Love, &c.--From 506 JB
by Toiya Kristen Finley



D&A?  Esperanza stuck the card back into the tiny stiff envelope and pulled it back out again.  The assignment didn’t change.  There were the embossed names, rising up to mock her.  At least this time they gave her an office with a window and pull-down cot.  She would need all the rest she could get.  Derek and Aaron would be hard to train.  Tomorrow morning the boys would come through the door on the left, up through the hidden staircase winding through the outside walls of the library.  Esperanza opened the thin metal door behind her and found a janitor’s closet.  It stunk of chemicals and rust.  Green film crawled on the shower with plastic walls.  They set her up behind the women’s restroom and the janitor’s closet, Esperanza discovered upon exiting another small door on her right.

506 JB was the closet number.  At least the bathroom was clean.  She looked for graffiti in the stalls.  Most of it had been painted over, and a few young women had made feeble attempts to etch in some new initials and Greek letters.

The fifth floor restroom of Vanderhouten University’s Main Library was situated by the elevators.  Esperanza always requested carrel-offices with tinted windows so she could watch the traffic--students, instructors, and librarians winding their way between the bookcases.  She wondered who she’d angered to get stuck behind the janitor’s closet of the women’s john.  There was never any way to tell, with only Julian and Esperanza’s brother to contact, and no way to communicate with the higher ups.  No one seemed to know the identities of the ones at the top.  It wasn’t necessary to complete the job.

At 3 AM, industrial white light and the red from exit signs above the elevators glowed off the linoleum tiles.  This time, at least, they hadn’t put her on a floor with the old newspaper archives.  Lanky pages hanging brown and brittle off of the racks.  Boxes of microfiche with tiny labels Esperanza couldn’t read from her carrel.  Watching people flip through books was much more amusing, students and professors standing thoughtfully and skimming.  Sometimes reading entire chapters leaning against the bookcases.  Esperanza picked a book at random off of the shelf.  On the spine, a combination of letters in nonsense titles, and on the pages inside, jumbles of words tossed across the pages to form paragraphs.  No attempts at meaning.  No author.  No page numbers.  Every book in the library, except for a few special cases--maybe--were just like this one.  Esperanza would take it back to her office and use it as evidence for D&A.  No one would come looking for it anyway.  All of the searches and call numbers were just as muddled and useless as the text in this book.

At least the office had a slit-of-a-window, so she wasn’t completely enclosed by four brick walls.  Even when she was well-versed in them, Esperanza was surprised by the look and feel of new worlds.  She caught a glimpse of her face in the glass as the pane flipped down.  She still looked the same, more or less, felt the same, but she always fit the style of the world she was in.

The slit-of-a-window led to a less than endearing view--part of the cobblestone pavement leading to the street and a few branches of a magnolia tree.  A light drizzle fell, the drops cloudy like an explosion of phosphate bubbles under a light source Esperanza couldn’t see.  She stuck her face between the window and brick.  The March air was not uncomfortable, still touched with a bit of chill fluctuating between Winter and Spring.  Esperanza looked up.  The rain seemed just like it was in every story world she’d been to.  Even when coming down head on, the rain appeared to drift upwards.

Fully awake, Esperanza shut the windows.  Derek and Aaron were due in a few hours.  She wanted to be prepared.  She still wondered who bothered to recruit them, but the higher ups always turned out to be right.


They were late--of course.  D&A knocked around 9:37.  They’d been scheduled for 9 AM.  When they found Esperanza at her desk facing the door with her legs crossed, they obviously had no respect for the severity of the situation.  Twins in posture, they ambled into the office buzzard slumped, baggy jeans three sizes too big exposing plain boxers on Derek, and Dallas Cowboy boxers on Aaron.  Without any word of greeting, they plopped down in the chairs Esperanza placed facing her.  Aaron looked at the skirt stopping just above her knee.  Esperanza tried to pull it down and put both feet on the floor.

She twiddled her pen, thumping it against the desk.  “I know the information you received a few days ago must have been deeply disturbing, but you do realize you’re over half an hour late?”

“Oh, yeah.  Sorry ‘bout that.”  Derek grinned.  “It was a little hard findin’ the place with all them doors, miss...”

