Though he would not tell anyone, Geoffrey Pierce remembered when Fenway College opened its doors to educate Boston's young women in 1918. Those years had been memorable ones. The Spanish Influenza came with the Great War's end. Molasses covered the North End--on hot days, nearly a century later, he swore he could smell it still. Babe Ruth played his last game with Geoffrey's beloved Red Sox. Then the strikes, the unionization of the Police Department. Violent days of change.
Nearly a century after the College opened, Geoffrey sat in his newly renovated office. He alternatively stared out the narrow window onto the Quad below, at the throngs of students sitting outside his office to speak with one of his colleagues and at the letter on his desk. It read:
Dear Dr Pierce,
We regret to inform you that your proposed course "Estranged Cousins: British and American Relations During the Second World War" will not be accepted by the College at this time...
Geoffrey sighed and pushed it away. He was a military historian, yet they did not think to use his expertise; the Administration resigned him to teaching introductory courses to the freshmen. He picked up his model Spitfire and pretended the machine was airborne, engaged in a dramatic dogfight against a Messerschmitt-110.
If only the Administration knew what they were turning down. If only they knew that the British propaganda posters framed and matted with acid-free paper that Geoffrey hung around his office were genuine, original pieces he picked up during the War. If only his students realized that the soft-spoken, eccentric professor who biked to work everyday with a violin on his back because he did not own a car had flown what were state of the art planes with Rolls Royce engines against skilled Nazi pilots seventy years before. If only was a powerful phrase.
Someone knocked on his door. Geoffrey put his model Spitfire back on its stand and waved the dreadlocked student in.
The kid had a broad smile. He wore old dungarees and a flannel shirt, along with beat up canvas trainers. Geoffrey hadn't taught this student, but he knew the type.
"Prof? Can I ask you a question?" said the kid. He shut the door and sat down in the uncomfortable chair in front of Geoffrey's desk.
Geoffrey wondered if the kid wanted to take one of his classes and needed more information about it before making his decision. Registration was rapidly approaching.
"Ask away," said Geoffrey.
"A little background first," said the kid. He eyed the Spitfire on Geoffrey's desk. There was a yearning in his eye, as though he wanted nothing more than to pick the model up and examine it. He took a deep breath.
"For starters, my name is Mudd."
It struck Geoffrey as more likely that "Mudd" was a nickname. The kid probably had some terribly uncool, Wall Street name like Clarence. Yes, that had to be it. Clarence Augustus Vanderbilt. With a name like that, no wonder he went by Mudd.
Mudd/Clarence continued, breaking Geoffrey out of his thoughts.
"I'm one of the Keepers of the Book of Stories. It holds all of the stories in the world."
Mudd shrugged, trying to brush it off. Geoffrey saw his students make the same movement when he passed back their final papers and they received a "C" or worse. Mudd pushed the disappointment away, but Geoffrey could tell that he cared immensely, that there was some underlying shame.
"Go on," said Geoffrey. He leaned forward, closing his laptop. He did not believe it, per se, but nonetheless this tale interested him. That, and none of his actual students cared to discuss the Industrial Revolution, so he relished the conversation, even if he had no idea where it was going.
"The Book broke and I need your help fixing it."
"I'm a historian, Clar-Mudd. Not a restorer."
Mudd's eyes traveled around the room. He seemed to be ignoring Geoffrey's comments. He settled on the bookshelf. Geoffrey followed his progress with interest, wondering why this strange pseudo-student was so intrigued by his books. Winston Churchill's history of the Second World War, Herodotus and Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. Mudd stood. He reached over and pointed to a volume. It was in a sorry state. The cordovan leather had cracked, the pages were dog-eared, swollen with water and stained with coffee, wine and grass.
"Where did you get that?" he hissed. His body tensed, its fluidity lost.
"That?" Geoffrey removed the tome. "I bought it at a used book store last week. It's a gift for-for my friend Julia."
"Give it to me," Mudd commanded.
"It's the Book of Stories." Mudd's tone was an odd mix of disdain and reverence.
"Julia will fix it. It's her hobby."
Mudd laughed and shook his head. "You don't understand, Prof. I know the cover looks awful, that the pages are in bad shape. It isn't the outside that's the problem. It's the inside."
"How do you mean?"
"The stories are confused. They're rewriting themselves. I need your help in fixing them."
"You came to the wrong place. I'm a history professor. The English department is on the fourth floor," said Geoffrey.
"Have an English professor help me? They'd go and impose Baudrillard or Derrida or Marx on the Book and confuse it even more. Besides, none of them are Storytellers. You are."
Geoffrey froze. Mudd stood and walked around the small office. He picked up the violin case Geoffrey kept by the bookshelf. "Ah, this explains why you haven't told any lately!"
"How do you know--"
"Prof," interrupted Mudd as he carefully set the case down. "The Book has every story in it. All of yours. All of Victor Hugo's. Everything."
"I don't tell stories anymore. I teach history. And besides, why don't you just fix the book yourself? "
Mudd stared at Geoffrey, disbelief on his face.
"What do you want me to do, correct grammar? I'll give you a green pen and white-out and you can do it yourself," said Geoffrey. He pulled the Book towards him.
Mudd's face fell, horrified by the suggestion. "You--you can't do that!" he exclaimed.
"Why not? It's how I fix papers." He rose, pen in hand. His ankle rested next to the violin case. Mudd made a mad dash for the Book as Geoffrey opened it.
The last thing Geoffrey heard as a flash of white light engulfed him and the Book was Mudd yelling "Stop!"
His body burned. Each nerve screamed as tiny pinpricks of heat battered his skin. He grit his teeth; his mouth was inflamed, too.
A fiery mass, he plummeted through the ether, a meteorite plummeting through space. He collided with something soft. A grassy knoll. He panted, his eyes unfocused on the heavens. A black shape hurtled towards him, but missed his spreadeagled body.
A wave of nausea hit Geoffrey. His body curled; he fought the urge to vomit. His skin still burned with invisible fire. There was also a cooling sensation of ice extinguishing the flames. He shivered. He turned his head to the side and threw up.
He didn't try to stand. His limbs ached as all of the many centuries, millennia pressed down on him, crushing his innards.
Geoffrey knew he wasn't on Earth any longer. He had felt like this once before, the day he fell from the sky and ended up in the wilderness, the desert between Israel and Babylon. The thought, the memory vanished. He convulsed again.
He thrust out his hand. It rubbed against a familiar, pitted texture and smooth, cool metal. He smiled. Through this bout of illness he could be glad. With him was the thing that mattered most, almost as much as his life: his violin. The instrument was his voice, his song, his joy. God may have played a joke on him, sending him to this place, but He would not let Geoffrey go mad.