Chapter 17, The Secret Books of Gabendoor, Book 4, The Book of Library Secrets
Hillary looked down the tunnel. Just as in the well, soft green light provided illumination. “Ewe,” she said and pulled her hand away from the wall. “Slimy.”
Even though there was plenty of room, she ducked her head. She didn’t want to chance brushing her hair against the ceiling. The tunnel curved left, right, straightened and ended at gate that looked like the door to a jail cell. Past the iron bars she could see a large high domed cavern furnished with everything to make it a home.
Tall wooden cabinets with a mix of doors, drawers and shelves stat against the wall. A long counter space held crocks, murky colored glass jars, piles of books, papers, pot, pans and a clutter of things Hillary didn’t recognize.
A large fireplace sat in the far wall. A small fire and large pile of glowing embers added orange and yellow light to the green from the moss. Some sort of liquid bubbled and burped in a shiny copper pot hung from a long metal arm over the fire.
“Come in, come in,” Nellie’s voice called from somewhere.
Hillary pushed on the iron bars. The hinges squeaked as the door opened. She took a step forward.
Something felt odd. It was as if the air was thick, and it gave Hillary the feeling she had when she was walking into a strong wind. After two more steps, the slight pressure went away. The image before Hillary changed.
The cabinets were still there, but not made of smooth polished wood. Long bones fastened together formed doors and drawer fronts. Stacked skulls of different sizes supported the countertop. The books, paper and clutter were still there and so was the fireplace, but it had changed too. Instead of natural river stones stacked and cemented in place, the face of the fire pit held carved blocks; each carved in relief with an anguished face, just like on the trees along the path.
The pot over the fire was the same shape but not shiny copper; black and covered with baked on drips and spills. Where an inviting stuffed couch had sat in a corner, now sat an arrangement of driftwood stacked with dry brown grass. In the middle of the cavern stood an octagon table with legs made of antler and top of rough-hewn planks. Four chairs, with food-stained seats and backs, looked less than inviting. Small jars, clay pots, tiny piles of small bones and tangles of dried roots covered half the table.
Not sure what to do, Hillary walked to the table. She looked at one of the seats and decided to stay standing.
“Sit and stay for a while,” Nellie’s voice called from a passageway off to tone side. “I’m just arranging my dress. I like to look nice when I greet a new guest.”
Hillary picked a chair that would let her look toward the passage. She took a handkerchief from her backpack, spread it on the seat and sat down. The tabletop was clear of clutter where she sat, but looked greasy so she folded her hands in her lap. After a few moments, she heard soft footsteps. Nellie walked into the room.
She wasn’t what Hillary had expected. She imagined Nellie as a wrinkled old lady who would walk stooped over and might even have a cane. The woman who walked from the passage looked middle aged with smooth skin and jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a white long-sleeved shirt and black leather vest, black leather skirt and mid-calf boots. Hillary did notice, Nellie walked with a slight limp.
Nellie took a seat across from Hillary, leaned forward and rested her arms on the table. “Well, girl,” Nellie said, “what is your wish?”
“I don’t know that I have one,” Hillary answered. “You see, I thought about it. I thought a lot. Anything I wish for you can change around. I could wish that my mother recovered. If she only recovered for an hour, that would fulfill the wish. I could wish to be happy for the rest of my life, but you could make my life short.”
“I’m not here to play games.” Nellie said. “Everything you ask for could all work the same. Ask me a wish and pay me a spell. Then I’ll let you out of my well.”
“Let’s try it this way,” Hillary said. “I came here because you have a book up in your room. It tells where the Secret Library is. That’s what I came for. That’s not a wish. I’m simply telling you why I’m here. No wishes. Simply let me look at that book. Oh, and I’ll give you a spell, depending what spell you want. So let’s just get this over with. What do you have in mind for a spell so we can trade?”
Nellie leaned back and gave a long crackling laugh that fit better with the image of an old hag. She reached inside her vest and pulled out a long butcher knife with a silver blade and sleek back handle. Hillary sat back when Nellie stabbed it into the tabletop. The blade vibrated from side to side when Nellie released the handle and slapped her hands flat on the table.
“You’ll be my dinner. What I can’t eat I’ll feed to my cat,” Nellie yelled. “I’ll put your face on an elm tree along the path after that.”
“I don’t think so,” Hillary said and wiggled her fingers to work a spell. Blue light sparked from her fingers and stretched toward Nellie. Halfway to the woman the magic formed into a soft ball and hovered in the air.
