The dining hall erupted into chaos. Binny’s memory of what happened next was fuzzy. Binny rushed to Hermione with the others in tow. A tablecloth was torn in pieces to form a tourniquet. Hermione’s bleeding was profuse, as the cut was long, but it didn’t seem horribly deep. And after a while it stopped.
The Keepers disappeared almost immediately as the crowd started to get upset. Binny was so focused on Hermione that she didn’t realize an enormous group had gathered around her, demanding more details of what she’d found, and desperate for her to tell her story. Everyone wanted a copy of the book.
Binny felt terrible that they were all gone. The thought of redoing all that work was hard enough. But Binny couldn’t even imagine how she could find another dream in which to hide from the Keepers to do it. There was no way the Keepers would let her get away with this again. She had failed.
Everyone was talking about the Keepers and what they had done. People were arguing over details of how they’d pulled off their massive lies. Debating how they’d done it. One person asked Binny and the others where the scroll had been. Arya explained it had been in the basement of the library.
Before Binny knew what was happening, the mob had decided the library was their next destination. Word was spreading like wildfire throughout the Stacks of what had happened, and now not just the thousands of diners at Binny’s meal, but hundreds of thousands of characters were all converging on the library, demanding answers.
Binny, Arya, Katniss, Hermione, and Michel found an unoccupied pair of couches and plopped down. Hermione winced as she knocked her arm as she sat. The bleeding was still stopped but she was in a lot of pain. Each of them was exhausted.
“Thank you for trying.” Binny said to Hermione. “I’m sorry I let you down. I just couldn’t kill them.” Binny turned to the others. “I’m sorry I let you all down.” Binny felt the emotion rising in her chest.
“Are you kidding? You didn’t let us down. You got us this far.” Katniss said emphatically.
“I’m the one who should be sorry. I betrayed all of you to them. I was so invested in the rules of this place because I knew I would have to live by them forever. I couldn’t imagine any other way to be. I’m so ashamed of what I did, and I’ve regretted it ever since.” Hermione said.
Binny saw the deep pain in Hermione’s eyes, “I forgive you.” Binny smiled sympathetically. “I still don’t understand how you got a copy of the book.”
Hermione smiled a little, “I followed Michel.”
Binny turned to Michel. “I told you someone might see you.” And then in a softer tone, “We should get you lessons from James.”
“But how did you copy the whole book so quickly? None of our copies went missing. At that point it was thirty-five chapters. It would have taken forever to type.” Katniss asked.
“Like the stained glass house, Wonderland is a dream sequence. So my magic worked there. The doubling charm worked wonders. Also, because the copy produced was by magic, it was different in some fundamental way that made it undetectable by the Keepers.” Hermione explained.
The noise from the crowd was getting louder and angrier. People were demanding answers. People were demanding the truth. People were arguing about what to do next.
Arya had been sitting on the edge of the couch and was now turned at an angle, looking closely at one of the nearby bookcases.
“Arya, what’s so interesting?” Binny asked, curious.
From the general crowd tumult, Binny and the others started hearing phrases like ‘Hey look.’ And ‘I want one.’ Shouted across the Library floor.
Arya spoke, “Binny. The last time you saw your author, you figured out that you had to write the book. Correct?”
“Yes.” Binny answered, wondering where Arya’s question was leading.
“But, you also said that he was writing the very same book as it was happening. In a way, the two of you were essentially writing it together. Right?”
Arya continued, “Remind me what happens when a book gets written in the real world, and people start reading it?”
Hermione couldn’t take Arya’s meandering questions anymore. “You know very well what happens. When people in the real world start reading it, the book appears here in the Stacks. Copies appear on these very shelves.”
Arya spun around holding a volume in her hand. “You mean like this?”
For a moment, everyone was confused.
Binny reached her hand out to Arya, “May I?”
The book was bound, not with twine, but like a real book. The cover read, “The Experience of Being Alive, by Hillel Cooperman.”
“Hey, where’s your name? You wrote it too.” Katniss complained.
The crowd had gone from angry to jubilant and then to eerily quiet. Copies of the book were appearing all over the library. Deus Ex Machina was providing what everyone was looking for. People grabbed the books as fast as the appeared, and then settled in somewhere comfortable to read. Soon, the entire library was filled with teeming masses of characters, all reading Binny’s book.
