So a couple friends and I decided to have a little challenge among ourselves and all write a story titled “Horse Drawn Library.” We all came up with completely different stories and let’s just say… I took a rather dark approach to what sounds like such a happy-go-lucky title! I had so much fun writing it!
A scattering of leaves blew down the dirty street in the cold wind as the first hints of dawn started stretching over the sky. The air was grey with fog, moist and heavy and looming over the empty Whitechapel street. Inky black horses attached to a carriage stamped their hooves, snorting out impatient breaths as they waited.
“Settle down,” the carriage driver soothed as he climbed down from the perch. He moved around to his horses and pet their long noses with gloved hands. “She’ll be along soon, don’t you worry.” People were beginning to make their ways back home to sleep through the morning after a long night of disreputable deeds.
Soon after a poor young woman came walking quickly out the park and down the street toward them, moving fast so as to get off the streets and home safely as soon as she could. As she drew nearer, he straightened his rust waistcoat under his jacket as he looked around nervously. He tipped his worn top hat when she drew level with him and said, “A ride, miss?”
“Oh no, thank you. I don’t have any money.” She pulled her threadbare wrap around her more tightly, brushing her long, tangled blonde hair behind her ear.
“Please don’t worry about that, my dear,” he said, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, ducking his head down a little to meet her eyes. “No fee, I just want to see you home safely. There are still untrustworthy people about this early in the day. Anything could happen to you. I would hate to read about you in the papers, what with all those disappearances, and knowing that I could have done something to help you. I just couldn’t stand it.”
She glanced around uncertainly before nodding her head.
“I’m just a few of kilometers up the street and turn left at Hanbury Street. I’ll tell you when we are getting close to it.”
“Very good, now in you get, out of this chill,” He guided her to the back of the large carriage with a hand on the small of her back.
“What sort of carriage is this?” she asked warily. It was larger than most cabs and did not look like it was typically suited for passengers and the faded red paint was chipping off the wood.
“I’m not actually a cabbie, but there aren’t any about right now and I don’t want you harmed. This is actually a library.” He placed a hand fondly on the worn wood, a small smile of nostalgia playing on his face.
She perked up a bit. “A library? I’ve never heard of a horse-drawn library. How wonderful!” she laughed.
“Yes indeed,” he grinned. “There are loads of books in there. Feel free to peruse them while we’re on our way. I’ll even let you take one home with you if you promise to return it to me.”
“I promise,” she smiled. She took his proffered hand as he helped her up into the carriage. He closed the door behind her and quietly clicked the lock shut. She was too focused on the books lining the walls of the carriage to even notice. She didn’t recognize any of the titles though she found many of them intriguing. The Last Days of the Druid, Wanted and Wasted, The Final Confession. She plucked The Final Confession from the shelf and felt an invisible, heavy weight fall over her that made her almost want to cry. She shook the feeling away and opened the book and began to read.
They traveled along slowly and she kept an eye out the tiny window so that she could warn the kind driver when they were approaching her home. He turned left onto Hanbury Street just as instructed, and when she saw her building approaching she called out, “It’s just a few houses up,” so that he could slow to a stop and let her out. When he didn’t slow, she got nervous and called out a questioning “Sir?” to him.
“You’re right on my route home, my dear. I live just a little ways up and thought that maybe I could show you the rest of my collection of books. What’s back there is a short sight of how many I really have.”
“Oh no, that’s alright. I don’t want to put you out.” She really was such a sweet thing.
“It’s no trouble, I promise. You were so excited about those books that I couldn’t help but think you would love to see some more.”
“I suppose if it’s only for a few minutes, but then I really must get home. My mother will worry.”
They drove on for much longer than the girl expected, taking several turns through the streets of Whitechapel until they finally came to a stop in front of a little house. It needed a fresh coat of paint, but was otherwise in good condition. He climbed down from the box and went round to the back of the carriage to let the girl out.
“You live here?” she asked timidly, once again taking his hand as he helped her out, her other hand clutching the book to her chest.
