Her entire life, Vye had always believed that she was here on Earth for a special purpose. She had always believed it, because it was what she had always been told. Long before she could remember, when she was just a small child, her parents saw great things for her future. She was quick to learn, learning how to read by the time she was four years old. It was a passion that she was to never stop. Maybe reading actually was her downfall. She could never be sure. It could have been her destiny, if she ever really believed in that sort of thing, but reading was what brought her to this point in her life.
Her parents always told her the grand plans they had for her future. She was going to be some successful doctor, or lawyer. She would make something of her life, far more than they ever felt they could. She grew up with their dreams always on her mind. She was satisfied with those dreams, until one day, when she was eight years old, she looked in the mirror and saw herself. It was like an awakening. She didn’t see the scrawny blue eyed, brown haired girl that everyone else saw; that smart, know-it-all, that hid in her room and read books or daydreamed. She only saw one thing: she wasn’t going to be what they all expected her to be. She was going to be a failure in their eyes. For her dreams were bigger than theirs, and money wasn’t her aim.
She should have realized with that epiphany, that she should stop reading books. She was so drawn in to the fantasy worlds that she surrounded herself with, she thought she could actually become like them. Her hope was that she was special, like her parents had always told her. She wished she was so special that there was something that she could do which no one else could. It took her the next seventeen years to realize that she could never be the ‘special’ that she always wanted to be. She could never aspire to the dreams that she saw. The vivid realities that she created in her mind were not realities at all, but escapes, and she was trapped in them while her body lived back in reality, a place her mind refused to accept. Now she felt alone, trapped, and disillusioned. Instead of having a lucrative career, or having used her mind to its full potential, she had squandered away the years thinking that what she was looking for was just around the corner. She had failed to let go of the fantasies created in childhood. She had forgotten to grow up. At twenty five years old, it suddenly seemed right to forget everything she thought she could accomplish and focus on becoming an active participant in the real world; becoming an adult. She would never have expected the act of letting go of her search to be the beginning.
It began with a letter; another rejection in a long string of them. There, sitting in her car, holding that small bit of paper that had the power to keep shattering her dreams, was where it began. It was so silent, only road noise muffled by the closed door could be heard. It was just her and the paper.
Dear Vye Lavallee;
Thank you for your submission to (insert name of company here). Unfortunately, after careful review, blah, blah, blah.
It fell from her hand and landed silently beside her. She wondered if anyone ever read all the way to the end of a rejection letter. Isn’t that just kicking yourself while you’re down? She looked up and stared through the window. She tried to remind herself that she was in a public place and, therefore, couldn’t cry. Her car was parked beside a park. She distracted herself by watching parents playing with their children. Kind hands pushing them on the swing while their children called out to be pushed higher and higher.
When she averted her eyes away from the happy families, she caught a glimpse of another observer, a brown haired man about her age. He was gazing at the families as well with the same expression she was sure she had on her face; puzzlement, confusion, longing. He must have felt her gaze, because soon he cast a glance in her direction. She felt a sudden chill at being caught and looked away, back down to the paper beside her, and glanced up again. He was gone; nowhere in sight. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it into her back seat where numerous other such papers littered the floor. She checked the clock and turned the ignition. Unfortunately for her, time did not take pity on her sad plight and she was about to be late for work. She wiped at her eyes as she checked over her shoulder for traffic. She tried to remember how to smile when inside her heart was slowly suffocating.
The old bell above the door chimed as it was gently pushed against it, informing the owner of the shop that a customer had come in. Jerome Edwards, owner of the bookshop, Tytonidae’s Codex, looked up from the counter and was greeted with the sight of a short porcelain pale girl dressed in mourning clothes. The old man shook his head and returned back to his work.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I am in mourning?” The young woman asked as she stepped behind the counter and grabbed the book that the old black man was poring over.
