THE LIBRARY OF LIVING is about 16 year old BEN BAILEY, who dies suddenly when his bicycle collides with a taxi.
BEN finds himself in an old dusty LIBRARY that he soon realises he’s visited many times before. The books on the shelves contain details of people and animals that he can return to Earth as. Normally, BEN would have found the whole experience to be an exciting adventure, but the only thing on his mind right now is ANNA LAWSON, his childhood sweetheart.
BEN and ANNA met at playschool and have been friends ever since.
When BEN dies he worries about how ANNA will cope, and whilst in the LIBRARY he selects books that feature animals that might be able to return to ANNA’s garden and see her. He wants her to know that he is alright.
The LIBRARY is on a numbered asteroid within our solar system, and new spirits arrive daily. It is run by MRS VINE, a woman in her hundreds, who has stayed looking sixty. It is made up of corridors and reading rooms that house open fires. The main LIBRARY is a stretch of books, piled high, containing all species of man and creature. A spirit is given thirty days to make a choice and once they have chosen what to live as next, MRS VINE leads them to a long winding staircase in the LIBRARY’s centre and on descending it, the spirit’s form often changes and they are born again on Earth.
Whilst there, BEN meets three other spirits, these spirits share their stories with Ben and reveal how he was a part of their life on Earth before leaving the library one by one.
BEN misses ANNA and thinks about her a lot. Their story is told from the day they met and how they grew up together.
ANNA is at a friend’s house that evening and isn’t with BEN when he dies. She feels guilty because she believes that if she had been there, she could have prevented it.
During a heat wave, ANNA is revising for her GCSES in the garden, when she catches a glimpse of red. On closer inspection she realises that she is looking at a red squirrel, so small his tail is not yet bushy. Instead of having black beady eyes, the squirrel has turquoise eyes. ANNA believes that she has seen BEN and feels happy in knowing that he’s alright and that life doesn’t stop when someone dies.
The Day Everything Changed
I rub a wooden draughts counter across my second chin as I consider my next move. The cats are all staring at me as if I’m truly bonkers playing a game alone, but it’s so quiet in here at the moment. The candle flames flicker in the breeze but fail to light the room effectively. I place my counter on the board, and switch sides. When I lift the white game piece, a clump of dust falls onto the board, the blowing wind causes it to spread into a film across the chequered surface. As I am pondering, some of the particles blow away, leaving behind a name.
“Ben Bailey.” I read aloud to Barnard, my aging German Shepherd, who looks at me with sleepy eyes. My bones click as I get up to stroke his ears.
“I have to go now my dear, but I’ll be back soon, don’t you worry.”
I slip my black lace gloves over my fingers. They do very little to warm a pair of trembling hands, but they are all I have. A Black Panther fur drapes over my shoulders, and I light a paraffin lamp to guide my way. My legs are unsteady, so I take a rustic stick from the nearest room with a fireplace, and use it to aid my balance as I hobble across the room and down the stairs. I trek through the forest, the trees are dancing, and the sky is murky like a puddle of mist. I zigzag around the rabaccus that sleep in the pathway.
I guess living on Earth you have never come across a rabaccu. On our asteroid they are as common as pigeons are on Earth. It has been many years since I lived on Earth, but I can tell you that a rabaccu is rather similar to a sheep-sized guinea pig, but with small pointy ears and bristly fur. They are pesky creatures if you ask me, and love nothing more than to block doorways, cave entrances, and pathways, where they will sleep for hours.
My legs ache as I step around them, breaking twigs and scrunching leaves. I feel I’m becoming too old for such nonsense, and count stars to make the time pass, this doesn’t really work, but eventually I reach the stretch of pale grey sand I was heading for. The grains fill my shoes and weigh me down as I walk towards the caves. I enter the one ahead of me. It smells damp inside; and clear droplets of water echo as they land on stalagmites from stalactites. My lamp is most useful as I journey further and further into the cave. The air is fresh on my skin, and after a while, I come across the bright glow of the reflection room. Here the stone walls turn to diamond that shines so brightly, it reflects everything it sees and makes my eyeballs tingle. The diamond room is spacious, and home to a large lagoon. I position myself on a raft by the water’s edge, pull a jewel encrusted dagger from my belt, and shakily etch the boy’s name onto one of the bound wooden logs beneath me.
Once I have completely carved this boy’s name into my raft, a glowing echo fills the room and whirl pools appear beneath me, wobbling the wood on which I am sitting, and shaking around my insides – so that the cold brew inside me sloshes around in my stomach.
I see a glimpse of something appear in the water, and wait patiently for the waves to die down, so that I can make out the figure.
Ben Baily is a teenager – I guess he is fifteen or sixteen. He has wild curly hair, which could do with a cut, a straight nose, dimpled cheeks, and the most unusually striking turquoise eyes I have ever seen.
