There was always something quite quirky about Samantha Bloomenthal. Whenever she would look at someone, she would never exactly smile. Even when she was with her friends, she would never look someone directly in their eyes if she was laughing. It wasn't something that she was aware of, and if one were to ask her friends, they probably wouldn't think anything of it either. Strangers, on the other hand, were quite offended when they would say something polite and the only response they would get would be a frown and a generous "thank you."
But on one particular day, Samantha strolled into a used book shop somewhere on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It had been raining, so she was careful not to get any water on the old books. Once Samantha closed the door behind her, she was surprised to find that there was nobody behind the cash register. She stayed by the door for a moment and looked around until she decided that the worker was most likely somewhere in the back. As she was about to walk further into the store, she spotted a bucket for her umbrella, and she placed her long one there with a complacent sigh. She liked these rainy days, but sometimes all the rain equipment such as the hats, boots, and umbrellas, would become very tedious.
Samantha decided to keep her had and jacket on as she walked through the narrow hallway lined with shelves upon shelves of books. There wasn't anything in particular that she was looking for, but on a Wednesday afternoon, there wasn't really anything else to do but explore her neighborhood. It was her first time in this book store. She had passed by it on numerous occasions and always told herself that she would stop in, but something almost always came up. It was nothing like a rainy day to help Samantha accomplish her goals.
She was skimming through the different titles when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.
"I didn't even hear you come in!" a young man approximately Samantha's age said with a grin playing on his lips.
His presence was a light one. Samantha could tell that he was very pleased with life and what it had to offer him.
"I've only been here for a few minutes," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. She looked down while the man smiled at her. There was a moment of silence, which allowed them both to ear the patter of rain outside the store.
"Is there a book you're looking for in particular?"
Samantha wanted to tell him that she just wanted to look around because this tiny book store had always fascinated her, but her only response was, "No."
She kept her gaze down, unknowing what to do next, or where to move. But the man kept the smile on his face as he kept hist eyes directly on her. "Well, if you need anything, I'll be right by the door."
Samantha just nodded her head and turned back to the seemingly never-ending books. From the corner of her eye, she saw the man sit down behind the desk with his head still turned to her. She made sure her hair was covering her face before she allowed herself to smile at the strangeness of it all.
For a few minutes all Samantha did was glance at the different titles. She chuckled when she saw some of the more humorous names and burrowed her eyebrows when some didn't make any sense whatsoever. Every so often, she would pull out a book and read the summary, but none seemed to catch her interest.
Just when she was about to hit the back of the store, she heard an old voice. "I'm telling you, we need to dust more around here! I'm just sitting, doing the paperwork and I feel my lungs caving in."
"Dad," the younger man whispered, "we have a customer."
Samantha tilted her head, and just as she looked back, the old man looked directly at her with a curious look on his face.
He cleared his throat and looked back at his son. "My apologies, madam. I don't mean to talk about such mundane things as the dust to distract you."
Samantha shook her head. "It's quite alright. Books can get rather dusty. I was just browsing anyway."
The old man took note of how her lips seemed to stay curved down. He squinted as Samantha turned around and gazed back at the books. The old man kept his eyes on her as he asked his son, "What is the date?"
Samantha heard the rustling of papers until an answer was found. She kept her back turned to the store owners until she heard someone climb up the stairs in a rush.
"Sorry about my dad. He can be a bit strange at times. We don't get many customers, so he doesn't see many other people besides myself."
Samantha looked back at the young man. She was going to tell him not to worry about it, but she just nodded quaintly before turning back around.
Within minutes she heard someone walk down the stairs. "It's today!" she heard the old man scream, causing her to turn around. She expected him to show his son what was in his hands, but instead he came dashing straight to her.
"The date! It's today!"
She shook her head as the old man held a thin book out to her. "I don't understand." She tried to look back at the man behind the counter for answers, but he seemed just as confused as she was.
The man's hands started shaking as he handed over the few pages to her. "This is for you," he said, trying to stay as calm as possible.
"Oh, no thank you," Samantha said, thinking that he was trying to sell her something that she did not need.
But the old man had given it to her so forcefully, that she had to hold it, or else it would fall to the ground.
"You need to be quick, or else everything will go wrong."
Samantha started shaking her head. "I'm sorry, but I don't want this book."