“Oh, good,” Nellie said. She jumped from her chair and hurried to her countertop. Snatching an empty jar, she hurried back. Carefully she slipped the jar over the ball of magic and snapped on the lid. Sitting back in her chair, she held the jar up and examined the light. “Ah, a fine bit of magic,” she said. “I’ll accept it as a gift. If you’d like to try some more spells, be my guest. Your magic won’t work very well but try your best.”
Hillary stretched across the table and yanked the knife free. She gave out a scream. The knife changed into a foot long cricket. Hillary held it by the back legs as it wiggled in her grasp. She let go. It dropped to the table, back in the form of a butcher knife.
Nellie snatched it up and stabbed it back into the tabletop.
“Al right, I’m out of here,” Hillary said. She shoved back her chair and ran for the metal grating at the doorway. She yanked hard, but it wouldn’t move.
“Sorry, dearie,” Nasty Nellie called.
Hillary yanked again on the metal bars that covered the doorway in the cavern. Frustrated, Hillary tried magic but nothing happened. She turned around and pressed her back against the bars.
“Let me see,” Nasty Nellie said. She pulled the knife from the table and used the tip of the shiny blade like a spatula. She dipped it into a small orange clay pot in front of her and carefully lifted the knife back out. On the tip sat a teaspoon of silver powder. Nellie gabbed an empty shallow bowl, held it up and blew against the clay to clean it out. She set the bowl back on the table and tapped the edge of the blade on the bowl’s rim to deposit the powder.
“A little puff-toad tongue,” she said and used the blade again to transfer black powder from another jar into the bowl. “Oh, and eye of crow, and bark from the thorn-heart. I can’t forget, this.” Nellie held up a smoky colored glass bottle. She pulled the cork and sniffed. “Yes, this is it,” she mumbled and poured two drops into the bowl. Again, using the knife blade, she stirred her mixture.
A thin curl of purple smoke rose from the concoction. Nellie fanned the knife blade through the smoke, pushing it toward Hillary. “Bring her to me,” Nellie said as if talking to the smoke and stabbed the blade back into the tabletop.
Hillary watched the curl of smoke come closer. When it was a foot away, Hillary turned her head to the side and held her breath. She looked down and watched the smoke wrap around her wrist. Hillary blew out the breath she had been holding and carefully drew in another.
The smoke made her arm tingle. It pulled at her as if it were a leash. In Hillary’s mind, she wanted to resist but couldn’t. The smoke guided her by the arm as Hillary walked back to the table. When she sat, the smoke disappeared.
“The bargain is a spell for a wish,” Nellie said. “I’ll give you some time to think while I mix up a new dish.” Nellie took the dish and tipped it upside down, tapping it gently at the corner of the table. She blew in it as before and placed it in front of her.
Hillary wasn’t sure what to do. She watched the old woman use the knife to dip more powders from the array of jars, pots and flasks in front of her.
“All right,” Hillary said. “I’ve come up with a wish. What do you want for a spell? Or how about a potion? Would you like a potion from Earth?”
Nellie looked up. “From Earth, you say?” She nodded her head. “That could make my day. Done! Give me your wish.”
“My wish,” Hillary said, “is that you don’t make any potions or spells or whatever you do that will hurt me.” Hillary folded her arms across her chest and smiled.
Nellie waived her hand in the air. “Wish granted,” she said. “Give me the potion.”
“Well,” Hillary said. “I don’t know that you have all the ingredients.” Hillary chewed on her lip for a moment. She wasn’t sure she could remember the formula she wanted. She thought it odd, that right now, she was really wishing she had paid more attention in science class. “Okay, you need sulfur. It’s called brimstone sometimes. It’s yellow and you might find it around a volcano. It smells like rotten eggs.”
“Ah,” Nellie said. She got up from her chair and moved to her cluttered countertop. After shoving jars and posts aside she came back with a small glass bottle. Burning egg stone, she said.
“Use your knife and measure out two and a half parts.”
Nellie did as instructed. She looked up at Hillary and waited for the next ingredient.
“Take some charcoal from your fire and grind it up very fine,” Hillary said.
Nellie used a small mortar and pestle to grind the charcoal and measured it into the sulfur.
“This will be the hard one,” Hillary said. “You need saltpeter. It’s pale yellow and looks like brushes or hairs sticking up from the ground in bat caves. If there aren’t any bat droppings, then it isn’t the right stuff.”
