Library of Lost Souls
Passing through the Great Empty of this country, there is a small closet of a Library with a sign on the door that reads “Library of Lost Souls.” I was thumbing my way across the country when I happened to find this obscure corner of the world. Now in my profession, I don’t rightly have much time or chance to do any reading, but the small sign hand painted in gold paint on a back door caught my attention and curiosity.
“Greetings.” The woman at the desk said when I walked in. There was an icy wind blowing from the north that I suspected was ever present in this small town.
“Howdy.” I blew into my cold hands and stomped my feet.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Her face was long and gaunt with skin the color or candle wax.
“I dunno.” I shrugged. “Name is Roy Sparrow.”
“Well, Mr. Sparrow, welcome to Wells Springs.” She smiled. It was a toothy grin that reminded me of the skeletons in some of the classrooms at the university where I worked as the night janitor until I got caught drinking on the job.
“Is it always this cold?” I asked, still feeling numb from the wind.
“Cold? I hardly noticed.” She said in a voice like a sleeping pill.
“Hard not to, annit?” I chucked, but she did not see the humor of my remark. “So what is this place?”
“It’s just what it says on the door. It’s the Library of Lost Souls.” She shook her head. She was dressed in a conservative and yet somber skirt and blouse lacking any color to speak of.
“Lost souls? What is a lost soul?” I offered a sly smile dubious of what the sparse shelves had to offer.
“Whom is it you are looking for?” She inquired, tilting her head.
“Look, I don’t want no who-doo or anything like that. A soul is something I don’t put much stock in.” I shook my head.
“Who-doo? I have no idea what you’re talking about Mr. Sparrow.” She crossed her arms over her plain colorless blouse. “I have been here since this library opened and there is no Who-Doo going on here, Mr. Sparrow, you can rest assured.”
“So tell me, miss, what is this place all about?” I twitched uncomfortably, noticing that even though the room was nearly empty, there was not a single trace of an echo.
“Let me start by saying, your being here was no accident, Mr. Sparrow.” She sniffed, “We’ve been expecting you.”
Now I could feel a chill run from my tailbone all the way up my spine. It was the kind of tingle that I learned I could not trust, because something bad was going to happen and it was going to happen soon.
“Don’t be alarmed, Mr. Sparrow, no one is going to hurt you.” She smiled and once again it was a toothy smile missing a few of her teeth.
“Who is we?” I asked, feeling quite uneasy.
“We is Hazel and Boris.” She continued to grin as if it had been painted on, “Oh Boris, our guest wishes to meet with you.”
A large hulking man stepped out of the curtain covering the door behind the counter.
“Boris, say hello to Mr. Sparrow.” She nodded as he stood next to her, dwarfing everything and everyone in the room. “You must know that Boris is mute. He suffered a traumatic accident that left him speechless.”
“What kind of accident?” I asked suspiciously, eying the big man.
“Car accident. Both his parents were killed. His mother’s severed head wound up in his lap, if you must know.”
From the corner of his dark colorless eyes a single tear ran down his cheek.
“It’s alright.” She patted him on the back. “He is my nephew, son of my late sister Colleen.”
“Condolences.” I muttered.
“Now we must find the soul you have come to find.” She opened a ledge on the counter.
“I am not looking for a lost soul.” I put my hand next to the ancient ledger.
“Why have you come?” She smiled.
“Nowhere else to go.” I shrugged as Boris eyed my hand that was on the counter next to the book. He did not appear to approve of it being in close proximity to his aunt’s hand. “In case you haven’t noticed there is not a lot of town in this here town.”
“Funny, Mr. Sparrow.” She put her fist to her mouth to cover a nervous titter. “There is a petrol station down a ways.”
“I didn’t see it.” I shook my head.
“In this book are the names of the lost souls.” She explained.
“Who are these lost souls?” I asked, still not satisfied with some of the things she was telling me.
