Deep in the Valley of Unwanted Souls, at the dreariest end of a narrow gravel road, the colorless fog parts and a wagon pulled by a lone, clip-clopping mule arrives with the midnight deliveries. The wagon stops between two monstrous structures built of shadows and cloud-reaching stone spires. The Asylum and the Library. Both sanctuaries wallow in perpetual gloom, no lanterns in the windows, not even the faintest heartbeat flicker of a candle. The countless occupants weeping inside don’t deserve light—too dull or damaged, too strange or grievous at their cores—or so it has oft been whispered.
A-swish with burlap robes; the mule driver steps down from her cart, face hooded in duty and regret. While she unhitches the wagon bed’s splintery back gate, the ancient steel doors of the Asylum and the Library groan inward. As is customary, not a soul appears to greet the mule driver. After all, these deliveries are dreadfully unwanted.
Thank the dim stars above, tonight’s load is tiny.
One unwanted book, and one unwanted girl.
The book is a bright stack of loose, hand-scribed papers, about two coal briquettes high and tied with a daisy-embroidered kerchief. The outermost pages smolder around the edges with dull orange cinders.
The girl is a child of bright disposition, about thirty briquettes high and tied with a matching daisy-embroidered kerchief. She, too, smolders around her edges. Curls of smoke rise from the collar of her nightgown. A mark, what appears at first to be a splotchy red rash, stains her chubby left cheek and blisters into a book-shaped burn across her ear and a patch of singed auburn curls—as if the child rested her head on the charred pages to listen to them weep and whisper. The kerchief conceals the worst of the burn.
The mule driver checks the delivery tags affixed with twine to the book and the girl.
“Cottage fire. Poor things.”
The book and the girl cling to each other. It’s not uncommon for stories and girls—as well as the many other unwanted deliveries of persons and artifacts made throughout this valley—to originate from common locales. Concealing the act with the sleeve of her robe, the mule driver douses kind words over the book’s cindery pages and the girl’s blistery wound, numbing their tragedies as best she can during this brief exchange. It’s to be the last kindness this world will ever show them.
As the pain cools, the book and the child whimper with shaken gratitude.
Naturally, there will be scars—in these places, there always are.
With hasty apologies, the mule driver tugs the book from the girl’s tiny clutching hands. Startled, the girl grasps at empty air and cries out for Mama. The mule driver disappears with the book into the blackened throat of the Library of Unwanted Stories.
She reappears swiftly, empty-handed, haunted by a breeze of softly stirred voices. Whispering and babbling, they waft through the nightscape. Though only the child truly notices. She tilts her singed ear.
At the cart, the mule driver flips the tag attached to the girl.
“Agnes-Marie, Nobody is what you’re to be called now. You are three years old.”
Agnes-Marie holds up three fingers to show she’s listening. But does she understand her sunny future has vanished into smoke and ash? A damaged, impoverished girl swept forever aside by a world of blithe indifference. Will anyone in the Asylum explain it to her?
“You were wanted, once,” the mule driver whispers, helping the tattered girl climb down from the wagon. “But your mother’s gone now.”
Agnes-Marie points toward the murmuring Library as fat tears fill her lucid brown eyes like the shards of dreams. “Mama, far-far away.”
“Indeed.” The mule driver takes Agnes-Marie’s hand and leads her inside the dank, shadow-cast hall of the Asylum for Unwanted Girls.
As is customary, not a soul arrives to escort Agnes-Marie to the bed that will be hers for the rest of her life. The girl is on her own now; she’ll have to find her own way.
She tiptoes forward, gawping upward as they all do. But the ceiling is too high, the Asylum too massive to grasp. Agnes-Marie turns uncertainly toward the mule driver—who, already, has slunk back across the threshold into the obscurity of night.
“I’m sorry, child…” The mule driver bows her head as the door closes with a steely, indelible shudder, sealing Agnes-Marie Nobody inside. “In this world, there’s only so much love to go around.”
