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Coming of Age

"HUSH!"


Cadence's voice carried through the darkness of the hidden room outwardly to the three teenagers meandering down the dusty road surrounded by giant fir trees. Her voice spoke tersely and through gritted teeth like a mother who is displeased with her child's behavior in public. It was meant to get the four girls attention, but it was also intended to not draw attention to what was hidden.


Cadence peeked through the ivy that covered the room in which she hid. As she was deciding if it was a good idea to bring them in with her or not, the teens spoke more loudly. She had gone to great lengths to hide the room in which she claimed her stake, books to protect, words to keep hidden. In her mind if there was a remote chance to bring the greats back into the destroyed world, she’d let her hair grow more wild by the day to scare off anyone that threatened the last book room. 


“Did you hear that Booker?!” 


“Quill, which direction did it come from?”


“Didn’t you hear her? We. Need. To. Keep. It. Down.” 

The last child didn't speak, just stood wide eyed blinking at the other three.


The tallest of the four, gripped her rucksack tight to her chest. The wispy brown tendrils of baby hair lifted just slightly with the momentum of her spinning body. The last of the three delivered her words with certainty and an understanding that they were in unsafe territory and it was best to follow directions or else. The other three nodded in panic and agreement, huddling shoulder to shoulder with the one they called Booker. 


Booker was the clear leader of the group, towering over the other three girls. Her height suggested she was the oldest and likely in charge of the tiny brigade. Next to her stood Quill, smaller in stature yet louder in tone. Cadence nervously held the ivy between her fingers waiting for the other two to give clues away as to who they were.


“If we’re not careful, The Collectors will find us. They will take these and what will this journey have been for?” The silent child finally spoke with the most persuasion of them all. The friends nodded in a reluctant agreement.


"Lyric is right. Penn, what should we do?" Some relief gave way as Cadence could at the very least give each of the girls a name. The idea that they all possessed such bookish names gave her pause. It had been years since the last Keeper made their way through her hidden part of the woods. Typically Keepers were old like her and from a more quiet and desperate generation. Could these four be Keepers too, Cadence wondered?


The Collectors, a brigade of corpsmen sent down from the high government to regulate the free trade of books. At least that was their mission statement, as regulate was an unfair use of the word. Elimination and eradication was more their style. Books were no more.


As things of the past go, history repeated itself. The elimination of books had circled back like the tapes of history rewinding, only to press play again. No longer did books line the shelves of peoples homes or pile high haphazardly on nightstands. 

Cadence knew then that she’d have to chance exposing the book room by bringing the kids in.


The book room was the last of its kind tucked away in the forested backroads of what was known before as the state of Pennsylvania. Cadence came from a long line of book curators. The legacy was bound in her DNA to find a way to keep the existence of the written words alive. When her great grandmother lay on her deathbed she told Cadence through whispery, cracked lips, You are Cadence. The Rhythm. The Flow. The Keeper of the Books. 


“I shouldn’t have to raise my voice to a roar to get you four to quiet down!” It was a habit that Cadence could never avoid, the shushing of loudness.


Cadence slipped from behind the ivy grappling her hands to dusty bags and tatters of clothes. Booker’s eyes widened scanning the woman she’d only heard about in stories from her own family. With a giant shove Booker, Quill, Penn, and Lyric were trapped behind the hidden door beneath the ivy. 


There was no sound to the urgency of their heightened breaths. Only the movement of dust particles in the air swirling around their mouths. Cadence paced wildly, listening intently that no one saw nor heard the interaction between the four of them. 


Booker’s eyes swept the poorly laid out room. A simple once-over told her that the woman before her with mad eyes, and unkempt hair was The Keeper of Books. 


“It’s you. You’re The Keeper of Books. We, we found you.”


The last words were whispered with exhaustion. 


“I am Cadence-”


Penn, the loudest of the four interrupted with a step forward, “You’re The Rhythm and The Flow. You exist.”


“Penn, stop. Let her speak.”


“As I was saying, the name is Cadence. You four nearly got yourselves caught, and for what?!” 


