Isabelle leaned over and placed the book she had been reading on her bedside table. It was a dull story – something she had been recommended by a friend, but it was flat and had a kind of self-righteous conservatism that she found grating. She meant to read at least a quarter of the way into the book, to give it a proper chance, but she expected that when she had, she would abandon the attempt and simply return it.
It was late at night, which was unfortunate as she had school in the morning. But her sleep was constantly interrupted by odd dreams. Not really dreams, exactly, but rather sounds. She felt as if she could hear a horribly loud crash, but when she was brought back to full consciousness, she found that her room was quiet.
She had hoped the book would put her to sleep, but sleep seemed to flee from her, so instead she came downstairs to sit in the study, where it was a little warmer than her room and she could sit in her favorite chair.
When she came to the room, Richard was sitting in the chair, his head propped up with a hand. He noticed her arrival and raised his eyebrows slightly, which to her signified that he was quite startled.
“Isabelle, you’re still awake?”
“I’ve been having trouble sleeping, dad.”
“Yes, that seems to be going around.” Richard broke his gaze with her and took a deep breath.
“Dad, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing that should concern you… just…”
“Is it Jim?”
Richard opened his mouth to speak, but it took him a few seconds before words came. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, I haven’t seen him around. I know you keep him in the vault most of the time, but there hasn’t been much coming and going there.”
“He’s a demon, Isabelle. It’s important that you remember that he is not some innocent prisoner. He is a tool to be used, and one that has the potential to be extremely dangerous.”
Isabelle nodded. She knew to be wary of Jim. Still, evil or no, she was undecided on the ethics of using a demon as her father did. “So he is down there?”
Richard chuckled, but in a perfunctory manner that betrayed its artifice. “I think that’s enough demon talk tonight. You’ll sleep past school at this rate.”
“I’ve been trying to sleep. It won’t come. I keep waking up as soon as I think sleep is about to come.”
“Like a hypnagogic jerk?”
“Sort of, but I hear sounds instead. Like some terrible crashing sound.”
Richard considered this. “I don’t know if I have an explanation.” He looked up to the doorway that led to the kitchen. “Would you like some chamomile or mackgrin root tea? I’ll put the kettle on.”
He got up and walked to the kitchen, setting the stove to heat the kettle.
“Have you ever been to Sarona, dad?”
“Once. When I was about twenty. I went on holiday in Damana. I should like to return at some point. Perhaps when we’ve got you into the rhythms of college life next year we could go during the winter break.”
“Did you get to go out into the desert?”
“Get to? I suppose I had the opportunity, but you know I’ve always been somewhat more enamored of urban locales.”
“I think I’d like to go into the desert. Far enough to see the Path of Aeoes, at least.”
“Well, you know, you can see the Path of Aeoes from Retrein, if you have the right telescope.”
“No, I mean with the naked eye. I’ve seen photographs where it looks almost solid.”
“Yes, well, I think that such a thing would be something more of a production than a quick day-trip out of Damana. You’d probably need to go a few thousand miles, which is not particularly easy out in uninhabited desert.”
Isabelle sighed. “I suppose it’s not particularly practical.”
“Well,” said Richard. “I’m sure you could find some people who would like to join you in your expedition, but I think I’d be ill-suited to such a sojourn.”
Isabelle was quiet for a moment. The kettle began to whistle, and Richard stood up and poured each of them a cup of chamomile. The water was still quite hot, so Isabelle accepted the cup but waited before she drank.
“Was there something about an observatory in Arizradna? I seem to recall something about that. Perhaps it was on the news.”
“Something like the Long Field… Deep Field? No… anyway… I thought there was some catastrophe, and they hadn’t been able to find the people stationed there.”
“I hadn’t heard about it,” said Richard.
“I think that might be what the sounds I’m hearing are. That is to say, I think that in my mind, I am subconsciously imagining what it sounded like when the telescope fell.”
“The telescope fell?” said Richard. “Was it one of those great suspended things, miles up in the air? Dear lord, what a mess.”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Well, as I’m sure you know, there is no enormous telescope suspended above our house, so you should be safe to sleep tonight.” Richard smirked, and Isabelle returned this with her own pleasant smile.
She drank the tea and began to relax. “All right, I think I’m going to attempt sleep once more,” she said. And with that, she returned up to her room.
Richard sipped his tea. He only wished his concerns were so minor. Jim had not returned from Sweet Clara’s house. Two scenarios presented themselves, neither of which was an appealing possibility. In one, Jim had somehow gotten himself unleashed, allowing him to visit actual profound violence against Clara or any bystanders in Ravenfort, for that matter. The other possibility was that Jim had somehow been caught, which seemed unlikely, but perfectly within the realm of possibility given that Henry Thall was involved.
It had been petty. He had justified himself, thinking that if he could exploit Clara’s fear that Jim had seen, he might manipulate her to his advantage. Yet now his most valuable asset was missing, and Richard could see soberly that it was a momentary flare of anger at the perceived threat to his daughter that had led him to this misstep. Control must be maintained. That Henry had laid a trap for him Richard had no doubt. All the killings were meant to accomplish something, but their ultimate purpose remained elusive. Richard had not lost himself to Henry’s trap just yet, but if he could not get Jim back, he would be vulnerable. Jim’s use as a bodyguard had been proved, but it was his innate ability to see into people and sense their thoughts and dreams that made him indispensible.
He would not be able to move immediately to get Jim back, for that was certain to be a trap of some sort. Richard even worried about calling Jim back – his binding was expertly done, but again, Henry was an expert as well.
These thoughts circled each other in Richard’s head until the morning twilight began to illuminate the world around him. He felt stale and sweaty. His clothes were somehow both too warm and too cold. A half hour after the sun began to show, the newspaper landed on the Airbrights’ front walk.
Richard opened his door and gathered the paper up. There was little of particular interest until he spotted a small headline on the bottom half of the front page. “Astronomical Observatory in Arizradna Collapses.”
He read on through the article. The Deep Field Observatory, which had been generously funded by the Sinret Project based in the Redlands, suffered some sort of malfunction that caused the suspended telescope to fall down and crush the observatory. The scientists stationed at the observatory had not been confirmed to be located, but some bodies had been found in the wreckage.
It had happened during the night, just when Isabelle had come downstairs. Richard looked up to Isabelle’s window. The light was still on.
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2014)