Contributor: Rachel Rose Teferet

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He never should have taken those tabs of acid. In truth, he had doubted their potency, as they were a year old, and had been discovered inside a library book, long overdue.

Now, Jude is at the library, trying to pay his fine with much difficulty.

“Sir. Your fine is fifty dollars; you have handed me a picture of your dog,” says the librarian, her face green and warty. She looks like a frog.

Sure that he is being mugged, he hands over his entire wallet and whimpers. The frog hands it back with a sigh, and tells Jude to have a nice day, sir.

He runs out of the prison lined with books―how the names of ancients glower from their gilding!―until Jude is panting in the sunshine, slumped against the book return box.

“Hey Mister, are you okay?”

Jude’s head snaps up. A child dressed in pink lace and ladybug boots is about to poke Jude with a stick. Jude growls. The girl squeals and scampers back into the catacomb of books.

Jude leans against the hot metal of the return box and hoists himself up to standing. The irises nod their heads at him; frizzled brown camellias plop onto the pavement. Behind the parking-lot, a nature trail beckons, a thick wood bordered with orange poppies gleaming like small suns.

He scrambles on all fours towards the trail, away from the library, away from the honking cars humming and chugging for his death. He rests his back against a pine tree and he is dropsied.

From here, he can survey all below him, but no one can see him. He is invisible. A ghost.
He picks a poppy and pops it into his mouth. It tastes like orange candy; it transforms him into sunlight.

Jude whistles, coaxing the shining sun inside of his cranium. He shrugs off his backpack and inspects its contents. The water from the canteen is gulped and rivulets trickle down his chin, carving clean pathways through sweat. The sandwich is masticated. The bread tastes like sawdust, and the peanut butter cements his mouth when he runs out of saliva. He forces the dry pulp down his throat, then licks his fingers clean. Continuing to rummage, he comes across a blank notebook.

Ah! He remembers, now. His thesis is due tomorrow―tomorrow!―and he decided that taking acid while sitting in the library, inhaling musty books, would be productive. Especially since he has not started his thesis. At all.

It is supposed to be a creative work of fiction, at least one-hundred pages long. Jude’s fingers fidget with the virgin notebook. He flips through it and is blinded by the whiteness, the blood-red margins.

Yes. He will write his magnum opus―not where the dead are entombed alphabetically―no! He shall write en plein air; his words will be thick impasto.

His tremulous fingers turn his backpack upside-down: cigarettes, condoms, Jack Daniel's, a walkman, fall out. Jude gives the bag an extra shake. A lone pencil follows, its eraser chewed, its sides pockmarked. Now to start writing.

He flips to the first page. The wind breathes, rustling his hair and clothes. The pages ripple like water. His pencil seems to take a breath, like a diver preparing to submerge.

The pencil dips, is pressed to the white waves. The tip breaks. There is a moment of silence.

Jude frantically searches through his possessions, but finds no extra pen or pencil. He considers stabbing himself with the pencil stub to write his thesis in blood, but the thought makes him shudder.

“See here,” he mutters to his walkman, to his smooshed condoms. “See here,” he repeats. He has nothing more to say.

He leans back against the pine, which cradles him in papery arms. It whispers: See how it is, my acolyte. For every book, there is a dead tree. The mills run red with amber blood. The library is a slaughterhouse!

“A perversion!” Jude shouts, his voice reverberating. Elderly patrons of the library eye him warily before shuffling inside.

It’s all so clear now! The notebook falls from Jude’s nerveless fingers. What to do with this book—this corpse? Jude holds his head and weeps. He gropes through his belongings and unites cigarettes and lighter. He puts two, three cigarettes between his lips. He is a chimney; he is being turned into ashes. All is woe, woe!

Jude wishes he had three hands with which to smoke his three cigarettes. What if he had ten hands, ten feet? He could dance in a circle of cigarettes, puffing to oblivion. Like a god, with so many hands.

Jude caresses the notebook like a mourner caressing the embalmed. There should be a proper burial.

Jude shoves his belongings away with his feet to reveal bare earth. He lays the notebook reverently at the foot of the tree, then takes the smoldering cigarettes out of his mouth to light the pyre.

The notebook burns, smelling of tobacco and singed hair. Jude takes off his shoes and dances.

When the pine needles catch, Jude does not notice. His plastic walkman oozes; the smell is acrid. The condoms go up in green flares. It is only when Jude is surrounded by fire, he thinks that maybe he is (not) hallucinating.

It is too late.

Cars are caught in the spreading conflagration, gas tanks explode. The world is fire.

Firetrucks come, sentient, blaring. Sisyphean. The library is burning, and Jude’s ghost smirks. The books―oh falsehood! oh prevarication!―burn. The smoke swirls into the sky. Jude follows the pillar up and is subsumed into the sun, shining like an orange candy poppy winking in the sky.

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Rachel Rose Teferet used to be a painter; now, she paints with words, and thinks a story is worth a thousand pictures. Her stories have been published by The Rusty Nail Magazine, Uncharted Frontier Magazine, and Cuento Magazine, and more. Her website is lettersandfeathers.wordpress.com, and her twitter handle is @art4earthlings.
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