“Let me out!”
Taking a deep breath, I calculated when I’d be able to scream again. I’d been yelling into the darkness since I’d been taken, having no idea who’d kidnapped me. Nor why.
It had been days. I think. Difficult to say because I’d been in constant darkness since my abduction. I’d groped every inch of the narrow room, but could find no door. Was I in some sort of hole? I had no idea. No lights, no cellphone, not even a noise to provide a clue. Hysteria had taken a toll on my larynx, so I used my voice conservatively, now screaming only every few hours.
The passage of time had also taken a toll on my ability to freak out. Once you reach max-freak, an amazing thing happens. You get mad. This “let me out,” was my 183rd screaming rage, so my anger approached wet-hen levels.
I did the unthinkable. I hauled off and punched the wall.
Something moved—or maybe I only imagined that. My hand throbbed—that definitely not my imagination. A slight whirr echoed all around, and then… Lights.
“Whoa!” Once I adjusted to the sudden influx of brightness, I took stock of my prison. Were those black things above me wires? Bars? I stepped to the left for a better look. And tripped.
Twisting, I spotted the cause. A big number. 2
Like those initials people hang on their walls, only this was a numeric. And on the floor. Was it a clue?
Weirder still, the confining wall seemed to vanish. There was a small divot to my right, so I hopped over it—and almost bumped into a number one. Bizarre, right? More of those wiry-bar thingees hung above my head, but I couldn’t figure out what they were.
I kept walking. Another divot, another floor sign. Only this floor art one wasn’t a number, but three lowercase i’s. Like the introductory pages of a novel.
Surely not. Could it be possible?
Leaning back as far as possible, I looked up. And there it was. In the mist of those wiry-bars was a word I recognized. “Copyright.”
Great Shakespeare’s Ghost, I was in a book. What kind of Alice-In-Wonderland trip had I fallen into? I had to believe I’d have been better off in a hole.
Getting out was the only thing on my mind. Did I have a better chance if I started at the beginning or if I skipped to “the end?”
Obviously, I was close to the title page, so might as well start there.
Two pages later, I spotted a single “i” and tried desperately not to get my hopes all a floating.
“Robin, are you in there?”
The words were so unexpected, I stubbed my toe on the vowel. The feminine voice didn’t sound menacing exactly, just matter-of-fact like one of those machines you talk to when you’re too lazy to get up and turn on the light. Even so, it might have been the creepiest thing I’d ever heard.
“W-w-who are you?” I replied, my voice, compliments of the scratchiest throat ever and a desert-dry tongue, was the creepiest thing I’d ever heard. “Let me out of here,” I added, not quite achieving the demanding tone I so desperately wanted.
“Hold on.” A current of impatience coated the syrupy voice.
She hadn’t answered my question. Heck, she hadn’t done anything. Another wet-hen hissy fit threatened. “Don’t you dare tell me to hold on! I’ve been trapped in her for ages!”
“I’m so sorry,” the voice said, her tone very kind yet entirely without feeling at the same time. “We’re just so backed up.”
“Backed up?” I screeched. “How many people do you have locked up? Let. Me. Out. Now!”
“You aren’t locked up.” Maybe the woman was real after all. Her tone now had a DMV quality. “And it’s not like you’re my only client. If you hadn’t run off after the bus hit you, I’d have you settled already.”
“Client? I am so not your client. You kidnapped me!” Then the bus thing hit home. “Wait! What bus?”
“Oh, dear,” the woman materialized in front on me, scaring the be-geezus out of me and looking far too polished for my ruffled feathered self. “I do apologize,” she said, then sported one of those oh-so-phony smiles. “ I’m not handling this well at all.”
Now wasn’t that just the proverbial last straw. I collapsed, bang my knee on the i. I immediately “a-e-i-owwwed.”
“I’m so sorry, dear.”
I didn’t give a fig—or maybe a fig leaf given my suspected situation—about her apology. “Am I dead?”
“I’m afraid so, hon. Big ole bus… little old you… and all—”
“Stop! If I’m dead, why am I in a book?”
“Well, you aren’t part of the plot, if that’s what you’re thinking.” She laughed. The chicken liver woman actually found my situation amusing. “You’re actually in an ebook.” She smiled her fakey smile, as if explaining was causing her to lay an egg. “The soul is pure energy, sweetie. Electronic literature is the also energy. But don’t you worry,” she continued. “We’ll get you settled right away. If you’ll just follow me.”
My world—or maybe afterworld—was spinning. I wasn’t quite ready to stand up, so I stalled.
“Your choice,” she replied, as if I could follow her logic. “We’ll start in the library?”
“Of course,” she said, her expression would have been perfect if she’d been holding my straight-jacket. Thank goodness, she only held a tablet. “You get to pick the books you’ll be calling home. When you finish one, simply return to the library and check out another.”
“So I’m spending eternity in a book?” I asked, thinking I must also have hit my head on the page numbers.
“Of course, not.” I was starting to hate the way she said, of course. Of course. “You’ll start with one book,” she explained. “Follow the call to action, experience the plot twists, the black moments, and the endings—which you can write yourself if that tickles your feathers. Then, you’ll move on to the next novel. Come on now. We really must hurry.”
I thought about that for a moment. Could definitely be worse, I supposed. Although I had just been hit by a bus. “Just one last question,” I said, still stalling. “Is this heaven or hell?”
The woman smiled, actually looking angelic. “Depends.”
“On what?” I asked.
“On whether or not you like to read.”