“The volcano is due to erupt in a week or less, Cathy. How long will it take you to get that room packed? You’ve had too much time!”
“Oh, alright! I’ll finish it this afternoon! I’ve just got to pack up all my books.” Cathy ran a dusty hand through her red hair, as she surveyed the large stacks of books she’d taken from her shelf. How could she just uproot all this history? How could she say goodbye to this beautiful library?
“Oh! Cathy! I forgot to tell you!” Her mother called from the other end of the small house. “Mr. Mortimer needs to be told about the evacuation!”
Cathy’s head shot up indignantly from a book she’d peeked into. The book slammed shut. “Mr. Mortimer?! And what does that have to do with me?” She turned and faced the open door.
Her mother walked down the hall toward her. “Your father and I are going to get your grandmother. We need to make sure that all her things are packed up. We’ll come back at five to get you and our last load. In the mean time, you need to hike over to his house and tell him.”
“And why on earth would I want to talk to a recluse! Much less go to his house!” Cathy couldn’t believe her mom would make such an absurd demand.
“Cathy!” Her mother put a hand on her shoulder, in attempts to calm her. “We are his closest neighbors. It’s only a two-mile hike to his house. He doesn’t have a phone, or TV or anything that would let him know that there is an evacuation. He hasn’t been seen in town for several months.”
“Well then maybe he died!” Cathy glared at her mother. “Do you think I want to hike two miles up a mountain to talk to some freak who is stuck in a giant house with no electricity? What if I get lost in there? What if I can’t even see anything when I walk through the front door? I mean, you think he’s got the whole thing full of burning candles all the time? What if it collapses on me?”
“Cathy!” Her mother stifled laughter in her attempts to be sincere. “Stop these bizarre imaginations! The times that I’ve met him he has been very kind. You’ll be just fine.”
“Honey! Are you ready?” A shout was heard from the back door.
“I’ll be just a moment!” Cathy’s mother shouted. “Well, you’re father’s waiting. I’ve got to run!”
Cathy sat on the floor moping as she listened to the sounds of her parents car fade away into the distance. She wondered how to get out of this mess. What if she just pretended to tell him and said that the house was empty? What if she said he wouldn’t come with her, or wouldn’t believe any of this mess about a volcano? That had happened to a guy that lived near Mt. St. Helen’s. Why couldn’t it happen again?
Within an hour she had finished packing her books and the few scattered belongings in her room. She wondered if the house would still be there after the volcano, or if this would be her last day there. For a while she deliberately stayed put, reading one of her books, but her conscience wouldn’t stay quiet.
“Oh alright!” She yelled into the air, and smacked the book shut again. “Fine! I’ll go! But I really don’t want to! What if he’s a cereal killer? I mean, that happens to people who don’t spend time with other people!”
She trudged slowly along the pathway through the forest. Burrs from the low bramble stuck to her shoes and pants. There had been a reason why she didn’t like to hike this path. It had grown over with thorns and all sorts of pesky plants. It wasn’t anything like the mossy paths in the gullies that she liked to hike on. The sun beat down through the trees, and made her agonizingly uncomfortable.
As she rambled through the woods her imagination only grew stranger. He could be totally creepy! What if he was a murderer like that guy in Secret Window? What if he’d been banned from coming into town because they thought he killed people? Fear crowed every corner of her mind.
She stood still. What if she just turned around right now? She didn’t have to go and risk being murdered.
“I’ll just say he refused to come!” She declared to the silent wood. “See if you can make me do whatever you want me to!” She screamed into the forest. “See if you can always tell me to do anything you want! You’ll never know, will you mom? You’ll never know, and you can’t change it! I don’t want to save this stupid recluse! He dug himself into his own hole! He can climb out if he wants! He could speak to the world if he wanted to!”
Cathy ran, heedless of the bramble that clawed her clothes. She didn’t care any more. She was fed up with all her mom’s stupid rules. She was fed up with all of it. In her rage she stopped noticing all the things in the woods that she had counted so bothersome before. Her foot caught on a root and she found herself rolling head long down the side of the hill into a ravine. The trees thinned and she hit a bare stretch covered with years worth of dry leaves. Her speed quickened. To spite flailing her arms to catch anything, she kept rolling.
