Binny wondered how many of her companions, or for that matter, any of the characters that lived in the Stacks had seen the room with the fire. Except of course for the ones that had been there once to say goodbye, Binny imagined that almost none of them had. One hadn’t said anything overtly threatening, but being led into that room had been pretty intimidating.
What was this place? The Stacks? More importantly why was everyone okay with things the way they were? Every day, the same thing over and over again. All this talk of responsibilities. Of privileges. Of duty. But what about all the people in the Stacks? All the characters? Did they not deserve to have a life as well?
The life they lived in their books was really for the benefit of others. And the life they lived in the Stacks, well, what kind of life was it really? And of course, the moment the characters in the Stacks were of no more use to the readers, they got a good close look at that roaring fire.
And at that moment, it clicked for Binny. Exactly what had been bothering her. Binny realized, it wasn’t just her, not just all the other characters from her book, but every character in every book, they were all, well, disposable.
Binny had hardly noticed her surroundings as she walked. She’d been violently circling this idea, this notion, until she had finally pounced on it, revealing it for what it was, shining a light on the truth of it, and seeing its ugliness.
The amazing things they could do, the places they could visit, the endless amounts of entertainment in the form of books, and films, all available 24-7, they were all distraction. Distraction from the truth of the matter. Meant to put everyone in the Stacks into a trance so they didn’t contemplate what was at the center of their own existence.
Her father had certainly succumbed. Everyone had really, in their own way. Hermione attached herself to the rules like they were a baby’s pacifier. Katniss acted like she was above the rules, but she played along, choosing to poke at the ridiculousness from behind a safe mask of being too cool for absolutely everything. Even Maisie and Matilda had decided not to take any risks in this place, instead whiling away their days reading every book and eating every candy they could get their hands on.
Binny looked up. She’d made it to dinner, but it looked like things were wrapping up. In truth, she had pretty much lost her appetite. Binny scanned the crowd and spotted the others.
“You missed dinner. I would have saved you some if I’d known you were coming,” Hermione said brightly.
“Thanks. But I’m not really very hungry.” Binny said returning a pained smile.
“It wasn’t bad actually. It was some sort of hobbit delicacy,” Arya said.
“Not made of actual hobbits mind you,” Katniss joked.
“Ewww. Gross,” Hermione said.
“They might be delicious. How would you even know?” Katniss said.
“I met a hobbit once. They’re too little anyway. Not enough meat on them,” Arya tried to get in on the joke.
“Well if dinner’s over, should we go?” Binny felt impatient. Her mind was racing in circles. Angry circles.
“Not yet. Dessert is yet to come.”
“Who picked it tonight?”
“Edmund,” Hermione said. And then turning to Binny, “From The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
“Yeah. I know who Edmund is.” Binny said, and then thought for a moment. “Let me guess, we’re having Turkish delight for dessert.”
“In all the colors.” Arya rubbed her hands together.
“I was kidding,” Binny said.
Everyone stopped talking as round boxes were passed down the table, one for every person sitting. Each box was tied with a green silk ribbon. Arya was the first to open hers. Hermione and even Katniss eagerly followed. Binny didn’t touch hers, staring slack-jawed at the others.
In each box was, what to Binny seemed like an ungodly amount of Turkish Delight. Red, orange, yellow, and green slightly gelatinous cubes, dusted with the lightest semi-sparkling coating of powdered sugar. It looked like the cubes themselves were shining with periodic sugar ‘clouds’ to tamp down the brightness of their surfaces.
“You realize what this is, right?”
“Delightful?” Katniss snarked, but didn’t stop eating.
“You all read the book correct?” Binny was getting angry now. Nearby diners were starting to steal glances in her direction.
Hermione was starting to look increasingly uncomfortable. “Of course we read the book.” And then motioning at Binny’s unopened box, “Do you not want yours? You can bring it home if you’re not hungry now.”
“Of course I don’t want mine. I don’t want any of it. It’s all a drug. It’s screwing up your brains.” Binny wasn’t quite yelling yet.
“It’s not actually a drug you know. That’s only in the book. Here it’s quite harmless,” Arya said between mouthfuls.
Binny took a breath and switched to a low voice, but her tone was razor sharp and filled with anger. “Right. It’s all quite harmless. The Turkish Delight. The candy. Misselthwaite Manor. Rimfall. All of it. You can eat this. Or throw yourself off of the waterfall. None of it matters. You’ll always end up back in your book the next day.”
“Maisie and Matilda can eat all the candy they want. They’ll never get sick. They’ll never not show up for work. They’ll never lose their teeth. And even if they do, it doesn’t matter, as they’ll be good as new the next day in time to be abandoned by their parents in their books.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Hermione had given up trying to avoid a scene and now seemed genuinely confused by Binny’s anger.
Binny stood on her chair. Now everyone at her table as well as a couple of dozen people at the tables nearby were all watching her.
