These entries from January's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "January Writing Challenge."
I was wandering the streets, with no specific destination. Simply walking, admiring the city with its buildings, parks, and people going every possible way. Some were in a hurry, almost running; they were probably already late for whatever they had to do. Some others just took their time, looking around them, sometimes stopping to admire the view or encourage some artist playing music in the middle of the street. And then, here I am. I like to watch people walking or even, sometimes, running. I feel like I could read their minds just by observing their gait.
It was raining on that day, and I remember there weren’t many people outside. So, I decided to explore the districts I had never seen. That’s how I ended up in that small library, hidden between two abandoned shops. The librarian, an old man with white hair, said I was welcome in his universe and gave me a smile that made his eyes sparkle. He looked like a child in an old man’s body. I smiled at him and started to walk around the shelves, looking at some covers, reading a few synopses…
At the back of the small library, my eyes got caught by some kind of a board, stuck between the shelves and entirely covered with paper slips. As I came closer, I could make out some phrases written. Hundreds of quotes, letters, notes, all handwritten by a different person. I could even recognise different languages. It was just as if people from all around the world once gathered here to leave a mark on this very special wall. I started to read them. There were love letters, famous writers’ quotes, proverbs… One special note attracted my attention. It looked as if it had been removed from a book. It said: “Do you think there’s such a thing as a perfect day?” I knew I had already read that quote before, but I couldn’t put my finger on the book’s title. As I was trying to remember, the old librarian came to me.
“I see you found my most precious words of all the library.”
He was still smiling, and his eyes were still sparkling. I looked at him, waiting for his explanation.
“For fifty years I’ve asked everyone entering the library to write something on a piece of paper. Whatever they want to leave. So they will live forever on this wall.”
“It’s such a beautiful initiative! How did you come up with this idea?”
“A lovely story it is! It was actually my wife’s idea. She used to love words, of any kind. When we bought the library, she spent her whole time reading. She used to say she wouldn’t stop until there wasn’t a book left on those shelves that she hadn’t read.”
He smiled even brighter, if that was possible. I could tell he was truly happy to share that story with me.
“When she realised she wouldn’t be able to read every book of the library, she tried to focus on the best ones; and, to do so, she asked every single person who came in here to write down for her their opinion of the book they had just read. When she died, I didn’t know what to do with all those slips of paper, so I asked them, instead of writing what they thought about a book, just to write what they thought in that moment. That could be anything. What you’re looking at right now is fifty years of people’s thoughts. Feel free to add one, if you like.”
“Do you have a pen?”
He looked up to me, smiled, and took a pen and a piece of paper out of his pocket. I turned around to lean on the paper wall and wrote: “A perfect day. Start to finish. Where nothing terrible or sad or ordinary happens. I know it’s possible. I’ve just lived one.” I gave my note to the librarian, still smiling. He read the words and said:
“Ah! All the Bright Places! Yes… my wife used to love Jennifer Niven’s writing.”
It was now my turn to smile. Today really was a perfect day.
I don’t think I should be in this room.
It isn’t that Jules has told me to stay put while she takes her phone call, or that she’s even mentioned anywhere in her house I can’t go; it’s just that there’s something about this windowless, dark space telling me that I shouldn’t have let my curiosity lead me here.
And yet, here I am. Just minutes after Jules left me and my untamable inquisitiveness took over, I’ve found myself meters away from her bedroom door and on the other side of a different door entirely. I blindly fumble my way around the walls for a light switch. I find it, flick it on, and force my eyes to focus in the yellowish pool of light emitted by a single bulb on the ceiling.
I gasp. Before I can properly see what lines the walls, I know.
A seemingly endless stream of books takes over every part of my peripheral, jammed in so tightly on the floor-to-ceiling shelves that I wonder if worlds more may be buried away behind them. Once my eyes have fully adjusted to the light, they drink in the books’ titles and authors. Classic literature, politics, poetry… each one a little piece of the puzzle that is Jules’s personality. I smile and close my eyes for a moment, forgetting I’m an intruder and allowing myself to soak up that incredible book smell. As potent as perfume and as soothing as scented candles, every inked page emanating that hint of something beautiful that will escape me within seconds if I don’t embrace it there and then.
The uneasy feeling of trespass rises within me again as quickly as it had gone. Opening my eyes, I realise what was telling me not to be in this room in the first place is that it’s evidently so personal to Jules. Potentially even secret. A place that perhaps she might not even want me to know about—at least, not yet.
