It had all gone wrong. Martin was...god, where was he, why couldn't he See? He was like Annabelle Cane now, he was completely hidden from the Eye. How had that been possible? How had he been taken from him? He had been right there behind him, and now, now he's gone.
Jon wept alone.
He was all alone now. The world had ended and it was his fault and he was alone.
And now he was no longer alone. The Distortion, perfect.
"My dear Archivist. Where has the other half of the dynamic duo gone? I do hope Martin is ok, he was always the more charming of you. So polite."
Jon could have let the Spiral ramble. He could have demanded the Distortion get to the point. He could have ripped her- it- her to shreds, he could have cried in her arms.
He lunged for the Door.
Helen startled, too slow to stop Jon from darting beyond her doorway. Jon paid her no mind. He may not be able to Know how to banish the Fears, but he Knew how to do what he wanted. The Spiral's hallways were the purity of the Twisting Deceit. Within them, after the world had ended, with enough power, anything could be twisted.
What was the self but a lie? What was time but a distortion? What is growth but a changing? How much of a ship must you replace before it is a different ship? Is it ever a different ship? If the boards that created it were replaced one by one, and warped to fit that ship, and could never fit another ship, and you went back and found the old boards and laid them over the new boards, or under the new boards, or layered them at the same time, if you could, if you could, if, if, if you could break the world and go Back, if you rebuilt the ship with old boards and new boards would it be the same ship?
Jon awoke in an alleyway. He slowly got his hands- had they always been that small? of course they had- under him and pushed himself up. He sat, and the thought. His head hurt, and he tried to think.
He was Jon Sims. His grandmother would be mad he had scuffed his knees. His grandmother would know how to make his hands stop hurting. He was 8 years old, even though he looked smaller. He liked books. There was a book that had just eaten someone at the end of the alleyway. It had almost eaten him. He couldn't remember who it ate, and he was sad about that. Why couldn't he remember?
He looked down the alleyway at the book. It was Bad. He knew it was Bad. He should...what should he do? He wanted to run to his grandmother. But another part of him wanted to burn the book. He got to his feet and he looked for something, anything. There wasn't anything in the alleyway to burn it. He didn't want to touch the book- what if it was still hungry? What if it got him again?
Jon took off his shirt and he threw it over the little book. And he took off his shoes and put them over his hands, and he used those to pick up the shirt and the book and he walked to his grandmother's house. He Saw, he saw, his grandmother through the windows. He couldn't let her see him. She wouldn't understand, she didn't Know. He watched her with wide staring eyes through the windows until she left the kitchen, and then he slipped into the house and scurried into the kitchen and climbed into the cabinet and he took out the lighter and he dumped the book and his shirt into the sink and he shook his shoes off his hands and he lit the book and his shirt on fire in the sink.
"Jonathan Sims what are you doing?" shrieked his grandmother.
Jon looked unblinking at the fire. He looked unblinking at his grandmother.
"I 'unono." he shrugged.
The police were not unknown to the Sims' household. Jon was prone to wandering, and his grandmother was not especially talented at keeping him within her grasp for very long. He was a wiggly, curious child who would often get bored with his surroundings and seek out new sights in areas other people owned. The more bored he would get, the more inventive he would be in causing mischief. He wasn't a mean or bad-spirited child, but if his grandmother had not already had a full head of white hair before his adoption she would have blamed every one of them on him. The police had brought Jon back more times than was normal (any time more than zero was so far beyond normal) but the fire department, that was new.
Although the fire had quickly been put out via the tap, the neighbors had spotted the flames through the window. Jon was simply glad it had taken long enough for the book to be completely ruined, a soggy, charred mess. He hoped it was enough to kill the spider. He suddenly worried it might have only let the spider out, if it had run out of the door before the flames got to the last page. But no. Mr. Spider was big. He had seen those big legs. And he had watched the fire very carefully. He watched all around the sink too, to make sure the fire didn't go anywhere. He would have Seen if Mr. Spider had tried to scurry out, even if he made himself very little.