During the sunless, unwanted decade that follows, Agnes-Marie Nobody grows into a willowy wisp of a girl with pillow-flattened curls and a wistful, faraway gaze. A lovely book-shaped scar laces her left cheek and ear, yet she rarely admires it. No mirrors exist inside the Asylum’s cracked tile bathroom, and her daily porridge mostly proves grey and unreflective. Occasionally the other unwanted girls call her names like Bookburn or Scarry-Eyes—though mostly, they crouch in their bunks, weeping as their empty nights rise and rise again.
This is the routine of unwanted girls.
Though, in truth, Agnes-Marie spends a great deal of her weeping-hours lost in dreams.
Dreams of wishes with missing pieces.
Dreams cobbled together from the shards of memories of life before the Asylum.
In her fondest imaginings, she follows the daisy-embroidered hem of Mama’s nightgown through a warmly lit library. They trace their fingertips along colorful leather spines, chasing the dim clash of swordplay or the splash of a mermaid’s tail or the roar of safari lions until they find the story causing all the delightful ruckus. When they open the book, the words sparkle like pixie dust and glow with such radiance they blur out Mama’s face.
Sometimes, if Agnes-Marie concentrates with all her imagination, she can glimpse a playful, winking smile or the adventurous depths of Mama’s honey-brown eyes. More than anything, she misses the sound of Mama’s voice—it lingers on the edge of memory, a petal-soft whisper not quite formed.
Upon waking, Mama always turns gossamer and slips away, and Agnes-Marie never quite knows if her memories of Mama in the library are true—just as she isn’t truly certain she recalls the night of the cottage fire when the mule driver delivered her to the Asylum.
If she peers too closely, the memories obscure and ripple and vanish into smoke. Sometimes, she worries they’re only fantasies she tells herself in her sleep. After all, the other unwanted girls are always accusing her of having too much imagination.
And so it happens, when Agnes-Marie Nobody first hears the voice calling to her one particularly wistful night, she naturally assumes a dream followed her out into the gloom of waking.
She fluffs the rocks from her pillow and clamps it around her ears, but the voice persists.
“Agnes-Marie…” comes the whisper, fluttery and far-far away. The pinkened lace of Agnes-Marie’s scar prickles, and the gentle spiral of her ear bristles with a haunting familiarity.
Agnes-Marie sits up, trembling on bony elbows. “Mama?”
She holds her breath.
Throughout the towering forest of bunk beds, the sobs of countless unwanted girls interweave the gloom. Girls weeping without families, whimpering without friends, gasping without sunshine, without embroidered daisies or leather-bound memories or any of the other ingredients necessary to spark a dream. Their forced isolation echoes endlessly, a constant tragic lullaby. Nothing an unwanted girl can say or do will ever make the callous, wasteful world take them back.
Yet in the quick hushes between gasps and sobs, that whispery voice flutters toward her on invisible, breathy wings. “Agnes-Marie…”
Gripping the bunkbed’s ladder, she leans out as far as her fingertips will allow and tilts her ear toward a window. There’s no windowpane, only a lancet of open air—for who cares if rain or outside sorrows chill the bones of unwanted girls? Yet there upon the breeze, faint and ethereal, the voice whispers again!
“Agnes-Marie, come and see…”
“Mama?” she cries. “I hear you!”
“Aye, and we hear you!” several unwanted girls spit and hiss from all around. “Shut your teeth, you yappy trout!”
Agnes-Marie scrambles back into bed.
But Mama’s voice calls louder—only this time, she isn’t so sure it is Mama.
The whisper splits and multiplies, countless murmurs swirl outward, orbiting the sound of her name… voices of feasts and confetti, parades and maidens laughing.
Curiosity bursting, Agnes-Marie dips her limp, auburn curls below the edge of her mattress. The unwanted girl in the bunk below scowls up at her with weary contempt.
“Leave me be, Scarry-Eyes,” Maude moans.
“Don’t you hear them?” Agnes-Marie says. “Voices. I think they’re coming from outside. Some of them are laughing.”
“Nothing in this valley laughs.”
“Yes, but…” Agnes-Marie tilts her ear. “But someone is laughing. And calling. Don’t you want to know who’s out there?”
