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Arrate Ega˝a Gimenez > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Nothing but books |

In a not so distant country not so long ago there was a full-scale war in which many people died or were made homeless. Like the group of children hiding in the stable of a farm. Bombs exploding all around and the sound of shots and machine-gun fire could be heard from time to time.

A young soldier went inside and saw the children: a serious girl with an orphan in her arms, two boy twins trembling with fear and another little girl, not very big but brave and ready to protect her friends with a stick.

-I am on your side, I have to get you out of here -the young soldier told them-, you'll be safe in the library on the edge of the town.

When night fell they left the stable, and taking the forest track they headed for the library. The soldier wanted to take the little child from the serious girl, so that she could run more quickly, but the girl, as she was strong and vigorous, thanked the soldier for his offer, and ran quickly with the child in her arms. The twins nervously followed the soldier very closely. The brave girl hung onto her stick, and moving like a shadow in the forest, brought up the rear. A full moon helped them to see their way.

-The librarian is a witch! -one of the twins told the soldier, his teeth chattering.

-Yes, a terrible witch! -repeated the other one trembling.

-It's not true -explained the serious girl-, she used to look after the town library very well.

As they came out of the forest, they found the library in darkness and its doors and windows closed. When they knocked on the door, the librarian appeared with a shawl around her shoulders and yawned.

-What do you want? -she asked.

-These children are going to take refuge here, because the enemy is going to burn down the whole town.

-Come in then and don't switch on the light -ordered the librarian.

They all went inside and saw the place illuminated by the moonlight pouring in through the latticework. Everywhere was very clean, tidy, with pictures pinned on the walls, books on the shelves and chairs round small tables, as if it was ready to receive the children from the town at any momentÓ

It was in fact a couple of days later that the soldier learnt on the radio that the enemy had burnt down the town and that the library was still unscathed by the attack. He received the order to look after the children.

From the library garden they could see the orange flickering of long tongues of fire in the dark sky and hear the sounds of shots and shouting.

The days after that they heard nothing. The sun rose every day and the birds sang. The children played with the soldier in the forest and in the evening the librarian read to them until they fell asleep. The librarian was not a bad person. She was a very wise, generous woman and shared all she had with the children and taught them games.

For some days, just as if they were in another peaceful world in which there was no war, they wandered around the library and along the little paths that led to the edge of the forest. The serious girl smiled and forgot that the soldier was a soldier when she heard his tender words; the librarian became the orphan's mother; the twins trembled but let out peals of laughter and the brave girl took books instead of her stick.

But the war continued: and it came to pass that when the children were sitting around the librarian listening to a story, they heard the soldier's radio from a corner. After going from house to house killing the people who were still alive, the enemy was heading for the forest; they were going to reach the library the day after tomorrow!

The children became frightened once again. The soldier did not know what to do: they did not have time to escape from that place, nor did they have anywhere to hide! Then the librarian, who was like a witch, as the twins had suspected, suggested a solution.

-We'll hide inside the books.

-Do you know how to do that? -asked the soldier amazed.

-Getting inside isn't difficult, but then someone will have to get us outÓ

-It doesn't matter -said the serious girl-, if that is the only way we can be saved, then let's do it!

They did not have much time, a noise was coming from the forest, the enemy was cutting down trees and shooting at anything that moved.

-Quick -the witch-librarian told the twins-, where do you want to travel to? Do you like this adventure book? Or this book about pirates?

The twins, unable to overcome their fear, decided to go inside an adventure story and she sent them there with some magic words. The brave girl decided to get inside a book about pirates, and the serious girl asked the soldier if they could go inside a fairy tale together, because they had fallen in love.

-I have to fight -the soldier told her.

The librarian pleaded with the soldier not to stay, because he was not a bad young man, even though the war was bad.

-Remember, you will be just as much an enemy for many others, as these people are for us! You will frighten and hurt them!

The soldier refused to give in. He told them he would come back one day and look for them again in the stories.

-Then I will go into the story of The Snow Queen until you come back from the war -the girl told him- and I will remain as cold as ice until you return.

The librarian put the girl in the story of The Snow Queen before the soldier's wet eyes and then bade the young man farewell. The woman had for a long time wanted to visit the stories of the knights, so she got inside a thick volume taking the little child with her. That last book closed and, with a heavy heart, the soldier escaped before dawn.

After destroying the forest the enemy reached the library. They smashed the windows, broke down the door and fired shots inside. But they left the place as it was, because they were in a hurry to occupy the next town, and in any case there was nothing but books there.

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