BY RICHARD WEST
Copyright is held by the author.
DAN LOOKED up from his desk as the door opened and a short thin man dressed in black entered the department’s small library. The silence of the library wasn’t often disturbed by visitors. For some reason Dan felt the man was a little odd. “Perhaps he’s a professor from another department?” he thought.
It was 1973 and he had been working in UCL’s Department of Photogrammetry’s library and the adjacent laboratory, for 15 months. His desk was in the back corner of the room. The 135-year-old building had high ceilings which allowed enough wall space for four eight-foot-tall sash windows. However, the day was overcast and drizzle limited any sunlight filtering into the room. Not unusual for October in London. Dan had put on the overhead lights. They were too dim to do close work but gave sufficient light to peruse the oak bookcases. He had a desk lamp so that he could read his test results.
The man hovered near the door and surveyed the room. He was not a young person; he wore half-moon spectacles and carried a cane. He’d made no move to remove his long black coat or hat. Then his stare settled on Dan.
“Can I help you?” Dan asked, as he studied the man’s features. He thought, “His eyes almost sparkle.”
“Yes please. I wish to borrow a book.”
“Sorry. I only work here and I’m not in charge of these books. They are only intended for departmental use. Professor Thomas’s secretary controls any loans. She is in the office next room.”
“Oh. So, you can’t direct me to the correct bookcase?”
“Sorry. No.” Dan replied while thinking, “He doesn’t seem to be a member of the University staff or he’d know he can’t grab a book from our department’s library. He could be one of Professor Thomas’s friends. Being a cousin to the Queen, he may have some odd associates.”
“You say you work here?”
“What are doing?”
“I’m doing experiments using cameras and those odd-looking machines you must have seen in the laboratory outside. It’s all about geometry from photographs.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“Strange question,” Dan thought, “I wonder if I should ask him to go and see the secretary?” He thought better of it and said, “Well, I work for a company which makes aircraft engines and they asked me to come here to do this research.”
The man wasted no time to ask, “What exactly is this research and why does your company want you to do it?”
Dan felt the man meant no harm but he was puzzled by his curiosity. He decided it was time to bring the questioning to an end.
“Sorry, I can’t discuss my research, as it’s covered by the Official Secrets Act.”
“My apologises. Perhaps I should find that book.”
Dan looked back down at his note book and tried to ignore the man. To his surprise he just stood in front of the bookcases and stared intently for about a minute. Then he held out a hand and it glowed with a blue light. “He must have some sort of torch in his hand,” Dan wondered.
The blue light rose into the air, spread out and floated to the bookcases. It entered them through the glass panes then hovered over the books. Dan stared in disbelief and muttered, “What the.. ?” Before he could think of anything else the pale blue light flooded to one book in particular. “Ah. Found it,” the old man said. He opened the bookcase and removed the book, looked closely and said, “Yes. This will do.”
Then the strange visitor walked towards the door. Over his shoulder he said, “Thank You. I’ll see the secretary about borrowing the book.” He grabbed the doorhandle but didn’t open the door. Instead, he turned towards Dan and asked, “I wonder if this what you really want to do?”
Dan just gaped at him. Still stunned by the trick with the blue light.
The man smiled, swung open the door and was gone.
An hour later the secretary came into the library and asked why he had left a book on her desk. Surprised, Dan told her he hadn’t but a man had come into the library to borrow a book and he had sent him to her. She gave him an annoyed look and put the book back on the shelf, turned on her heel and left. He hadn’t told her that the old man did strange tricks because he thought she would think him mad. Now his work seemed unimportant and he stared at the offending book in the bookcase. “What was so special about that book?”
Dan stood up, opened the bookcase and pulled out the book. It had a smooth leather binding which looked old and smelled of dust. He read the title, Basic Geometry. “Pretty boring,” he thought. After flipping through a number of pages Dan stood very still. “This isn’t a book about geometry. It’s more like a book of magic spells?”
He closed the book and rechecked its title.
A blue patch of light formed words on the front cover, written in a flowing gothic font.
It read, “Use it wisely.”
Richard West is a retired engineer who lives in Canada. Richard’s career has taken him to all continents (except Antarctica) and has included a wide range of experiences.
He has always loved to read about new things, discover people’s life stories and enjoy fiction. Exposed to Welsh poetry and verse by his wife, he has a soft spot for Dylan Thomas. But whether it is Dickens, Lawrence or Czerneda, it’s the story they tell that fascinates.
Later in life, Richard realized he loved to read what people have written but he had little idea how they did it. Never one to just shrug off a question, he set out to learn how to write. The journey of learning something of this craft has been, and is, most rewarding. Richard has written a number of short stories. In October 2017 and 2018 he published two novels on Amazon.