"Another woman has committed suicide today. Amelia Winston was a sister to three boys. She bled herself by severing the subclavian arteries with knitting needles." the TV reporter states with too much enthusiasm. Then again, I'm not really one to talk,
"Why?" I take another bite of my cereal, "Of all the ways to go, why choose something so slow? And with knitting needles no less!"
My mom switches off the TV, "I don't want you watching this stuff, Alina."
I shrug, who cares? I have other ways of finding out the gory details of the news. Riiiiiiing! The sound of the doorbell tears through our quiet apartment. I flee from the responsibility of doing my dishes to answer it.
"Are you ready?" My close friend Mason asks. Mason's the guy every girl in high school wants to date. Longish blonde hair, iceburg blue eyes, oh, and he's ripped. I just happened to be lucky enough to befriend the shy nerd in middle school.
"Yeah," I grab my backpack, "Bye mom!"
The air outside is chilly and damp with fog.
"So, I suppose you've been on top of the suicides that have been happening lately?" Mason says off-handedly.
"Of course," He knows my dream is to be a forensic investigator.
"I also suppose your mom has been turning the TV off?" he raises an eyebrow.
"Of course," I say with a little less enthusiasm. My mom's whole family is a little old fashioned. The last thing she wants me to be is a copy of any sort.
School, like always, is a long and mind numbing. Afterward one of Mason's cult-like followers Ted and his girlfriend, Grace stop us on our way out.
"Dude," Ted claps Mason on the shoulder, "Ally told us about this new old fashioned bookstore downtown. Grace and I are headed there right now, wanna come?"
Mason nods, "Sure, you in Alina?"
I am not 'cool'. I was never part of the popular club back in middle school and when Mason began his climb to fame I sunk lower by becoming interested in things like animation software and sweats.
"Mason, dude," Ted's voice gets low, "I didn't really want her coming along. She and Grace don't get along very well."
"Okay well, then I guess I have to decline your offer," His shoulders are tense. He gets this way when people shove me to the side, just like I used to do for him, "Come on Alina, let's go." he grabs my arm and tugs me forward.
"Whoa! What's the matter?"
"Can you believe that guy? Talking about you like you aren't even there!" his jaw clenches.
"Dude!" Ted jogs up and catches Mason's other arm, the one not welded to me, "Come on, I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize to me," Mason growls.
"Alina," Ted gags, "I'm sorry."
That seems to work for Mason because he and Ted are laughing like buddies not two minute later. Grace and I walk a little ways behind them in awkward silence. We don't like each other.
It doesn't take long to get to our destination. Ted and Mason are watching a football fail video or something. The bookstore is in an old Victorian mansion. The name is printed on a swinging sign that juts out from a metal arch that leads into the front yard. The Book Finder.
The door creaks open. Ted and Mason are still watching the stupid video, oblivious to the small piece of heaven that they've just stepped into. I can't believe my eyes, it's like something out of a book. The second floor has been knocked out so that the floor to ceiling bookshelves are over twenty feet high in every room.
"How may I help you?" A tall man in a suit that looks like it belongs in the 19th century approaches us, his gaze flies over Ted and Mason with a small look of disdain. He carries a faint scent of cigar smoke. He seems to be in his sixties with graying brown hair and sharp hazel eyes. I shake my head wordlessly. This guy has actual rolling ladders.
"Well, let me know if I can be of service." he returns to his post behind a giant oak desk.
"Wow that guy stinks," Grace says.
"No he doesn't," I have the strange urge to defend him, "He just smells like cigar smoke."
"Well it stinks." She takes a picture to put on snap chat. I roll my eyes, social media is the stupidest idea since Bigfoot.
"Oh no I insist." the book keeper says to a woman buying a book.
"Please," she begs, "It's so beautiful, I can't just take it for free!"
"Of course you can! It's a gift, I give one to all of my customers." He holds the book out again. "It's why I'm called the Book Finder after all, I find the perfect book for everyone."
The woman guiltily takes the book and leaves. He turns his attention to us.
"Are you looking for anything in particular?" he asks. It takes me a moment to realize I'm being addressed personally.
