Nearly five-hundred years ago there was a book that came across my path. I know you’re thinking I’m speaking figuratively here but I’m not. A book literally came across my path. I was walking in the woods along a well-worn and shaded path when a book stumbled out from the underbrush.
Yes, I was taken aback, astonished you might even say. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, you know. What kind of a book keeps itself in a wooded underbrush? It’s fraught with danger even for the hardiest books! Dampness being the least of his problems, there were mice looking for nesting material (they can’t read you know) and hungry beetles looking for a good snack (book bindings are nutritious).
This book had obviously been neglected. As it pulled itself out into the path, I could see its binding had indeed been recently chewed. Its cover, once pristine and gold pressed, was faded, and so worn I could not make out the title. Its pages dragged along the ground as it used its cover to pull itself to a slightly upright position directly in front of my feet.
I stopped, and withdrew in disgust, blindly blaming the book for its condition. What degeneracy could bring a once proud book to this level? But then it sighed and slumped to the ground as if dead right before my eyes. My heart softened at the sight. Stooping to the ground, I gently gathered the poor weak thing into my arms. As I stood and brought the book up, it nestled to my chest like a lost and exhausted child and sighed its covers shut.
I resolved to bring it home immediately, in the hope of restoring it to health. I didn’t have much hope for it though. It seemed so weak and frail, possibly already expiring in my arms as I hurried my step. By the time I got home, all that would be left to do was cremate the poor thing, use it as a fire starter to keep my cabin warm. At least it would be useful one last time.
I quickened my pace further at the thought and got home as fast as my feet could carry me. I tried my best not to shake or jostle the (hopefully) sleeping book in my arms as I went. It shifted its weight and rustled its pages in response each time I stumbled or jerked too suddenly to avoid a low branch or diving bird.
When I reached my cabin door, I knocked gently with my foot, hoping my elves would be alert to my presence and come pattering in to help me. The book was completely asleep in my arms and its dead weight needed both my arms to carry it. I didn’t want to shift its weight and disturb it.
They came running as I had hoped they would, and seeing me with the poor tattered and torn book fainted dead away in my arms, both were moved to compassion and jumped to assist me as best they could. Being so small, it took both to open the door, but they achieved the task as quiet as mice. They instinctively knew what to do and bustled about the cabin, stoking the fire and getting a good strong broth going on the stove.
I moved toward the couch and gently laid the book down upon the cushion so as not to wake it. Arranging a few small throw pillows so that if it did stir as it rested it might not roll off the couch to further injure it, I set myself up in the chair across the room to start my vigil.
“What could I do?” I thought to myself as I sat in rapt attention to its every ragged breath. “Is there something it needs? Some spell I could use to insure its quick recovery, or at least its peace?” My elves knew my thoughts, they always did. It wasn’t that they had some extra special sense, a telepathy to read my mind. They’d simply spent their whole lives in my presence and in several hundred years, you learn things. But they, being older than I, seemed to have seen this kind of thing before. They knew what the poor thing needed; a quiet, safe rest for now, and some attention once it had gathered some strength.
My watch dragged on into hours. I was already exhausted from my travels and was looking forward to a long and quiet rest myself when all this trouble began. What trouble, you ask? I mean, really, how much trouble can an old book be? You obviously haven’t read many books. One book can change your life, lead you to another that changes you yet again. One well-written line, one finely crafted paragraph, one poignant and timely chapter, can change the world. And this book looked like it had seen some action in its past. Why was it even here?
I sighed a tired breath as I watched it rest upon my couch, my sweet and worried elves bustling quietly in the kitchen and pattering back and forth between us and their duties about the cabin. “Where could it have been? What brought it to my path? And what would be in store for both of us?” My eyes fluttered, I leaned back in my chair, resting my head on as I pondered, and drifted off into sleep.
I dreamt some sweet and pleasant dreams of my early childhood. A fishing pond with my long since passed grandfather. My mother’s face as she presented my birthday cake. My father’s kiss on my head as drifted off to sleep. The dreams got darker as my mind went deeper into my subconscious. The man that broke my heart. The teacher that hurt my feelings. The friend that betrayed me. I shifted in my seat, opening my eyes a bit to gaze upon the book. The sun had finally set, the room had grown darker, but it was still there.
