We decide to stake out Melinda’s bookshop early so we don’t miss anything. We load up on donuts and coffee. Unsure of ourselves, we fall into a stereotype of a stakeout. I find myself wishing I smoked.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take long before we have movement. Alexis and Melinda arrive to open the shop at nine in the morning. Less than thirty minutes later, Melinda leaves. We move in immediately, unsure if she’s on a coffee run or if she’s scouting out our site early.
The door jingles as we enter and Gus sneezes along with it.
Alexis’ eyes widen behind her glasses as she spots us.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she says, focusing on me.
“We just want to ask a couple questions.” For a moment I consider revealing the fake pamphlet, but decide to see what she’s willing to give up on her own.
“I can’t help you,” she says, still never taking her eyes off me even as Gus continues to sneeze.
“Alexis,” I try my best parental tone, mimicking how my dad talked to me after I’d done something stupid, “We’re just a couple nerds who had too much extra vacation time trying to figure out where a book came from.” Saying this out loud is a bit shocking to me. It’s so absurd. “We just want to know what happened to the vault.”
Alexis shuffles behind the counter, picking up stacks of books and moving them.
“There was never a vault.” She says, with her back turned toward us.
“There was never a vault. The story was planted by Melinda. She’d met the reporter a few years earlier during a seance that got busted up by the police. They’d hit it off then. He was a conspiracy theory nut, which aligns with Melinda’s research more than you might expect. She asked him to plant the story and worked with the construction crew to make sure nobody else said anything.”
“But why fake it? What was the point?”
“To keep Owl in the news.” Alexis fidgets. “Look, Melinda has been involved in this deeper than you might think.”
“You know about Athanasius, right?”
“That’s the scholar Melinda told me started Owl as a hoax.”
“She told you it was a hoax?”
“Yeah, she suggested Gus was involved in it.” Gus meekly waves. “But, wait, are you suggesting Melinda was telling the truth? That it’s a hoax, but she’s the one perpetrating it?”
“I don’t know that hoax is useful word here.”
I look over at Gus, who’s face now features a raised eyebrow but which otherwise doesn’t seem terribly surprised. “Well?” He’s been so quiet I feel like I need to get him involved here somehow.
“It adds up, I suppose,” Gus mutters, stroking his chin, “But I’m still a little confused as to the ends, here.”
Alexis finally addresses Gus, “You mean why create and then run with the idea of a secret society that’s obsessed with opening up portals to other worlds in an effort to expand the human mind?”
“Well, yeah, exactly, that,” Gus replies, startled.
Alexis glances at the door, then seems to settle on something. “What’s history, mean, really? It’s a way to explain the present. We use it to justify what we do now. When you mix in spirituality, it’s about finding a way to look at the world and understand reality. Athanasius gave us that. Melinda’s keeping it alive.”
“So, why give us the tape, then?”
“To show you the truth, of course.”
The truth. What a word. When I look over to Gus, he’s still stroking his chin. Like he’s stuck in a loop.
“What do any of us want in life?” Alexis asks, “To be believed? To create something meaningful? To understand what all this if for? Reality is what we make it.”
I can feel my mind cracking in half trying to understand this. A pain moves across my temples to the bottom of my forehead, cresting across my eyebrows like a mountain range.
The door jingles behind us and a group of older hippies walks in.
“Hello,” Alexis says to the group. She turns back to us, “If you’ll excuse me.”
I guess we’ve reached the end of the conversation.