The Eternal Occupant

Submitted into Contest #243 in response to: Write a story from the point of view of a non-human character.... view prompt


LGBTQ+ Romance Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The worst part about being built to last, is lasting when nothing else does. Through floods, droughts, and fires, reigns, conquests, and revolutions.

Nothing remains, not the roses bordering my walls, nor the vines anchored to my stone. They wither and decay, giving way to quivering buds and tendrils to reign over the arches and notches that were once home to their ancestors.

This is also a habit of the occupants within my walls. For a precious few decades, they call me home, then they grey and wither, leaving me to the fresher-faced, who grey and wither…

The cycle never ends.

Until it did, finally, when one last revolution left the kingdoms dissolved and my halls empty.


There was one who remained, though against her will, doomed to roam my library forever. Cursed, in an ironic twist of fate, to outlive her world through a life cut short. The roses she had watered every morning, the books she had lost herself in in the wee hours of the morning.

The love that had doomed her from its first strangled exchange.

This story begins in the summer of 1835, the man who called himself the General barking orders to men in identical white shirts and black vests who carried ornate golden frames and exquisitely carved sculptures through my porch, resembling the ants that marched through my crevices, grains of rice twice their size carried in their mandibles. A woman in an elegant dress stood by his side, next to her, a younger man in a uniform similar to the General's, though less embellished.

The fourth member of their party was roaming my borders, running her fingers over the cracks and bumps in my stone, peering through each window, her dress catching on rose brambles as she explored my grounds. In fact, it was her foot lodging in one of these brambles and sending her face-first into the soil that really sets this story into motion, for when she picked herself up, her once-white dress now brown at the front, there was something small and shining in her hand. Using the sleeve of her dress, she rubbed away the dirt and held it up to the sunlight.

A key.


She jumped, slipped the key into her pocket, and joined the General on the porch, who, upon taking one look at the state of her, sent the back of his hand flying across her face.

By nightfall, all but one of my doors had been unlocked by the men in black and white, all but one of my rooms thoroughly explored by my new occupants.

My library had been locked for decades, the key to its rickety, wooden door buried with my previous owner, who had called my library home and insisted she be the last to roam its shelves. Left untouched for decades, my hinges had stiffened, my door warped, my lock rusted.

At midnight, the girl named Alice, now in a flowing cream nightgown and sporting a purpling welt on her cheekbone, crept to this door, a lantern in one hand, the small, shining key in the other.

She slid the key into my lock, twisted, pushed—

The door wouldn't budge.

She leaned her entire body weight onto it. I tried to help her, tried to will my door open.

But it was of no use. It had stiffened beyond repair. Not even the promise of new life within its walls could ease it now.

I watched as she crept back to one of my bedrooms— her bedroom— her shoulders hunched over, peering closely at the key. Then, she unlatched her window and clambered out, tiptoeing barefoot to the same bed of roses in which she had tumbled that morning, to peer through the window.

I was embarrassed, in that moment, at the state of my library. She mustn't have been able to see much past the grime that had collected on the window, but the little she might have seen surely could not have impressed her. A room engulfed in darkness, every surface layered with dust, books in haphazard piles on the wooden floor.

Imagine my surprise when Alice slipped the key into the lock. Twisted. Pushed.

The window creaked open.

I watched as her eyes widened to the size of her lantern, as she hitched her dress up over her knees and clambered over my low stone ledge, stumbling inside.

The shifting of her dress, the breath from her lungs… for the first time in decades, there was movement, warmth, life within my library. Dust swirled at her feet, clung to the hem of her dress, stuck to the pads of her fingertips as she trailed them along the bookshelves. She used her lantern to light a half-melted candle on the wooden table, and the flame danced with the nighttime breeze, shadows swirling and swaying across the spines of hundreds of books. Dust floating in the air caught in the light like tiny fireflies, settling in the hair of my beaming occupant.

Just like that, my library came back to life.

Several months passed with Alice as my library's only occupant. She kept the key hidden at all times, tucked away in a crack she had found between my stone slabs near the head of her bed, only fishing it out late at night, when she would creep out her bedroom window and in through the library's, lantern in one hand, key in the other. She would stay until the sun crept over the hills and a solitary beam of light slipped through the now grime-free window. Then, she would close her book, retrieve the lantern and key, and make the journey back to her bedroom, though not before hovering her ear over the lock to hear its little snck before she fled.

This was all to change when the war began.

