“Because I am the truth,” said the traveler. “I have come a long way to find and say: you are not lost. Your great Beast has only drowned some little while. In another year, lost ahead, great and glorious, plain and simple men will gather at your grave and shout: he breeches, he rises, he breeches, he rises! and the white shape will surface to the light, the great terror lift into the storm and thunderous St. Elmo’s fire and you with him, each bound to each, and no way to tell where he stops and you start or where you stop and he goes off around the world lifting a fleet of libraries in his and your wake through nameless seas of sub-sub-librarians and readers mobbing the docks to chart your far journeyings, alert for your lost cries at three of a wild morn.”
“Christ’s wounds!” said the man in his winding-sheet bedclothes. “To the point, man, the point! Do you speak truth!?”
“I give you my hand on it, and pledge my soul and my heart’s blood.” The visitor moved to do just this, and the two men’s fists fused as one. “Take these gifts to the grave. Count these pages like a rosary in your last hours. Tell no one where they came from. Scoffers would knock the ritual beads from your fingers. So tell this rosary in the dark before dawn, and the rosary is this: you will live forever. You are immortal.”
“No more of this, no more! Be still.”
“I can not. Hear me. Where you have passed a fire path will burn, miraculous in the Bengal Bay, the Indian Seas, Hope’s Cape, and around the Horn, past perdition’s landfall, as far as living eyes can see.”
He gripped the old man’s fist ever more tightly.
“I swear. In the years ahead, a million millions will crowd your grave to sleep you well and warm your bones. Do you hear?”
“Great God, you are a proper priest to sound my Last Rites. And will I enjoy my own funeral? I will.”
His hands, freed, clung to the books at each side, as the ardent visitor raised yet other books and intoned the dates:
“Nineteen twenty-two … 1930 … 1935 … 1940 . 1955… 1970. Can you read and know what it means?”
He held the last volume close to the old man’s face. The fiery eyes moved. The old mouth creaked.
“Yours. One hundred years from tonight.”
“I must go, but I would hear. Chapter One. Speak.”
The old man’s eyes slid and burned. He licked his lips, traced the words, and at last whispered, beginning to weep:
“’Call me Ishmael.’”
There was snow and more snow and more snow after that. In the dissolving whiteness, the silver ribbon twirled in a massive whisper to let forth in an exhalation of Time the journeying librarian and his book bag. As if slicing white bread rinsed by snow, the ribbon, as the traveler ghosted himself to flesh, sifted him through the hospital wall into a room as white as December. There, abandoned, lay a man as pale as the snow and the wind. Almost young, he slept with his mustaches oiled to his lip by fever. He seemed not to know nor care that a messenger had invaded the air near his bed. His eyes did not stir, nor did his mouth increase the passage of breath. His hands at his sides did not open to receive. He seemed already lost in a bomb and only his unexpected visitor’s voice caused his eyes to roll behind their shut lids.
“Are you forgotten?” a voice asked.
“Unborn,” the pale man replied.
“Only. Only in. France.”
“Wrote nothing at all?”
“Feel the weight of what I place on your bed. No, don’t look. Feel.”
“With names, yes, but not tombstones. Not marble but paper. Dates, yes, but the day after tomorrow and tomorrow and ten thousand after that. And your name on each.”
“It will not be.”
“Is. Let me speak the names. Listen. Masque?”
“The Fall of-“ –
“Heart! My heart. Heart!”