Ezekiel Jones walked slowly through the tall ranges of books on the mezzanine level of the Annex, staring intently down into his phone. He'd been trying for months to actually map out each floor of the Library, but for some strange reason whenever he went back to compare the map he'd previously made with the actual floor layout, the two never matched. He figured it must be some sort of built-in internal security feature of the Library that Flynn hadn't told them about. Or, perhaps Ray, the actual spirit of the Library, changed the layouts intentionally just to mess with the thief's head. That sounded much more likely to Ezekiel. Jenkins probably put Ray up to it, too, just to spite Ezekiel.
Jones stopped and looked around, heaving a sigh of frustration. He was in a seldom-used section, and all around him were high, dark ranges of dusty, musty-smelling old books, with small, odd artifacts tucked here and there amongst the volumes. How on earth Jenkins kept track of where everything was in this place was beyond him.
He suddenly became aware of a sound, faint and distant: Christmas music.
Jones cocked his head and held his breath. He still heard it, and it was definitely Christmas music, in the middle of summer. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", in fact. Intrigued, he slipped his phone into the back pocket of his jeans and began trying to track down the source of the incongruent music.
After about ten minutes, he had pinpointed its location. It seemed to be coming from high up over his head, atop one of the ranges of books. Frowning with puzzlement, Ezekiel looked around for something climb up on, but saw nothing handy. He thought for a moment, then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he began climbing the range by using the shelves as steps. Jenkins would be furious if he caught Ezekiel, but the old codger wasn't here right now, so…what Jenkins didn't know wouldn't hurt Ezekiel Jones!
The music grew louder as he climbed. When he reached the top of the range, he stopped and peered around in the darkness. There, just a couple of feet away from his current position, he could just make out a hole in the wall, between the range he was on and its immediate neighbor. Jones carefully moved over toward the spot, then dug his phone out and turned on its flashlight.
"Crikey!" he breathed in amazement as the beam of light fell on some of the hole's contents. He adjusted his position, braced himself with one arm and switched his phone to that hand. With his free hand, he then cautiously reached into the hole in the wall. He began pulling out an odd assortment of items and dropping them to the floor twenty feet below: Bow ties, hair barrettes, jewelry, bandanas, mummified slices of pizza. He even found his extra set of apartment keys that he'd misplaced several weeks ago.
He next pulled out the battery-powered dancing Christmas tree that Jenkins and Cassandra had left out for Franklin last Christmas. Franklin had dragged the tree off to parts unknown—well, unknown until now, anyway. Ezekiel realized that this must be Franklin's secret lair. And the little reptilian thief had been stuffing it full of all of the Librarians's things he had been stealing over the last several months!
Jones shone the flashlight into the hole again to see what else the tea dragon had stashed in the wall. His eyes widened with interest when they caught the flash of something shiny and turquoise-y in color. He adjusted his grip on the phone and braced his feet on the shelf he was standing on, then reached into the hole. His fingers touched something sinuous in shape and made of stone. He grabbed hold of the object and pulled it out, held it up in the light. His brown eyes bugged wide with shock as he recognized a piece of art that was clearly Pre-Columbian—a double-headed serpent about a foot long, made of wood over which tiny tesserae of turquoise and jade had been glued with pine tar, its eyes made of mother-of-pearl and obsidian, the mouths and tongues of each head made of red spiny oyster shell and snow-white conch shell. It was a stunning work or art—and near priceless, he suspected.
Ezekiel grinned and very carefully tucked the serpent sculpture into the front of his shirt for safekeeping, put his phone into his jeans pocket, then began to quickly climb down.
Chac, the ancient Mesoamerican water deity who had been hidden in the wall of the Library centuries ago by a long-dead Librarian, heard something approaching the opening in the wall. He naturally assumed it was the little dragon returning. It had had found him a while ago and now lived here with him, but the god was stunned to see that, instead of the dragon, a human being was at the opening in the wall. Who was this human? Had he harmed the little dragon? Chac anxiously listened, but didn't hear any of the familiar squeals or yips.
