There are daffodils growing in front of the library. I expect you've seen them; they make it look quite cheerful. But they weren't always there. When I was a kid, there were roses. The librarian loved those roses. Her name was Angeline. I'm sure she had a last name, but I never found out what it was. Every evening, I'd see her out there, tending her roses after hours. She loved the things. Bought them the most expensive fertilizer and gave them real metal trellises to grow up and everything. Once, I swear I even heard her talk to them. Ridiculous, really, for a bunch of flowers. But they were pretty. Every summer, without fail, they'd bloom - tiny, bright red blossoms, like drops of blood.
Until one winter night when my sister came home late from work. There was a blizzard starting up; the roads were icy and she crashed her yellow pickup. She wasn't hurt, but the car was totaled - and she'd gone over the curb in front of the library. Right over the roses. She paid Angeline for the damage, but the librarian didn't plant more roses that summer. She never planted roses again.
She didn't talk to us much, either. I think she was mad. So I was more than a little surprised when she came up to me one day after school. I was curled in a window seat in the fiction wing, reading a book of fairy tales. She'd been standing there for a while, really quiet, and it was starting to get a little unnerving. I tried to ignore her, but she just stayed there, so I finally closed the book and looked up at her.
Angeline flashed a movie-star smile, all bright white teeth. "You like fairy tales, Jackie?"
Her voice set me on edge a little; she was always way too bright and cheery.
I shrugged. "They're cool." I was hoping that this noncommittal answer would make her leave, but she just smiled wider, if that was possible, and told me to wait a minute.
She went up to the desk and came back with a fat little book. "You might like this one," she said, setting it on the broad windowsill beside me.
I picked it up. There was a picture of a fairy on the cover, with bright blue wings. It didn't have a title, but it looked really old and beat up. "What is it?" I asked, more to make her happy than anything else.
"A book of very... unusual fairy tales," she said. "I think you'll like it. No need to check it out;
no one's read it in a long time, anyway."
I started to thank her, but she had already slipped away among the shelves. I stuck the book in my backpack and went back to reading.
I forgot about the book until the next Tuesday, at school. I was sitting in the cafeteria wishing it wasn't pizza day. I hate pizza.
Danielle, my best friend, leaned across the table. "Hey, I forgot to tell my mom that we have practice for the play tonight." The drama club was doing Sleeping Beauty, and Danielle was the star. "My phone's dead; can I text her on yours?"
I reached in my backpack to get my phone, and my fingers brushed against the cover of the book. I pulled them both out, handing the phone to Danielle.
"Thanks." She fired off a quick text to her mom, then slid the phone back to me.
"What's that?" She tilted her head towards the book I was holding.
"Something Angeline gave me," I said, putting the book on the table and flipping through the pages.
Danielle chewed her thumbnail. "She's a little weird, don't you think?"
I stared at the fairy on the cover of the book. "Way more than a little, but... I mean, she's the librarian, and all she did was give me a book. That's kind of what they do."
"Sure," Danielle muttered, looking totally unconvinced.
When I got home, Angeline's Mustang was in our driveway. She was just leaving the porch when I jogged up to the house.
"Hello, Jackie," she called. Just for a second, she met my eyes. She wasn't smiling. In fact, there was something incredibly cold in her expression, something that made me shiver even though it was almost ninety degrees. She was in her car and out of the driveway before the screen door slammed behind me.
"Hi, Ma!" I yelled, dropping my backpack on a kitchen chair and opening the pantry door.
My mom stuck her head in from the mud room. "Hello, sweetie. Did you see Angeline?"
I pulled a box of crackers from the pantry and closed the door. "Yeah. Why was she here?"
"She had a few cuttings from one of those roses your sister ran over last winter. She thought we should have one."
"Why's that?" I mumbled around a mouthful of Cheez-Its.
"I don't know, Dear. Rather odd, isn't it?"
"I guess she's just being nice," I said with a shrug. She hadn't looked nice, though. She'd looked totally creepy.
Mom walked past me, carrying what was presumably the rose cutting. "I'm going to plant it by the front walk. Won't it just look lovely?" She gets so excited about gardening. I hated to tell her it just looked like a little dead tree, all covered in thorns. I didn't like it much.
My phone buzzed. It was a text from Danielle, asking if she could come over. Mom said yes, and half an hour later we were sitting on the fuzzy blue rug in my bedroom, with pages of the script from Sleeping Beauty strewn around us. Danielle was reciting lines, and I was pointing out all the places where she got them wrong.
Amy, my sister, knocked on the door. "Hey kids, you want some cookies?"
I cracked the door open. "Will you stop it with the 'kids' thing? You're only, like, two years older than me."
She grinned over my shoulder at Danielle. "Isn't she touchy? How're your lines going?"
"Horrible," Danielle moaned. "I'm starting to regret asking for the part."
"Chocolate makes everything better," Amy sang, handing me a paper plate piled with still-warm chocolate chip cookies. I gave one to Danielle.