“I want to fade.” Maude grips her sheets and turns away. A scrawny thing of grey tangles and bedsores. This one had a family once, but her hubby died of blackened lungs, and nobody came around to care for her afterward.
Agnes-Marie squeezes the old girl’s reedy shoulder to remind her she’s not all alone in being all alone. Then she clambers onward down the ladder.
In the next bunk down, Ermengarde peeks out from her pillow, shivering like a deer mouse. Her parents used to holler and shove and break each other so often that, one night, Ermengarde simply curled into herself and never came out again. Not that anyone noticed—nobody ever notices when an unwanted girl goes away.
“Do you hear the voices, too?” Agnes-Marie asks her.
“Scary,” Ermengarde whispers back.
Scary? Agnes-Marie supposes they are a smidge spooky. She grins at the small girl. “Perhaps that’s what makes this an adventure?”
With a squeak, Ermengarde retreats, moon-eyes dipping below the threadbare cloud of her pillow. Agnes-Marie wishes the poor darling brave dreams and continues downward.
“Scat from here with your burned-up face and made-up voices.” Henrietta crouches in her bunk. A blanket-wrapped ball of cobwebs and frizzled yellow hair, she clutches the engagement ring she fashioned for herself from bedsprings and despair. “You’re scaring my suitors away!”
No point asking this one. Agnes-Marie bows her head and climbs ever downward, past bunk after bunk, while all the while, those swirling, elemental voices bluster like dandelion puffs and dance like dragonflies, imploring her: “Come see…”
“Some midnight celebration beckons from the valley!” she exclaims. “Hello, won’t any of you venture with me?”
But the Asylum is a place of sunless girls, colorless girls, girls like empty furnaces in need of a flame, girls drained of their curiosities by a lifetime blighted with scorn and neglect.
One and all, they turn Agnes-Marie away.
Disappointing. Though not surprising.
Nobody ever joins an unwanted girl on her adventures.
At last, Agnes-Marie’s bare tiptoes find the cobblestone floor.
She glances up, but her bunk sways too high in the rafters to see.
Swiftly, a nightgowned shadow with a wild heartbeat, Agnes-Marie slips through the lofty maze of bunks… past the bathroom of icy, mildew-slick waters… past the splintery one-person dining tables… all the way to the ancient steel door she passed through ten murky years before. She hasn’t stepped outside since.
Trembling, she grasps the large iron door handle.
It’s unlocked. Of course, it is. What thief would ever break into the Asylum? There’s nothing of value here. And what unwanted girl would ever dare leave? Unwanted girls know they have no place outside these weeping walls.
Agnes-Marie tugs the door. It moans inward with a twirl of midnight fog, revealing a silent gravel road beyond.
Even as she says it, the voices call again: “Agnes-Marie…”
A carnival of voices now—animals roaring, musicians reveling, children crowing—calling not from the chilly open valley, but from the dismal, unwanted building across the way.
The structure mirrors the Asylum with its stony spires and shadow-cast dejection. She’s noticed it on occasion outside the Asylum’s widows. Once, she even dreamt it was a library—but who, upon waking, could ever believe such a flight of fancy might soar true in this valley?
Agnes-Marie places her big toe across the threshold and then glances over her shoulder.
Not a soul tries to stop her.
With a gallop in her chest, she steps outside.
The jagged, black-and-grey valley rests in cobwebs of mist. Yet across the road, playful voices float from high windows, constantly transforming, poetic and tragic, frolicking and dangerous, voices hinting of grand balls and stormy pirate seas.
Before she loses courage and slinks back to her bunk, Agnes-Marie skitters across the road and finds herself standing at the ancient threshold of the whispery building.
She grasps the door handle, her fingers sparking against the iron, tiny golden starbursts.
The door groans inward.
The lively voices collapse into a black hole of instantaneous silence.
Inky darkness haunts the space beyond.
But she’s known shadows all her life. They don’t scare her.
Stirred and ever-turning like the pages of so many dreams, Agnes-Marie slips inside.
