Author's Note: I once attended a summer writing camp called "Riddles & Mysteries". The basis of the week was the book
That's right. I've been listed on Amazon. Boo yah.
Author's Note: I once attended a summer writing camp called "Riddles & Mysteries". The basis of the week was the bookThe Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. For those of you who don't know, the book is filled with pictures. The pictures were given to a publishing friend of Van Allsburg's. Each picture was accompanied by a single line and a title. This story was inspired by the story titled "Mr. Linden's Library". This story is also published by WordVentures in my writers' club's second publication, "Type a Little Faster: Volume II". Good luck finding it; try Amazon.
Hector adopted Isabella when she was seven years old. The second he saw her, secluded in that corner with a book spread out on her lap, he knew that they were made for each other. So, it was only natural that the first room he showed her when they arrived at his tidy Italian estate was the library.
It was the last room in the last hallway on the last floor. The door was solid oak, with a single feather carved into the center. Isabella's small hand barely reached the top of it. She traced it with her fingers, and it seemed as though a small tingle covered her body from head to toe.
"You felt it." Hector noted. The girl looked up at him and nodded. "Good. You're really going to like it here." Now, he pushed open the door.
Isabella's jaw dropped.
Every wall had bookshelves from floor to ceiling and practically from corner to corner. The books were all different colors and all different sizes. Most of them had their titles printed on the side in gold. Isabella was awestruck.
"I can read all of these?" she asked.
Hector came beside her. "All but one." He pointed to a book that sat on a white table in the corner. It had a red velvet cover, and a broken hourglass was stamped in gold on the front.
"Why can't I read that one?"
"You just have to trust me. It's for your own good."
Isabella glanced at the book one more time and then back to her guardian. "I trust you."
It took a few years before Isabella started asking questions again. Whenever she went to get another book, she'd see the forbidden one, and she'd always tell herself that she trusted Hector and believed him that it was for her own good. That didn't help it make any more sense.
"Yes, Isabella?" The two were out on the backyard patio. They'd started spending the morning out there right after Isabella's last birthday, her eleventh.
"Why won't you let me read that book?"
The man jumped a bit. He'd been so sure his message had gotten across the first time. "I told you. You'll just have to trust that I'm looking out for your best interests."
"But, Hector, I don't see what's so bad about it. It's just a book. It has words that are on pages that are between two covers. It can't be any worse than the others I've read."
"Fine. I'll stop."
There was an extremely awkward silence that followed. Yet again, Isabella broke it.
"Have you read it?"
"No." Hector responded.
Now Isabella was really ticked. "You haven't? Then how in the world can you possibly know that it's so dangerous?"
"The woman who sold it to me made it very clear that it was never to be read."
"If it's not supposed to be read, then why didn't she just burn it? Why would she want to sell it to you?"
"I was a cocky collector back then. I made her an offer she obviously couldn't refuse. However, once I got it into my library, I just got this awful feeling that what the old lady had said was right. I haven't touched that book since I put it on that table. Now," Hector looked his child in the eye. "Can you just trust that I know what I'm talking about?"
Isabella suddenly felt bad for asking the questions. She should have just trusted him and left it at that. "Yes. I trust you."
After taking a drink of his tea, Hector mumbled, "That's what you said four years ago."
Again, it took a few years for Isabella's curiosity to be piqued once again by the book. Now, she was fifteen, and you would have thought she would have given up the chase by now. But, she's a reader, and everyone knows that readers will almost never back down from a challenge. She decided that this time, she wouldn't ask to read it, but would ask what the story was about. If Hector told her, where was the danger?
This time, they were walking through the woods that bordered his property. Hector stuck to the beaten path, while Isabella balanced on logs and teetered on top of rocks. Just because she was becoming a responsible adult didn't mean she couldn't have fun.
"Hector, can I ask you one question about the book?"
Hector rolled his eyes and looked up at her. "Now, Isabella, it's one thing for a seven-year-old or an eleven-year-old to ask those questions, but it's quite another when you are fifteen and really should know better."
"But, Hector, it's just one question, honest."
He sighed. "Alright, but I can't guarantee that I'll be able to answer it."
Isabella smiled and jumped down so she could walk next to him. "Did that old lady tell you what the story was about? You know, the characters and stuff."
"Yes, she did. Do you want to know?"
Isabella nodded profusely, so fast that she suddenly felt quite dizzy. She regained her composure. "That way, I won't feel so tempted by the actual book."
"Well, I don't know the whole story."
"That's okay. Just tell me what you know."
