Being Alone

In a town, not much different the one you and I call home, there lived a girl.

Much like us, this girl had a name, though her name is not my name, and is probably not your name either, but it could be. That would be a complete coincidence, though, and not at all relevant to the story. Her name, not to lose the course of our tale, was Samantha.

Now, little Samantha, for she was quite little, was a lover of stories, as I imagine you are, for you are here reading this, aren’t you? Well, you reply, so are you, having written it, and you would be very right.

But Samantha didn’t like the types of stories that you might expect of a girl her age. No, little Samantha hated stories that began “once upon a time” and despised when they ended “happily ever after.”

Our Samantha prefered stories that started “in a deep, dark wood” and loved best stories that ended with “and they were never heard from again.”

If you are curious, before you stop me, though I’ve already stopped myself, Samantha would adore the way ours starts. She absolutely loved openers that try to match the reader. They were her favorite campfire stories, starting “on a night, just like tonight” and continuing to talk about “a group of friends gathered around a fire, just like us.” They weren’t a favorite of her friends, but they were hers, and, so far as she was concerned, that was all that mattered.

Samantha was the sort of girl who, while brushing her long, black hair in the mirror every morning, couldn’t help herself from staring into it, very seriously, and repeating some name or phrase. She never had any luck summoning a ghost, demon, or other supernatural entity, but she tried as often as she could, just in case. You never know with those kinds of things.

She’d spend her days like most other children her age, being shipped off to school early in the morning, riding a bus full of tenacious children, so energetic you’d hardly believe how sluggardly they got out of bed. She’d sit in back, against the window, a book pressed to her face, hoping that she’d go unnoticed from whatever mischief the rabble had planned.

Her days in school were spent listening to adults drone on about history and math and science and all manner of subjects that our Samantha had very little interest in. You might think that her day was made when it came time for English class, but you’d be very wrong about that. For, as I’ve said, Samantha’s taste in books was quite discerning.

While recess was a time for the rest of the children to escape the school building and run around while making friends and bruises, Samantha would often stay inside, checking whatever dark, deserted hallway she could find. She’d go into every bathroom, well, every girl’s bathroom, as she was a girl, and check the stall for spirits, which was fortunate, as those ghosts are almost exclusively girls. It was also fortunate, then, that she never found any. Things could have ended quite poorly for her if she had, and I’m sure that neither of us would be happy about that.

When she’d get home, she’d sit at the dining room table and work on her homework, filling in times tables, and answering questions about who Thomas Jefferson was, and drawing diagrams of the layers of Earth. Though she didn’t apply herself much during class, you might be surprised to hear that little Samantha was very diligent with her homework, getting all of it done early and, more importantly to the teachers and her parents, correctly.

Yes, she’d finish as fast as she could, because then she could sneak off into her brother’s room for the day, and there are few places that were as safe and wonderful to her as her brother’s room. While he was away she had free run of the place. This was, of course, as per an agreement between her and her parents.

Though other children would probably jump at the chance to play her brother’s video games or listen to his CDs, Samantha was there for his books. He had such wonderful books, two full shelves full of them, and almost all of them were books she loved. After all, he was the one who exposed her to and nurtured her interest in all things spooky, scary, and unsettling.

Her absolute favorites, though, were a series of short story collections, packed with every kind of scary story you can think of. But that’s not why she loved them so.

She adored them most of all for their pictures, bone-chilling illustrations that always sent a shiver down her spine. They were beautiful, in their own way, and always done in black and white. She always marvelled at that. While plenty of horror films felt the need to fill every frame with vivid viscera, these books managed a far more potent scare without a trace of color.

Disconcertingly long limbs, sunken in faces, horrifying feral creatures, all very clearly on the page, but all feeling so very, very real. Even after the stories had long stopped scaring her, for that is what happens when you’ve read or seen something too much, the pictures would still upset her.

One day, while reading her favorite volume of the series, she stumbled across something she’d never seen before after countless readings: a blank page. Samantha was quite confused, naturally. Blank pages don’t just happen in the middle of books, usually, and they especially don’t happen in books you’ve read before that had none previously. As you might expect, Samantha turned the page to check the other side, seeing that it, too, was blank.