“Bat beard,” Nellie said, her eyes lighting up. She rummaged in a cabinet and brought out a small wooden box. She ground the contents in her mortar and measured one knife-tip into the other two ingredients.
Now, you need a piece of paper or parchment.
Nellie ripped a sheet from a book on her table. She held it up. “Will this work?”
“Yes,” Hillary said. “Dump the powder on the paper and then fold the paper in half. Now fold all the edges in and roll it up tight so it looks like a paper stick.”
Nellie did as instructed and held up the finger sized roll of paper.
“That’s it,” Hillary said. “If you used the right stuff, and didn’t mess up mixing it, then it’s ready.”
“Ready for what?” Nellie asked. “What does it do?”
“That wasn’t part of the agreement,” Hillary said. “You’ll have to figure that out. But I’ll tell you it does have something to do with fire. You’ll need fire to make it work.” Hillary shoved her chair back and was relieved when nothing prevented her from standing. “I’ll be going now,” she said and turned toward the bared doorway.
“We’re not done,” Nellie said. “Sit back down and we’ll have some fun.”
Hillary ignored her and grabbed the bars again. She pulled and kicked. The bars wouldn’t move. She felt something at her wrist. The curl of smoke was back. Hillary’s thoughts fogged in her mind. She relaxed, turned and let the smoke guide her back to her chair. When she sat, the fogginess lifted. “What about my wish!” Hillary demanded.
Nellie looked up from the rolled paper she still held. “I didn’t promise to let you go. There might be more about his potion I want to know. And you did get what you wished for. I didn’t hurt you when I brought you back from the door.”
A sound like someone dropping an armload of firewood grabbed Hillary’s attention. She looked at the pile of driftwood.
The wood and straw moved. The lengths of weatherworn wood clacked and clattered, tumbling in the air. Pieces smacked together. The straw swirled as if caught in a small whirlwind. When the pieces stopped, they formed a cell. The door swung open.
Nasty Nellie stood and pulled the knife from the table. She pointed it at Hillary. “I don’t think I should let you wander about. You’re not leaving here. There’s no way out. I don’t want to cut you or slice you just yet. So, get in that cage while I get everything set.”
Hillary stood. Instead of heading for the cage, she walked in the other direction.
Nellie, the table and the chairs moved with Hillary, all of them twisting around in the room as if they were all mounted on some sort of turntable or merry-go-round.
Nellie laughed. “I don’t like people getting too close to me,” she said.
Hillary kept walking. Nellie and the table kept turning. Hillary stopped when Nellie’s back faced the fireplace.
“You win,” Hillary said. “Burn the end of the paper tube with a candle.”
“Hah, ha, ha. Hah, ha, ha,” Nellie called out in delight she stood from the table and did a small dance in a tight circle. She grabbed a candle and lit the wick in the fireplace. She looked at Hillary before touching the flame to the tightly rolled paper.
Hillary got ready to duck and to run, hoping she had remembered the formula correctly. There were many ‘if’s.’ Would it work if Nellie used the right ingredients? If, it worked would it give Hillary an opportunity to flee? And two more ‘if’s’ she Thought of. If it worked, would there be a chance to get the book? If it worked, would Hillary be able to get the metal grate open? Ready to move fast, Hillary watched the flame darken the end of the paper.
Hillary ducked under the table. She looked up and saw a cloud of black smoke. From behind the smoke, Nellie screamed. Hillary leapt for the grating. With one foot planted against the wall, she grabbed the bars. Nothing moved. From behind her she heard Nellie.
“You dreadful girl! You were clever in your wish. If I could hurt you now, I would. You would feel daggers sticking in your brow. That’s how my fingers feel now. Come back and sit in your chair. I’ll teach you a couple of my potions if you dare.”
Hillary didn’t have a choice. She felt the smoke grip her wrist again. This time it didn’t gently lead her to the table. This time she didn’t feel in a fog. This time the smoke yanked her hard and invisible hands shoved her down to sit.
Across from her, Nellie stood. She held one arm around a bucket of water, holding it tight to her chest. She soaked the fingers in the water. Black smudges covered her face.
Nellie moved to where she had sat but stayed standing. She put the bucket on the table and kept soaking her fingers. With her left hand, she yanked the knife from the table and began mixing a potion in the bowl. “This one uses fire too,” Nellie said. She grabbed the candle and dripped wax into her mixture. With the knife tip, she scraped up a small dab of the softened wax mixture and flicked it at Hillary.