“Esperanza, Derek.  And you’re Aaron.”  She would have offered a handshake but shuddered at how they might interpret her touch.  Their excuse still wasn’t valid.  She shouldn’t have been surprised.  She remembered reading that the boys made an art of slacking.

“We had to sleep in,” Aaron said.

“I understand that you’re busy with school, and I’m sorry we had to call you in on the weekend, but we’re in a very dangerous position right now.” 

D&A stared at her, bored, chomped on gum.  Most characters chosen for undercover work came to Esperanza distraught and shaking.  She could give them the ten minute spiel, and they’d sit there quietly nodding.  They’d do anything asked of them, only because they were so afraid.

But these two?

“So, what’s the deal with all these doors, anyway?” Aaron asked.

“Didn’t you get the information explaining all that?”

“Yeah, in our lockers.  Then this guy met us on the way home from school and said we’d better be here today, told us all this stuff about us only we could know.  But that still don’t explain all these doors and stories and shit.” 

Esperanza nibbled the tip of her pen. 

“So,” Derek said, “what story you from?”

“I can’t really tell you that, but I’m from the year 2030.”  Esperanza usually threw in the last fact, just to sharpen the gravity of this reality.

“Hunh,” the boys said. 

Aaron slouched forward.  “The future--does it look pretty much the same?  That’s like, what, thirty-something years from now?”

“Thirty-six,” Esperanza said.  “Well, it doesn’t look exactly like this.  The technology’s not so advanced like some would have you believe.  I live in a different city, so I don’t know how that translates, and the story I’m from’s animated.”

“You don’t look like no cartoon,” Aaron said.

Animated series,” Esperanza said.  “It’s not a cartoon.  It’s a series for adults.”

“You’re a porn?” Derek said.

“Nooooo.  The audience intended is adults, not children, that’s all, and it’s not all cartoony looking like the stuff for kids.”

“How come you look so normal then?” Aaron said.

“In my story, I’d look normal too, ‘cause it’s animated, and I would look animated.  I can take the look of whatever story I’m in.”

Aaron hopped up from his chair.  “That’s dope!  If I find the craziest place I can--”

“You’re not allowed to cross story boundaries,” Esperanza said.  “Don’t forget that, or we’ll have to erase you.  Your look wouldn’t change, either.  Anybody’d know you don’t belong.”

“So, how come you get to change?” Aaron said.

“It’s just the way we choose to do things,” but Esperanza couldn’t really answer that either.  “Well, you have your information.  Please inform me immediately if you find BouBreaker #1--”

Aaron started, “That’s Ja--”

Esperanza threw her hand up.  “Yes, correct.  Please don’t say the name.”

“Damn.  Y’all paranoid,” he said.

Esperanza shook her head.  “We, you, keep everything as quiet as you can.  Those people out there beyond the bathroom door?  What do you think would happen if they discovered the nature of their true condition?”


Maybe not an apocalypse Revelations-style, but it would still be pretty bad.  People would go insane.  Scratching themselves bloody to see if they were really alive.  Questioning everything they ever believed.  Deciding there was nothing left to live for and inciting riots.  People were crueler than they wanted to accept.  If they found out they weren’t real, would they take revenge to soothe old wounds, knowing there’d be no divine judgment?

Esperanza’d never been present out in the field when characters discovered what they really were, but Alan had.  He watched a woman on a busy street during rush hour run out of her car.  The oncoming truck ripped off the driver’s side door and careened into the lane, taking three more cars with it.  Meanwhile, the woman had run onto the sidewalk.  She kicked at and pounded a brick apartment building with her fists.  She screamed “No, I’m not! I’m not!” until she was hoarse.  Then she still tried to yell, a sickening sound as if claws had shredded her vocal cords, and the stringy membranes rasped around in her throat.

It wasn’t completely disastrous.  The hundreds of insignificant characters populating that story only walked by pretending they didn’t notice the woman covered in her own tears, mucous and blood, or they stood and watched with no effort to help--as people are wont to do.  The authorities got to her in time before more damage could be done, leading everybody to believe they were taking her to a mental institution.  She was sent to the Revision Room (Esperanza didn’t even know where that was) and erased immediately.  That was the one nice thing about characters who were really nobodies finding out the truth.  They weren’t even minor players, just the atmosphere and surround of the story.  Those people who walked by in the distance when two major characters dialogued at a café.  Or the everybody elses who populated the classroom, office, beach, or mall.  Who would miss them once they were permanently removed from a story?

