A book that’s never been written

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt

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Drama Fantasy Romance

I didn’t notice him at first. I have a vague recollection of seeing him come in once, but I can’t honestly say whether it had been him or some other shadow resembling him. He’d never be spotted in a crowd for he had virtually no defining features. Each time I set my eyes on him, he would change his appearance, adjusting to match his surroundings, a chameleon hiding in plain sight. I can’t explain the phenomenon. Don’t ask me what colour his eyes were, I wouldn’t for the life of me be able to tell you. His eyes changed with the weather, the mood, the way the light shone. Sometimes they were blue, like the cover of a book or black, like the little ladder I used to get to the top shelves or green, like the fake cactus on my desk. But mostly they were gray, like the people who came in and out of the bookshop with their blank stares, not uttering so much as a word, ghosts haunting an empty house. 


They all walked passed him as though he were nothing, which in a way he was. I’d often wonder whether he was just a figment of my imagination. I still do sometimes.


"Can I help you with anything?" I asked one day.  


The boy looked up surprised.  


"I’m looking for a book." 


'No kidding Sherlock, we’re in a bookshop' I thought. 


"Uhm, anything in particular?" 


He smiled.


"Just a book."


I took one out.


"This is a very good thriller, I really recommend —"


"I’ve read that one."


"Okay, this right here is a fantasy that I for one really like and —"


"That too."


I showed him book after book. He’d read them all. After a few minutes, I sighed, frustrated. 


"What do you want exactly?"


The boy cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips. 


"A book that hasn’t been written."


I stared at him in awe. This guy was clearly an idiot.


"I’m sorry, I can’t help you" , I said coldly. 


I didn’t speak to him for two weeks, yet he came every day. He’d pick a seemingly random book, read it, and then leave. 


"Who are you?" I asked one day. 


"Nobody", he answered, with his eyes still glued to the pages. 


"Fine, what are you then?"


It was a stupid question, but he seemed to take it seriously.


"Nothing of importance, I can assure you."


I rolled my eyes.


"Fine, be cryptic, I don’t care. What are you doing here?"


He closed his eyes with a sigh and looked up at me. 


"I’m bored."


"That’s not a reason."


"It’s as good as any other. I came here to read. Well, reread."


"How many books have you…?"


"Way, way too many."


From then on, I asked him something every day.


"Why do you want a book that’s never been written?"


"I need something new."


"And why are you looking for it here?"


"It’s the last place on my list."


"Who are you?"


"You’ve asked me that before."


"Come on…" 


"A wanderer, if you must know." 


"That doesn’t really clarify things." 


He had the nerve to shrug.


"If you don’t like my answers, then stop asking." 


I didn’t stop. The next day, I continued.


"So you’re a wanderer. Where have you been?"


"Everywhere."


"How old are you?"


"Too old."


"Last time I checked that wasn’t an age but okay."


We continued this to and fro for weeks. Was it frustrating? Oh, you can’t even imagine. But at the same time, it was kind of fun. It gradually turned into a competition. The more questions I’d ask, the more cryptic his answers would become. He was turning into a guest of sorts, a guest I hadn’t asked for, but was now reluctant to kick out.


It came to a point where I almost forgot the boy was living in a shop. And I think he had too.


"Hey, wanderer boy!"


"What do you want?" He mumbled, lying against one of the bookshelves. 


"What do I want? I want you to leave, I have to close." 


He groaned. 


"Can’t I just stay here?"  


"What? No, obviously not. Go home."


"I don’t have one." 


I frowned. 


"Where do you sleep?" 


"Oh, I try not to most of the time." 


I laughed.


"What are you talking about? You have to sleep." 


He shook his head. 


"Not necessarily. Not if I really don’t feel like it." 


I gawked at him.


"Since when is sleep just an option?" 


He shrugged and lied back against the bookshelf and closed his eyes. Soon, his breathing steadied. 


'Huh, so I guess even weirdoes like you need your sleep' 


I lied down next to him. He looked so peaceful like this. When he was awake he always seemed worried, distracted. Now it was just him. I’d thought that maybe while he slept he would show his true appearance. Maybe now that there was no one around to see him apart from me, he wouldn’t hide anymore. But no, his camouflage was still in action. When I looked at him with the corner of my eyes, I couldn’t even see him. But I knew he was there. Faded, but there all the same. Part of me wanted to wake him up. Apparently it was against the rules to let a guy stay in the bookshop overnight. In the end though, I simply closed my eyes and lied back against the bookshelf next to him. 


After what may have been either a few seconds or a few hours, I was suddenly woken up by the sound of coughing. I got up to my feet, startled.