The firefighters did not understand this. Neither did his grandmother. He tried very hard to explain that he had been Watching the whole time, and he hadn't Seen anything dangerous. He was Watching very hard, he didn't even blink once, he promised. The firefighters very carefully explained that the fire itself was dangerous, and that he should never do that again. Jon nodded very hard and explained quite sincerely he Knew fire could burn down the whole world if it weren't stopped. But he had to, on account of the book eating George.
The adults had looked at each other and asked him very carefully what he meant, and Jon told them the Truth. He wasn't telling Lies, only what he Saw. He couldn't See something that wasn't Real. They hadn't believed him.
But when George didn't turn up the next day to help his grandmother with the chores, and later when his mother called crying saying she hadn't seen him in three days, Jon couldn't believe the police still hadn't shown back up to believe him. He thought very hard, and eventually he Knew they weren't the kind of police that could help but that there were police who could. But they were dangerous- could be dangerous, had been dangerous? It felt confused in his head, as though they were both strangers and enemies and friends. Jon didn't like this muddled feeling. He had to be cautious, and clever, like the heroes in his stories.
When grandmother came back from her store run, Jon jumped down from the little stool in the kitchen near the corded phone and ran to her.
"Grandmother, grandmother, gran, gran, gran-"
"Not now Jon, I need to put away the shopping, Jon, Jon let go of my skirt, not now Jon! For heavens sake sit down!"
"But Gran- it's the police! The police called!"
"What? When? What did they call about?"
As his grandmother put away the shopping, (and how much shopping she had to do! Over the past few days Jon hadn't stopped complaining he was hungry, she supposed it was an overdue growth spurt. No matter what she fed him, he kept complaining he still felt hungry, even when the sight of food seemed to make him feel sick.), Jon began to babble about the police wanting to interview him about George's disappearance.
"There's a special task force, they're in London, they know more about what happened to George and they need my Story and I need to come in person and we should go tomorrow and we should talk to the detectives and we should actually go today because they can talk anytime but we need to talk soon, absolutely soon because the trail will go cold and they need evidence and we need to go Gran!"
"Just like that, no appointment? No special time? Who are we supposed to speak to? They expect me to take you on a trip for three hours one way for an interview? Why couldn't they do it over the phone?"
"We can show up any time 9-11 or 1-4 today or tomorrow, we need to speak to Detective Davies or one of his associates, and they can't do it over the phone for-legal-reason-to-make-sure-the-evi-den-ce-isn't-tampered." Jon answered rapid fire.
"Well we can't possibly do it today." his Grandmother said firmly, "and heaven only knows why they want your spider tale."
"That's what happened Gran! A big spider took him through the door in the book and that's why I had to burn the book!"
"Jon, I will not tell you again. You did not see that. It is not possible, and it did not happen. You cannot fib to the police like this Jon."
"But it did!"
"Jonathan Sims, go to your room."
Jon went up the stairs muttering to himself under his breath "But it did, it did!" There were tears in his eyes, and when he got into his room and onto his bed he started lightly kicking the wall. "I'm not a liar I'm not I'm not I'm not" he began to sob, and threw his face into his pillow to scream so his gran wouldn't hear him.
"What a temperamental child," thought his grandmother, as she picked up the phone to dial 1471 to get the number of that police who had called in.
Jon had nearly calmed down when he heard his grandmother storm up the stairs. His heart began to race as he heard her heavy tread.
"JONATHAN SIMS. Not a liar are we? Not a liar?" she shouted as she threw open his door. "The police never called today Jonathan."
Jon couldn't help it. His face grew all hot, and it felt like worms were in his stomach and he was going to die and his gran was glaring at him and tapping her foot and he was bad and he felt bad and everything was terrible and bad and horrible just like him and-
His grandmother was unmoved by him bursting into tears. "No supper for you tonight Jon. Think about what you've done." She turned and shut the door with a firm click.
Jon cried and he cried and he wished he wasn't such a baby about this. Every time his gran or his teachers or anyone was disappointed in him it was like the world was ending. He was stupid for thinking he could be like a hero in the books. Heroes in the books never cried into their pillows and wrapped themselves in their blankets until they were as heavy as they could get. Heroes didn't bite at their arms to muffle their crying because they were bad and a baby.