The first full day had now come and gone since Esperanza sent Derek and Aaron off on their assignment.  They were never protagonists, but they were important enough to serve as sidekicks.  Their absence would certainly be felt by major characters.

She still couldn’t figure why they were chosen.  D&A didn’t have many exploits, so when they had something to brag about, they bragged often.  And they were too nonchalant about all of this.  Esperanza remembered when she found the information packet in her dorm-room desk.  She’d been in the cafeteria taking a break from studying for finals, and her brain was already frazzled.  The higher ups were good with mind games.  The letter in the folder told her she could tell her brother everything revealed to her about the nature of her true condition and her assignment.  Turned out they had approached Alan just a week earlier.  Esperanza still believed the only reason they included her on the job was because they desired Alan so badly and knew he would share everything with her.  Knowing she was never an ideal choice kept her working hard and desperate to never screw up.

But there appeared to be no psychological advantages over Derek and Aaron.  Esperanza tossed the book she’d been trying to read the past few hours on the desk.  The words had blurred and disintegrated on the page until she didn’t see anything in front of her at all.  Why was she thinking about those boys so much?  She had no reason to care about them, or even like them. 

She sent her brother an e-mail before retiring to the pull-down cot in the corner for the night:


Dear Alan,

They’ve assigned me D+A.  That seems an odd choice.  Isn’t it?  They don’t work very hard b/c they’re lazy.  They can talk too much and might wander where they’re not supposed to.   

Love, &c.,



Hey, Nena:

I wouldn’t say that recruiting D+A is so weird.  They *hate* BouBreaker #1--they think she “acts” too white--racial politics and nonsense.  I wouldn’t worry about it.  They can stick to seomthing when motivated.

Stay cool.



The message was waiting in the inbox when she got up.  Alan was always good about returning e-mails.  Maybe he was right.  All Esperanza had were the stories to go by.  Her impressions were formed there.  Alan had more intel.  Where he got it from he didn’t say because he didn’t know, but if he told her not to worry . . . .

They’d be willing to take her out just b/c they think she “acts” too white?  That’s rough!



Esperanza heard a couple of young women in the bathroom giggling over running water.  The cot had not been kind to her neck, and she touched her chin to her shoulder trying to stretch out that crick.  The room was dark.  The sun was on the other side of the library, not that the slit-of-a-window did much good anyway.  There was nothing to do but wait.  Esperanza couldn’t go out into the library until very late when the janitors had gone.  She stared at her laptop screen for a while before getting one of BouBreaker #1’s books out of her briefcase.  This one was newly published and showed up in Story #3 a few days ago.  It was an encyclopedia of characters from Story #5--this place.  Esperanza couldn’t stand this girl’s persistence or her audacity, with seemingly no care or awareness of the consequences these books carried with them.  She wrote about all of this--all of these different stories, how they were and were not connected, the nature of their true condition--and sold it as fiction in #3.  If she kept this up, S#3 would find out it was all true one day.  And that place was already filled with so much tension, always on the brink of a civil war.

Someone knocked.  Esperanza threw the book into her briefcase and locked it.  “Come in.”

Derek gave her a sheepish smile and slumped over in the chair across from her.

“You have news for me about our problem?”  Perhaps Alan was right.  This was already over with, and Esperanza wouldn’t have to work with D&A very much at all.

“Ah, naw,” Derek said.  “I jess wanted to chit about this,  chat on that.”

Esperanza lowered the laptop screen.  “You know you shouldn’t be here unless it’s business.”      

Derek sucked his teeth.  “Yeah, I know, but I been thinkin’ ‘bout all of this.”

“Which may lead to your death--”

“Girl, I ain’t doin’ nuthin' to get myself killed.  I jess wanna know somethin’, okay?  Now, supposedly there’s this writer somewhere, and this writer wrote all these stories--”

“OMA.”  Esperanza sighed and rolled her eyes.