“Is it a good thing? Is it? To live in a world with no consequences? To live in a world where no matter what you do, you have to show up the next day to work. To entertain people you’ll never meet. To give them a sense of what it means to be alive.” And then Binny added sarcastically, “Our sacred responsibility.”
“But what about us? What about us feeling alive? No death. No family. No love. No nothing. Just work and playtime. God forbid – oh wait, god is just a character from a book who’s walking around here somewhere. Fine, whoever forbid. Actually, Keeper forbid we actually make something new around here.”
Hermione started getting twitchy when she noticed a gray figure out of the corner of her eye approaching from the distance.
“But it doesn’t matter to any of you. You just sit here stuffing your faces with candy. Candy from a book. Just like you’re all from a book. You’re all made from the same stuff. Just shifting little bits of it around from place to place. All to kill time until you have to go show someone else what it’s like to actually live.”
“I have a question for all of you. How can you possibly show anyone what it’s like to be alive, if none of you have ever truly experienced it yourself?”
“Binny, come down.” Hermione said.
Even Katniss looked exceedingly nervous. She too had noticed the gray figure.
But Binny didn’t come down. She went higher. Binny stepped from the chair to the table. She marched up and down its center. It was a long communal table. Every eye in the enormous dining hall was on Binny. Everyone else had gone silent.
“Seriously. Do any of you know what it means to be truly alive? Do any of you know anything that your authors, or some author hasn’t already told you?”
No one responded. Everyone just stared.
And then, at once, Binny’s rage erupted. She walked over to her own box of Turkish Delight. Arya had been eyeing it as hers was now empty. Binny picked it up above her head. Hundreds of pairs of eyes fixated on the round box with the silk green ribbon.
“Maybe all of you want to eat and eat this until it kills you, but I refuse. Everything in this entire place is Turkish Delight. And all of you will eat it until it kills you. And she –” Binny pointed at Two who was now just feet from where Binny was standing. “She, is the White Witch.”
Later, when people would recount that moment, they would swear that time had slowed down. Binny through her box high up in the air above her head. Once it had reached its apex, it started rushing down, straight in front of Binny. But rather than hit the table, Binny dropkicked the box, so it’s contents exploded in front of her like fireworks. Sticky sweet cubes of Narnian Turkish Delight ended up as far as fifty feet away.
Binny then proceeded to dropkick every box of Turkish Delight on her table.
Arya looked stricken as the candy went flying in all directions.
When Binny ran out of boxes to kick, she looked to a nearby table and prepared to make the leap to start on their boxes. But before she could start all over, Katniss ran over and put up her hand.
“Stop. Binny, please stop,” Katniss said in a low but firm voice. She was almost in tears.
And Binny did. Surprised, not by Katniss’ demand that she stop, but by the emotion she saw on Katniss’ face.
“Please. Come down. Please.” Katniss extended her hand.
Binny surprised herself by taking Katniss’ hand. Suddenly, all of Binny’s rage had left her. Like she had used up her supply and there was simply nothing left. Binny crumpled into Katniss’ arms, letting out a sob.
Later Binny imagined, that this was just how Katniss had comforted her younger sister Prim in various scenes from her book. Binny sobbed and shuddered, and Katniss held tight.
Katniss whispered in Binny’s ear. “I’m so sorry. You’re right. You’re right. We all know you’re right. I’m so very sorry.”
Binny whispered back, her voice hoarse from crying, “I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know.” Binny repeated herself over and over feeling herself starting to hyperventilate.
“There’s nothing to do. Nothing. You’re very brave Binny Jordan. Truly. But there’s no war to fight. There’s nothing to be done. We’re trapped like this, and nothing we do will ever change it.”
Binny let Katniss rock her some more until she could catch her breath. The people around them had gone back to finishing their dessert. And ‘magically’ her own table had all new round boxes with silk green ribbons provided for them as Binny had ruined most of what remained of their original portions.
Two was nowhere in sight.
“Oh no. They did it. They just give them more. There’s no one to stop them from eating it and killing themselves.” Binny started sobbing again. “I can’t watch. I can’t watch everyone do this.”
“It’s okay Binny. It’s okay. I know. You’ll adapt. You’re gonna be okay,” Katniss hummed in Binny’s ear.
“I can’t stay here. I need air.” Binny shook as she clutched Katniss tight.
“Good idea. Go get some air. Come home later okay? Promise?”
Binny nodded. Her eyes wide and scared.
“Wake me when you get home. No matter how late it is. I’ll try and wait up. But even if I’m asleep. I want to make sure you’re okay.”
“Thanks Katniss.” Binny wiped her face as she tried to calm down. And then Binny added, “Of course I’ll be okay. Even if I die, I’ll be okay. Everything’s always ok here.”
Katniss laughed at Binny’s dark humor. “Go. Go get that air. I’ll see you later.” And then after a beat, Katniss added, “Binny, I’m proud of you.”
Binny smiled as best she could and then ran out of the hall as fast as her legs would take her.