Author Bio: Ciara Trexler is senior at San Diego State University and likes to spend her last few months before graduation dreaming of far off places—mostly Disneyland. Her post-graduation plans include sleeping, reading, more sleeping, traveling, and trying to capture her many story ideas into words. She firmly believes travel writing is her dream career and wishes she could make a fortune in doing so. For now, she simply enjoys discovering a good book, with a good cup of tea to go along with it.
Chapter 1: Plot Twist
The echoing sound of footsteps throughout the Hall was not enough to ease her mind from the task at hand. Pick a book you have yet to read, and describe your emotions during your time spent there was the assignment for Nessa’s English class, but the trouble started with finding the right book. She had already read from most sections: children’s books, young-adult fiction, adult fiction—history books, even. She once spent her summer break trying to absorb all of the religious texts she could get her hands on, but those were too complex to be used for a High School assignment; her peers would never understand her interest in religious studies, and she didn’t need them falling asleep during another one of her presentations.
Ever since her first visit to the Hall, Nessa remained fascinated with it, her curiosity always growing. She was appreciative of Professor Spektor for designing a way to bring books to life—literally. It was unclear to her how he had created the Hall, but Nessa knew every book in the massive library contained the possibility of taking the reader directly inside once they opened their chosen story. Certain rules came along with his ground-breaking invention: you were forced to live the story through the eyes of the narrator, no matter first person or third. Once in the story, you had to see it through to its end (a word of caution was always present right before stepping into any given story), and books designed to work in the Hall were always to remain in the Hall, never to be lent out to or purchased by any individual. Today, every country had at least one Hall, in the major city if not spread elsewhere, and people rejoiced for this new way to enjoy books in the physical, again.
Nessa spent most of her free days here.
Rows upon rows, books upon books, and she still could not come across the right story. She turned the corner at the end of the row housing “Biographies of Musicians Passed” and headed for “Fantasies of the Gothic.” She was never entirely sure what she would find there and had previously been too afraid to look. The few friends she knew who had explored stories from that aisle advised her to get plenty of sleep beforehand—they were scary, robbing her friends from sleep for several days.
“No time like the present…” Nessa whispered to herself. The slow turn of her black boots on the marble floor made a loud squeak when she came before the aisle, and added to the anxiousness she was starting to feel as she started forward.
“Fantasies of the Gothic” appeared to have been deserted for some time. Most of the books were bound in dark leathers and covered in a fine layer of dust. Amazingly, the row stretched down for a few hundred feet, and Nessa had no clue where to start. She firmly believed a person could not just search for the right book, but had to happen upon it by an act of fate. As she made her way further down the row, she was sure to glance from left to right every few seconds, so as to absorb all the shelves on both sides of her. I’ll know it when I see it. It has to be here…
And just as she expected, fate did not fail her. Halfway down the aisle, to Nessa’s right, was a book that stood out among the old collection of Gothic Fantasy novels. The cover did not appear to be made of dark leather, but of something else entirely. Nessa had difficulty making out what the exact substance was, for the book was completely ruined by what she could only imagine to be water damage; the thin, outside cover looked soggy in some areas, and crinkled in others. She reached up for the book, needing to stand on her tiptoes to get to it, and yanked hard before she could bring it close to her so she could inspect it further. The edges of the pages were just as crinkled as the cover and blotted with ink stains—probably from the words within. She bent her head down and took a whiff. It smelled musty, the smell of a very old and rotting novel.
Nessa got the feeling the book was squeezed tightly onto the shelf for a reason.
Yet, she was intrigued. Would the story still be in tact? From the look of the ink stains and the fragile spine, she assumed the story would be changed somehow, and this presented a challenge. Stepping into a story that is manipulated away from the author’s intention was a dangerous setting to enter; it was one of the main reasons Professor Spektor did not allow anyone to take his creations home with them. Before the Professor instated the last of his rules, people were allowed to use his books like normal library books and check them out. Shortly after, news stories around the world covered people who had experimented with books from the Hall and came to a variety of disastrous results: from getting stuck permanently inside, to coming out of them maimed or emotionally scarred. Not before long, everyone across the world aware of the risks associated with damaged books.
But Nessa had no idea what the story was in the first place, and the book was too old to provide a synopsis on the back. She carefully turned it over in her hands, in search of a title on the spine or front cover, but the water damage appeared to have taken its toll there. She had no way of predicting the extent of the damage if she couldn’t even discover what the original story was about.
Well, I can take a chance or try to find something else…
But some part of her didn’t want to continue the search for another book. This one called out to her from the moment she spotted it on the shelf, the way it was placed between the other books as if someone hastily wanted to be rid of it. She could have taken the sum of these details as a warning of the content inside, but she knew the moment she opened the book she would receive just that. Nessa had already made her decision and she wasn’t second guessing it.