"Oh," I chuckle nervously, this doesn't happen a lot, "No, I'm perfectly fine looking."
"Any particular interests?"He asks.
"Well, I really like forensics. Mysteries are some of my favorites."
"Ah," he smiles, "Follow me." he grabs a ladder and wheels it in front of the door, "Hold it, will you?"
I grab on and watch as he climbs to the top shelf and selects a heavy brown book,
"It's about a forensic detective. Fiction, of course, but it goes into depth with the procedures and whatnot." he passes it to me.
"Wow," I stare at it in wonder, "Thank you but I don't think I can afford this."
"No, probably not," he says wistfully, "so then, consider it a gift."
"No," I laugh, " you've got to be kidding. I can't accept this!"
He sighs, "People these days. When I was your age I would have accepted any gift I was offered and never given it back."
My face flushes, "Sorry. Thank you very much." I sit down in a high-backed leather chair and start reading. It doesn't take me long to get absorbed into the story, like water into a sponge.
"Hey, Alina," Mason jerks me out of the pages, "Let's go."
"Not yet," The man approaches us, "I haven't found you your books yet."
"It's okay, really," Mason protests. I kick him in the shin and shake my head.
"No, no I insist." The man pulls out a gold pocket watch and checks the time then disappears around the corner and returns a moment later with three beautiful old books. To Grace he gives a purple one with gold patterns. To Mason he gives a black one with copper lining. To Ted he hand the most beautiful one, a brown leather book with intricate Celtic patterns. There's just one thing,
"They're all locked," Grace notes.
"Of course," He says, "Come back tomorrow and I'll give you the key."
"Alina, where are we going?" Mason asks.
"To the bookstore." this seems inherently obvious to me, "He said he would give you the key today, remember?"
Mason pulls away from me, "Alina, I don't think I'm going to get the key."
"I gave it some thought and the whole thing seems a bit shady. I don't think you should go back either."
"Oh, okay," I promise. Five minutes later I'm on my way back to the bookstore. The door creaks open just like it did yesterday.
"Hello!" I call.
"You're back!" The man exclaims, "But where are your friends?"
"Um, "I look down at my hands, "They're not coming."
"Don't worry," he says, "They'll come eventually. Curiosity always wins."
I nod. That's a freakishly valid point, "I'm Alina, by the way."
"Carlson, Carlson Ether." he offers me a hand to shake, " How's that book I left you?"
"Oh, it's pretty good so far," I'm too embarrassed to admit I stayed up till four last night reading it and fell asleep in French as a result.
"Do you read the news, Alina?"
"Oh, yes! Well, I watch the news, but it's all the same, yes? These suicides fascinate me, of course, my mother doesn't want me watching it, she says I need to stop filling my mind with this stuff," I'm talking a mile a minute. I tend to do that when I get started on something I like. He doesn't seem to mind that the suicides fascinate me, unlike everyone else I've told.
"I happen to know someone down at the police department who is working on the case, would you like to meet him?"
"Seriously? Of course I want to! That's like a dream come true for me!"
Carlson chuckles, "Come on then, follow me."
"Wait," I pause, my stomach climbing into my throat, "You mean he's here?"
"Mmhm. come on, right on this room here." Carlson leads me into the room I was in yesterday, "Ah there you are Richard, just the man I was looking for." he leads me over and I wave weakly, "this young lady is very interested in your work. She'd like to hear about the suicides."
I'm sure I'm blushing like crazy, "H-hi, I'm Alina."
"Richard," the man says, "but you can call me Dick."
I scrunch my lips, "No no, I'm good with Richard."
Richard chuckles, "So the suicides, aren't you a little young to be hearing about this kind of stuff?"
I blush again, "No! Well, probably but it's so interesting, ya know? I mean, why would so many people suddenly start killing themselves? Don't get me wrong, I know suicide isn't that uncommon but the ways these people are killing themselves are so painful and slow. What's the point? Is it some kind of cult? Ritual? What?" I'm aware I've been rambling.