She lowered her voice, “Our Mutual Author.  Please be quiet.  Learn those abbreviations.”

"Yeah, yeah, okay.  So OMA’s done all these stories, and that’s the worlds we live in, and somehow, if we know where to go, we can find the doors to all these other stories--”

Esperanza turned around and looked back at the wall hiding them from the janitor’s closet and women’s bathroom.

“Oh, girl, cain’t nobody hear us beyond that door.”

“You don’t get it.  I’ve dealt with this a lot more than you.”

“Fine,” he said.  Derek grabbed the little notepad on the desk and a pen. 

They both heard the jingle for the new e-mail alert coming from Esperanza’s laptop.  Derek looked puzzled, and Esperanza realized Derek wasn’t familiar with the technology.  He stared at her laptop.  She scooted her chair in front of it and faced him.  She prayed he didn’t take it as a sign of attraction.

She grabbed the notepad from him.

“Hey, when did I say anything about goin’ lookin’ for other stories to enter?  I ain’t crazy, and I ain’t gonna get labeled no Boundary Breaker.  I’m nuthin' like her.”

Esperanza leaned in towards him.  “Then please, please stop asking the same types of questions that got her into so much trouble.  Why won’t you just do what I tell you instead of loafing around looking for problems?  I wouldn’t have even assigned you in the first place.”  She ripped the two pages from the notepad and tore them to pieces.

Derek stared at her, tongue fidgeting around his front teeth.  She was sure there was an acerbic BITCH perched behind his lips, but he didn’t let it out.  He got up and went to the door leading to the hidden staircase that wound through the outside walls of the library.  “So, I guess we’ll be in touch.”

She waited for the door to close before opening the laptop to read Alan’s e-mail:


>>They’d be willing to take her out just b/c they think she “acts” too

>>white?  That’s rough!

I’ve been asked to take people out too, for different reasons of course.  That’s why you’re stuck with the desk job, hermanita.



Esperanza laid her head on the desk.


Julian:  heard you got stuck with d&a  W

She was nodding off when she received the IM.  Julian was Alan’s nemesis since he was five years old, which is exactly why the higher ups paired him with her.  She relished the work, thrilled by all of the traveling between worlds.  One time after she and Alan had just watched a character being erased, Julian unwrapped a wad of bubble gum and popped it in her mouth.  Esperanza thought about not responding.  She didn’t feel like putting up with Julian’s teasing, but there was nothing better to do.  

>I’m sure you had smoething to do with it

Julian:  haaaaaa!  wish i’d thought of it, really

>Who assigned them to me?  Seriously.

Julian:  always with the stupid questions, you know i don’t know...

>I wish I was out in the field.  I’m tired of these stuffy old libraries.  It’s not like there’s anything to *read*.

Julian:  you know you’re not field material, could you send a bullet through someone’s brains?  mmmm...brains...there’s nothing like watching somebody else’s gray matter dribble down the wall

>Shut up, J.  I can’t believe they paired Alan with you.

Julian:  how come?  he likes watching brains splatter more than i do

>Bad influence...

Julian:  we’ve got the good cop/bad cop thing down perfect

Julian:  perfect*ly*...stupid adverbs...

Julian:  seriously?  you’d never be able to make the decisions we have to make in the field.  killings a part of it.  could you take down your *mom* if asked?  could you really watch her go through all of the fun things we like to put boubreakers through?  if you got one perfect shot, could you put it right between her eyes?

>No, but I’m sure you could...with a big old grin.

Julian: º

Julian:  stick with what you;re good at, esperanza.  they picked d&a cuz d&a will get the job done

Julian: chau




Shuffling and jingling echoed in between the shelves on the fifth floor.  Jerked from her half daze, Esperanza woke up on the pull-down cot behind the women’s restroom.  She flipped her wrist.  The watch read 3:17.  More jingling, and the humming of a tired man swelled through the corridors.  The song came from deep within his belly.  He’d hum it low, slow, in pain, and then notes soared with momentary glimpses of hope.      

Esperanza hopped off the cot and crept through the janitor’s closet.  There wasn’t supposed to be anyone else here.  The last of the staff left hours ago.  She hadn’t heard doors open or the whirring of elevators.  The humming was so loud, so enveloping, Esperanza couldn’t tell where he was located on the floor.  He seemed to be everywhere.

