with Jupiter on its cover and started leafing through it looking for a particular page.

"Ever been into astrology?" he asked me.

"Not particularly," I confessed. "I can recognize Orion and the Dippers but that's about the extent of my knowledge of the universe."

"Oh, I almost forgot. We need one more book. Do you mind, John?" Harry pointed towards the small bookshelf.

I stood and headed towards it. "Which one?"

"Top shelf. From the right. Third book."

I slid the third book from the right off the shelf and carefully walked it back to Harry. It was a thin book, and like the other one I had retrieved for Harry, it looked ancient and had no markings on its stained and dirty, dark red, cloth cover. It looked more like a journal than a book. The pages were yellowed and slightly warped. The cover was chipped, peeling and falling apart. It hardly weighed a thing. I imagined if I were to drop this book to the ground, it would disintegrate on impact into a puff of dust. I felt a sense of relief when Harry assumed control of this book's fate from me.

Harry discarded the journal/book to the couch on his left for the time being and we returned our attention to the page he had settled on in the Jupiter book while I was retrieving the latest addition for my 'first lesson'.

"You recognize our galaxy, right?" he was asking me.

"Yes, of course."

He moved the book more between us so I could easily see as he explained. "This is what our Galaxy looked like in May of 2002. See how the planets line up. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars is just a hair off line, then Venus and Mercury are on one side of the Sun. The Earth and Pluto are on the other. Only Uranus and Neptune are out of line on the Earth/Pluto side of the Sun.

"Now look at Orion. You see it?" He pointed it out in case I didn't. It was directly aligned with Neptune and Uranus but on the opposite side of the Sun. "The three stars in Orion's belt are often used as a directional home in ancient astrology. When the three pyramids were built around the Sphinx, they were aligned directly beneath the stars of the belt. In this shot, the belt's angle is off about ten degrees from the line formed by seven of the nine planets."

It was easy to see what Harry was pointing out.

"This book is about the planets," Harry continued. "It doesn't mention Orion or the stars. It does look at the future alignments of the planets and predicts that in 2040, all nine planets will come as close as they ever have to forming a single fairly straight line through the Sun."

Harry flipped ahead two pages. "The next time, however, that these same seven line up again is sometime late December of this year. Mars, in this picture, you can see has tucked itself more neatly in line. And look at Orion."

I looked at what would be northwest of the sun on a regular map and found Orion. The three stars of its belt seemed to now line up perfectly parallel with the planetary line.

"So they line up. Looks like the year to worry about is 2040 though and I don't think either one of us will need to worry too much about what happens by then."

Harry smiled. "Just remember what I've showed you here. This is part one."

He closed the Jupiter book and placed it on the couch next to the journal book. The yellow book had remained in his lap and he now opened that one and carefully began leafing through the old, delicate pages. He stopped on a page about halfway through that looked like a hand drawing of Shkarbala.

"This is the only book we've ever been able to find that has a picture of Shkarbala," Harry said. "Only a few of the ancient scripts have ever even mentioned them, they are considered to be myth by most historians. Only we know different. They were only for the royal eyes of the owners. The common people were never allowed to be near them. We have used this picture as a model." He closed the book and stood, placing the book down where he had been seated. "The picture showed four sticks," Harry was saying, as he walked around Shkarbala towards the shelves on the opposite wall, "attached to the sides. They look like torches. Like these." Harry pulled four stumps of wood off the shelf that looked like prop torches from the Indiana Jones movies. He started inserting them one by one into Shkarbala, explaining as he went.

"When we dropped Shkarbala in here, we didn't think about anything other than trying to center it in the room that hadn't yet been built." He slipped a second stake into a second small stone ringlet built into the outer rim. "Later we discovered that we needed these corners of the circle to align with north, south, east, west and we had to have the crane come back out and turn it a little for us."

"How did you manage that?" I asked. "There's no way a crane could reach it in here."

Harry placed the fourth and final stake in place and turned towards the door. Below the light switch, he turned a large white knob and the track lighting began to dim closer to library level. Below that knob, he flicked a second switch and I could faintly hear a motor somewhere kick into gear. The ceiling began to roll back into the wall. A few moments later, the sky peered in on us with hundreds of tiny, twinkling eyes through a glass ceiling.

"We just had to take the glass out," he said. Stepping back to Shkarbala, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a lighter. He held it up to the first stake and it immediately flared up becoming a living torch. As he moved towards the next stake, he looked at me over Shkarbala and asked, "You ready for part two?"

* * * * *

With all four stakes transformed into torches, Harry dimmed the track lighting to a faint glow. Most of the room's lighting and growing heat was coming from the four torches placed in the compass points of Shkarbala. Harry returned to the couch, removed his white jacket laying it neatly over the arm of the couch and picked up the final book, the dirty red one. He walked back to Shkarbala with the book and motioned for me to follow with a nod of the head. The glow cast out by the flames of the torches gave his smile a slightly mad looking quality. The reflections of the flames dancing in his eyes only enhanced the unsettling impression.