“I’m Quill, this is Booker, she's Lyric, and the mouthy one here is Penn. You’ll have to forgive us, we’ve been searching for you for months now not knowing if you were even real like the tales our ancestors have told us. Yet, here you are.”


Cadence sighed, her age betraying her ability to continue the fight before her. 


“Yet, here I am. Why are you here? Don't you know how dangerous it is that you're here?”


Booker made her way to the side of Cadence browsing the few shelves before her grazing her finger along the dustiness stopping next to a small pile of mottled homemade papers. Booker had heard of paper, but had never seen nor felt it. She had heard of this place but without ever knowing what a book looked like or even what paper smelled like doubt washed over her. Her friends had practiced writing with ash on rock, so as to easily erase evidence from fear of being caught by The Collectors. 


The urge to touch the paper was staggering, her curiosity stopped and turned to the elderly woman instead. 


“Is this really The Book Room Cadence?”


A heavy reluctance washed over Cadence as she pointed to a small table gesturing for them to sit down. Leaning against the wobbly shelf, Cadence told them of how she became The Book Keeper. How for decades her parents and other family members led a covert operation to gather the stories that were no longer in print. When paper was lamented as forbidden they began to tell the stories out loud over and over again. They lauded themselves as rogue librarians gathering what they could to keep the stories locked tight in their memories. Passing on lines from K. Antonio, A. dot Ram, and Writer Maniac until much of the stories could be remembered were kept. Cadence went on to say that all that remained of the greatest books of their history were merely pieced together memories from one person to the next.


Quill leaned in, “So, you mean you’re The Book Keeper and this is The Book Room but there are no books? How? Booker, we came here for nothing.”


“Quill is right Booker. Where are the books?.”

Booker stared Penn down, calming her with her gleaming eyes. 


“Cadence. They have a point. Where are the books?” Lyric was always the straight to the point kind of observer.

Cadence tapped to her temple and to the small stack of papers on the dilapidated shelf. 


“When The Collectors came for my family and the families that kept all of the stories I was driven into a state of hiding. Fortunately there was a plan in place. Where we sit now is the last room of the oldest library in Pennsylvania. Trust that the irony of the extinction of books happened while the oldest library still stands isn’t lost on me.”


“I was to stay here and wait for the other Keepers to pass through. To wait for their recollection of the books loved by all. What you see there is what has been given to me in short lines like a guest would sign a guest book. It’s not much, but it’s what I have from other Keepers. The rest is all in my head, where it’s safest.”


Booker, Penn, and Quill smiled all at once. Lyric simply stepped forward, shoving her hands into her deep pockets searching for something.


“Cadence, that’s why we are here. We have some things to give you.”


“We come from Keepers too.” Quill provided assurance that they were there to help, to add to the long lost stories. 


“We don’t have much, but we’ve practiced the lines passed down to us over and over so we could bring them to you.”


Penn nodded with a slight apprehension, “Cadence, I wonder though? How do you know if someone has given you the right missing piece? Couldn’t anyone just rewrite the book to their own liking?”


Cadence paused at the innocence of Penn’s questions. It was something she had tossed around in her mind any time someone passed through The Book Room with lines to a book she was unable to conjure herself. 


“Well, it’s come down to me trusting that other people want to keep the books alive as much as I do. I have to believe that the story they are bringing me is the real story, the one they carefully held in their mind for so long. Sometimes truth looks like devotion. I’ve yet to meet anyone more devoted to keeping the legacy of books than those that find me here.”


Lyric's delicate fingers with tiny callouses on the tips presented a makeshift pencil. It must have been what she was fiddling with in her pocket. She wrote-


Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul.


"I bring you Oates. She was my mothers favorite."



Quill stood, taking the pencil from Lyric's hands and walked over to the pile of papers, touching the edge of one ever so delicately. “I’m worried that the story I bring you, you might already have.”


“What did you bring with you, please tell me?” 



Quill hesitated putting the writing stick to paper. She wrote-


But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams 

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream 

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied 

so he opens his throat to sing.


