“There, I heard it again— Shit, it just stopped.”
“Why are you so insistent on hunting for mice right now? We’re supposed to be having dinner.”
“Yeah, but—it could be a cat, you know. It doesn’t sound that small, now that I think about it.”
“A cat in the cupboards?”
“Yeah, where the hell else are you gonna find mice?!”
“Outside, literally anywhere else?”
“Har, har. A fine and funny quip if not at the expense of your food.”
“Our food, need I remind you?”
“Your food. Listen, we can just cover this stuff, reheat it in a bit, just—can we please go find whatever the hell’s making that noise?”
“You… Ugh, fine, sure. It won’t hurt all that much.”
“Finally! You’re listening to me for once in, what, five years?!”
“Hey! I’ve listened to you since ‘then’!”
“Tch! Sure doesn’t feel like it. Hey, Sherlock, sound’s moving the other way. You going deaf or something? Guess that’d explain your inability to hear a word I’ve said.”
“I’m listening, I’m listening! You said it was going towards the cupboard or something? Why’s it going the other way now?”
“Maybe it hears us out, unlike Jill.”
“It’s not her fault, stop getting on her case about it.”
“Well, maybe if she had the sense to talk to us before locking in your— Ow, fuck! What the hell?!”
“Shit, are you all right?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine. Not the worst I’ve felt, considering how I was there back ‘then’ too. Just… why the hell is all of Jill’s shit on the floor here?”
“Wait, what—oh, bollocks, you’re right. This was all neatly packed and stacked earlier. Guess it’s no cat after all…”
“Ugh, ew! Come on, I wouldn’t wish a tablecloth this ugly upon her! I’m not heartless!”
“Hah, even if you might be right, we should get back to searching out your cat and-or burglar. Are those tracks?”
“Can’t tell. Maybe?”
“Uh, I think it moved upstairs.”
“Upstairs? Huh, weird. When’s the last time I was up here?”
“Probably five years ago?”
“Yeah, it’s… it’s been a long time. A bit too long for my liking, honestly.”
“Feels like yesterday was the day I first heard you were admitted into the hospital.”
“Yeah, and it feels like yesterday I saw the light leave that ‘logos’s eyes so the spark could return to yours… Hey, speaking of light, you think the power’s actually out everywhere else?”
“What? Yeah, of course. Why?”
“It might be a coordinated attempt at burglary. Ooga booga!”
“Honestly, any other time, I’d call that useless, but you might actually have a point this time.”
“See, I told you it wasn’t just a ploy to force you back into your candlelit dinner plans!”
“Oh, shut up. Wait—actually, yeah, quiet. I think I hear it in—”
“—Lucy’s room. Maybe it’s not so coordinated after all, if they forgot to avoid the bird…”
“Lucy, Lucy, what do you see?”
“No, Lucy, we’re in the dark, and I doubt you can see us, either, but thank you for your help.”
“Peanut! Wanna peanut please!”
“Shh, shh, it’s ok, Lucy. Oh, they knocked her food dishes over. Sorry, I got that for you. There you go, okay?”
“Mwah. Good birdie, sleep tight.”
“She’s a good bird. ‘Kinda wish I was around when she was just a little baby. Maybe then she’d like me more.”
“Poppycock! She likes you!”
“She bites my nose!”
“Yes, out of love!”
“You’re really making a ‘love bites’ pun right now? Really?”
“What! Why am I not allowed to make useless puns when you’re allowed to make useless asides?”
“You… Fine, whatever, you nerd. Hahah.”
“Come on, let’s just go find that sound. Think they might be looking for jewelry in the bedroom?”
“Hustle makes muscle! We’re checking the bedroom now, even if I have to drag you!”
“… Did you check under the bed already?”
“Yep, nothing as far as I could see. Guess it might just be some raccoons or something, unless—”
The doorknob squeaks as candlelight floods the room, illuminating the mess before them. The investigators come to an awkward pause as they take in the scattered books of the study – and, more importantly, the toppled bookshelf that was also wiggling.
“What the hell are those…?” the shorter, crasser man asks as he steps over the bookshelf. He sets his candle down on a nearby desk and grabs the shelf’s corners. The taller, more playful man follows after, and they heave as they move it back into place. Books and papers, large and small, spill from the residual fall, revealing two quivering, pale grey masses underneath.
