Those were the last words I heard her say. It changed my life forever.
I was ten years old when it happened, no one knew how, when, where and why. It spread like wildfire, burning everyone it touches to the ground.
My mom probably died the instant it touched her, I wonder if she died screaming my name. I don’t actually want to know.
I don’t really remember when I stopped running, I don’t even remember feeling the pain. All I know was that my feet were bleeding when I stopped. The next thing I know I was waking up next to a boy probably my age, heavily bandaged.
Seven years later, I was waking up alone.
“EMA! It’s bloody eight in the morning and you’re still lazying around! Get your ass off that bed this instance!”
Even if I was half dead I would have recognized that voice and would have been brought back to life instantly– the feeling I’m feeling right at this moment.
I opened my eyes to rays of sunlight, it blinded me for a bit. Belinda opened the damn curtains to let light in. What a pain.
“I’m awake, okay? You happy?” I said.
“I will be if you lift your ass off that bed!” she cried.
Belinda was the person I saw the second time I woke up that night seven years ago. Apparently, she saw me running like a chariot horse and wanted to stop me, only to find me collapsing in her arms when she did.
She said I started crying the second time I woke up, probably because of the pain from running, from the last memory of my mom, or because I didn’t find the boy I woke up to the first time.
“Where is he? Where’d he go?” I’d ask her then.
“I don’t know honey, maybe someone took him away,” was all she said. I stopped asking since then, but deep down I know he’s no ordinary boy.
I got off the bed, went straight for the toilet sink to brush my teeth and washed my face, the water was freezing.
Belinda is a full time nurse, and a part time guardian.
I kept telling here she didn’t need to care for me but she insists that she does because I’m all that she’s got. Well, she’s all that I have too.
As she prepared for her duty, I started making the bed, eager to start my day too. I work in the library as a part time assistant to Mrs. Thatcher, who is the town mayor’s wife. She’s a sweetheart with a big heart. I met her in one of the town’s charity events where I worked as a part time restaurant server. Belinda made the introductions, apparently she took care of the Mayor when he had a bad flu.
“Hello Ema, dear. How’s your day so far?” she’d ask me every time I walk in.
The reply is always the same though, “Hi Mrs. Thatcher, all good in the hood!”
To be honest, everything is good – but there’s this feeling that there’s always something missing in my life.
I do my usual rounds in the library, making sure all books are properly stacked in the shelves. My favorite section is the mystery section. Sometimes I’d stop for half an hour to read my pick of the day. I’d usually read about unsolved crimes from years ago, until today, I saw this weird looking hardbound, forced to blend in the lines of covers, but to me it just doesn’t add up. For starters, I’m a pretty weird OC person, and never will I stack a book like that. I took it, and saw the title, “My diary”. I checked page 1, it was dated today and there was an entry.
October 24, 2016 Dear Diary, Woke up with this itchy feeling that something nice is going to happen today.
Here’s the weird thing about this town, everything is digitized. You’d see holograms of traffic lights in crossings, a hologram of billboards lining up the streets of the recent trend in make-up tattoo, among others. We don’t even read newspapers anymore – so why the hell is there a diary here and why would anyone leave it?
I need to check with Mrs. Thatcher, it’s probably hers and it got mixed up in the tray.
“Hey Mrs. Thatcher,” I said, walking over to her, “do you own a diary?”
She looked at me, and started laughing, “Dear! Why would an old woman like me keep one? I’ve lived my years so well that I remember every bit of it! Don’t need paper to keep it stored, plus I have my Mac SE! No one writes on paper anymore!”,
Well there you go. So I walked back to the mystery section, still holding the book in my hand.
Somehow, I have the weird feeling that it belongs to me and someone else. Like it was meant to be shared. But that’s pointless, not to mention stupid.
Following my guts, I took my pen out and started writing on the next blank page.
