A solitary library experiences suffering and loss as humanity slowly forgets about it.
|No one knew where it had come from. It had stood at the edge of the city for ages, to the point some sources even believed it had existed before the city. Though, of course, there was no way to be certain.|
The library was as enigmatic as it was beautiful, holding such marvelous wonders and stories, the likes of which no one had ever before seen. Through some magic, it was able to enchant both children and adults alike.
Yet, as time passed, the magic seemed to fade. Every day, there seemed to be one less person visiting its silent halls, one less person losing themselves within a world unlike theirs.
For a human living day to day, the change was gradual enough to be unnoticeable. But for an entity which had existed for centuries, if not millennia, an entity which had watched countless souls enter with despairing thoughts and leave with joy and solace in their hearts, it was like its heart was breaking.
And the library could do nothing of its own to prevent their departure. The only tools it had at its disposal were its books. It would rewrite them, reorganize them, create entirely new stories. The shelves would realign themselves, forming a simple maze to bring readers places they wouldn’t venture themselves.
Nothing worked, and soon enough, the library stood empty. Its doors remained unlocked, its stories remained unread, and its hopes remained unheard.
Time passed, as memory of the library faded into obscurity. Everyone in the city knew of it only in passing, it being the subject of tales handed down through generations. They all spoke of it so highly, regaled children with stories of the worlds they’d encountered as if borne their own ideas, yet never once suggested they would return to it.
Without anyone to visit, without anyone to care for its stories, the library began losing the power to stop nature. It started as a single sprout in the center of the floor, growing between the cracks in the tiles until it stood proudly as a vibrant violet hyacinth.
That flower remained in isolation for years, feeding on sunlight from high windows, nourished by the steady drip-drip-drip of water from a crack in the ceiling. It had no sense of self, no ability to know where it was, and as such, lacked the ability to visit another world.
The library watched the flower, acting as its lone guardian even as its magic faded further. Perhaps it felt something akin to brotherhood in the tiny spot of beauty, or perhaps it treated the flower as it would a new reader. It would rearrange shelves to ensure no wild animals devoured the flower, or provide comfort from the harsh winter winds when they would billow in through unhinged doors.
But no one came, and no one would come. Not ever again. That was the harsh reality the library faced, and with its magic slipping ever further away, it became further enveloped by the natural world. Grasses would creep in through the doorways, taking root wherever dirt had been dragged years prior; vines would climb ever upward, using the library’s as a handhold in their journey toward the sun; flowers would settle down, growing in patches of simple rue, cerulean irises, and goldenrod tulips.
None of them, however, dared touch the books, as if knowing they were sacred to the building which provided them shelter from the environment. None of them knew the truth behind the shifting landscape which they called home, the walls which would suddenly not be walls, the storms which would suddenly become a simple drip-drip-drip that fed them conservatively, the harsh droughts which would be relieved only by a sudden shade looming over.
The library stood unmoving, unable to warn anyone as the threat of war crept ever closer upon the wind. They all were oblivious to it, content to hide in their bliss, determined that no one existed beyond their own safety.
When it arrived centuries later, none were prepared. Death raked its bony fingers across the land as if preparing the soil beneath. No one was safe, all dragged into combat for the sake of keeping their own alive, and few returned to tell the tales of the brutal onslaught they had endured.
This holdout was never meant to last. Perhaps the other side saw it only as a form of entertainment, watching how long the people would scramble in their desperation to survive. Whatever it was, when the enemy grew bored, they stopped holding back.
When the bombs came, no one was spared, no buildings were free of being targeted. Young and old, male and female and all in between, were targets of an undiscerning threat. And in the span of just a few days, the city was no more than rubble.
The only building which remained was the library, unable to act as the city it had once called a friend came to exist no longer. It was unable to shed a tear, unable to vocalize its pain and sorrow. It had no magic of its own, no way to reach out. All it could do was protect its little slice of the world and hope no danger came its way.
* * * * *
It had been decades since anyone had explored this part of the country, too terrified of tales from the war to risk venturing so far out. Though he had heard the tales from his parents, and them from theirs, having been saved from the destruction by distance alone, they held no weight to him. Why should he be afraid of a war which he had no connection to, and which no other child his age had ever spoken of?