Suddenly, the human reached into the hole and began to remove items from the little dragon's nest. Surely, then, some terrible misfortune had befallen his friend, perhaps he had even been killed by this human! Chac was shocked and saddened by the thought. The little creature was the first living thing he'd seen in almost a thousand years, and even though they couldn't communicate, per se, Chac had grown very fond of the incessantly chattering little reptile.
The hand reached in again, this time brushing against the god himself. Chac bristled inwardly; only a consecrated priest was permitted to touch him! This human was not only a thief and a murderer, he was a blasphemer as well! Incensed, the god called up all of the power left at his command. He had been denied the human sacrifices that fueled his powers for a long time, now, but the angry deity still had some of his strength left. And he was going to use it to teach this impudent human a hard lesson in what it meant to anger the mighty rain god, Chac!
Jenkins, Eve, and the remaining Librarians were clustered together in front of the Clippings Book, examining the new pages that had just appeared, telling them about the sighting of a sea monster-like animal in a lake in northern Minnesota. As they were reading the various newspaper clippings, Eve stood up and cocked her head.
"Anyone else hear thunder?" she asked, a puzzled expression on her face. Cassandra straightened up and looked at the Guardian.
"Thunder?" she repeated. "It's not supposed to rain all week. I checked the forecast first thing this morning." A soft peal of thunder sounded, directly behind them.
Five heads turned quickly towards the unexpected sound. Five jaws dropped in unison as they all beheld the sight of Ezekiel Jones standing in the doorway, sopping wet, a scowl on his face. Directly over his head was small, black cloud, pouring down rain onto the sour-faced Librarian. Another clap of thunder sounded as the others simply stood and stared at him for several seconds, dumbfounded.
"Um…Jones?" said Eve finally, taking a couple of steps forward. "Wha-a-a-t's happening here?" Ezekiel, without saying a word, reached into his shirt and pulled out the idol, then thrust it out to her. The moment Jake spotted the artifact, his eyes became wide as saucers.
"Hey!" he yelped and ran over to the soaked Australian. Jenkins raised his hand in warning.
"No! Jacob! Don't tou—" he called out, but he was too late. Not even hearing the Caretaker in his excitement, Jake grabbed the sculpture and carefully turned it over in his hands. He looked up, his face like a kid's with a brand new toy.
"You know what this is?" he hollered, but didn't wait for any answers. "You know what this is? This is Pre-Columbian! No, this is pre-Pre-Columbian! This looks like it's pre-Mayan! This looks like it's an ancient form of the classical Mayan rain god, Chac, over two thousand years old, and it's in mint condition, man! It looks like it was made last week! Not only is this thing priceless, it proves than the roots of Mayan civilization can be traced back much further than was originally thought!" He turned back to Ezekiel. "Where'd you find this, Jones?"
Franklin, who was perched on Jenkins's shoulder, began screeching the instant he saw his roommate. He launched himself at Jake, sailing through the air, screaming with anger. He landed on Jake's shoulder and began trying to wrestle his friend away from the historian.
"Hey! Git off me, you overgrown caterpillar!" Stone yelled, tightening his grip on the idol so as not to drop it. It warmed Chac's heart to see that not only was his little friend still alive and well, but that he was willing to fight on the old god's behalf
"Franklin!" called Jenkins, alarmed. He hurried over and pried the angry little dragon off of the flailing Jake.
Jake opened his mouth to say something, but before he could utter a word, a small black storm cloud appeared right over his head. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed within the cloud, and then a torrent of rain began pouring over Jake's head.
"Hey! What the hell!?" he squawked as he tried to swat the cloud away. A tiny bolt of lightning darted from the cloud and zapped the side of his head.
"OW! Goddammit!" he shouted. He tried to run out from under the cloud, but it stuck to him like glue.
"Language, Mr. Stone!" chided Jenkins sternly. "There are ladies present!" Stone shot the Caretaker a disbelieving look.
"Are you kiddin' me?!" he shouted, still trying to get away from the cloud.
"Forget it, mate, I've already tried everything," said Ezekiel in a bored tone. "That thing's obviously cursed—you touch it, you get your own private shower."