“All of the living that have been lost to this world.” Her discolored eye caught mine for a moment. “Boris, dear, could you get auntie some tea?”
The giant nodded.
“Would you care for some, Mr. Sparrow?” She turned to me.
“No thank you.” I coughed.
“Perhaps some water?” She nodded.
“Is it clean?” I asked, glancing up at Boris.
“I can assure you the water in Wells Springs is the cleanest water you will ever drink.” She winked, it wasn’t a gesture I had expected, but there was no mistaking it.
“Sure.” I nodded.
“Boris, a glass of water for our guest.” She turned to him. He nodded and turned on his heel leaving the way he had entered.
“Hazel…” I felt the name stick in my throat since I was not used to using first names with strangers. “I haven’t lost anyone. I am here by chance and chance alone.”
“Mr. Sparrow, no one comes here by chance. Look around, all the miles out there and you are here at the Library of Lost Souls. There is no such thing as that kind of chance.” She flipped open a crinkly yellowed page. “Perhaps, your father?”
I laughed as if I was having my ribs tickled, “No ma’am, my father left me before I came outta my ma’s belly.”
“Why did he leave?” She tilted her head and gazed at me in puzzlement.
“Because he was a scoundrel.” I answered.
“Is that what your mother told you?” Hazel paused.
“It’s the truth.” I slapped the counter just as Boris appeared with a glass of water and tea steaming in a small cup. I could tell he wanted to rip my throat out for being a bit hostile, but he handed me a glass of water.
“Sometimes what we are led to believe is the truth, isn’t really what it seems.” She stirred her tea with a small spoon.
She was right about one thing, the water was cool and very soothing.
I remembered my mother, Dorothy Sparrow. She was just forty-two when she died leaving me an orphan at sixteen. She worked hard and never complained about a single thing except the way my father had left her alone, pregnant and unmarried. Due to her “condition” she was no longer allowed to live in the community because this was considered a sin against the savior. She got a job as a roadside waitress on some dusty interstate and paid rent on a small trailer. It wasn’t much, but it was home. After they put her in the ground, I became a ward of the state, something that did not serve me well since by the time I was eighteen, I was already doing time in the state penitentiary. Since then I have done three stints there until I finally decided it was time for me to travel to Los Angeles where I could get a job as a movie star. I made it as far as Baskerville. Did some bad things to some good people and decided to leave California before they were able to haul me off to the pen again.
So I put up my thumb and became a traveling man. I know when the Union Pacific runs the line and how to hop onto a box car traveling at twenty-five miles per hour.
I have some fellows who I meet on my journeys. We pull a couple of sucker games to make us some traveling money.
How can this Hazel lady and her freaky nephew know that I was coming here?
I think she runs a sucker’s game.
Nobody suckers Roy Sparrow. I don’t care how clean your well water is.
“What was his name?” She asks.
“Who?” I put my empty glass on the counter. Boris rolls his dead eyes at me.
“Your father?” She asks, “Is his name Harlan Sparrow?”
It felt as if my heart stopped at that exact moment.
“Might be.” I roll my eyes at the giant.
“It is. He told me.” Hazel nodded.
“How the hell do you know that?” I ranted. Boris took one step in my direction.
“I am just the librarian. Those who are contained in my ledger are the ones who ask.” She sipped her tea.
“I knew this was a place of Who-Doo.” I snarled.
“Call it what you will, Mr. Sparrow, but he was asking when you’d be here.” She nodded as if this was pure fact that could not be discarded so easily.
From what I was told he was no better or worse than me. He passed on all his sins to me. I ate all of his sins. Gobbled them all down like they were the best meal I ever ate.
“He would like to meet you.” She raised an eyebrow if that is what it was.
“I have no intention to talk to him.” I shook my head wildly like I did when I was throwing a tantrum when I was four.
“He waited so long to see you. It’d be a shame if he didn’t get a chance to meet his own son.” Hazel put her hand over mine. I could feel the chill of her touch immediately and withdrew my hands instantly.
