On the walk back to Misselthwaite Manor, Binny reflected on her day of work in her book. Now that she’d actually read the entire thing, the day’s activities in her Madrona existence had felt decidedly more predictable. Well, not quite exactly predictable as when Binny was in her book she had no memory of the Stacks or of having read what was about to happen. It was just that once she was back in the Stacks, upon reflection, the day in Madrona felt like a rerun. No surprises.
The question of how Binny even knew what a rerun was, since at no point in her book did she spend any time watching TV, was something that hurt Binny’s head to think about, so Binny decided to focus on matter that seemed more relevant, at least for the moment, to her existence here in the Stacks – dinner.
“Hey, you’re hogging the fire,” Hermione said.
“I’m just trying to get my cheese nice and melty,” Arya said.
“Well maybe if you used one of these iron forks instead of Needle in the fire, there would be room for all of us to melt our cheese at once,” Hermione responded tartly.
“Oh please. Needle hardly takes up more space than one of the forks.”
Katniss just shook her head, leaning back, drinking a milk out of a small bowl. “It’s raclette you know. It’s Swiss!”
Binny nodded enthusiastically as her mouth was full.
Binny couldn’t remember a more beautiful combination of bread and golden melted cheese. Thick slices of bread covered in cheese that had been melted to the consistency of butter. The milk was the best she’d ever tasted.
The room was arranged with dozens of little fireplaces and cupboards nearby with all the materials everyone needed to cook their dinner. Fireplace after identical fireplace. Fire after identical fire. Everyone ate their fill.
At some point even Binny and Arya who’d eaten by far the most out of their little foursome had to slow down. Binny’s mind wandered back to her morning. But instead of focusing on her own book, she started thinking about the boy from the morning – Michel.
She’d seen Michel the other night at dinner, Binny wondered if he was nearby now, leaning back, his belly full of do-it-yourself grilled cheese. But no matter how far Binny craned her neck, she couldn’t spot Michel. She thought he would have enjoyed this meal. Switzerland wasn’t too far from his native France after all.
Binny thought to the unsettled note she’d heard in Michel’s comments earlier in the day. He’d referred to the Stacks as a ‘godforsaken place’. Binny hadn’t asked earlier, but now she was desperately curious.
Binny’s mind travelled back to that first time she’d seen Michel, at dinner, with that marvelous fish chowder. Michel had been trying to create some sort of art with his food. Binny had to admit that playing with your food was certainly not the most grownup thing to do, but Two had stopped him. Not just stopped him, but thrown out his ‘art’ and his dinner. Two had been quiet, but forceful. Was that what he was upset about? That he couldn’t play with his food? That made no sense. What could it be?
“Maybe I’ll write him a poem.” Binny said, not realizing she’d vocalized her thoughts until three faces were staring at her in surprise. Hermione and Arya looked reproachful. Katniss looked almost impressed.
Hermione spoke. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Binny felt flush but soldiered on. “I was just thinking, I made a friend, and he seemed a little down, so I thought I might write him a poem. He’s kind of an artist, so I thought that sort of thing might cheer him up.”
The corners of Katniss’ mouth rose a little further.
“You can’t do that,” Arya said.
Hermione shot Arya a look, and then turning back to Binny said, “Oh Binny, I was hoping you’d spend some time with us this evening. After we didn’t see you this morning, I had planned something special for tonight.”
Binny was disappointed that her idea was received so coolly. Was it really so crazy to want to do something for a friend? “It was just an idea. I read his book, and I sensed he might be a little sad. He was nice to me, and…”
“Really Binny, what’s better than hanging out with us?” Arya waved her sword back and forth absent-mindedly in a mock threat.
At least Binny thought Arya was kidding.
“Come on Binny. Wouldn’t you rather be part of the in-crowd?” Katniss seemed to be mocking her now. Katniss’ eyes sparkled in challenge.
Binny thought for a moment. Nobody seemed very excited about her poem idea. She felt kind of stupid for even suggesting it. Binny did want to fit in with these girls. She was on her own here in the Stacks and this was the closest thing she had to a family. “Sure. Of course I’ll go with you guys.”
Binny saw that Hermione looked relieved and gave her a smile. Binny didn’t notice that Katniss actually looked a little disappointed.
