CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
Daylight’s public library is modern by any standard, which makes it feel out of place compared to the rest of the city. Matthew is surprised to learn that all public records, including a very comprehensive selection of newspapers, are archived digitally. Mrs. Elliot, a middle-aged woman with evenly-dyed reddish-brown hair, is brimming with pride when Matthew asks about them.
“Mr. Vernon spent six years setting up those archives.” Mrs. Elliot has a slightly gravelly voice that suggests she’s a long-time smoker. “It was quite the obsession for a while. And nobody really uses it, which is a shame. He says he doesn’t mind, but I think he does, a little. He’ll be over the moon to learn someone’s asking about it.”
She leads him to a modern-looking desktop computer with a flat-screen monitor.
“It’s already loaded up,” she says. “Just type in what you want and the computer will do everything else.”
“So everything is searchable here? Even the really old stuff?”
“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Elliot says. “Mr. Vernon bought some real fancy equipment for that. I think some of the really old copies of the newspaper are just scanned images of the original pages, but even those have searchable headlines and keywords.”
“Fantastic,” Matthew says.
She beams. “Have a good time.” She favors him with a smile, then returns to the front desk.
Matthew stares at the dark screen, reaches over to the mouse, and moves it ever so slightly to the right. The screen blinks on, and Matthew stares at a neatly-designed, well-organized search page.
“Finding everything you need?“
Matthew looks up. A thin, red-cheeked, middle-aged man with rectangular eyeglasses and graying temples stares down at him inquisitively.
“Um… yeah,” Matthew says. “Thanks. Mrs. Elliot showed me everything.”
“Well, that’s fine,” the man says. If you need anything in particular, just let me know. I’m Douglas Vernon. I run the library.“
“Thanks,” Matthew says.
Douglas Vernon doesn’t move.
“I think I’m good,” Matthew adds.
Mr. Vernon smiles slightly, then ducks his head. “If you need anything, just give a holler. Well, not a holler. Mrs. Elliot wouldn’t like that.”
With that he takes his leave and wanders off.
Matthew sighs, agitated by the interruption, and turns his attention back to the search screen. He closes his eyes and takes a moment to organize his thoughts.
His conversation with Deke had given him more information to work with than it appeared at first glance. On the first day they’d met, Deke said people like Matthew always seemed to find the Manor. In their most recent conversation, he described four ways that people reacted to the Manor, and that the Fourth Way consisted of people who were “restless…” dreamers, poets, and artists.
If all these people are disappearing, Matthew reasons, it’s probably in the newspaper.
He opens his eyes again and types a phrase in the search field.
He clicks the mouse and waits impatiently as the screen blanks for a second and the mouse pointer changes into an hourglass. Moments later the page updates with an error.
NO MATCH. PLEASE EXAMINE YOUR TERMS AND TRY AGAIN.
Matthew frowns. ‘Poet’ is a pretty generic term, and it’s not used much. Hadn’t Deke mentioned two specific examples? In their first conversation he’d referred to a photographer who’d been passing through, and a…
LOCAL MUSICIAN DISAPPEAR
Almost immediately an entry dated October 22, 2006 displays on the screen. The local newspaper, one Daylight Chronicle, reports: “Local Musician Missing.” He clicks the link and the article displays.
“ABEL MORRIS, LOCAL MUSICIAN, DISAPPEARS”
“Abel Morris, 27, whose latest CD ‘A House with Many Rooms’ has received some critical acclaim in recent months, was officially listed as ‘missing’ by Sheriff Nathan Dobbs. Morris, a self-styled ‘modern folk singer’ and amateur historian who based many of his songs on local stories and tall tales, was last seen eight days ago by his landlady. She reported no unusual behavior on his part, stating that he was always polite, paid his rent on time, and was well-liked by his neighbors. Morris was reported working on a new CD at the time of his disappearance.”
Matthew reaches in to his shirt pocket, pulls out a spiral notepad and pen, and writes ABEL MORRIS – MUSICIAN – HOUSE WITH MANY ROOMS at the top of the page. Then he clicks back to the search page and frowns thoughtfully.
There has to be more than that, but he doesn’t want to hunt them down one at a time. There has to be a faster way.
So go with the words that are most likely to show up in every article. They’re going to be missing. Law enforcement will be involved.
That does it. The screen updates to show a long list entries going back decades. They don’t all fit, but there are plenty that catch his eye, and each one of those are added to the spiral notepad.
2011: Andrew Hollis, local historian, doesn’t show up for the class he teaches every week at a nearby college. This is considered highly unusual behavior, and Sheriff Dobbs confirms him missing after two days of fruitless searching.
In 2008 he finds the photographer Deke mentioned: Marcus White, photographer and journalist, disappeared without checking out of his motel room. Most of his personal effects were left behind.
