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Empty Pages

I hate people. I should never have let my friends drag me out here with them. They barely remember I exist anyway, we only see each other in the hotel before bed occasionally, they’re too busy with their adventures in the big city. Staying in a hotel room alone is even worse than dealing with crowds, but I lose either way. Even the children here are taller than me, and everyone is far too quick to point that out to me… every single time. They’re not trying to be rude, but it’s so frustrating and embarrassing, especially when I can’t reach things. No point sitting around and moping all day, I’ll go to the library again. They have some interesting books around here that I’ve never seen before, and at least the people are quiet in there.

Someone put the book I was reading on a higher shelf… well, probably not high for them, but I certainly can’t reach it. There’s no stepladder here or anything like that and barely anyone else is visiting…

“After this one, are you?”

Startled, I see a woman not much taller than me get the book I wanted down with her walking stick. No idea how I didn’t notice someone who stands out that much, but it’s like she came out of nowhere.

“Uh, yeah, thank you,” I say as she hands the book to me.

“That’s a great read! If you enjoy old folk tales, that is,” she says, smirking and raising an eyebrow. “You into fantasy?”

“N-no… it’s just that my mother used to tell me stories like these when I was little.”

Her eyes lit up when she heard that. “Ah, so you know them already?”

“Kind of. Some things are different in this, but it’s still nostalgic. It reminds me of home.”

“Your mother must have been a wonderful person for these fairy tales to mean so much to you.”

“Heh, she would slap you silly if she heard you say that! They were very real to her.”

“What about you?”

Hesitating, I look down at the book in my hands. “I don’t know.”

With a warm smile, she bows her head. “Well, I’ll let you carry on,” she says before turning to leave. “So long!”

Just three words, one simple question, and she cut deeper than any snide comment ever could. A wistful feeling washed over me as I relived those times with mom. I wish it could have been different. Picking up where I left off yesterday, one story in particular takes me off guard. The tone doesn’t quite match the rest of the book. It’s mom’s favorite story, word for word. What bittersweet luck. My pensive smile fades as I notice that the next page is totally blank. Page after page, after that story everything is blank. This is a very thick book, but it must be nearly half blank… until the very last page. Someone wrote in here by hand. ‘What about you?’ it says.

I stand in front of the library, unsure of myself. This city is right next to the woods and walking through nature has always calmed me, so I figured I’d take a bus out there today. Stepping onto the bus, I only get even more nervous as I continuously remind myself that I’m not from here and could get lost. Of course, only after riding quite a ways out is when I realize I forgot my phone.

A familiar voice calls out. “Good morning!” says the woman from yesterday, waving at me. I silently nod back.

“How was the book?” she says as she sits next to me.

“It was nice…”

“You’re foreign, no? So, what’s your home like?”

“It’s nothing special. I’m from the islands, but now I live in a little town out west… it doesn’t really feel like home though.”

“That’s too bad. Why is that?”

“I think you figured out why already,” I say, hanging my head.

“You caught me! Sorry if I dug up some bad memories, I’m just curious. There’s not many people like us, you know!”

“It’s alright. What you said yesterday got me thinking, too…”

“Ah… you must be looking for a quiet place then.”

I nod, twiddling my thumbs.

“Want some company? You must be nervous, so I’ll keep you from getting lost.”

I apparently didn’t have a choice, as she got off the bus with me and gestured for me to follow. We start chatting as she leads me through the trails. She’s really nice, doing all this for me, a total stranger. It puts my mind at ease. As we go further and further into the woods, the trail gets smaller and smaller until eventually we’re walking through untamed wilderness. The terrain grows rougher and steeper as we begin climbing the mountain. This is starting to seem like a bad idea…

“Your mother went missing when you were a child, no?” she suddenly says, taking me off guard and stopping us in our tracks.

“…Yes. You knew that already.”

“You enjoy the stories because they remind you of her. You don’t know what to believe because she left too soon, no?”

“Why are you doing this to me?” I say, exasperated.

“Because you’re so close.”

I’m taken aback by those words and before I could respond, everything around us appears to change in impossible ways. As the world twists, I begin to understand.

She turns to face me with a serious expression on her face. “So I’ll ask again. What about you?”

“I… believe it’s real.”

She gives me that same warm smile and leads me down a staircase that wasn’t there before. As we reach a large door, she turns to me again.

“Welcome home, cariño.”

She opens the door and pushes me inside, but when I turn around, she’s vanished. In front of me is another woman with arms outstretched and teary eyes.

I run straight into her open arms. “I have so many stories for you.”

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