Martin took a deep breath. He was standing outside the menacing pillars of the Magnus Institute where he was about to start his first day working in artifacts storage for the archiving department. Alongside him was Tim Stoker, someone who he’d somewhat considered a friend, since Tim had given him a tour when he had first gotten interviewed by one Gertrude Robinson, the head archivist of the institute. He shuddered a bit internally, thinking about that day. When he first read her name checking the institutes website to fill in a job application, he had been expecting a sweet elderly woman with white hair and floral patterned dress sitting at a desk too big for her frail body. Instead, he had sat in front of a scarred woman with sleek gray hair and a leather jack that for some reason reminded him of human skin. The vibe she gave off immediately told him ‘do not fuck with me’ and it shook him down to his core when he told her his qualifications, most of which were lies. While she read his application, she looked at him, and her dark gray-green eyes seemed to sear into his soul and know that he wasn’t telling the truth. In the end, however, she gave him a small smile and handshake, welcoming him to the institute. He let out a breath he hadn’t noticed he’d been holding, and walked up to the door. Before he exited though, he swore he could feel a voice in his head tell him ‘get out before it won’t let you’.
‘Ready for your first day?’ Tim asked from beside him. Martin let out a nervous laugh and nodded, and the two entered the building. As they headed down the stairs and closer to the lowest level of the institute, they heard two voices. ‘Hey Tim! And hey, new guy?’
A few feet down the hall were two men with the most visually different aesthetics Martin could imagine. One had golden blonde hair that seemed to shine despite the darkness of the basement hallways, and was wearing a floral patterned button up and jeans. The other had hair so black that it had to be dyed, with the ends a dark blue. He wore all black with a ripped shirt and had piercings all over his face. The most startling thing about this one was despite the easy going smile on his face, were the tattoos of creepy looking eyes all over his exposed midriff and neck. It threw Martin off and he could only stand dumbly as Tim introduced him.
‘Michael, Gerry, this is our new archives storage assistant, Martin!’
The man in black snorted good naturedly before going up to shake Martins hand.
‘You mean your assistant. I don’t technically work here, and Michael is with Sasha in research.’ He gave Martin a firm shake before waking down to a door labeled Head Archivist. ‘See you guys later. Nice to see you Mallon.’
He called before going through the door. ‘It’s Martin.’ Martin thought slightly bitterly. The other man, Michael, had started walking down with Tim toward the offices where they would be working.
‘Don’t worry about him,’ Michael said gently as Martin caught up with them. ‘That’s his way of saying “you don’t look like an asshole, we can be friends, I guess”. He called me Marty for a month when we first met. It’s nice to meet you, though, I’m sure we’ll being seeing a lot of each other.’ He put a soft hand on Martins shoulder with a smile before he bade him and Tim goodbye to enter a door labeled Archive Research.
‘Right, now our offices.’ Tim said.
They walked down a narrow hallway before stopping at a door, similarly labeled like the rest, as Artifact Storage.
‘I should warn you, because no one decided to put this into the effing job description, that the stuff in here is creepy.’
‘Well, we are dealing with artifacts. It is in their nature to be old and spooky.’ Martin said lightly.
‘No,’ Tim said, for the first time since he’d met him sounding serious, ‘this stuff will make you feel gross, creeped out, and at the worst, watched.’
Martin gulped, afraid. Tim’s voice lost its serious edge as he continued.
‘Now, I doubt there’s anything inside their that could actually hurt us besides a rusty nail, but Michael warned me about some right spooky stuff in here when I first joined. You ready?’
Martin felt a frown grow on his face, but he nodded, preparing himself for whatever he might see inside. Tim nodded in recognition, and unlatched the door. Inside was the most disorganized, chaotic mess of items that Martin had seen in his life.
‘No wonder they were looking for more assistants..’ Martin thought as they made their ways inside.
‘Today, we’re working on this corner.’ Tim said, pointing to a section of the room that was slightly more organized than the rest.
Martin nodded, and for a several hours, they sifted through toys, instruments, and other seemingly normal everyday items. The only difference was that all of them were in some state of decay and dusty to boot. At one point, Martin had come across a book. As soon as he picked it up, he felt strange. He checked all around the cover but found no title. He opened the front cover and found an inscription.
‘From the Library of Juergen Leitner.’ He mumbled to himself.
Evidently, Tim heard him and rushed over.
‘Is that a Leitner?’ He asked, his voice sounding a bit worried.
‘Yeah, should we-‘ Martin started, but Tim had already taken the book from him.