Jerome looked up again and examined the woman’s outfit in more detail. Vye Lavallee was his only employee, whom he had picked up when ten years ago the fifteen year old had been one of the few customers in their small town still interested in his antique bookshop. He thought her rather eccentric look and behavior would mellow as she aged, but in fact, they had grown more and more each year until it had brought them to this day where Vye was dressed, indeed, completely in black. She wore a Gothic Lolita dress, a style from Japan that took Edwardian styles of dress and made them fashionable once again. This particular dress was a knee length dress that billowed out from the crinoline underneath. It was soft black velvet with white ribbons and a white sash adorning it. Corset like ties made the dress fit snuggly against her short and buxom frame. She wore a small fascinator in the shape of a top hat in her chestnut brown hair which she had braided and pinned up in an elaborate fashion. A black vale attached to the fascinator obscured her piercing blues eyes outlined by the only accessory on her that was an actual colour, bronze glasses that were appropriately steampunked with gears that held the various joints together. Her glasses were the only consistent thing about Vye’s outfits. This outfit was grounded with white stockings with ribbon bows and black Mary-Janes on her feet.
“Still stylish as always,” Jerome finally replied.
Vye pinched her lips together and frowned. “Well it may not be important to you, but I have decided that I have had my fill of rejection letters. I am giving up writing, Jerome. I will never put pen to paper again. My writing was always subpar anyway.” She sat, defeated, onto the nearest stool and put her elbows on the counter to support her chin.
Jerome suddenly took her seriously. “No more writing? You? I don’t believe it for a moment, Ms. Lavallee. You have been writing since before I knew you. You’ve put seventeen years of blood, sweat and tears into those books, you can’t just stop now because a few people that have never written a word in their life, but feel they can judge everyone else as if they are the god of the printed word, say you aren’t worth a look. There is bound to be one that is smart enough to see talent when it stares them in the face. You just have to keep at it.”
“One hundred and sixty five,” Vye responded. “One hundred and sixty five rejection letters. I’m too tired of fighting them. My stories, my imagination, just wasn’t meant to have a place in this world.”
“You don’t want to try for an even two hundred?” Jerome replied.
Vye looked at him with a death glare. “I’ll pass on an even numbered amount of rejections thanks. I should get to work anyway. Have any customers come in today?”
Jerome decided not to push the issue. He had a feeling Vye would be back at the desk in the backroom typing on the 1920s Underwood Standard typewriter within hours. Passion for writing burned in the girl’s very bones. He knew there was no way she could shut up that kind of passion for long.
“I haven’t checked the fandangled computer you set up in the back, but so far nobody in the store.” He glanced around the store. It was a two story building crammed full of every type of book imaginable. Before Vye had come to him, his store had been a mass of chaos with books piled floor to ceiling. He had a meandering path between the books that he had learned to master over the years. Vye had been appalled by the state of the store, and instead of being a customer, had immediately set to work finding order amongst Jerome’s chaos. She had come after school every day for an entire year before Jerome had the idea to actually make her an employee. Since her presence in Tytonidae’s Codex, it had become an actual business, instead of the farce of a store it had been before, harbouring mostly Jerome’s personal collection. He had never really meant for Tytonidae’s Codex to be an actual bookstore. He had made it more an outsourced library for all the books that he had collected that his wife, now passed, had decided were too much to keep in their own modest house.
Vye was a storm when it came to books. She couldn’t stand them having no order. Although the girl let chaos reign everywhere else in her home, her own library was alphabetized and in perfect order. No crease in any book she owned. She was known to rebind the ones that she had bought second hand with creases in their covers or stains from dirty hands. That whirlwind had cataloged Jerome’s library with unceasing ferocity. Within the first year of meeting her, she had organized every book in the store. Everything was neatly arranged on floor to ceiling shelves that covered the entire interior of the bookstore; rows and rows of books, some of which Jerome himself did not even remember owning. After the initial organization, Vye had begun the task of repairing those books that were tattered and falling apart. She found a book amongst the others which was a guide on how to repair and rebind books, and teaching herself, she got to work. Her first repairs were nothing special. They had flaws that she was always disappointed with, to the point that whenever Jerome had praised her on her work she would point out every flaw that she had made and promise to do better next time. Jerome soon learned not to give her praise, for it somehow made her more intent to perfect it the next time to the detriment of her mind. Ten years later, her work was immaculate. The best bindings he had ever seen. He was so proud how she stuck to the roots and only used the early bindings, hand stitching each book with care and love.
It took Vye about three years before she realized that no one really came to the shop except the parcel delivery men and women. She had a tendency to get far too lost in the task she was doing and completely ignored everything else around her. When finally confronted with it, Jerome had told her the truth: “These here are all my own personal collection. This was never supposed to be a bookshop.”