"Hey, are you okay?" I asked. 


"I’m fine" , he mumbled hoarsely, holding a handkerchief over his mouth. "Sorry I woke you up." 


"It’s okay. You don’t look fine."


He shrugged and shoved the handkerchief in his pocket. 


"I’ve been sick for quite a while now, I’m used to it." 


"Is that why you’re sad all the time?" 


He chuckled. 


"You always have a question, don’t you?" 


"You’re an awfully strange person. I question what I don’t understand." 


"Believe me, you’re stranger to me than I could ever be to you." 


"Huh, sure." 


"No, I mean it. You’re the only one who’s ever seen me. I was surprised when you did. I noticed you stealing glances towards me all the time." 


"I for one don’t know how people pass you every day without seeing you." 


I stopped. 


"Do you mind all my questions? Am I annoying you?" 


"Not even a little bit. You’re a breath of fresh air."


A pause.


"Is that why you want a book that hasn’t been written? Because you need something new, something you’ve never encountered before?" 


He looked up at me surprised. I took that as a yes. 


I walked up to my desk and took a sheet of paper from my drawer. I realized at the time that it was a childish idea, but I couldn’t think of anything else. I wanted so much to... I don't even know what. He just seemed so sad, all the time. And there I was, powerless to help him. This stupid little idea was the only chance I had. I started writing. I can’t even remember what, I just wrote whatever came to my mind. Unfortunately I don’t have that sheet of paper anymore. Although knowing my writing, maybe that’s a good thing.


"Here, I said after I’d finished. Ten lines of… whatever I like. A book that hasn’t been written." 


He reached out for the paper, but I held it back. 


"And in return I want one line from you." 


"What?" 


"I’ll give you ten lines a day, you give me one." 


He stared at me, then suddenly leaned in and kissed my cheek. 


"Thank you", he whispered. 


A few days later


'I’ve always wondered what would happen after I died. We all have at some point or another. It’s one of humanity’s many questions we may never find a satisfactory answer to. Yet now, I think I’ve found it. I’m pretty sure the answer wandered into my library the other day. Mist it almost seemed, compressed together to form a vaguely humanoid figure; like a shadow, drifting —'


"Is this thing about me? I’m not a ghost, you know!" Said the boy indignantly.


"I’m the writer, I can make you be anything I want."


I stuck my tongue out.


"Why would you even think I’m a ghost?"


"Just read, okay? And where is the line you wrote me?"


"Later."


The next day


'There was once an angel, the most splendid of all God’s creations. He —'


"Hold up, so I’m an angel now?"


"Yep."


"And let me guess, I’m a fallen angel."


"Yep."


"Doesn’t that kind of make me the devil?"


"Neah, the devil would be much more interesting to talk to."


"Hey, what is that supposed to mean?"


He reached for the paper, but I snatched it away before he could get to it.


"I’m reading it!" I said laughing.


Another day


'… and so the angel fell, down, down into the depths of the ocean from where it was thought he could never emerge again.'


"And?" Asked the boy.


"And what?"


"Well, what happens? Does he escape? Where’s the ending?"


"I didn’t have any more room to write" I said blankly. "And besides, I thought you didn’t like the idea of being an angel, I narrowed my eyes."


"I don't" he sighed. "But now I’m invested. Come on, you’re the author! Invent an ending."


"Now?"


"No, next month. Yes, of course now."


"Uhm, he finally swims out, but he’s lost all his powers so all he can do now is wander the world and occasionally drift into random people’s libraries."


"Wow, so creative" he said sarcastically.


The next day


'He could see the light shining faintly through the water, but he has no strength left. He’s so tired, he could just let himself be taken away by the current —'


I groaned and collapsed on the desk.


"What’s happened now?" Asked the boy.


"I don’t know how to continue it."


"What story is it this time?"


"Oh, it’s the angel one."


His face lit up.


"You’re writing an ending?"


"More of a continuation. But it sucks. All I need is one more line, something to motivate him, to make him want to get out."


The boy looked at me curiously for a few seconds, then smiled to himself. He leaned down and grabbed the pen out of my hand, then wrote.


'The angel suddenly heard the voice of a girl from the surface, calling out to him.'


"A girl?" I said confused. "What, is she going to save him or something?"


The boy shrugged and raised an eyebrow.


"You’re the author."


One night


"Hey could you tell me where —"


He saw the girl sprawled on the desk, still clasping her pen, her arms covering a piece of paper. Curious, the boy walked up to her and picked it up.