"Totally better," she agreed.
"I gotta go; I'm going bowling with Tessa." Tessa had been Amy's best friend since she was three. "Good luck with the lines, Danielle!"
"Your sister is seriously cool," Danielle said wistfully when Amy was gone.
I rolled my eyes. "Chocolate is the way to a girl's heart, eh?"
Danielle bit into her second cookie. "Better than roses, anyway. Okay, where were we?"
I picked up one of the script sheets. "You just woke up."
She set the half-eaten cookie down and cleared her throat. "Oh, my wonderful, dear Prince Charming!" she gushed, batting her lashes dramatically.
I consulted the paper. "Wonderful, darling Prince Charming."
"That is so sappy. Can I just change it to 'dear'? I mean, seriously, I don't even know the kid who's playing him."
"You'll have to take that up with your teacher."
She flopped back on the rug with a groan. "What about that book of yours? Does it have Sleeping Beauty in it?"
The book was splayed across my half-finished math homework. I picked it up. "I have no idea." It didn't have a contents page, so I just flipped through, looking. "Yeah, here it is," I said after a minute. "Want me to read it?"
Danielle waved a hand. "Sure."
So I read. It wasn't the story I was used to, or even like Danielle's play. There was a dragon in it, and it had no happy ending. None at all.
I passed the rose cutting on my way to school Wednesday morning. I could swear it was standing up a little straighter, and looking greener than it had before. And when I came home that evening, it had a tiny bud.
I woke early the next morning, before the sun was up. For a second I thought I'd dreamed the scratching sound at my window, but it came again, sharp and insistent. I thought maybe it was a bird, since there weren't any trees close to the house, so I pushed back my quilt and walked softly over. It wasn't a bird.
It was the green tendril of a plant, all covered in tiny thorns. I looked down at the still-dark street below, and had to do a double-take at what I saw. There was a tree in the yard. It had grown up through the front walk, cracking the cement in huge chunks. It spread out over the grass and up the front of the house, digging its little thorns into the mortar.
A hedge of thorns grew up around the place...
I might have stood there forever, the wood floor cold against my bare feet, if there hadn't been a scream from the hallway. A scream and footsteps running towards my sister's bedroom. I tiptoed down the hall and peered around the door frame, afraid of what I would see. Amy lay in bed, her dark hair splayed around her face, still asleep. She looked perfectly peaceful, but my parents were bent over her, shaking her. Mom was crying.
"Jackie, call an ambulance," Dad said hoarsely. "We can't get her to wake up."
I ran back into my room and frantically dialed 9-1-1.
My sister never woke up. She's still lying in her hospital bed under those white, white sheets.
Not hurt in any way. Just asleep. No one knows why. Except maybe me. When we got back from the hospital that night, the tree was still there. And Angeline was standing across the street, staring at it. No one saw her but me. She caught my eye, and her lips curled into a smile. It wasn't her movie-star smile. It was something a whole lot darker. Just for a second, I thought her shadow on the wall behind her twisted and grew, spreading black wings and lashing the air with a spiky tail.
The dragon stood guard at the gate with a flaming maw...
We moved the next day. We didn't put the house on the market or anything. Just packed up and left. Moved to a city where there weren't any rose bushes. But I went back, once, after college. A lot had changed since I was a kid, but our house was still there. The siding was slumping off, and there were holes in the roof.
The tree was gone. Across the street, our old neighbor, Mrs. Hawkins, was pruning her hedges.
I crossed the street and leaned on her garden fence. "Hi, Mrs. Hawkins! I'm Jackie Stevens. '
Do you remember me?"
She set down the pruning shears. "Oh, the Stevens girl. Look at you! How've you been, dear?"
"Peachy," she said, pulling off her gardening gloves.
"What happened to the rose bush?" I asked.
She looked at me oddly. "Rosebush?"
"You know, the one that grew up around the house. It was huge."
Mrs. Hawkins raised her eyebrows so high I thought they might disappear in her hair.
"I've lived here longer than you've been alive, Missy, and your family never had roses."
I started to object, then thought better of it. I gave her an uneasy smile and quickly said goodbye. I had to walk past the house on the way back to my car, and I stopped in front of it to peer over the rusty gate. There was still the old azalea bush by the front door. Curling out from under its leaves was a slim, thorny tendril, with a little bud on the end. Just for a second, the shadows around it writhed into a shape, with bat-like wings and sharp claws. The bud unfurled, like it had been waiting for me all these years. A tiny rose. Like a drop of blood.
Reihaneh on 1 June, 2020
Annabeth on 4 November, 2017
Meghan N. on 15 January, 2017
OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is soooooo awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love the chapters! I haven't read one story yet that had chapters like you! Way to go!
Lydia (the author) on 19 July, 2015Oh. my. gosh. They divided it into chapters. LOVE IT! Thanks!