Alice had been instructed to stay behind. The battlefield was no place for women, the General said, and he would leave with Alice's brother in the wee hours of the morning, returning occasionally with men in uniforms identical to her brother's, where they would remain in the drawing room for hours, Alice's mother carrying refreshments on metal trays, the piano pushed aside to make space for a table from one of my dining rooms, its once smooth surface etched with grooves resembling the rivers and valleys surrounding my grounds, little tokens moved by croupiers' rakes at the General's command.

On a particular day like this, after waiting for the last of the uniformed men to leave, Alice retreated to my library, where she lit the candle, curled up against a bookshelf, and cried for hours. Not the light from the candle, nor the warm breeze I shepherded in through the open window could console her. Eventually, drying her tears on her sleeve, she moved to the table, where she flipped open the golden cloth-bound cover of her latest read.

She was hardly given the chance to lose herself within its yellowing pages, for someone new had entered my grounds, a lithe figure shrouded in darkness, a hood pulled low over their head. As Alice read, I watched this figure stalk my circumference, testing my windows for give. When they neared the library, I tried to warn Alice. I summoned a heavier breeze through the window, sent the flame of her candle holding onto the wick for dear life, the shadows in the room swaying and growing long.

Alice simply turned the page.

The hooded figure had reached the open window. Alice's back was to them as they hoisted themselves over my ledge, landing neatly, silently, onto my wooden planks. Something shone in the intruder's hand, and they crept forward, extending their knife towards Alice's heedless form—

The gust I summoned through the window was so strong it extinguished the candle in a single blow, plunging my library into darkness. The hooded figure stumbled forward as Alice started, spinning around—

The next part was a blur, a scuffle— Alice managing to yank the hood back to reveal a cascade of blonde curls, which saw her flipped onto her back, the knife pressed to her throat.

Outside, my roses trembled, my vines shook. I blew another gust through the window in a feeble attempt to knock the intruder off balance. She hardly even swayed.

"I am Princess Florence of the Highbury Kingdom. I have come to take you hostage and hold you for ransom in an attempt to end this vile war. Come willingly, and I will not have to use this." She glanced pointedly at her knife.

"They let you fight?"

My roses and vines stilled. A knife to her throat, and this was her worry?


"My father won't let me fight. He said the battlefield is no place for women— not like I'm yearning for it. I'm perfectly content with my library. I just— I would have liked the option."

Princess Florence of the Highbury Kingdom faltered. "Well— no. They don't let me fight. I have taken it upon myself to prove to my father than I am as worthy, if not more, than any of his knights, to wield a sword. By bringing you back in chains."

"Would that not only serve to stoke the flame?"

"How do you mean?"

"If you hold me for ransom, my father will not make a deal. He'll send everything in his power to tear down your kingdom."

"You're telling me that welt on your face isn't from your father?"

Alice's face burned a red so bright the bruise on her cheek altogether disappeared. "I never said that. My father cares about appearances. How would it look if his sworn enemy kidnapped his daughter and he didn't send his entire army to bring her home?"

The Princess tightened her grip on her knife, and the air in the library stilled. After decades, I had finally gained a new companion. I wasn't ready to lose her so soon.

A crimson drop of blood slid down Alice's neck onto a wooden floorboard. I felt the warmth of it, the seep of it through the pores of the wood, becoming one with my foundations.

The moment stretched and warped, a second mangled into what felt like an eternity.

Finally, the Princess groaned and holstered her knife, extending a hand to Alice. "You're right. It was a silly idea."

Alice accepted her hand. "'Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.'"

The Princess peered at her. "Why did your father give you that bruise?"

Alice directed her reply at her shoes. "He decided earlier today in front of a crowd of uniformed officers that it's time to marry me off, for convenience and for dowry. I was stupid enough to disagree out loud."

All was silent for a moment, then, "I'm sorry."

Alice gave the Princess a sad smile.

"Despite all that, you're still satisfied with this library? You don't want anything… more?"

"There are infinite worlds in here," Alice said, running a finger across cloth-bound spines. "What more could I possibly need?"

A strange warmth emanated from my stone walls. Alice must have felt it, for she cast her eyes around.

"Well, I suppose, 'there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.'"

Alice snapped to her, her jaw practically scraping my wooden floor. "You've read Emma?"

The Princess nodded. Alice hurried to her desk, picking up the golden book.

"I'm nearly finished. Mr Knightley has just confessed to Emma of being jealous of Mr Frank Churchill."

The Princess smirked. "My lips shall remain sealed until you've read further."

Alice replaced the book on the table. "What else have you read, Princess Florence of the Highbury Kingdom?"

The Princess's gaze softened. "Please. Call me Florence."

And thus began Florence's visits to our library.