“I do indeed. Now just go on inside while I tend to the horses. You’ll find the rest of the library in the sitting room.” She smiled shyly and then scurried off into the house.
She was overwhelmed by the vast number of books in the house. There had been hundreds in the carriage, but there must be thousands in the house. They took up ever available space within the sitting room and beyond. They lined every wall, every bookshelf crammed. Piles of books tucked away into corners, under seat cushions, balanced on the windowsills, little piles of books trailing up each step on the staircase, ending in a large heap on top of the stairs. She wandered through the house, her fingers lightly brushing against the books, fingertips trailing along the titles of books she’s never heard of before. They had the same feelings as the books in the carriage. Heavy and full of sorrow, the pains of life oozing through their spines and into her fingers. Filled with a sudden fear, she realized she needed to get out immediately. The man would still be tending to the horses. She had time to leave before he returned. She would just go quietly, slip out the front door without a sound and run down the street as fast as she could, run all the way until she was home, safe behind her locked door. She turned to do just that and came face to face with the man. There was a curious, hungry expression in his eyes. Her eyes widened in fear when she saw the syringe in his hand. She felt a sharp pain in her neck. She was just aware enough to feel him catch her and lift her in his arms before the drugs in her veins overwhelmed her and everything went dark.
“Time to wake up, my dear,” the man’s voice lilted. The girl furrowed her brow, her head, hanging down toward the ground, was throbbing, and then blinked her eyes open. She tried to rise out of the chair she was sat in, but found that she couldn’t move. A dazed glance down told her that she was tied there.
“Shh…” he soothed. “Don’t try to speak, miss. There’s no need.”
She blinked away the last dregs of grogginess and looked up to meet the steel blue eyes of the carriage driver. “Why are you doing this?” she whispered as tears began to fall down her pink cheeks.
He grinned as he pulled off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “For the stories, love. For the books.”
“What?” she cried. She glanced around the room quickly and noticed that this room, unlike the others that she had seen was not just full of books, though there were still many in the room, but of blank paper. Tacked to the walls, strewn haphazardly across the floor, piled on a desk on the back wall that she was facing, lining the bookshelves.
“I need more stories and I want yours.” He turned and moved to the desk and picked up a book that was resting there. “I see you picked out The Final Confession,” he mused. “Oh, he was a favorite of mine. I kept him alive for days just because he amused me. It made the ending of the story very interesting. The last chapter was very compelling indeed.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying to me,” she whimpered.
“These books, they aren’t like any other books you will find. These stories,” he picked up the book and caressed it in his hands, inhaled the sent of the spine, “they are real, human stories. Their blood seeped into these pages and formed beautiful words that no mortal man could ever craft together. Their blood is their life, it is their story, and I poured it out into these books, all of these books.” He moved to the wall behind the girl where she could no longer see him and gazed lovingly upon his, dragging his hands intimately over the spines. “And now it’s your turn,” he whispered, suddenly just behind her, speaking in her ear. She hadn’t heard him move and yelped at the shock of him being so close so fast.
“Please, just let me go,” she begged, her sobs echoing through the empty room.
“Just one little cut, my dear, just a few drops of blood for this part.” He twirled the knife playfully, a twisted grin playing on his face.
“Please, don’t—“ Her plea was cut short with a gasp as he sliced a small cut into the flesh near her collarbone. A small trickle of blood dripped down and stained the front of her dress. He held up a vial to the wound and allowed a few drops to collect inside. He dragged a finger through the wound, smearing the blood on his finger before popping it into his mouth and licking it clean. “Oh yes, yours will be a marvelous story indeed,” he sighed, his eyes sliding shut in ecstasy. “A lovely addition to my library. It’s singing all through your blood.”
“What are you talking about?” she begged. “There’s no story, I’m no one, I’m just—“
“No!” he roared fiercely, thrusting himself into her space, leaning forward with his hands gripping her arms where they were tied to the chair, his face inches from hers. “Do not tell me your story. You’ll ruin it. Your blood will tell the story so much better than you ever could. Human,” he spat with contempt.
