The Desk of Professor West

Digital drawing. View looking down at a weathered antique desk, composed of a tabletop and a hutch with a central cabinet, various slots, a dome top, and drawers, one of which, at left, is open and empty. The whole desk and hutch appear empty except for an envelope lying on the tabletop. The envelope bears a wax seal. Just above the open drawer is a butterfly in midflight seen in three-quarters view, trailing two afterimages and a soft glow of light that suggests its flight path. At right, a hand emerges from out of frame, holding by the blade what appears to be a dagger with a cross guard whose ends curl down and a handle resembling a spiral horn.

I’d seen pictures of his desk, several of them.  They were slightly different, but there was one thing in common with every single one.  It was cluttered.  Piles of files, pencils lying in constant danger of rolling off the edge, a half-empty cup of coffee or tea or maybe flat soda, a wadded up piece of paper, a stack of books, no two of them aligned at the edges.  It seemed like the desk of someone who would start working on every idea that popped into his head, so he wouldn’t forgot.  A person who didn’t use sticky notes or devices to help him remember.  But in the most recent picture I saw of Professor West’s desk, all of that was gone.  There was just one thing left on the desk, a letter addressed to someone he’d never met before in his life, and who’d never met him. 

A letter addressed to me.

Other people had tried to open the letter, of course.  But they couldn’t.  Whatever paper the envelope was made of couldn’t be torn.  Steam didn’t work to loosen the glue seal of the envelope itself.  Anyway, there was a wax seal too, which couldn’t be pried off.  More rigorous efforts might damage the letter, so they weren’t attempted.  They figured the recipient would know how to open it. 

I was interviewed up and down and sideways by the “real” detectives.  I had no answers to give them.

Three days later, I received a package in the mail.  An unexpected package.  A package that contained a single object.  An object whose purpose I immediately guessed.

A letter opener.

***

I had a feeling that as soon as I handed the letter opener over to the head detective in charge of the investigation into the professor’s disappearance, it would be the last I’d see of either the letter or the opener.  But the letter was in police custody.  The opener would do me no good unless I could access the letter.  And maybe if we could get at the letter, the professor would explain why he mailed one of those things to me and not the other.  Did he intend for the letter to end up in police custody.  But why?

I went in with the package and all.  I asked to see the head detective.

“You should have contacted us as soon as you received this,” he said.

Hello to you too, Detective.

I started to nod.  “I understand, Detective.  But—“

“There could have been something dangerous in there.  A bomb.  You could have put a lot of other people in danger, besides yourself.”

“That’s technically true, but—“

He started to turn away.  “We’ll take it from here, and if you receive any more correspondences from Professor West, give me a call right away.” 

An officer wearing gloves reached toward me, and I handed the box over.

“Detective, I assume you’re going to open the letter.  I’d like to be there when you do.”

The detective turned back to me.  “Why?”

“It was addressed to me.  I don’t remember ever meeting the professor.  There’s no mention of him in any of my own files, and I’ve checked twice.  But maybe that letter has some clue that could jog a memory.”  I shrugged.  “I’m curious.  But I’m also trying to help.”

The detective sighed.  He said nothing, but waved his hand in a gesture that meant I should follow him.

***

“There’s nothing,” the officer said, holding up one of the three sheets of parchment paper from inside the envelope.  The sheet was blank.  So were the other two.

The officer was wearing gloves and a mask.  She was standing in an interrogation room.  The detective and I watched through the two-way glass.  The envelope had been placed in a plastic tray.  According to the officer, no visible powders or strange odors emerged upon opening the letter. 

I turned my face to the detective.  “Does this mean I can have it?”

The detective frowned.  “No. We’ll be running tests on all of it, the envelope, the pages, the letter opener.”

“Can I at least take a closer look?  I’ll sign a waiver or something.”

The detective pointed at the page that the officer was still holding up.  “A closer look at what?  Do you see something I don’t?  It’s a blank page.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Just a hunch.”

“A hunch.”

I nodded and peered at the envelope in the tray.  The officer had put the page on top of it.  I didn’t have any particular hunch.  Not yet.  I just wanted to take a look at our only clue so far.