Eve and Cassandra were scurrying around the two soggy Librarians, spreading towels and rags to try and mop up the huge puddles of rainwater that were rapidly spreading across the workroom floor.
"Whatever it is, we need to figure it out fast before we all get swamped!" said Eve.
"Ezekiel, Jacob, come with me!" ordered Jenkins, adjusting his hold on the madly struggling, wailing tea dragon in his hands as he turned to lead them out of the workroom. "The lab has a large drain in the floor; that should be big enough to handle the volume of runoff the two of you are producing. Quickly! Run!"
The three of them ran to the lab as fast as they could, Jake and Ezekiel leaving a wide swath of water behind them, while Eve and Cassandra followed behind them, sopping up the mess as best they could. When they reached the lab, Jenkins directed the Librarians to stand in the area with the drain. Once they were in place, Jake turned to hand the idol to Jenkins. He was surprised when the old immortal quickly backed away out of reach.
"No!" he said firmly. "No one else is to touch that artifact!"
"Aw, come on, Jenkins!" whined Stone. "How long we gotta stand here getting soaked to the skin?!" A tiny crack of thunder sounded, and another thread-like bolt of lightning struck the angry, wet historian's head.
"OW! Sonofabitch!" he yelled, more out of frustration than pain, frantically waving his arms over his head in a futile attempt to disperse the cloud. Jenkins glared at him.
"Mr. Stone!" he rumbled warningly, but Jake was too upset to be intimidated.
"Dammit, Jenkins! There ain't no ladies here!"
"Hey!" said Eve and Cassandra in unison, looking up from their towel-wringing.
"You guys aren't the ones getting rained on and zapped, here!" complained Ezekiel then. Lightening streaked from his cloud and zapped his right earlobe.
"OI!" he squawked, rubbing his ear. A growl of thunder rumbled in his cloud, sounding almost like a chuckle of laugher. The thief looked helplessly at Jenkins.
"Please tell us you know how to fix this!" he pleaded.
"Yeah, Jenkins! His career as a master thief will pretty much be over if you can't get him out from under that cloud!" quipped Eve, grinning. Jones shot her an evil glare through narrowed eyes at the pun.
"You guys need to get your heads out of the clouds and help us think of a way out of this!" giggled Cassandra, unable to resist.
"I've never punched a girl before…" growled Jake testily, making a fist with his left hand and raising it threateningly. Jenkins instantly pulled himself to his full height and glowered down at Jake.
"And you'll not start now!" he cut in warningly. Stone instantly dropped his fist.
"Calm down, J, I didn't mean it," he said sourly, then angrily swatted at the storm cloud over his head. "But this ain't funny if you're the one get rained on and zapped by lightning and getting soaked to the skin for no good reason!"
"I understand, Jacob," Jenkins conceded, holding up his hands. "But I think there's a very simple solution to this problem."
"What?!" both young men barked at the same time. Ezekiel looked over at Jake and punched his shoulder.
"Jinx!" he crowed. Jake immediately punched him back, hard.
"Ow!" Ezekiel yelped. As if in punishment, a bolt of lightning snaked out of Jake's cloud and struck him in the middle of his forehead.
"FU-!" Stone angrily started to launch a virulent F-bomb as he rubbed his forehead, but a withering look from Jenkins caused him to change curses in midstream.
"FU—DGE!" he ended up yelling instead. Ezekiel burst into laughter.
"Nice save, mate!" he hooted. A growl of thunder from is cloud cut his celebration short.
"So what's the solution, Jenkins?" Stone snapped, rolling his eyes as he ignored Jones.
"As I said, it's very simple," the Caretaker answered. "This is clearly a case of what's known as a 'disturbance curse'." He waved a hand at Ezekiel.
"Many ancient artifacts have curses on them as a form of theft protection. Most items said to be cursed are actually not cursed, mind you; it takes a great deal of magic to actually attach such a curse to an item. But even just the belief that an object carries a curse can be enough to ward off an intelligent thief." Jenkins looked pointedly at Ezekiel as he spoke.
