It was like a faery tale, one that her mother used to read her right before bedtime. These things just didn’t happen in real life, right? Was this just a really long, really bizarre dream?
Evelyn was walking home from school one day when she saw her ex coming out of a fast food place right up ahead. Not only was he going to be face to face with her in seconds, but his latest squeeze was right in front of him, holding the door for him and laughing. Her stomach fluttered—she had gym last period and looked like a mess—and without even thinking about it, she spun on her heels and turned down the alleyway to her left. She was a senior in high school, a straight “A” student, inquisitive and not stupid. She knew young girls shouldn’t walk down alleyways by themselves, but it was broad daylight and she did *not* want to decide whether she had to talk to them or if she should pretend like she never saw them. His new girlfriend was a freshman in college, like he was, from one of his classes, and she was too pretty for Evelyn to deal with just right now. So the alley it was.
Simon wasn’t a terrible city to live in, so there wasn’t an immediate thought of being mugged or worse. Even still, she kept anxiously looking all around her. It wasn’t very scary with the sun shining down brightly, but then she saw a homeless man sitting by a dark doorway, and her heart fluttered a little. Evelyn clutched her backpack with her hand, put her head down, and just went for it.
Apparently even with her eyes glued to the pathway in front of her, she was still prone to klutziness. The tip of her shoe hit something, and she tripped and skidded to a stop a few steps away, trying to keep herself upright.
“Take it,” the homeless man slurred at her.
“Excuse me?” she gasped, whirling around to stare at him, wide-eyed. She took a step back, but he hadn’t moved an inch. He was clutching a bottle of alcohol, mostly drank. After staring at him for a few beats, Evelyn began to wonder if he was actually homeless. His clothes were a little dirty, like he had slept outside in them, but they weren’t bad, and his face only had a few days’ worth of growth on it. But everything about him screamed that he was drunk and hard on some kind of luck at the moment.
“Thassss,” he slurred, swinging his hand out to point at the ground in front of her. The bottle’s contents sloshed against the side. “Take it. Please.” When Evelyn continued to stare at him, half horrified and half confused, he began to shout in desperate tones. “Take it! Take it!! For the love of God, please take it!”
“Okay, okay! Oh my God!” Evelyn bent down and snatched up the object that had almost caused her to fall and was turning this man to hysterics. “Fine. Wait…” Evelyn frowned at the book she now held. It was black, whether from the material it was bound in or from dirt and age, she wasn’t sure, but it was crumbling at the spine and the pages looked warped and yellowed. “You want me to take this book?” she murmured, trailing off at the end. She thought, I need to get out of here.
“Take it! You have to get it away from me!”
“Okay, buddy, whatever you say!” Evelyn spun and took off once again, hurrying even faster this time. She was hoping no one heard him yelling and thought she was doing something to him. “Crazy man,” she muttered. “Who freaks out over a book?” But she reminded herself that he was drunk in the middle of the day and he probably had some kind of a mental disease. His demeanor was just off.
She was home in minutes after that, bursting through the door and bounding upstairs to her room before anyone could say anything to her. She just wanted to be alone for a bit, to think about Jeremy and that whore he left her for. Evelyn sighed. It wasn’t fair to call her that. Maybe she was a nice person. But that didn’t mean she had to like her or the situation.
She could feel herself start to tear up a bit—he had only called her to break it all off a week ago—so Evelyn threw herself on her bed and dropped the bookbag off the side, letting it thunk on the floor. That left her with her thoughts and the book, and so Evelyn opened the book to see what it was.
Nothing. The pages were mysteriously blank.
Frowning, she flipped through the whole book to no avail. All she found was, after starting over at the beginning again, two small numbers and a symbol printed at the bottom of the back of the first page. 37.
“What, no copyright date? I can’t believe that, with no title or words in general,” she muttered sarcastically to herself. Evelyn sighed and threw herself onto her back, letting the bed gently bounce her up and down for a moment. Figures. She almost ran into her ex, only to have a crazy possibly homeless man yell at her over an old, blank diary.
Her mother soon called her for dinner. They ate mostly in silence. Her father was working late again, and her mother didn’t have much to say. Then it was back up to her room for homework.
Math. It was the bane of her existence, she swore. Frustrated with the problems, Evelyn flipped open the blank book and scribbled,
“Dear diary, what is the answer to number 4 of my stupid math homework?”
Then she started doodling cats and clouds and trees on the bottom. Then she realized there was something on the page that she hadn’t put there.
Frowning, Evelyn stared at it for a long minute. It was right underneath what she had written. There was no way she hadn’t seen it before, was there? And what on Earth was with just random numbers in this book. Except…
Feeling a little giddy, Evelyn pulled her math book closer to her and stared at tricky number four. “It can’t be,” she whispered. She grabbed the phone off of her night stand and called her best friend.
“Hey, girl, I can’t really talk right now…”
“No, wait, I just have a homework question really quick.”