2001: Eric Brady, a local carpenter popular for his intricately hand-carved furniture, disappears after attending his daughter’s wedding. Sheriff Dobbs confirms him missing after two days of fruitless searching.
Even farther back, there are different men and women, different sheriffs, but the same story. Sheriff Hollis. Sheriff Elliot. Sheriff Pine. Eventually Matthew stops writing down the names of the missing people, but they’re all very similar. They’re mostly artists and craftsmen, with the occasional academic thrown into the mix.
He returns to the article about Abel Morris and starts paging through previous issues of the newspaper, day by day, to see if anything jumps out at him. He restricts himself to reading only front page headlines and the first page of the local events page. When he reaches the October 17th edition he stops and rubs his eyes.
“Tuesday, October 17.”
He clicks out of the newspaper, then loads the next one in the archive.
“Thursday, October 19.”
The 18th is missing.
“Weird…” he goes back to the Tuesday edition, then the Thursday edition, then back to the Tuesday edition. Not only is the Wednesday edition missing, but Tuesday and Thursday’s editions are identical–the only difference is the date on the masthead.
He picks other dates at random and starts paging through the week. His results are inconsistent: some weeks are completely normal, having a Wednesday edition and separate Tuesday and Thursday editions. Other weeks are like the week of October 18, 2006. It takes some trial and error before he realizes the pattern: it happens once a month. One Wednesday a month just disappears as far as the newspaper is concerned, and when that happens, the only difference between the Tuesday and Thursday editions is the date.
He opens up a browser and finds the Daylight Chronicle’s website—every newspaper has one these days—and looks for its publication schedule. According to the website it prints seven days a week. According to its online archives—which only go back a few years—the pattern persists: one Wednesday a month disappears off the face of the earth. And it’s always the Wednesday that’s the closest to the middle of the month.
What is going on?
His first thought is to just ask why the newspaper skips one Wednesday a month. His second thought is that this first thought is probably the kind of question that will get Sheriff Dobbs all worked up if he ever finds out about it, so he decides on a slightly more subtle course of action. He looks around and spies Douglas Vernon stocking a bookshelf at the other end of the main room. He hurries over to the older man.
Mr. Vernon looks up from his task. “Ah, hello young man. How can I help you?”
“Matthew,” Matthew says. “Matthew Garrett. I just wanted to ask a few questions about your archive. It really is impressive work.”
Mr. Vernon smiles. “I’m rather proud of it,” he admits. “I didn’t have much in the way of resources, so I mostly had to do it all myself. Occasionally a student looking for a summer job would help with the scanning, but that’s about it.”
“That stuns me,” Matthew says. “I don’t know much about what’s involved in making printed text searchable, but the little I do know has to do with one or two university libraries, and just from using the search interface alone it looks like you did more on your own than their entire teams managed to do.”
It’s not a lie, but Matthew worries he might be laying it on a bit thick. Apparently his worry is groundless. Mr. Vernon puffs out his chest from the praise, and his smile becomes more genuine.
“I appreciate that, Mr. Garrett,” he says. “In fact I consulted with some of the people who did similar work for the University of Virginia before I embarked on this odyssey. It’s good to see someone using it. I mean, people do from time to time, but not much. And it’s always good to see.”
“How did you get access to all those newspapers?” Matthew asks. “I was a little sloppy with one of my searches and I saw that the editions go back to the start of the 1900’s at least. Was that always part of the library?”
“Sadly, no,” Mr. Vernon says. “We didn’t get the library till 1948. But the Daylight Chronicle started keeping archives of its newspapers in 1894, and they let me into their vault to scan them in. These days I get a digital feed from them for every issue, it’s much faster.”
“I’ll bet. Did you have to do all that by hand?”
“Oh yes. And some of the really old copies didn’t scan well–the pages were yellow and the print was faded. It took some doing. But I managed to get them all.”
“All the way back to 1894…” Matthew does some quick math, obviously gets it wrong, and switches to slow math. “That’s… more than a hundred and twenty years of newspapers. I know a few history majors who would give their right arm to come here and just read through those issues from start to finish.”
Mr. Vernon beams. “You should send them my way. I’d be happy to see this used like that.”
“I think I will,” Matthew says. “Thanks again, Mr. Vernon.”
Mr. Vernon sticks out his hand. They shake hands.
Matthew returns to his computer and thinks over the conversation. As far as he can tell, Mr. Vernon is absolutely convinced he scanned every existing issue of the Chronicle and appears completely unaware of the missing days or the repeated articles. He tries to think of something, anything, that might explain what he’s seeing. He experienced memory loss after some of his encounters with the people at the manor, and with the gray-clad things. Could something like that happen to everyone in Daylight. How could something like that happen to everyone in Daylight at the same time?