The first thing she glimpses inside the breath-held sanctuary is nothing.
No lanterns or candle flames to soften the inherent gloom.
But also, no cluttered front counter haunted by a librarian with owl-rimmed glasses and a sly, mystic hello. No leather-bound stacks or gilded titles, no reading desks or overstuffed chairs nestled beside golden fireplaces. No steamy cups of tea or purring felines curled in laps. No Dewey decimals, no book depositories, and certainly no library cards. Not that an unwanted girl such as Agnes-Marie would know to expect such treasures outside the gossamer realm of half-forgotten dreams.
A grand hall looms before her, heaped cloud-high to the rafters with mountains of shapeless shadows.
“Are you here?” Agnes-Marie calls into the hushed, cavernous murk.
Only her own ridiculously hopeful voice echoes back to greet her.
And who does she imagine she’s greeting anyway? Mama? Those fantastical, orbiting voices? All seem to have vanished. Did she spook them?
Or were they simply the imaginings of a restless night?
Stepping from the foyer, Agnes-Marie stumbles over something unseen and spills forward into a cascade of… pages?
Beneath her, someone giggles.
Gasping, Agnes-Marie scrambles upright.
Loose papers ruffle around her feet, scattered and tattered like flightless wings. Even in the dim, she glimpses symbols upon the pages; writings scrawled in graphite or perhaps the ink of a whale. She leans closer, squinting—and discovers a most curious enchantment!
As her eyes trace the page, those symbols flicker and spark like golden stardust.
Spark after spark…
Teeny dazzles, to be sure. Yet Agnes-Marie is so unaccustomed to the brighter spectrums of joy, she finds her eyes struggling to adjust.
“Just like in my dreams…” Blinking, she gathers the topmost glowing pages into a fluttery stack and hears another giggle.
“Is that you making all that noise?” She raises the papers to eye-level. A spider-dusting of cobwebs obscures the top page.
Instinctively, she pulls a kerchief from her pocket—the same daisy-embroidered kerchief once used to bandage her book-shaped burn. Unwanted girls aren’t supposed to have cherished personal items, though some manage to sneak a piece of themselves into the Asylum on accident.
Heart-buzzy and a-thrum with curiosity, Agnes-Marie unfolds her kerchief and brushes the cobwebs from the pages.
They giggle again. Louder this time.
Agnes-Marie tilts her ear. Those glimmering symbols look achingly familiar. In dreams, she sometimes sits in Mama’s lap and sounds them out…
Now, as her eyes journey across the first lines, the graceful, lustrous symbols sparkle and brighten and come together for her.
Letters into sounds into words into something most beautiful.
A voice-not-her-own flutters and whispers inside her head.
Not Mama’s voice, though—this zipping firefly of a cadence belongs to some unknown storyteller.
“Once upon a daydream,” it tells her, “Princess Swiftwing, a giggly, effervescent girl if ever there was one, began her adventure as all girlhood adventures begin: with a spark of curiosity…”
“Oh… I know what you are,” Agnes-Marie marvels, thumbing through the loose-leaf pages. “You’re meant to be a book, aren’t you? A fantasy book!”
A fantasy, as it turns out, with the promise of purple foxes and cloud-faring vessels and sunrise waltzes with sugar-tongued princes. As Agnes-Marie reads on, the fairytale positively frolics inside her, ecstatic to come alive and oh-so-grateful to, at last, be heard. Sweeping Agnes-Marie through sword fights and unicorn rides, filling her chest with fireflies of awe, the pages shine brighter and brighter until, with a gasp and a cheer, she reaches The End.
Positively breathless, utterly sparkle-eyed, Agnes-Marie looks up from the pages.
And finds an entire Library aglow around her.
Not with candlelight or buttery reading lamps, of course.
All throughout the cavernous hall, those vast mountains twinkle with sprightly whispers of light.
Mountains of pages upon pages…
Mountains of scattered stories and poems and secrets untold.