Hillary used her arm to shield her eyes. She didn’t feel the wax hit her. “I think you missed,” Hillary said, aware she might be taunting Nellie.
“I don’t miss,” Nellie said. “It doesn’t matter much where the wax lands. It’s done its work. Look at your hands.”
Hillary held out her hands, first looking at her palms and then at the backs. She gasped when she looked closely at her fingertips. Blood formed around her fingernails. The flow continued. Hillary held her hands out over the table. Blood dripped from her fingers and pooled on the tabletop.
“This will help,” Nellie said and mixed more powders. This time she flipped the small bowl upside-down. Hillary saw the bowl move. The lip pushed up. Out came three small brown lizards with spiky skin and thick pink tongues that looked more like something a frog would have. They scurried across the table, heading for her.
“They like blood,” Nellie said. “They want to nurse at your fingertips. They’ll help suck the blood out of you fast. It won’t hurt, but you won’t last.”
Hillary gave a scream and tried to push away from the table and stand. Something held her in place. She screamed again when she felt something on her finger. One of the lizards had her finger in its mouth. Hillary yanked it off, threw it on the floor and kicked it toward the fire. She looked for the other lizards. One was on her arm, the other on her leg. She grabbed and sent them flying toward the fireplace.
The dish clattered. Three more lizards crawled out from under the bowl.
Hillary held her hands out. She raised her elbows and lowered her fingers so the blood would drip instead of running down her arms. The growing size of the puddle worried her.
Nellie picked up the knife and dipped the blade into a tall vase. “You have a wish granted,” Nellie said. “I just fixed my blade so you won’t feel a thing. My cutting won’t hurt you. It won’t even sting.”
Both Hillary and Nellie jumped and screamed when the metal grating crashed to the floor.
“Oops… Sorry,” a voice said. “We break your door. We not mean a do that. It was stuck.”
“You three!” Nasty Nellie yelled.
Molly, Nelly and Tillie walked into the room.
“Hi, Nassy,” Molly said.
Tillie waived. “Hi, Hillre. Windso waiting for you.”
“Hi, nobody,” Nelly added.
She and her sisters spread out around the room.
“She’s bleeding me to death,” Hillary said, frantically looking from girl to girl.
“You okay,” Tillie said. “I don’t think a color right. Darker red be better.”
“You almost near death,” Nelly Sallyforth added.
“Hey, Hillre,” Molly called from across the room. “Close a eye, stick finger in a mouth and taste it.”
Hillary looked at her hands, back to Molly and back to her hands again. When she closed her eyes, a small tear rolled down her cheek. Hand shaking, Hillary raised her fingers to her mouth. She touched one finger with the tip of her tongue. She paused. She put the whole finger in her mouth. Hillary opened her eyes and looked at her fingers. She stuck two of them in her mouth.
Hillary scowled and twisted her head to look at Nasty Nellie. Hillary looked down at the pool of blood on the table. With her pointer finger, she drew a line through the puddle of blood. Hillary could feel her finger on the wood. Her finger didn’t leave a trail in the blood as she had expected.
Closing her eyes again, Hillary took several deep breaths, drawing each one in through her nose and blowing out through her mouth. When she opened her eyes, there was no puddle of blood on the table. Her hands were dirty with two clean fingertips where she had sucked on them. She looked at the dish. A piece of plant root stuck out from under the lip.
Hillary looked back up at Nasty Nellie. She had changed. Nellie was no longer a middle-aged woman dressed in leather. Now her form fit her raspy voice. She stood stooped over with gray hair and wrinkled skin. A wrinkled dress with some sort of faded pattern replaced the leather vest and skirt. A dirty apron drooped across her paunchy stomach.
“This time you’re in my domain,” Nasty Nellie said looking at the Sallyforth Triplets. “This time the outcome won’t be the same. You magic doesn’t work down here.” Nellie grabbed her knife and held it out.
“That okay,” Molly said. “We use your magic then.” She pointed at the knife and said, “Croak, croak.”
The knife turned into a bullfrog. Nellie held it by the hind legs. It jerked in the air trying to escape her grip. Nellie dropped it. It landed with a thunk. Returned to a knife, the shiny blade stuck in the table again.
Nasty Nellie hobbled to the fireplace and grabbed the iron poker. Its tip glowed red from the heat of the fire. “We’ll see who ends up being the winner. I’m going to cook you all for dinner.”
“Oh, goodie,” Tillie said. “I like a cook. Our mommy teach us how. I get a help.”
