My car stutters as I turn into my grandparents’ apple orchard. It’s a crisp September day, but the trees lining the dirt path reach out with bony, leaf-less limbs. Rotting apple cores sit decomposing in piles beneath the trees, and I roll up my window to avoid the stench. Headlights flash in my rear view mirror as my aunt’s Sequoia rides my ass into the front yard of the property where the path turns into a concrete parking lot. My cousin’s silver convertible has already claimed the first spot. She puts her hard cider on the porch banister and meets me halfway.
I nod at the two story farm house complete with a wraparound porch and yellow porch swing. “It doesn’t look different.”
“My mom’s been taking care of it. They’ve only been gone four days, but she’s cleaned everything twice.” My cousin, Vanessa (Ness for short) brushes her orange, flat-ironed hair back off her shoulders. She usually wears cute sweaters and leggings all autumn, but today she’s opted for light-wash, mom jeans and an old, paint-splattered sorority t-shirt. Ness and I are the only cousins out of ten who volunteered to help sort through our grandparents’ things.
“Your mom’s here by the way.” My head’s up isn’t necessary as my aunt is already lugging a vacuum out her back seat.
“Mom, there’s a vacuum in the house. We’re just sorting through boxes, remember?” Ness rolls her eyes, but her voice is soft and cautious.
My aunt Meredith hauls the vacuum up the porch steps, nearly knocking Ness’s glass off. “While you girls sort, I’m going to get a bit of cleaning in.” Aunt Meredith’s face is more red and puffy than usual, and her jacket is inside out.
“Mom, it’s clean. Maybe you should go home and get some rest.”
“I slept a few hours this morning. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
Ness looks to me, and we let Aunt Meredith go in and start vacuuming the living room. The noise distracts from the heavy silence. I grab the red, plastic cookie jar out of the cupboard. There’s only one left. Ness and I split it. Then we start in the basement, knowing it’ll take the longest.
Five boxes of holiday decorations later, I come to the last box in the basement closet. It’s unmarked. At first it appears to be filled with loose ball ornaments in various colors, and then I spot a shiny, ovular object near the bottom. Initially I assume it’s a toy, but it’s heavy and made of brass. “Ness, can you come here?”
“If it’s a spider, kill it yourself,” she calls from the other end of the basement.
“It’s not a bug.”
She sighs. Her footsteps slow as she gets closer. “Is that–a genie lamp?”
The pitter-patter of fairy feet broke through Lily’s dream. Their tinkling voices whispered in a language she didn’t understand. She risked opening one eye and caught a glimpse of small silvery wings disappearing behind her jewelry box. At the end of her bed, her pink curtain blew back and forth. They must’ve opened the window.
Propping herself up slightly, she pulled the covers to her nose and peeked around the room. Two fairies tumbled out from behind her mirror and flew to the window. Their bodies glowed golden, so Lily couldn’t make out their features, except for their tiny feet and their wings.
The window clicked shut, and Lily shot up and pressed her face against it. The fairies were floating off towards the woods in her backyard. She put on slippers, crept through the house, and ran out the backdoor in her nightgown. She could just make out the glow of the fairies disappearing into the trees, so she followed them.
The humidity made the backs of her knees sweat. Sticks poked at her feet and scrapped her legs. Her nightgown snagged on tree branches, but she pressed forward. She needed to see where the fairies had come from. Just when she thought she’d lost them, the woods opened into a clearing with the largest tree she had ever seen in the center. Hundreds of fairies flew around it, just inside a circle of red toad stools. A tin, high-pitched melody drifted from the tree, fairy music. Lily stood in plain view of the fairies, but no one seemed to notice her. They just talked and danced and zoomed around. She inched closer, hoping to get a better look.
Lily had explored these woods a hundred times, but had never come across this place. The leaves of the tree seemed to shimmer in a shade of green so green it couldn’t be possible. The bark of the tree twisted almost as if the lines were writing. Did all of the fairies live here?
She moved closer and closer. The music started to sound familiar. The disconnected notes were finally making sense. She could make out the tiny bodies donned in elegant dresses woven from flower petals. Their hair came in every shade from gold to magenta to mulberry to aqua. As she approached the nearest couple, they turned and stared at her. Their eyes were a dark, deep, impossible blue. Lily wished her eyes looked like that. How amazing it would be to be a fairy. To dance all night and sneak around humans and to be able to fly!
She waved at the two fairies. “Hi!” And as she took one last step, the lights blinked out. All of the fairies and the tree disappeared at once. She was still standing in a clearing, but it was dark. Clouds had covered the stars and the moon. Crickets chirped around her. She blinked and glanced around, trying to understand. Had she dreamed the whole thing?
As she turned to head home, her ankle brushed against a dew-covered toad stool. The circle remained.
After her mom closed the bedroom door, Rae watched the sliver of light creep under her door. If the bathroom light was on, then she could pretend that her parents were awake in the living room. And if her parents were awake in the living room, then she was safe.
