When the soon-to-be-Keepers first entered this building they now call a second home (some more than others), they found each other – strangers in strange clothes speaking strange languages – and together, wandered through halls that had no end. Eventually they ended up in front of a towering door with illegible inscriptions dotting the border. It opened with a single touch.
Inside was a forest of books. Shelves of all shapes skirting the floor like the remnants of a forgotten underbrush. Loose pages scattered as though something blew through them. And no dust in sight.
Beyond them, in the centre clearing, was a square table. And on top of it, a stack of bound papers and a tape recorder housing a cassette labelled “Welcome.” The top paper read in neat text: Basic Rules (READ EVERYTHING). The last two words were underlined with multiple heavy strokes, as if the author didn’t trust the eyesight of their future reader.
These were part of its contents:
Excerpt from cassette “Welcome (Side A)”:
“We knew nothing when we came here. And somehow, we leave knowing far less still. Maybe that’s squarely on us. We could have…I don’t know – pried more. Regret and guilt are slow poison and a path we can’t afford to travel down. Our lives will have to move forward with or without this place because it will move on happily without us. That’s how it works.
Still. It’s easier said than done […]
He told us today there’s going to be more of us in the future, more Keepers. Perhaps not soon, but it’s inevitable. I’ve never been fired before but I can’t say this is how I imagined it would go, in the bowels of a sentient building. But I’m not gonna let [inaudible]. Which is why I’m making these sets of recordings. A guide of sorts, I suppose – as much as the confines of the rules will allow. To help give you a leg up. And not leave you drowning in the dark like we were.”
1. The Keepers are the listeners, archivists, servers, and caretakers of the building. You enforce these rules and are, in turn, bound by them.
2. Stories are the sole currency here. If a visitor orders a drink, they pay for it with stories. They want to read a book from the library? Stories. A story can be true or fictional and told in any form – written, spoken, sung, rhymed, painted (you wouldn’t believe the brilliant insanity people come up with when they’re given options). It can be as small and irreverent as “This morning I saw a kitten with stars for eyes and bones strung from its neck. I followed it around the corner and through a crack between a garden wall,” and as large as the history of a country.
The size of the story depends on what the visitor is asking for in exchange. See, this overgrown toddler calling itself a building is greedy. Won’t say no to an unequal exchange that dips in its favour. But equivalence keeps the energy stable. Happy. You’ll feel it when it becomes too skewed in one direction.
For some, the act of giving will be the only thing they desire – an opportunity to share their words and give a forever home to memories too precious or heavy to carry alone. For others? Well. Coincidences don’t exist. Not here. No one finds this place and walks in by chance; they all come wanting. Whether that’s something you can give or something that the building decides to fulfill, in its strange and twisty way, is what you’re going to have to figure out.
3. Stories need to be given freely by the bearer. This extends to everyone within this space, not just the visitors.
4. You’ll be receiving periodic shipments of books, and other forms of narrative media, through the Courier. These have to be logged into the system, converted, and then stored away. Lem will help you – he’s always very keen.
5. For obvious reasons, the Well should be reserved for specific circumstances (more on the Rotunda later). Sure, it’s the building’s biggest attraction. But you can’t drag up there every person who just comes in for a hot drink. Early on, my partner, Lisel, took one of the regulars inside – a young boy with the best puppy-pleading eyes I’ve ever seen deployed by a kid, I swear – because he had a terrific dream the other night he was dying to share. Fast forward to now and Lisel can’t even look at a shrimp without gagging.
So, perspectives. Have them. Learn to gauge when the full rotunda experience might be beneficial and when it might be counter-productive. And explain the process to the visitor. Ultimately, they’re the ones who need to decide if they want to use it.
6. Time runs much more slowly here than the outside. So a couple of hours could amount to a few seconds in your own world – it varies.
7. As far as anyone can tell, there are no limits to how many times a visitor can return to the building. And no visitor will be turned away unless they cause damage to the building, its residents, and Keepers with deliberate intent to harm.
8. Objects from other worlds can enter the building and remain for an indefinite period of time (or so we believe) but they mustn’t cross the outer threshold – for example, carried by someone into a world it didn’t originate from. For sentient beings, their stay will always be temporary unless the building grants special permission. Keepers are one such exception. Under no circumstance can a sentient being cross the outer threshold into a foreign world.
9. Without stories this building cannot survive. The building must survive.
10. You’re here for a reason. There are meaning and consequences to your actions. When all else fails, remember that.