“Fine,” the detective said.  He opened the door and waved me out.  “Just don’t walk away with anything.  And don’t make me regret trusting you with a sharp object.”

“I’ll let the officer know if I find or remember anything,” I said, as the detective walked away, presumably to chase down other leads.

The officer let me into the room.  I had ten minutes, she said, and then she’d take all the evidence, bag it, label it, and send it to the lab.

She handed me a pair of gloves, and left the room to get those waivers. 

One of the detective’s prevailing theories was that the elderly professor had wandered off, even though there was no evidence that the professor was in cognitive decline.  The detective’s apparent loss of interest in the letter might have been because he figured that the blank pages were further proof that the professor had developed some kind of dementia, and this was the first time it had caused a noticeable and serious consequence.  If that were the case, I hoped they found him soon, and none the worse for wear.  And once they did, I’d pay him a visit, and see if he remembered why I’d been on his mind just before he vanished.

I gazed down at the blank page.  Maybe the detective was right and further tests would reveal something, a message only visible by a specific wavelength of light or some chemical.  That still didn’t make sense to me.  It had to be simpler than that.  A goofy thought occurred to me.  Maybe it was the old lemon juice trick.

I plucked out the first of the three pages, and held it up to the overhead lights.

***

Ink bloomed on the page in the shape of letters, then sentences, then paragraphs.  Several splotches, joining together until the whole page was full of writing in a script so precise it looked like a font.

I scanned the first line.

I am about to go somewhere from where I won’t be able to find my own way back, no matter how many precautions I put into place or bread crumbs I drop.

I lowered the page.  I read as quickly as I could, afraid the ink would vanish as quickly as it had appeared.  I only got halfway down the first page before the door opened.  My instinct was to drop the page back into the tray, hoping the ink would vanish.  But I held onto it, even knowing it would be taken away from me once the officer saw there was evidence on the page after all. 

The officer who walked in placed a couple of forms on the table in front of me.

“Complete and sign these,” she said.  “Turn them in to me when you’re done.”

I glance from her to the page in my hand.  It was blank.

I nodded and smiled, still gripping the page. 

Once the door closed, the ink reappeared.  I took a picture of the page, surprised when the picture showed the letter as written.  I dropped the letter, watched the ink vanish, and checked the picture of my phone.  The picture was still good to go.  So I took pictures of the other two pages as I held them. 

And just in case, I transcribed the whole letter in my pocket notebook.

The letter itself wasn’t specifically addressed to me, not by name.  It just said, “Greetings Gumshoe.”

Greetings Gumshoe,

I am about to go somewhere from where I won’t be able to find my own way back, no matter how many precautions I put into place or bread crumbs I drop.  I need someone’s help to guide me back.  But I can’t ask someone I know.  And I can’t ask ahead of time.

Those are the rules.  Silly rules, I know.  Deceptively silly.  This place where I’m going is deceptively silly.

It has to be someone I don’t know.  But someone who is trained to follow clues.  Someone I can trust.

I chose you because we don’t know each other.  And because when I looked into you—not too deeply, or else I’d violate the rules—I had a feeling, a confidence, that you were the one.  Logic played a part, of course.  Your work is solid from what I’ve learned.

I expect that my letter might fall into the hands of someone it’s not meant for.  That can’t be helped.  I have to leave it on the desk.  But I’ve put a few extra seals on it, using my clumsy yet growing skills.  I hope that the burning curiosity you seem to have at first blush is strong enough to bring you to this letter.  I have sent you the beacon—that is, the letter opener.  You won’t be able to guide me back without that beacon, so please don’t lose it.

I stopped reading and sighed.  “Too late for that, Professor,” I muttered.  I felt relief to learn he probably hadn’t wandered off in confusion, followed by worry at the strangeness of his instructions to me.

The professor’s message had me visiting four different locations and striking the letter opener—or beacon—on either a stone or metal object at that location.  He claimed to have a tool in his possession, some kind of receiver that would detect the vibrations.  He could use that to find his way back.

