A book was screaming as I locked up the library.
I could hear it as I turned the key in the door and switched off the lights. Dust danced, swirling in the rays of the setting sun shining through the gaps left between the curtains as I closed them, like fairy dust, mixing with the sweet scent of old books lingering in the air. The promise of happy endings, stacked high on dark wooden shelves towering to the ceiling, at heights way out of reach.
I adored the blissful tranquillity of the evenings, these quiet moments among the stories asleep on the tall shelves. That day was no different, as beautiful and peaceful as any other; except from the screaming.
If I told anyone, some might have thought I was going mad, like I started to believe, for the screaming troubled me the whole day and yet I simply couldn’t find the source. It wasn’t coming from a person, that’s for sure: the library was empty, I even checked the basement. Rolling my sleeves up, I checked my watch. I had an hour to spare before I needed to head to the weekly Warhammer workshop down the street, and I hoped that would give me enough time to find where the muffled cries for help were coming from and get to the bottom of the mystery. Though the calls were that specific sort of quiet I couldn’t be sure if it was in my head, a feral thought bouncing wall to wall in my skull, screaming to be noticed, or if it was really a sound in the world outside my own head, I put my bet on the latter: I didn’t like the idea of going crazy. The voice seemed to grow in desperation, so I took a deep breath and listened carefully, closing my eyes as I pressed the side of my face to the shelves, feeling the books’ spines with my fingers, round, flat, rough, smooth, thin and beastly large, whilst listening to their sounds. They were all dead silent of course, but the voice grew louder as I approached the fiction shelves, and finally, I located where the voice was the strongest. Slowly opening my eyes, I looked at the books under the “Romance” sign and ran my hand over a few, until my fingertips reached one that I did not recognise. Narrowing my eyes, I leaned closer to read its title, tracing the metallic print with my finger along the curved, hardcover spine. I was sure I had never seen it before.
‘The Never Written Story…’ I read in a whisper.
The voice calling for help seemed to tremble as I touched the letters, but I might have imagined it.
‘Is anyone there..?’ the voice asked. I pulled out The Never Written Story and opened it.
‘hELP!’ the voice shouted at full volume and I jumped back screaming, slamming the book shut and throwing it on the floor.
‘What was that..?!’ The voice sounded both hopeful and terrified. ‘Please… I’m trapped. Don’t leave me in the dark.’ It pleaded with such pitiful desperation, that even frightened to death, I could not leave the book on the floor. My heart was still racing as I knelt and reached for it.
‘Don’t scream.’ I hissed as I carefully flipped the cover open. The voice sighed in relief as I took the book to a comfortable corner with a coffee table, and making myself comfortable on the cushioned bench switched on a reading light.
‘Thank you…’ the voice muttered, then gasped. ‘Oh my god…’
I started reading.
Light flooded the page as the librarian opened the book, and the writer could finally see and make sense of the darkness, if not the realisation which struck him that same moment–
‘I am inside a book..?!’ the voice exclaimed.
‘Wow.’ I was hooked. With a capital ‘H’. ‘Did you write this..?’
The writer skimmed the lines, shaking his head. No, there was no way he wrote this. He knew nobody liked a self insert, but indeed, his name was on the cover too, along with another. It must have been his co-author’s work then, but it shouldn’t have been put on the shelves just yet, without his input. Not with his name on the cover but the typos still in the bookk. Frustrated, the writer reached out and put the extra “k” from the word “book” into his back pocket. He was always the one doing the line edits. This was all but a draft, an idea, something they had to brainstorm and shape into the riveting novel it deserved to be, but he was all alone, in a vast sea of somebody else’s prose and without the outline for a map. Then, he heard the librarian give a sympathetic sigh.
‘No way..!’ I put my hand over my mouth.
‘This voice, are you… the librarian?’ the voice asked me. ‘Are you able to help me get out?’
I was speechless. Was this really happening? I was having a chat with a book!
‘I don’t know.’ I said honestly, after getting over my surprise. ‘How did you get in there? Did you accidentally sign a magically binding contract to create this story or something?’
‘I don’t think so– oh. Oh! But… I don’t even know what kind of story this is… Horror? Mystery?’
The librarian glanced at the book’s shelf, and thought: that’s pretty accurate.
‘Romance,’ he said, annoyed at the book for putting his thoughts in writing. The writer scratched his head.
‘Where are the characters? This novel needs at the very least, a hero and a love interest, but I know for a fact I am here all by myself.’ As the writer said this, a suspicion started prickling at my mind.
‘Hang on…’ I turned about two hundred pages at once, to see if this was going in the direction I thought, and started reading fast.