The sound was deafening. Binny couldn’t even imagine how many gallons of water were rushing by. Millions? Billions? Zillions? Was zillions a real thing? Binny was pretty sure it wasn’t.
Hermione had a big smile on her face and it was easy to understand why. The falls stretched endlessly in either direction. They had walked as close to the edge as they dared. The spit of land got narrower and narrower until it too was swallowed by the rushing water which seemed in constant danger of engulf their feet and maybe more.
Binny looked over the edge of the waterfall into, what was it exactly… space? Binny knew that back home, well in her book home, the planet was curved. It didn’t look that way when you were standing on it. It generally looked flat. But if you kept walking to the horizon you would never get there.
But here, in this place, with Hermione, Katniss, and Arya, they walked to the horizon and they actually got there. They were at the edge. And beyond it, there was nothing. “It’s like the Earth is actually flat,” Binny gasped.
“You’re not on Earth,” Katniss remarked.
Hermione frowned. “You’re on Discworld.”
“And this is Rimfall.” Arya stood precipitously close to the edge.
“Careful, you’re scaring me,” Binny said.
Footsteps. Binny thought she heard running footsteps. It was hard to hear over the thrum of the rushing water. Where did it all go? The sound of the footsteps got closer. Binny looked over her shoulder.
A woman was running towards them at top speed. She was wearing a gorgeous gown but her feet were bare. Her hair looked old-timey. Little wavelets across the top with the hair gathering into a gentle and thick fancy braid flying behind her. Binny stared, giving Hermione a little tap to turn around.
They watched together for a moment, distracted from the majestic site of the waterfall stretching endlessly in either direction. But then, the woman didn’t stop. If anything, she was picking up speed. It looked to Binny like the woman was going to jump off the edge.
Binny started waving frantically trying to get the woman’s attention. “Stop! Stop!” Binny yelled. The woman kept going.
“Let her do it,” Katniss mumbled after turning around to see what the commotion was all about.
But Binny had no intention of letting that happen. Binny started running towards the woman trying to cut her off.
If the woman had noticed Binny she might have tried to adjust her course. But apparently she hadn’t. Or perhaps she just didn’t care either way. Binny went barreling into her and they both tumbled getting wet in the process as Binny’s shove sent them flying just beyond the spit into the rushing shallows.
“Are you crazy?” Binny yelled at the woman as they both recovered from their fall.
“Why, why did you do that?” The woman said.
The other girls had gathered around.
“I told you, you should have let her go,” Katniss said.
Binny was utterly confused and sputtered, “Why? Why did I do that? Isn’t the question why did you do that? And why did you all” Binny turned to the girls “not try to stop her. She could have died.”
“My dear. Much as I would delight at the prospect, death is no escape. Not here, and not in our books,” The woman said. Her face was sad but her eyes were wild.
Binny looked dumbfounded.
“We tried to tell you,” Arya added.
Hermione looked uncomfortable.
“What do you mean, you tried to tell me? Tell me about what?” Binny looked scared.
“She’s right that death is no escape,” Katniss said.
“I’m confused,” Binny said.
“I just wanted to gaze upon the turtle. Looking at him, or her – I’m still not entirely sure – gives me the briefest moment of peace,” The woman said. And then as an afterthought, she added, “Oh, my apologies, I haven’t introduced myself properly. My name is Anna.”
Binny introduced herself as did the others.
Binny was still just as confused despite the introduction. And perhaps moreso since this woman, Anna she called herself, starting talking about a turtle. “You’re jumping to your death to look at a turtle?”
Hermione stepped in to explain. “We’re on a planet that’s flat. It rests on four elephants.”
“Elephants?” Binny interrupted, incredulous.
“Let me finish.” Hermione gave Binny a stern look. “It rests on four elephants which stand on the back of a turtle which flies the entire planet through space.
“We’re not in the Stacks anymore are we.” Binny said.
“Well yes and no. As you know, every book exists inside the Stacks, so we can go anywhere. I thought the view here would be nice for our evening stroll. I didn’t think this woman,” Hermione rolled her eyes just a touch, “would feature so prominently in our outing.”
Binny nodded at Hermione, trying to suppress her disbelief.
“So you were jumping off the edge to see the turtle that’s holding up this world.”
“Exactly.” Anna nodded.