Back from where, he didn’t say.

With the transcription and note-taking, I only had time to read the letter once before my ten minutes were up.  I wouldn’t have to take the letter.  But I still had to think of a way to take the letter opener.

I opened the door of the interrogation room a crack, and glanced around for the officer who was in charge of keeping track of me and the evidence I was reviewing.  She was on a call. 

I looked over at another officer right across from me, sitting at his desk.

***

Even as I strolled out the precinct with the professor’s letter opener in the pocket of my duster, I expected to be stopped any moment.  I’d put the completed and signed forms on top of the tray, over the three loose and blank pages, over the envelope, over my pen, which I hoped felt like a letter opener, if the officer didn’t do a visual check.  Then I’d ask the officer sitting across from me to let his colleague know that I was done and I’d filled out all the forms.  I asked him if I needed to wait or if I was free to go.  I’d done everything I could to look as if I wasn’t sneaking out of there with stolen evidence.

But after all, that letter opener had been sent to me, not to the police.  It belonged to me.

The professor had apparently chosen me to find him.  And only me.

I wasn’t confident I could convince the head detective of that.

Inside the bizarre instructions and cryptic message, there were clues, specific real-world details that I could follow up on.

I hoped that I could follow the clues and collect proof that would convince the detective to let me help.

***

The first location the professor sent me to turned out to be an apartment building.  He didn’t provide a unit number or any other specific indication, like “go to the pool.”  I got the permission of the onsite landlord to look around a little.  He agreed, so long as I wasn’t a nuisance to anyone.  I showed him a picture of the professor.  He didn’t recognize the missing man. 

None of the few passing residents has ever heard of or met the professor.  There were no further clues either onsite or in the contents of the letter.  I knocked on the unit number that matched the professor’s office room number, but no one answered.  I regretted that I hadn’t stolen the original letter.  Maybe something different would have happened when I touched it at this location. 

When I ran out of ideas, I pulled out the letter opener.  “Okay, Professor.  I’ll do as you ask.”

What was the harm, I figured.

I walked up to the metal pool enclosure.  The water wasn’t heated, and it was a work day, so no one was using the pool or the lounge chairs.  No one was around.  The pool was visible from some of the units, but everyone’s blinds seemed to be drawn.  And even if someone was watching, I hoped they would just think I was doing some kind of utility repair. 

The professor’s letter opener looked like an ornate dagger.  The blade was three fingers wide, and the handle resembled a spiral horn.  I struck it against a metal bar and quickly slipped it back into my pocket.

“Now what?” I asked myself.  I noted a high-pitched ringing in my ears.  When I put my hand against the pocket containing the letter opener, or beacon, I felt it vibrating.  That could have been the signal the professor noted in his letter.

I checked my notebook and compared it to the pictures of the letter on my phone.  The professor didn’t say what I should do after striking the beacon.

I felt something whip past my face. 

Then past my shoulder. 

I glanced around. 

Three more shapes whipped past, just at the corner of my vision.  I turned around.  As I did, something sliced past my shoulder, and hit the same metal pole I’d struck with the beacon.  I heard another higher-pitched tone join the first. 

I peered at the metal bar and saw something there, something that was moving. 

It was half the size of my hand, and it was a neon pink that was even more vivid against the dull pea soup green of the paint on the metal bar.

“What?” I whispered.

The thing was a butterfly.  One of its wings was halfway stuck in the metal bar.  The other wing flapped.  The daylight glinted off the edge of the moving wing.

I looked at my shoulder.  That butterfly had sliced through my sleeve and the shirt beneath.  I used my fingers to spread open the tear and glimpsed blood underneath, and a thin cut that was already clotting.

The sound of the ringing faded, and with it the butterfly.

But there was a thin scratch in the metal pole where the wing had been lodged.

I noted my observations.  I went and told the landlord that I was done.  I thanked him for his help, and I moved on to the next clue.