My common sense begins to turn me back towards the door, but as I move, something from the other end of the room catches my eye, and instinct pulls me straight back around again.
The back wall, I only now notice, has just two bookshelves at the top. And beneath them, flowing down the wall like a waterfall beneath a bridge, are sticky notes, torn notebook segments, and other ink-scrawled snippets of paper. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Edging closer, I can see that the handwriting embellishing them all is Jules’s. I reach my hand out to them, tracing the letters that loop into words, and words into sentences. I’m unable to resist reading them.
They’re all poems.
And they’re wonderful.
I’m captivated for what feels like forever by the places, emotions, and people that Jules has brought to life on these pieces of paper. A dozen or so of her poems make their way to my heart before I settle on another near the bottom right corner of the wall. I begin devouring it as I have with the others, until it becomes suddenly… familiar.
I know I’ve never read this poem before, and yet… I recognise its unnamed characters and the place it’s describing. I have felt the very feelings its story is pulling from within me again now.
And as I reach its end, I finally know Jules’s feelings, too.
I’m jolted awake from my trance and spin around to see Jules herself standing in the doorway. A rosy hue has brushed over her freckled cheeks, but as I make my way shakily towards her, I can see that she is smiling.
And in that moment, Jules is that something beautiful that could escape me if I don’t embrace her there and then, and it takes all the willpower I have left not to take her face in my hands and kiss her.
The Wings of an Eagle
These are words that have been taken from me. Words I am no longer able to live or understand. I stare out at the vast array of beautiful melodies. Gentle, soft, vibrant melodies that twist and weave together seamlessly into an enticing story. I close my eyes and stand very still, convinced that if I just stay this way long enough, the words will reach out and pull me into their song, twirling and dancing before my eyes. But if I reach for them, they’ll flit away like the lost memories they are…. And yet, every so often, if I stretch far enough, I’m able to graze the tip of one and experience its warmth for a moment, before it darts away, afraid if it stays, I’ll infect it.
These words have been placed here to taunt me. To tempt me into them knowing I could never belong in their world. I know which words are my own. They are the boundaries in which I exist. The air I breathe. For they are the only words I’m able to live. To them, I am simply a slave, a pawn. I open my eyes and turn to the shelves I long to be a part of.
A boy appears. He comes upon me like the dawn after a dark deserting night. He grabs my hand and pulls me into the words, into his enchanting world, if only for a moment. We lay on our backs and focus on the stars, a vast sea of ever-expanding light formed by a billion words that will never dwindle so long as he’s here. He is the sun, the stars, and the cosmos.
And so I lie very still; I dare not move for fear that if I move at all, the ground will give way beneath me, and I’ll be cast back into a world I don’t understand. But I look over, and he’s still here. Still holding me, touching my fingers to his, and letting his words flow through me until my boundaries have fled to the horizon. He has given the words back. He’s carried capacities on eagles’ wings and rained them over a desolate, bare forest like ashes drifting down from the heavens, allowing life to grow. And grow it did.
So we tumble through a field of words. Brilliant, beautiful, terrifying words. Here, everything is still. Every breath, every blade of grass. We are suspended, weightless, floating. The words build a universe around us, a universe I used to look into and long to be a part of. We dive into a pool, into a dream, into each other. Into words that don’t exist anywhere but here between us.
But nothing can last forever. We’re sitting on the edge, you see. Treading the waters of an alluring, unforgiving sea. Hopeless animals awaiting slaughter. A poison seeps into his eyes. An intensity burned out. It reaches for him like the branches of a dead tree reach for light. It sweeps through him like a sandstorm through the desert. He is consumed by it, and one day it carries him away in the night on the devil’s wings. The poison comes for me next and suffocates me in its clutches. We were made to burn, you and I.
The words, once so beautiful, have become daggers. Weapons of the enemy. He was too fragile, too enchanting for this world. He didn’t belong. This world wasn’t tailored for words so radiant and pure. So he’s gone to the sweet forever where his words can sing, proud and free, like the eagle who brought my words back to me and took them just as fast. I am the dust of an eagle’s wings. Nothing more.
Nothing can last forever. For the words have been taken from him too. And without him, I cannot find them again. And like these words, he and I have simply become dust in the pages of a broken book—one no one will touch for fear that our plague will spread like the waves of an ocean and break them too. Into nothing more than dust to be carried away by the wind on the wings of an eagle.