Hector took a deep breath, and then they both sat down on an old rotted log, and he told her the story.
He said that it was about a young girl, probably no older than herself, who lived in the woods, much like the ones they were in now. She lived with her two sisters and her father. Her father had wanted her to be a son, and not only was she not, but her mother died giving birth to her. For that, her father hated her, and her sisters did not make anything better. So, she decided to run away, just run through those woods until she couldn't see her old life anymore.
Hector abruptly stopped. Isabella looked at him confused.
"Come on. Don't you know the rest?"
Hector shook his head. "No one ever made it any farther in the story."
Isabella snorted. "What do you mean 'they didn't make it any farther in the story'? What, did they die?"
She didn't expect Hector to nod.
"Oh. Well. I certainly trust you now."
Three more years passed, and now Isabella was eighteen. She was soon going to leave the tidy estate to go off and get an education. Both hearts dreaded the day, but both also knew that it was inevitable.
Isabella hadn't planned to even think about the book ever again, but then an opportunity presented itself that she simply could not pass up.
Hector came down to breakfast one morning and announced that he was going away for the day and would not be back until late that night.
"An elderly lady passed away and I am told her estate includes many first edition children's books."
"Well, best to get going then. You don't want to be fighting over a copy of Beauty and the Beast, now do you?" Isabella taunted.
The two hugged, and as she waved at his departing car, Isabella suddenly thought of the book. This was her chance to find out what it held, what happened to the rest of the story. What Hector said about nobody ever making it farther than the girl running away passed through her mind but for a moment. Now, all she could think about was that she was finally going to get to read it.
She'd proposed to wait until late evening, but the sun was still just setting when she entered the library. The books sat where it had for the past eleven years, atop the white table in the farthest corner of the room. She approached it with the slightest bit of hesitation and guilt.
As Isabella looked at the cover, she suddenly got the meaning of the broken hourglass.
"A timeless story." She said and chuckled. Now, she wrapped her fingers around the smooth velvet covers.
"It's finally time."
Isabella dressed for bed, turned on her light, and tucked herself in. The book lay beside her, awaiting her first page turn. It was sitting right in front of her, but Isabella felt that twang of guilt in her heart. But, yet again, she pushed it away and awarded the book the pleasure of her fingers turning the title page, which was curiously blank.
She must have been reading for hours before she got to the young girl running away from her father and sisters. Still, it was a good story, timeless indeed:
Catherine ran through those familiar woods, hardly noticing the vines whipping her hands, feet, and face. She was escaping that life, finally running from something she'd put up with for far too long.
Suddenly, Isabella noticed something in the book binding. It seemed as though something green and leafy was working its way out of the book. As the tendrils inched close and closer towards the words, Isabella realized that they were vines, just like the ones in the story.
"How curious." She mumbled. Suddenly, just as the vines covered the pages entirely, one snapped up and wrapped around her wrist. She gasped, and another grabbed her other wrist. Now, several were jumping at once, tightening around her ankles, her arms, her legs, and her whole body. As all of this was happening, all Isabella could think about was Hector, and how he had warned her.
Just as she thought of the fact that it was too late now, the longest strand wound lightly around her neck, but just as suddenly tightened.
Isabella's world went dark.
Hector opened the door quietly, and, turning on only lights as he went, worked his way to Isabella's room at the end of the first hallway. He felt bad about wanting to wake her, but he wanted to show her the books he had bought from the old lady's estate. He felt like a small child who wanted to let his parents know about his latest discovery.
Her door was closed, but Hector could see that her reading lamp was on. He smiled. That was his Isabella, never passing up an opportunity to read. How he loved her for that.
He pushed open the door all the way, and his mouth had formed the first syllable of her name when he saw her.
The book was open beside her, open to that part, he was sure. Vines were receding into the binding. As Hector stepped closer, he could see red divots in her wrists, and one lone one in her neck, but it was the deepest. Her smooth, dark hair was falling into her eyes, which were now closed.
Hector took her hand in his, even though hers was already cold.
"I warned you." He sobbed. "I warned you; why didn't you listen?"
Now he grabbed up the book and ran out to the backyard, to the fire pit they had installed a few years back. He built a raging fire in it. He backed up a few feet, wound up, and threw the volume into the flames. He enjoyed watching it get eaten by the greedy fire, its pages turning black and crinkled.
Once the rage settled, he knelt next to the pit and wept. He wept for the child he'd known, and the young woman who's curiosity had gotten the better of her, once and for all.
Most of all, though, he wept for a reader, one who had read one book too many.