Once Upon A Book

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Chapter 03 | Opening Ceremony for the Book

Moments after finding the ancient runes and the book out of thin magical air, Catherine was back in her bedroom, laying on her stomach on the bed, the book in front of her.

Jeremy the cricket sat on the headrest of the bed, peering down at the book in curiosity.

Finally, he cleared his throat and asked, “We’ve been sitting like this for several minutes now; do you think it’s time to actually open the book?”

“Hush!” she whispered. “The time hasn’t come yet.”

“Time?” he mocked. “What – you want to hold some sort of an opening ceremony for it?!”

She turned to him with a blank, most neutral expression on her face. “Yes.”

He blinked. ’I was just joking,’ he said to himself. Aloud, he said, “I think now is as good a time as any.”

She shook her head. “Nah-uh.”

“Okay then, I’ll do it.” And he hopped beside the book.

She at once reacted by placing her hands on it. “No!”

“Well then, you open it. Now.”

“What are you so much in a hurry for?!”

“The title of the book says ‘Fables For The Young’. Doesn’t that sound suspicious to you?”

She snorted. “Now, this is too much! How is it suspicious!? Okay, so it’s a book for –”

“Just open it.”

“Fine!” She held the edge of the hardcover of the book and thrust it open with more force than she probably had used before with other books. “Wow,” she gasped, all anger gone.

“What is it?” The cricket peered into the book. “Some writing I can’t read it – it’s big and upside down.”

“It says, ‘To whoever finds this book next, good luck.’ What is that supposed to mean?” She flipped the first page over and the next. “No mention of the author anywhere.”

“Perhaps it’s a compilation.”

“Then, there should be the names of the authors or the publication company – Why are you so stiff and wide-eyed all of a sudden? It’s true, you know.”

He nodded slowly. “Go on.”

Now, growing more interested herself, Catherine turned the leaf of the book and saw a blank page. She turned around and another page, and only encountered blank pages.

“This has nothing,” she said, surprised. “How can this be possible?”

Jeremy stooped thoughtfully towards the book. “I thought something like this might be the case,” he remarked. “I’ve encountered magic like this before. I bet a thousand rupees that the stories will start showing up from tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. Different magical objects have different rules.”

“Okay then. So, we have nothing else to do. Or… do you want to search more in that room?”

“No… I don’t think we should go there again, at least not so soon.”

Catherine gazed carefully at the little cricket. After retrieving the book from the old, unused room, Jeremy had stopped breathing and turned around so quickly, she turned, too. His gaze was locked on the door, his face looking as if he had just seen a ghost – so pale was it. She didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, except that the door they came through was closed. But, that could’ve been the work of the wind; or, the door could’ve swung closed by itself. Obviously, he didn’t believe any of these logical solutions.

He’s been fidgety ever since,’ she thought. Aloud, she cleared her throat and said, “Jeremy, are you okay?”

The cricket abruptly turned his head up to her and blinked. “Yes, of course. Why do you ask?”

She stared at him a few more seconds, but couldn’t discern anything from his expression. ’Yet,’ she told herself. Outwardly, she shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Good.” He fell silent.

“So, what do you propose we do next? Go outside?”

Jeremy’s mouth fell wide open in shock. “What?! And risk our lives!? No, thank you very much – very satisfied right inside! – no need to play with Death!”

“Well, okay. Want to play Ludo?”

“Ludo? Oh yes, I know that game – used to play that all the time with my brothers when they were still interested in me!”

“Oh, you have brothers? I have sisters. Are you the youngest?”

“Most certainly. Isn’t that the best?”

“Well, no, not really. Being the youngest, everybody ignores me and no one wants to listen to my wise words – not that I’m wise to begin with, but, you know –”

“Everybody thinks you’re too small to have any say?” The cricket nodded. “I hear ya.”

They shared a laugh over this.

“Wow… you and I actually have something in common,” remarked Catherine. “We actually might become friends.”

Jeremy nodded. “When Lena came to me and asked to be her sister’s friend, I was sure I was going to hate every moment of the slavery, but I’m starting to feel glad I came along. You’re not such a bad person yourself.”

Catherine smiled. “Thank you. Say, how come you’re here, anyway? I thought your family didn’t trust humans.”

“Long story,” he sighed. “I’ll tell it to you another day.”

She suspected he was hiding something, but push it. “Can you at least tell me how old you are?”

“Oh yes, that I can. I’m thirty years old.”

“Thirty? Wow… in mortal terms, that’s old.”

“I agree. But, I don’t think it’s very old for witches like you. But, it depends on their speciality and what they’re capable of.”

“Really? Oh, tell me more about it, please!” Despite her earlier resentment and dislike for the magical cricket, Catherine found herself genuinely interested in what he had to say.

“For that matter,” he added, “we crickets don’t normally live beyond the span of a mortal year. But, my family has been blessed with magical abilities and Jiminy’s extraordinary help to the gods earned him favour among them and granted him and his descendants immortality.”

The young girl’s eyes widened. “Oh! – you meant to say that Jiminy Cricket is still alive? Can I see him?”

“Unfortunately, no. I should’ve added more to the blessing: we could choose our date of death.”

Her nerves twitched at this and she tried to settle them down. “Oh… is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

He winked at her and hopped back to the top of her bed’s headrest. “That’s for you to decide,” he told her. “Besides, you don’t have to, because it’s not a blessing you’ve been granted. Speaking of” – he glanced at the window at her right –“it’s dusk; I should be leaving now.”

Catherine suddenly felt sad all over again and a feeling of loneliness began to fill the hole that was reforming in her heart. “Oh no, do you have to?”

The cricket turned to her; tiny though he may seem, his eyes gave away his wise nature – something he had inherited from being a descendent of Jiminy Cricket.

“Unless,” he added, “you want me to stay.”

Now, Catherine felt conflicted. On the one side, her heart was growing heavy with pain and the loneliness she had had to endure for most of her life. On the other, she still felt that the cricket being here willingly made no sense – how her sister was able to find and befriend the magical crickets of the ancient lore she couldn’t understand. But then, Jeremy was already making her cheerful, with just being an hour or so with him; he was also a good companion to talk and listen to.

Oh, what was she going to do?

At long last, the corners of Catherine’s mouth turned up ever so slightly. Below her, she could hear a door banging somewhere in the house – or, was it a window? Perhaps it was the wind, because neither her parents nor her sisters could be back home so soon. The threat of exposure to the collision of the Light and the Darkness remained well into twilight.

Catherine spoke up: “I want you to stay with me.”

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