Tears fill Cadence’s eyes with gratitude. It is then that Quill knows her words were missing and now were to be kept forever here in The Book Room.


“I brought you Angelou, Cadence.”


Penn is next in line to the paper, gripping the pencil tightly afraid it might fall from her dirtied hands-


We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.


“I bring you Atwood.”


Booker is last to come to the makeshift journal of papers standing in as potential books. The rucksack wrapping her shoulders drops to the floor as if she’d been waiting for this moment her entire sixteen years of life. Brushing the tendrils of hair from her eyes, her fingers lead the wood across the page-


I like good strong words that mean something.


“I bring you Alcott.”


“I know Beth dies, but I wish we could pretend not to know that. I want to give her a more deserving end.”


Cadence chuckles lightly, grabbing Booker's shoulder with the care of a mothers love. 

Cadence took in the few sentences given to her. She knew that words carried weight, and these words brought on by these four teenagers were considerable. The four sat about the pile of pages with pieced together stories. Cadence reads them aloud from paper and from memory.


Booker, Penn, Lyric, and Quill sat eyes wide. The future Keepers sat as Cadence read the gospel that was Oates. The tellings of the caged bird trapped but still with voice, like the keepers. The frighteningly similar narration of Offred in a dystopian society where she refuses to be complicit sparks pride in the three as they realize what they have contributed to the change. It is with the reading of the four March sisters that Cadence takes pause. They sit as five women, young and old banding together. Cadence realizes that there is hope in the four before her. A genuine love to carry on the rhythm and the flow of the written word, and she their guide.


She whispers in her Keeper voice, “When the first pleasantness was over…..”


April 30, 2021 20:36

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29 comments

Nina Chyll
13:28 May 06, 2021

I love the idea! So many fantastic entries in this week's prompts, too - I'm very jealous of the supernatural plots and I've found it touching how many revolve around preserving literature. I thought the dialogue was great, really seamless and brought the story to life. Is the title a play on the Friends episode with Little Women and The Shining by any chance?

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Shea West
15:46 May 06, 2021

I envy all the supernatural writers too, as well as the horror. My brain is scared of so many things, but the idea of turning them into a story(ies) is impossible! It's not a play on that, but I loved that episode!! I just picture Joey throwing the book in the freezer and I laugh. I'm so glad you stopped by to read, I need to read your new submission!

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Nina Chyll
15:52 May 06, 2021

I feel precisely the same way, although I’m sure with some practice, one day I’d get to half-decent. In fact, maybe I’ll try to write a horror story for the next prompt? Would be cool if you were in on the challenge, as off the top of my head as it is! Ah man I was so sure it had to be a play on Friends since all the episodes are named in that convention. Either way it’s a cool reference even if I imagined it!

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Shea West
16:04 May 06, 2021

If you just challenged me to a writing prompt duel.....well, I guess I will try! Now I'm crossing my fingers that Friday's prompts will fit nicely in the horror department LOL

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Nina Chyll
16:06 May 06, 2021

Not a duel, more a friendly competition! (where my pistols at?) Yeah same. Of course it's only a loose offer, please don't feel obliged at all! I have always wanted to write a suspenseful piece but building that tension has always freaked me out and I find that everything works out better with a buddy.

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Shea West
16:24 May 06, 2021

I'm up for it. I feel a little blocked writing wise this week, so a good buddy system might be really helpful! I just read your story Nina, and I am deceased at how great it is!

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Kristin Neubauer
17:43 May 03, 2021

This is so imaginative, Shea! I love the concept and how you developed the story. It had all the notes of reflection, philosophy, mysticism and sci-go that keep the reader engaged and thinking. I also thought it was so clever how you wove in the names of the Reedsy writers. Brilliant!

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Shea West
17:56 May 03, 2021

Thanks Kristin. It made me think of my kids, their love for books and reading. The hope that they'd do anything to keep books around really felt like something that people might fight for.