She clung to this thought as she hid beneath the covers. Everyone knew that monsters couldn’t get through the blankets. As bursts of orange and yellow began to morph into shapes in her mind, she heard a train whistle as clear as if it was in her room. Now her parents would dismiss this. Call it a dream or tell her she only heard the train passing a few neighborhoods away. But it was so distinct and close.
Rae sat up, eyes darting to make sure her dolls hadn’t moved. They never did, but she could feel them watching. Her eyelids drooped, but her mind bugged her heart until her body twitched with panic. She gathered her courage, bundled her blanket into a lump behind her, turned on her dog flashlight, and leaned over to look under the bed. Two bins of Barbies took up the space there. She pushed them back against the wall so that nothing could hide behind them. No movement or noise indicated that there was anything more there than toys.
Sitting back up, Rae tried to reassure herself. She was being silly. What could a train do to hurt her? How could a train even get in her bedroom?
Adjusting her grip on her flashlight, she headed towards the closet. The doors squealed on their tracks as they slid open. She dropped the flash light. She didn’t need it. Where her clothes should have been was a train compartment. Sunlight streamed through the window onto two dark green benches. She looked behind her into her ordinary, boring room and stepped into the train car.
The closet door slid shut and morphed into frosted glass. The glass door opened. “Candy, Miss?” a train worker asked, gesturing to a tray of chocolate.
Rae accepted two plain pieces of chocolate. “Where are we going?”
“To The Library.”
“The Library. It has every book ever written, including the ones no one has published.”
Rae had never heard of this library, but it sounded perfect. “Do I get to read the books? How many books are there? Can I read them all tonight?”
“You’ve been invited by Lucinda Powell, the head scholar of The Library. She’s studied every book that it contains, and she can answer all of your questions.” With that, the worker left.
Time passed quickly. Rae watched the scenery go by: hills, plains, mountains, back to hills, and then a dense forest overcame them. The train slowed, and Rae pressed her face against the window as a tall twisting glass palace appeared in the middle of the trees. White iron held the large panels of glass together. It was unlike any building Rae had ever seen, prettier than any skyscraper.
The train pulled directly up in front of the palace. Rae knew this was her stop. She passed empty compartments and climbed out of the train onto the grass. A petite woman wearing a purple dress with a shoulder cloak held out her hand. The woman’s blonde bob bounced as she gestured for Rae to follow her. “I’m Amira. It’s nice to meet you. We never get visitors. It distracts all of the scholars.”
“Are you a scholar?” Rae asked, following Amira up the steps of to the front door.
“No. Just a receptionist. Scholars don’t like handling phone calls. I’m a people person, so I do it for them.” Amira’s perky voice put Rae at easy.
The entrance hall of the library was smaller than Rae had imagined, but a crystal chandelier hung over the center of the room, making the hall magnificent regardless. Amira gestured to a pale tan leather armchair against the wall. “Wait here please.” Before Rae sat, Amira disappeared through a side door.
A heavy wooden door blocked the entrance hall from the rest of the library. If Rae knew that the door wasn’t locked or that an alarm wouldn’t blare, then she would’ve snuck in and grabbed as many books as she could carry. Instead, she sat, swinging her legs and trying to ignore the tiredness creeping over her.
“Rae, I’m Dr. Lucinda Powell.” A tall, grey-haired woman with a few wrinkles strode across the entrance hall. She moved fast and her blue gown revealed a thin figure. “I’m so glad that you could join me this evening.”
Rae smiled, unable to find words. Lucinda seemed to understand. “I want to show you the main chamber. The Library has multiple wings and rooms. With so many books, how could it not?”
The floor to ceiling wooden doors thundered open, and Rae melted. The main chamber was as wide and long as a football field. Bookshelves were built into the walls. Windows and bookshelves were staggered, rising up five stories in a twisting shape. Rae didn’t understand how to get to the ones so high up, but she didn’t wonder long because the main level was filled with cozy armchairs of every color and fabric. Scholars occupied most of them with stacks of books resting on their end tables.
Rae wanted to run for the nearest shelf, grab an armful, and claim a chair for the night. Lucinda watched the anticipation and excitement grow on Rae’s face. “That’s how I felt when I first came here. Would you like to read one?”
“I’ll find a good one. Pick a chair.”
Rae scouted a chair near a window and away from the other scholars. It was floral, blue and yellow. She curled up in the seat. She could fit comfortable with her legs bent. Lucinda brought a heavy, brown leather book over. It was a little bit smaller than a normal book, like it was a field guide. The title read: Magick, Wisdom, and Reason: The Ultimate Guide to a Knowledge and a World Beyond the Visible. Rae dove in. Every page had little notes scrawled in blue ink alongside the printed text. Things were underlined and circled and crossed out. Rae couldn’t stop turning the pages. It wasn’t until she finished it that she realized Lucinda was watching her. Rae pretended to read the last page longer so that she wouldn’t have to give it back. But she couldn’t pretend forever.
“Did you like it?” Lucinda asked, letting Rae hold onto the book a little longer.
