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Chapter 17

Preface

Do not read Chapter Seventeen. Do not chance a glimpse at its pages, nor skim through the lines to get the gist of its place in this tale. To even endeavour to bypass those pages may be too much to risk. The reason is of little consequence to this warning. Chapter Seventeen should not be; as it is, it must not be read.

By now it may have moved on, secreted itself in another chapter, exchanged places with a namesake, or scattered its paragraphs across the universe. If this is so, do not seek it out or guess its demise.

A dreamer once emerged from sleep to speak of Chapter Seventeen, in those moments of memory, before the dream ceases to be. As with all dreams, there was a nonsense to the narrative and the dreamer was discarded as foolish to have talked about such things. Do not discuss Chapter Seventeen.

A braver soul may have reached Chapter Sixteen and, heeding these words, destroyed Chapter Seventeen. A braver soul can not exist, for there is no place in this world for Chapter Seventeen. To tear it from these pages is to cast it to reality. Do not attempt to destroy Chapter Seventeen and above all else, do not pass this book to another.

When this work is done the book will pass itself.


Chapter One

Dreary as it was that early autumn day, the sun still sparked a crystalline beam through a stained glass diamond in the double glazing. Andrea opened the window and shuddered. The night had been almost clear enough to bring frost, and her breath sent a wisp of warmth through the opening into the dullness outside. She turned her back on it to contemplate the half-packed suitcase, loaded to twice its height and still as much to squeeze in again.

The bedside lamp flickered . It had been doing so all morning, but the lack of daylight did not allow for it to be switched off. It was irritating and undoubtedly the bulb needed replacing, although she had to vacate the room by the same evening, so the task could fall to another. Perhaps her brother, so keen to take on this place of rest for eighteen years, would replace the pastel yellow lampshade with something more appropriate to his selected décor; the rolls of wallpaper stacked in bags at the bottom of the stairs were mostly patterned with brown - a curious choice for a fifteen year old boy. However, they were as impatient as he, leaping from the bags each time Andrea descended the staircase with a box of knick-knacks that had outlived their own memories.

It pained her that she could not take the books. Admittedly, her library had destroyed more than the bookshelf in its genesis, many of those early stories still concealed between vast volumes of Tolkien and Hardy, so slim by comparison they appeared little more than bookmarks. Reading was her favourite pastime, her sanctuary away from the madness of adolescent love affairs, broken hearts, dangerous encounters with alcohol, experiments with other drugs and fashions that were no more by the time she caught up with them. Andrea despised being a teenager and never succeeded in that respect.

The books also revolted against their eviction, in cahoots with the wallpaper, which once again rolled itself across the hallway as she stepped from the bottom stair, almost falling in her attempt not to drop or upend the heavy box. Several paperbacks slid from the top, some landing on the oak with a smack, others cushioned by the plushness of their pages fanned out on the floor. Andrea cried for their agony, placed the box in a clearing and commenced retrieving her beauties, gently caressing the pulp paper back into shape. A second yelp unnecessarily heralded the movement of the front door, as it swung through an arc of thirty degrees before coming to an abrupt halt against a reinforced cardboard corner. Curses were exchanged, sarcastic dialogue concealing that he was filled with sorrow for his baby girl and she, knowing it was truly time to leave, would miss him too.

This one book refused the truth of that succession and cast itself behind a second bag of wallpaper that remained undisturbed. There had always been dignity and respect: spines carefully preserved; no folded corners to mark progress; no forced, crumpled resting of a reader who used them only to bring on sleep.

The second and third boxes behaved impeccably, the fourth blocked the route to the lounge, and the fifth blasted its canon at the others. It was the youngest and yet the oldest of all: A Level text books, Shakespeare, Duffy and Kesey. These she cared for the least, accepting that she would at some point have chosen them whilst loathing their imposition. No profit was to be made from losing her family, not even the gratitude of her charity. Andrea returned to her room, where the empty shelves bowed in sorrow and the lamp faltered again. She sighed and started to unpack what was in the suitcase, this time rolling the clothes into tight cylinders to expel any air that might steal the precious space. All of these activities required little thought, which made them all the more melancholy.

When she was nine years old, she'd bought a lucky dip selection of out-of-print novels from a dusty old shop in the city centre. It was the first time she'd noticed it was there and now the owner, the son of the son of the shop's original proprietor, knew her name, her favourites, her weekly budget and that she, on occasion of financial hardship, would swap a pristine copy she could live without for something she could not. It was he who had passed to her this book, his fortune that he had only perused chapter one and the last page, not the sort of tale she generally read, but Andrea shrugged and accepted the paper bag.