“Look, Skylar,” the taller one finally whispers, tugging on the other man’s jacket lapels. “Blanks. They got into Jill’s books.” He bends over to brush the books away from one, but it dashes off at the touch, jumping through an open window.
Skylar moves to chase the thief but gives up after it leaps through the window. “Damn, it got away!” He turns around and huffs. “Well, I… guess it wasn’t wrong to say a cat at first. Still feral, after all,” he notes as he returns to replace the books to their rightful place on the shelf.
“Well. Uh… It’s not as if Jill will need these books any time soon. What about you, little guy?” He carefully lifts the books covering the remaining one to find it nose-deep in a baby name book. Its wide, horrified eyes dart to and from eye contact with the man and the open book below. Silence answers the man’s question.
“Not very talkative, eh?” Skylar asks from over his shoulder, absorbed in the work of cleaning up this mess.
“They don’t have to be,” the other man states mildly. “You have a name, little one? Or are you still choosing one with that book open right now?”
The blank continues to shift eye contact between deer-in-the-headlights caught above and the hunger for knowledge below. Its eyes frequently touch down on a section of the book, even if only for a moment, before leaping back up to meet the speaker’s concerned blue eyes.
“Still don’t want to talk, I see. That’s okay.” He glances down to the open pages and picks one nearby the creature’s fingers. “Firdaus? Firdaus it’ll be, then.”
Trembling, the blank – now Firdaus – creases inwards and clutches the enormous book tightly. It closes the doorstopper tome to put its full attention towards watching the body language of the two large creatures in the room.
“You like names?” he continues rhetorically. “I like names, too. My name is—”
“Shut up, Geo.”
“—Doctor Geoffrey Gaylord King, PhD,”
“Oh, fuck off, you don’t need to use the whole thing…!”
“—M.D., Attorney at Law. Of course I need to, Skylar! It’s important that everyone knows I’m not just a doctor or an attorney. I’m both and more,” he finishes with a smug song in his tone.
“You’re telling it to this little baby thing that doesn’t even speak?”
“Yes!” Geo asserts.
Skylar groans in response, rolling his eyes and head back as melodramatically as Geo just was.
Blankly smiling, nothing else to say to Skylar, Geo picks up a small book from the disarray. “Here you go, then. We don’t need these books any more. That one’s a bit too big and heavy for you to carry around, but this one…” he trails off as he brings the book to the candles to read its title: “Pocket Dictionary of Magic.” He enthusiastically shoves it in Firdaus’s face. “Yes, this one should be fine.”
Eyes darting from the men in the room to the book and back, Firdaus cautiously, tentatively reaches out for the book, slowly until almost grasped, then snatches it from Geo’s hand, clutching it tightly and dropping the larger book. It manages a squeak before backing up slightly.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I know it’s hard to find books, and like I said, I don’t need these any more.” Geo slowly reaches out and gently pats Firdaus on the shoulder, but Firdaus still trembles.
“You’re just gonna give a book to a wild animal, then?” Skylar huffs.
Geo shrugs. “I don’t see why not. They came in here specifically for the books, after all.” He turns back to Firdaus. “You can go now if you want, no strings attached. It’s yours to keep. I won’t imprison you here if you don’t want to stay.”
Firdaus briefly glances around the room for accessible exits, finds none other than the dangerous window to jump through, and returns to staring at Geo.
“Oh! Right, right, I can show you the way out. Follow me, okay?” He marches to lead the other two back downstairs.
“Geo, dinner’s probably spoiled…”
“Oh, come on, we can just reheat it! That was your idea, after all!”
“I meant that—oh, whatever,” Skylar sighs. “We’ll show this guy—”
“Firdaus,” Geo interrupts.
“Right, we’ll show Firdaus out, get him out of our hair likely forever, and then we can finish dinner. I’m tired already; I thought this was going to be just dinner and a movie, no surprises.”
“What, don’t you like surprises?” Geoff asks, opening the door to release Firdaus, who promptly scampers into the inky night.
He shrugs. “They’re… a little difficult to contain, but all right, sure. This surprise was fine.”
Skylar smiles and they laugh as they shut the door, extinguishing the candlelight from the outside, but even without the warm, alluring illumination, the blank clutching its new book can’t help but find itself slowing down to a stop and staring back at the mansion.