They giggle and babble and weep most decadently, a glitter-storm of voices calling out for Agnes-Marie. Voices raspy, voices young, voices with mysterious lilts and colorful, gallant tongues, a thousand voices overlapping.
A thousand tiny dazzles, a thousand shimmering pen-strokes.
Together, their chorus illuminates the vaulted Library.
Staircases and walkways spiral ever upward, and vast shelves of empty bookcases line each curving wall. In the belly of it all, the craggy mountains of pages whisper and murmur and implore Agnes-Marie to hear their silenced and forgotten tales.
“Oh, Mama… what library is this?” Careful not to trample more pages, she tiptoes through the stacks and traces reverent fingertips along spider-silk manuscripts. As she navigates the twisting maze, her buzzy-bright heartbeat transforms into a slow clench of cold realization.
“But there are so many of you…”
Peaks and valleys of unclaimed pages. Adventures strewn and untended, ink left to fade, parchment left to grow yellow and brittle like fallen leaves.
Stories so unworthy nobody bothered to place them upon shelves.
All the while, thousands of bookcases stand empty.
It’s not right.
So many voices scattered in the dark, unacquainted with their worth—just as the world casts its unwanted girls into the stagnant purgatory of the Asylum.
Agnes-Marie turns in a slow circle, tiny and insignificant among the mountainous many. She wonders if Mama’s lost voice truly echoes among them. Once upon a dream, perhaps someone promised her as much.
She tilts her ear and her lacy book-shaped scar toward the stacks.
“I hear you,” she promises.
Promises them all.
Then she ruffles her kerchief and dusts the cobwebs off the next story.
The nights pass, and the nights rise again, and Agnes-Marie spends every dreaming-hour awake inside the Library. Naturally, nobody cares or even much notices her empty bunk inside the Asylum. The neglected Maudes and skittish Ermengardes, and heartbroken Henriettas exist too deeply inside their own aching, cast-aside hollows to give Agnes-Marie a second thought.
Though, as she pages through story after shimmering story, as she adores them and houses them on bookshelves, Agnes-Marie finds her thoughts ever-haunted by her bunkmates.
The world has countless ways to define a girl as unwanted.
A perfectly lovely girl might be labeled an absurdity, an annoyance, an awkward anomaly; perhaps she’s barren, a bastard, a bore, a burden; it’s possible she’s too capricious, too cerebral, too clingy, too cunning—or not enough of any of these. Being wanted is a precarious dance, and oh, how easy to lose one’s footing and fall forever into obscurity.
Of course, the same is true for unwanted stories.
Agnes-Marie discovers them in every shape, every size, every language.
With her kerchief at the ready, she uncovers spiral journals heavy with tears and unrequited poetry… memoirs hidden in trunks for entire timid lifetimes… forgotten prayers on scrolls of papyrus… love letters in envelopes marked Return to Sender… theater plays without a spotlight… and discarded manuscripts…
Oh, the manuscripts. So many unbound undertakings, painstakingly typeset or hand-penned in wonderment. Most come tied by a cross of twine with letters of their own tucked inside. Letters that start and end the same.
Thank you for your interest in our beloved publication, unfortunately…
This story is not alive enough…
Not magical enough…
Not scary, not funny, not mysterious, not thrilling enough…
Not wanted enough…
It occurs to Agnes-Marie that for every beloved story known to the world, there must be a thousand that never get the chance to be loved.
Naturally, the adoration of an unwanted girl doesn’t count.
She sits cross-legged, nestled against the stacks, pages glimmering in her lap as the many unknown storytellers speak to her in their own personal language. They guide her through exotic new worlds, introduce her to fascinating new people, and fill her with spectrums of daylight picnics and birdsong and mother-daughter adventure-dreams she never could’ve imagined on her own.
Through them, she rides dolphins bareback, escapes haunted manors with mad scientists, hunts demons and vampires and all manner of monsters alongside valiant heroes hatched from humble lives. And with each story, she’s reminded of the listless existence of her bunkmates at the Asylum.
So many girls with cold furnaces in need of a spark.
Yet here she is: surrounded by sparks.
