Daniel woke mid scream,
He paused, not believing he heard his own voice. His father having heard the noise rushed into the room.
‘Daniel what’s the matter? Are you okay?’
Daniel’s throat got tense and an ugly sound came out, followed by tears.
‘I’m afraid I can’t remember her face, she’s fading from my memory.’
Sempere gently took the little boy on his knee and comforted him with gentle strokes on the head.
‘Don’t worry, I will remember for both of us,’ then after a pause he said, ‘Get dressed Daniel, we’re going out.’ He said.
Father and son walked through the empty streets at dawn. A wind blew gently, and the new light cast shadows on the pavement. Daniel looked at the dark buildings and the labyrinthine streets curving out of sight, their darkness becoming brighter and brighter in the new sun.
‘Daniel, can you keep a secret?’ asked Sempere.
‘Yes. Even from Mummy?’ asked Daniel.
‘No, of course not, we can tell her anything.’ Sempere sighed.
Daniel was still shaken from his dream and a little confused about where they were headed when his father stopped and knocked on a door. One could have easily missed it, the wood was as weathered as the building itself.
The door opened slowly and a small rat-like face peeked out. His name the father told Daniel, was Isaac. Any more information regarding this person was not given and Daniel didn’t ask. Isaac’s look made him uneasy the first time they met and he did his best to avoid eye contact. Daniel said a quiet hello as his father presented him to the old keeper, and he followed them obediently into a dark passageway. Isaac led them through a regal hall and into a large room. The large room in question was akin to a small city, a small city peopled with books. They were perched on various bookshelves of all shapes and sizes from floor to ceiling with steps and ladders leading up to higher praecipes of volumes. Daniel’s father must have noticed Daniel’s unguarded expression.
‘Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ he said grandly, he seemed proud of himself.
Daniel inhaled deeply the smell of books which was musky but distinct. His own fascination in this moment reminded him of some customers who entered their little shop with a look of wonder. They would walk around touching at random antique volumes, occasionally taking one down, and if they thought no one was looking, sniffing between the pages. It was amusing to observe from behind the counter at the time but in this moment, he did not feel like laughing. The hushed atmosphere paralysed him, he did not want to move for fear of disturbing it. His father put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder and told him he could pick any book to keep for himself.
Daniel walked the labyrinth of volumes touching each one with a light brush. He observed the sunlight filtering in through the glass dome and followed its path through stacks of books. He pulled books out at random and flipped through the neglected pages. Passages jumped out at him in a motley of ideas…small countries can be hostile to newcomers because they are afraid of being overrun, of losing who they think they are. So, equally, when a large powerful nation functions differently they appear to the little nations to be doing wrong. But they are not wrong, jut different…
…we cannot fight for love, as men may do: we should be wood and were not made to woo…
…An author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an animal whom everybody is privileged to attack… Without realising the direction, he was being led in, Daniel made his way deeper into the shadows of the labyrinth.
Upon reaching what seemed like the very heart of the Cemetery Daniel found a pedestal made of marble atop which lay a book covered in leather binding.
‘So, you’ve found our treasure.’
Isaac stepped out of the shadows and came closer as Daniel approached the hefty tome.
‘What is this, Isaac?’
‘The Collection of Gothic Stories, and this Cemetery is its guardian.’
‘This Cemetery, do you mean to suggest there are others?’
‘I do’ said Isaac with a sly smile.
‘What’s so special about a collection of Gothic Stories then that you should be guarding them?’
‘Nothing, except what we deem worthy of our attention. But this book is special in itself, it contains not just some gothic stories; it contains them all.’
‘Every single one?’ Daniel gaped.
‘Yes, young Daniel. Every single one,’ Isaac’s wry smile seemed to grow into smugness,
‘You see, this book writes itself. Every time an author puts pen to paper the book captures his words on her pages and grows in volume. The author need only finish writing his ghastly tale to appear in this book.’
‘But what if he’s never finished?’
‘Yes, that does happen with some serial fiction,’
‘So what happens to the story then, to the book?’
‘Once it’s published it is done, at least in part. If the writer writes more there will be more.’
Daniel stared at Isaac searching for something in his eyes. Not quite sure.
‘What of the other Cemeteries? What’s so special about this library that we have this book?’
Isaac sighed, Daniel’s questioning was beginning to exhaust him.
‘Get something straight right now, we are not, nor have we ever been a library. This is not public space to gawk at. This place is sacred, I allow access only to those who understand the value of books. It is also not about being special, Daniel. Think about where you are.’
‘Yes but more to the point, where in Barcelona?’
‘The Gothic Quarter. Are you suggesting there’s a connection? It’s a tourist trap Isaac.’
‘I admire your scepticism Daniel but tourist trap or not it serves as a convenient marker for the right people seeking this location. Every city has an old part of town, and that is usually where The Cemeteries of Forgotten books are, and each Cemetery is the guardian of a similar tome such as this one, containing its own type of stories. Together combined these self-fulfilling books contain all the stories of the world. You need only open it and leaf through the titles, when you find the one you want to read, ask the book to reveal it. Think of this book as a directory.’
Daniel opened the book and began looking through its titles, some seemed as familiar as old friends, some new and unheard of but suddenly worthier when contained in this magical archiva. Daniel forgot about his father waiting for him somewhere beyond the shadows or Isaac standing beside him. There was only him and the words. He wanted to devour them whole, to read everything there was on offer, if only he had the luxury of time. But what time he had he devoted to these stories, they captured his attention and possessed his mind.
Somewhere in the distance he heard Isaac’s retreating footsteps pause and turn towards him, ‘Don’t be surprised,’ he said, ‘if you recognise the characters you meet on the page wandering about town. When they are not haunting their author, they like to stay close to their life source.’ He said nonchalantly and withdrew into the shadows of the labyrinth.
Daniel didn’t know how long he had been standing there when he noticed the light starting to fade, and his eyes sting from straining. Daniel closed the book and stood feeling the atmosphere around him, the Cemetery seemed empty from where he was standing, though one could never know for sure, no one except for Isaac. An image of Bram Stoker’s Dracula came to mind when he thought of Isaac. Daniel didn’t know why but the leech-like descriptions of the Count matched the old keeper’s rodent-like face. A strange thought really, and Daniel dismissed it, accounting it to the lingering hauntings of a good book read.
The streets were as quiet as when he had arrived at the Cemetery. His father was waiting for him at the entrance having been to the shop and now returned, for it was now sunset. Daniel had spent all day reading.
As they made their way back towards the shop Daniel thought about everything he had read. He felt a lingering presence, like someone was watching him. He thought about Isaac’s comment and kept a look out for shady characters. But none appeared. He wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved.
Once they were back Daniel went straight to bed though he wasn’t tired and his head was full of thoughts. He remembered a regular customer from his father’s shop say, that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into your heart. Except his heart was not enchanted by one book but by many, a whole army of characters who were fierce, brave, and often immortal. For Daniel those enchanted pages will always be the ones he found among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.