She thudded into a hollow at the ravine floor. As she staggered upright, brushing leaves off her clothing, she saw a door in the face of the mountain. Curiously, she went forward and examined it, running her fingers through her bedraggled hair. Carved into the face of the metal door was an illustrious writing. She ran her hands over it, knocking off dirt. It was so rusty and covered with dirt and moss, that she could only make out the word “Joseph.” Suddenly the door gave way as she was leaning against it and she tumbled inside a dark room. A series of alarm noises and the grating of large stones filled her ears. A different door thudded shut behind her. Red flashing lights illuminated the cave. “Security system enabled. Emergency lock down initiated. Protective waterfall turning on. Protective waterfall system will run for three days. Perimeter securing. Perimeter securing.” A voice called out through what seemed like an endless amount of rooms, as the thundering sound of water deafened her left ear.
Cathy sat up and surveyed her newfound prison. “Oh my gosh? Three days? Really? I’m stuck in here for THREE DAYS?!” She stood up. “So… my mom sends me to find a recluse and I get locked in some weird mountain jail!” She wandered through the cave-like room toward an opening at its far end. “Well, I might as well explore, if I’m stuck! I mean, if there’s a security system, there’s probably treasure down here!”
Some hours passed as she wandered from cave to cave and her feeling of excitement and wonder died away. It had been a bit of an adventure at first. She had successfully buried her feelings of fear and overwhelmed them with curiosity. But now she was hungry, lonely and exhausted. Maybe she should have gone to find the recluse? Maybe he wasn’t all that bad? Surely talking to him wouldn’t be worse than being stuck in a cave with a security system, and electric lighting. What was this even? Who would spend massive amounts of money on something this bizarre?
In a muddle of confusion she plopped wearily down on the floor, her thoughts running back through the events of the day. Would she ever see her mom again? Would she be stuck down here when the volcano erupted? Tears dripped down her cheeks as she thought of how her mother was probably acting right now, having no idea where to find her. What a fool she had been. How unkind she had been! How selfish she had been! Cathy curled up on the stone floor and cried until she fell asleep.
When she woke up again the red lights had stopped flashing, and a dim blue light filled the caves. She wandered about again, wondering if she could find anything worth eating, or maybe a little stream. She’d heard of underground lakes before. Maybe she’d find one.
Time muddled. She had no way of knowing when the volcano would erupt. She was completely alone. What if no one ever came for her? It slowly dawned on her that she had become just like the recluse. Had he been totally isolated for a reason other than just being strange? She had no right to have left him there with no warning.
As Cathy explored the vast caves she began to find more evidence of human activity. The earlier caverns had been empty, save odd light fixtures in various places and speakers spread out. Now, there were a few carved halls, instead of rambling tunnels. Before long she found herself at the foot or a narrow staircase carved in the stone, which she climbed carefully.
She blinked as she came out of the tunneling flight of steps. Before her was a gigantic cavern with a magnificent chandelier hanging in the middle of the ceiling. Around her on every side were books. Some of the books were on shelves; many were piled in endless stacks. Carved high on the far wall was an inscription in the same lettering as the door. “The Library of Sir Joseph William Mortimer” Cathy read slowly. She gasped. It was Mr. Mortimer’s caves she’d lost herself in! Perhaps there was a way to his house!
Stumbling over books, she ran around the room. She searched everywhere for another entrance. Surely he didn’t hike all the way down into that gully to get into this place! Eagerly she explored every crevice, but to no avail. She found no other entry to the room.
Dazed, she sat down in a chair by one of the bookshelves. Who was this man and what on earth did he want with all these books? She glanced at the shelf next to her and began to read the names on each tome. Within a few moments she found herself eating up a copy of The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis. Being stuck in a library couldn’t be all that bad. Cathy had loved to read since she was three years old. Her grandmother had taught her to read from a picture book of Heidi. Since that day Cathy had been obsessed with books.
After some time lost in the philosophical ramblings of Lewis, Cathy looked up from the book. For a moment she wondered where she was, having been so intrigued by the book that she had forgotten everything else. She took in the room again and remembered her uncanny circumstance. She was stuck in an old underground library in a volcanic mountain that was about to erupt. Moreover this library belonged to a recluse who’d moved to the property a few years back to reclaim some family land his father had willed to him. The man had been rarely seen and was rumored to be incredibly strange, having no phone, TV, Internet, or even electricity.