"Long story short, when Mr. Jones filched this artifact, he activated a curse," the immortal finished before Jones could react to the veiled insult. "The question now is, from where did Mr. Jones steal this artifact?"
"I didn't steal it!" shot back Jones. "I found it in a hole in the wall, right here in the Annex, along with a bunch of our stuff that that little bugger right there has been stashing there, too!" He glared right at Franklin. The tea dragon glared back, growling deep in his throat with his ears flat and his long tail whipping to and fro.
"Here?! In the Annex?!" Jenkins asked, his face now registering a mixture of disbelief and alarm. "That's impossible! I know the inventory of the Library like the back of my own hand, and I have never seen this artifact before in my entire life! I've never even seen a mention of it anywhere in the Library's records!" Jones shrugged.
"And yet, here it is!" he replied snidely. Ignoring the thief Jenkins took a step toward Jacob and more closely examined the idol still in the historian's hand, being careful not to touch it.
"No, I've definitely never seen this artifact before," he murmured, shaking his head. "Mr. Stone, hand the idol back to Ezekiel, please." Jake passed the relic to Jones while Jenkins continued speaking.
"Mr. Jones, please take me back to the spot where you found this," he instructed curtly. "Mr. Stone, please remain here; no sense flooding the Annex any more than is absolutely necessary!"
Ezekiel quickly led Jenkins, Eve and Cassandra back through the long hallways and back into the mezzanine stacks of the Annex, leaving another trail of water in his wake. He stopped in front of the high range of books where his misadventure began and pointed up. The others could just make out a dark hole in the pale background of the wall plaster. Scattered on the floor were the objects he had removed from the wall and dropped.
"Hey!" yelped Eve as she stooped to pick up a long rectangular metal object. "This is that extra ammo clip I couldn't find!"
"My earrings!" exclaimed Cassandra, hurrying to retrieve her items from the floor before the puddle around Jones's feet engulfed them. "And these are all Jenkins's ties!" The Caretaker, however, paid the recovered loot no mind. He tightened his hold on Franklin, still madly struggling to free himself and crying loudly in protest.
"Mr. Jones!" he called out over the shrill cries of the tea dragon. "Replace the artifact where you found it! But first, Cassandra—please take some photographs of it, all angles. Just be careful not to touch it!"
Cassandra pulled her phone out and took several close-ups of Chac as Ezekiel held it out for her. She nodded at her husband when she was finished. "Okay, got 'em!"
Jenkins, in turn, nodded toward the hole above them. "Mr. Jones, if you please…"
Ezekiel put the artifact inside his shirt, then quickly shimmied up the book range. Jenkins winced as water landed on a host of fragile volumes of Celtic lore and history; he made a mental note to return to this section as quickly as possible after this was over and cast a restoration spell to reverse any water damage. The Librarians may have sworn off of using magic except as a last resort, but he hadn't. Sometimes, magic was the only resort.
Ezekiel reached the top of the range and, as everyone below watched, he quickly pulled the idol out of his shirt and thrust it back into the hole, setting it exactly back into the spot from which he had taken it. The moment his fingers let go if the figurine, the rain over his head ceased to fall. Within seconds, the cloud dissipated and vanished.
"Yes!" he cheered, and almost lost his footing.
"Jones!" yelled Baird, her heart nearly leaping out of her chest with fright. "Get down here before you fall down!" Jones climbed down the shelving, jumping the last few feet and landing in the puddle of water on the floor with a soft splash. He turned to grin up at Jenkins.
"Looks like you were right, mate!" he said, happy to finally be rid of the incessant rain.
Franklin was flat0out screaming by this time, desperate to get out of Jenkins's grip. The immortal bent over and set the frantic dragon on the floor. As soon as he was free, Franklin shot up the book case. There was a rustling sound and soft grunting as the tea dragon dragged the Christmas tree back into his nest, the movement triggering the Christmas song again and setting the tree to dancing. Tree and dragon disappeared into the hole high above. After a few minutes, Jenkins turned to Ezekiel.
"Mr. Jones, I hate to ask this of you, but could you…?" he said, and waved up at the hole.