Binny leafed through the pages, and suddenly, her name appeared as co-author in the footer. “Look, at the point that I started writing, my name starts appearing on every page.” Binny giggled with excitement.
“You realize what this means, don’t you?” Hermione said. “People on the outside, not in the Stacks, but in the real world, are reading your book. Someone is reading your book at this exact moment. As they read the words I’m speaking, the very act of them reading is making the book appear here in the Stacks, and getting the word out to everyone here.”
“Are you sure?” Binny asked.
Katniss replied. “Binny, you’re the first fictional character ever to write their own story and have real people read it.”
Binny blushed, not sure what to say.
“Binny, you didn’t fail. You succeeded. We did it!” Arya said.
“We did?” Binny started laughing.
After the crushing disappointment of the defeat in the dining hall, everyone was having a hard time hiding their emotions. People were laughing, and talking excitedly, and there were even a few tears.
In the special physics of the Stacks, reading happened at lightning speed. Soon happy readers from all over the Stacks were lining up at the couch where Binny was sitting holding their books.
The book was definitely making the rounds, but Binny still wasn’t entirely sure what impact it would have. She had hoped that once people knew the truth, the Keepers would change the rules, or maybe even disappear, but Binny didn’t know what would actually happen. No one had seen them since they’d fled at the end of dinner.
A tall slim older man with a vaguely European affect and blond hair approached and said, “You are Binny Jordan, yes?”
Binny felt her stomach tighten, nervous about what the man wanted.
“Who wants to know?” Arya leaned forward on the edge of her seat.
“Please Ms. Stark. I am not stupid enough to mess with you. I read what you did with your sword.”
Arya wasn’t very good at hiding her smile. “I need to get that back actually.”
“Perhaps I can assist with that.” And then addressing the rest of the group, “My name is, well, my author never quite gave me an actual name. They call me the Jackal,”
Binny took a sharp inward breath.
The Jackal continued, “and would be so grateful if you would sign this for me.” The Jackal held out The Experience of Being Alive along with a pen.
Binny flushed a deep shade of pink, took the book, and the pen, and signed one of the opening pages.
“Thank you so much. And Ms. Stark, I’ll be in touch if you need assistance.” The man bowed a short bow and was on his way.
“What just happened?” Hermione asked everyone.
“Binny just did her first book signing.” Katniss said.
“Do you know who that was?” Michel said reverently.
“Let me guess, he was French.” Katniss joked.
“He’s an assassin. Star of one of the greatest thrillers ever written.”
Everyone laughed nervously.
Soon another person appeared with a book to sign. Then another, and before long, the line stretched beyond what Binny could see. Binny’s friends helped organize the line and made sure people didn’t chat too long, and sometimes they too were asked for their autographs.
Hermione was no longer the biggest celebrity in the group, but she didn’t seem to mind. In a brief moment in between signings, Hermione leaned over to Binny and said, “Really, thank you again. I’m so grateful.”
“I was so deeply sad about losing you. I’m really glad we’re friends again.” Binny gave Hermione a squeeze. “You have no idea how many years I spent wanting to meet you.” Binny joked.
“Actually, once everything calms down, I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”
Binny had never seen Hermione look so hesitant.
Hermione continued in a low voice, “There’s someone I would really like to meet as well.”
The next several days were even more chaotic than the evening after Trimalchio’s dinner – though people had taken to calling it Binny’s dinner.
In short order, a whole range of things in the Stacks changed. First and foremost, creativity started flourishing. The grand hallway become exhibition space for a plethora of creative endeavors.
Musicians played, painters and sculptors displayed their latest creations. Even plays were put on. And when the hallway became too crowded, people placed doors in the hallway that led to beautiful and spacious theaters and performance spaces from all of literature.
Creativity bloomed in unexpected ways as well. Relationships started forming, and often ended in equally creative ways. Magic was everywhere. It could get especially confusing, not to mention messy, when conflicting forms of magic were used near each other. Dorothy’s Silver Shoes became a very popular means of transportation.
But most of all, characters in the Stacks started to write. It started of course with Binny herself. By the end of the first day, just about everyone in the Stacks had read The Experience of Being Alive. But their copy only had 35 chapters and ended just before Binny’s dinner. The crowds were screaming for Binny to finish the book.