Cathy ran over all these odd facts in her head, trying to remember everything she knew about the man. She realized she didn’t even know how old he was. What if he was so old he couldn’t get out much? Turning over all sorts of thoughts in her head, Cathy began to explore the library again. She ran her fingers over the books and studied the titles. “C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Brian Jacques. . .” She whispered as she read, “I must be in the British authors section…” Within a few book shelves she found that she could no longer read the names. “Oh… so this guy is bi-lingual…” she muttered, as she scanned the endless section of French books. “Oh dear, multi-lingual! This one is German! Why, this is Luther’s translation of the Bible!” She pulled a little brown book from the shelf. “It’s so beautiful!”
She stifled a yawn as she slipped the book back onto the shelf and continued onward. For some time, she wandered through the room until she rounded the corner of a shelf and found a large leather sofa with several books scattered over it. With little hesitation she cleared it off and lay down, falling asleep in a few moments.
A cough woke her from her dreams. “Who on earth are you? And how did you get in here?” Said a young man’s voice.
Cathy jumped from the couch, her heart pounding heavily. “I’m just a neighbor, I didn’t mean any harm!” She cried, her eyes whirling about the room to find the voice of the intruder.
“Well, I see no harm done. I hope you have enjoyed the books.” The voice softened.
Cathy started, tripped over a book and fell down on the coffee table in front of the couch. In front of her was a man wearing a cloak and a white mask over the top half of his face.
“I’m not that terrifying am I?” He laughed. “I thought the mask made me look better.”
“But… who…” Cathy stammered.
“I am Joseph William Mortimer the 5th. My family has been building this library for some time.” He sat down in a chair by the couch. “Since you are wondering, I was born with a disfigured face and have been living here in seclusion for the past three years.” He smiled, and cocked his head to the side. “You seem much taken aback. What were you expecting when you wandered into a cave with a security system on a volcanic mountain?”
“Um….” Cathy blushed all over. She’d been expecting a grumpy old man yelling her out of the place, not a young man a few years older than herself. “Well there’s a volcano and, and I was supposed to come get you cause you don’t have a TV or Internet or anything!” She blurted.
“Oh… it’s going to erupt sometime?” The man started back. “I’ve been wondering about various signs I’ve seen, but my family had promised to come and get me. They had built the upper house without electricity and all because it cost so much to upkeep the library and cave systems, especially the waterfall security system to trap intruders. Trust me, I didn’t design all this. It’s extremely weird!”
Cathy stared for a moment. “Uh… yeah. Well, sorry. Let me start again in a more dignified manner. The volcano is supposed to erupt in a few days so they are evacuating the area and my mom sent me to get you. I fell down a ravine because I was running and accidentally found the door. I was looking at it and it fell in when I leaned on it and then suddenly I was trapped down here. I don’t even know how long I’ve been here. At least two days, maybe more.” Her tongue raced almost as fast as her heart.
“Don’t be afraid, um… pardon, I don’t know your name…”
“Oh, it’s Cathy! And… do I call you Joe?” She offered her hand.
He shook it cordially. “Joe is fine I guess… I haven’t had many friends, my family calls me Joseph. But… you’ve been down here three days. The alarm went off in the evening while I was having dinner and I didn’t want to check it immediately. Then I forgot about it.”
“Three days!” Cathy gasped. “Well, first things first Joe, we need to get out of here! The volcano could erupt any minute!”
“I have a car. Let’s go.” Joe led her to a rather tall cabinet, and after fiddling and knocking on it; it slid back to reveal a winding staircase. “Come on, up to the top.”
They ran up the stone steps until they reached a doorway. Cathy collapsed at the top. “I’m so, so hungry.” She gasped.
Joe picked her up at once and kept running. “We’ve got to get out of here! There’s snack food in the car, and I can get water from the kitchen.”
He carried through a myriad of ornate rooms and finally placed her in a Land Rover. “I’ll be right back!” He rush away and quickly returned with several canteens of water.
Cathy ate and drank as Joe drove down the mountain. As they drove she directed him to the shelter for evacuees. After some hours they finally arrived and Cathy saw her parents standing near the entrance. They ran and embraced happily, her mother shedding tears of joy.
The volcano erupted the next day, but thankfully went down the opposite side of the mountain leaving Joe’s library safe and sound. For the rest of their lives, Cathy and Joe explored the great family library, which they added onto for many years. Cathy convinced Joe to stop wearing his mask, and that having crooked eyebrows was not a disfigurement to be ashamed of.