The Story Carrier
Short story by Iris Carden
My biggest mistake ever was not listening to my grandmother.
She didn’t read, at all. She refused to allow books in her house. I couldn’t understand it. I always loved reading. Right from my first fairytale stories as a little child, I was always reading. I would spend all my time at the library if I could.
My grandmother told me I shouldn’t read so much, reading could be dangerous, she claimed. I never paid any attention.
Then I visited her at the nursing home, not long before she died. She told me that she was what she called a “story carrier”, and when one story carrier died, the youngest girl descended from her would take over. She said a story carrier had the power to bring characters and events out of books and into the real world.
I’ve read books and seen movies where that kind of thing happened. It’s a common theme in fiction. I just thought my grandmother might have been slipping into dementia, and confusing something from a story with real life. I knew she didn’t read books, but surely she watched television?
The day my grandmother died, I felt a great loss. She was strange in many ways, but I loved her despite that or maybe even because of that.
Of course, I consoled myself by reading a favourite old book. I pulled Dracula from the shelf and started re-reading an old favourite book. For a moment as I thought of my grandmother’s strange story, then I forgot it as my imagination joined Jonathon on his journey to eastern Europe, and met the strange aristocrat who wanted to buy property in England…
I fell asleep reading.
The next morning, there was some kind of excitement at my neighbour’s house. There were police cars, an ambulance, people coming and going.
I had an exam at uni that day, so didn’t stop to ask anyone what was happening.
It wasn’t until that night, that the television news told me that three women in my suburb had been murdered in one night, all with massive blood loss and throats apparently cut.
My grandmother’s words came back to me. It couldn’t be true, could it?
In case it could be true, I jumped to a later part of the book. I started reading about Van Helsing. As I read, I concentrated on the character, how could I pull him from the book? I knew it was insane, but I was desperately trying to do it anyway.
“When I catch him, you have to put us both back,” an accented make voice behind me said. I turned to see Abraham Van Helsing, as I had always imagined him.
“You’re real?” I felt stupid.
“I’m as real as your imagination. I’ve done a study of people with your gift.”
“You’ve imagined I have, so I have. You see me as an expert character, the person who explains everything. You also see me as the person who can catch your wayward vampire, so I can. Your grandmother was only partly right. It’s not just the story, it’s how your imagination interprets the story. You intentionally pulled me from the book, so you’ve learned some mastery of your gift already. When I bring Dracula back, you have to return us to the story, you have to work out how to do that.”
“Will that undo what he’s done here, in the real world?”
“No. Nothing that either of us does in the real world can be undone. That’s why you have to return us to the book. Our existence here can change reality.”
He left via the back door, and within hours was back. Of course he was, I imagined him able to. I opened the book looked at the page and imagined them back in it, and when I looked up again, they were gone.
I made a huge mistake, and people died. There’s nothing I can do to change that. I wonder if my grandmother did something similar and that’s why she avoided books.
I’m not going to handle this gift the way she did. I can open any book, call out any character and learn from them. I can look at a history book, and call out historical people, and as long as I imagine they can speak modern English and are willing to talk to me, they can and do. I try very hard to limit whatever other things I imagine about them.
So I can tell you about the motivations of Shakespearian characters, or about Tutenkamen’s reasons for changing a national religion. I have already learned so much.
I don’t know that I can ever undo that first big mistake, but I’m sure I can use my gift to learn things that will help to change the world for the better.
This story was written in response to the Saturday Writing Club prompt: my big mistake.