“For real? Because that excuse doesn’t work anymore on my parents.”
“No, for real. Did you do math yet?”
“I’m almost done with it.”
“Did you get 42 for question 4?”
“No, just double checking. Hey, what did you get for number 5?”
“113. I’m not giving you anymore answers,” she warned.
“No, no, just double checking. Again. Thanks! Seeyoutomorrowbye.”
Evelyn couldn’t hang up the phone faster. Her eyes were locked on the book. She snatched it and flipped to the next page.
“What is the answer to number 5 of my math homework?”
- Heart pounding, Evelyn started thinking she was losing it. But then, after a few seconds, ink appeared on the page. It started out very light and then filled in, as if it was bleeding through the page from underneath.
Call Chelsea and ask her
“Fucking shit,” Evelyn whispered. She thought she was going to faint.
“Evelyn!” Pounding on the door.
Evelyn jumped and gasped, almost falling off of the bed. “What?” she screamed.
Her mother paused and then opened the door. “What is wrong with you?” she snapped.
“Sorry. Sorry, mom. You just really scared me. I was…um…I was…really concentrating. It’s hard. The math. It’s hard.”
Her mother frowned at her for a while, but when she saw there was indeed books lying open on the bed, she shrugged and took the story in stride. “I have to go for a bit. Your father just called. He’s having trouble with the car again.”
Having caught her breath, Evelyn focused on her mother’s words. “Again? He really needs a new one. It breaks every other day.”
“Yeah, I know. Hopefully his bonus will come through without a hitch in a month or so.” Her mother sighed and closed the door, yelling behind her. “Call me or your aunt if you need anything.”
“Yep.” Evelyn cast a sideglance at the book. “Or maybe I will just ask the book.”
She thought deeply for a long time.
“Why did Jeremy leave me?”
The same amount of heart beats between her question and the answer.
You would not have sex with him
“Figures,” she muttered. But then she felt butterflies in her stomach. What was this thing? She could ask. No, wait! Even better—
“What am I going to get on my test tomorrow?”
She looked at her watch this time. Exactly 33 seconds.
“I can deal with that.” Because she was not going to study now.
“Are my mom and dad going to get a divorce?”
Because they will need each other for the years to come
“Wow!” Evelyn stared at the book, her eyebrows arched into her hairline. “Very deep, book.”
And so the rest of the night was spent with Evelyn scribbling in the book, into the wee hours of the night, until she fell asleep right beside it. She had completely forgotten to ask it where it was from.
School dragged. She had tried to convince her parents to let her stay home, but they were fighting as usual and were too angry with each other to listen to her. After a five minute internal debate, she left the book tucked away in her bedside drawer. She barely talked to anyone, absorbed in her whirling thoughts and almost nauseating drowsiness.
When she got home, her mother was slamming drawers and stomping back and forth. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s your father. Again. That piece of junk won’t start. Jesus Christ! It just never stops around here.”
“It’s okay, mom.” She wondered if the book was sure they weren’t getting a divorce. “How about I go set my stuff upstairs and I will go with you this time.”
Her mother stopped and looked over in surprise at her daughter. “Okay, “she said, sounding less angry. “Thanks, that would be nice.”
“Okay. Good,” Evelyn said with a smile. She took the stairs by two, threw her stuff down, and she was ready to rush back out. Except…
With what she could only call a knot of dread in her stomach, Evelyn stared at the drawer. She ripped it open, grabbed the book and the pen she had been using last night, and then she rushed back down.
“Is that your homework? You’ve been doing so well in school this year,” her mother commented as they started down the road, sounding a little strained. Evelyn took that as her trying to sound nice and gave her a polite response, lying about the book.
Then a song came on that her mother loved, and she turned up the radio.
Evelyn’s mind churned. There were so many things she wanted to know.
“How many stars are in the sky?”
The answer wouldn’t fit in the book. ‘Fuck,’ she mouthed. Um….
“Will the sun explode before I die?”
“Will I ever see World War 3?”
Do Magic 8 balls really work?
Are ghosts real?
Evelyn took a deep breath. She would never have to sit awake at night and worry over not knowing ever again. She would never tell anyone about the book, of course. They would think she was crazy.
She looked down, ready to write something else. But there were words there before she could move the pen.
Are there not any real questions you have? Questions that are very important? Questions…that no one has the answer to?
Evelyn’s heart pounded. She forgot where she even was for a minute.
A question…perhaps…that has haunted you for a long time?
I can show you the answer. But you have to wish for it, first.
Was that what she was doing? Wishing for answers? She hoped she didn’t have only so many. But if she did…she should ask it. Now.
Hand shaking, Evelyn wrote, “Is there an afterlife?”
5 seconds…8 seconds…13 seconds…18 seconds…
Her mother gasped. “Evel—“
With the gasp, Evelyn’s head snapped up. The semi ran the red light and was coming 55 miles per hour right at her.