“And you wouldn’t die.” Binny stated.
“Oh, no. Of course I would expire. The atmosphere of this planet ends not too far down, and I would end up suffocating and freezing to death. I’m not entirely sure which is truly the cause. I’m so delirious by the time it happens that I can’t really focus on each exact detail,” Anna said casually.
“You’ve done this before? You’ve killed yourself before?” Binny asked.
“That’s her specialty,” Katniss joked.
Anna looked a little tired like she had heard the same dumb joke over and over. “Yes, it’s true. I take my own life in my book as well.”
“You jump off the edge of a planet encircling waterfall in your book to look at a turtle before you freeze to death and suffocate? Are we in your book?”
“Oh no. In my book I throw myself in front of a train.”
“Does it hurt?” Binny asked meekly.
“Which do you mean, the train or the turtle?” Anna asked.
“Both, I guess,” Binny responded.
“Well, you know what it’s like when something happens in the book. It’s like being in a play of sorts. Or a film would be a more apt analogy for you. So I suppose it hurts when it happens, but I never remember the pain from my book when I’m here.” Anna smiled.
“Here it hurts dear,” Anna said.
“You’ve done it before.”
“Many many times.” Anna nodded.
“She loves that turtle,” Katniss interjected.
“You know, there’s a pulley system somewhere on this planet that can lower you down to look at the turtle.” Hermione added. She sounded impatient.
“There is? I want to go!” Arya was excited.
“I prefer the freedom of doing it my way.” Anna was indifferent.
“But you die,” Binny said.
“True,” Anna confirmed.
“But you’re still here. I don’t get it. How can you die and still be here?”
“As I said child, death is not freedom. Not here, and not in the pages of our books.” Anna scanned Binny’s face for confirmation that she understood.
Katniss stepped in to clarify. “It’s like we told you about getting hurt. You can’t die here either Binny. Well, you can. But not for long. If you die while you’re in the Stacks, you’ll just show up again tomorrow at the end of the day.”
“You come back?” Binny asked.
“Good as new.” Katniss said.
“Do you remember everything? Everything that’s happened here?”
Anna, Hermione, Katniss, and Arya all nodded solemnly.
And then Anna added, shaking her head, “There is no escape.”
The four of them walked quietly down the long hallway back to the door that would lead them through their secret garden and to what counted as their home these days. Anna must have already launched herself off the edge of the waterfalls. She must be quite frozen and suffocated now, a block of ice floating through that universe’s space. Maybe her dead eyes were looking at other planets floating on other turtles.
It didn’t matter anyway as tomorrow Anna would be in her book, sad about the futility of her life and throwing herself in front of a train. Binny tried as hard as she could not to think about it. It all just made her deeply sad. But not for Anna, for herself.
“Why did you take me there?” Binny whined to the others.
“I simply wanted to show you the view. It was pretty,” Hermione said.
“Oh yeah, I love seeing people throw themselves over the edge of a waterfall to certain temporary death,” Binny raised her voice.
“Nobody forced you to come. You could have stayed to write your poem.” Katniss’ words felt sharp on Binny’s heart.
Binny steeled herself from the anger and frustration that welled inside her. “I wanted to be part of the group.”
“Right. You cared so much about being part of the group that you abandoned doing what you really wanted.” Katniss sounded genuinely angry. “You’re a quitter.”
Binny’s mind was racing. “What about you?” Now they had stopped and Binny was pointing at Katniss. What do you want to do? What important thing are you avoiding by coming out to see people jumping to their deaths? The Katniss I know abhorred death. She fought to stop senseless death. And here you just let people die. You’ve quit too. You’ve quit being Katniss.”
Binny didn’t know where her rage was coming from. Hermione was just so Hermione. Just like Binny had imagined her in the books. And Binny didn’t know what Arya should be like since Binny had never read her books. Even Michel was just like he was in his book. But when it came to Katniss, not only was she not like she was in the book, she was just sour and disappointing. If anything, she reminded Binny of Haymitch. Binny’s anger at Katniss had come out so sharp and aggressive that she wondered if she’d gone too far. Binny half-prepared for Katniss to hit her.
But Katniss didn’t hit her. She just sighed, let her shoulders slump, and said. “You’re right. I have.” And with that turned on her heels, and walked home without another word.