He is wearing a shirt with the top buttons undone, and it looks like he is in his school canteen, because he is perched on a pale grey table with an open packet of twiglets beside him. People around him are wearing ties, but maybe he thinks he’s too cool to conform, or he could just find them uncomfortable. He is strumming away at his guitar as he talks. A girl approaches him from behind, and shields his eyes with her hands. I watch the boy as his expression changes. He is still. His face is dreamy, and his smile bright. His eyes are longing. He is in love with this girl- she is his world. He slowly removes the guitar and places it down beside him, then turns to face her quickly, which makes her jump, and he tickles her ribs so that she squeals. Then he looks at her in awe as if she is the most astounding painting he has ever seen.
He won’t want to come here. My own heart sinks, for there is little I can do when this happens.
My driver, Fedro, appears from the opposite cave entrance, the one that faces water, his buttons are so well polished they reflect in every diamond and he has a scroll tucked neatly under an arm.
“Shall I collect the boy now?” Fedro calls to me, his voice bounces from diamond to diamond as he walks briskly around the lagoon. He steps onto the raft, and unties the black ribbon that fastens his scroll.
“Yes, bring him to me.” I nod as the paper drops to the floor. Fedro passes me his quill, and I ink ‘Ben Bailey’ onto the list in shaky calligraphic writing. We shake hands, and he leaves, heading towards his boat.
I brush a tear from my cheek as I head home, holding myself tightly inside the panther skin. Ben will soon be here.
No one has bothered to fix the clock, and it feels like ages since I finished writing up my ‘Reflection on Environmental Awareness Week.’ Most people are still writing, so either I’m a lot quicker than they are, or they just have more to say. Mr Crumplin is sitting eating cake noisily at his desk, and everyone’s pens are scratching around me. I draw a picture of a cartoon cat on the back of my worksheet while I wait for school to end. I’m always drawing, hopefully after my A levels I’ll get into art college to study animation. The cat looks a bit lost on its own, so I doodle some daisies around the edge of the paper.
“Hey Anna,” Jake whispers loudly from the row behind, “I read that if you doodle flowers you want sex,” he points at the paper in front of me and does this horrible snorty laugh like a donkey. It’s the sort of comment I’ve come to expect from someone with the mental capacity of a doorframe.
“Yeah right, Did Nuts magazine tell you that?” I ask, but he’s already moved onto a conversation with his mates about this nude female farmer’s calendar his dad owns.
What is the time? I pull my phone from my bag- 15:28. Excellent, the bell should go any minute. I slide my phone back, but not before Mr Crumplin spots me, he seriously has eyes like a meerkat on lookout.
“Anna Lawson, you should know better than that,” he says, through a mouth full of Battenberg.
“But I’ve finished,” I shrug, handing him my worksheet.
I slip on my denim jacket, and sling my bag over my shoulder just as the bell rings. I have to find Ben. The air smells of coffee from the cafeteria, and makes me want some, so I head there first. Just as I’m paying for my mocha with cream and sprinkles, I hear a familiar laugh. It’s contagious, but not annoying, and I recognise it straight away. I scan the room, and there he is, perched on a table in the furthest corner away from me, tuning his guitar, and chatting to his mates. I place my polystyrene cup on a table, and creep up behind him. I cover his eyes with my hands and feel his lashes brush against my palms.
For a moment he is quiet and still, then he roars loudly, spins around and tickles my ribs. I grab his fingers and push them away, clinging on to them tightly so he doesn’t do it again. Being tickled makes me laugh and scream at the same time.
“Listen, Naomi has invited me to her house tonight, so I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” I tell him breathlessly.
Ben and I often cycle home together.
“Sure,” he replies, “Is her dad picking you up?”
“Don’t know, I think we’re walking.” I shrug, letting go of his fingers.
He tells me to be careful. Some girls would find that annoying, but I love how Ben looks out for me.
There has been this strange man lurking around our school lately, and he followed these girls on their way home a while back. We all had letters about it, and the police are often hanging around the school at this time of day. As far as I know, they still haven’t caught him.
“I’m more worried about that old bike of yours,” I tell Ben. “It’s well knackered.”
“Yeah, it’s getting pretty rusty, but who wants to conform.” He shrugs, fiddling around with the tune pegs on his guitar.
“Oh, I’ve got you something.” I brush my overgrown fringe from my eyes, and reach into my jacket pocket.“Ta da!”
Ben’s eyes widen.
“Whoah, you got us Glastonbury tickets, nice one Anna.”
He smiles and his dimples show up. I hand his ticket to him, and he examines it.
“Jeeez, these must have cost you a fair bit Anna, how did you manage to get them?”
I explain how I looked after my gran’s chickens whilst she had her hip operation. She has six chickens, and four chicks, all free range, which is all lovely and good, but next door’s dog was very interested in them, so it was kind of hard work scaring him away constantly. I also got some shifts waitressing in the farm shop café down the road from us. My legs did ache a bit after some of the manic shifts, and I got told off for dropping beetroot down someone’s white trousers, but on the whole it went okay, and I might get some more work there over the holidays.