***

The next clue wasn’t as easy as tracking down an address.  All the professor gave me was a name.  But it turned out that was enough.  The name was of a woman who wasn’t hard to track down, at least not at her workplace.  (I was relieved for her sake to find that her home address and number were not available upon a casual search.) 

She was a bartender at a place that I hoped was a regular haunt of the professor’s.

I was lucky enough to find her on duty when I arrived, though unlucky to discover that she—much like me and everyone else I’d spoken to so far—did not know the professor.

Another piece of un-luck, the bar had a most effective security guard, even during daylight hours.  He’d offered to either pat me down or let me surrender any weapons—or anything that might be perceived as a weapon.  He most certainly perceived the letter opener that looked like a dagger as a weapon.

I didn’t have it with me inside the bar.  But based on that first experience, I didn’t want to use it with other people around anyway.  I didn’t want to use it with myself around either, but on that matter, I didn’t have much choice.

After talking to the woman in the professor’s letter, and a few other patrons who agreed to look at the photo I showed, I left the bar. 

There was a sizable parking lot behind the bar.  It was mostly empty.

Once I retrieved the professor’s beacon, I went back there.  There was a security camera pointing out at the lot.  It swept back and forth.  I pretended to be going to one of the cars as I casually glanced around for something metal or stone to strike.

In the center of the lot was a cylinder of concrete that held a metal pole supporting a small array of parking lot lights. 

I diverted to the pole.  I half-leaned and half-sat on the concrete, which was about chair-height for me.  I pulled out my phone and pretended to look at it as I slipped out the beacon and struck it on the pole. 

The ringing sounded, getting louder at first.  I slipped the beacon back into my pocket. 

I heard the galloping right away.  Distant at first.  I couldn’t make out what direction it was coming from.

I hopped to my feet.  The galloping was getting louder too.  I couldn’t see anything yet. 

But it was coming closer.  I could hear a snuffling and huffing now, a rhythmic jingling, like a harness. 

I hopped up onto the concreted cylinder.  I felt the vibration in the soles of my feet. 

I clutched the metal pole as the ground began to shake.

The pounding and whickering were almost on me now.  But I still didn’t see anything.

With a final whinny, the galloping stopped.  And something landed on the hood of a nearby car, leaving two deep dents.  I heard a metallic thud and the car’s roof collapsed, shattering all the windows. 

It was still for a moment, and I heard the ringing sound of the beacon fade. 

“What are you doing!”

I turned.  The back door of the bar was open.  A man in an apron stood there.  He glanced at me, then at the wrecked car.

I hopped down and ran before he could call the guard over.

***

I wasn’t finding any clues.

I was just doing what the professor had instructed me to do. 

I began to wonder if it was some kind of ruse or trick.

Maybe the professor knew me after all, not directly, but through a former client, one who felt wronged.  I did my best not to choose clients who would blame me if my investigation didn’t go the way they hoped it would go.  But it wasn’t always easy to tell.  The professor might be doing a favor for someone he cared about by putting me through this bizarre gauntlet.

I could call the head detective on the case, turn over the beacon, and tell him about the letter.

That letter with the ink that only appeared when I touched the paper—even with gloves on.  The letter with the ink that disappeared when another person came into the room.

I had the pictures on my phone, but that didn’t prove anything.  They could be pictures of a completely different set of papers.

I continued on to the third clue.  It was quote in Latin that was part of a commemoration plaque for one of the cities smaller parks. 

This time there was no one around to show the professor’s picture to.  I searched for a picnic area or swing set.  Some kind of construction where I could strike the beacon, and where I could take appropriate cover from whatever came charging at me next.

But there was just the occasional bench, scattered trees, and a small pond populated with fish and turtles.  I assessed the trees, wondering if I’d be able to climb them, and if that would matter if the next danger the beacon summoned was monkeys with razor-sharp claws, or venomous tree snakes.

I struck the beacon against the metal leg of a park bench.  I slowly walked toward the nearest tree with branches low enough for me to start climbing.

I listened and heard only the high-pitched ringing of the beacon, birds chirping, and gentle waves breaking against the rim of the pond. 

The ringing grew louder and I braced myself. 

