I’m just an ordinary girl, who was lost in a forest. That’s when I came across Merlin’s library. A large old castle with walls reaching the sky, dark as a moonless night, made with strong looking bricks and stones. I can’t seem to remember how I had gathered the courage to enter such an establishment, but I still remember how lost I felt. I had tried my best to find a way out of the forest, yet somehow I had ended up finding the library.
The inside of it was a complete contradiction to the exterior. It was lit with soothing lights, warm like a day in July and the smell of an anonymous scent that took me further in. How shocked I was to find a library in the facade of a ruthless castle. Books, I loved books, although I was a little irked by the haphazard manner they were placed. Some were pilled together in the form of towers, others seemed to be thrown on the ground. I couldn’t help but start picking them up.
“Who’s there?” I heard a ghost ask firmly. I almost jumped my skin, but I suppose I was feeling courageous that day.
“I, umm…” I chocked on my own voice, that’s when a tall figure appeared from the furthest corner.
He seemed like he was much older than me, with narrow sharp eyes and shoulders like that of a lion. His faded shirt and trousers complimented his calm demeanor.
“I- I’m sorry I found myself in the forest and I was trying to find my way home. I thought I was headed the right way but I ended up here.” I squeaked away.
“How do you know that you were headed the right way?” He asked.
“Well.” How did I know that? Where did I live? The forest seemed familiar but why had I been there? I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my head. I looked at the man as my vision became blurry.
“You should rest; you might be here for a long time.” That was the last thing I heard before I woke up on a sofa by the fireplace. The flame in the fireplace was really dim, almost about to run out. I could feel chills down my body. I suddenly got up as I realized what had happened.
“Ah, you’re finally awake.” He smiled at me. “Would you like some tea?”
I nodded enthusiastically. He soon disappeared and appeared again with sweet smelling peppermint tea and sat beside me.
“Can you recall how you got here?” he asked and handed me the drink.
I really did try to remember but it was as though everything in my head had disappeared. “No….”
“It’s alright, no need to worry.” He said kindly, I think it was only because he could see panic on my face.
“What is this place? And if you don’t mind me asking, who are you?” I sipped on the hot drink. It was so delicious, almost familiar.
“Ah, that’s right. I haven’t introduced myself. You can call me Merlin.” He laughed as he said that.
“Like king Arthur’s Merlin?” I was only half joking.
“Exactly like that. You never know, I may be able to perform magic.”
Both of us laughed and he told me the demographics of the library.
“How do I get back home Merlin? I don’t even know where home is.” I wanted to say I wondered if I actually had a home or not.
“Sarah, I don’t know if you’re pretending or if you still haven’t realized this, but, you are not alive.”
I swear I stared at him for more than a couple of minutes without saying a word. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You really don’t understand what’s going on? My dear, you are not on a humanly surface anymore, a human body can’t survive in this place.” He said, very slowly.
My throat dried up, “But, does that mean I’m dead?” How could I have been dead? “And if I am, how? How did it happen?” I could feel myself burn up in anxiety.
“Who knows. But don’t worry, there is a lot to do here. You like books yes? So you could spend some time reading them, some of them are pretty interesting.” He smiled.
“Books? Are you serious? Do you not understand that I am a young woman and I’m already dead? How can I believe such a thing? What am I going to do! How did this happen.” Tears were about to erupt, “Wait, are you dead as well? Why are you here? And what’s with this library? I don’t understand what’s going on. If this is a joke, then somebody has a very disgusting sense of humor.”
“Calm down Sarah. Take a deep breath and hear me out.” he said, and I didn’t. He kept staring at me so I ended up taking deep breaths. “Very good, let’s start off one by one. Yes, I am dead, I have been waiting in this library because there is something I must do. I do not know how you got here, you may or may not be alive, I don’t know anything about that either. And the library is my residing place till the time I do not fulfill my duty.” He said, in the calmest way possible. “Oh and another thing, you should definitely read the books, you might really enjoy them.” And smile. The smile that had comforted me earlier on was starting to annoy me. It wasn’t his fault but why was he so calm about it.
“Books?!” I almost screamed. I got up and walked up the door, “I’m going to find a way out of here. I don’t want to be stuck here forever.” And I stomped off the door. I didn’t hear his response but I did hear a sigh, maybe it was my imagination.