October 25, 2016 Dear Diary, I don’t even know what to write or if I should be writing on this page, but I have a question. Who are you? -E
I kept looking at my note, not wanting to let go of the book yet. But it’s half past five and I have other stuff to do. So I put the book back where I found it and went on to do my library chores for the rest of the day.
“WHOA! You’re up really early Ema,” Belinda said with a judging look on her face.
“Well, I need to start early today. Don’t want Mrs. Thatcher giving me ‘the’ look,” I lied and darted off before Belinda can finish her sentence.
I slowed down and reminded myself that I didn’t need to be too excited over something that’s doesn’t even make sense. Plus, the walk to the library is just two blocks away, no need to hurry Ema I told myself that morning. But the moment I saw the façade, I ran and stopped when Mrs, Thatcher, surprisingly, was there at the counter, ready to receive guests.
The look on my face gave it away.
“Ema, what’s wrong?” she asked.
“No-nothing…” I said with a smile.
This is weird. Like really – really - weird, how in the world – unless she knows. Okay - I need a plan, like really quick.
And right that instance my prayer was answered, the door to the library opened. I turned and stopped in my track. He looks familiar. Black hair, really black like ebony. Black eyes. Broad shoulders. Tall, but not that tall. Smiles like an angel.
Smiles like an angel.
“Ema!” I heard someone cry from behind, it was Mrs. Thatcher. I snapped out of my day dream and turned to face her. The boy was still looking at me.
“Ema dear, this is my son Xavier.” She said.
And again, for the second time today, my face gave it away. I can’t keep doing this.
“Uhm… right.” Was the only response I managed.
“He will be joining us for an internship. He’s taking up Classical History at the University,” she explained.
“Right,” I said. Looking from her to Xavier and then back again, “so, what’s the plan?”
“I want you to take him for a tour in the library, he will need to know everything that’s stacked up in our walls. It’s history, and this you can only find in books as we haven’t started archiving all the pages.”
I turned to look at Xavier, “All right then, let’s go.”
He followed right behind as I proceeded to the sections. I started with Fiction. Showed him the books that might help. I don’t know if he noticed but I kept looking at him checking out books, his eyes in particular were very familiar.
The mini tour completely took my mind away from the diary. I’m screwed. I was walking him to the Mystery section now.
“Uhmmm, this is my favorite section. The mystery section,” I said, while crossing my fingers, hoping he’s not into mystery books. But hell yeah he is.
He walked right in to the shelves, looking at all the books lined up in the shelves, pointing at their titles one by one. I stopped breathing when he stopped, pointing his finger at the hardbound diary. Shit.
“Ema? Is it?” he asked, looking at me.
“My name? Yeah, it’s Ema.”
“Do you know all the books in the library?”
“Even this?” he asked, taking out the book from the shelf.
Okay – I need to think of something, “What is it? Does it have a title? I don’t think I’ve seen this book before.”
He was holding the book and looking at it closely now. “Nevermind. I must’ve dropped it yesterday.”
And at that instant my face gave it away – yet again. Worse, he saw the reaction on my face.
“Are you okay, Ema?”
“I… Wait, that’s yours?”
“Yep. It’s my notebook. I like to carry it around, I probably dropped it yesterday when I visited the library.
You know, just to write whatever.”
Impossible. I was in the library from the opening hours till closing. How?
“Right… I don’t remember seeing you yesterday though,” I said, looking at him closely.
“I was in my mom’s office… reading.”
“Right.” Was all I managed to say.
This is probably one of the most embarrassing days of my library years. Well, there was this time when I slipped and dragged all the mini shelves in the kids’ section down, but that was nothing compared to this. Am I that mental? To actually write in someone else’s notebook? Diary? What was I thinking?
He was opening the diary now. I was looking at him, horrified. He was turning the pages, then he got to page 2, and there was my note. As clear as day. He stopped.
And then he smiled. My heart stopped beating. I looked at him.
“What are you doing?” I asked, seeing that he was now taking out a pen from his pocket, scribbling on page 3.
