This is an entry for +John Till's delightfully conceived Zones Community Project. We're all riffing on Roadside Picnic and Stalker in their various incarnations.


The Library Holes

This is, so far, a phenomenon found only in the Sierras/Cascades Zone. Probably it's just a matter of time until it shows up elsewhere.

Take a building - any building will do, though ones that had one or more rooms dedicated to books are most likely to get this treatment. The day of Zone arrival happens. The entire building disappears, living behind its three-dimensional silhouette. In the empty space that used to be a building, you see the surroundings as they were on that day - the weather, the time of day, all of that. It's a fully three-dimensional effect; you can walk around the hole in the world, even fly or jump over it and look down from above, and you'll keep getting that look into the way things were the moment the world changed. You can pass through it, but it's no magic portal or anything like that. It's just a strange optical effect.

Apart from the window.

Each building hole has a single window on some exterior wall that's entirely solid. It floats in mid-air, anchored to nothing but the building void itself, and cannot be moved by any force stalkers and the Institutes have yet tried applying. It's not latched, so you can freely slide it up and down, at first. Looking through it, you see one of the building's book-filled rooms. Just below the window, within easy reach, is a simple wooden table with a single book on it, bound carefully in elegant leather.

You can take that book. But a few seconds after you reach in, the window slides shut, and whatever part of you is still inside the room gets sliced off cleanly, and isn't coming back. More than one stalker's gotten stuck partway through an effort to climb in the window, and, well, that was the end of them. Nothing seems to stop the window from closing. When it does, the room beyond goes utterly dark for a few minutes. Then the window slides up again, and once again, there's the room, the table, and a mysterious book.

Each visitor can get precisely one book from any given library hole. After that, the window isn't visible to them anymore, and they can't be guided to it, either. It's just gone like the building itself.

What's the book? It's something you want, though you might not have known that till you read it. It might be a guide to a kind of magic, or the techniques of a psionic power. It might be the true history of events that have made your life hard, letting you understand enough to get some closure. It might be a set of maps to views that will, taken together, make you happy. Every person's book is different.

And nobody else can read yours, any more than you can read theirs. The book won't open, or it will show you gibberish, or chance events nearby will distract you from reading. Each book is for just one reader.

Some people say that if you leave your retrieved book in any one place long enough, that building will become a library hole too. Some people say that this has happened at least once outside any of the Zones, too. People say lots of things, and who knows if this one's true or not?
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