‘These are one of those things Michael warned me about,’ he said, holding up the small volume. ‘He told me these things are cursed. He let slip once that Gerry hunts for these things around the world, and that..’ he lowered his voice, ‘Gerry’s seen people die from them.’
Martin's eyes widened at the idea that an old book could kill someone. Sure, a good whack over the head could hurt, but a full blown cursed book?
‘Ha! Like that’s happened.’ Tim said, his voice back to its normal volume and carelessness. Martin, not knowing how to respond to the whole interaction, only nodded.
Tim turned toward the door with the book.
‘C’mon. We’ve been in here for a while. We deserve a break, don’t you think?’ Tim said.
He didn’t wait for an answer and walked out the door with Martin close in tow.
‘Found a Leitner!’ Tim announced as they entered into the Research office.
Two people sat desks with computers, laptops, and papers strewn all over. One Martin recognized as Michael, but the other was a woman he’d never seen before.
‘Gerrys going to love seeing that.’ She said jokingly, standing up to take the book from Tim.
‘And who’s this?’ She asked kindly in Martin's direction.
‘Uh, Martin. Martin Blackwood,’ he said, holding out a hand. She shook it.
‘Nice to meet you “Uh Martin Blackwood,”’ she laughed, and returned to her desk, carefully setting down the Leitner Tim had given her.
‘You’d think that even though storage is a mess, we’d know if we had a literal bomb of a spooky thing hiding underneath all that junk.’ Tim said sarcastically while leaning on Sashas desk.
She playfully pushed against him with her elbow and went back to examining the outside of the book.
‘I’m glad you did find this though. Imagine what could have happened if you didn’t.’
‘What would a “big, scary, spooky thing” have popped out of it and killed Martin over there?’ Tim joked, gesturing to a confused Martin.
‘Possibly,’ She said that way too seriously for Martin to take as a joke.
After a short lunch break, he and Tim returned to storage. Over the week, they got into a routine. Every morning they met with Sasha and Michael, and occasionally, Gerry, to know what things to look out for before entering the storage room and organizing. After a few hours, lunch, another recoup with the research team, and going back to organizing the piles of junk that accumulated over who knows how many years. Always by the end of the days, Martin had dust in his hair. He made a mental note to wear a sweatshirt with a hood next time he found a particularly dusty patch.
At the end of the day on Friday, Tim clapped him on the back as the head out.
‘Are you planning on heading home?’
Martin gave him a confused smile as the two walked up the stairs.
‘Yes, that’s generally what I do after work?’
He thought about the leftover curry chicken he had sitting in his fridge and the episodes of The Great British Bake-off he had recorded and was prepping to binge.
‘Well too bad! ‘Cause you’re coming with me, Sasha, Michael, and Gerry for drinks! You survived a whole week at the Magnus Institute, it’s a time for celebration!’
Tim laughed as they got to the ground floor. Martin could barely think of a response before Tim called down a taxi and told the driver to take them to a local bar a ten minute drive away. Even though it was barely six thirty in the afternoon, the bar was generously filled with people ready to attempt to forget everything that had happened to them in the past week.
At a table near the back sat three familiar figures waving them down, one in a respectable white collar and dress pants, one that looked like a flower store threw up on him, and one that looked like the human avatar of a hot topic from 2006. Sasha, Michael, and Gerry sat at a table with drinks of their choice already in hand.
‘Glad you decided to stay!’
‘Try and leave while you can.’ At that, Michael firmly kicked her ankle under the table while keeping that soft smile on his face. Three hours later, everyone was thoroughly sloshed. Martin, never one for drinking that much, only had two empty glasses in front of him, while everyone else had three or more.
‘Hey Gerry~,’ Sasha slurred, holding a half empty glass at him, ‘did you ever get that Leitner from Monday~? It was suuuuuuuuppppper spooky~.’
At that, Gerry slammed down the glass he’d been drinking from onto the table, it was now empty and cracked at the bottom.
‘DON’T get me started on Juergen FUCKING LIETNER!’ He said angrily.
‘Oh, this is gonna be hilarious...’ Michael said softly and took out his phone to record.
‘Stupid idiot mother FUCKING Juergen LEITNER. GODDAMN fool book collecting dust eating rat old BASTARD! Idiot avatar of the WHORE!’ Michael started giggling harder as the entire table (and a good portion of the bar) started to watch Gerry drunkenly rant.
‘Biggest CLOWN in the circus laughed out of town cowboy mother FUCKING JUERGEN LIETNER!’ Michael laughed aloud, and Gerry noticed him recording.