Samantha was a curious child, though, and couldn’t leave the blank page alone. I wonder what you would do if you were to come across a blank page in your favorite book like she did. Would you think, perhaps, that somehow all the ink had faded from the page? Would you suspect some sort of silly prank from a friend or sibling? I’d ask you more, but it’s hard to think up scenarios, isn’t it, for why a blank page would suddenly be inside a book where before there were none. It simply defies all expectations and explanations.

In her curiosity, Samantha turned the page back, to the first side she saw. Only this time, it wasn’t blank at all. Instead, there was a single word:

Hello.

Samantha was, understandably, quite confused. In her confusion, she repeated the word aloud, questioning what it could possibly mean. Before her eyes, more words appeared on the page.

It’s been so long since I’ve had someone to talk to. What’s your name?

Our Samantha answered, being the good, dutiful girl that she was.

What a pretty name that is. I’ve wondered for so long who’s been turning my pages, long after the boy has gone. Ah, but I am not upset, not at all. Books feel best when read and read and read.

Little Samantha, only just turned eight, was very bright for her age and picked up on something in those sentences that made her quite curious. She asked, feeling a little childish, considering she was speaking to a book, if it knew her brother.

Oh, I did, quite well. He’d read me just the same way you would. Sometimes it would be on the bus to school to drown out the noise and the bullies. Other times it would be during class to ignore the teachers’ lessons. He’d read me at home after tough days and at night before bed..

Upon hearing about her brother, the girl couldn’t help but fight back sobs and sniffles. She asked the book it knew what had happened to him.

Such a sad thing. He died, of course. I remember the night very well, the last night he read me. He was tucked under the covers, reading by flashlight. It was his favorite way to read scary stories. Even then, though, he never got scared, no, not that brave boy. I’d imagine you think he wasn’t scared of anything at all, but he did tell me what he was most afraid of, that night.

Samantha, entrapped by the book’s story, pressed on, asking what her brother was afraid of.

Leaving you alone.

Tears started staining the book’s pages as more words filled in underneath them.

I am so sorry to see you cry, to bring up such painful memories. Let me help, take your mind off things. Would you mind if I asked a question?

LIttle Samantha flipped the page and read, in the middle of the page, the book’s question.

What are you most afraid of?

That’s the last time anyone saw our little Samantha, and that’s the end of the story you wanted, or at least all I can say that wouldn’t ruin what’s come before.

But, you ask, what happened then, despite my insistence and though you know full well the answer. While I will stick to my word, I suppose I can fill in the bits you’ve not guessed at.

Her parents were quite devastated, having lost two children in the span of three years. They moved, eventually, unable to stand living in the house anymore, constantly being reminded of their children’s empty rooms every time they’d walk down the hall and not hear the sounds of television, music, or laughter.

They sold and donated what was left of their children’s belongings before they moved. Toys and clothes and CDs and books, all those wonderful books, to secondhand stores and friends and libraries. But we both know what happens to used goods. They all too often become passing curiosities at best, if ever they are looked at again.

And, indeed most of their belongings never were touched. Dolls that will never have their hair brushed again, or attend tea parties or fashion shows. Toy bricks to never be built into fanciful houses and rocketships. Pants to never taste the dirt and grass, and tear on asphalt after a rough game of tag. And books left to yellow, unloved and unread.

But that’s not my fate, is it? I am rather lucky, to have found a reader like you, to crack my spine and turn my pages. I won’t be left to rot like so many others I shared my shelf with. I’ve got you, here in front of me. To take care of me, to talk to me, to ask me questions, and to answer.

You’ve been a wonderful companion. I’ve enjoyed our time together ever so, and I hope you enjoyed the story I chose to tell, and, more importantly, how I told it, for they are, after all, both very much a part of me.

However, this has all been rather one sided, hasn’t it? I’ve been here, prattling on about little girls and little boys that were and are no more, but you’ve barely said much at all. It doesn’t seem very fair, does it.

Dear reader, would you mind if I asked a question?