"You have to do exactly as it says, or else she will die!" he yelled, trying to convince her to open the old pages.
Samantha tried handing the book back to the old man, but he wouldn't have it. Instead, he took her own wrist and opened the book for her. The first page said nothing but, Samantha Bloomenthal.
Once she read it, she stopped struggling to free herself from the man. She used her free hand to touch the letters on the page. After she realized that something was out of the ordinary, she looked up at the old man. "Why does it say my name?"
The old man put his hands on her shoulders and gazed directly into her eyes. "You have to follow each of these steps or else a little girl by the name of Rose Winstip will die today. Something went wrong, and she is not meant to die today. I can answer your questions, but we have no time. You need to do this first."
She looked down at the book once again. "Why do you know this? And what am I supposed to do to stop this from happening? I don't…I can't do this. This must be for someone else. I wasn't even going to come into this store today."
"But you did! And you came into this store for a reason!"
"Look, I don't want the book!" she nearly yelled, throwing it back at the old man. She tried to leave the store, but the narrowness of the hallway stopped her from getting past the old man.
"You need to read it," he said. "Just take it with you and everything will unfold as it is supposed to."
The old man carefully slipped the book into Samantha's bag before stepping away and allowing her to leave. His son stayed in the front, his eyes glued on Samantha's reaction. He opened his mouth to say something, but Samantha stormed out of the book store before she could listen to what he had to say.
She turned right and started running home. The memory old man's forceful eyes sent chills down her spine, and it was only once she passed the next two blocks that she realized it was still raining and she had forgotten her umbrella. Upon realizing this, she slowed down, but because she lost her momentum and the ground was awfully wet, she slipped, falling on her right elbow. She gasped as she hit the pavement, but was grateful that her jacket at least softened her fall. Once she got up, she realized that the book had fallen off her shoulder and was sitting on the cement.
She reached to pick it up, but then thought against it. It had fallen out of her bag, and she wanted to be rid of it. So instead of grabbing the book, she slid her bag back over her shoulder and began to walk away.
Samantha was still trying to steady her breath when she got to the corner of the block. She was prepared to cross the street, but a car came zooming past her, seemingly out of nowhere. It splashed some water onto her already wet jacket, but left her, for the most part, unscathed. Just as she was about to successfully cross the street, she couldn't help but look back at the book that was just resting on the pavement. Samantha started to grow paranoid. She wondered what would happen if someone found that book. Her name was in it, but she didn't know what else was. What if it was something that nobody else was supposed to see? What if someone found the book and used the name to find her? What if that person was a murderer?
Unable to control these thoughts, Samantha dashed back to the book and picked it up. She didn't want to wet her bag, so she kept it in her hands. But because she was curious, she allowed herself to open the book to the second page.
1. Turn right.
Samantha stared at the words on the page. She looked around her and back on the page again. The paper was getting soaked by the rain, but she couldn't find it in herself to close it. She looked down at the other numbers on the page and realized that it was a set of instructions.
If she were to turn right, she would be walking down another avenue, which was the opposite direction of her house. She stayed on that corner for a few moments in a sort of shock when a vacant taxi cab drove down that very avenue. She looked around once again to see if there was someone watching her. After clearing her suspicions, she looked down at the book again.
2. Get into the taxi cab.
After she looked up, she saw that the taxi had slowed down and she could still make out the lights. Samantha thought about what the man in the store had said about the little girl and saving her life. Her heart was beating quickly, and she felt tears well up her eyes, but she didn't want to live her life thinking what could have happened if she did something differently.
So she turned right and ran.
"Taxi!" she shouted, while clutching the book to her chest. Her boots hit the ground loudly with each step as she made it to the other end of the block. The light was red, which caused the taxi to stop. Looking around once more, Samantha stepped into the taxi and closed the door behind her.
"Where to?" the driver asked.
3. Ask to go to Grand Central Station.
"Grand Central Station, please."
The light turned green and Samantha felt the car moving forward. She closed her eyes to catch her breath for a few moments before looking down in the book.
4. Get out of the taxi at the first red light you stop at.
Before Samantha had time to try and understand why the book was telling her to do these things, she felt the car stop. When she looked up, she saw the bright red light, and rushed to get out of the taxi.
After slamming the door behind her, she read what she had to do next.
