The crash sent tremors up my spine and cold needles throughout my bones. Wood splintered, dust plumed, and, in the middle of the ruined library, I stared up into the face of the moon through a hole in the ceiling. My brain felt disconnected from my limbs, and so blithely calculated the distance. How far had I fallen? Two stories, three? It might as well had been ten. A groan, equal in tone to the yawning corpse of this building, erupted from my lungs. Circuits reconnected, nerve-endings firing their pain responses just like it said in the biology textbook lodged under my back.
“Heey! Still alive?” A girl’s voice called to me from above.
I groaned again.
Was this an angel, sent from heaven to absolve me of my sins, or a wistful siren come to take away my pains? No, it was just Sarah. The small girl tumbled down a broken banister, outfitted in her oversized sweater with the large “S” on the front. Her backpack jingled its way down with her, until her face popped up into view into view from behind the jagged mouth of shelf PN2901.
“Yes.” I tested my functions, lifting an arm and stretching each muscle one-by-one down to my fingertips. All clear. I reluctantly moved onto the next. Then a leg, and the other leg. Each movement was pain, like the drilling of a fine-tooth saw deep into my soul. God, how I hated life. Sarah moved to sate her curiosity by digging at the pile of books I had unearthed. Non-fiction, what garbage. But her eyes shined like she had found the treasure chest of Odin.
I dug myself out of the crater. Minimal damage to my back. It just hurt.
“Find anything on the way down?” I asked, cracking my neck.
The young girl looked up at me with stars in her eyes. “Lots of dry wood. Will be good for fire.”
She pulled out her box of matches.
“Not here!” I cupped my hands over hers. “You don’t want to kill us both.”
She pouted. Sarah really liked fire.
“Let’s find you a nice book instead.”
A grin appeared almost instantaneously on her face. I held out a hand and she took it, and we set out to explore this new floor. I had fallen into the history and biology section, based on the selection. My feet made heavy, echoing steps in the gloomy darkness. I would need to check the balance later.
“These books haven’t been checked out in almost a century,” I said to fill the silence.
“How long is that?” Sarah asked.
“Well, you’re twelve. Think about your entire life so far, all the way back from before you can remember. Way, way back. Now do that another fifteen times. That’s how long.”
Her eyes went really wide. “Then they’re way older than you, Bowman?”
I sighed. “Only just.” I pulled down a short history of the world, much outdated, but it would do. “Here Sarah, let’s start with this one.”
She tried pulling it from my hand with all her strength, but I wouldn’t budge.
“What’s the magic word?”
She pouted again. “Pleeeze.”
Kenneth Otani is a second-year graduate student studying Creative Writing at Central Michigan University. He hopes to pursue a career in the publishing industry and is currently a fiction editor for Temenos magazine. He enjoys reading mystery novels, writing fantasy stories, and spoiling the plots of video games for himself.