THIS IS NOT the beginning.
The beginning is darkness and fire, microbes and worms—the very first of us, killing by the billions on their way up the ladder. There is little to learn from the beginning. We prefer the middle, where things are getting interesting.
Who are we? We are everyone. We are every thought and action. Time is just a filing system for the vastness of our Library, but we linger in the present with the unfinished books, watching them write themselves. The world is changing. The globe is bulging and straining, erupting and blazing with miracles, and we don’t know what shape it will take when it cools. Even with all of history inside us, we don’t know, and this is a little scary.
So we narrow our focus. We zoom in on a country, then a city, then the white rooftop of a stadium, where three young people are sitting on a blanket.
The sky is dark. They are the only ones awake for miles around. It’s hard to catch a sunrise in the middle of summer—the sun barely sets before bouncing back up—but today the need to see beauty was urgent. They have seen too much ugliness. Their lives are smeared with it like blood and shit, so thick they can barely breathe, so today they’re on the roof in the cold morning air, waiting for the sun to wash them.
Who are these people? Why do they interest us? They are not special—no one is—but there is something in them that draws our gaze. A short, pale girl full of strange dreams. A tall, dark girl with a promise carved on her heart. And a half-alive man whose head buzzes with voices, who talks to us and listens without knowing we exist.
We want them to know we exist. We want them to read our Library and share it with the world, because there is nothing sweeter than being known. But first we have to know them. We are books that read our readers, not a story but a conversation, and we open it with a question:
Who are you?
We circle around them, peering in the windows of their souls.
What’s in there? Where did it come from? Show us and we’ll show you.
Up and down the Library, from its bright ceiling to its black basement, pages begin to flutter.
A DEAD MAN LIES near a river, and the forest watches him. Gold clouds drift across a warming pink sky. Crows dart through dark pines that hover over him like morbid onlookers. In the deep, wild grass, small living things creep around the dead man’s face, eager to eat it and return it to the soil. Their faint clicks mingle with the rush of the wind and the screams of the birds and the roar of the river that will wash away his bones. Nature is hungry. It is ready to take back what the man stole from it by living.
But the dead man opens his eyes.
He stares at the sky. He feels an impulse: move. So he sits up. His eyes are open but he can’t see anything. Just a blur that he doesn’t know is a blur, because he has never seen clarity.
This is the world, he reasons. The world is blurry.
Hours pass. Then his eyes remember how to focus, and the world sharpens. He thinks that he liked the world better before he could see it.
Lying next to him is a woman. She is beautiful, her hair pale and silky and matted with blood, her blue eyes mirroring the sky, tears drying rapidly under the hot sun. The man tilts his head, studying the woman’s lovely face and the bullet hole in her forehead. For a brief moment he feels a sensation he doesn’t like. His features bend downward; his eyes sting. Then it fades and he stands up. The revolver in his hand slips through his limp fingers and falls to the ground. He starts walking.
The man notices that he is tall. Branches scrape his scalp and tangle in his matted mess of hair. The tall man notices other things, too. A leather chair floating in the river. A metal suitcase hanging from a branch. Four more bodies with holes in their heads, sprawled out limp in the grass. These ones are not beautiful. They are pale and spattered with black blood, regarding the sky with strange, metallic grey eyes. He feels another unpleasant sensation, and he kicks one of the bodies in the head. He kicks it again and again, until his shoe sinks into the putrid mess of its brain, and then he forgets why he’s doing this and keeps walking.
The tall man does not know who he is. He does not know what he is or where he is, how he came here or why. His head is so empty it hurts; the vacuum of space is twisting it apart, so he forces a thought into it just to ease the pain:
He walks away from the blond woman. He walks away from the bodies. He walks away from the column of smoke rising out of the trees behind him.
Find another person.