Anyway, back to the flash fiction for this week. It was my turn to pick a prompt for our writing challenge and I saw this image on Pinterest:
I changed it a bit to "if found do not read." So I had to think about who would have a book such as this, and why they wouldn't want it read. Immediately my mind went to a journal, mostly because I was an avid journal-keeper in my youth and always had a fear of someone finding it and reading my private thoughts. Which, yes, did happen (ahem, MOM).
Anyway, I also recently went through something life-changing and was left with a lot of unresolved feelings. Okay, I got my heart broken. And when you get your heart broken, a lot of times you're left feeling kind of stupid. Stupid for not seeing the truth of the situation because you were blinded by love goggles (which are a lot like beer goggles, but much more dangerous).
So I wanted to play with the idea that we sometimes ignore the reality of certain situations because we only see what we want to see, not what is actually happening. The end result was a kind of creepy story that I really like! I like it so much, I'm considering expanding on it. Let me know what you think of it! I love to read your comments.
DO NOT READ
It’s one of those rushing kind of rainstorms that comes out of nowhere. Like the sky has suffered some mortal wound and is now pouring itself all over the earth in one swift gush. The sky groans and screams above me as white hot tendrils of electricity lash at us mortals, like maybe we’re the ones who did this to it and now it wants revenge.
I scamper down the street, nervous that my boots with the metal laces are going to draw this angry sky’s attention and it will choose me to zap out of existence. The campus is deserted, save a few other stragglers that got caught in the downpour. Jesus, what I’d do for an umbrella.
Breaking into a jog as I close in on the Science Building, I make the gigantic mistake of leaving the sidewalk to cut across the lawn. The grass is thick and glossy, and my fancy metal boots have little traction apparently. I go down hard, my head smacking against the cement sidewalk. Those damn boots were destined to get me after all, just not in the way I’d feared.
Cursing to myself, I lay there for a moment, too dizzy to get up. The rain is almost painful on my skin, giant pellets that feel as though they’re being hurled at me rather than gently dropped from the clouds. The sky growls again, and lightning slaps me awake. Inside. Must get inside.
Pushing myself into a soggy sit, I look down at the ground to scowl at the slippery grass and see a small book lodged underneath my boot. So the grass wasn’t my downfall after all, nor was it my now-ruined boots.
You bastard, I think irrationally as I pick the little leather book up. It’s soaked through and I figure I should just leave it since it made me fall and hit my head and doesn’t deserve rescue. But the thunder positively roars at me and I all but shriek, quickly shoving the book in my coat. I sprint for the building’s main doors and get inside.
A girl with dreadlocks asks me if I’m okay and I nod, flushing. Of course someone had to see me eat it. Wanting to escape any further questioning, I head down the hall without destination. I’ve got an hour before I have to be at my class and the sky doesn’t seem like it wants to stop pouting any time soon.
Camping out next to a tall skinny window with an armchair beside it, I decide I am the luckiest person alive to have scored such a cozy spot when so many people are caged in the building. I plop down and begin shedding my outer layers. Hat, gloves, (ruined) boots, coat . . .
The book falls out onto my lap with a fwop and I pick it up again.
Turning it to the front, I see that someone has written something on it in what appears to be white-out: IF FOUND DO NOT READ.
Oh God, I think to myself. What utter torture.
It has to be a journal. Someone’s most private and intimate thoughts. And if I read it, I am scum. If I don’t, I will forever be tormented by unquenchable curiosity.
My fingers itch to pry the sopping book open.
I wonder if this is some kind of prank. Is something vile going to spill from the pages when I pull them apart? Or is the writer of this sadistic wad of paper watching me from around the corner to see if I disobey her directions? Maybe this is someone’s experiment on human ethics or some shit.
Glancing around the hall, I see a few other students huddled against the walls with earbuds in or books propped on their knees. Nobody’s watching me. Nobody furtively taking notes on my reactions, or even recording me with their phone for later observation (or to upload on YouTube should something horrid happen when I open it).
When I open it.
Oh God, I’m a bad person. I have already decided that I will read it, even though it’s a gross violation of some stranger’s privacy.
IF FOUND DO NOT READ
Humanity is doomed. I’m opening the book.
With fingers that actually shake – whether from nerves or the chill of the rain I can’t say – I pull apart the first page of the book. There’s a name written in tight script:
Don’t hate me, Jon.
