“That’s ridiculous. There have always been Keepers and there will always be Keepers. One, Two, and Three.” The Queen shouted.
“Oh the numbers. Why must they be named with numbers?” The King was yelling as well.
“Looks like you’ve found your ancient citizen of the Stacks after all, and he was right under your nose the entire time.” Gandalf chuckled and pointed at Binny’s nose as he spoke.
“We need to find someone from a book that came out before yours Michel.” Binny said.
Hermione made a face but said nothing.
“Do you know of any older books?”
“Dickens, Voltaire, there are plenty.” The King said.
Gandalf gave Azaz a surprised look. “I didn’t know you read.”
“I’m the King of all the words. Of course I read. I should be the King over the Keepers if I’m being honest. Which I am. Being honest that is.”
“Ha!” The Queen laughed hard.
“That was their reaction as well.” The King said morosely. “I for one, wouldn’t mind a place where there were no Keepers.”
“We’d have to go back in time for that.” Binny said.
“And to think, maybe that boy and his dog would have been useful in that regard.” The King mused.
“I’ll explain it later.” Binny said quietly to the others.
“But maybe time travel isn’t a requirement after all.” The King said. “I have an inkling.”
“You have an idea?” Binny said.
“I was referring to these black birds that fly around my kingdom. But I also have an idea.” The King said. “There was a time, many many years ago when I made a special request to visit the Doldrums to inspect the outskirts of my kingdom.”
“The place where nothing happens.” Binny said excitedly.
“Exactly. It’s just outside Dictionopolis.”
“At least you get to visit your kingdom. I’m limited to the banks of that damn river!” The Queen complained to no one in particular.
Azaz continued as if the Queen hadn’t spoken. “And when I asked for it, I thought mine would be the only instance. But there was another instance. I asked the Keeper – I refuse to learn their names – if I could enter it, and they said, that it was private.”
“You can have a private space?”
“Apparently so. I asked if I could have a private space and was told, unequivocally, no.” The King fumed as he remembered the incident. But afterwards I got to thinking, who would get to have privacy.”
“I thought about it for a long time. I had also, on a separate note, wanted to meet some of the characters from some of the older books I had read. Dickens, Voltaire, etc. But I could never find them.”
“It’s almost impossible to find people in the Stacks.” Hermione insisted.
“True, but back then, there weren’t as many of us here.” Gandalf said.
“None of you were here when I arrived.” The Queen said.
The King continued, “And it occurred to me that perhaps, these older characters were hidden away in some of these private spaces.”
“But they’re private!” Arya complained. “How are we to find them?”
“Looks like you have your work cut out for you. Which saves you the trouble of having to find a pair of scissors.” The King said, with a look of satisfaction on his face.
“A pair of scissors would do nicely right about now.” The Queen said.
“Goodbye children. The club is closing soon, and I think it’s time for you to be off on the next leg of your adventure.” Gandalf smiled broadly and then went back to smoking his pipe.
The King said something about adventures having legs that Binny couldn’t quite here as they made their exit from the Chameleon Club.
“That was completely odd.” Katniss said as they walked down the cobblestone alley.
“This whole day is odd. I still don’t understand what we’re doing.” Hermione complained.
“I can’t believe we met Gandalf.” Arya said, still excited.
“Oh who cares.” Hermione snapped.
“Admit it. He’s better than Dumbledore.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Hermione said unconvincingly.
“You’re ridiculous.” Arya said.
“We’ve got to go find the Doldrums.” Binny said, picking up the pace as she walked.
“It sounds like a terrible place.” Hermione said.
“I’m just not sure how to find them.” Binny ignored Hermione’s trepidation.
“I’m not sure how to find the way out of here.” Katniss said.
“Wait, what?” Binny stopped in her tracks.
“I think we’re lost.” Katniss said.
“Michel, you’ve been here twenty-six times. How do we get out?” Binny asked.
“I’m afraid I was lost in thought. I wasn’t really paying attention. And I don’t recognize this part of the city.”
“We couldn’t have gone far. Let’s backtrack.” Katniss suggested.
They tried to retrace their steps, but every time they thought they were closer it seemed like they had found some new part of the city to which they had never been. Finally they came upon a fountain with some benches.
“This is nuts. How could we get lost in here?” Binny said.
“It’s easy apparently.” Katniss tried to joke. But nobody laughed.
“So what happens now? Do we just die in here?” Binny asked.
Hermione took a lecturing tone. “Don’t be silly. We just wait until it’s time to go back to work, and then we’ll all be automatically summoned back into our books.”
“That’s gonna take forever, and It’s not the most pleasant experience.” Arya complained.
“Oh no. I don’t want to spend our whole day off in here. We have to find the Doldrums? Who knows how long it’ll be until we get another day off.”
“Why don’t you use your tracking skills Katniss. Aren’t you some kind of extraordinary hunter?” Hermione seemed annoyed with Katniss since hadn’t backed her up in the Dumbledore vs. Gandalf debate.
And then, suddenly Binny was struck with an idea. “Oh wow. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. Come to think of it, I don’t know why it’s not the first thing I asked when I got here.”
“What are you talking about?” Arya asked.
“Hermione, why don’t you just use your magic to find the exit. There must be some sort of spell you could use.”
Hermione looked instantly uncomfortable.
“Yes Hermione.” Katniss added. “Why don’t you use that wand you carry around and do some of your famous magic?”
After a long pause, Hermione said, “You know very well that magic doesn’t work in the Stacks.”
“It doesn’t?” Binny’s jaw dropped.
“Nope.” Katniss smiled smugly.
“This whole place is magical. We get sucked into books. Food appears out of nowhere. Entire locations from novels get magically created out of thin air. And this whole place is run by three people, I guess, who can make copies of themselves. But you can’t cast any spells?” Binny ranted.