As tired as she was, the day after the dinner, Binny sat down to write a final three chapters. Much to her surprise, it turned into an additional five chapters. That night the new finished book circulated like wildfire in the Stacks, and people agreed the ending was exactly what they had craved.
Binny’s book had so whetted everyone’s appetite for books written by characters that residents of the Stacks started writing in droves. They wrote short stories and sonnets, novels and novellas, articles, essays, and every form of written word they could find. A new section was added to the Library just for native authors. Every night a different string of brand new authors did readings to packed houses.
Michel was among them, reading his poetry at many of the events. At first he had been a crowd favorite for his role in The Experience of Being Alive. But soon people knew him just as well for his poetry.
Sometimes he would precede his readings with a call to arms. “Literature is alive, my friends. Look at these rooms, and these overflowing on their shelves; everyone is reading; Each of us is a guardian of a garden here, and it is our sacred to responsibility to help it grow.”
On one of the evenings a beautiful young woman named Lucy appeared at one of his readings. It would take seven readings before Lucy got the courage to approach Michel. They were inseparable from that moment forward.
Nobody figured out exactly how the creativity bans were lifted. Hermione had a theory though. She believed that creativity came from confidence. And for so long, the residents of the Stacks had been told that creativity was forbidden until they’d all come to believe it themselves.
Some things however, were figured out in short order. The Special Requisition Desks were among the first forbidden areas to be explored. Behind each one, in a small room, was an identical copy of the wardrobe through which the Pevensie children visited Narnia.
In fact, it was Arya’s keen eye that realized that the lectern they had used in the Rare Books Room and in the basement was actually made of a broken down Narnian wardrobe.
But the wardrobe did much more than let characters visit any book they liked mid-scene, it let them make copies of any literary location they cared to visit. Locations would appear, ready to be entered from a newly formed door in the Grand Hallway.
One could also make a copy of any object and use it in the Stacks, hence the proliferation of magical wardrobes. In the service of playing a practical joke on Hermione, Katniss was the one to discover that the wardrobe didn’t just copy objects, it copied characters too.
Katniss was able to scare Hermione out of her wits, by bringing seven Katniss’ out of her book, and planting them at various spots around Misselthwaite Manor. It took hours until Hermione spoke to Katniss again.
Binny and the others quickly realized that this was how the Keepers had made so many copies of themselves. And the residents of the Stacks soon made good use of the same capabilities, sending one of them to work every day in their books, while multiple additional copies spent the day free.
But this fad was short-lived as copies of characters all shared a consciousness, and spending your day processing the input from fifteen additional copies of yourself, got very tiring, very quickly. Most people reserved making a duplicate of themselves for special occasions.
Reading was affected as well. Katniss was particularly skilled at making copies of herself so she could read even faster. Binny had no idea how Katniss kept all the stories straight in her shared consciousnesses, but she did. Binny was sure of this as after one marathon reading session, Katniss approached Binny. “It came out last night.”
“What did?” Binny asked
“The sequel to what?”
“Your book.” Katniss grinned like the cat that ate the canary. “It’s called The Madrona Heroes Register – Underneath It All.”
“You read it? You read it before me?” Binny was incredulous, but laughing. “I can’t believe you.” Then Binny’s face got serious. “And?”
“And?” Katniss played coy.
“You know what I’m asking!” Binny mock punched Katniss in the arm.
“Fine. Fine. Don’t hit me. It was really great actually.”
“Not derivative drivel?” Binny shot Katniss a look reminding her of her original appraisal.
“Oh stop. I already apologized for that. The first book was good, but the story got more complex and interesting in this one. Now I realize the first book was just setting me up slowly for this much bigger story. It’s pretty great.”
“Thank you.” Binny said smiling. “But I’m still mad that you read it before me.”
In one of the Special Requisition Desks characters found the entire stash of books that had been in the Rare Books Room. Binny insisted that they all be put back in the Rare Books Room for anyone to peruse along with the lectern from the room in the basement.
As soon as the books were found, Katniss loaded up her brand new bow and arrow, courtesy of Odysseus, as well as Odysseus himself, and headed into the mashed up book they had all visited weeks earlier.
