She came down hard on her butt.
The ship listed to one side. A dream, Jane thought as she slid along the planking. This is just a dream. But that knowledge didn’t stop her from being scared out of her wits, and it sure didn’t stop the all-too-real pain of splinters gouging her palms as she scrabbled for a handhold.
Her fingers brushed—what? She turned her head to the right, and there was The Book and her fingers were gone, swallowed between its open cover. Then her arm was gone, and oh sweet Jesus, it was sucking her up, pulling her inside itself, pulling her into its yellow mouth.
Again, falling, tumbling. And again being deposited. Somewhere.
Jane opened her scrunched-tight eyes. Back resting against the wall, she was sitting on the floor of the closet inside the Liberty Public Library, the feather duster on the varnished boards beside her. And The Book.
She giggled. Silly of her, she’d sat down in the closet to look at The Book, and had fallen asleep. Good thing it was Saturday and she had the place all to herself. It wouldn’t have done for sour-faced Miss Maples to have caught her napping on the job.
Yes, that’s what had happened: she’d fallen asleep and dreamed. And oh, what a lovely dream it had been. Until its end.
Oh well, best get back to work, get the place in order and head home, feed the kitties and see what was in the fridge to munch on while she watched The Bridges of Madison County. Again.
Preparing for the arduous task of getting to her feet, Jane placed one plump hand on the floor. Needles stabbed her palm, and she jerked it away from the boards. “Ouch!” And turned it over. Wood splinters peppered the skin. She brought up her other hand. More splinters there. “Oh, my…”
Dreams didn’t give you splinters.
Good-god-gussy, she had been on a ship. She had been enveloped by a pretty man who’d called her Angelique. And she had been young, and oh dear Lord, beautiful.
In another place and time.
Maybe The Book was a time machine of sorts, so maybe the others…
Grunting, Jane rolled around until she was on her hands and knees, then using the wall for support, slowly rose to her feet. Her heart pounded from the effort, and each beat pulsed through her pincushioned palms, but she was only vaguely aware of the pain; her attention was riveted on the shelf of old books.
She selected a volume out of the dozen or so, and blew away the dust. Ancient Egypt: Life Along the Nile. Carefully, she cracked open the stiff binding, just enough to peer inside. And sure enough, the words jiggled over the page.
She clapped the book closed. Dust puffed into her face, and she caught a whiff of a strange odor, something sweet and heavy and perfumy, a smell entirely foreign to her.
She slipped the book back into its spot and selected another. The Middle Ages. Again, she peeked between the covers. More wiggly words. And again, she replaced it.
One by one she read the titles, took a quick look inside—each dealt with a particular time and place in history—and one by one, returned them to the shelf.
And she remembered Maggie Thornbloom.
Up until a few years ago, Maggie Thornbloom had been the head librarian for as far back as Jane could remember. Then she’d disappeared. It had been a local mystery, still was, the old woman vanishing into the proverbial Thin Air. The last time anyone had seen her was here at the library. Gladys Jones had picked up her twins at 7:00 pm on a Friday night, had seen Miss Thornbloom step back inside after she’d waved at her and the girls, flip the closed sign and pull the shades. When Miss Maples arrived the following morning, the library was locked and the closed sign still hung in the window. But Maggie Thornbloom was nowhere to be found.
Like Jane, Maggie Thornbloom had been a spinster, with no family or friends to speak of. And maybe, like Jane, she’d accidentally fallen into one of the old books and had found something better.
Jane stared at the row of books, then looked down at The Book. She had a choice here: place Eighteenth Century Pirates of the Caribbean back on the shelf with the others, shut the closet door and forget about them, or open one’s frayed and faded cover and escape from her dull-as-dishwater life. No one would miss her if she vanished into Thin Air, not even her kitties. They were fickle girls and would take up with anyone who fed them—she’d found that out last summer when her one sister had flown in from California for the reading of Papa’s will. The three kitties had ignored Jane, crawling all over Trish. Why, they’d even slept with her.
No, no one would miss her, and in a matter of weeks, it’d be like she’d never existed.
Again, her eyes strayed to the shelf of books. Egypt might be nice. Or Nero’s Rome. Of course, it had burned. Hadn’t it?
Her gaze returned to The Book, and she remembered the pretty man. And she remembered the kiss. She laid her fingertips over her lips, over the smile that curved them.
She could go back there and be with him. She could be young again with her whole life stretched out in front of her to be lived, not just endured.
Then she remembered the booming shots, the cantering ship, her slide across the rough floor. Would she be going back to a sinking ship? Or maybe—and this was even worse—she’d end up somewhere else in the Caribbean of the eighteenth century, some place where there was no pretty man to watch out for her. What would happen to her then?
Inside The Book was the unknown. Here she was safe.
Jane saw the remaining years of her life stretch out before her, saw the monotonous days spent at the library, the empty nights alone with the kitties. And eventually, her uneventful death, mourned by no one.
As if it had a mind of its own, her foot kicked off its sensible black flat and inched toward The Book. Her sausage-like toes teased open the pages.
Jane took a deep breath—Here goes nothing—and plunged her foot inside.
And she fell, tumbled, rolled through yellow space, and like before, her dress flapped and wrapped and covered her eyes. Then a big ker-splash.
Her dress was wet. She was wet. Oh Lord, it dropped me in the ocean! She squeezed her lips together, fought with her skirt tail, and finally pulled it away from her face. Around her, bits and pieces and chunks of wood drifted lazily in a watery world. There was a cup and plate. A boot. A hand!
Jane couldn’t help it; she opened her mouth to scream, and water poured in. She tried to cough and swallowed more of the salty brew. She thought, I’m going to die here, then thought no more as instinct took over and she thrashed her arms and legs as if she were trying to crawl out of the ocean.
Something clamped around her waist and pulled.
Shark! Terror mated with panic, causing her to fight even harder. But whatever had grabbed her wouldn’t let go; it continued to drag her—Jane realized—upward.
Her head broke the surface. She sucked in a greedy breath of air. And coughed. Sucked again and coughed again, and gagged as sea water belched out of her lungs. More coughing. Then finally, she was able to take a breath. And another.
She realized that something still held her, keeping her head out of the water. And she hadn’t been eaten.
Jane pushed a tangle of wet hair out of her eyes and looked over her shoulder into the pretty man’s face. Relief suffused her body. She was safe.
“Are you all right, my love?” he asked.
All she could do was nod.
“Here, hold on to this.” He took her hands and guided them to a big hunk of wreckage that bobbed in the water next to them, then moved along beside her. “They can’t see us here.”
Jane’s relief was short-lived. “They? Who’re they?”
“We were attacked by pirates. They destroyed my ship.”
He smiled. “But they did not get my treasure.”
Jane didn’t know why he was smiling. “Where is it? On the bottom of the ocean?”
“No, my love. It is here beside me.”
His treasure. She was his treasure. Joy filled Jane’s heart. If she died right here, right now, she would die a happy woman.
But she didn’t die.
When the pirate ship sailed away, she and her pretty man paddled their feet and steered their piece of flotsam to the east toward a distant shore.
Toward a new life.
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