Pieces of people’s lives are often left behind in the library, tucked away between pages of books and forgotten underneath tables. This summer, the UW Bothell/Cascadia Library has been home to a display of such items, collected by various members of the library staff over the years. The found relics display showcases many precious snapshots of life, and each item has been given a fun, colorful code name for identification purposes. Some of my favorite code names are: the crimson wolf, the lilac lady, the golden goodbye, and the magenta mullets.
On display is a wide variety of materials, including:
An old piece of a German newspaper (the sepia slipper),
A few handmade bookmarks (the turquoise paperweight and the plum predators),
Artwork of an anchor, perhaps a tattoo design (the indigo shipwreck),
A note found in a book of Nobel prize winners (the Copenhagen collective),
And finally, my personal favorite, the hilarious to-do list of someone with a lot going on (the ivory key).
Library visitors have been invited to invent stories about the items on display, and there have been many creative submissions, such as the one below.
Unnerstones are always bad news. In the world of improvised magical objects, this was the thing that skipped past hexes and curses and went right to blowing off limbs. The one I saw in the library, made from a cardboard cut-out of a crow and tacked to a bulletin board, was designed to be placed between the pages of book and go off as soon it was discovered.
From where I stood, I could see the crow’s feet were missing, which meant that phase three: carnage never happened — the trap was sprung but the Unnerstone never went bang. That’s probably how it got here. Whomever this was meant for just closed the book and turned it back in, not realizing that they were almost pulverized. Now Unnerstone was more dangerous than ever because anything could set it off — such as tacking it head hight to a bulletin board. I glanced at the librarian behind the circulation counter. Why didn’t you drive a nail through a rusty land mine while you were at it?
She looked back at me with an eye tempered by the fiery heat of experience and painted me as a someone worth watching until closing time.
I caught a break when the phone rang and diverted the her attention. If I was lucky, then it’s one of those calls where the person on the other end asks the same question six different ways before demanding to talk to a supervisor. Her back is turned. I’m on my feet and fast casual it over to the bulletin board. In my bag is a big metal water bottle, not only BPA free, but etched in enough runes to keep the Unnerstone happy enough to prevent it from creating a blast zone.
I was holding the rune bottle under the under the Unnerstone when it spoke. “From the opening of the book begins the time of reckoning.” When it cawed at me, I thought it was over. Most of the time a dud spell simply doesn’t work— the worst thing about them is the cleanup. But when a spell starts talking to you, the spell is telegraphing the fact that disaster has transitioned from an ’if’ to a ‘when.’
Just as I made my move, the Librarian is right there in my face, ready to regulate. “What are you doing?” She asked. I’ve done this gig for a decade and change and there’s still no good answer to that question. She looked at the crow cut-out. “Are you the one who made this?”
I could have told her the truth about the Unnerstone. Instead, she got a much simpler “Yes. Yes I am.”
“Really?” She said. “Do you remember what book you left it in?”
I looked at the crow cut-out. Some of the runes were visible and displayed the specifics of the spell. Item three was the title of the book it was meant for.
“Carly’s Paranormal Index. ” I said.
She reached up and unpinned the crow. With an outstretched hand, she presented it to me. “Here you go. I’m glad we could get it back to you.”
Inside I’m calling a code brown. Outside it was a polite “thank you” as I gently took the crow and sealed it in the water bottle.
“What are you going to do with it?” She asked.
“I’ve got a special place for these things.” I told her.
“Did you make the other ones?”
I stop. Holy crap. The Librarian’s right. Since when is there ever just one Unnerstone?
“Maybe.” I said. “Can I see them?”
“Sure.” She said. I followed her to small room off to the side of the circulation desk. She removed a key from her pocket and opened the door. Inside, the walls were covered with dozens of cardboard cut-outs of different animals.
Let me say it again: the walls are covered in dozens of Unnerstones.
Suddenly I am forced into a new theory of the crime. Some rage mage had been making Unnerstones for months and putting them in library books. The Librarians have been finding these things and instead of throwing them away, chose to collect them into the largest concentration of magical Armageddon that I’d ever seen in my life. That’s the problem with magic — even the most dangerous things are nowadays considered nothing more than imaginary folklore.
“Yes. They’re mine.” I said. “All mine.” I hope that my voice doesn’t sound like panic. “Do you have a box?”
It took me ten minutes to rune up the cardboard box the Librarian had brought from the circulation counter. Then another ten minutes to rip the Unnerstones from the wall and place them in said box, and finally another five to concoct a BS story before leaving a card asking her to call me if anymore cardboard animals turned up.
As I sat in traffic, I realized that I’m effectively a car bomb waiting to happen. The broken Unnerstone from the bulletin board has been talking to the ones from the back room, and now they’re convinced that they should all peace out and detonate right then and there. The only thing that holds them back are the runes written in sharpie on the box. They kept up the chatter until I reached a small field in banjo country and the stone circle I built there three days earlier.
After that, there wasn’t much too it. Some crystals, a couple of chicken bones, and a road flare delivered by tracked robot, and the whole thing went up with a roar. I watched the glowing embers rain down from the night sky and bounce within the confines of the stone circle. I’d be back in a couple of days to go through the pieces and find out which self proclaimed wizard has decided to LARP the Unibomber.
When I got back to my car there’s a long message on my phone from the Librarian. She found another Unnerstone and being a librarian, has done a lot more reading. After deciphering a few of the runes, she wanted answers, and in her words: “not the BS story you fed me before.”
I’ve got two more jobs in front of me: a bound wraith without a master and a malformed magic circle that could be as innocent or as dangerous as the description of ‘wonky’ allowed.
I took the freeway back to the library with no intention of telling the Librarian the truth but seeing that as the only outcome. Maybe it’s finally time to get some help.
The found relics display won’t be up for much longer, so be sure to stop by the UW Bothell library soon and check it out!