A tribute to artists and the homesick everywhere. Projects like Vexations wouldn't be anything without artists.


Vex always wondered if they’d deliberately built the Phoenix Public Library to feel like the capstone to a catacomb. The structure itself rose up above the dusty desert and parking lot with a squat grandeur, but that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The insides of the first level expanded out into a vast, vaulted room, entered from two sides by square tunnels that felt as if they were cut from living rock. When really, they were forged out of concrete, the effect remained the same: dim shadows and chilly breezes.

Ignoring the brightly lit lobby entirely, she flounced her way to the elevators under the hollow gazes of the greeters behind the desk and a tired looking security guard lounging against a glass wall. When the elevator arrived, she pressed the button for the bottommost floor. As the elevator descended, Vex mused about how archives and basements seemed to go hand-in-hand. As if someone had decreed that in the earth old books would be interred—a sepulture for old documents, the dusty lovelorn pages of memory.

With a ding, the elevator doors sprang open.

The threadbare carpet clicked audibly beneath Vex’s boot heels as she made her way through the small antechamber lobby and out into the cool recesses of the archive stacks. Baking powder smells emanated from the carpet where it had been recently vacuumed and mixed with the subterranean chill air. The desk at the front had been left unattended, computers with green letters hummed quietly against one wall, and a doorway in the opposite direction opened into a room furnished with microfiche machines.

Pressing further in, she moved between some haphazardly stacked boxes of microfilm and precariously teetering piles of books. Several of the lights, here and there, were burnt out, casting a cavernous glow onto the shelves of newspapers, microfilm, and three-ring-binders. Sounds of rustling pages and shuffling feet echoed through the marching aisles of shelves as Vex walked confidently between them, navigating the labyrinth with veteran experience. Unerring in her route, she came upon the only other person down in the Archives that day.

Andrew Cane could not be called a short man by anyone of less height than six-feet-three; with his stature and long arms he could reach the highest shelves without difficulty and pressed this as an advantage on many occasions—seldom would one find a footstool in the Archives, although for the extended sections long, rolling ladders were supplied. His pale and severe face with its hollow cheeks, bespectacled eyes, and short orange beard was shoved into the leaves of a three-ring-binder when Vex approached.

“Andrew,” Vex said.

He looked up and closed the binder slowly. “You must walk like a cat,” he said. “You mustn’t sneak up on me so, could give me an attack.” His manner, however, belied any sort of surprise.

Vex rolled her eyes. “I must,” she said, and then shook her head, cocking it towards the door. “You knew I’d come in the moment I walked out of the elevator. You made me walk all this way to find you.”

Hmph and nonsense, young lady,” he said. “But, now that you are here. I have something you might be interested in. As you well known there are quite a few failed mines here in Arizona, and none too few produce stories about why they closed. Well, I have discovered the provenance of one such story out of Jerome, involves a phantom locomotive. You might want to investigate.”

“Not today,” Vex said. “I need something else: deed records.”

“Phantom locomotive.”

“Next time?”

He adjusted his glasses. “Ah if only I was younger—housing deeds and titles? Old ones, I hope…”

“How does about twenty years back do you?” she asked.

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