The more she reads, the more attuned she grows to the unique sacrifice of each storyteller. With every hard-won word, with every breathless turn of phrase, a wordsmith extracts a living, effervescent piece of their own soul and lays it vulnerable upon the page. Here, they confide the many ways they can be enchanting and eloquent—and all the ways they are yet haggard and imperfect and themselves creatures most unwanted.
As she finishes each tale, Agnes-Marie chooses the brightest passages, the most poetic scenes, all the loveliest fibers of each storyteller’s soul, and weaves them into a ribbon bookmark. Then she homes each story on a bookshelf, making certain their shimmery soul-ribbons are prominently displayed—this Library’s version of leather-bound spines with gilded authors.
All the while, her heart listens, searches between the ethereal gasps and giggles and glimmers, for a whisper of Mama.
Of course, what she finds amidst the vast pages proves to be its own miracle.
As the adventures gather radiantly inside her, Agnes-Marie cobbles together more memories of her life before the Asylum. The story-tales here aren’t the same titles found in the libraries she once chased in dreams, but the archetypes are the same. Queens with delicate hands and scribes with wizardly imaginations, eccentric godmothers with laughing bosoms and handmaids who embroider flowers on the hems of ballgowns…
They fill in old gaps.
One night, while enjoying a tale about a widow and a bewitched peacock feather, a memory sparks—or perhaps her richest dream yet.
In this story, Agnes-Marie sees Mama seated at a modest wooden desk with a quill pen. The feather dances as Mama writes, trying her hand at magic, and little Agnes-Marie, perched in her lap, giggles with delight. A fireplace crackles nearby. Whenever Mama makes a mistake, she crumples the page and tosses it over her shoulder. And whenever she finishes a chapter, Agnes-Marie helps her blow the ink dry. Once the stack of pages stands two coal briquettes tall, mother and daughter tie the loose papers with a kerchief and climb into bed.
They fall asleep, arm in arm, by the glow of the fireplace. Neither is awake when an eddy of embers swirls loose and sets those crumpled, discarded pages ablaze—so Agnes-Marie cannot possibly know for sure that’s how the cottage fire began. Perhaps these memories are only imaginings sparked by the Library.
Perhaps what she recalls next isn’t even true:
Riding in the back of mule cart, resting her ear against the cindery pages of Mama’s book, ignoring the scorching pain so she can hear her petal-soft voice once last time.
What wonderments did Mama whisper in her ear?
Over the nights that follow, she ponders and combs the stacks. If Mama’s book is truly here, it might be years before she finds it. The mountains of stories reach the rafters. Reading them all will take a lifetime—yet that’s precisely what she intends to do.
Ever-devoted, ever-tireless, Agnes-Marie Nobody turns page after page, souls after soul, turning no voice away. When ample shelves shine with works of unique, world-shaking beauty, she bundles a stack of pages into her arms and returns to the Asylum.
The steel door moans. She drifts inside like a firefly, invading the vast gloom that clings to the air like coal dust.
She embraces the stories in her arms.
Not all are perfect, though all serve a purpose.
For every tale ever told, there is someone who needs to hear it.
She doesn’t expect them to solve every sorrow inside the Asylum for Unwanted Girls. For those in this valley, joy is likely to be a slow sunrise.
Even so, there will be sparks.
Like the first chapter of a soon-to-be beloved story, this is only the beginning of their adventures.
As Agnes-Marie climbs the towering bunkbeds and places tales with radiant souls next to every weeping, sleeping girl, she hopes they’ll turn the pages. She hopes they’ll allow themselves to uncover secret, lustrous worlds where cathartic voices understand their sorrows, worlds where they’re adored and wanted.
She hopes every girl discovers how happily and far-far-away, her story can end.
For several nights afterward, not a soul visits the Library.
The bookcases spiral up the walls, graced with golden tales that sparkle across the Library’s sky like mystic constellations. Agnes-Marie waits with a cozy detective story aglow in her lap and watches the moon wax outside the windows.
One evening, as the lunar light nears peak fullness, two girls appear in the doorway of the Library.