Uh oh, Naomi is at the double doors already, fiddling with her folder impatiently.
“Hurry up Anna, I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“Just coming.” I call back.
Ben slips the ticket into his wallet. “Cheers for getting us these, I owe you one big time, the line-up this year is awesome.”
“I know I can’t wait, my wellies are all ready too. Do you still have that tent?” I ask. A fly lands on Ben’s fret board, it buzzes around distractingly.
“Yeah, but I need to check all the poles are still there, if not we can probably borrow one.” He flicks the fly away, and smiles at me.
I look into his turquoise eyes, wishing I could stay and chat to him for longer. Ben always has this effect on me; I guess he must have it on everyone. There is a quality there that I have never known anyone else to have: The ability to look at someone and make them feel like they are the most important person in the world.
“Come on Anna, I’ve been waiting for you forever.” Naomi’s voice calls once again.
“You’d better go.” Ben says finally. He places his guitar on the table and hugs me. Despite being a two second squeeze, it still makes me feel warm and tingly inside. As I walk away I feel a buzz of energy. I take one last look back. Ben is smiling at me, our eyes meet, and he looks back down at his guitar. I can’t wait until Glastonbury.
As Anna walks away from me, I notice a quirky spring in her step and laugh. I can’t believe she got us tickets. This summer is going to be awesome.
I watch Anna walk towards Naomi, and link arms with her. She turns to look at me briefly and smiles, then the two of them head out of the school cafeteria.
Once she has gone, I don’t really feel like sticking around school any longer than necessary. All the lights have been turned off now, and it’s only me and a couple of mates left in the building. I leave my guitar with Jamie, who wants to borrow it for a gig, and head to the bike shed. As I unlock my bicycle, I check out both the worn tyres and cracked paint. Anna is right – it’s well knackered.
As I cycle along the footpath away from school, I think about the Glastonbury line up and how Anna and I were looking on that Ticketmaster website a couple of months back, moaning that we wouldn’t be able to go. Gentle rain is falling from the clouds now; but the air is humid, and the cool droplets are refreshing on my skin. I try to remember whether my tent is still in one piece. As well as not knowing if it has all the poles, I seem to remember my mate Harry spilling a bottle of Lucazade in it; I’m not sure if it recovered. Pete probably owns a tent, I can ask him later. Anyway, the best thing about going to Glastonbury festival, above all the acts I want to see, will be getting to share a tent with Anna.
As I cycle down the hill, past the rows of red brick terraced houses, I imagine the two of us lying together, and fantasise about what we will do, without our parents around to keep checking up on us. Anna will have just turned sixteen.
As I approach the main road, I try to brake before the junction, but the lever feels spongy under my finger tips and nothing happens. So I try again, and again, and again…
“Come on, work you stupid thing!”
“Oh my god…”
The roads are so busy this time of day, but luckily I can see a gap between the traffic that I should be able to weave my bike through.
It’s like I’m about to perform a stunt. My muscles tense, and my stomach flips, as I gulp back my breath, tearing across the markings.
The main road is clear as I fly into it, so I should just crash into the bush on the other side.
Then I see him, the grim reaper himself appears, in the form of a black taxi. He careers along the road, soaring right at me. I can’t get away fast enough, before I know it he rams straight into my bike, which shoots away from underneath me. Then I am flying. A strange sizzling sensation fills my stomach, and the sounds of traffic and horns echo in my ears. I topple over the taxi’s bonnet and fall with a thud on the ground. I feel my face scrunch as I land on the road’s gritty surface. The pain is indescribable, a thousand times worse than an abscess or broken bone, but I don’t make a sound because it stops before there is time. Everything around me has paused.
As I look around at the people surrounding me, I see real fear, like I have never seen before. I don’t know anyone who is looking at me, but they all look terrified, some look like they might be sick or pass out. I try to sit up, and tell them all that I am all right, but I can’t, and I’m not. Something is very wrong – my body won’t move with my mind.
When that seriously bad pain went, so did some of my other senses. I can’t smell the damp air anymore, or feel the rain, or the cold tarmac beneath me. I stare at the sky. A patch of blue and a fleck of white sun peer from one of the clouds, and a group of seagulls fly over my head. I then see this scary image of myself lying in the road. My lips are parted as if I am about to say something and there’s this inky pool of blood haloing around my head. Luckily, it’s just a hallucination but it does make me feel a bit strange and shaken up.
I finally get up and make my way to a bus stop. Everything seems different. What the hell just happened? I feel well weird. For a start, my skin is tingling. I touch my face, and it feels like a smooth pebble hot from the sun. The spot on my chin, that was annoying me all day long, has somehow disappeared; and everything around me looks different. The colours are brighter, and sounds keep on echoing around me. Maybe someone slipped a drug into my energy drink earlier, or I’m having some crazy, messed-up dream. Hopefully I’ll come around in a bit, because it’s starting to freak me out a little.