The library was completely locked down.  He couldn’t have found his way in unless he used the entrance hidden in the walls, and that would mean he also knew about the secret entrances to the other libraries connecting all of the worlds together.  He would have to be reported...and erased.

Esperanza left the bathroom.  The only light on the floor came from above the elevators and the exit signs.  She thought of calling out to him, but BouBreakers were usually armed, and she could die just as easily in this story as she could in her own.

Esperanza walked past the shelves in the shadows, wondering if any change in the song would give him away.  A modulation, a shift in volume.  But his song, the rhythm, the volume, the bold, lonesome tone--all remained constant.  She crouched along the wall until she reached the microfiche room.  She looked around both corners.  Nobody there.  She stood.

The song stopped.

“Where did you come from, girl?”

Esperanza twirled around, and she gurgled on a scream.  He had not been there before, and he was no BouBreaker she recognized.  He glowed green in the shadows, a strong black man with thick, matted hair.  His simple shirt and pants were in rags.  Shackles bound his ankles and neck, but the chains that once imprisoned him had been broken.  The busted links about his feet coiled like snakes, and the one from his neck hung down to his abdomen. 

Esperanza cleared her throat and straightened her spine.  “I work here.  It’s after hours, so there shouldn’t be anyone but staff in the building.  What are you...doing here?”

The man shifted his weight, and the chains scraped the floor.  “I’m looking for Will and Hark.”

“Will and Hark?”

He nodded his head once, slowly, stately.  “They need me to draw first blood.”

Esperanza spread her lips, mouthed around hoping the appropriate words would come.  “And what is your name?”

He approached her, and she retreated until she pinned herself against the entrance of the microfiche room, the doorknob poking the small of her back.  He leaned forward.  His eyes were covered in watery cream, and his pupils weren’t even a part of his face, staring into this world from another dimension.

“I’m Nat Turner.  And who are you, miss?”

“Regina,” she said without thinking, the old standby if anyone asked for her identity.  “Really, it’s after hours.  Nobody but staff is supposed to be here.”

Without saying a word, he started to hum and walked right through the elevator doors.

When she returned to the women’s bathroom, Esperanza found a slip of paper on the floor, torn from her own notepad:    

Julian:  that whole nat turner thing?  got some info. for you

Julian:  unconscious dump


Julian:  espera, when’s the last time you read the manual?

>I *know* the manual.

Julian:  OMA read some book called Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, starring (well, featuring) nat turner.  looks like he slipped in from memory.  i’m sending you some stuff on him

>That’s nice to know.  But he’s running around the library.

Julian:  is he running around the library with his merry bandits hacking up all the white people? 

Julian:  there arn’t any jerusalems located in your area.  i don’t think you have anything to worry about. 

>You don’t have to be here with himn.

Julian:  he attack you?

>No, but he’s a ghost, a *crazy* ghost.  What about that note?

Julian:  note didn’t come from anybody we know of, so theres nobody else there in the library in the early morning besides u and him.  as long as he doesn’t have a dream or vision or something, you should be fine.  why don’t you chat him up so you keep his supernatural “i’m hearing from God!” channel blocked?

Julian:  chau

>does this story appear in any Archives?  |


Turner’d been prowling around looking for Will and Hark the last two nights.  No news from D&A, so Esperanza was stuck with the ghost.  She couldn’t leave the library until they returned, and late at night, she stood around the elevators watching Nat Turner sweep the broken chains across the floor.  She didn’t want him to come looking for her and finding her office, discovering he could enter another story. 

Esperanza wondered why he didn’t try to kill her.  Maybe it was because she wasn’t white.  Maybe he had a vision that said she was okay, or wasn’t worth the bother.  Or maybe it was because he was waiting for Will and Hark.  

One thing was for sure:  if Nat Turner thought God told him, he wouldn’t hesitate to hack Esperanza to bits.  Julian sent her a file of Turner’s confessions, a gesture more cruel than helpful, it seemed now.  “We started from there for Mrs. Reese's, maintaining the most perfect silence on our march, where finding the door unlocked, we entered, and murdered Mrs. Reese in her bed, while sleeping; her son awoke, but it was only to sleep the sleep of death, he had only time to say who is that, and he was no more,” he’d said.  With the instructions from one dream, one vision, Esperanza might not wake up from her cot.  


