During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.
Hagerman is clearly a skillful writer of mystery and intrigue. The story begins wrapped in dreamlike confusion, drawing the reader into the mystery. It becomes clear all is not as it seems, and I became shocked and enraptured as all was revealed. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
All Is Revealed
The first thing I’m aware of is that I’m still in my pajamas. I can feel goosebumps prickling up my arms and legs, and a shudder tears through my body. I can feel a rough carpet under my bare feet. It’s worn out and slightly sticky; something that I probably would not choose to be walking on barefoot if I had the choice. That’s when it hits me: I’m not in my room. My bedroom is hardwood without any rugs or carpeting.
At this moment my surroundings become visible to me, as if they were waiting for me to come to this realization. I’m standing at the beginning of a long hall, surrounded on both sides by towering bookshelves. The dark red carpet stretches out into darkness. Turning around, I see a wall of books behind me, preventing me from going back. I crane my neck to look up. I’m just an inch under six feet, but even so it looks like it would take at least three of me standing on each other’s shoulders to reach the books at the very top. Above the shelves, green stained glass lamps are throwing an eerie light, but beyond that there is only blackness. I can’t see the ceiling; I can’t even tell what the lamps are suspended from. They might be floating, for all I know. They probably are. Nothing needs to make sense. This is obviously a dream, after all.
I’ve had dreams before – who hasn’t? – but I’ve never been certain they were dreams until my eyes open in the morning. I’ve never had a dream that took me to a fantastical world or allowed me to do improbable things. As boring as that sounds, my dreams have always had at least a foot and a half firmly planted in reality. I’ve had nightmares that caused me to wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night, but they are something along the lines of being held at gunpoint on a street in my hometown. I was never chased or devoured by ghosts or monsters. So I had no reason to question my surroundings until I woke up to the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. Until getting to this … library. It doesn’t remind me of any library I’ve ever seen before, but I can easily see where I might have gotten inspiration from real life to amalgamate into this place. This is definitely the first time I can say, OK, you’re clearly dreaming. Now the question is what are you going to do about it?
The first thought that comes to my head is of a book I read years ago in college. Journey to Ixtlan. The writer is studying under a shaman, who presents him with the challenge of learning to control his dreams. The first test is to look down at his hand during a dream. Instinctively I do the same. I look down at my right hand, seeing my silver thumb ring and the blue woven friendship bracelet around my wrist. My skin is red and cracked; I haven’t been putting on moisturizing lotion as regularly as I should. But my hand doesn’t hurt at all. Of course it wouldn’t in a dream. OK. So I looked at my hand. That was easy. I’ll be a regular Dream Master in no time.
I set myself my own challenge: take a step. I raise my foot and place it down again as easily as if I was walking in the real world. The carpet where I’ve put my foot down doesn’t feel as sticky now. I look down at where I was standing before and see that that small section of the rug, right back near the end of the aisle, is so worn down I can almost see the floor through it. How long have I been standing there? Slowly, cautiously, I take a few more steps, and then my stride becomes longer and more confident. But the horizon isn’t changing. Out of the blackness come only more shelves. The carpet stretches out in front of me like a long tongue, and I can’t see where it goes. I can’t tell if I’m headed into or out of the maw. I start jogging, but more of the same just keeps coming at me, on and on and on. I get more and more confused. Am I supposed to take this as a metaphor for my life or something? Is this supposed to give me insight into the human condition? We keep moving, keep running, and end up going nowhere? Wow. Deep. This is becoming the first dream that could actually do me in with boredom before anything else. At least if there was someone else to talk to, it might be more interesting here.
After what feels like at least a few minutes of walking, I pause and take a closer look at some of the books on the shelves around me. There’s some titles in English that I can read, such as Jack the Ripper Revealed or Complete Chronology of the Battle of Bunker Hill, but others are in strange symbols or in languages I can’t understand. What strikes me, however, is that all of the volumes appear to be in excellent condition. There’s no sign of wear on the spines, no threads out of place on the woven covers. There’s no layer of dust to take away from any of the colors. There’s no scent of dust in the air. In fact, there’s no smell at all. The books don’t smell like they’re new, and yet they are immaculate. I tip one book halfway out of its place on the shelf and examine the pages. No sign of dog ears or tears. As lonely as this library is, it’s definitely got the best quality control of any I’ve ever seen.
However, I’d much rather have some company, all things being equal. Staring at the hallway stretching before me, ending in darkness, I yell, “Hello?” My voice resonates in the air around me, traveling away until it is swallowed up into the black air. No response. Slightly irritated now, I begin walking. As soon as I take another step, the scenery in front of me changes. I can see a larger room up ahead. Unable to help myself, I break into a run until I am there, halting just at the edge.