The forest outside was thick but luckily it didn’t seem too dark. I marked one of the trees as I was about to enter the seemingly never ending forest. I don’t know how long I spent looking through the forest but it felt like forever. I wasn’t tired or anything but I felt so weak and slow. I eventually ended up at the same tree I started off with, I didn’t have a choice but to go back to the library. I couldn’t help but think that maybe if I was dead, what would I do next. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life reading books. I loved reading but I’m sure there was more to me than reading.
“Did you find a way out?” Merlin said as I entered the door to his library.
“Merlin, what am I going to do?” I started walking towards him slowly.
He said nothing but just gazed towards a pile of books. I hung my head low and picked up the first book on top of a pile. I sat near the fireplace.
“This place is so warm compared to the outside, but the fire here is almost gone.” I stated as merlin continued to write something at his table.
“But it still exists doesn’t it? Until the day the fire doesn’t completely go out, this place will continue to be warm.” he said, in an equally warm voice.
I started reading the book, it was in a first person form. The story was about a little girl who witnessed her mother leaving the house after they found out her father had been cheating. It had no major plot twists but they were heavy with emotions. I hadn’t realized that I didn’t look away once when I was reading the novel until I reached the end. My eyes were teary as I closed the book.
“Did you enjoy the read?” Merlin asked me standing in front of me with a cup of peppermint tea.
“It was. Although I’m a little puzzled whether the little girl’s mother was courageous or foolish.”
“It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?” He handed me the tea and went back to his desk.
In the coming time I continued to read the novels, all of them unique, all of them about different tales told by an observer. My life, well, okay my time, flew by. The stories written by this writer, they were always filled with emotions. I asked Merlin once whether all the books in the library were written by the same author, to which he said that they were. I teased him that he was a fan of the nameless writer, but he told me that he was simply looking after them and he wasn’t the one who bought the books to the library.
To this day, I must have read hundreds of novels written by the mystery writer. I had gotten so used to it, my world suddenly contained so many stories. I could almost picture the events, maybe I was playing make belief just to feel like I had a past but anyhow, it worked and filled my emptiness.
On the days when I feel overwhelmed with the content of the books, Merlin comforts me. I have become so dependent on him; I wish there was a way I could help him as well. All I know about him was that he knew why he was at the library and was waiting for something. Every time I tried talking to him about his past life, he always stopped me saying it wasn’t a story I needed to hear.
Although I have come to notice one thing, I have read so many books in the library but I haven’t touched the ones that are locked in the trunk at the deep end of the library.
“Merlin, when can I read the books in the trunk?” I finally asked him.
He stopped writing, which to be honest, was a little intimidating. “You want to read them? But wait a minute, what makes you think there are books in that trunk?” He asked.
“Well, this is a library, right? I have explored each and every bit of it and there are only books here. So maybe the books in the trunk are special.”
“I don’t mind you reading the books in it. But my dear, I don’t have the key.”
I eyed him suspiciously, maybe he was lying but till now, Merlin never lied. I believed in him.
I just grabbed another book from the pile and started reading.
“There may be one thing that you could do.”
I ran up to him in excitement. “What?!”
“The day you finish reading all the books, I will tell you.” He looked and me with a sneaky smile, a moment later he started writing again.
“Are you serious? It will take me forever to read all of these books.”
“Well, no actually. Look, you have already finished about half of them, right? And there aren’t so many. I was in a library once that contained seven times the number of the books here.”
I looked at the books I’d read. He was right, I was half way through. I knew this because every book that I completed, I then placed it neatly on the shelve.
“Fine. But you better keep your word.” I sounded like a child.
I read, faster than I did before. I had a goal. As pathetic as it seemed, my curiousness was tickled and then there was no control. So many stories, by now I was convinced that the author was a lonely girl with moments of mundane patterns and extraordinary splashes of surprises.
I finally reached out for the last book. It was really thick compared to the rest. This was a tale of a one sided love story observed by the anonymous writer. I was filled with anger, pity and admiration as I reached the end of that book. But stuck in the cover of the novel was a rustic key.
My mind immediately raced to the lock attached to the trunk. “Merlin! The key! I found it, it was stuck in this novel!” I waved the key in air.
Merlin laughed, “I knew you would be able to find it if you were determined enough.”
I was about to run to the trunk, but I stopped. I first placed the last novel to the shelf. I looked at the shelves neatly lined with books. It did take me a while to read them, but in my defense, there were quite a few of them.
I proudly walked towards the trunk and inserted the key. I felt like I was opening a Christmas present.
The trunk was almost completely empty, but it contained seven massive books. And to my disappointment, they didn’t have the writer’s name inscribed either. No offense to the writer, but I had spent so much of time with her books, that I could picture all of her stories by now.