When I heard the low growling, I knew it was not the sound of the water filtration system kicking in.  I knew it wasn’t coming from someone’s speaker.  There still wasn’t anyone in the park.  The growling came closer, to my right.  I glanced over, and just like with that monstrous invisible horse, I saw nothing.  But then I heard the growling from farther away, coming front my left this time.

I glanced left and still saw nothing.

Whatever it was seemed to be toying with me. 

I heard a growl straight ahead and this time, I saw what made it.

It was a big cat, some kind of tiger with black-and-red stripes.  It stood at the edge of the pond, in the full light of day, right across from me. 

The cat raised its head and instead of a growl, it released a howl.  The howl became a roar.  The cat’s tail swished back and forth like a loose pendulum.  The cat lowered its face.  Like its call, the cat’s face was strange.  It flickered and turned bear-like.  I strained to hear the ringing sound of the beacon past the uncanny hybrid cry of the bear-cat.  There was no point in climbing a tree.  The cat was big, but not too big.  If I climbed, it could follow.  Running would mean certain death.  I only had one chance. 

I listened to the sound of the ringing.  I slipped my hand into my pocket and felt the vibration of the beacon.  Both were fading. 

The bear-cat creature did not move from where it stood.  It uttered another eerie cry before it too began to fade. 

Only after it was gone, after the beacon was still, did I release my tightly held breath.  I collapsed to my knees, startling myself.  I hadn’t realized my limbs were shaking, and my body dripping with sweat.

***

A reasonable person would have called the cops at that point.  Or maybe not.

Maybe what I decided was reasonable.

Not because I had come so far already.  Not because I had to see what happened next.  But because of the reason I’d decided on this course in the first place. 

If this wasn’t a prank, and a man was truly in danger, and if by circumstance, I was the best person to help him, I had to see it through.

***

The professor’s last location was not specific.  And it was not connected to him, though none of the locations so far seemed to be.

The last location was to be of my choosing. 

A place where you have labored.

That’s all he wrote.

A place where I had labored.  I sometimes worked from home, but I wasn’t about to summon whatever apocalyptic creature I could expect to face next into my own apartment.

I couldn’t go to any of my old offices.  Even at night, there were typically a few people working there, or leaving work. 

I went through all the places I’d worked, places I’d gone to investigate, and cross-referenced them with how many would be empty.

***

There was a major highway by the abandoned rock quarry, but it was far enough away, I hoped.

Apparently, the quarry had been purchased, and plans made to build something there.  But something had gone wrong, and so it was abandoned again.  Lucky for me.

It was growing dark. 

But I only had to do this one more time. 

I didn’t know what to expect.  The professor’s letter didn’t say.   (For having written three whole pages, there was a lot he didn’t say.)

Would he appear out of thin air, jumping out of a portal? 

Would I have to help him climb out of the quarry?

Would he appear in one of the other locations he’d sent me to?

Would he return right away, or would it take a few minutes, or hours, maybe days?

He did say that the beacon would help him find his own way, not that it would summon him the way it had summoned all those other strange animals.  The letter hadn’t mentioned anything about those things either.  Maybe he didn’t know.

There was no metal anywhere nearby.  But there was plenty of stone.  I struck the beacon against a rock that was three times the size of my head.

I held onto the beacon this time, feeling it vibrate through my finger bones.  I braced myself to run, or even to fight.  Hopefully it would be one or the other, and not the worst thing I could do, which would be to freeze like I did when I saw that bear-cat.

The ringing intensified.  My breathing quickened.

I winced at the rattling of my knuckles.  A tightness pricked the middle of my chest.  It expanded.  It felt like a low burning sensation.  I brought my hand to my chest.  I tried to suck in a deep breath, but I stopped, when a sudden pain seized my chest. 

The horse?

I fell to my knees.

I hadn’t heard any galloping, but something was crushing my chest.  The way that invisible horse had crushed the roof of the car.

I couldn’t pull in a breath.  I couldn’t breathe out.  I couldn’t lift my chest.  Something heavy was pressing on it.

I couldn’t cry out. 