The journey was much less tumultuous as most of those who lived there had made other accommodations in various locations in the Stacks. But some residents remained. At the very edge of the book, just past Inanna’s temple, was Chaucer’s stained glass house, called Diyu by the Keepers, or as it was called by its residents – the Stain.
Katniss and Odysseus brought the news to the authors that they were free to go and no longer trapped. But most of the authors decided to remain there, not wishing to face the crowds of the Stacks as it gave them anxiety.
However, the authors didn’t remain totally isolated. Many of their characters made pilgrimages to visit their creators, in small groups of course so as not to agitate the authors. Also, the books that the authors created in the Stain suddenly started appearing, unhindered, on the shelves of the Library spawning even more characters. Great debates were had over whether work created in the Stacks was better than work created in the real world. The authors politely declined to take a position on the matter.
The fictional Murasaki Shikibu did emerge from Diyu. Characters mistook her for Two at first, but she soon established her own identity authoring several very popular epic and romantic tales starring the characters she’d met in the Stacks. They were all written by hand onto very long scrolls.
It took only three weeks for Arya to find the Keepers. Most people had given up looking after only a couple of days, and even Arya hadn’t been that interested in finding them had it not been for Needle.
Hermione reminded Arya that she could easily get a new Needle from her book. Arya had been inspired by that and quickly amassed the largest sword collection in all of the Stacks including but not limited to Excalibur, the Vorpal Sword, and every sword mentioned by J.R.R. Tolkien in the entire Middle Earth canon.
Arya became obsessed. Arya wanted to bring the Jackal, but Binny thought that might not end well. Arya acquiesced when Binny offered to accompany Arya herself. Binny went to support her friend, but she had her own concerns. The Keepers hadn’t been seen since the dinner, and Binny felt responsible.
After many nights spent reading all manner of classical Greek and Chinese literature, it was Michel who suggested the Inferno. “I think they’ll hide where everyone wants them to be, but nobody expects them to go voluntarily.”
The frozen lake extended as far as the eye could see. Binny hadn’t dressed properly for the outing. Arya didn’t seem to care. The three of them walked along the shore for a few minutes, and came upon a small shack. A fire was burning inside, smoke wending its way up through a ramshackle chimney.
Arya burst in. “Ha!”
One, Two, and Three, or Electra, Murasaki, and Ojisama as everyone now insisted on calling them, were sitting at a small table, huddling over some cups of broth. Much of their color had returned. Now it was the awful light that gave them their gray pallor.
They didn’t look terribly surprised. But they did, Binny thought, look extraordinarily tired. At least Electra and Murasaki did. The ordeal had taken its toll on them too.
“Are you here to kill us and burn our books?” Murasaki asked.
“What good would it do? You’d just come back.” Arya barked.
Binny spotted the scroll containing the Tale of the Ojo and the Ojisama sitting on a low table in the corner. Needle was propped up next to it.
“I want my sword.” Arya demanded.
“It’s here.” Ojisama rose from the table, collected Needle, and handed it to Arya.
“Thank you.” Arya was disarmed for the moment.
“It would kill me and the boy.” Electra said. “If you burned the scroll.”
Binny spoke, “Actually, it turns out, that a side effect of my book being the most widely read book in the Stacks, is that the three of you are here for good. Ironic, huh?”
Binny continued, “I think it’s time for you to come home.”
“What?” Arya and Michel spun on Binny, shocked at her suggestion.
“You mean just Ojisama right?” Arya said. “He was always pretty nice.”
Ojisama said, “Thank you for your generosity, but I could never leave them. I know it’s impossible to understand what they did, but they’re my parents, and I can’t leave them.”
“I didn’t mean just you. I mean all of you. It’s time to come home.” Binny explained further, “You’re right, I can’t understand why you did what you did, but I don’t think there’s any point to you spending eternity in, literally, the ninth circle of hell.”
“Everyone will hate us.” Electra said.
“They might. At least for a while. But the Stacks have become such a wonderful since the change, well, I just can’t see anyone wanting to spend their time hating you instead of writing, or painting, or making music, or falling in love. Eventually you’ll be boring and people will move on. I’m sure of it.”
Michel smiled, beaming at Binny’s wisdom.
Arya fumed for a while, but she too got bored and decided that ignoring the Keepers was her best course of action. After all, she had Needle, and that’s what was really important.