>>I’ve been asked to take people out too, for different reasons of course.

Well, you might add Derek to that list.  He asked some dumb questions the other day, and I had to straighten him out.  Who knows if it worked.

I’m sure Julian told you about Nat Turner.  Does he appear in S#5’s Archives?  He really shouldn’t be here.  I know he was just on OMA’s mind or something but he’s not a character, is he?  Why did he show up here and not some other story?  Did OMA put him here on purpose?  He’s not even the real ghost of Nat Turner.  He’s just the imagined ghost of Nat Turner how OMA sees him.  And what about that note I found?  Alan, could you please see if any character information on Nat Turner is in the Archives?  I really want to know what he’s doing here.  I can’t leave and I think he might kill me.

Love, &c.,



Hey, Nena:

It’s ok.  It really is.  That ghost isn’t going to kill you.  You’d probably already be dead if he were.  No, there’s nothing on him in the Archives for S#5.  And there is no information on him in any other story.  So he’s really not a character.  Technically.  Maybe OMA’s just dreaming him.  I really can’t tell you much about the note, but if it came from anywhere, it came from Turner.  Who else could it be?  Is it so bad if it really was from OMA?  As for what it said--maybe it’s about Turner’s fate.  He did end up dead didn’t he?  Hang in there.  BouBreaker #1 can’t hide forever, and we’ve got one of her accomplices.  D+A will probably be getting back to you soon.

Stay cool.



If he were not a part of the story, if he were not a character of OMA’s making, then Nat Turner had no business being here.  The higher ups were no help.  Neither were Alan and Julian.  Esperanza would have to get rid of the ghost herself.  Wide awake in her cot, she waited for his chains to shuffle across the tiles and his humming to invade the entire floor.  The moaning song started around 3:17 AM, his usual arrival.  He was freaky, but he was reliable. 

“A good night to you, Miss Regina.”  He sat on a table next to the computer lab swinging his legs.  The chains clacked against the floor.

“A good night to you too, Mr. Turner.”

“Have you seen Will and Hark?”

Esperanza shook her head, approaching him.  “No.  No Will and Hark.  Will and Hark aren’t coming.  It’s the same every night, Mr. Turner.”

“Will and Hark will be here.”

“No.  It’s over.”

The filmy eyes darted back and forth, searched her.  “This is the Lord’s work.  They wouldn’t dare abandon it.”

“Nat, it already happened.  Look at your feet.  Don’t you feel that chain around your neck?  When you set out to kill those white people, were you in chains?  You’ve already done the killing.  They already captured you and executed you.”

“No!”  He slid from the table, and his boots landed on the floor with a stomp.  “We’re setting out tonight!  We will rise up and take their freedom!  You will not deter me from the will of God!”

Esperanza started to retreat, her left shoulder turning towards the bathroom.  But she righted herself and squared her shoulders to face him.  “Nat,” she said, almost whispering, “it never happened like you wanted.  There was no great uprising.  They killed over a hundred innocent slaves for what you did.”

The ghost stood over her, glowered down at her.  Flimsy white vapor rose from his body, drifted up from his nose and mouth as he snarled.  Esperanza’s eyes watered.

“This thing must be done, do you understand?” he said.  “They must die, every last one of them, until my people are free.  I do not care how long I have to wait.  If it is a thousand nights, I will be patient.  I will not back down from this holy work, no matter how gruesome or terrible a thing it seems.”

Electricity sparked in the film on his eyes.  He pursed his lips together so hard his jowls shook.  Esperanza trembled under his conviction.  The ghost hardly noticed.  He evaporated through the walls of the computer lab. 

When she returned to the office, she fell on the cot and fell asleep immediately.  She dreamed of the library, sitting at a desk near a window overlooking the street.  Shapes began to appear on the glass.  Figures of unidentified people, walking from one end of the window to the other.  Esperanza didn’t try to identify them.  They were the colorful amorphous shapes that tricked the eyes when they fixated on one spot for too long.