I separate the first page from the second the way one peels the skin from an onion, slowly and delicately so as not to rip the layers and make the job more difficult.
Words are written in black ink that has frayed from the rainwater and obscured some of the words. I don’t read anything at first. Instead I continue to peel the pages apart and scan them, picking out odd words and names. I’m still dancing with the idea that I’m not reading it, so I’m not breaking any rules. I only opened it and am . . . airing it out. So it doesn’t get ruined. So I can return it.
Then I reach a spot amidst the pages and I catch my name.
My full name, not just a first or last, which could belong to someone else. Alice Amelia Hall.
It’s an unusual name so I doubt it’s a coincidence. Alice Amelia Hall is my name and nobody else’s, probably on this entire campus.
So now I have to break the rules.
She’s in my Art History class and she sits two rows in front of me in the same seat every day. She reminds me of Meagan and maybe that’s why she draws my attention. It’s not really her appearance, Meagan was more beautiful, and she smiled more honestly, without all the teeth and the squinted eyes. It’s more Alice’s manner. She doesn’t speak to me, but I listen to her talk to the guy who sits next to her. She flirts with him, jutting out her chest when she’s wearing something low-cut the way Meagan did with me in the beginning. Is this something all girls are taught to do to attract guys’ attention? Why don’t they just talk and leave their boobs out of it? I told that to Meagan one time and she laughed so long she started to snort.
God, I miss her.
I can’t stop watching Alice Amelia Hall as she shifts in her seat and her long dark hair spills over the curve of her shoulder. I watch her check her phone every few minutes, then sigh as if disappointed. Is she missing someone, too?
I like the way she chews on the top of her pen and taps her foot against the seat in front of her while the professor goes off on a tangent. I’m bored, too –
“Still pretty bored,” says a voice in my ear and I scream. I actually let out a horror movie-worthy shriek and the journal jumps out of my hands as if I’ve frightened it. It lands in a heap on my feet.
Whipping around, I see Jon.
It must be Jon. He looks familiar in that vague way you recognize someone you haven’t met, but have seen around day after day. He’s dripping wet too, and I suppose he got stuck in the downpour as well. He bends to pick up his journal and remains on his knees beside me, his fingers kneading the soft leather of the book.
“I’m much less bored now, however,” he says with a wry grin.
Words fall in and out of my mouth, but nothing makes sense. I think I say sorry somewhere in there. I think I beg the lightning to just take me out for good. Reach in through the glass and zap me out of this, please.
“Relax,” he says and puts his warm hand on my still soaking knee. “I’m not angry Alice Amelia Hall.”
“I found it on the ground outside,” I sputter. “I wanted to find out whose it was so I could –”
“Don’t lie about it,” he says. “You wanted to read it.”
A nod jitters down my spine.
He chuckles low in his throat. “I’m not angry,” he says again and the gentle curve to his dark brown eyes calms me slightly, making me believe him this time.
“I didn’t read much. Just the part . . .”
“And now you’re wondering who Meagan is,” he says.
“She was your ex?”
“Something like that. It was fucked up.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” I say. Abruptly I realize he hasn’t taken his hand off my knee.
“I’ll tell you. In time.” He smiles and says, “I’m not embarrassed. And I thought I would be if anyone ever read my words.”
“I would die if someone read something like that.” My face burns hot both from his hand on my leg and the personal assault I’ve just committed against this stranger. I would punch someone if I’d caught them doing what I’d just done.
“You wouldn’t die,” Jon says with a playful roll of his eyes. “You might be happy.”
He nods slowly. “Yes, you might be happy you dropped a precious book in the mud and a beautiful girl fell on it.”
I groan and slap my hand to my forehead. He saw the whole thing. Everything.
“So you watched me this whole time?” I ask between my fingers.
He takes my hand away from my mouth. “Didn’t you read my words? I’ve watched you this whole time.”
“That’s stalker-y,” I mumble.
“Can you blame a guy for being more interested in the pretty girl sitting in front of him than the Art History lecture a crumbly old man is giving?”
I snicker, and shake my head. “I guess not.”
He stands and presses the journal back into my hands. I look up at him and frown questioningly.
“Read it all, Alice Amelia Hall,” he says softly. “And when you’ve finished, come find me. If you still want to.”
With one last crinkle of his eyes, he turns and goes, leaving me holding his words, wondering what on earth they might say.