5. Get on the bus.
She turned her head left, but saw no bus. She could hear the taxi driver yelling at her after rolling down his window, but she just ignored him, trying to find the bus. Once she turned her head right, she saw a bus pulling into the station. Samantha sprinted towards it with the book still wide open.
Once she stepped onto the bus, the doors shut behind her. The light had turned green and the bus began moving forward The driver looked at her expectantly, and Samantha realized that she had no means of paying for the ride. "I don't have a metrocard," she whispered, feeling defeated.
The driver chuckled and kept her eyes on the road. "Tough luck, kid."
"Look, I'm sorry, but I ne–"
"You can get off here," the bus driver said, opening the door. Samantha wanted to argue with her, but she knew she was running out of time, and she didn't want to start a fight. She looked down at the book to see if she was supposed to tell the bus driver something.
6. Go into the store.
Samantha stepped off the bus and saw a corner deli with its door wide open. She turned back to say "thank you" to the bus driver, but the doors were already closed by the time she thought of doing so.
Once she entered the store, she looked down at the book.
7. Take the first box of cookies you see.
Samantha spotted a simple box of chocolate chip cookies and grabbed them. She glanced down at the book again. It did not specify that she should buy the cookies, but rather to just take them. The man in front of the cash register was reading his newspaper, not paying any attention to Samantha. It would be so easy to just walk out.
But morally, Samantha could not do that. So she quickly took a five-dollar bill out of her wallet and put it on the counter. She held up the box of cookies so that the man saw that she was buying something.
"You can keep the change," she said, before rushing out.
8. Open the box and take out one cookie.
Samantha did exactly this, waiting for something to happen. There was scaffolding over the deli, so it was relatively dry. A few people were walking past, trying to get out of the rain. Once she opened the box and took out a cookie, a large stray dog, looked up at her. She saw his head move as he smelt the cookie that was just a few feet away from him.
9. Give the cookie to the dog.
Samantha looked down at the dog and at the cookie. She didn't know much about dogs, but she knew that chocolate was something they weren't allowed to have. She contemplated going back into the store and buying something else. Perhaps they had dog biscuits? But the instructions did specifically tell her to get the first box she saw. Would everything become ruined if she bought new cookies?
By the time Samantha had thought it through, the stray dog started nudging her hand, as if it were asking for the cookie. Although it was harmful, Samantha took this as a sign and gave the dog the cookie.
The hungry dog accepted this offer willingly and started scarfing it down. Samantha wondered when the dog's last meal was, but quickly turned her thoughts away from the suffering creature by reading the next step.
10. Place the opened box of cookies in the middle of the crosswalk.
Samantha looked out onto the street and saw the moving traffic. What would be the point of leaving the box of cookies in the middle of the street? The cars would just run it over and it would be finished with. But she had come this far and didn't want to ruin things.
So when no cars were coming, Samantha placed the cookies in the middle of the road and walked back to the street. Just as she was walking back, she saw the dog start walking toward the cookies. Samantha knew that if the dog were to go for the cookies, it would be eventually faced by the oncoming traffic, so she put her hand on his head to stop him. With her other hand, she held the book open to see what the next step was.
11. Let the dog go.
Samantha looked out into the street and saw the cars coming. She knew that if she let the dog go, the dog would most likely get hit by the few cars that were already in full speed. She looked back down at the book, but the words were the same. She turned her head to the other side to see a little girl and her mother walking down the street. The walk sign was blinking and the mother was talking on the phone, only loosely holding her daughter's hand. The little girl was holding a doll in her hand as she tried to step around the puddles. She lost balance for a second and dropped her doll. Her mother was still talking on the phone, not paying attention to her daughter running back for the doll.
Samantha looked back at the traffic. They were extremely close to the box of cookies left on the ground. Looking back at the little girl and her doll, Samantha let go of the dog and waited. There were no more steps for her to take.
From behind her, Samantha heard a screech and a whine. When she turned around to see the damage, she saw a car slow to a stop as the other cars behind it try to maneuver out of the way. Some stopped completely while others had to slow down before doing so. From the distance there was honking and more screeching, but Samantha only had eyes for the now lifeless dog and the blood-stained cookies left on the ground. She looked back at the little girl, who had safely made it across the street with her absent-minded mother. With that image in her mind, and tears rolling down her cheek, Samantha began running back with the book in her hands.