“It’s considered a creative act, and therefore not permitted.” Hermione said as if reading from a rulebook.
“Then why do you carry your wand around?” Arya asked.
“Yes Hermione. Please explain.” Katniss added.
“First of all, that’s private. And I don’t take kindly to you poking your nose into my business. Secondly, I can walk around with whatever I like.”
“This is getting us nowhere. Can you break the rules, just once?”
“It’s not just not permitted. It doesn’t actually work.” Hermione said. “And besides, I wouldn’t even know what spell to cast. There’s no spell for, find the exit to this literary fantasy we’re currently trapped in. And furthermore, why is it me who has to explain. I think it’s time for you to explain.” Hermione turned on Binny. “What is this whole wild goose chase were on?”
“I’m just exploring.” Binny said defensively.
“No you’re not. You’re up to something. I can tell. And I don’t like it.” Hermione said.
Katniss, Michel, and Arya took a step backwards, not sure what to do.
Binny responded like a cornered animal. “You know what Hermione, I’ve noticed something about you. The only thing you do seem to like is following the rules around here. Be at work on time. Be at dinner. Don’t take books out of the library. Don’t write poems. Don’t do magic. Don’t be creative.”
“Tell me, what is it about these rules that makes you cling to them so desperately? Are you so happy here? Not doing magic? Not doing anything other than what you’re told?” Binny had taken a step forward and was in Hermione’s face.
Hermione clenched her teeth but said nothing.
Binny lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “What about that wand Hermione? Why do you keep it on you? Are you thinking about breaking some rules?”
After what seemed like a very long silence, Hermione looked like she made some kind of internal decision. “Fine, maybe it’s not perfect here. But I’m trying to make it work. And breaking the rules isn’t helping any.” Hermione crossed her arms.
Binny sensed a crack in Hermione’s façade. “Ah, so you admit it’s ‘not perfect’. That’s a start.”
“So what is this all about then? Your desire to make things perfect?” Hermione felt like she deserved an answer now that she’d revealed something to Binny.
“What this is about, is that this place, this place filled with books, filled with every bit of creative writing ever done in the history of humanity, is the one place where people are not allowed to be creative.”
“We are spoon-fed rules, and our jobs, and the place we sleep, and even our food. Everything is mapped out for us. And then we go into our books, and everything is mapped out for us there too. Don’t you get it Hermione? We’re slaves. Fat, well-fed, well-cared for, slaves. We’re dairy cattle. We get to eat as much hay as we want as long as we keep producing milk. And once we’re no good for that anymore, they turn us into hamburger.”
“I don’t think dairy cows are used for beef when they stop giving milk.” Katniss interrupted.
Now it was Binny’s turn to roll her eyes.
Katniss took a step backwards, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to distract.”
“My point is, this is not an existence. This is not a real life. Life is about choices. And that’s the one experience none of us really have.”
“We make choices all the time. We made a choice to come here.” Hermione defended.
“If there are no consequences to our choices, then they’re not really choices at all.” Binny responded, getting a little calmer.
“Well, what do you expect to find in these Doldrums of yours?” Hermione asked.
“I am trying to find people who knew how it worked before. Before the Keepers were here. Somewhere between 1863 when Michel first arrived, and when Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865, something changed here. Nobody knows about it. Nobody will talk about. But I want to find out what happened or why. I have a feeling that things used to not only be different, but they used to be better.” Binny rested her case.
Hermione looked hard at Binny. Binny’s face remained earnest.
“Will you help me?” Binny put her hands out.
Arya appeared between them. “I’m in!”
Katniss and Michel did the same.
“You all knew about this, didn’t you.” Hermione asked the others.
“I did.” Katniss admitted.
“Me as well.” Michel said.
“I didn’t, but this sounds fun.” Arya smiled.
Hermione looked at each of them and then back at Binny. “Fine. I’ll help you.” Hermione put her hands in the middle with the others.
“Well, I’m thrilled that we’re all on board now, but we’re not gonna figure anything out if we don’t figure out a way out of this place.” Katniss said.
“Maybe we don’t need to find the way out.” Arya said. “Maybe we just need to find someone else who is walking out, and then follow them.”
“We can’t find a single person here.” Binny said.
“Gandalf said the club was closing soon, so everyone must leave and head for the exit at some point, no?”
“But can we find the club?”
“We may not be able to find the club, but we may be able to see if people are walking around.” Katniss interjected.
Before anyone could ask her to clarify, Katniss had jumped into the fountain.
At the center of the fountain was a tall sculpture. At the very top, an angel stood, wings spread looking over the square in which the fountain was located. In an instant, Katniss had scaled to the top and was balancing herself with one foot on each wing.
“Don’t fall.” Binny yelled up to her.
“I can see quite a distance from here.” Katniss surveyed the landscape, and after a half a minute shouted, “There. There. I see someone.”
Katniss clambered down the angel’s back and started running towards her quarry. Binny and the others followed as fast as they could.
They ran and ran, relying on Katniss’ sense of direction. There was no way to make a straight line to intercept the person she’d seen, so Katniss had to user her best judgment as to which odd-angled alley would come the closest to getting them in the right general direction.
After a few minutes Katniss rounded a corner and was swept up in the air by giant hands.
“Whoa whoa whoa. Why so fast?”
It was Fezzik. A broad smile spread across Binny’s face as she tried to catch her breath.
Fezzik put Katniss down who was recovering from the surprise of being plucked off the street and into the air.
“Oh Fezzik. We found you at last.” Binny said.
“You were looking for me? What could you want with this lout?” Fezzik replied, smiling at the game.
Binny replied, looking like she’d just checkmated Fezzik’s king, “We were hoping, my dear Fezzik, that you would show us the way out.”