I still had the beacon in my hand.  By reflex, I’d tightened my grip on it.  The edge of its blade cut the side of my thumb.  Its vibrations were slowing.

The ringing was fading.

All was silent.

The weight on my chest, the pain, vanished.

I dropped the beacon and fell forward on my hands.  I gasped in a breath.  I winced and clutched my chest again, expecting pain that didn’t come.

I dared to take deeper and deeper breaths.

I’d never truly realized how amazing it felt just to breathe.

I inhaled the dusty air, chilly and dry.  The sun was setting.

***

I was starving, and exhausted.

I’d planned to go visit the professor’s office after following his plan, but other than the half a granola bar I found in a pocket, I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since leaving the police station just around noon.

So I went home.  I downed a glass of water, started heating some leftovers for dinner, and opened a bag of cheddar and onion potato chips. 

I munched on the chips and paced back and forth in the kitchen, reasoning with myself.

“How can I know if my perceptions were real if there was no one else around to check with?  How could I know even if there was someone else?”  I sighed.  “Step one…I need to get some rest.  Clear the old cache.” 

My dinner beeped to tell me it was ready.

“Step zero, dinner,” I said.

A split second later, someone banged on my front door.

I dropped the foil bag I was holding, sending chips scattering across the kitchen tile.

Another round of banging was accompanied this time by the not-so-sweet tones of the head detective in charge of investigating Professor West’s disappearance.  He demanded that I open the door.

I opened the door.

The head detective had his hand held out.  He flicked his fingers toward himself.  “Hand it over.”

Without a word, I turned around to grab my duster from the coat rack.  The beacon—the letter opener—was still in my pocket.

The detective’s phone rang.  He answered as I reached into my pocket.  I stopped.

“What?  When?” the detective said.  He listened for a moment, then asked, “What condition is he in?”

I couldn’t hear what the person on the other line was saying.  But I allowed myself to feel a spark of hope.

“I’ll be right there,” the detective said.  He hung up and looked at me.  “They found the professor.”

“Detective, I’d like to—“

The detective turned around and gestured for me to follow.

We drove to the small college where Professor West taught.  He was currently in his office.  When I asked the detective who had found the professor, he said he wasn’t clear on that.  The professor himself had called the police department, declaring himself found.

***

I was made to sit in the hallway at a distance while the head detective questioned the professor.  I didn’t have to wait long though before the detective sent his officers away, and he himself came striding down the hallway.

“He asked about you,” the detective said.  “He wants to see you.”

Now that full night had fallen, I’d gotten my second wind.  Despite only having a glass of water and a handful of chips to eat, my mind felt keen again.

I walked into Professor West’s office and looked to the right.

There he was, sitting at his desk. 

His cluttered desk.

I walked over and sat in a chair he’d positioned beside the desk.  It was chilly.  So despite how late it was, I accepted the cup of tea he offered. 

“He’s unsatisfied with my claim that I can’t remember where I’ve been for the past week,” the professor said, pouring the tea.

“Maybe he suspects you’re lying.”  My gaze wandered over the sundries that now strewn over the professor’s desk.  “Would he be right if he did?”

The professor’s desk was one of those wooden antiques with a slanting tabletop and numerous small drawers and cubbies.  A familiar-looking handle, resembling a spiral horn, was just peeking out from one of those cubbies.  I felt my pocket and confirmed that I still had the beacon.

The professor, who looked none the worse for wear, smiled.  “I told the…obstructive detective that the envelope was addressed to you because I’d intended to engage your services—and still did for reasons that were none of his business.  My reasons were not related to any crime, whether inside or outside of his jurisdiction.”

“Is any of that true?”

He turned his chair to me and sat down.  “Of course.  As you well know, I did indeed engage your services, for which I will pay you of course.”

I took a breath, a nice easy breath.  “Sounds good, though first order of business is that you’re okay.  You seem to be.”

“I am, and thank you for the sentiment.”

“Professor, if I may ask, where were you?” 

“I was in my desk.  I was in my desk the whole time.”

I responded with silence, and so he explained further.