She opened the book to the first page.
“WARNING. ONCE YOU ENTER INTO THE STORY, YOU MUST EXPERIENCE IT BEGINNING TO END BEFORE YOU ARE ABLE TO LEAVE. PLEASE ENTER WITH EXTREME CAUTION.”
The book closed on itself, giving the reader a chance to re-think the decision to keep with their chosen story. Nessa opened the book immediately and waited for the lightning-flash sensation that would take her into an unknown world.
But the transportation was far from the quick landing that she was used to. Instead of the warm flash of light, Nessa was surrounded in a hazy darkness, and her body slowly began to stretch into the story. Pain radiated throughout all her limbs as they were pulled and tugged by a new-found gravity.
“Ahhhh—UGH!” She landed with a hard thud on the ground.
Her limbs were intact and no other parts of her body sustained injury, but she hesitated to get up from her spot. Instead, she tried to take in the story. All around her, the setting lacked vibrancy in color and the liveliness that was present in all the other places she’d stepped into. In fact, Nessa was the only real color she could see, with her long red hair, dark blue jeans, and green t-shirt standing out from all the rest; she was a visible target in a dull world.
The ground consisted of hard dirt with patches of dark puddles spread throughout, and Nessa took a moment to send a silent thanks that she had landed on the dirt instead of the water—it did not look inviting. In fact, it looked strangely similar to black ink. The landscape held a few trees and bushes in the distance, and those that she could see up close had a sparse amount of leaves upon them; if she could guess a season, it was a very dry winter for everything looked dead and cold. Patches of dead grass filled the spaces between ink and dirt, providing very little hiding spots for the characters of the story. If there were any.
“That’s strange… Doesn’t seem to be anyone here.” Panic settled into her bones. If no one was here, how was she supposed to go through the story and out again?
“Ah, but my dear, you are not alone. Not alone, indeed.”
Nessa whipped her head around at the sudden voice coming from behind her. Apart from the shrill, harsh sound that ensued from the creature, the first thing she noticed was the red eyes. Red as freshly-spilt blood with pupils slit like cat eyes, Nessa realized this was the first ounce of color besides herself within the story.
“Who are you?” She looked the creature up and down, taking in the whole sight before her. There was something odd about the body. The skin, if it could be called that, seemed to be made of tree bark, but Nessa got the impression it was once made of human flesh by the odd texture of it. From what she could see, the limbs were long and bent at sharp angles at the joints, adding to the look of stiffness that radiated from the creature. The eyes may have held color, but the rest of the body was as dreary as the landscape, from the hooded rags it wore, down to the unwelcoming voice.
“At long last, you have arrived. The time is upon is, but you must remain still.” With an upward motion of the creature’s hands, roots shot up from the ground and wrapped themselves tightly around Nessa’s arms and legs. She kicked and jerked with as much strength as she could muster, but it was of no use. The roots only tightened further with the struggle.
“W—what do you want from m—me? HELP ME! SOMEONE!”
“No one will save you. Just like no one saved me when your kind sent my story to ruins! For years, this place has been abandoned and ill-treated by your people, left behind as a worthless tale never to be picked up again. But not after today. Child, you may not know who I am, but the rest of the world will.”
Nessa saw the creature procure a knife from the folds of ragged fabric it wore.
“Child, stop fighting! That will only make it worse.” With a dark chuckle, the creature was suddenly upon her, carving a sharp line across her forearm with the knife. Nessa cried out, but was stifled by more roots from the ground gagging her, preventing heer from emitting more sound. She felt the flat side of the knife drag across her skin but could not see what was happening. The pain was an agony Nessa never thought would stop, and she couldn’t believe she let herself enter a damaged book.
The creature pulled back into her line of sight and displayed to Nessa the knife covered in her blood. “You’ve been a great help. I shall remember to thank you one day. Forgive me if I don’t come back for some time—we can’t have you leaving this place. The story must always have its exact, written number of characters, and you, my dear, are taking my place. Try to enjoy while you can. It can be quite dismal here, but I doubt it will be much better where you came from.” The creature gave her one last ear-splitting chuckle and Nessa wished the roots would have covered her ears, as well.
With a wave of the knife, the creature slit a small opening on its own arm and let Nessa’s blood pour inside. And suddenly, the creature’s figure transformed into a more human shape; the sharp limbs smoothed out, the pupils faded to a lighter red, and Nessa thought she could just make out the burgeoning shape of a woman before a blinding flash of light blinded her.
And the creature was gone.
The roots around Nessa gradually made their way back into the earth, causing more of her blood to spill out from the long gash in her arm. As if on cue, now that she was trapped and alone, eyes lit up the shadows within the patches of grass. Eyes not unlike that of the creature’s.