Chapter no 14 – Every Life Begins Now‌

The Midnight Library


Mrs Elm had her arms folded. ough she looked identical to the Mrs Elm Nora had always known, her manner was definitely a little more brusque. It was Mrs Elm but also somehow not Mrs Elm. It was quite confusing.

‘Well what?’ Nora said, still gasping, still relieved she could no longer feel the intensity of all her regrets simultaneously.

‘Which regret stands out? Which decision would you like to undo? Which life would you like to try on?’

She said that, precisely. Try on. As if this was a clothes shop and Nora could choose a life as easily as a T-shirt. It felt like a cruel game.

at was agony. I felt like I was about to be strangled. What is the point of this?’

As Nora looked up, she noticed the lights for the first time. Just naked bulbs hanging down from wires attached to the ceiling, which seemed like a normal kind of light-grey ceiling. Except it was a ceiling that reached no walls. Like the floor here, it went on for ever.

e point is there is a strong possibility that your old life is over. You wanted to die and maybe you will. And you will need somewhere to go to. Somewhere to land. Another life. So, you need to think hard. is library is called the Midnight Library, because every new life on oer here begins now. And now is midnight. It begins now. All these futures. at’s what is here.

at’s what your books represent. Every other immediate present and ongoing future you could have had.’

‘So there are no pasts in there?’

‘No. Just the consequence of them. But those books are also written. And I know them all. But they are not for you to read.’

‘And when does each life end?’

‘It could be seconds. Or hours. Or it could be days. Months. More. If you have found a life you truly want to live, then you get to live it until you die of old age. If you really want to live a life hard enough, you don’t have to worry. You will stay there as if you have always been there. Because in one universe you have always been there. e book will never be returned, so to speak. It becomes less of a loan and more of a gie moment you decide you want that life, really want it, then everything that exists in your head now, including this Midnight Library, will eventually be a memory so vague and intangible it will hardly be there at all.’

One of the lights flickered overhead.

e only danger,’ continued Mrs Elm, more ominously, ‘is when you’re here. Between lives. If you lose the will to carry on, it will aect your root life – your original life. And that could lead to the destruction of this place. You’d be gone for ever. You’d be dead. And so would your access to all this.’

at’s what I want. I want to be dead. I would be dead because I want to be. at’s why I took the overdose. I want to die.’

‘Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Aer all, you’re still here.’

Nora tried to get her head around this. ‘So, how do I return to the library?

If I’m stuck in a life even worse than the one I’ve just le?’

‘It can be subtle, but as soon as disappointment is felt in full, you’ll come back here. Sometimes the feeling creeps up, other times it comes all at once. If it never arrives, you’ll stay put, and you will be happy there, by definition. It couldn’t be simpler. So: pick something you would have done dierently, and I will find you the book. at is to say, the life.’

Nora stared down at e Book of Regrets lying closed on the yellow-brown floor tiles.

She remembered chatting late at night with Dan about his dream of owning a quaint little pub in the country. His enthusiasm had been infectious, and it had almost become her dream too. ‘I wish I hadn’t le Dan. And that I was still in a relationship with him. I regret us not staying together and working towards that dream. Is there a life where we are still together?’

‘Of course,’ said Mrs Elm.

e books in the library began to move again, as though the shelves were conveyor belts. is time, though, instead of going as slow as a wedding march they moved faster and faster and faster, until they couldn’t really be seen as individual books at all. ey just whirred by in streams of green.

en, just as suddenly, they stopped.

Mrs Elm crouched down and took a book from the lowest shelf to her le.

e book was one of the darker shades of green. She handed it to Nora. It was a lot lighter than e Book of Regrets, even though it was a similar size. Again, there was no title on the spine but a small one embossed on the front, precisely the same shade as the rest of the book.

It said: My Life.

‘But it’s not my life . . .’

‘Oh Nora, they are all your lives.’ ‘What do I do now?’

‘You open the book and turn to the first page.’ Nora did so.

‘O-kay,’ said Mrs Elm, with careful precision. ‘Now, read the first line.’ Nora stared down and read.

She walked out of the pub into the cool night air . . .

And Nora had just enough time to think to herself, ‘Pub?’ Aer that, it was happening. e text began to swirl and soon became indecipherable, in fast motion, as she felt herself weaken. She never knowingly let go of the book, but there was a moment where she was no longer a person reading it, and a consequent moment where there was no book – or library – at all.

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