“Why are you doing this?” she stammered, unable to meet his eyes when he was so close.
“I have always done this,” he said simply, no more rage in his voice. There was a large desk against the wall in front of her and he went to it, his back blocking her view. “For hundreds of years I have been creating these books. Hundreds of years, hundreds of countries, hundreds of people. And it will never end. I will always crave more.” He opened one of the drawers and she could just see that it was over flowing with blank paper. “This is my favorite part,” he explained as he took a single sheet out of the drawer and smoothed it out on the desktop. “The title. Oh, how I love the titles, my dear. Would you like to see?” She cried even harder. Once he was satisfied with the smoothness of the sheet, he moved toward the girl and held it out in front of her. He then dripped the blood he had collected from her over it and she watched in horror as it began to swirl on the paper and began to form letters. “Oh,” he crowed once the blood had stopped shifting and gleamed a deep burgundy against the creamy page. “The Whitechapel Slums. An extraordinary title!” He sounded like he was proud of her, as though she had come up with it herself.
“My mother is going to miss me, please, let me go home. The police will be looking!” she tried to reason.
“No!” he shouted angrily, grabbing a large handful of the blank papers and throwing them through the air. She screamed as they flew toward her, all around her, hundreds of pages scattering across the floor and surrounding her. “No one is looking for you,” he said firmly. “They won’t be worrying about you.” He took his knife again and this time held it to her arm.
“Of course they will be!” she screamed. “They’re looking and they’re going to find you!”
“Just shallow cuts to start with,” he explained, calm once more as she screamed and struggled against her binds to get away as the knife slowly cut into her arms, just enough to spill the blood out. It fell down to the floor and over the papers there, swirling and shifting around, traveling from page to page until the drops found the page on which they belonged and formed letters. His eyes were bright as he watched the words beginning to form. He sliced another cut into her other arm and watched, rapt, as the blood spilled down over those magical pages.
“They’ll find me, they will,” she sobbed.
“I watched you, you know.” His eyes were focused on the pages around the floor and watching the blood drip down onto them. “For days, I watched you. No one cared about you, no one at all. Not even your mother.”
“Of course she cares,” she wailed.
“No, I don’t think so.” He sliced a few more cuts into her arms, then lifted her skirt up to rest on her knees so he could cut into her calves as well. “What mother would be proud of a daughter who sells herself at night? I’m sure she’ll be glad to be rid of you. She’s so ashamed. How long were you out of work before you turned to prostitution? No!” he cried out, “Don’t tell me. I’ll read all about it.” He smiled fondly at the pages around them. “The police will care even less than your mother. Prostitutes go missing all the time. They have other things to worry about.”
“Please,” she begged.
“No,” he turned his attention back to her, knelt and put a hand on her cheek, focusing her eyes on his. She whimpered but met his eyes. “No one cares about you,” he whispered. “No one but me.” He leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. She recoiled from the intimate gesture as far as she could, but she had nowhere to go. He brought the knife in his hand up and dragged the flat side against her cheek. She trembled and cried and fought back a scream, not wanting to make any sudden movements lest he drive it into her face.“I care about you so much, my dear. I want to know everything about you. I don’t want one detail of your story, of your life forgotten. I am preserving you forever.”
“Don’t, no, plea—“ Her voice was cut off with a choking gasp as he slid the knife into her belly. Her eyes plead with him to save her, to spare her, to let her go, as blood began to bubble up into her mouth. Her body tensed and she choked, coughing on the blood, the spray of it spattering onto the pages surrounding her. The flecks whirled around and slid from page to page to find their place. The blood flowed freely from her body as the man removed the knife, rose to his feet, and watched his work. Her body was tense but it eventually began to relax as she lost consciousness, her eyes sliding shut forever.
When all of the blood had been drained from her, when the blood dancing on the pages had finally stopped, the man stooped and began his search for page one.