Once There Was a Girl. It was a book, of fairy tales she thought, that sat on Tina’s bookshelf. Amazingly, enough tattered remnants of the jacket had survived, held together as much by faith as by fabric, to read the name down the painfully broken spine. The brown bindings beneath were dully unimpressive, but patches of curling paper were patterned brightly with watercolour splashes which might have been trees or rainbows or maybe just random marks made of pigment and joy.
If Tina had ever thought about it for more than a second, she might have wondered just how it had got so battered, given she hadn’t touched it for the better part of a decade or maybe longer. But maybe it had arrived old and torn, her mother’s before her. She couldn’t remember, and she only really gave it more than a moment’s consideration when she was wondering whether or not to chuck things out. But she never really felt comfortable binning books; even books she hadn’t picked up for years.
If it hadn’t been for the flu, it might have taken several more years before it had been picked up again. But Tina felt absolutely rotten – alright, it wasn’t flu flu, but it might as well have been – and she was in that horrible state where she felt too gummed up to be awake but too fed up of being asleep to nap. She had been in the middle of reading a new book but her appetite to finish it had waned since she she found herself reading every third sentence at least six times to make sense of it. Maybe something easier. Maybe something familiar… Maybe something within easy reach of her sweaty pile of sheets.
The book felt small and she turned it over slowly in her hands without opening it. She thought about just taking the sleeve off altogether to preserve what was left of it, but it seemed to be glued to the hard covers. There was no author listed anywhere she could see – maybe on a torn section? – and no blurb or publisher’s mark. Now that that she came to think about it, she couldn’t really remember what it was about, either.
As she lifted it to open it, she was suddenly stopped short by a surprising scent. She was expecting must, old paper, the smell of books that people went on about as if it was the smell of church for people who had forgotten how to pray. Instead there came the odour of… leaves? Or possibly leaf mould. Sort of like being in a canopy of trees. Like that school trip they took to Parsonage Woods once, when she’d managed to get away from everyone for a few minutes and sit alone and forget about bloody Kasia and Mrs. Flynn and that stupid thing about the History test.
Her raging headache and red-raw nostrils all but forgotten, Tina cracked open the cover. She was presented with a blank page.
She turned it over. Another blank page. She started to flip through, and every single page was plain, ivory, perhaps faintly yellowed around the edges but definitely, unquestionably, blank. She pulled it up further towards her face, pushing up her glasses, and peered straight into the middle of the book. The scent of woodland was almost overwhelming now, and seemed to surround her. It was so strong it pierced her blocked nose like she was fit and healthy. Which, it suddenly occurred to her, she actually felt. Her eyes weren’t watery and sore as they stared fixedly at the crease between the pages. Her nose was full of the scents of spring. Her head felt shockingly clear and her ears no longer felt woolly as the sudden sound of birds filled them.
Tina suddenly, sharply dropped the book. And found herself sitting with it in her lap, still in her bed, still wearing her grotty old spaceship pyjamas and surrounded by a dense copse of thick-leaved trees.
This is the fourth attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.