His journey through the rubble was rough. Though the city had apparently been destroyed by objects called “bombs,” they hadn’t leveled the remains, leaving peaks and crags formed by debris alone. To anyone who knew, it would’ve looked wholly unnatural. Yet, to him, who was to say this wasn’t just another natural structure, the result of some as-of-yet undiscovered weathering method? He had no reference, his own city bearing no similarities to whatever this one may have once been.
Occasionally, he would find bones, sorrowful reminders that there was no life within the city limits. The first time it had happened, he had only then realized that there truly was no life. Not once had he heard a bird call to its mate, or seen the smiling face of a flower as it greeted the sun. There was nothing but silence, which in a word normally filled with music and voices, was unsettling.
He traveled without aim, choosing the path of least resistance as a river would through the land. He climbed up steep slopes, using shattered windows as handholds, only to slide down their opposite side, kicking up dust. He ventured in some buildings, marveling at what had once been a grand fountain or sculpture, only to have such a view vanish from his mind the moment he left the structure behind.
He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, simply something which would show the city was safe and ease his parents’ fears for his wellbeing.
As such, it was quite the welcome surprise when he spotted a single building at the edge of the city, standing undamaged by anything but time. It was a large structure with an arching roof and an elaborate windowed façade. Draped over it, as if to provide warmth on a cold winter night, were all sorts of grasses and ivies. The windows were cracked, some missing entire panes, while the doors hung loosely from their hinges, creaking in the slightest of breezes.
As he passed through the doorway, spying the rows upon rows of books beyond, the shelves burdened by stories of a city passed, he knew why the building had been spared.
Despite the size of it, the library wasn’t grandiose, instead rather humble, offering a quite place of solitude for those few who had no doubt seen it as a rest stop on their grander journeys.
He, however, wasn’t like that. To him, it felt as if fate had led him here, as if that tiny red thread upon his finger had been not a string to someone unknown, but the tassel which marked one’s place in a book.
He ran his fingers gently over the shelves, feeling the wood remain solid despite what had to have been centuries of mistreatment. There was something else as well, just beneath the surface, something which brought a smile to his face, though he couldn’t determine what it was exactly.
His journey brought him to rest in the heart of the library, where the highest windows provided a single spot of sunlight, and where there rested a single violet hyacinth. It stood proud, untouched by the occasional wrath of nature, but alone. As he watched, a single drop of water tumbled from a crack in the ceiling, before splashing against the flower’s petals.
He knelt before it, gently bringing his nose closer so he could draw in its beautiful scent. His mother had taught him about flowers, and how each one held its own meaning, no matter where in the world one went. Some exuded happiness and joy, while others whimpered sorrow and despair. In the language of flowers, violet hyacinth said one thing, and one thing only.
“Please forgive me.”
As it was the largest flower within the library, and the one treated most prominently, he knew it was the oldest among them, and had been there for an indeterminate amount of time. It didn’t escape his notice that the others which grew showed despair, regret, but also hope.
He smiled calmly and settled himself down beside the hyacinth, one hand running through the short grass which surrounded its base. He wished he could speak, not to himself, but to the library. He wished he could vocalize his thoughts, let it be known that the library would never be forgotten, that it hadn’t failed. Though it could not protect the people themselves, it had done the next best thing, and it had protected their stories for all future generations to experience.
There was a shudder which he felt subtly, and he began to rise, fearing an earthquake. Yet, a moment later, the source was revealed. It was a lone shelf, dragging itself through the library’s interior, being careful to avoid the patches of flowers and grass as it approached him. By his side, a single book slid itself out further than its fellows.
He took the book, wondered at its blank pages, until another book’s emergence rolled forward a pencil. That was enough of a message, and he once again sat beside the hyacinth, scribbling his message into the book. When finished, he returned it to its place in the shelf, only to grin in pleased shock as it popped out a few moments later, with new words written beneath his.
He and the library went back and forth, exchanging words in a way no one had done with the building since before the city’s construction. They spoke of stories of humanity, they spoke of the library itself, and of him. They spoke of the past, and they spoke of the future. But most importantly, they spoke.
As the sun began to set, he returned the book to its place upon the shelf one final time. His last scribble: “I’ll be back. You won’t ever be forgotten again, for as long as I live. I promise.”
The boy eased the door shut behind him, unaware of the patch of flowers sprouting vibrantly from his place upon the ground. Pink tulips and roses, orange and yellow daisies, celandine and chrysanthemums, all speaking a single word: “Joy.”