With a pat of a small elvish hand upon my knee and the smell of a strong kettle of stew in my nostrils, my mind went back to the past in my dreams once more.
Witchery school pranks and antics, lover’s spats, children born and raised or passed on before me; my life continued to roll by in pictures like a flickering film on a silver screen before my mind’s eye.
I suddenly woke with a start. What had happened? How long have I been asleep?
The cabin room was filled with morning light diffused by the gauzy curtains I had hung over the windows last year when the morning sun had begun to shift and blind me with its brilliance. Birds twittered outside and I could hear the chattering of my elves in the kitchen, the smell of breakfast wafting in.
Was it a dream that I found the book in the path yesterday afternoon? Had I imagined the whole affair? I was exhausted from my travels. I’m not as young as I used to be. Maybe I should start traveling with a companion for safety’s sake. And then I heard a soft sigh from the couch.
There it was, sitting up on my couch with a hot cup of tea sitting next to it as if it belonged there, as if it wasn’t breathing its last just a few hours previous. I sat up and stared and it stared back. It shook its covers and fluttered its pages in response to my stare, as if to say, “What did you expect? You can’t leave a story in the cold brush forever and expect it not to come crawling back for help!”
Confused by its signs of indignation, I quietly rose and approached it. Standing over it, it shrunk back into the couch. Did it sense my confusion as hostility? A rustling in the doorway alerted me to the presence of my elves. They had come when they heard the commotion. Worried about my state of mind, how I might react to the presence and attitude of the book, they came to reassure and console me in the hopes of…what?
I looked at them. I looked at the book. Why should I feel such confusion? It’s just a book with faded cover and tattered…wait a minute.
I sat down on the couch beside the book and took a closer look. It seemed that in the night the elves had ministered to the thing in a way I had not thought to do. Its cover was clean. The dirt gently brushed away. Its leaves shaken out and smoothed over. Its dampness dried out. It didn’t smell half bad either.
I smiled at it and it straightened itself back up, almost seeming to reach for me. My heart softened. I had known from the start that this was no ordinary book, but my exhaustion, the darkness, had started my imagination and fear had set in instead of curiosity.
What was so familiar about this book? I couldn’t put my finger on it. We sat across from each other almost as friends would when something strange began to happen. The longer I sat, the slower and deeper my breath became. The book seemed to “breathe” with me, the front cover gently rising and falling like a chest. I couldn’t tell who was affecting whom. Was the book relaxing and copying me or was it the other way around?
Time seemed to slow, as if I were dreaming, when images began to flicker through my mind. Far distant childhood memories, adolescent dreams and plans, more of the same, like my dreams the night before. The images startled me, and I looked back at the book beside me. For the first time since I had found it, I could almost make out the letters of its title. I reached for it and it came into my arms and settled down into my lap.
It lay closed upon my lap, warm and heavy like a cat. I still could not quite make out the letters on the cover, so I opened it and began leafing through its pages. The images that came to me were far more vivid now. Whole scenes played out in my mind. The time I fell in a well and was stuck there all night. The moment I first fell in love. The day my father passed away. It all played out, not in real time, we’d have been stuck there forever, but like I simply remembered every moment all at once.
When I looked at the pages and began to read the words, I realized they were my memories written out word for word. The first chapters were the most faded and the hardest to decipher. Some pieces were bold and in a large font, some smaller and printed more like a romantic script.
I flipped through the pages. Hundreds of years all written here. Was everything here? Would I find memories written here that were so far back in my subconscious that they seemed like someone else’s story? And what about the future? Was my life already written out? Was there such a thing as fate?
I started to thumb through the pages faster and the book, stiffening in my lap, tried to shut its covers against my curious eyes. My hands grasped it tighter and brought me to this moment, holding the book and turning a page.
The next words were there but faint and shimmering, getting more and more faint with every page I turned until there was nothing but blank paper.
My hands loosened their grip and the book quietly closed itself. It sighed in my lap. I looked up from it and my elves were there beside me. They were curious too, but not about what was in the book. I think they knew the whole time. I sensed their tension the moment we had come into the house. No, I believe they were more worried about my reaction. What did they think I would do?
When I looked back at the book, the cover was pristine as if it had just then been created. The leather cover was soft and the binding clean and tight. The letters of the title were once again embossed with gold and I could clearly read the title now.