When Samantha made it back to the book store, she opened the door violently and slammed it shut before looking for the old man. There was yet again nobody behind the counter. So instead of waiting, she went around the counter and stormed up the staircase.
Once she arrived at the second floor, she opened the first door on her right. There she found the old man and his son sitting in front of their own desks, doing some sort of paperwork.
"What kind of people are you?" she asked, her hands clenched in fists.
She threw the book down in front of the old man and stared. "You throw this book into my hands and tell me that this little girl will die if I don't follow its rules. And then it tells me to do these things that don't make any sense. And in the end I do it all to give up another life? You don't know that the little girl would have died. She was far enough away from the cars to be safe. I didn't have to kill the dog for something that might have not even happened!"
The old man stood up and looked at the book. "You did exactly as the book said?"
Tears were strolling down her cheeks as she tried to process what she had just done and what had just happened.
"And the little girl is okay?"
Samantha nodded, but then shook her head. "I saw a little girl cross the street, but she dropped her doll and went back for it. I was so scared. I just let the dog go like the book said, but I knew that the dog wasn't going to make it. It just wanted food. It didn't understand that the cars were coming. The dog was just so hungry. It didn't know any better!"
She felt herself start to shake as she gripped the man's desk for additional support. "I killed a living thing and it's all this book's fault."
After realizing what she said, she put a hand to her temple and took a deep breath in. "It's my fault. I listened to it. I should have just left it in that puddle."
The old man shook his head. "No, no, my dear. You did the right thing. You saved that little girl's life! It was what was supposed to happen. Something went wrong in the course of fate and you fixed it!"
"How did you know to give me that book? How did you know that all those things would happen? Everything just fell into place as if it were waiting for me."
"That's because it was," the old man paused. "Sit down."
Samantha took his offer and sat in his wooden chair. From the corner of her eye, she saw the old man's son staring at her with wide eyes. She made the conscious decision to ignore them.
"Ten years ago a man on the subway platform gave me a book. He told me to follow the instructions or else something terrible was going to happen. He looked so hopeless and so worried, and I was afraid that I would end up looking like that if I didn't listen to him. I've read so many stories about things like that. People approach you and you have to listen to them or else you suffer. So I got on the subway and followed the list of rules. They were simple. Buy a bottle of water, cross the street, talk to someone. I didn't understand what it meant, but I was scared. The last step was to hold your book until the numbers on your cover matched the date. And then I was to give you the book and it was out of my hands."
"And that date is today?" Samantha clarified.
The old man smiled knowingly. "Exactly."
"Then how do you know about the little girl?"
The old man walked toward a cabinet and took out a key. "I've had ten years to think this over and do the research."
He turned the key and opened the cabinet. After doing so, he pulled out a book much like the one Samantha had.
"This is Rose Winstip's book. This book needs to find its way into her hands, but you had to save her first."
Samantha looked down at the book and back up at him. "How did you know that I had to save her? How did you know that she was a little girl?"
"The book talks about her dolls and toys and talks to her as if she is very young. The date also isn't too far away from today, which means that she is a little girl right now."
"And how did you know that I had to save her?"
The old man put the book back in its cabinet and locked it yet again. "Because I had to save you. And she's probably going to have to save someone else, and maybe that person will too, but maybe that person will do something great and just needed to live to do it. There's no way of knowing, but sometimes you just have to go with it."
"Even if someone else gets killed in the process," Samantha stated, looking down at her own fatal book.
"There's no way of knowing."
From downstairs the three people in the room heard the door open and close. The old man's son stood up to take care of the customers, but his father shook his head. "I'll tend to them."
Samantha and his son waited as the old man left the room and walked down the stairs. The son's chair creaked as he got up and walked toward Samantha.
"Are you okay?" he asked cautiously, not wanting to startle her.
"Did I do the right thing?"
"You saved a girl's life today."
"You don't know that for sure. I might have just sacrificed the life of that dog for an idea that might not even exist. I listened to a book."
The man crouched down and put one of his hands on Samantha's knee for support. "You did the right thing. Don't regret doing it."
When Samantha looked up, she found the man looking intently at her with a warm smile on his face. And for the first time, Samantha smiled back.