“Someone wrote back.” He said. “I didn’t think that someone would actually write back.”
“What, were you experimenting or something?” I asked, trying to hide the shock in my voice.
“No.” he said, smiling, “I wanted to write my thoughts, wanted to defy the purpose of digitizing memories and histories. Am glad I found it! I was looking for it the whole time when I got home, worried that one of the cleaners will throw it away.”
By now, my heart was palpitating. He shoved the diary in his bag as we went back to the counter where Mrs. Thatcher was waiting for us with a big smile.
“Time for lunch, Xavier. Let’s go meet your father at the town square.” She said, “You don’t mind looking after the library on your own, right Ema?”
“Nope, don’t worry,” I said.
I watched them walk out of the door before collapsing to the chair, smiling like an idiot.
Xavier didn’t show up the next day, nor the days that followed.
I asked Mrs. Thatcher the other day and all she said was “he’s busy with studies in the University that he doesn’t even have time for me and his dad.”
I guess I never stopped counting the days, because on the third week I found myself asking him where he’s been.
“It’s been three weeks, where were you?” I asked, completely failing to hide the eagerness.
He looked at me and smiled, “Why’d you ask?”
I felt my face heat up in a blush and said, “nothing.”
Today was pretty awkward, we spent the day stacking up books in their respective shelves and sections. He’d ask me a few times where a particular title sits and we were both amazed when we realized I actually knew which section and shelf a book is assigned.
“Wow. You do know the library!” he said.
“Yeah, I guess.” I said.
We were working at the Mystery section when I noticed him reading a book in his hand. From the cover I knew what the book was all about.
“Do you believe in mysterious creatures such as angels, mermaids, unicorns and centaurs?” I asked, walking closer to him.
He looked at me and in a very serious tone said “yes, do you?”
“I’m skeptical. I’ve never seen one in real form.”
“Do you want to?” he asked. There was a sad look in his eyes.
I stared back at him, feeling cold. The air was cooling up, which is weird because the temperature in the library is controlled. I’m starting to feel the goosebumps when he suddenly spoke.
“I bet they’re pretty scary up close,” he said. And just like that the chillness went away.
I spent the rest of the next three weeks teaching Xavier everything I knew about the library and the books it held. I found out that he’s into crime stories, like me, he finds the thrill by just thinking with the author and in the end never figuring out how the crime was committed.
I came early on his last day of training in the library. Mrs. Thatcher made all the staff write notes of advice for Xavier. He read them one by one, laughing along the way.
Marcus, our security guard wrote, “Hi Xavier, please always remember that books come alive at night and characters roam the shelves. If you ever find yourself locked in, remember pretend that you don’t know they existed.” Everyone looked flabbergasted, except Xavier who was smiling and winking back at Marcus.
I handed in mine last, he read it aloud and smiled when he did, it read “Hi X, it was nice spending the last month with you going over books and making sure they’re safe where they belong. Always remember that there’s always someone out there who’ll write back.”
I freakishly blushed when everyone stared at me. I honestly didn’t mean it ‘that’ way – whatever way everybody was thinking. I just meant that we’ll always be friends.
“Thank you for the friendship Ema,” he said and gave me big hug. I wrapped my arms around him awkwardly when someone from the staff cried, “GROUP HUG EVERYONNEEE!” and there I was jammed and locked in his arms. I instantly felt myself blushing. I looked up at him to see if he was looking and he was! Smiling! We were so close that the crowd ended up pulling us to the flow of cheering and dancing while everyone was tightly wrapped in each other’s arms. He smelled of peppermint, citrus shampoo and an aftershave.
In all the noise of laughing and cheering, I heard one thing clearly, “Thank you for writing back.”
