That night, after dinner, I’d just started some homework for American history when I sensed the kind of musty smell one sometimes encounters in museums and libraries — or that I encountered in Grammer’s house on that Christmas four years ago, just before the magic began.
At first, I thought it was my imagination – that I’d become so immersed in some of the photos and documents I saw on the textbook page that I was imbuing them with the sort of scent I thought they should have. But then, I crossed the room to put a new stack of singles on the turntable, leaving my textbook on the desk. The two-chord vamp had just started on the Newbeats’ Bread and Butter when I noticed that the scent was still with me – in a sense, that it had “followed” me. I checked my pockets, and found the dark ivory envelope Lois had given me – complete with its odd writing on the envelope and its musty smell – in my left hip pocket.
I opened it and found a piece of 8½” x 11” paper in a darker shade of ivory with engraving on the top and sides calculated to give the impression that it had been liberated from some arcane volume. It had an even stronger musty smell, consistent with its appearance.
I hope you won’t find this note either too forward or too informal, but I did think it might be to our mutual benefit to become better acquainted. As I understand it, you have been searching for someone acquainted with a certain Gilbertine Stumont, or at least has had classes or similar contact with her.
It so happens that I am such a person, having taken art and language classes with her some time ago, though I fear I’ve lost touch with her in more recent days. I can provide you with information about her, at least as she was, if I can trouble you to be an occasional conduit for communication with or about her present self.
In particular, there is information with regard to one of her instructors – an exasperating and not entirely trustworthy man named “Henri Oisseau” – about which you should be aware. If this is of interest to you, please reply by placing your response in an envelope and leaving it in the gazebo outside your back door. Have no concern, it will reach me.
I await your reply, and until then remain your very obedient servant. Please call me,
“Well,” I thought, “this is certainly an interesting new link in this chain of events – one I shouldn’t let pass by.” With that, I picked up one of the blank pages of paper I used for correspondence and had in my desk, along with one of the dozen or so envelopes I kept there, and wrote back:
I’m not sure how much help I can be to you, but your note intrigues me. Reply to me in your own good time; let’s see where this takes us.
Until then I remain
Very truly yours,
I put the sheet in the envelope , addressed it simply “Jackie,” put it in the gazebo, and decided to wait and see what happened next.
Once again, I thought I heard the strange laughter of little girls as I left the gazebo and walked back to the house.
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