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the Book Hoarder

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She had never seen a library before.

Once, when she was a child, she had been given a book. She had read it over and over until the spine cracked unpleasantly and the pages wilted and it became dust, dust that she kept in a bottle and hid in her pockets. Now she was older, as old as some of the sands dotting the sea. But the same thrill that had bit her when she first held that book in her hands gnawed on her again as she walked into the library.

She lost herself in the shelves, in the covers, in the pages, in the ink and scawl and each word. She lost herself for an eternity and more. There were always more books to read. There was always more knowledge to gain. There would never be enough time or enough space or enough air for all of it, but the library did not end. It sprawled forth endlessly, outward and upward and in every direction, books in every corner.

And at the end of eternity she set down a book, finished and full, and looked about only to see more. More books, more ideas, more words. She tried, again and again, to read more and more and more, but it was endless and the words all bled together and bled into her until they dripped down her fingers and slid across her skin and fell from her lips.

She left the library.

Everywhere she went she saw books. Books that were written or books that could be written, and her heart longed for them. She picked them up and carried them home and gathered more and more each day. The plants told her stories when she passed them. The little animals in the dirt whispered poetry. The birds in the sky shrieked of history forgotten. And so she made books and found books until there were books on the shelves and books on the ground and the bed and the table and the porch and the chairs and one could not move or step without running into a story.

There was no one, though, in her world or beyond, that seemed as enamored with books as herself. Every lover she took frowned at her collection and left, complaining of the smell of ink and paper. A few took the books threw them out, into the dirt, into the river, into fire, but she always found a way to save her collection or find more. And she resigned herself to collecting the stories but having none who would read them with her.

Until the day came that a girl with gold hair and black wings walked to the house and asked, quiet and sharp-voiced, "May I read one of your books?"

She was so shocked she could not move or say anything for many moments, but eventually she waved the girl in and let her stay. At first for only a day. And then a week. And then longer and longer, watching as the girl read and read and did not cease to read. The house smelled of ink and paper and tea. She began to think of the house not as her own but as theirs; the books not as her own but theirs. And the day came that the girl had read so much that the words bled from her fingers and fell from her tongue, and the girl approached her and asked her with all the words she had learned if she could stay in the house and find more books and make more tea and be there, for as long as the books and the one who had collected them remained there.

And she said yes.