I was running. I was running for my life. I could hear them coming after me. But when I look back all I can see is white mist. The ground was so hot that it burned my feet, but I didn’t mind the heat. My mom was right beside me, holding my hand. And then the ground started to shake, we stopped in our tracks. I can feel the heat burning my sole. My mom carried me and started to run when a white mist appeared out of nowhere blocking us. She stopped and tripped, while I rolled over to the ground. I started to cry.
And then I heard her cry.
“Run! And don’t you ever stop!” So I ran and ran and ran…
“EMA!” Someone was shaking me hard, “EMA, it’s just a dream, wake up! For God’s sake wake up Ema!”
I woke up, sat up straight, sweating. I looked at her and started to cry. Belinda wrapped me in a blanket and brought her arms around me.
“Shhh… It was just a dream,” she assured me.
But it felt so real.
I woke up early in the morning the next day, totally dismissing the bad dream I had last night. It was 6AM and my work in the library doesn’t start until 8AM.
So I changed into my jogging pants and decided to run.
The town is a small part of the map, but I’m proud of our forests. It makes up a quarter of the town’s lands and it’s where joggers head out to focus on training.
I was halfway there when I heard the weirdest flapping sound – like someone was flying overhead, but when I looked up all I can see was gray skies. This bothered me, surely it was too early to tell if it was going to rain.
I started to jog my way to the forests, following a track cemented for joggers to follow. The wind was cold, and a bit strong. I weathered it out and decided to make the most of my morning run.
It has been a while since I last went into the forest. I remember Belinda bringing me here for a cool picnic party with friends for my birthday party.
I started to slow down into a brisk walk and headed further in. I can see the clearing leading to the other side of town. I was walking out when I heard a scream. I stopped and turned around.
“ARRGHHHH!” it was a male’s voice.
My guts told me to run, but my mind is telling me to check it out. And that’s what I did.
I slowly walked back, listening, careful not to step on any branches. I can shape out a clearing as the road led downwards. Tall trees were sticking out from the ground. Unbelievable. I never knew such skinny tall trees existed in the forest.
“ARGHHH!! Damn it!” I can hear the male voice cry.
I was getting closer; I can actually hear the heavy panting now.
And then I saw him, white as an angel, with streaks of red, shrouded by a white mist in the middle of the clearing.
I think he saw me because he cried, “STOP! Do not come any closer. Stay where you are.”
I stopped not because I was told to, but because the voice was somehow familiar.
“Xavier?” I said, “Is that you?”
I couldn’t stop myself, I darted towards him. I can see that he was scrambling to get up. As I got closer the air became colder. I slowed down. Unable to process what is happening.
“Don’t come any closer, please Ema,” he said.
I stopped, but too late. I can see him clearly now. He’s lying down, his back on the ground, breathing heavily.
I moved forwards, slowly, with my arms reaching out to him. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. His shirt was torn from the back, there was blood everywhere and what seemed like feathers. I knelt down beside him, the mist as if alive evaporating into thin air.
“Xavier,” I said, shaking, “What happened, are you all right?” I was holding him up, he was lying on the ground now. Weak, unable to speak. “Oh my God, I need to call someone… Mrs. Thatcher, I need to call her!”
“NO!” he cried out, “please… don’t.”
“But you’re hurt.”
“I’m not. You’re not supposed to be here. No one was supposed to be here.” He said.
“What? I don’t understand…”
“Ema, I’m not normal. I’m not like you,” he said.
I’m not sure I understood but my instinct’s telling me that I need to know.
“What are you Xavier?”
He looked at me, “I’m not sure you’ll be ready for that.”
“Please. We’re friends aren’t we?” I begged.
He sat up, his back to me, that’s when I saw it. I wasn’t sure my brain processed correctly, but it was clear to me that there was a wound, two big holes with what looked like bones sticking out with ragged tips as if someone just snapped them, and then I understood and remembered his question in the library.
I reached out to his face and turned him to look at me. I looked at him straight in the eye. Pulled him closer, touching the wounds, I felt him stiffen and then relaxed. I let him pull me till our lips touched.