by Michele Roger
Remember the voice? She spoke to you the moment when it became clear that combining sounds and letters made words, words made sentences, sentences made stories, and stories made friendships in other worlds. She was the one who opened the door to the first book that swept you away and kept you up all night.
“Go ahead,” she said. “Here’s the key to this door.” Then she handed you a ring of keys (or she did back then, now kids tell me she just shows them how to use the retinal scanner.)
Later on, it was her who reminded you that while Asimov could take you to other planetary systems, if you didn’t stop reading him and start studying for your physics test, you’d never get into college. Part of you argued.
“College-smollege, as long as I have the library I’ll be fine. It worked for Ray Bradbury.”
“Ooooh,” she smiled. “You never said you wanted to be a writer.”
“Wait, what? I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did.”
“No. I distinctly remember saying the library worked for other authors…”
“Ok, fine. I admit,” I myself confessed at this point. Hence why I’m a writer. I wasn’t cut out for interrogation. Your experience may be different when it happens to you.”
And then it started happening.
They walk (and sometimes crawl) across the earth at night. Sometimes they fill the moonless sky. The ghosts just float up and hover over my bed, chilling my bones in an attempt to tell me their story. The witches arrive next and recite terrifying incantations in my ears. Vampires politely wait outside in the garden. They haven’t been invited inside but they wait patiently. They have a lifetime to sit outside my window and wait for me to fall in love with one of them on a starry, sleepless night.
The broken-hearted lovers who have died tragically are the worst. All they do is cry and moan, begging to tell their tragic story to anyone, particularly me, who will listen. I toss and turn and put the pillow over my head. I tell them to go away. I have a real job I have to get up and go to in the morning. Go haunt another writer.
Instead, they come. Night after night they become more insistent.
“Tell our stories or we’ll cast a spell that makes your door to the hallway return back here to your bed.”
I protest, “But I have to go to the bathroom!”
They shrug, “Tell it to someone who cares. Better yet, tell our story first.”
The weeping ghosts of dead lovers moan louder as they reach for one another in a perpetual, unattainable grasp.
“If she tells our story, we might help prevent someone from befalling our fate.”
Now, the vampire is spread out impossibly in my window ledge wearing Armani and drinking a glass of wine. A spider is dancing across his fingers.
“I could keep you busy for a million lifetimes.” His dark, alluring double meaning isn’t lost on me. I have to take a deep breath to prevent myself from swooning.
“Enough!” I shout out to the voice. “I didn’t ask for this! This feels crazy. I feel crazy!”
The reply isn’t shouted back. No. She’s far too calm and clever for that. She giggles and it’s kind of a whisper at first.
“Do you remember all the Ann Rice that you read in college? The Clive Barker, the Poe, Steven King, Nancy Farmer? Not to mention your obsession with Pratchett and Gaiman?”
“Yes. So?” I hold up my keys as if to say that I had permission. I jingle them for effect.
She coos. “Permission? Yes. But you couldn’t possibly think that all those worlds and friends came free.”
“Uh,” is all I manage to say.
“No, no. And all those authors you came to love? They’ve paid their debt back as well. Just look at Gaiman’s basement cave of a library. You must pay back at least a fraction of what you take. That’s how it works. Other writers, librarians, and even ancient historians have always known this.”
“But, you never said.”
She interrupts me. “No. I never did say. You did. You said you wanted to be a writer. Here are just a few of the stories that need to be told.” She presents the creatures crowded around my bed. “When you’ve finished with these, I will send more.”
“More?” I ask.
“Reading and writing never stops,” she explains. “If they ever do, it will be the end.”
“The end of what, exactly?” I ask.
She sighs. “Everything.”