It’s a circular room lined with bookshelves like the ones in the hall behind me, with a large crystal chandelier hovering over everything. There are tables surrounded by plush brown armchairs, sporting amber lamps. But, most importantly, across the room from me I can see someone taking books off the shelves. It’s an older, gray-haired man in a green sweater and khaki pants. I weave my way through the tables and call out, “It’s so good to see someone here.”
The man turns around. He’s got a huge stack of books of various sizes in his hands, and is wearing glasses with thick lenses. As soon as he sees me, his mouth turns down at the corners, his lip trembles, and his eyes go extra shiny. He looks like he’s about to cry. I stop dead in my tracks, staring back at him.
“Welcome to the library,” he says. I can hear the tears in his voice even if they haven’t fallen from his eyes yet.
Instinctively I cross my arms over my chest. I’ve only got a thin pink silk top and blue short shorts on. Hardly conventional library attire. But his eyes never leave my face. My clothes couldn’t matter less to him; all I know is that he wishes I weren’t here. This is fast becoming the oddest dream I’ve ever had. But I don’t want to stay in this position forever before I wake up, so I ask, “Can I read any of these books?”
The man sniffs and nods. “Yes. Anything here is open to you. Most people your age prefer to start off in the video section.” He points to a hallway off to his right, which again heads off into blackness. “Enjoy your stay,” he says before turning back to the shelves.
I turn in the direction he is pointing and start heading off. Am I really going to spend the rest of this dream watching a movie? I shake my head at the idea. As I leave the circular section and the librarian behind, I don’t know how long this walk is going to take, so I start running through tomorrow’s activities in my head. My little sister and I are taking care of our parents’ house while they’re off on a long cruise, and they’re due back in just a few days. We need to get the house cleaned and the garden weeded before they get back. Our parents are avid gardeners, so the outdoor tasks are definitely going to be more time-consuming. Maybe I can foist that off on my sister by convincing her the house will be harder … I can do a quick dust over every room and pull out the vacuum cleaner … maybe get the floors mopped too, if I really feel like going the extra mile …
This mental checklist must have taken up more time than I realized, because the next thing I know I’m glancing at a shelf and seeing that the books have been replaced by plastic DVD cases. They look just as clean and new as the covers of the books did. I stop and take a look at the titles. Jimmy Hoffa’s Grave Revealed. Amelia Earhart’s Disappearance Revealed. Zodiac Killer Revealed. I remember seeing similar titles on some of the books back in the original hallway. This gives me pause. “Revealed?” What is this, some kind of trashy conspiracy theory collection? My opinion of this library’s quality is plummeting.
Rolling my eyes, I continue forward and come upon a space that looks like a video section in a regular library. Monitors are placed on long desks and big black dividers are placed between them, allowing viewers some privacy. There are in fact a few other people here with me, but they are all wearing headphones and staring enraptured at their TV sets. One boy who looks like he’s still in middle school is watching his video with wide, round eyes. An older woman has tears rolling down her eyes as she stares at her screen. I take a quick glance over her shoulder and see that she is watching two large airplanes collide on an airport runway. The impact and ensuing fireball make me shudder and shrink away. I decide not to disturb her and browse one of the surrounding shelves. I see more and more titles about something or other being revealed and think that I’m in this library’s crazy idea of a history section. I’ve never been much of a history buff, so I decide to see if I can find a section on current events. In the middle of one shelf, a title catches my eye. Crescent City Killer Revealed. This gives me pause. Crescent City is where my family lives.
I take the DVD off the shelf and turn it over to see if there’s any more information on the back. Nothing. No dates or anything. This might just be something like a soap opera or propaganda of some sort. Then an idea hits me. What if it’s not? Older stuff like Jack the Ripper and Amelia Earhart are glimpses into the past. Maybe this is a glimpse into the future? If it is, and I watch this video and learn the killer’s identity before he strikes, I might be able to save someone’s life. I could save multiple lives. The idea excites me so much that I start to shake a little bit. I can watch this video and learn this sicko’s identity, and when I wake up in the morning I can go to the police and stop him before he has a chance to get started. Yes. I have to watch this.
I turn around and see that there is an available monitor right behind me. Plopping down on the chair, I pop the DVD into the tray and slip a pair of earphones over my head. They are very comfortable, and they completely block out every sound except the faint buzz from the TV. No wonder everyone else in here was so fixated on what they were seeing on the screen; it’s like these headphones shut out the rest of the world. I take a quick glance both ways to see if anyone is watching me, and when I see that no one is, I prop my feet up on the desk. Concentrate, I tell myself as the screen boots up. Study everything closely. You’re going to get this guy.