“I understand how much you must love all these books, Mr. Edwards,” she had said, “but wouldn’t it be lovely to share them with other people out there that love them just as much? In fact, I have been looking at a lot of the books you have here and I’d say that about half of them are real gems. You could get a lot of money for them.”
Jerome had considered what she had to say as she showed him articles on some of the books he had in his collections, which were so hard to find that people were asking thousands of dollars to have them. He didn’t want to tell Vye that he had more than his fair share of money, which was why the bookshop selling things was not important to him. Her fiery passion was not something to be turned down, and so he had conceded. She had put new signs in the windows announcing rare antique books for collectors and people started to trickle in. Five years later, Vye had suggested getting a computer and making a website. She said she had been learning how to program things like that in school and that there would be no problem in setting it all up. Again, Jerome has conceded and Vye had spent months creating a catalogue of the collection online. That was when the store came to life. Many parcels came every day with books that needed repairing, antique books from all over the world that Vye would find online, and even a few more modern ones. Jerome set about learning how to mend books like Vye did, but he never mastered it quite like she did, and instead Vye would print him off a list of book orders and he would peruse the store, find them, carefully package them and send them on their way. For two years now, this had been their routine. Jerome, ever the people person out front greeting the people from out of town that came just to see Tytonidae’s Codex and packing up books, while the short eccentric Vye was in the back hiding from the world lost in giving books new clothes and writing, ever writing her own mix of stories. What would happen if she stopped writing? It was such a familiar thing that had come between them. He loved reading her stories. Each new page she passed him an eager read. She had talent beyond her years. Always had. But much like the flaws she managed to find in every book binding, she saw the flaws in every word she typed and no amount of praise from him was ever going to convince her that her words were worth something. In her eyes, they were too close, a family now, for his words to be the honest truth. She knew that you protected the ones you loved, and so, no matter how many times she was told that her stories were magnificent, if she never got a stranger’s recognition, she would never believe them.
Vye staggered desolately into the back room. Her heart didn’t seem set on work today. At least Jerome never pestered her about work. Most days, she would sit in the back room with the music blaring, singing loudly as she stitched and cut and groomed books, only then would he pester her, but in regards to the loudness of the music. On the days when silence reigned in her kingdom, Jerome never bothered her at all, leaving her along with her thoughts as she clicked and clacked at the typewriter, filling pages and pages of crisp clean paper with black marks filled with meaning.
No more silence back here, she thought putting her Galaxy phone into the speakers on her work station and setting it to random. The Extreme by Nobuo Uematsu started playing. The haunting piano melody leading into an elegant piece of music mixed with the beat of the synthesized. It was tune for a battle, and so Vye tackled her work like it was.
Hours of music flew by. She could feel the burning in her hands as they reached out in longing for more than just a sewing needle, paper and glue. They itched to write something. Tap on the keys of an old typewriter or freely flow through the ink of a pen. It made her work harder, trying to forget. A boiling rage inside her, an inferno. She glanced at the typewriter. Jerome had put a fresh piece of paper in it for her, lined up and ready to go before she had even come in to the shop. She reached out for it, her hands gently gracing the keys and slammed her first into it. A mash of keys jammed at the focal point on the paper. She turned away from her work desk and sighed.
She went to the doorway separating her workspace from the rest of the shop and watched Jerome wander about the store collecting books that were off to new homes. He saw her in the corner of his eye and stopped to stare at her. She must have had a solemn expression on her face, because the older man immediately stopped what he was doing and came to her.
“Do you want to go out for a bit and clear your head?” Jerome asked.
Vye just shook her head and bit her bottom lip; a habit she had when she was thinking about a worrisome problem.
“Why not sit in silence for a while?” Jerome encouraged side stepping around Vye and stopping the music from her phone. She knew what he meant. Why not write a little? He looked up and saw the state of the typewriter and moved back out of the room.
“Maybe I will take an early lunch. Leave you time with your thoughts?” Jerome grabbed his tweed coat off the coat rack by the door and Vye heard the little bell ring as the door opened and closed, leaving her alone in the silence. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. This was going to be harder than she thought. Her hands still burned to write, and as she stood in the doorway with her eyes closed, she could feel her hand form around an imaginary pen and begin to write in the air. It was a silly thing to be doing, but it made the burning feeling within her vanish. She let out a long sigh as the itch of writing left her through the miming and she opened her eyes. She gave a start when she realized that there was a man standing at the counter in front of her.