But then the window glowed.  The glass entrapped within it a soft green luminescence.  This next figure who came marching, Esperanza recognized him.  His steps were strong, deliberate, dragging broken chains behind them.  Nat Turner played a pipe as he marched, although Esperanza couldn’t hear the music.  Julian followed, and Alan came behind her a few paces back.  Bringing up the rear, Esperanza followed her brother.  All three of them marched in time with Turner.

Esperanza woke up to find her head lying on her desk in the office behind the janitor’s closet. 

“We must do the work.”  Nat Turner, crouched down next to her chair, vapor rising into the stale air of the room.  The pupils obscured by the film of his eyes stared out at her from another dimension.

Esperanza got up to run, but she tripped over her feet when the shackles around her wrists pulled her back to the desk. 

She woke up, the cot underneath her completely soaked through.



After a quick shower in the janitor’s closet, Esperanza started an e-mail for Alan.  She didn’t even bother to dry thoroughly.  The pads of her fingertips left the keys sticky.  It was hard though, writing that letter.  She hoped the words would dance across the screen automatically because she couldn’t find the right ones to fit.

Dear Alan,

I know you told me not to worry, but I can’t after all that happened lats night.  It’s not that I’m worried for my life, but I still want to know why Turner was ever here.  It might be that BouBreaker #1 is like him.  We think she’s only trying to sell books because she’s an aspiring writer.  What if she wants people to come to the truth?  Then Nat Turner is symbolic of whatever freedo|


She watched the cursor blink.  She had so many theories about Nat Turner’s appearance.  They were tossing around in her head, sometimes making sense and sometimes not.  Could she word it properly so her brother would understand?  Why did she need him to know why she was so bothered after he told her everything would be fine?

She erased that last part and added:

What if the books she writes is her way of spreading the truth about our condition, and they’re her call to insurrection?  She’s not much different than Nat Turner then, and Nat Turner is a representation to some kind of call to freedom--however she defines that freedom.

Esperanza frowned at the screen.  This was not really about BouBreaker #1, as easy a target as she was.  Nat Turner did not come to BouBreaker #1.  He had never come to her.  He spoke night after night with Esperanza, and to her alone.

I had a dream with Nat Turner’s ghost in it.  |

Did she really want Alan to read about all of this?

I had a dream with Nat Turner’s ghost in it.  Something doesn’t make sense, Alan.  If Nat Turner isn’t supposed to be a character and he shouldn’t exist here, how could he appear in my dreams too?  Did OMA put him there?  But we were told OMA really isn’t that involved with us.  He told me I needed to get the work done in the dream.  But I’m not like Nat Turner.  I don’t have the passion.|        



Did Esperanza want to have to read this herself?

Dear Alan,

I no longer fear that Nat Turner’s ghost might kill me.  I was never his target because he is waiting for something that can never happen.  I have thought a lot about why he is here since no character information for him appears in any of the story world Archives, nor has he ever interacted with any characters in these worlds besides me.  Well, last night he appeared in my dream.  If he is not supposed to be here and he’s only a figment of a memory of something OMA read, then he should not be in my dreams.

But he was in my dreams, and he told me I must do the work.  Nat Turner was fanatical because he believed in his cause, as violent and misguided as it was.  I’m not passionate about what we’re doing.  Yes, I know it’s important.  I know what will happen if characters aren’t kept in line, and it’s important to avoid chaos at all costs.  I know you think the job’s hard sometimes, but you seem to find it more fulfilling than I do.  And Julian absolutely loves messing with these people because she’s…well…Julian.  If I’m honest though, I am involved with all of this because I have to be.

Perhaps I am afraid that after I have bloodied my hands until my skin is dyed red, I will resign myself to hide in a cave just like Nat Turner.  And just like him, when the authorities come to send me off to my punishment, I won’t even bother to fight.

I will be good, as always.

Love, &c.,


When she was satisfied that this was exactly what she wanted to say, Esperanza deleted the letter.


And on the 6th day, they returned.

“Yo!  Whassup, whassup!” Aaron said.

Esperanza gave them a smile full of teeth, and she didn’t care if they misinterpreted it.  “So, I take it you have something good for me?”

“We were right for the job,” Derek said without smiling.  He folded his arms.