“I purchased the desk a few years past.  It came with a story—a legend—about the one who built it.  The crafter was an adept of alchemy and a student of various occult practices, and a practitioner of psychic…exercises.”

I glanced over at the desk, noting a few scratches, a fading of the grain.  “And the crafter…put a spell on the desk?”

The professor sipped his tea.  “Have you ever passed through a doorway and forgotten why you did?  What you meant to do?”

I nodded.  “Retracing my steps helps.  Both my footsteps and my mental steps.”

“Of course, of course.  But what if the reverse were to happen?  What if you pass through a threshold and know exactly why you are where you are, but you forget where you were?  Some people think that’s what happens to our souls when we die.”

I raised my brows.  “Did you cross over into the afterlife?  Or…some other dimension?  That’s quite a claim.”

“Do you want to know what I saw?  What I experienced?”

I sighed and offered a smile through half-closed eyelids.  “Let me guess.  I’ll have to buy your book.”

“No need.” The professor slid a stack of books over, and set his tea on his desk.  “To the one who rescued me, I owe the truth.”

“Professor, I must be blunt with you.  It seems to me that you took a reckless journey.  I almost got trampled by an invisible horse.  I did get cut by some razer-sharp butterfly wings, if you can believe that, which I’m sure you can.  Some kind of bear-cat terrified me just by standing around.  And before I found you…I’ve never had a panic attack in my life, but I’ve heard about what it’s like, not being able to breathe, feeling a tremendous pain in your chest.  I think I had one.  I didn’t realize it would feel so much like…like having my soul pulled out of my body.”

The professor suddenly stood up.  I rose slowly to come level with him.  He reached out to me but stopped himself. 

“That…that sounds familiar,” he said.  “Not a panic attack.”  He pointed to the desk.  “The first time I accidentally unlocked the desk, I felt what you’re describing.”  He exhaled a sigh and dropped back down into his chair.  “I had no idea that the beacon would have the same effect.” 

“What effect?  What really happened when I used the beacon?”

The professor rubbed his chin.  “Another world encroached upon our own.”

He explained that I was being drawn into the place he had gone, only I was resisting, a natural reflex, because I didn’t belong there.  That resistance was the cause of the pain. 

I put my hands in my pockets.  “I’m glad you’re back, Professor.  But if you plan on disappearing again, kindly leave me out of it?”

The professor rose again.  “We know each other now, gumshoe.  I won’t have a choice to involve you.”

“Actually, don’t involve anyone.  I got lucky that I didn’t get hurt bad or arrested.  It’s not fair to pull some poor stranger into your…studies, especially now that you know the dangers to them.” 

“Of course.  You’re right, of course.”  He meant well.  I could see that.  But I could also see that eager glint in his eye.  The responsibility was his to bear.  But could he bear it alone?

“Are you hungry, Professor?”

Professor West looked up at me, somewhat baffled.  His mind was definitely struggling with the prospect of not being able to return to wherever he’d gone, unless he wanted to make a permanent trip, or purposely put someone else through the same gauntlet he’d unknowingly put me through.

“I know an all-night place close by,” I said.  “If you want to come with, you can tell me all about your adventures.”

The professor’s eyes seemed to clear a bit, brighten.  He smiled, nodded, and fetched his coat. 

As we left his office, I cast a final glance toward his cluttered antique desk.



Copyright © 2022  Nila L. Patel

5 thoughts on “The Desk of Professor West

  1. OMG..I love your stories. It takes real talent to do something like this. Cheers ❤️❤️

    1. I’m honored to receive the compliment, Jim. I truly enjoy writing fiction. Actually, I need it the way I need food and water. But I can’t always tell if anyone else will enjoy any given story. It always delights me to hear back from someone who does. Thanks!

      1. I still think about the flying Stegasaurus (?) I swear that could be your meal ticket 😊

      2. Meal ticket. Haha, good one! I’d be delighted if a dinosaur scientist character becomes my meal ticket. You’ve at least convinced me to consider writing a sequel or prequel at some point. I do revisit characters on occasion.

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