From thin air appeared Harlan Sparrow still attired in his dirty overalls and flannel shirt which he called working man’s attire. He had a pointed nose and chin just like I did. Whenever I looked in the mirror, it was really his face that was staring back at me. My ma showed me an old picture of him so I would at least know what he looked like. Now that he was standing here, I immediately saw the resemblance.
“Howdy son.” He said in a gentle voice. I shook my head and didn’t say anything. “I know this isn’t what you expected, but I just wanted you to hear my story.”
“No! You don’t have the right. You don’t have the right to have your say.” I shook my head in disgust.
“Please, please.” He closed his eyes.
“You left me and ma.” I would not open my eyes to look at him and how much he looked like me.
“Your ma was a good woman, but she didn’t understand.” He glanced at Boris who was expressionless.
“I don’t understand why you left us and expect me to be okay with it.” I let my words out slowly so I would not explode in fury.
“I did it so you’d have a chance.” He nodded.
“Didn’t work, now did it? I am just as screwed up as you were.” I could feel the tears stinging in my eyes.
“That’s why I wanted to see you so bad.” He glanced at Hazel, “She promised me I could talk to you on account I didn’t have the chance before.”
I tilted my head back so I could take him in with both my eyes.
“Colleen, sent me away.” He sniffed. “I reckon I wasn’t the man she wanted to raise her son.”
The door was almost within reach. Why was I even listening to him? Why was I giving him a chance of redemption when my own mother wasn’t? Why had I come to this loathsome place? Library of Lost Souls? I could just walk out that door and that would be that.
“I spent most of my life trying to track you down, but one night some guy put a knife into me for the ten dollars I had in my pocket. The next morning when the police found me, I was already dead.” He looked at me with eyes I had been looking at in my own reflection, “I came here. Hazel and Boris made me feel welcome.”
“In this Library of the Lost Souls?” I blurted out.
“It was better than any place I ever had in the Land of the Living, that’s for sure.” He chuckled. “Life is funny sometimes, son. You reach out for what you want. You take ahold of it, but when you open your fingers and look at your empty palm, you realize you don’t have it no more. At least here I have a place where I can see your face and think of all the things that might have been.”
“Might have been? I’ve spent most of my life behind bars or on the run.” I threw my glass on the floor and a thousand shards of glass ricocheted off the walls and floor. Boris took another step toward me.
“I knew it be like this.” He said to Hazel.
“At least he knows.” She smiled at him.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I cried out as I fell to my knees where shards of glass were waiting for my ascent. I closed my eyes. I felt the wind. I felt the rain. When I opened my eyes, I was sitting at a Trailways bus stop with another traveler who had let the whiskey bottle slip from his hands, shattering all over the sidewalk at his feet.
It wasn’t real.
The Library of Lost Souls was just a bad dream.
Figures, places like that don’t exist. Places where the living mingle with the dead. God keeps them separate for a good reason.
Both Boris and Hazel were just a couple of shadows in some nightmare I was having. The sooner I get out of California and get into Idaho, the better things will be for me.
Suddenly the man sitting on the bench next to me stirred a bit as he shook himself awake. I really didn’t want to make contact, because sometimes a traveling man is filled with evil intent.
Evil intent? Now who the heck told me that? I can’t remember now. It doesn’t really matter anyhow. You hear so much when you are on the run. Sometimes I can’t even remember what it is I'm running from in the first place.
“Hey buddy, ya gotta few bucks for a traveling man?” The stranger sitting next to me slurred his words as he put a wet cigarette in the corner of his mouth. A woman comes sauntering over to him and kisses him on the cheek, “My name is Boris. I’m just passing through with my girlfriend Hazel.”
There is a place in s forgotten corner of the world where there is a library of lost souls. Roy Sparrow happens to find it while traveling and when he decides to find out what types of subjects are contained within, he finds answers to long forgotten questions about the past.