Rae nodded, all of her questions demanding to be asked. She didn’t know which one to say first.
“I was your age when I moved into The Library. Like you, I wanted to know everything that I could. I wanted to read every book and understand things that no one else had. I wanted to decipher the meaning of life, the origin of the world, and how it all ends. And I have.” Lucinda lowered her voice. “There is a Book of Time that begins before the beginning and ends beyond Time. In order to comprehend it, you need to learn everything that you possibly can. You have to read every book. Only then will you be able to handle it.”
Rae wanted to handle it. She was ready now.
“I invited you here because you love learning and reading. I’m inviting you to be a Scholar of The Library.”
Rae nodded eagerly, ready to accept so that she could keep reading.
“Do you understand that you will stay here?”
Rae nodded. “I’ll get my clothes and tell my parents.”
“The Library is a secret of scholars. You won’t be able to go home.” Lucinda looked sad. “I know that this is a big decision for someone so young.”
Rae bristled. She didn’t like adults thinking she was a child. She had full capability of her thoughts and actions, and she didn’t like being told otherwise. Her thoughts were reasonable, thank you very much. And she wanted to stay more than anything.
But she remembered that time her mom had thought she was missing. The panic and fear in her mom’s voice. Rae never wanted to hear it again. She missed her bed.
Reluctant, Rae handed the book back to Lucinda, and Lucinda called the train.
Like a lot of people, I watched Game of Thrones and couldn’t wait to see how it ended. I was sure that the white walkers were going to wreck havoc. They were alluded to at the very beginning of episode one, and they were built up to be the ultimate threat to humanity. I was very excited for the white walkers to march south, to prove to Cersei that this war with the walkers was her problem too. But that didn’t happen. The white walkers were defeated in one battle. The threat of all threats was brushed aside.
I’m one of those writers who plans and keeps notes. I don’t plot out my entire story, but I like to have an idea of where I’m going before I set sail. That said, I’ve seen a lot of writers make aesthetic boards for their stories. These boards are supposed to summarize the story and create an easy way for the writer to remember the world of their story. I don’t use them and always found them to be a distraction from actually writing. But I recently read an article about why they can be useful. It didn’t completely change my mind, but it’s a good article and could help any fellow writers who are considering using aesthetics as a planning device: https://www.eloracook.net/single-post/2019/02/14/Why-Making-Aesthetics-Is-More-Than-a-Procrastinating-Tool
I hadn’t expected Allie to propose. I couldn’t think straight. She doesn’t even know me. She thinks she does, but I haven’t told her the truth yet.
The bathroom is empty thankfully. Each stall is separated by full walls with wooden doors, the way every bathroom should be. Whose bright idea was it to leave gaps anyway? Does it actually save that much money on materials?
Hiding in the first stall, I expect Allie to come running after me. I expect my phone to buzz with her concerned texts and calls. Neither thing happens. I just stand there sniffling into too soft toilet paper. This restaurant is ridiculously fancy. I should’ve know.
The bathroom door opens. Two girls walk in talking about how awful their double date is. I lift my hand. “Silencio.”
My stall seals, blocking the outside sounds. Allie doesn’t know that I’m a witch.
Being gay is easier than being a witch. My friends were all supportive of the former. None of them know the latter. I can’t see the terror in Allie’s eyes when I tell her. I can’t deal with her looking at me like I’m a dangerous freak.
I wanted to tell Allie at the right time. But if I don’t tell her now, then I’ll lose her. My throat tightens. I’ll never be able to go back and speak the words. So I pull out my phone.
The ringing fills my ear. It goes to voicemail. Allie must be pissed. Her voicemail beeps.
“Hi, Allie. I’m so sorry that I left you like that. I just–I haven’t been fully honest. I–this should be an in person conversation, but I’m too afraid. I’m a witch. I have and use magic. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner. Please call me back. If you still want to marry me after this then, you’re a better person than me. I love you.”
A steaming plate of lasagna sits in front of me, uneaten. Elyssa’s spaghetti is getting cold. I want to go find her. I want to apologize. I want to take it all back.
Ring box closed, I put it beside her food. She’ll come back when she’s done freaking out. I try to eat my food, but my stomach churns every time I look at it.
The waitress asks if everything is okay. I say yes, that my girlfriend is just in the bathroom. She doesn’t feel well, I lie. The waitress looks at the ring box and offers takeout boxes. I accept. I pay the check.
My phone vibrates. It’s Allie. Is she calling to apologize? Did she leave? Is she moving out? As soon as her message is recorded, I listen to the voicemail.
Three years of dating and one year of living together, and she thought I didn’t catch on? I’d suspected the truth for the last year. Did she really expect me to believe that she could clean the entire apartment in ten minutes?
I shouldn’t be mad, but she basically insulted my intelligence. I don’t call her. Instead I text: I know you’re a witch. I loved you anyway. How could you not trust me with this sooner? Ring and dinner will be on the kitchen table. I won’t be there.