I paced the back-library wall as I waited for Darling to come. He knew. He saw my warning last night. I clasped my hands over my sweaty face and leaned into a bookshelf. The sharp spines of the textbooks poked into my skin, but it was a welcome feeling compared to the overwhelming sense of dread filling every part of my body. This is his chance, I thought, he will tear me apart and my family will be terminated because of my foolishness. I grabbed the nearest book and smashed it on the ground. My breath felt like fire in my lungs.
“A temper tantrum is hardly the answer,” Darling said as rounded the corner. He stood with his hands behind his back. The look on his face made me want to slink into the corner.
“Doctor Darling, I am-” I began, but he held up his pasty hand to stop me. He took a few steps to his right and reached his lithe arm behind a bunch of books. His eyes brows scrunched together in concentration until I heard a faint click. The bookshelves sunk into the wall and slid out of sight. Darling turned around, “follow me.” He stepped into the now hollow bookcase. I parted my lips to call out to him, but he was already swallowed by the darkness. I quickly followed him into the bookcase. The short hallway was lined with rough bricks that left grime on my fingers. There were bare bulbs on the dusty ceiling that cast a ghostly glow in the small room. The air was musty and water droplets clung to my skin. At the center of the room was a rickety wooden table drowning in papers. There were metal buckets dispersed around the room collecting the dripping water from the ceiling. Darling was grinning like a little boy.
“What is this place?” I trailed my middle finger along a metal chair and sent up a cloud of dust that made me wheeze. Shining metal tools and spheres were in neat piles on the floor. It looked like a wild scientist’s lab. Darling raised his arms as if he wanted to embrace the room.
“This is my Eden!” His smile deflated when he saw my confused face. “Right, you don’t know what that is.” He sat down on one side of the table and motioned for me to take a seat on the dusty, metal chair. I pursed my lips, but still lowered myself slowly and sat at the very edge of the chair. “It’s not your fault that you don’t know. There are no Faiths anymore. All their beliefs are erased forever.”
I shifted so that I wouldn’t fall out of the chair. “What is Eden?”
“Imagine the most succulent fruit that you have ever tasted. The sticky juice staining your hands as you take a bite. The cool taste refreshing you on a hot day. Now feel the gentle breeze caressing your skin as you lay in the soft grass, gazing at a clear blue sky.” I looked around the dusty, darkroom and raised my eyebrow in question. But Darling’s eyes were closed and a peaceful smile played on his thin lips. “The song of the nightingale fills your ears as she perches on a tree canopy.” I closed my eyes and imagined the blades of grass tickling my skin. I felt the sun’s rays warming my face. “There are bushes bearing rare stones that sparkle in the gentle sun's warmth. Emeralds, sapphires, topaz, are scattered as far as you can see. Where the land meets the ocean, there is a blanket of smooth pearls, as white and pure as alabaster.” I felt the glint of light hit my closed eye and I flinched away. I turned my head in the opposite direction and felt the salt of an imaginary ocean on my face. Darling’s chuckle brought me back to reality. His grey eyes bore into me. “What is Eden, Myra?”
The sweet lull of the nightingale’s song rung in my ears. “It’s bliss. It’s Paradise.” Darling nodded in approval. “With all due respect Doctor Darling, why are you telling me this?” His peaceful smile slipped from his sweet face. s
“Because Myra, every paradise is destroyed from within. And yours my dear is about to crumble.” He held my gaze, watching for my reaction.
“What does one do when their paradise is erased?”
“Some people run and build their paradise somewhere else.” He rolled his eyes at the idea as if it was the most ridiculous decision; it seemed like a reasonable decision to me. “Other people stay and fight for their home, for what’s right.” His eyes burned a hole into my soul. “Myra, people who run will never live, they will only survive. Do you really only want to survive?” Now it was my turn to roll my eyes.
“Do you ever not speak in riddles?” Darling blinked in surprise as if I had just thrown cold water on him. Then a thin smile crawled on his tired face. His worry lines disappeared and melted into laughter lines around his eyes.
“You are more than capable of fighting back, Myra.” Darling encouraged.
“What are you talking about? You don’t even know me.”
“I don’t have to know you to see your heart.” He glanced over at his books. “I have to hide my heart, my desires because the Magistrate has exiled any recollection of the past. So, I come here to learn in secret. I study dead languages, cultures, and science. I refuse to be ignorant. Unfortunately, the knowledge I seek must be done in secret. But you, Myra, you don’t have to hide your strength.”
I shuffled my feet. This man barely knew me and yet he was giving me the pep talk of a lifetime. “I doubt I have the strength to beat James Crowley.” The bitterness in my voice was frustrating.
Darling shook his head. “I’m not talking about James. Trust me, James is the least of your worries.” I blinked, expecting him to correct himself. How could James not be a threat? The man had been pestering me for long as I could remember.
Darling stood up from the creaky old chair and brushed his hands on his pants. “Fighting is the only way you can protect your paradise. And if that gets destroyed, you build another one, even if it’s a dinky little room with one lightbulb, in the back of a grand library.” He offered me his hand, which I took. His hands were callused and rough. I didn’t understand how that could be possible since he only did lab work. But then again, I didn’t expect him to have a secret lair either.
“Why do you have a secret paradise? You’re a Pure. What do you have to hide Dr. Darling?” I asked. The affection in his grey eyes were overwhelming.
“In this twisted game of life, I have a lot to lose. But I will protect what I can, Myra.” He chewed on his lower lip. He looked like he carried the weight of the sky on his thin shoulders. Darling noticed the concern in my face and forced himself to smile. He shuffled towards the door. I followed him to the door where he stopped to listen to see if there were any people on the other side of the door. He put his hands on the door to slid it open, but then turned back to me. His lips were pressed in a tight line and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Tonight Myra, be strong. Be a lion.” I didn’t know how to respond to his riddles anymore, so I just nodded my head and walked quietly with him to the work station.