‘Stop recording me when I talk about Juergen Leitner! I HATE him SO MUCH. WHY does he just have so many fucked up BOOKS!? WHY did he decide to fuck around and find out!? WHY did he just let them loose?! Is he dead!? Is he a bastard?! Man has such a visceral effect on me! Not even in the room, never even seen this man's FACE and I Know he has the worlds SHITTIEST beard get AWAY from me!’
At this point, Gerry put one heavily chained trinity boot on the table and took off his jacket, exposing more of the unsettling eye tattoos, and pointed an accusational finger down at Michael’s phone camera.
‘If I wanted to go to heaven and god said Juergen Leitner’s waiting inside, I would PISS on god FEET for the SOLE PURPOSE of getting sent back DOWN! If I have to deal with seeing or hearing this man in real life while I hunt for his stupid books it is on SIGHT! I hate him so much, that book-collecting old FOOL!’ He sat back down, this down seeming more defeated.
‘It doesn’t even matter if he has a fucked up backstory or not....’ he said quieter, nursing a new glass full to the brim before taking a swig.
‘Because he’s just a rich SHITHEAD who likes messing with things he DOESN'T UNDERSTAND! WHERE the FUCK IS HE?! I KNOW he’s still alive but I so deeply wish he WASN'T! CRUSTY OLD MAN!’ The anger was back, and he slammed his still mostly full glass on the table as he’d done before, cracking the bottom of the glass.
By now, the whole bar was occasionally taking glances at the table while trying to retain their own conversations and failing. There was just something so enticing about watching a man completely lose his mind about a person to the point he wanted dead. The management didn’t even complain or ask him to stop slamming his glass on the table. Mostly, they were too afraid to.
‘I’ll punch Leitner and his sad old man TWIG BONES will simply FLAKE under my EPIC HUGE MEAT FIST and he will DISINTEGRATE until all that’s left is one final book he kept on him at all times simply titled Now You Fucked Up in ancient Yiddish!’
Martin could swear he saw one of the eye tattoos blink. He wasn’t drunk enough for imagining things, but no one else seemed to notice, especially not Michael, who was pink in the face shaking and laughing as he continued to record Gerry having what he would later describe as a meltdown.
‘GOD. I’m not breathing, I'm HYPERVENTILATING AT THIS POINT!’
He coughed a couple times, but that did not stop him from finishing his rant. ‘I HOPE there’s a date given for when Juergen Leitner dies so I can make it a reminder on my phone so that every year I will see it and do anything but pay respects to the man who had so many fucked up if true books...’
And with that, Gerry leaned back and passed out. Tim, who’s head had been on the table the whole time, raised his glass and could be weakly/muffledly heard saying ‘cheers’. Michael finished recording and muttered ‘this is so going on YouTube’ .
Sasha, the most drunk out of the whole table, clapped a few times before following suit of Gerry, and leaned back onto the plush booth lining. For the entire time, Martin could only watch, amazed. Gerry never seemed like too much of a “mean” person, he was quite nice despite his goth aesthetic, but this...this was something else.
‘Uh...what just...what just happened?’ Martin asked, looking toward Michael, who seemed the least drunk out of the other three.
‘That,’ Michael said as he tapped on his screen, ‘is what we call a meltdown. Or better yet...’
He slid his phone toward Martin. On the screen was a YouTube video, right now with no views, simply titled ‘I fucking hate Juergen Leitner’ with the thumbnail of Gerry pointing angrily toward the screen. Martin leaned back and laughed. Michael, looking slightly more drunk and more accurately to how he felt, yawned and closed his phone.
‘It’s late, Martin. Get on home, I can take care of these three.’ Michael said, gazing up at him kindly.
‘Really? I mean I could help-‘
‘No,’ Michael said, cutting him off.
‘Trust me, I’ve dealt with the drunk versions of all of them, and like you saw, none of them are quite pretty. But I can handle them. This was for you, anyway. I hope you had fun.’
Martin nodded, paid his part of the bill (with a heavy tip and enough to replace all the cracked glasses caused by Gerry) and wished Michael a good night before heading out the bar. He decided to walk home, being only ten minutes away from his apartment, and appreciated the early nighttime sounds of England. Once he unlocked the door, he tore off his coat, drank a full bottle of water with aspirin, and passed out on his bed.
‘It has how many views?!’
Monday morning. They had all spent the weekend nursing hangovers (except for Michael, who was surprisingly good at handling his alcohol) and totally forgot all the events that had occurred at the little Friday gathering. Currently, Gerry was leaning over Michael's shoulder to see his phone in the research office as everyone else tried to gather behind him.