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Scott Skinner
05:36 May 02, 2021

This was a fun read. I think at the end where it says, "They sit as four women, young and old banding together. " It should be 5; 4 teens and old Cadence. I like the concept of this world where The Collectors are getting rid of all these books and how these special people with these book-related names are here to save the world. I think an area of improvement is fleshing out the teen's personalities a bit more, I wasn't sure what they were all really about. They care about books, (Name TBD) is straight to the point, but more could make th...

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Shea West
14:50 May 02, 2021

I am still heavily editing, so your input is very much helpful here. I submitted it very hastily before the deadline. I'm fixing the messy parts today. I had a different name there for the TBD, but need to go back and change it HAHA!

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Claire Lewis
15:29 May 01, 2021

A change of pace from what I’ve read of your other stories, but I enjoyed the premise a lot! The end was beautiful, with the quotes written down like offerings. I loved it. And the little shoutouts were so fun, what a great idea! :) Critique-wise, if this hasn’t been approved and you’ve got the time, I’d suggest polishing the beginning scene a little, keeping an eye out for flow, especially in the dialogue.

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Shea West
16:05 May 01, 2021

It's not been published yet, thank goodness. I will go back and tidy it up. I intended to put words down, goal achieved lol Thank you Claire!

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Claire Lewis
17:25 May 01, 2021

I feel that! Some weeks you just gotta get words on the page haha

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Shea West
18:11 May 01, 2021

I approach it like the grocery list sometimes, just put food on the list and shop. Good enough is good enough!

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Michael Mcamis
21:49 Apr 30, 2021

Hello, I LOVED your stories, Ian started a mystery, true crime and horror podcast. Would I be ok with you if I read your stories on the podcast?? I of course would give you credit as the author. Please let me know

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Shea West
14:51 May 01, 2021

Glad you liked it😊

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Shea West
20:38 Apr 30, 2021

This was rushed, after a hellish week. The idea is strong, but I'm not sure how well I conveyed it here in the written space. Please feel free to tear it apart limb from limb, I won't even be sad about it. I did pay some homage to some of the writers here in Reedsy universe, with a name drop or three ;)

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A.Dot Ram
19:13 May 01, 2021

O. M. G. That made me smile. Also the title. I said, "that's Little Women!" This is such an intriguing premise. I have a post- apocalyptic libray story myself. I love how you explored the role of books/stories/words, and how susceptible they are to corruption. And good choices on the references-- the lines the kids brought in. They're all meaningful to the story. For Little Women, it would almost make more sense if there were four of them and Cadence was the Marmie figure. You have a few grammatical things to clean up. I had a bit of a hard...

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Shea West
19:24 May 01, 2021

Yes, I need to red pen the entire first few paragraphs- Will annihilate it sometime today :) You're right, I never even thought about adding a 4th kid!!!! Writing in 3rd person felt hard this time, maybe that's why it's a mess?? But I'll go back and edit in hopes that it's not published between now and then!

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Shea West
20:21 May 01, 2021

I went back and fixed the beginning and per your suggestion added a 4th! You clearly had more bearings about yourself this week than I did, thank you for your feedback as always <3

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A.Dot Ram
21:02 May 01, 2021

Jane! That's my librarian character, but she's named for Eyre more than Austen. Good addition. You need to do a find and replace. Still lots of references to three. Just do it one at a time so you don't change "the other three..." Haha, i was wondering if the fourth character would bring Bradbury, as your story reminds me of Fahrenheit 451, but i'm glad you kept it all women.

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Shea West
22:08 May 01, 2021

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD AGAIN. I swear I should not edit my stories in the midst of trying to do pdf creation for my team. I'm gonna name her Earl for fun now.

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A.Dot Ram
22:11 May 01, 2021

Jane is great. It's going well.

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Ryan Lm Colli
12:41 May 07, 2021

Great story Pls JOin This: https://www.guilded.gg/i/wEwWwYmE

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Shea West
18:30 May 05, 2021

For those reading now, I'm aware of a few things that don't line up. I ran out of time when I worked through my last edit prior to posting!

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