“Oh God, you scared me! How long have you been standing there?” she asked and laughed a little. “I must have been completely out of it. I didn’t even hear the bell ring.”
The man just stared at her making Vye shift uneasily. She sometimes forgot that she wore unusual things. Stares happened a lot. It wasn’t that she wore eccentric clothing to stand out. She wore it because it made her feel better about herself. So, staring made her uncomfortable.
“Well, is there something you want?” Vye asked defensively. She stared back at the man, examining him clearly for the first time. He was really tall, which being short, as she was, made Vye even more uncomfortable and awkward. For some reason when she was around tall people she always managed to be more awkward and klutzy than she normally was. As she liked to say, she could usually hide her klutziness, but for some reason not around tall people. It must be because I have to look so far upwards. Puts me off balance. He had his head shaved exposing his olive skin framing brown eyes. Mid thirties I think.
“Just need you to sign for this package,” he replied, giving a rather infectious smile. Vye felt the corners of her lips curling upwards at the site of his smile. Or maybe it was because of the resonance of his voice. Or the British accent. It’s perfect. She had a thing for voices. Sometimes they hit just the right resonance and were these perfect things that she could listen to all day. His voice was like that. She could write to that voice.
She finally saw the package sitting on the counter-top and made her way towards the counter to sign on his electronic signature pad. As she was signing, she hesitantly started a conversation.
“Seriously though, how long were you standing there?”
The man looked at his watch and shrugged. “Ten minutes maybe?”
Vye looked at him in utter bafflement and blurted out, “You were watching me stand there for ten minutes. You do realize that is kind of creepy.”
“It’s not like I stood silent, you know. I tried for a few minutes to get your attention. But whatever you were doing with your hand there had you distracted. You were completely trance-like. What were you doing anyway?” He asked. He slipped the signature pad onto his belt and looked back at Vye.
“I dunno, I was writing I guess.” Vye shifted uncomfortably. She didn’t really get embarrassed, not really, but for some reason the thought of this man, with his resonate voice, staring at her for ten minutes while she wrote imaginary things in the air, made her a little red in the face.
“Well, did you see a pen or paper? Yes air writing. What is it to you anyway?”
“Nothing. Just odd. Then again, this is a bookstore. Could be weirder.”
“You call me odd?” Vye asked glaring at the man.
“I guess I did.”
“That’s fine, I am odd.” This comment seemed to relax the delivery man a bit. “But really I don’t know you. You new to the post office? What happened to our regular delivery person, Vicki?” Vye questioned.
The man looked at her again and laughed. He put his hand out for a shake. “Yes, I am new. Will Czernicki. Just transferred here last week.”
“So, what happened with Vicki?” Vye asked looking at Will’s hand, still deciding if she wanted to shake it or not.
“Went on a leave of absence, I guess.”
“Right,” Vye replied deciding not to shake Will’s hand. “Guess that means I will be seeing more of you?”
“I suppose so.”
“Okay.” Vye forced a smile onto her face trying to prompt Will Czernicki out the door.
“Right, I better be off. More deliveries and all,” Will said and headed to the door. Vye heard the bell chime as he pulled it open and watched as he turned back giving her his infectious smile. She quirked the edges of her mouth at the look. “You never gave me your name.”
“Oh, guess I didn’t. Sorry about that. I am Vye… no, I mean, I am Viola Lavallee.”
“Cheers, Viola Lavallee.” Will let the door close gently behind him and Viola was again left alone with the silence. She stared at the door a while. Shaking her head, she started laughing. What on earth was all that. I’ve gone completely batty.
That night when she got home, her heart felt heavy. Her decision not to write was final. She knew that deep within her soul, even if she knew Jerome expected her to change her mind. As she shut the door behind her and looked around her house, she felt the sudden bombardment of all her things. She saw video game figurines lining shelves and science fiction and fantasy Blu-rays by the hundreds. She saw stuffed animals of bizarre and cuddly creatures, special edition game guides, and dolls of her favorite anime characters. She could see the door to her library open with all the thousands of books it contained, all redressed and pretty by her hand, and her mind buzzed with it all. Thousands upon thousands of stories staring at her and echoing in her mind, reminding her of her own stories she had trapped within, yet untold. She clamped her hands to her head to try and shut them all out. All those stories, all those people, all those worlds, they weren’t real. They were nothing. She cried out in pain, tears streaming down her face. Finally looking at the world she had created in her home, she made her final decision. She was wearing mourning clothes after all; mourning the death of her previous life, the life of endless possibilities and creations both hers and others.