‘14 thousand!’ Michale exclaimed, showing him the screen.
Gerrys face portrayed an emotional stew of annoyance, regret, and the tiniest bit of humor.
‘That’s it, I’m going to shoot myself,’ he said, making towards the door, ‘better yet, I’m going to find Leitner, show him that, kill him, and then shoot myself.’
The whole group laughed, watched the video one more time, and then returned to work, all feeling quite happy at the whole situation.
That was the last time Martin ever saw Gerry smile again.
A few days later, Gertrude asked Michael to join her on a trip. She warned him it would be very dangerous, but it would be immensely helpful to the institute, and be able to save several lives. He agreed, and the two went off.
Gertrude returned two weeks later, alone. Gerry had grilled her about what happened, but evidently, he didn’t like the answer. He disappeared from the institute for several months before returning, with even more eye tattoos all over his body, and a permanent frown etched onto his face. Martin would still wave to him whenever he saw him in the dark hallways of archives, but Gerry would only nod before heading straight to Gertrudes office. Martin felt bad for him, and Sasha and Tim. They all seemed to be good friends, and based on the fact that Gerry had stomped out of Gertrudes office almost crying when he first asked her about Michael, it was safe to assume he was dead.
‘We’ll need a replacement...’ Sasha said when the news came. She was hiding her emotions well. Tim was not. Even Martin, who only knew him for a week, had tears falling from his gray eyes.
A few weeks later a replacement did come. He looked older, and dressed sharply. He looked exactly what a stereotypical librarian looked like, with close cut but wavy hair and round, circle glasses and a sweater vest. His name was even one for a librarian. ‘Jonathan Sims,’ he said curtly when they first met, ‘a pleasure.’
The way he said made it sound like it was anything but a pleasure. Martins first thoughts when seeing him were ‘Dont fuck this up’ yet fate decided that would be the first thing he should do. After shaking his hand, he went to grab his mug of tea that had sat down on Sashas desk and instantly knocked it over, sending tea all over Jon’s fresh, pressed, gray slacks. Luckily by that time it had cooled plenty, but Jon’s view of him as a klutz remained.
As time does, it continued forward. For the next couple of months, Martin and the rest of the archive staff fell into a routine, the only difference being that Gertrude and Gerry were hardly ever seen anymore, but requested more and more research on seemingly non-existent people, objects, and cases.
‘This is all ridiculous...’ Martin once heard Jon mutter under his breath when he came to give Sasha an artifact she’d asked for. While heading through the hallway, he kept his eyes downcast until he got the storage.
He never noticed the bright yellow door that had never been there on his way back.
You have two new voice mails from Eye Grandma:
Gerry, please call me back. I need you to understand why I did what I did.
Gerry, please stop being unreasonable. I gave you the last few months off to mourn but I need you back at the institute, I need your help.
Gerry started at the white screen, the two less than fifteen second messages doing nothing to calm the storm of mourning and injustice in his heart. Gertrude had explained briefly how Michael had died when she came back. She started to explain more, but as soon as he heard ‘sacrifice’ he dipped. He went back to the shabby basement apartment he kept under a false name and cried until his eyeliner was nothing but smudges, making the bags under his eyes look even darker than usual. His friend, one of his, if not only, friends was dead. She had in fact given him the past few months off. She didn’t call, but did leave a few texts, explaining how she was sorry, but it had to be done. Gerry left them unread. Another call started to come through, and this time, he picked it up.
‘What.’ He growled into the receiver.
‘Ah, Gerry, now I know-‘
‘Make it quick, Gertrude.’
Normally he wouldn’t have been this cross with her. He looked up to her like a mother, god knows his own was not one to model. But he was beyond pissed, and the anger and sadness that had been marinating in him for months came out. ‘Now, Gerry-‘
‘You killed my friend, and for what?! So you could contain a Fear that was already contained?! it was an inactive island in the middle of the ocean and you decided that giving up Michael would be the best idea?!’
‘I spend all of my time hunting down books for mine and your benefit and to protect them from hurting the outside world! That is a noble idea. You chucking my friend into a literal fear entity was not and is not justified in any-‘
Her voice overpowered his even through the phone. He could imagine her sitting at her desk, clutching her phone in one hand and the other curled in a fist, anger creasing her already wrinkled features. He sat quietly, tears threatening to spill again, and clutched at the fabric of his t-shirt.
‘Now that you’ve decided to listen,’ he could practically feel the impatience dripping from her voice, ‘I wanted to fully explain why it had to be done,’
‘You already-‘ he started.