Her visits were as covert, if not more, than Alice's. She only ever arrived upon Alice's invitation, a letter that Alice would lodge into the trunk of the old oak tree that I had watched grow from a sapling on the outskirts of my grounds. Florence would frequent the tree; I would watch her from afar, peering at the trunk, sometimes slinking away, shoulders hunched, other times reaching in and pulling something out, leaning against the tree to read and reread Alice's invite, and on those nights, she would reappear as the hooded figure dropping silently into the library, where Alice would be waiting, candle burning, two books settled on the wooden table.

Overtime, two books became one, as they decided to read to each other, instead of alongside each other in silence. Florence's visits became far more frequent, nightly if the uniformed men were not present. Then, one day, as Alice ventured to slip a note into the oak tree, she pulled something out first, reading and rereading it, before practically skipping back through the grounds and leaping over my ledge, shining brighter than the sunlight bathing the library in its warm glow.

"'Alice,'" she read, in a tone of hushed excitement, "'if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more—'" She cut herself off with a squeal then ran a lap around the room, the letter flapping in her hand, before stopping short and bringing the paper to her face. When she straightened her arms, there was a red imprint of her lips at the corner of the yellowed page.

That night, when Florence slipped through the window, wielding a rose she had plucked from the bush that had tripped Alice that fateful morning, Alice planted that same red imprint on Florence's cheek.

No books were opened that night.

Their affair continued much the same over the coming months, love letters and invitations exchanged through the old oak tree, roses plucked, candles lit, lips meeting between attempts at reading.

But I suppose it is the nature of all things so alive to eventually die.

I only wish they'd had the chance to wither and grey, like everything else.

Exactly one year had passed since Florence's first visit to the library. Though this time, I wasn't the only one who watched her scamper across the grounds, pluck a handful of roses, and disappear through the window.

From the balcony, Arion, Alice's uniformed brother, stood smoking a cigar, which he put out on a budding tendril before scuttling down the stairs.

I tried to warn them with a gust of wind, extinguishing the flame, but if either of them noticed, they didn't care, lost, not in words, but in each other, eyes closed, hands wandering, lips parting.

Arion watched through the window. I shook the vines and the roses and the skeleton of my foundation, but the stone stood fast and still, and Alice and Florence were none the wiser.

I tried several times to stop Arion as he retreated back to his room, using rose brambles and loose stones and even a trick step. He outsmarted me at every turn, and at sunrise, he watched alongside me as a hooded Florence emerged from the window and hurried back across the grounds, and as Alice emerged a minute later, disappearing again through her bedroom window.

That day, I had more visitors in my library than I'd had in decades.

First Arion, sending a rock crashing through my window, the shock of it shaking my foundations, before pocketing as many letters as he could and clambering out.

Next, the General and his wife, escorted by Arion, recounting the previous evening.

Then, Alice, writhing in her father's grip, begging for mercy as he screamed about her treason, laying with the very enemy he left every morning to fight, all while he planned her wedding to the son of his Head of Security.

And finally, Florence, as she scampered gleefully through my grounds, slowing down as she registered the sight before her, Alice framed by jagged glass, tears streaming from her eyes, her mouth covered by the General's hand, which, in a final brave act, Alice bit down upon, the General's blood spilling onto my stone ledge, using one last breath to scream, "Florence, RUN!" before the General shoved her forward, glass slicing deep into Alice's heart—


"Go." The General's voice boomed across the field; even I shook beneath it. "Go, and your father need not hear a word of this."

Florence had reached the rose bushes. She reached out a hand to touch Alice's cheek. Her warmth was already receding, I could feel it seeping away against the stone, gushing out of her through her blood.


Florence took one last look at Alice, then hurtled back across the grounds.

I never saw her again.

The men in black and white removed Alice from my window ledge that night, scrubbing the last remnants of her from my stone as the sun rose above them. They never managed to get the blood that seeped through the wooden pores, deep into my stone crevices, absorbed by the moss that thrived in the dark.

The General returned the following morning, gathering the rest of the letters, which he burned in the drawing room fireplace. Their ashes simmered amongst the wood, some catching in the upward flow to coat the inside of the chimney.

There was one letter he had missed, however, wedged towards the end of a golden cloth-bound book, the imprint of Alice's lips staining the pages around it red.

I was hardly surprised when my library shivered with a chill unrelated to the constant breeze, when the shattered remains of the window frosted up, even on warm, sunlit mornings, and when Alice reappeared, paler, brown hair matted, a rip in the middle of her cream nightgown dripping blood that never reached the floorboards, always hovering close to that book.

At least I would never be alone again.

March 30, 2024 03:12

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