Downstairs, Jon's grandmother poured herself some tea and opened a book. Honestly that child, weeping and wailing like the world was going to end over no supper. Well that would teach him to fib.
Eventually, within his blanket cocoon, Jon fell into a fitful sleep and slept past supper. He awoke when the house was quiet, because the house was always quiet if Jon wasn't making noise. He crept down the stairs and saw his grandmother sitting in her armchair surrounded by lamplight. He quietly got onto the couch and curled up in a little ball. He felt so hungry, more hungry than he had ever felt in his life. He couldn't seem to eat enough, but he didn't want any of the food his gran cooked. He didn't know what he wanted. Nothing smelled right or tasted right, and yet he was so hungry. He knew better than to ask for food though. He had lied.
Technically he hadn't though. He Knew Detective Davies of Scotland Yard didn't have appointments in his calendar from 9-11 and 1-4, and he Knew he needed to be there in person. He didn't know how he Knew but he did. He didn't tell his gran any fibs. The police really had called, they had just called a few days ago when Jon burned the book. They had phoned though. He never said they had phoned today. He didn't Lie, not really.
He was so hungry.
"Gran," piped up the smallest of voices, "can you tell me a Story?"
"Oh? What kind of story?"
"A true Story. A secret Story. A scary Story."
"Hm, I don't think I know any of those."
"Alright, once upon a time there was a little boy-"
"No Gran, a true Story!"
"This is a true story Jonathan."
"No it's not Gran, please!" Jon begged. "Tell me."
"I don't have any stories like that. I could tell you other stories."
And Jon gave up, because he knew it was True. He hugged his knees and stared at his gran while she told him a fake story that wasn't very scary at all. But she must have been a little scared of it, because her voice sounded funny the whole time he was Looking at her.
When Jon went to bed for real, his grandmother shakily poured herself a drink.
Jon woke up very early, earlier than even his grandmother. He did that sometimes, and she told him to stay in his room very quietly until he heard her making coffee in the kitchen. Then he would be allowed to come down. But this morning he didn't wait for his gran to make coffee. He woke up, and he grabbed his backpack for school and he emptied out everything. Papers fell down in loose crumpled heaps, clattering forgotten pencils and colored markers rang against the floorboards and Jon waited with his heart in his mouth for his gran to come yell at him. After long frozen moments, when nothing happened, Jon took his backpack and shoved a box wrapped in plastic bags into it. Inside the box were the remains of the book and his shirt, and Jon had taped it up over and over to make sure no spiders got out just in case. The box was practically rounded at the edges from how much clear tape he had rolled over it. It wasn't very sticky tape, so he had to be sure. He thought of long legs reaching out of his backpack and nearly cried again, but he didn't. He zipped up his backpack, and after thinking about it for a moment, went over to the pouch of school supplies that had fallen out of his backpack and took out the small bottle of Elmers glue. He the carefully heaped gobs of glue all over the zipper. There. Now the spider legs wouldn't be able to creep out from inside the backpack even if they got past the box and the tape and the plastic bags.
He got dressed quickly, threw on a jacket, and then slung the backpack that almost came to his knees over his shoulders. His gran said he'd grow into it, but right now it went thump-thump-thump when he ran. Glue dripped onto his jacket, but he didn't notice at all. He crept down the stairs and down the hall and over to the hook where his grandmother hung her purse and he opened the purse and he took the wallet and he took absolutely all the cash that was in there. And then he put the cash in his top jacket pocket because his top jacket pocket had a zipper and he zipped up the pocket and he zipped up the wallet and he zipped up the purse. And then Jonathan Sims walked out the door and he walked down the street and he walked to the train station where two trains came every hour from London on the South Western Main Line and he Knew where to go because he wasn't a baby.
PC Wilson was on desk duty when she heard a small polite voice say "Excuse me." Looking up, she saw a pair of eyes watching her over the rim of her desk. They belonged to a very small child who looked very tired.
