Alder’s head poked out from his office as Grey and Jack left the room. “Nikki? Ivy? Can you come here? I’d like to talk with you,” he said, in a thin, wavery voice so unlike the one he had been ranting with before.
Nikki and Ivy nodded and walked down to his office—a little room off to the side of the stage-like podium area. Alder closed the door behind them, and then sat down at a desk completely covered with books, papers, maps, bits of metal, tiny lightbulbs, pens, envelopes, and forgotten toast. All these objects and more were stacked precariously on Alder’s desk and on the floor. Nikki and Ivy had to maneuver carefully to avoid knocking anything over, but they eventually made it the chairs seated facing Alder’s desk. All four walls of the office were covered in large shelves filled to bursting with books, globes, hats, and gadgets, and Ivy could see on one shelf the regal features of a marble bust of a man. The effect of its stern gaze was somewhat lessened by the fact that someone had strapped a pair of goggles over his eyes and hung a necklace made of shells on his neck. Ivy would have giggled if Alder had not been contemplating them very seriously.
“It has come to my attention,” he began, “that you two do not know much about… what we are doing here.”
“You mean the Lightbox Society?” Nikki asked.
Alder chucked lightly, his magnified eyes crinkling under his spectacles. “Yes, I suppose so. It wasn’t my idea to make this a ‘Society’ of any sort, but I suppose that’s what it has become. People thought I was crazy when I talked about it sanely, so I figured, why not become a raving lunatic? Maybe then people will listen.”
“How did that work out?” Ivy asked.
“No better than before, but,” he held up a finger and his eyes twinkled, “it is a lot more fun.”
Ivy smiled. She wished she had been around Alder more frequently that week. He seemed like just the kind of person she liked to be around. He reminded her of her Grandmother, actually, on days when she had her wits about her, anyway. “So you wanted to explain more about the Society?”
“Yes. You have heard my speech twice now… Er, what did you think of it?” He seemed suddenly self-conscious.
“It was… interesting,” said Ivy.
“Yeah! Very… enlightening?” Nikki offered. She gave Ivy a helpless look and then groaned, head in hands. “Sorry, Alder. I wanted to hear it again in case I could actually understand something the second time, but I gotta say, I’m still lost as a sailor in the storm.”
“But,” Ivy hurried to say, “I’m sure it has a lot of metaphorical meaning.” She looked to Alder for confirmation.
“Not exactly, no.” He sighed and sat back in his chair. “There really is a darkness under the Earth. It will soon darken the sky, plants will fail, yadda yadda.” He was silent for a moment, as if collecting his thoughts. Then, suddenly, he stood up and cross the room to the shelf where the goggled bust sat. He reached for the stack of books next to the bust and brought them back to his seat. He cleared away some of the objects littering his desk so there would be room to set these new books down. The books were bound in supple brown leather, and were very worn, almost to the point of falling apart. They appeared to be journals. When Alder opened one, Ivy gasped.
“I don’t believe it,” she breathed.
Alder, too seemed surprised, though not at the books. “Is something wrong, Ivy?”
“I know those books, those journals,” she said, pointing. Her hand shook.
“You do? But how could you? They were never published.”
“I know them,” Ivy said, her pointing hand now reaching out to brush the cover of one, “because my father wrote them.” On the cover of the journal she had brushed, was an embossed name: “Charles Larkin Blackwell”.
“Your… father?” Alder seemed at a loss for words.
“Yes. How did you get them?”
“Your father was Charles Larkin Blackwell?” Alder was shaking his head now. “No it can’t be. Can it?”
“He preferred to be called Charlie, actually. Just Charlie.” Ivy didn’t know quite what to say. The last thing she expected to talk about in Alder’s office was her dad.
“What are the odds?” Alder mused, mostly to himself.
“Wait,” Nikki pipped up, “let me get this straight. Ivy’s dad, who went missing when she was just a kid,” Nikki looked apologetically at Ivy, who waved it off, “wrote journals that now you somehow have? How did you get them, Alder?”
Alder shrugged, still looking perplexed. “I picked them up at a used book store. I didn’t know- I didn’t realize that- Ivy, you never told me your last name did you?”
“I suppose not,” Ivy said. She had picked up one of the journals and was flipping through it gingerly, like it might disintegrate if she so much as breathed too hard on it. “When Grandma sold the house, She sold everything in it too. I guess all the books including Dad’s old journals went to that book store.”
“Ivy,” Alder said with great seriousness, “do you realize what is in these journals?”
“I dunno, we just visited places all around everywhere and he took notes. I was too young to really understand it. We went on a trip every year until… yeah. And way before I was born, he too my Mum too. Until she… until I was born.” Ivy found she suddenly couldn’t look at Alder, so she studied the goggled bust instead, trying to blink away the sting of tears. Why was she crying? She hadn’t cried over this for a long time. But she blinked them back, and turned back to Alder so he wouldn’t think she was weak. She hoped her eyes weren’t red.
Alder’s expression softened, but he thankfully didn’t pursue the subject of Ivy’s mother. Instead, he asked, “Ivy, do you know what your father was researching when you went out on those expeditions?”
“I think… well, he studied everything, it seemed. But he had a special fondness for rocks…” She hesitated, and thought of the dream she had had at Nikki’s house. As if in a trance, she flipped open the journal she was holding. The picture she had seen in her dream, the one that looked like someone had taken a slice out of the mountain like it was a cake, stared at her from the page. “Rocks… and mountains,” she finished.
“Not mountains. Volcanoes.”