I stepped up next to Harry facing Shkarbala as he was. We were standing at what would have been between the east and south points of the compass if it used the same directions I was familiar with. He held the book still closed in his left hand while he rolled up the left sleeve of his white shirt. Shifting the book to his right hand, he rolled the other sleeve up and then looked at me, grinning.

I wasn't grinning but I returned the look and waited for his next move or instruction. I felt like an audience member that had been singled out and asked to assist the magician on stage with his next trick without having a clue of what it was going to be. I wasnít sure whether or not I hoped his trick to be successful.

Harry opened the book. The pages were handwritten. It was a journal, or at least something along that nature. I could not recognize the writing. It wasn't English. He slowly and carefully turned each page, one at a time, gently pressing each page down before going for the next page. There were no more than 30 pages or so in the entire book. The lighting was set very dim but the torches would have provided plenty of light by themselves to still read the pages of the book, assuming you could read the language of symbols and pictures. Apparently Harry could.

About ten pages into the book he stopped. He looked at the sand filling Shkarbala and then to the stars shining through the glass ceiling for a long moment before returning to the book to begin reading. Somewhere in route, his smile had disappeared.

"Shkarbala shkarbo jukombo farmas som. Touher poitome Touher singgoma. Touher Shkarbala farmas."

Harry closed the book after repeating the mantra three of four times. It was hard for me to tell where it ended and began each time through, but I could tell he was repeating himself. There was a rhythm to his chant as he carefully enunciated each word and his voice grew stronger as he went.

With the book closed and in his left hand, he raised both arms and his eyes towards the glass ceiling and the watching stars. Sweat was forming on his bald head and beginning to slide down between his eyes and the bridge of his nose. He closed his eyes and called to the stars in a voice only a notch or two below a yell, "Show me the time of Luciferís plan! Show me the time of His revenge!" Raised hands noticeably shaking now, the track lighting suddenly went dark on its own. The torches around Shkarbala just as suddenly doubled in size and I had to force myself not to take a step backward when the heat also seemed to double causing a fresh sweat to break out on the top of my own bald head. Harry said one more time, this time in an all-out-no-doubt-about-it full fledged baritone scream, "SHOW ME!"

I sensed movement in the room and brought my attention back to Shkarbala. Harry lowered his arms, opened his eyes and also watched Shkarbala as the sand was definitely beginning to shift and sink in its center on its own. Two of the torches flared even brighter and a column of sand suddenly rose out of Shkarbala from the east and the west points. It rose straight into the air, the sand in constant motion, my brain trying to convince me that the motion was downward, the sand being dropped instead of levitated, but there was nothing above the millions of moving grains to be dispersing them. Seven feet above the level of the sand in Shkarbala, just before it would have reached the glass ceiling, both columns took a shape ninety degree turn towards each other and joined in the middle creating a large frame of busily moving grains of yellow sand. Grains and clumps of sand began to break away from the frame though the frame itself never lost its density, constantly replacing the pieces that break away with new racing grains of sand. Harry slid towards me, edging me south until we stood on either side of the lower burning south torch, facing the sandy frame squarely.

As smaller clumps of sand ran frantically around the inside of the frame, I noticed shapes beginning to form. The shapes became small balls of different sizes and started to fall into a line diagonally across the center of the frame from the lower left to the upper right. One small ball broke out from the pack in the center and positioned itself on the edge of the lower left corner. That would be Pluto, I realized. Two of the balls remained out of the forming line, off by themselves in the middle-right quadrant. These would be Neptune and Uranus. The rest of them were all within a couple feet from the center, slowly orbiting one sand-ball directly in the center that had already stopped moving. That one would be the Sun. As the five I took for Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury moved into line on one side of the Sun, the Earth and Pluto took their places on the other side. Then came the final touch. Orion suddenly came into view. The grains of sand not participating in any of the clumped groups forming images suddenly dropped back into Shkarbala and the picture was crystal clear like someone had just blown a layer of eraser droppings off the page. It was an exact duplicate of the page Harry had last shown me, the alignment that was supposed to come to fruition sometime in December of this year. If this was a trick, I donít think it was one that David Copperfield was familiar with.

Harry turned away from Shkarbala and quickly retrieved the shiny Jupiter book. He leafed through to the page in question and handed the book to me. I didnít need to look to know that it was identical but I confirmed it anyway.

Two seconds later, the sand suddenly collapsed in a massive sand-fall. Not a grain of sand landed outside Shkarbala. The tracking lights came back on and the torches suddenly winked out completely on their own. Harry stepped back and turned the lights back up to library level. I stood staring at the dormant sand, inviting flies to come explore the inside of my mouth.

* * * * *

Chapter Twenty


Michael

Front Desk

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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Epilogue