"Hello! And who might you be? Are you lost?"
"I'm Jonathan Sims," said the small unblinking eyes politely, "and I'm not lost. I need to talk to Detective Davies please."
"Oh sweetheart, Detective Davies isn't here right now. Are you a part of one of his cases?"
"Not yet." said the little eyes distractedly, "Oh no. I See he's had something come up that will take him all day. He didn't have anything on his calendar this morning. Can you tell him when he gets back I need to speak to him about a spider inside a book that ate George?"
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Ok I'm going to go back to my gran now, goodbye." And the little boy turned his eyes over to the door and walked away, forgetting to give PC Wilson any contact information whatsoever. He made a beeline for the doors, and through the large glass PC Wilson could see an older woman waiting outside.
"...What?" she said with feeling, then the phone rang and she forgot all about it.
Jon dejectedly walked by an old lady tourist waiting for her husband to catch up to her outside New Scotland Yard. He moodily kicked at a little pebble he had found and kept kicking it a little ways from himself as he walked back to the train station. Except his little pebble went one way and not the way he wanted it to, so he followed it a little bit just thinking. He was tired from the train ride, and tired from walking quickly away from strangers, and he was still very, very hungry. He should have packed some food, but then he thought about having to carry food in the same pack as the spiders and he couldn't do it. Anyways the zipper was glued shut. Maybe he should stop and buy some food before he went back to the train. He didn't even get to speak with the Detective who had enough time on his schedule to talk to Jon. All the other ones were busy all day, and wouldn't be free for days unless he made an appointment. Jon stopped, looked up, and smacked his forehead angrily. He should have asked for an appointment with anyone free that day! Even if they weren't one of the special ones! Maybe someone else could have talked to him and then they could have talked to one of the special Detectives who could help, there were loads in there! And the people who couldn't help could have talked to them while he was back on the train to his gran and it could have been done today instead of having to come back days from now. He had gotten so focused on his checklist he forgot to think. Why was he like this? Ugh!
Jon turned away from his little pebble and went to go walk back, when he stopped. He Knew suddenly there were Stories nearby. It was like walking by a window and smelling a fresh baked pie. It was like smelling a whole bakery of pies. It was like- oh. There was a cafe inside the building that also sold pie. It sold a lot of other things too, to the people that worked in the building. Jon didn't work there, but he had money. And he really was very hungry.
Jon read the signs very carefully. He read which way Visitors were supposed to go, and where the Library was, and what floor Research was on, and where the bathrooms were, and where the canteen was, and which way the elevators were, and then he turned and took the stairs. He went down away from the Visitor check in, away from the Library, away from Research, away from the canteen, and towards the Stories. He thought perhaps he should have gone to the Library, because that's where you usually keep stories. The Libraries had stories, but they weren't Stories. Jon Knew that. He Knew that like he knew how his pillow smelled. He couldn't have described it, or written it down, or explained it outside of a primal, bone deep unconsciousness of home.
He found empty desks and lots of boxes, boxes filled with loose paper scattered around. It filled him suddenly with a vicious dissatisfaction. They should be ordered, and kept safe and nice. All the proper storybooks in a library had nice covers and were put in the right spot every time. This was just a jumble! There were racks of files away from the desks, and the over flowing boxes that made him grumble down into his soul. He pushed the box he'd opened, his box, down to the furthest point from the desks deep within the filing racks. He sat cross legged in a dark corner of the filling section (just like how he always sat in the furthest point in the library at home, so no one would bother him or interrupt him or take his lunch money again) and began to read.
James Wright had only recently stepped down as the Head of the Magnus Institute, but his replacement Elias Bouchard surprised everyone with just how suited he seemed for the role. Former colleagues joked they were finally getting to know him after he stopped coming to work high all the time. In truth, no one had really known Elias all that well. It seemed in the few months he had taken over the Magnus Institute that he was a serious if fairly corporate manager. So it was a bit of a surprise to see him sprint out of his office, coat flapping behind him as he fairly leapt down the stairs towards the Archives.