'The angel seems sad, thoughtful. The girl didn’t know what to make of him. Perhaps he’d seen so much of the world that nothing could ever surprise him anymore. He’d known such great happiness at some point in his life that now nothing could ever make him happy again. He’d read every book in existence so he was no longer surprised by any plot, any character, any romance. The girl felt sad herself when she saw him, for she didn’t know how to help the angel.'


The boy glanced towards her, then took the pen.


'Little did she know, she’d already saved him.'


Some other day


"This is really good, you know" said the boy in-between coughs, clutching a bloody handkerchief.


He glanced towards me, but his smile faded when he saw my expression. Granted, I did look pretty scary when I was furious.


"Are you okay?"


"You’re asking me if I’m okay?" I yelled. "Me? I don’t know what to do with you anymore! I don’t understand how you can sit there and read my crappy lines when you —"


I stopped to wipe away a tear, but before I could continue, I suddenly felt his arms around me, hugging me tightly. 


"I’ll be fine" he whispered into my ear. "I’ll be fine."


"If only you could tell me how to help you" I murmured.


He didn’t respond, but we both knew the answer. I couldn’t.  


Two weeks later


"And?" Said the boy, lifting his gaze from the sheet of paper.


"And what?" I asked, sprawled on the carpet, my eyes glued to the ceiling.


"The girl, what happens to the girl?"


"I don’t know. I suppose she gets left behind, right?"


"Does the girl want that?"


"I don’t know."


A pause.


"What if… what if the angel asks the girl to come with him?"


I looked up.


"With him?" I asked hesitantly.


"Yeah."


I frowned.


"There has to be a price. No story is any good without a sacrifice."


"She can’t ever return. She’ll never see her family again." 


"I see."


Silence.


"What does the girl answer?" I asked.


"You’re the author."


I gazed at him. The guy who you’d never spot in a crowd. The angel no human being would ever be able to see. The boy who was tired of existing and the girl who felt powerless to help him.


"I suppose she says yes."


One week later


"Hey, they do have books where you’re from, right? Cause if not, be prepared to carry a very heavy suitcase." 


I looked around the empty shop.


"Hello?" I asked hesitantly. 


I walked up to the desk. Nothing on it but a fake cactus and a few sheets of paper. And lines. Hundreds of lines.


'You know this is the first time I’m doing something like this'


'And I’ve lived a long time, so that’s saying something'


'I think I’m going to go mad with all the questions you ask me every day'


'Do you ever run out of energy? It’s tiring. But I suppose I could get used to it'


'Why do I read so much? People who are sick usually don’t have energy for anything else'


'Yes, I’ve read every book in existence. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands'


'Out of all of them though, I think yours is my favourite'


'It’s not that you’re a good writer'


'I have a whole list of people who are better authors than you'


'But with you there’s no order to the story. It’s random'


'You think you've done nothing to help me'


'But life is so beautiful these days'


'I never thought it could be like this'


'And it's all because of you'


'Maybe the fact that I stay here with you every day shows that'


'I’m not that sick anymore'


'I think it does'


I turned to the last page, where only one line remained.


 'Thank you.'


The next day he never came.


A few years later


"God, how many are there?" I asked as I stared at the never-ending line of people in front of me.


"You should be excited, Abbey!" Said Sally. "You’ve dreamed of this for years."


I smiled.


"Yeah, I know that, but I never thought a book signing would be so stressful."


"Come on, you can handle it."


I nodded, though I wasn’t convinced. I looked up at the banner over my head. 'A book that’s never been written' by Abbey May and an angel. 'He’d hate that' I thought, 'being called an angel'. 


I sighed as the next person in line walked up to my table. I took his book without looking up and asked what I’d been asking for the past two hours.


"What do you want me to write?"


 "Just ten lines" the boy said.


My heart may have stopped at that moment, but I still didn’t look up.


"Ten lines of what?"


"Just write a proper ending, ‘cause this one sucks."


I stifled a laughter.


"And how should it end?" I asked, finally meeting his eyes.


He smiled and shrugged.


"You’re the author."



September 05, 2020 15:07

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3 comments

☆ Ariadne ☆
00:14 Sep 14, 2020

The way you described the boy is REMARKABLE. I am so inspired. I'd highlight my favorite lines but I'm afraid there are too many! Great work, this is truly an extraordinary piece of writing! Please check out my story and leave a like/comment! I'd be so grateful! :) All the best, Adrienne

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Julie Emma
05:04 Sep 14, 2020

Oh my God, thank you! You don't how much I appreciate that! I'm very glad you liked it.

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☆ Ariadne ☆
16:56 Sep 14, 2020

Of course! Anytime! :)

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