Ransom stood at the kitchen sink, the book folded open in front of him, the fingers of his tired right hand forcefully holding the pages down so he could see them. Minutes before, he casually opened the book and skimmed the first paragraph. Minutes later, he was on page six and his mind was in the new world created by the book he underestimated.
He briefly looked up, across the wide living room, and out into the rainy street, trying to extricate himself from the clutches of the book. He failed to note it wasn’t raining when he started the book or that the cup of coffee next to him on the counter by the coffeepot had long cooled. He began devouring the thickly layered plot. Each word seemed interminable as his eyes flashed across them, vivisecting the complexities of language and people inhabiting the pages. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the words were somehow written in a foreign language.
Last Saturday afternoon, Ransom went to Birdsong Books in a town over from him. It was his little secret place, one filled with books of both beauty and content. Minutes seeped past him at an alarming rate while he walked the shelves inside. It was the embodiment of how he felt while discovering new worlds inside of books.
“What are you looking for?” a small voice asked him. Ransom looked up from his shelf to see a young girl standing about five feet away from him. In her hands, she held a sloppily bound book.
“Everything,” he replied, with a smile and mischievous wink. He could already tell that the girl was interesting. Her hair was pulled away from her face and the ponytail was stuck haphazardly along the right side of her head.
“It’s a good thing I found you here. I’ve been waiting to give you this.” Upon pronouncing the words in her little musical voice, she stepped forward and extended the book toward Ransom. Without thinking, Ransom reached out and accepted it. It weighed much more than he expected. His hands cradled the sides of the book as he took it, as the pages seemed slightly loose inside it. It reminded him of the sensation of being handed a cage with a restless animal inside it.
Behind him, a book fell from a shelf. Ransom momentarily turned to see what had fallen. When he turned back toward the girl, she was gone.
“Hey!” Ransom weakly shouted. He quickly went around the shelves, only to see the owner looking at him with an odd glance.
“Yes?” asked the owner.
“Oh. Did you see the girl who went by? She handed me this book by mistake.” Ransom was certain he was being pranked. The girl certainly seemed capable of such an endeavor. The owner, although witty and personable, wasn’t the type to participate in shenanigans, however.
“If she handed it to you, it was no mistake.” The owner peered at Ransom knowingly over the rim of his glasses. The edges of his eyes belied a slight smile forming on his face.
Ransom handed him the book, and the owner skimmed through it. “It’s not mine. That much I can tell you for sure.”
The girl was nowhere to be found inside the bookstore.
After a few minutes, Ransom took the book home with him. He placed it absentmindedly on the table adjacent to the front door and forgot he had done so. Until this morning, when he awoke, certain that he had been dreaming about the girl he’d met at Birdsong Books.
In the dream, the ponytail girl sat on a bench next to him, pronouncing each word as she lovingly read a page from the book open in her lap. Ransom heard himself say in the dream that the girl sounded like she was reading out loud in italics.
The girl turned to lock eyes with Ransom. “You must finish the book! Time is escaping.” She grabbed his arm with her small fingers. In the distance, someone played a xylophone with keys tuned to be slightly off.
Ransom woke up fully energized as he started his morning routine. While starting coffee, he looked across the kitchen bar counter and to the front door. Next to the door sat the book. As the coffee brewed, he could hear xylophones, ones which sounded familiar and provocative. Without realizing he’d done so, Ransom went to the book, picked it up, and returned to the kitchen. He poured a cup of coffee and flipped open the cover of the odd book.
As he began to read, the xylophones filled his ears, and the world slipped away.