Richard chuckles sadly again, "I've been wondering that myself. Like most suicides these people leave a note. Unlike most suicides, the note is the same unanimously. Large Gothic calligraphy on fake antique paper, three words, two on top one underneath with the fold right in the middle of the two lines."
"What do they say?" I ask.
He looks at me out of the corners of his eyes, as if trying to decide whether or not to tell me, "My life's complete."
A week's past since I spoke with Richard. There have been three suicides since then. Among which Grace and Ted were victims. It's affected me more than I thought. I mean, I never liked them and they never liked me so why should I care at all? I know why, because now it's real. Only teens and young adults have been dying.
Why would Grace and Ted have both died? Especially within a week of each other? There's something nagging at the back of my brain, a clue. The TV switches on in the living room.
"We believe the fire may have been in connection with the suicide. Another tragic loss, Mason Albert was a-" the reporter's voice is cut off by the channel changing. Mason Albert? My Mason Albert? I glance at my phone and see I have a voice mail from Mason.
"It's my life, Alina. That book the Book Finder gave me. My life is written out in painful detail," he sounds panicked, "Alina it's like reading a horror! I can't… there's another way out. It's at the back of the book. It's horrible. I'd never dream of it except… I can't… Please understand. Alina, I'll miss you, but you have to understand."
The voice mail ends, leaving me in a strange mindset. The book? Fire, horrible, can't, can't what? Can't, live? Can't go through whatever the book said? Another tragic loss… Mason Albert. I can't breathe. The book, the book, the book. I jump up and run to the door.
"Alina where are you going?" My mom asks.
"The corner store," I lie.
"Honey, we need to talk."
"Not now mom, I need to go," I rush through the door and slam it shut before my mom can stop me. My feet carry me along the all too familiar path to Carlson. He smiles at me as I walk in,
"Alina how-" he stops smiling, "What's wrong?"
"It was you!" I wheeze, "you made them commit suicide! I haven't figured out how yet but I know it was you."
Carlson looks… pleased?
"I was wondering if my detective would figure it out. Do you want me to tell you how I did it?" he beckons me forward. Logic says no but, like Carlson said, curiosity always wins. I slide cautiously up to his desk. He pulls out a gold pocket watch. He opens it and shows it to me,
"What the?" I scrunch my eyebrows. Scattered across the face are twenty-six letters and ten numbers.
"A long time ago," Carlson begins, beckoning me into a chair, "A man stumbled across a genie. This man was granted three wishes. Bear with me I promise this will be short. This man was alive during a magnificent time. So many beautiful machines were being invented. He had only one problem, he was dying, so his first wish was to live forever. Because he couldn't think of anything else to ask for he left the other two up to the genie. The first gift was a pocket watch that could write out the life of anyone who you wanted it to."
"The pocket watch," I say, unbelieving, "Could write?"
"Well, no. it could tell you which book belonged to which person. The third gift was the ability to die if the man gave away the pocket watch. Here you try it." he hands me the pocket watch and I hold it up to a woman who just entered. The letters and numbers align so that it shows a book number BBL 722. I turn back to Carlson. Everything makes sense now.
"But I," Carlson looks helpless, "I never thought…" his face contorts to anger, "The world has been swallowed by technology. I hate it so I've been cleaning, I've been showing people what their life is going to be like if they don't change."
"And they're killing themselves!" I yell.
"I know," Carlson looks desperate, "Alina, please, take my pocket watch. I can't keep living in this world. Take it, I'll die and the suicides will stop."
I reach forward and take the cold metal. Carlson sighs and disappears. He doesn't crumble or go puff, he just fades.
The pocket watch sat untouched in the bookstore for a long time. But now, at the age of sixty-seven, I see what Carlson meant. My own children are mindless. The world is all concrete and steel. I walk back to the bookstore that's been boarded up for the past fifty-one years. The pocket watch is sitting where I left it. I pick it up and stare at it. I understand what Carlson was thinking. Surely if I show people their future they'll come to their senses, surely they'll stop.
Thank you for reading. Please let me know if you spot any grammar/spelling mistakes and comment! This is one of those lack of sleep projects, I hope you liked it!