“Not me too,” Nelly said and skipped over to the countertop. “We not need this, an this and this,” she said as she began rummaging through a pile of pots, pans and cooking utensils.
“I need lot of pepper on me,” Molly said. She grabbed a medium sized jar filled with black powder.
“I do a pepper,” Tillie said and tried to grab the jar from her sister.
“Leave everything alone!” Nasty Nellie yelled. “Don’t touch that. Put that down!”
Molly and Tillie wiggled and twisted, each trying to get control of the jar. The cork top flipped up. Nelly swung at it with a frying pan and sent the cork sailing at Nasty Nellie.
Nasty Nellie ducked.
Nelly Sallyforth yelled out, “Fair ball. Runner on first!” Still holding the frying pan, she ran to the driftwood cage. “Safe!” she hollered and banged the pan against the wood. She jumped back when the framework teetered and collapsed back to a jumble of wood and straw.
Tillie won the struggle for the pot. “I do a seasoning,” she said and scooped out a fist full of pepper. “You need some,” she said and threw the pepper on Molly’s hair.
“You need a salt,” Molly said and grabbed another pot with a metal top poked full of holes. She shook salt on Tillie’s head.
“Do here too,” Tillie said and held up her arms.
Molly shook salt under Tillie’s arms, on her back and down her legs.
“Get away from there!” Nasty Nellie hollered and ran toward them.
“We need a season Nelly too,” Molly said. “We use a measuring spoon.” She grabbed a handle that stuck out from a pile of book and papers, topped with another large jar. Papers and books tumbled. The jar landed sideways in the floor. Tillie grabbed the cork stopper and threw it toward her sister. Nelly banged the lid with her fry pan and yelled, “It a homer.” She ran past the table. Her sisters chased after her, Molly shaking salt at her and Tillie tossing out handfuls of pepper. Hillary backed up against the wall near the fallen metal grading.
“Oh no!” Nasty Nellie cried. “My jar of eyeballs.”
Spewed out from the fallen jar, small round objects littered the floor like a can of spilled olives. Nasty Nellie dropped to her knees and grabbed the jar. She picked up an eyeball. She blew it off before plopping it back in the jar and grabbing another.
“Hey, what this for?” Molly asked.
Hillary looked. The small girl had climbed one of the cabinets, she shook a small cloth bag. The contents gave off a clinking sound.
“Don’t shake that!” Nasty Nellie yelled. She scooped up the remaining eyeballs and cradled them in her apron. “Get down from there.”
Molly jumped. The cabinet door she had been holding onto broke, the bones that formed it clattered to the floor. The shelves behind it broke loose. Jars, crocks, utensils, bags slid from their places. Some crashed to the floor. Other’s plopped and oozed. Sheets of paper, scribbled with formulas, floated across the room. Salt and pepper covered nearly everything.
Hillary stayed close to the wall. When Nasty Nellie had her attention on the girls, Hillary darted into the passageway where Nellie had come from. The tunnel-like passage sloped upward. The end opened into a small bedroom. Hillary spotted what she had been looking for. She ran to the grandfather clock behind the bed. Hillary pulled the clock away from the wall.
“Crud-o,” Hillary said. “There’s nothing there.” She ran her hand over the hewn rock wall. “Wait,” she said and looked at the back of the clock. She grinned when she spotted thin gaps in the wood, outlining a rectangle. She tried to pry the lid open. It wiggled but wouldn’t move. She pushed and felt it slide upward. “Ah, ha,” Hillary said and moved the lid, uncovering a hidden compartment. Inside she found a thin red leather book about the size of a journal.
She shoved the book into her backpack and pushed the clock back into place. Quickly she headed back o the main room.
The room looked like a cyclone had gone through it. The pot from the fireplace lay upside down near the table. Molly, Nelly and Tillie sat on top of the black cauldron. Each of them held a large wooden spoon.
“Where’s Nasty Nellie?” Hillary asked.
Muffled sounds came from the pot. It lifted a half inch from the floor and moved sideways a foot. All three girls banged on the pot with their spoons.
Hillary laughed and pointed at the pot.
The three girls grinned.
“You need a go,” Molly said. “Nasty Nellie still dangerous. She have lot a traps outside a well. We keep her here until you gone. Then we go out a back way.”
“All right,” Hillary said. She was going to tell the girls to be careful but didn’t. She knew that they could take care of themselves. “Have fun,” she said instead.
The girls banged on the pot.
Hillary laughed again, headed down the tunnel and climbed from the well.