“I like you apartment,” said Michael looking around. “It’s welcoming and comfortable. I like that it’s all white and the cats make it feel like a real home.”
“It IS a real home, silly. I live here, remember,” laughed Lucy, dropping tea bags into thick white mugs.
“Are we going to have cookies too?” asked Michael, excitedly.
“Naturally, they’re for the tea.”
“Are you going to tell me about this neighborhood?”
“If you’re sure you want me to.”
“I want you to. Definitely.”
“I have to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before the cookies come out of their box, or that’s all we’ll eat. Grape or strawberry jam?” she asked.
“Strawberry,” said Michael. “Thank you.”
The kettle whistled loudly and Lucy poured the scalding water into the mugs. Then she fed the cats, gave them treats, and watered the plant on the kitchen windowsill.
“Okay,” she said, bringing the food to the table. “This is what’s going on,” she mumbled, taking a bite out of her sandwich, then holding up her hand, telling him to wait until she swallowed. “Remember I told you that I was a writer?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, I’m a different kind of writer..”
“What kind of writer are you?”
“I don’t write books, actually. I write stories in my mind and, truthfully, I’m not so much a writer as, um, a character.”
“You mean quirky and funny, the way some people are?”
“No, not like that,” said Lucy, sipping her tea. “I used to BE a character in a book.”
“I was a character in a terrifying story where I was always afraid, always running away from terrible things, always being hurt. I was scared, all the time, and horrible things were happening to those around me. I just couldn’t stand it any longer. Every page was a nightmare and…”
“”It’s okay,” said Michael, putting his hand on top of hers. “You don’t have to say anymore.”
“I want to tell you,” said Lucy, the cats huddled in a pile around her feet. “I wrote my own story, so that when I was in the cell being tortured, I could escape to someplace else. The more I did it, the more real, ‘someplace else’ became. I loved the people in my story and they started to love me and then, it all became real and I never went back to the other story again. So, I live here now. I’m happy and I’m not afraid anymore.”
“Uh,” said Michael.
“I don’t think people who write stories know what they put their characters through. I left people back in those pages. I keep trying to go back for them, but I can’t find the story any longer and they are trapped there. Suffering.”
“I’m sorry, Lucy. I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”
“They are being tortured, all because someone wrote that they should be.”
“I didn’t realize…”
“No one realizes, what the characters in a book go through. Billy’s sister escaped form a book where she was sick all the time. I’ve tried to help her but the words have her partially trapped, although she’s getting better. I gave her a puppy because there was no puppy in her book, so that’s helping her write a new story of her own.”
“I don’t know what to say,” whispered Michael.
“There’s nothing to say. I made this place a sanctuary, for characters who were able to escape from their books. Josie was written as a demon. She was made to guard a doorway to hell and she was forced to do things she didn’t want to do. She runs the bookstore now and she’s at peace, but she’s still a demon and she can be vicious, so she watches out for us. Joe was in a story about the mob. He grew up being beaten, by men who though it was funny to hit a little kid, so he grew up tough. He killed a lot of people in his book, people he didn’t want to kill. Now he has time to bake, read and raise hamsters. No one makes bread as delicious as his. Billy was written as a junkie, a graffiti artist, who gets hooked on heroin. He was always waking up in dirty alleys and he always felt terrible. He escaped and now he’s s big brother to Kat. He always wanted a family, he never wanted to do drugs, and he’s a fantastic artist.
“What about the cookie lady?”
Lucy smiled. “When she escaped, she managed to get her dog out as well. She was written as a werewolf and forced to change shape at the full moon. She said she can still feel the moon’s pull and she does love to run through the woods, because being a wolf made her feel alive, but hunters were always shooting her. She never bit anyone, she just wanted to be left alone, but the story line was brutal, she said, so she took her pup and ran.”
“Is everyone here an escapee from a book?”
“Everyone, except me, you mean.”
Lucy smiled at him and opened the box of cookies. “Michael,” she said softly, “escapees’ are the only one’s who can find this place.”
“What are you saying, Lucy?”
“I’m saying that it may take a day or two for you to remember the rest of your story, but you’re finally free, Michael. Welcome home.”