The movie – or documentary, whatever it is – doesn’t bother with opening credits or a title or anything. It just goes right into the action. There’s a tall man dressed in black creeping through a dark house in the middle of the night. I study his face. Short brown hair; long nose; a mole on his left cheek. I don’t recognize him. His hands are covered with purple latex gloves. The small knife in his right hand glints menacingly as he turns. It looks just slightly smaller than a switchblade. He finds the staircase to the second floor and starts ascending. He goes slowly and carefully, testing each individual step, checking for the possibility of a loud creak. Every so often he will glance back over his shoulder, and then focus on the climb in front of him again. OK, if you don’t know this guy, study the house. Maybe you’ll recognize the place and you can warn whoever’s inside. He pauses to observe a picture on the wall near the top of the staircase, and even in the dim light of the video I notice something that gives me pause.
I remove my legs from the table so that I can lean forward and study the images better. The figures in the picture look eerily familiar. Peering closer, I stop breathing as I recognize one of my family’s portraits from years ago. My parents, my sister and I are all sitting on the floor around our old dog, a bloodhound named Westin who died five years ago. I may not recognize the killer, but I recognize the house all too well.
Calm down, I tell myself. Remember, this is the future you’re looking at. Your dream is giving you a chance to catch this guy. Look at him again. I peer closely at his face. I still don’t think I’ve ever seen him before, but maybe he’s someone my parents know. I can try calling or emailing them when I get up in the morning. If they give me something to go on, then I can take the information to the police.
Now the man is creeping down the upstairs hallway. He stops at the first door on the right and slowly edges it open, again not wanting to run the risk of a creak. I suck in my breath as I realize which room he’s going into.
The windows are open in the bedroom. A fan buzzes in the corner. It’s a hot summer night, so I’m sprawled out on the bed. The covers are thrown back, and there’s a white sheet tangled around my legs. My head is turned to the wall away from the door, and my hair is covering my face. The man pauses over my bed, staring silently down at me. I concentrate as hard as I can, trying to pull something from this video that will give me a name or a place I might have seen this guy before. He’s looking down at me like he knows me. Or it could just be association with my family. Then I notice something else that gives me pause; the clothes I am wearing. Pink silk top. Blue short shorts. I glance down at my lap, take in my familiar clothes, and a cold wave of doubt starts to gnaw at me.
Did I leave the windows open in my room before I went to sleep tonight? I know I turned the fan on. The sound of it running created a kind of white noise that helped me drift off. But did I open the windows? I can’t remember. But this is still the future … it has to be.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the man reaches out his left hand and tilts my head to stare up at the ceiling. There’s not a flinch or so much as a tick from my face; I’m completely out, sleeping much more soundly than I usually do when it’s hot. I’m torn right now. Part of me is wishing desperately that I could wake up this instant just to make sure I’m all right, but the other half of me thinks that if I were to do that, this man standing over me with a knife is exactly what I would see.
The man has been so slow and methodical up until this moment that I almost miss his next actions. I wish that I had.
He clamps his left hand over my mouth, and with his right hand he brings the blade across my throat.
I clap both hands over my mouth to hold back my scream. I fancy I can feel a light line drawn across my neck, almost like a tickle. My hands go to my throat, expecting to feel the cut, expecting to feel hot slimy blood cascading down my chest. Instead I can only feel my own clammy hands. Did that really just happen? No, this is the future. You wear those pajamas all the time in the summer. Keep concentrating. Look for clues.
Then I remember the titles of all the DVDs and books I saw. Jack the Ripper Revealed. Amelia Earhart Revealed. “Revealed.” Answers to questions no one was able to answer in life. If this killer is “revealed” … does that mean that nobody ever catches him?
It takes me a second to realize that the film is still going. The man has now left my body behind without a second thought and is making his way back into the hallway. There is another door directly across from him.
“No,” I croak. After seeing my own throat cut, I’m amazed that I still have a voice. But it’s still there, and it’s rapidly gaining steam. This nagging doubt in my mind is getting stronger by the second. I lean forward until my nose is practically touching the TV screen. “No, no, no. No.”
The Crescent City Killer edges the other door open just as slowly and cautiously as he did mine. He creeps into the second bedroom. The bed he approaches is smaller – just a single – against the far wall. There, lying prone under a canopy of sheets with stars and galaxies printed on them is my little sister. Much as he did with me, the killer stands over her for a few moments, staring down at her, undoubtedly relishing what he’s about to do.
“No, no, no! Wake up! Wake up! Get out of there!” I’m yelling.
He plants his left hand over her mouth, raises the knife-
A hand clamps down on my shoulder, making me jump. I spin around and gasp in horror and despair as I stare up into my sister’s confused face.
Chloe Hagerman was born in Portland in 1989, and although she attended Knox College in Illinois and has lived and traveled around the world, she still calls Portland her home. She has been writing since she was 11, and has always striven to better her works with the help and support of friends and family. She prefers writing fiction, from short stories to plays to full-length novels. Her story "Warriors of Sukra" is available on Amazon HERE.