Wizened Maude and little Ermengarde. They cradle the stories Agnes-Marie gifted them in one arm and hold hands with the other.
“We’ve come for more,” Maude rasps. Her eyelashes still glisten with the golden years and sweetheart tears from her story’s final pages.
“Brave.” Ermengarde holds up her picture book—a watercolor fable of a girl who tames a white tiger using only a slingshot and the power of her charm.
“Yes, you are,” Agnes-Marie says, kneeling before her. The story is courageous, and now the story glows inside the girl. Agnes-Marie sees it there behind Ermengarde’s rapt eyes, hears it in the roar of her heartbeat.
“There’re countless more,” Agnes-Marie says. “They need you girls as much as you need them. Come with me…”
And they do.
And more follow.
Not all the girls—some are simply too dispirited, too forlorn—but enough.
Night after night, they arrive with the starry souls of the storytellers still trembling behind their eyes.
Night after night, they wander through the stacks and trace their fingertips along the glowing selections.
Some take armloads of manuscripts and return to their bunks in the Asylum.
Others, such as cherished Maude and brave-blooming Ermengarde, linger behind to help Agnes-Marie as she organizes and admires mountains of chaotic magic.
Because here’s the thing about stories and dreams:
Sometimes the wishes a girl holds closest to her heart do come true.
And one evening, when Ermengarde calls out to her excitedly—“Agnes-Marie, Agnes-Marie, come and see!”—a sensation both lucid and dreamy settles over Agnes-Marie. She chases Ermengarde’s voice through the ever-growing pathways. She rounds a bend and is nearly blinded by the radiance of an especially marvelous discovery.
Ermengarde hugs a stack of charred-cinder pages in her tiny arms—pages tied lovingly with a daisy-embroidered kerchief.
For a long, aching heartbeat, Agnes-Marie is simply too dazzled to move.
Then Mama’s voice laughs.
Agnes-Marie rushes forward and unties the kerchief.
Like a lullaby upon waking, adoring and petal-soft from the very first page, Mama speaks inside her:
Agnes-Marie Hinze and the Library of Infinite Light
by Roberta Saylor Hinze
Squinting past sparkle-eyed tears, Agnes-Marie turns to the dedication page.
Mama’s soul waits there inside the words, glimmering brightly.
Oh, how you ever delight my bookish heart! From your first open pages, you were drawn to the twinkling call of story-tales. At an impossible age, you grew fluent in the glowing language of make-believe. You possess the spirit of a literary adventurer, a princess of prose, a guardian of infinite horizons, a cultivator of timeless magic. Your wide-eyed curiosity is the light that guides my voice.
This story and every story, my little librarian, belong forever to you…
Deep in the Valley of Unwanted Souls, at the dreariest end of a narrow gravel road, the colorless fog parts and a wagon pulled by a lone, clip-clopping mule arrives with the midnight deliveries. The wagon stops between two monstrous structures built of star-reaching stone spires and a curious window-lit glow.
The Asylum and the Library.
A-swish with burlap robes, the mule driver steps down from her cart, face cloaked in duty and regret. Although tonight, the dawn of a smile brightens the shadows beneath her hood.
Both Asylum and Library shimmer with a haunting radiance. Guiding lanterns shine in the windows, and something akin to the faint heartbeat of a firefly dances within. The voices of the occupants carry into the night, brave laughter, beautiful tears, and peculiar turns of colorful tongue.
The mule driver unhitches the wagon bed’s splintery back gate. Tonight’s delivery is a large one. A dozen unwanted stories, and just as many unwanted girls. Young girls, old girls, girls with discarded lives and untold scars, girls with embers still smoldering.
While the mule driver checks their tags and ushers them from the wagon, the ancient doors of the Asylum and the Library groan and echo inward.
As is customary, the gloom between the two sanctuaries stirs with eddies of those whimsical, incandescent voices as the librarian steps outside.
A young woman with a book-shaped scar and a sly, mystic hello, Agnes-Marie Hinze tilts her ear and welcomes the new arrivals home.