What we knew before knowing
By Kala Séraphin
Restless as always, I couldn’t sleep. The thin sheet I had for a blanket was wrapped around my legs, tangled around my chest and constricting my breathing. I felt like I was wrestling with a very irate boa constrictor. Eventually, I gave up pretending to try to get rest. I found my way out of the tangled mess and walked to the basin of water at the foot of the bed. The cold water felt refreshing on my weary face. I washed up the best I could, trying not to waste a single drop of water. I didn’t know when a fresh basin would be given to me.
A few steps and I was at my writing desk. Once more, I gave a critical look at my living space. It was a small box with a bed adorned with one sheet, a basin of water, an urn for a toilet and this writing desk. The luxury I was gifted with was the leather bound book. It was a deep red leather with gold filigree on the cover. Inside were pages upon pages of white paper just waiting to be covered in ink. That was my task, to write my story in this book. I could take as much time as I wanted, there could be any amount chapters I desired, I could write in any format I wished. The only restriction was that I was not allowed to erase anything. The second the ink was placed on the paper, it was meant to stay. Only foresight and a way with words could correct anything. Once my story was complete, then I was permitted to leave this establishment. It was a deal I couldn’t remember making but I was bound to it. I found the contract with the book and sure enough, my signature was on it.
I had no sense of time. At first, my body followed a rhythm between sleep and writing. However, a quarter into the tale, my body changed. It no longer required sleep. Instead, I often found myself pacing the room in a circle while my mind worked out the details of my story. I was determined to make this a story everyone could relate to and will remember their whole lives. It was going to be the universal novel. There was only one problem. I was at a crossroad in the story and didn’t know where to take my protagonist. For so long, I tried to continue writing but my mind was blank. Pacing the room didn’t produce its usual dose of inspiration.
I looked at the door of my chamber, wondering if I should go out again. The other times were out of curiosity but now, it was a necessity. There was only one place it led to: the library of infinite books. It was a multi-leveled complex with books of all kinds.
The contract stated that I could visit the library of infinite books to search for inspiration or any other reason I could think of. The books had to remain where they were. I was permitted to go ten times, no more, no less. If I went this time, it would be my last time. That was the reason for my hesitation. Was I so empty of words that I needed to use my last visit to the library of infinite books?
Reading the last paragraph I wrote helped me to realize that yes, it was needed. There was no erasing or going back to change a passage. What was written was final. Only the blank pages could be a way for me to improve what was written.
“Alright, I am going to the library.” I spoke to the book, promising to come back with a fresh adventure for all the characters.
I slowly opened the door and looked down the long corridor. On both sides there were doors, similar to mine. Each of those rooms housed a person, like me, writing. The contract forbade me to disturb any of them.
Quietly, I made my way down the hall, holding my contract tightly. It had nine marks on it for every time I went to the library. I was nervous about the last visit. My mind created gruesome scenarios where I would suffer some torture for using up my visits so quickly.
The doorkeeper stood there, silent and cryptic like every other visit. His hood covered his head completely, letting me look into a black abyss. He simply stood still in front of the massive double doors. I couldn’t even see his chest rise and fall with his breath. I didn’t know if it was just me, but it felt like there was an icy aura surrounding him.
With a shaky hand I handed him my contract. It disappeared in the sleeve of his robe for a moment, then returned back to me with a fresh mark. With careful and controlled movements, he moved over and opened the door to the library. I quickly walked in, glad to have made it without any incident. The imagination could be quite gruesome when faced with the unknown.
I browsed the many aisles, feeling peaceful among so many books. They were all leather bound books like mine. There were different colours and some were thicker or thinner but invariably they were all the same. It was the content that made each book truly unique. Some made me laugh, others made me cry and a few brought new questions of existence to my mind.
I stopped at random and picked a blue book with a stained cover. My mind relaxed as I learned a new way of seeing the world. I was deeply into the book when my peripheral vision caught something moving. It had never happened before and it intrigued me greatly. I always thought myself to be alone. Could it be one of the other resident writers? I wondered if it was maybe the doorkeeper coming to drag me back to my room. I looked around a corner but there was nothing. Shaking my head, I turned back to the book in my hand when the movement earlier perceived happened again. This time, I ran down the aisle. Once more, I was greeted by the stillness of an empty library.
I wondered if I was losing my mind. What could it possibly be? During my past visits, I was always completely alone. Maybe it was the book I was reading. It could be possible that the story was affecting me more than I realized.
My heart froze when I turned around to return the book in question. In front of me was a young girl in a white dress with a sad expression in her big brown eyes. She was floating off the ground, her hair like a halo around her pale face. We looked at each other, unmoving. She looked so much like the protagonist of my story. There was even the same birthmark on her cheek.
Before I could regain the senses necessary to say or do anything, she turned away and floated through the book shelves. I followed the best I could. She was leading me to parts of the library I had never been before. When I stopped running, I found myself at the center of the complex. It was an open space with a ramp intricately carved with strange designs. I looked down to the other levels of the library. It went on forever. I looked up and it was the same thing.
She appeared beside me with that strange look of sadness in her eyes. All of a sudden, other specters appeared out of nowhere, all floating around aimlessly as if they were waiting for someone.
“Please, finish writing my story. It’s so cold here.” She spoke but her lips didn’t move. It was like an echo in my head.
For me, this confirmed it: she was the girl from my story. I was amazed yet confused. How could it be? Wasn’t she just a creation from my imagination? If not, then my writer’s block was putting her in a kind of limbo.
“I’m sorry…I, I mean…I don’t know what to write.” I stuttered apologetically.
She motioned for me to follow her and led me to another, darker, part of the library. I was back in the maze of book shelves. She pointed to a small green book for me to read. I read the first line out loud:
“Once upon a time, not too long ago. In a far away land much like yours and mine.” I looked up at her. She urged me to keep reading. It scared me how this was the story of a man living in a room and spending all of his time writing a book. Every thought he had, I remember having; every urge he fulfilled, I remember fulfilling. In the story, there was a library a lot like the library of infinite books. He even experienced a creative block as I was experiencing at the moment. I did not let my fear stop me. I continued to read the book until the very end.
As if in a daze, I went back to my room. The girl followed me to the door of the library then disappeared. I was so concentrated on what I just finished reading that I didn’t even notice.
I sat down at the desk, determined to have it all written down perfectly. The book had inspired me to take my story to a new world. Every word came out gracefully, at the right moment. The more I wrote, the more motivated I was to continue.
Finally, I sat up straight, looking at the finished book. All the pages were used without any space left to add more. I felt proud of the world I had created. I closed the book, keeping my hands on the cover as if to feel the energy and love that I had put into it.
“It’s done,” I declared, smiling brightly. Slowly, my hands lost their density. It was more like the book was absorbing my energy. My whole body was now transparent, like a fading memory. I stood and looked down at myself. My feet weren’t touching the ground.
The doorkeeper entered my room and walked through me as if I wasn’t there. I was speechless with shock. How could I simply disappear like that?
Unperturbed, he took my book and left the room. I followed close behind, floating down the familiar hall. He opened the door to the library and out came a familiar girl. Except she was no longer floating. Now, she looked real with her feet firmly on the ground and a more solid constitution. Her eyes, however, were no longer sad. They were glazed over as if she were thinking of another life. As she walked by me, she stopped and looked over to either me or the doorkeeper. It was a brief moment before she went on her way and entered what used to be my room.
I chose to follow the doorkeeper in the library. He took my book to one of the many book shelves and found an empty space at random and put the book in its new home. He went back to his post at the door while I floated in the library of infinite books, wondering about the life cycle of this existence.
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