Straightening up, she went over to the shelf containing all her precious mementoes of other worlds and grabbed an armful. She carried them to the door, flung it open with the tips of her fingers and marched down the thirteen steps from her home to the ground below and out to the nearest campsite. She tossed her precious things into the fire pit and went back for more.
It took until three in the morning to finally collect all the things from her house, leaving no fantasy picture, no media, no fiction book and no figurine or doll left in her house. The pile was a mountain. A mountain of her life. A life she didn’t want to remember anymore. A life she needed to escape from. Grabbing a can of gas that she found in a nearby work shed, she covered all her precious things in gasoline. The sharp sting of the smell as it soaked into the brittle paper of the books made her stop for a moment and inhale sharply. She could almost hear the books drinking in the liquid, hungry for more, as if they wanted to burn; they wanted to be released into the night and no longer have to carry the burden of imaginary things. She grabbed a match, struck it to flame and tossed it on the heap of her life. The pile went up in a flash of greedy flames striking her with intense heat; she was standing too close. Stumbling back, she looked at the raging bonfire and let the light reflect her broken soul.
Goodbye Vye Lavallee. Goodbye forever. I will be Viola from now on, grounded in reality. No more made up things. No more wishes. With all those things I loved goes the pain that they created within me. The pain of how wonderful they were. The pain of not being able to be there experiencing them. Gone the pain of the endless observer.
She watched it burn. A raging unstoppable inferno, burning plastic, burning fabric, and burning books, all lighting the night with a different coloured flame. An exorcism. A cleansing. I am free. Finally free, she thought. Her stomach back flipped when she saw the silhouette of a person to the side of her burning life, the light too bright for her to see him clearly. It was definitely a man. She froze in place with sudden panic, annoyed and afraid of someone seeing the destruction of her life. Then he stepped into the light and looked familiar. A face she had seen before in a dream. Not only in dreams though.
“You were at the park yesterday, weren’t you? I saw you from my car window when I –” Decided to change my life, she thought, but did not say. “How did you get here? Are you stalking me or something? Because I have a cell phone in my pocket.” I don’t have a pocket, she thought, as she realized she had her mourning Lolita dress on. She froze, unable to say another word, staring at the hazy figure flickering in the light of her burning life.
“Where am I?” Was all the stranger said in reply.
“You are at a campground just outside of Cranbrook, British Columbia.” Viola replied.
“How did I get here?” The stranger asked.
“Why are you asking me?”
The stranger, who had been looking at his hands in confusion, finally stepped forward looking up and staring into Viola’s blue eyes. Viola’s heart skipped and her mind made her nerves fire, electrifying her skin from the base of her neck all the way down to the ends of her fingers and toes. It was like she was staring into her own eyes. The distance seemingly lost between them, she could see them as clear as if they stood in daylight merely feet away. Those piercing blue eyes that she had examined many times in her mirror, taking off her glasses and examining them so close she could see the pigment splitting apart, forming an intricate blue flower around her black pupil. A pattern she knew well, stared at every night before bed asking herself, “who am I?”
She must have moved without realizing it towards the strange man, because when she finally heard herself whisper that question in her own mind, she was staring the man straight in the face, noses nearly touching, encased in the glow of the fire.
“Who am I?” He asked, echoing almost synchronously the same question running in her mind. Staring into his impossible eyes, she stopped breathing, stopped moving, stopped everything to stare into those eyes with the strange blue flowered iris. His form shimmered in the light, lifting the strange spell that had been cast, and she reached out slowly with her hand towards his face, to confirm his existence, to know that he was real.
Whispering barely above the sound of a breath, she said, “I don’t know.” Gently she touched his face and with a sharp crack like thunder in the air between them, they were blown apart, a giant flash of light forming in the spot they had previous inhabited.
Lying on the ground thirty feet from the fire she had created, she stared up into the sky and finally took a breath, gasping for air. What is happening? What just happened? How was there lightning when there are no clouds? Overwhelmingly, she felt completely and utterly sick and she rolled on to her side and threw up. She was so dizzy, so disoriented and completely out of energy, as if every part of her soul had been used up to its full extent. Unable to move, she closed her eyes and slept.