The only answer that comes to him is one he isn’t willing to consider just yet. The internet browser is still open, and it’s still showing the Daylight Chronicle’s web page. He loads Google, clicks into the search field, and begins to type:
DAYLIGHT NEWSPAPER MISSING DAYS
Three rows of meaningless ads, and one actual result: Marcus White, the missing photo journalist, has a website. Matthew clicks on the link and immediately Google reports the site doesn’t exist. That makes sense; Marcus has been missing for years. It’s very unlikely the site is around in any way other than as a search result that’s too insignificant to be pruned.
As he looks at the search result again, he notices that Google has cached a page. He clicks the link.
The cached page loads instantly. It’s a simple page with a picture of the journalist–a dark-haired, rugged-looking outdoorsman with a camera—and a few samples of his work. There is no mention of Daylight or the newspaper.
Matthew fights back disappointment. Out of curiosity, he right-clicks on the page and selects “View Page Source.” A text editor opens, displaying the HTML of the cached page. Matthew searches for the word “Daylight” and finds it at the bottom of the page.
<!-- if you noticed the missing Daylight newspaper dates you’re not crazy. And neither am I.
Following the brief message is an IP address. Matthew quickly types it in the browser window and waits.
Seconds pass. He’s afraid he’s going to get another error message, but the browser blinks and the page begins to load… slowly. He wonders if this is what the internet was like for everyone back when they used dial-up modems with landlines. He sees rows of blank boxes display, and above them he sees a date. He checks the computer’s calendar: it’s the Wednesday before Marcus White disappeared.
All at once the page finishes loading, and Matthew can see the pictures. They are pictures of the gray things, and they are everywhere. A picture taken from the inside of Sally’s Diner shows a gray thing standing outside the window, peering in, the people in the diner apparently oblivious to its presence. A picture of two gray things standing to the side of Bridge Road Park, watching children play as both children and parents seem not to notice. Gray things huddled together in one of the graveyards on Church Street. Gray things crossing the street. And in every picture there are people nearby, and those people act as if the creatures aren’t even there.
One day every month.
Matthew closes the browser and tabs back into the archives application. He resets the search, clears his results, stands up and heads out the door.
As he passes Mrs. Elliot’s desk, she looks up and smiles at him. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Sure did,” Matthew says. “Thanks.”
“Good,” she replies. “That’s good.”
Matthew isn’t convinced.
Just as a note, a space shows between the < and /body and but not after the opening <.
Yeah, that’s to keep the website from actually interpreting it as HTML and trying to render it.
I didn’t think a less-than represented by < was ever interpreted as a tag opening?
Unless I’ve forgotten a lot (for the record, I may have) they’re HTML tags. < html > and < /html > (no inner spaces) would designate the beginning and end of a web page. And < body > and < /body > (no inner spaces) designate the beginning and end of visible content, so basically the photographer inserted a message that required someone to view the HTML source to read it.
But I keep running into issue when I try to show the tags as part of a STORY rather than as part of a website (I honestly don’t know if they’re going to show properly in the comments, but I think comments scrub out a lot of formatting so I might be ok EDIT: it was not OK, I had to use more tricks) so when they show up in an online story I add spaces that aren’t supposed to be there.
OK, I used an inline code formatting command to make the lines look right.
not only is meta-data a plot point, but need to get meta about actual meta-data to discuss the meta-data :}
The only writing error I could find was an apparent missing subject:
> According to its online archives—which only go back a few years—sees the same pattern:
Who or what “sees the same pattern”? Perhaps you meant something like:
> According to its online archives—which only go back a few years—one can see the same pattern:
> According to its online archives—which only go back a few years—the same pattern is there:
Alternatively, perhaps you meant the “online archives” to be the subject:
> Accordingly, its online archives—which only go back a few years—see the same pattern:
As for credulity stretching, the same effects that would make the photographer website disappear from the internet, except for a google cache, would work to make an IP go offline: if there is no one to pay for the domain name, who would pay for the internet link plus electricity for a machine running in someone’s basement? Or alternatively, who would keep paying the data-center/cloud-hosting costs?
There is one entity, though, that would be able to keep both a cache of the website and also all the photos from a hidden link or folder therein, indefinitely: The Wayback Machine from The Internet Archive.
And on a completely random comment, if I was Matthew and I was seeing this:
> A picture taken from the inside of Sally’s Diner shows a gray thing standing outside the window, peering in, the people in the diner apparently oblivious to its presence.
I’d become completely paranoid right there and then that the gray things are spying on me at that exact moment, in a “it’s behind me isn’t it?” kind of trope.
I disagree about the IP address going offline. There are any number of places (or there were, once upon a time on the Internet) where you could set up a website, be given an IP address by the host, and keep that site up indefinitely as long the traffic wasn’t high enough to be a concern. It might be a little more accurate for it to be [ip address]/[directory] (the IP address of the server, and the directory you were given on that server for your site).
Fixed the missing subject!