“Sit down.  I need to get this ready.”  She fidgeted with a digital recorder.  “You, of course, know you aren’t to repeat anything about the technology you’ve seen here.”

“Of course,” they said.

“Can we ask you something?” Aaron said.  “Me and Derek been debatin’.  What are you, exactly?”

She was confused for a moment, but then realized it was that kind of question.  She didn’t have to bother with it so much where she was from.  “I’m bi--” 

“Really?”  They both leaned forward.



“That makes sense.  You look kinda Mexican, but then you got them green eyes,” Aaron said.

“May I ask you something, before we begin?”

“You gonna interrogate us?” Derek said.

“No, no.  Nothing like that....Most characters, when they find out the nature of their true condition, they’re disoriented and it takes them a while to feel normal again, if they ever do.  You--it’s like nothing ever happened.”

Aaron grinned and pretended he was brushing dust off his shoulders.  “It’s no big deal, is it?  We found out somethin’ ‘bout the way the world works.  We’re still exactly the same.”

She smiled to herself.  “You were the right men for the job.... Shall we begin?”

>Hey, J, I think we found BouBreaker #3.  My guess is he’s waiting for BB #1 to come home.  He’s been hanging around the last couple of days according to D+A

Julian:  w00t!

>Here’s the transcript:  |

Esperanza hesitated.  How close was she to cementing the erasure of another character?  To waiting out the rest of her days in quiet resignation in that cave?

Julian:  where’s it at, esperanza?

She sighed, then copied and pasted.

>A:  Dude has been hanging out with Malik the last couple of days.  Just showed up outta nowhere.

E:  What does he look like?  Is he black or white?  Latino?

D:  Uh, dude’s black.  We don’t hang out with white cats much--they too corny.  Real dark cat, real tall.

E:  Have you gotten a fix on his personality?

D:  Oh, he’s real smart, and a smartass....He’s probably gay, though.  He brags about livin’ with this girl in his hotel room, but he ain’t [having sex with her].

Julian:  what’s this “[having sex with her]” crap?

>I will not repeat how he said it.  I’m sure you’ve already used your imagination for that one.

Julian:  W

Julian:  i have to give u your props, espera.  excellent work.  you’re getting good at this


Esperanza was half asleep, nodding off at the desk.  It had been a few hours since Derek and Aaron left.  A familiar knock snapped her to attention from the door leading to the hidden staircase.  Her brain shook in her head.  She pinched her nose to massage the buzzing out.  “Yes?”

Alan walked in swirling a key chain around his index finger.

“Hey!  What are you doing here?”  She smiled and wrapped one arm around his shoulders, avoiding getting too excited in case her brother also turned out to be an apparition who had no business being there.

He shrugged.  “Time to go.”

“We don’t have BouBreaker #1 yet.  What about the guy


“We have him in custody.”

“So, why are we leaving?”

“Well, we’re not leaving.  Not really, really.  We’re going to keep #5 under surveillance, but we figure she knows we’re waiting for her.  She hasn’t been home in a while, so if she thinks we’ve left...”

Esperanza shut down her laptop and locked her briefcase.  “Do you think she knows OMA?  Ya know, maybe she’s so hard to find because she knows OMA, and that’s how she stays ahead of us.  Or, maybe she is OMA, and she’s really behind all of this--the higher ups, us, all of the stories...”

Alan swirled the keys around on the chain.  He puffed out his cheeks and slowly let out the air.  “Nena, do you really want to be asking that?”




About the Author:

If Toiya Kristen Finley were in an alternate reality, she'd live in Nashville, Tennessee, a few blocks away from the Vanderhouten Library, and would probably make a point to keep a lookout for clueless ghosts.  But she doesn't, so she can't.

As for the reality she is situated in, Toiya Kristen Finley lives in Nashville, Tennessee near Some Other Library instead.  She is unaware of its particular haunts.  Her work has been published in Text: UR--The New Book of Masks, TEL: Stories, The Nine Muses, and Darker Matter.  Stories are set to appear in GrendelSong, H. P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror, New Writings in the Fantastic, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, and Farrago's Wainscot.  She is the founding and former managing/fiction editor of Harpur Palate.



Story and internal photos © 2007 Toiya Kristen Finley.