“Merlin…there are just seven extremely boring looking books here.” I called out.
He walked towards me and looked inside, “Well, would you look at that, such impressive looking books. Aren’t you going to read them?”
“No! I spent all of this time reading and I did like them but how long do I have to do this? If I am dead, where is the bright light that is supposed to take me to my next life or whatever.”
He laughed, “Why, that’s a very interesting theory, did you come up with that on your own?” He walked away.
I picked up the books and placed them near my usual reading spot by the fire.
I started reading the first one. I soon realized these books were different, they were extremely dark and these were not observations, these contained exactly what the writer was going through. It was a love story but I wouldn’t want to call it that because there was so much pain in it. The protagonist suffered from abuse and being cheated. After I completed it, I wondered if the writer truly did go through such an experience. I did not discuss this story with Merlin, even though I usually discussed the stories I read, somehow with this, I wanted to burn away the book in the fireplace.
The next ones were similar, all dark and filled with hurt. In her previous novels, I knew she was lonely but these weren’t about loneliness, they were about unbearable hurt. It took me a long time to get through six of the novels, they contained the girl being raped, abused mentally and physically, loosing the will to live, being humiliated and ending up in helpless situations. I finally approached Merlin as I finished the six novels.
“You have been so quiet recently. Are you alright my child?” He asked.
“Merlin, these are horrible. Why would somebody write such stories?”
“Well, stories demand to be written don’t they?” He stated
Somehow I agreed, but why? I could feel pain piercing through my mind. “I should have never opened the box. I should have never read such horrid stories.” My mind was filled with voices. The stories played and replayed in my head. I didn’t know that I was so engrossed with the novels that I could feel so much from it.
“Why don’t you lie down for a bit and then finish the last novel.”
I realized that there was still one more novel that I hadn’t finished. “No! I will go crazy if I read anymore! Merlin, make the voices stop please.”
Merlin looked at me with sadness, “I’m sorry Sarah.”
I woke up by the fire with merlin holding peppermint tea. “Sarah, you must finish this book, you never know what’s going to happen next. I know it is mentally taxing, I know it hurts, but believe in me. You must complete this task.”
“Complete this task? Merlin, do you know why am I here? Do you?” I didn’t want to hate him; I didn’t want to be betrayed by Merlin.
“Sarah, please, as a request, just read the last book.” He handed me the book and walked towards his desk. His back seemed like he was slouching, and a little aged for some reason.
I held the book, if Merlin knew that this was what I was supposed to do, I needed to have faith in him. How could I doubt him even though I didn’t know anything about myself?
With a cup of peppermint tea in my hand, I started reading. That novel was unlike the six I read earlier on. It contained an observation made by the writer. It was about a girl and her baby brother. I cried as I went through the pages. I was at the last chapter when I looked up at Merlin and said, “This is beautiful. The love that is contained by her words. Merlin, I want to feel love.”
“The universe loves you Sarah, and there are people who love you.” I almost finished the last chapter, but there was something wrong, the book was blank from there on. The brother of the girl was involved in an accident, but there was nothing after that.
“Merlin, this book, it’s incomplete. What’s going on?”
“That’s because your life is yet to fulfill its span, you need to return and complete your story. My sweet little girl, goodbye. I hope you never meet me again.” He said and pushed me. I hit my head as I fell on the ground.
I suddenly felt heavy, my body wouldn’t move, my eyes wouldn’t open and nothing would come out of my mouth. The next thing I remember is finally opening my eyes to a bright lit room after struggling relentlessly.
“Oh my god.” I heard someone say. “Call the doctor, inform the family.”
My eyes rigidly closed themselves. The next time I opened my eyes, everything was distorted. I faintly felt something on my face. I could hear somebody crying.
“Sarah! My Sarah.” A thin voice echoed.
“Mom, calm down. We need to be careful.” I heard another unfamiliar voice speak. I looked at the light as it started forming images. Soon I saw figures around me. Although, it was when I saw a teenage boy, did everything became clear. A trickle of tear passed my eye.
The boy did survive the accident; his sister did manage to push him away to life.
I did return to the library, years later, sixty-nine years to be precise. Merlin was right, libraries could contain seven and more times the books I had first witnessed. But when I finally walked in the door to the library again, it still smelled of peppermint tea, the fire was gone and on the table were pages addressed to Merlin’s granddaughter. I smiled as I read the last words I would every read.
Until I would wake up empty of words again.