"No problem!" the Librarian answered, and again started climbing the shelving, ignoring Eve's protests that it was too dangerous. When he reached the hole, he shined his phone's flashlight into the hole and peered inside. There was Franklin, curled up around the base of the idol and nuzzling it affectionately, trilling and warbling softly, as if trying to comfort it, while the Christmas tree merrily danced and sang as if in celebration. Jones shook his head and climbed back down again.
"Franklin's up there practically snogging that thing," he said, a slight look of distaste on his face. "He's all curled up around it and making goo-goo sounds."
"Ah!" said Jenkins, looking thoughtful. "I think I see what's happened." He looked around at the others.
"I suspect that the artifact contains the actual essence of some deity or comparable spirit; perhaps that's why it was hidden in the wall. The Librarian at the time must have thought the artifact was too dangerous to openly display even in the confines of the Library, so it was secreted in the wall for safekeeping. Franklin inadvertently stumbled upon it, sensed the intelligence housed in the artifact, and…befriended it." The Caretaker gave a small shrug of his shoulders in conclusion.
"Franklin befriended an evil spirit?" said Baird in a disbelieving tone. "Seriously? And if the artifact houses an evil spirit so dangerous that even a Librarian walled it up alive, why did you have Ezekiel put it back? Shouldn't we lock it up somewhere more secure?" Jenkins waved his hand at the large puddle of water on the floor and shook his head.
"First of all, Colonel, there's nothing to indicate that it's necessarily evil," he answered. "Second, you see what happened when Ezekiel removed the artifact from the wall. It could simply be a general disturbance curse—anytime it's touched, the curse manifests. But I think there's more to this one."
"You think that the spirit housed in the statue is intelligent, and has somehow returned Franklin's friendship," offered Cassandra. Jenkins smiled and nodded, pleased that she had come to the same conclusion.
"I do, indeed," he confirmed. "And I shall certainly do some more research on this particular water deity, of course, but I think it's safe to say that Franklin has not only adopted us as part of his family, but Chac as well." By the time he finished speaking, Jake was running toward them, his boots making loud squishing sounds with each pounding step.
"Hey! What happened?" he panted as he skidded to a stop, his feet nearly sliping out from underneath him on the wet flooring. "All of a sudden the rain stopped and the cloud disappeared! How'd ya do it?"
"Turns out this Chac guy is Franklin's BFF now, so Jones put the idol back where he found it," Eve said as she looked up at the hole. Jake's eyes followed hers.
"Wait…what? No! No, that thing's dangerous! It needs to be in a secure section of the Library, not just…stuck back into a hole in the wall!" he asked in disbelief. Before anyone could respond, a loud, happy squeal of a tea dragon drifted down from above, along with the Christmas music.
"Well, Stone, if you want to take Franklin's roomie away from him and spend the rest of your life soaking wet and getting mini-tasered every few minutes, have at it!" said Eve breezily. Jake blustered wordlessly for a few seconds, but made no move to retrieve the idol.
"So!" the Guardian said. "Anybody else hungry?"
"I could eat!" piped up Cassandra. "Can we get Vietnamese?"
"Ooo, that does sound good!" agreed Baird enthusiastically.
"Oh! I know a wonderful street vendor in Hanoi who sells the best bun cha and xoi in all of Vietnam!" said Jenkins, his mouth already watering. He turned to the two soggy Librarians and gave them a stern, impatient look.
"If Mr. Jones and Mr. Stone would care to change out of their wet things, we could be on our way…"
"Yeah, okay, J, I read ya!" growled Jake, deciding to let the "angry-god-in-the-wall" thing go for now. He slapped Jones on the shoulder.
"Come on, cupcake," he ordered the younger man. "Let's go get us some fresh duds on before ol' Jenkins here throws a hissy fit."
As Jenkins began to protest, Cassandra tried to smooth his ruffled feathers, Eve snickering behind as they all followed the two led men back to the Annex workroom.
Behind them, high above in a hole in the wall, a small tea dragon and his ancient Mesoamerican roommate reveled in their friendship.