I laid under Doloise for what seemed like hours, but was probably less than a minute.  It’s amazing how time slows down when you’re being scrutinized.  The funny thing, of a whole list of things I would find hilarious if they hadn’t been happening to me, was that I was far, far more scared of Doloise and what she might do than any magical amulet.

Doloise was saying something about snakes when I struggled enough under her for her to determine that indeed, it was time to let me up.  Snakes?  I listened a little bit more closely.  The amulet was a beautiful silver circle with a medusae-like image.  Ah.  Coil Serpentine.   Thomas slept with an old woman named Adelinda who was obsessed with snake and dragon magics, and I learned a tiny bit.  She was constantly harassed by Ophite cultists, which is why Thomas had gotten involved with her…but maybe I had been knocked on the head which is why I was thinking more about how to work in the classic Indiana Jones line rather than why Doloise tried to “protect me.”

“We are not,” Doloise continued, “what you think.”

Melusine.  “Silence, Zmei.”

One of the elderly fellows stood up.   “And the flames of infinity are so transparent, And the entire abyss of ether is so close, That I gaze direct from time into eternity…And recognize your flame, universal sun.” I recognized it from one of the poems I had memorized for this meeting, “By life tormented, and by cunning hope,” by… Afanasii Fet?  Something like that.

“I am not that one,” Doloise said, but her gaze was pointed down.

“I was thinking something more `Thomas the Rhymer,’ myself,” I said aloud, as if to prove I was really here.  “But she’s not that, either.  She’s here because she owes me.”

“Servant?” The woman asked.

“Guardian and guide,” Doloise said.  You could almost guess her mood from the angry tone she put into the words, but I couldn’t tell where the anger was really directed.  Maybe I had a guilty conscience.  I moved closer to her, anyway, and Sullen Boy moved away from the wall.

“Am I in danger?”

“I could not take the risk,” she said.  “These people are?”

“Simple poets,” the other elderly man, who had been working at the computer, spoke up, scooting away and looking at me.  It was the fellow who had told me to come, and he had the same hint of an accent the woman did.  “Thank you for…” he chose the word, “attending.  The excitement is…” another choice, “it is a good change.  But you should have come alone,” he said, shaking his finger at me.

I shrugged in the eternal, “Well, it wasn’t my idea,” expression.  The teenager got it.

“What are you?” the woman asked.

“My name is,” well, it’s Eastern European anyway, so I dropped it.  “But most folks call me ‘E.'”

“You are the Closer,” Sullen Boy finally spoke up.  He didn’t have a hint of an accent.  “Not like the chick on TV,” he amended.

I nodded.  Hey, sometimes it’s good to have a reputation.

“He’s the one,” the young man continued.  “He showed the kikimora–”

I interrupted. “I didn’t know,” I started to explain.  This could be awkward.

“The way home,” the older gentleman who had welcomed me concluded SB’s sentence with a Look.  That didn’t need any translation.  “It is not a bad thing,” he said to me.   “You brought peace.”

That’s me, an agent of magical perestroika.  Glasnost for ghosts.  Having exhausted a vocabulary I was sure I hadn’t gotten completely right, I brushed some imaginary carpet lint off my clothes and chose a chair.   Something made me think he hadn’t chosen me just to share stories around an electronic campfire.  He needed something.

Their eyes watched me, but Doloise was a concern, too.  I patted the seat next to me.  Good doggy.  Good dangerous, dangerous otherworldly thing.  Behave.

“We come to the library,” the man began, “to share wisdom.”

Doloise nodded, sharply, as if she had heard something important.  I watched the guy who had spoken the translation I remembered.  He sat down again, but his eyes were on the woman.

“This is Nellie,” the fellow who invited me pointed to the woman.  “Andrei,” he referred to the poetry-speaking gentleman, “Artur,” the young man (SB), and “I am Viktor.  We have others, not all who make it each week.  There are always…”

“Forces at work?” I offered the cliche.

“Yes, that would be it.   The library has knowledge in it, which makes it a safer place to meet than a home.”

I understood all he wasn’t saying, too.  Thresholds and that magical feel to things.  Something between public and private, in a strange way.  There were, well, the library was like an onion.

Or an ogre.