The writer was comforted by the librarian’s soothing voice, as he continued reading him their story, guiding him through the dark night of the soul, both feeling the hollow pain after all was lost. They were defeated. The writer wanted out of the story, and the librarian wished he could join him on the page. ‘I wish I could hold you now,’ he said, and the writer pulled out the spare letters from his pocket to spell “ILY”. Both closed their eyes for a moment, hugging themselves as they imagined embracing each other–’
‘Of course she would go there…’ the voice muttered.
‘Nope!’ I slammed the book shut. The writer panicked.
‘Have you seen where this was going?! I did not consent to this!’ I pushed the book away from myself, to the far end of the little coffee table.
‘You don’t know that! You skipped so many pages, we have no idea of the plot and character development, is it really impossible to think you would catch feelings for me?’
‘Yes. This was AWFUL writing. Besides, I’m done falling in love with fictional characters.’
‘What if you are the fictional one?’ The writer teased.
‘Tsk… Right, I’m the one locked in a book.’ I rolled my eyes.
‘On that note… It is pitch dark again.’
‘I’m sorry.’ I opened the book. ‘So how do we get you out of there?’
‘Ask my co-author. It’s her first draft.’
Said the writer, unaware that this, in fact, was draft number three and still just that bad. The writer gave him the contact details, and the librarian typed up an email on his phone, sending the message to the book’s co-author with the subject line “URGENT Help Needed In Regards to The Book Never Written,” detailing their sticky situation.
She is going to think I’m a lunatic, he thought.
I continued reading, and my phone flashed with the reply in about fifteen minutes.
‘And?’ The writer perked up.
‘She wrote… “Hahaha, I love your humour, Charlie! The Book Never Written? I really never wrote that. My current WIP is The Book Not Yet Finished, and I assure you no writer is trapped in it except for myself as of right now. Oh, is that it? If one is trapped in a story here is the thing: you just have to finish it to get out, and get it out. But you know that already. I’m glad you enjoyed reading Our Sweet, Happy Beginning, I had a blast writing it. Always happy to receive a fun, creative comment; and THIS email takes the cake! It’s the first time I’m being accused of witchcraft and I’m living for it. Thanks for sending this, it made my day! I accidentally trapped my friend in a book, I’m still laughing.”’ I read slowly, becoming more and more disappointed with each word. The writer started sobbing.
The librarian put a hand on the page, tapping it gently whilst massaging the space between his eyebrows. He decided to skip the Warhammer workshop; finishing the painting of his dragon could wait for another week. The writer needed him more.
‘Well, what did we expect..? It sounded like a joke. It’s alright, it’s alright. I can’t have a crying book on my shelves. Aren’t you a writer? Apparently, all you have to do is finish this story. You can do it. We can do it. Page by page, I will be right here with you.’
The writer stopped tearing apart the sentence–
‘Really?’ He looked up in what he thought the direction of the librarian’s voice was, with a letter “s” and a period “.” in his hands.
‘You are not just messing with me, are you? You will help..?’
‘I promise.’ the librarian said in a warm tone, a kind smile audible in his soft voice.
‘For Christ’s sake, must you write me so cheesy..!’ the librarian grumbled but the writer didn’t hear it. He was still processing the words that came before, the ones that were like the spring sun’s kiss, light, warm, and promising better days. The librarian really leaned into the genre, he thought with a smile, enjoying the warm, fuzzy feeling wash over him. Maybe being written into a romance novel was not the worst of things that could’ve happened to him.
‘H-hey!’ I protested as I read the lines. ‘Slow down!’
‘Stop reading my thoughts!’ The writer’s face flushed red.
‘Oh, are you blushing?’ I grinned, leaning back in my seat. Now, that was entertaining.
‘Now, this isn’t fair..!’
‘Yet, I will read all your thoughts, feel all your feelings, you’ have nowhere to hide–’
‘You are forgetting you are written in here too… And that, I have the power to alter things.’
Don’t think of anything, don’t think of anything, don’t think of anything compromising, anything embarrassing, don’t think of anything, definitely not anything that should be censored, don’t–
‘Oh, will you stop? You are wasting page space, I’ve got a book to finish and I don’t need your filler thoughts.’
His voice sounds nice, the librarian thought, and cussed right after, for thinking it out loud. The writer laughed.
‘Thank you. You sound lovely as well… if it’s like this, we might as well be up front, right? Now… let’s get on with this.’
‘Sure,’ I sighed, and turned the page. ‘I have a feeling we are going to pull an all-nighter, so let me just grab some tea.’
The librarian was considerate enough to leave the book open so the writer could work in his absence. In five minutes, he returned with two cups of tea, in case the other had somehow popped out of the book. The writer thought it a sweet gesture, and as he was in charge, he wrote it to be his favourite kind of tea, though he feared he would not be able to enjoy it.
‘Ouch, was that foreshadowing?’
