Matt stared at her.
“Actually, it’s been a lot of fun to research,” the librarian said. “This has always been a curious little town to me. My Grandparents grew up here and own a house nearby, so I’ve been to visit often throughout my life. When my Grandpa passed away I offered to move in with Grandma so I could attend school here. She’s really independent but she’s grateful for the company.”
A teenage boy stood by, waiting to check out some books. “Oh, excuse me for a minute,” she said, turning to the boy.
Matt watched her. She spoke to Matt as though she knew him well. Was she just a very trusting person, or was she mistaking him for someone else? And how did she know what he came in for? He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.
He noticed she had a name-tag on, but he couldn’t read it as she moved to check out the boy’s books. He was sure he had never seen her before today.
“So anyway,” she said as she returned, “there are some interesting legends in this old town. I don’t know which ones will help you in your search, but I took some notes on the most interesting ones.”
She picked up a piece of paper from the desk and ran her finger over it, looking for a specific spot.
“Let’s see,” she continued, “so the town’s name, Nigel, came from a group that settled here about a hundred and fifty years ago.”
“Yeah, I think some of them were my ancestors,” Matt said.
She looked at him, a little surprised, but then continued, “I couldn’t find much about where they came from, but from what I can tell, they were a pretty diverse group. Actually, there were people living here before they arrived, but there were few enough that it was the new group that turned it into a thriving town.”
Matt could now see the name-tag. Her name was Alice.
“The fun part about all this is the stories that surround the town. There is a legend of a man who spent most of his life in his basement. He would go weeks or even months without coming out.
According to the stories it was supposed that were secret caves from his basement where he could leave town without anyone having any idea he was gone. While people assumed he was cramped up in his basement, he was out traveling the world.”
“Weird,” Matt said, deciding to just see what he could learn before finding out what else she knew about him.
“And then there’s the Peter Pan story.”
“Yeah. They don’t use the name, but some accounts talk of a boy who lives forever and drops in to visit once in a while. And there are a few ghost stories as well.”
“Really, what kind of ghost stories?” Matt felt his heart-rate increase at the memory of the large vivid man in his uncle’s study.
“Well, I didn’t read too many of those – there were so many other bizarre stories. But here’s the book that looked like it had the most.”
She handed Matt a large book that looked as old and beat up as his uncle’s books. He took it, and said, “Oh, that reminds me. I found some old books in my house that…” He stopped, wondering if it would be a good idea to tell her everything. She had already weirded him out enough just knowing he was coming. “…that I just wanted to find out about – at least, what they’re about.”
“Oh,” she said, “sure.”
He pulled the books from his backpack and pushed them toward her. “Just be careful with them. They’re my uncle’s, and he doesn’t know I have them. He’s out of town, and…” He felt like an idiot, and was sure he came across as some snooping thief. “well, I’m just curious about them.”
Matt took the book she had handed him and went to a nearby table to read, making sure to sit at an angle where he could still see Alice. He hoped he wasn’t being naïve trusting her with his uncle’s books.
The book he now held was called, “Nigel: A Documented History.”
He flipped to the table of contents and found the chapter called, “Superstitions and Folklore.” Turning to the designated page, he scanned through the headings. There were a number of ghost stories, like Alice had said, and a few even gave detailed descriptions of a ghost. But none matched the description of his ghost. They were all described as partially invisible, with a quiet, wispy voice. The man Matt had seen was both loud and completely visible, without the slightest translucence. The most detailed account was from a high school kid who met one on his way home from school.:
“Just then a man came up to me, from where I couldn’t tell, but I only saw him out of the corner of my eye. Then I noticed that he didn’t seem to bounce in his step like most people do, so I turned and looked at him. Two things scared me about him. First, he was already looking at me, and I could see that he wasn’t walking, but just kind of gliding there. Second, I could see right through him. His face seemed to be fading in and out a bit, like a cloud does. He looked old, and had a beard. For a moment I thought he was smiling, but then his mouth disappeared, or at least went kind of hard to see, and then I turned and ran. I didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t want to see him.”
When Matt felt a tap on his shoulder, he nearly knocked the book off the table.
“Oh, sorry,” Alice said, trying not to laugh. “I was just wondering where you got this one.” She held up the Burgundy leather book.
“Uh, it’s my – well, I don’t know where it came from. I just found it in my Uncle’s study. But that’s my great grandmother’s name on it. Why?”
Alice crinkled her nose. For a moment Matt thought she would say something about an unpleasant smell, but she said, “My cousin has one like it, with her own name on it.”
“Where did she get it? Was it a journal?”
“I don’t know, but when I asked her about it, she wouldn’t tell me much. All she would say is that I’d learn about it someday.”
Arriving home from the library, Matt felt more confused than ever. Somehow he never got up the courage to ask Alice how she knew what he was looking for. He felt silly for that, but he also felt like everything that had happened in the last day and a half made no sense at all. As he stepped into his yard, he heard a bark, and Phil came running to him from the yard.
“Hey, boy,” Matt said, “where have you been?”
Just then, Larson’s pickup truck pulled up in front of his house. Larson leaped out in a manner than gave Matt the impression of a cowboy dismounting from his horse. Larson waved his hand toward the back of his truck.
“Hey, Matt. Just on my break at work. We was haulin’ sand to a local dairy ‘n had tons extra. My first thought was to bring some home to make a sandbox fer my nephew, but seein’ how you got a five-foot hole in your yard, thought you might want first call on the load.”
Matt’s first thought was to refuse, but decided that since there was nothing left to do about the hole than fill it, it wasn’t a bad idea.
“Sure, that would be great. Man, I’ve had the weirdest day, let me tell you.” Matt was about to tell him everything, but then realized Larson probably had to get back to work, so he decided to just address the question that he thought Larson could be the most help on. “But hey, you might be able to help me with something, if you’ve got a minute. I found some weird books in my uncle’s study, and I don’t know what to make of them.”
He pulled the books from his backpack and handed three of them to Larson. Larson glanced at the covers of the first two, but stopped on the same leather book that caught Alice’s attention.
“That’s my great grandmother’s name,” Matt explained, “but there seems to be a whole series of these books out there. Not only are my Grandpa and Uncle in the series, but some lady’s cousin at the library is in one. I just don’t get it.”
Larson turned the book over in his hands carefully, stopping at the side where the strange gold embossed symbol sat shining in the sun. He pulled it closer and back again from his face. He ran his hands over it, and then opened the cover, combing through the first few pages. Then he went back to the side cover and ran his finger over it as if retracing it.
Larson reached in his pocket and pulled out a business card, pressing it against the symbol.
Matt thought this might be another chance to delve into the wellspring of Larson’s university training. “Do you recognize the symbol? What does it mean?”
Larson was quiet at first, running the card over the side of the book as if playing peek-a-boo with the symbol.
“Well, I ain’t got a clue what the symbol means, but I’d sure like to know who done the printing.”
Larson held the binding toward him. The symbol shined as clean as if the embossing job had only taken place minutes ago. Matt assumed that’s what Larson was trying to show him – until Larson put the card on the binding over the symbol. The symbol remained. It looked like it was embossed on the card now. Matt got closer, taking the book and the card from Larson. Then Matt played the peek-a-boo game. The result was fascinating. When the card hovered above the binding, the symbol would be covered, but the moment the card touched the binding, the symbol appeared on the card.