‘No, Gerry. No I didn’t. The day I came back, you only listened until I told you about the sacrifice. And you somehow believe that the distorted island wasn’t a threat. Let me explain, Gerry, before I have to compel you to stop.’
Gerry decided to keep his mouth shut for the moment. He wasn’t quite sure she’d be able to compel him through a phone, but stranger things have happened. And being compelled wasn’t exactly the best feeling in the world, either.
‘Michael was in a unique position. He’d been touched by the eye, yes we all have, but he’d been touched by the Spiral as well.’
Gerry’s breath stopped. Michael never told him about that.
‘I see I have your attention. Michael was indeed touched by the Spiral, and it seemed to take a likening to him. I had taken his statement a few years ago, sometime in the 90s, but I cannot find the tape. No doubt Elias has something to do with it.
Either way, he told me about his experience on a vacation near where the island first manifested. He had been on a cruise, and it stopped at a seemingly uncharted island for unforeseen repairs. Guests were supposed to remain on board, but with him being a rebellious teenager at the time, he found a way to sneak off, as they did have the docking board down for employees. Somehow, no one noticed him leave. When he got to the island, he described it exactly like how it was when we visited again a few months ago. It felt like it did and did not exist, everything that should have been normal was not, and he was drawn in by all of it. He explored the island, and he said that it felt like he’d been there for hours or days, time didn’t feel right. He told me he likely would have been stuck there if he hadn’t heard the ship's horn. When he got back on board, again, no one noticed he’d left, and the sun was barely lower in the sky. When he next checked a clock, he found that less than 45 minutes had passed. When he mentioned the island and pit stop to the other passengers, no one understood what he was talking about. Only he seemed to remember anything about it at all. That was the Spiral marking him. I’m assuming it wanted him to remember it, and it affected him for the rest of his life. Have you noticed that you could never catch him dead without wearing an outfit with every color of the rainbow in it?’
Gerry trembled a bit, both from the story and the last sentence.
‘Not funny,’ he choked out, words getting caught in his tight throat.
‘Oh, sorry. How rude of me, you know I have a dark sense of humor. But you understand now that the Spiral had taken a liking to him, and over the years it was getting more unstable. That is because it wanted him, Gerry. It wanted him to come back, and it would bring disorder and chaos around the world in order to get to him. It required a sacrifice.’
‘What, so you decided to just give it what it wanted?’ Gerry spat.
He heard her sigh heavily through the receiver.
‘Yes, Gerry. But it was necessary.’
‘I don’t think killing my friend was necessary!’
‘Gerry, will you stop behaving like a child and listen to me?!’
He didn’t care if he was acting childish. His only friend was dead because of the figure he looked up to as a mother and here she was trying to justify it. But he kept it to himself. She had already threatened to compel him silent once. He didn’t want to push it.
‘Gerry, sometimes things like this are in fact necessary, especially in the field of work that we are in. I’m sure you knew as soon as your father took out his eyes and your mother expressed herself as the power hungry witch that she is, that people in our kind of situation don’t get a happily ever after, and neither do the people around us. They tend to get roped in, and they always, always, get hurt.’
Gerry swore he could hear her voice crack a bit at the end. His anger subsided a bit. Sometimes, he forgot that behind the cold eyes and powers of the Archivist, Gertrude was just as human as him. And she had been in this field for years, decades longer than him. He wondered if this was just one of many deaths or sacrifices she had to make in order to keep the world safe.
‘I just...why...’ his voice still tight in his throat, ‘why didn’t he ever tell me...?’
‘These kinds of things are traumatizing, Gerry.’ He could tell she was using her comforting voice. To anyone else, it would sound the exact same as her regular voice, but he knew her better. ‘He probably wanted to leave it in the past.’
Gerry nodded to himself and let out another deep breath.
‘I’m really sorry, Gerry.’
‘No, no you’re not.’ He said softly. ‘But it’s fine. You did what you needed to. I should be the one apologizing to you.’
‘Well in that case,’ her voice was brighter and back to its usual strictness, ‘I should expect you back at the institute tomorrow morning at 8 am sharp. And pack a suitcase, we're going on a trip.’ He stood up from his couch, ready to grab a suitcase with a half smile on his face.
‘You know I don’t technically work there, right?’
‘And I guess I don’t “technically” sign your paychecks, either,’ He laughed at that, the first time he had in a while.
‘It’s good to have you back Gerry,’ A few moments of silence passed while he opened up the case. ‘You do know I’ll never forgive you for this?’ Another moment passed. He heard her sigh tiredly.
‘I don’t expect you to.’