‘I’m sorry…’ I looked at the poor abandoned teacup, unsure what or who I was feeling sorry for. The wasted tea, the wasted effort I made preparing it with a biscuit on the side, the special little teacup feeling rejected, the writer who wouldn’t be able to enjoy the warm drink, or myself for I wouldn’t see him smile and say “thank you, you’re my saviour,” sipping tea across the table.
The writer smiled and thanked the librarian.
‘It is really embarrassing how you see my thoughts. It’s so late now… all I think is nonsense.’
‘Adorable nonsense.’ The writer agreed sweetly.
‘No. We better accept this whole book is going to be a hot mess.’
The hours stretched on, and the writer’s tea went cold on the table as the two turned the pages, subjecting themselves to clichés and romance tropes, fighting writer’s block and polishing prose, their thoughts, their feelings laid bare on the page for the other’s eyes. There was no avoiding the fall. Reaching the midpoint turn, the librarian admitted to himself he fell in love. The writer stopped for a moment, to stare at the line.
I hate this book, the librarian thought, and buried his face in the pages, inhaling its smell, unable to put it down.
I hate this book, the writer thought, still making it better and better line by line.
I hate this book, they both thought, because they were there on the page, and yet, a whole world apart.
I looked at the lines written, bracing myself for the heartache brewing between the lines.
‘This is not going to be a happy ending. Aren’t romance novels supposed to have a happy ending, as a genre requirement? Was this book on the wrong shelf?’
‘Don’t worry… I have it all planned out,’ the writer said, his voice excited, as we approached the end. ‘How much space do we have left?’
‘One page…’ I stroked the corner, not wanting to turn it. The writer took a deep breath.
‘Before you turn the page–’
‘I’m terrible at goodbyes. Do we have to?’
‘We are running out of space as we speak,’ the writer warned.
‘Once it is done, you will…’ I hesitated.
‘I will finally get out of this book, I hope.’
My mouth went dry and the cold snake of anxiety twisted in my stomach as I looked at his unclaimed tea. Where will he go..?
‘I will be left with a book so… empty.’
‘It won’t be like that. I will give us our sweet happy ending,’ the writer promised. ‘Turn the page.’
I stopped myself from saying I didn’t want him to go, and, taking a leap of faith, turned the page.
My heart dropped right down to the basement of boxed up and forgotten stories as I stared at the two dreaded words on the otherwise blank page.
‘No, no, no, you said you will give us a happy ending! You can’t do this, do you hear me?!’ I shouted at the book, but no answer came. I tried to be quieter. ‘Are you still there? Hey..?’ I called softly, flipping back over the pages to the beginning. ‘Are you still there somewhere?’
But no matter how many times I skimmed over the pages and each of their lifeless but beautiful lines, there was no one left. The writer disappeared, leaving behind the book, the abandoned shrine to our one night love story. I only had myself to blame for this: I knew it was going to hurt from the very start.
When a ray of sunshine found its way through a gap in the curtains to wake me, I was still in the library, using the open book for a pillow. My eyes were strained and tired as I sat up and closed the book, gently touching the writer’s name on the cover. It had to be a dream… A dream that left a very real pain in my chest.
The silence of the library, the absence of the writer’s voice weighed heavily on me throughout the day, and for once I could not wait for the day to end and go home.
I was about to close up, when somebody darted through the door and hurried straight to my desk.
‘Finally!’ He grabbed The Never Written Story I kept close to myself, ‘You won’t believe how many libraries I’ve turned up to find this– I was beginning to think it didn’t exist!’
‘That book–’ I reached after it, but stopped myself. The book belonged to the library, after all. I just couldn’t help not feeling ready to part with it. His eyes settled on me.
‘It’d be super embarrassing to get this wrong… you’ve read this book, right?’
‘It was heartbreaking.’
‘Oh… I’m sorry.’ He was not even trying to hide his smile. His voice rang familiar, tugging at the heartache the book left in me.
‘I don’t recommend borrowing it.’ I said, my eyes fixed on the cover. I didn’t want anyone to take it, that book belonged to me.
‘I’m not taking it,’ he said to my relief. ‘I’m only here to finish it.’
He smiled and slid an extra page in after the last one to complete The Never Written Story.
‘As I promised I would.’ He added a little bit quieter, his eyes flickering onto me. Like a bolt of lightning, it struck me why I thought his voice was familiar.
‘No way…’ I stared at him, like I saw him for the first time, my fingers twitching towards the book. He let me snatch it back from his hands.
‘What do you think?’ he asked with stars in his eyes, as I opened the book on the last page, my eyes darting between him and the added text, lost for words and lost in that dream again.
Inside the book, on a handwritten page, was the writer’s mobile number, and one perfect line teasing the sweet, happy ending he still owed us:
Let’s turn another page.
And that was where it began.