It’s not a metaphor. Or a simile, or a fucking allegory, or whatever the word is. My heart. Exploded. And it wasn't because a pretty girl walked into the library where I work and told me that she needed my help. She caused it; she made it happen with malice of bloody forethought. At least she didn’t kill me. I suppose that’s something to be thankful for.
I’d been left alone to lock up for the night. I was in the middle of returning the children’s section to something approaching acceptable when she walked in. That’s always the easiest part of the lock-up. I mean, yes, you have to deal with whatever disgusting things they’ve left behind, from slobbery pacifiers to slobbery teddy bears, but the beauty of tidying the children’s section is that it’s never going to be tidy for more than five minutes after you open. And the manager never comes in for at least an hour after that, so basically it’s a non-job.
Anyway, back to that night. I was hurling the SpongeBob cushions into the corner when this girl walked in. Was she attractive? Yes. Would I have behaved more cautiously had she not been? I don’t know. It’s a moot point. She wasn’t and I didn’t. Is that right? Anyway, this girl stood there, dressed quite smart in a dark blue suit, dark hair done in a ponytail, with these big, bulky headphones around her neck. She asked me if I could help her with something.
“We’re closed,” I told her. If I’d been thinking, I would have wondered how she’d got past the locked front door. But thinking while working isn’t something I do very often. Since starting work there, I’d made a real effort to save my mental activity until I could share it with the people who I felt earned it and so far this girl had done nothing to prove she was worth anything more than a standard response. Apart from having a face like she did, I suppose.
“It’s very important,” she told me, like that would change everything. There was a tone in her voice, though. It wasn’t a tone like, “Oh god, I’ve been attacked!” It was more like “This is serious, listen to me.”
I thought about the possibility that she might be telling the truth. She did look worried; she looked like she wanted to be moving rather than standing by the door talking to me. So I walked over to her. I’m not a heartless person; I wouldn’t abandon someone who was in serious trouble. Oh, shit. Sorry about that. Pun not intended, but if I do it again, you can assume it is. Heartless.
“What’s going on?” I asked her. She turned to look at the front door. I don’t know if you’ve been there and seen the doors to the library, but they’re these two big, bulky wooden bastards. Substantial. And they were closed. She must have been satisfied because she turned back to me.
“Listen to this,” she said, and reached into her jacket pocket. Now, I’m wondering what’s going on. Maybe she’s going to pull a phone or MP3 player out; maybe she’s got a recording of something, I thought. You know the scene in Garden State, with Natalie Portman and The Shins? Maybe a small part of me thought that was happening. But no, it’s a matchbox. Cook’s Matches. She pops on her headphones and hands the box to me. “Open it,” she says. I know what you’re thinking. Why would you open it? But then, why wouldn’t you?
I open it. There’s something inside, I can’t tell what it is. It takes up most of the matchbox; it looks almost like a grey, moist fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant, the way it’s curled up in there. And then it uncurls. I almost drop it but before I can it starts vibrating and this noise comes out and it fills my head and everything just goes pink.
As I fell to the floor I felt like I was going in slow-motion. Which meant I could watch the arcing explosion coming out of my chest. It actually looked kind of beautiful. I saw some white bits that I assumed were shards of my ribs, or maybe just globs of fat that have been sticking around. Lots of blood, obviously. I could see it spattering the young adult section. And there were these vivid red chunks just flying out that I knew, that I understood were pieces of my heart which had just exploded.
So I’m on the floor. I’m lying there. My head’s tilted to the side; I’m looking at a misshapen hunk of my flesh that’s dripping off the book trolley. And I feel the girl take my hand.
“Get up,” she said.
It seemed ridiculous. How could I possibly get up? But she started pulling, so I thought that maybe it wasn’t so stupid. I tried, and it took some doing, but I just about got to my feet.
“What the hell was that?” I asked, in the kind of tone which I felt was justified.
“I don’t have time to explain,” she said. “There are some people coming. I need you to go outside and talk to them.”
I looked down at the hole in my chest, which was still bleeding a lot, by the way. I looked at the way my ribs have been blasted outwards. I felt like I was examining a crime scene. “I’m not sure I can go anywhere,” I told her. But to be honest, I felt OK. Had it not been for the evidence all over the floor, I wouldn’t have known anything had happened. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the front door. I kicked a chunk of something on the way and saw it skid under one of the history shelves. It would be a bastard to retrieve that. I don’t know who had to do that, some forensics guy I suppose.
She turned the lock in the front door and opened it a crack. “Go outside and tell them that it worked,” she said. When I asked what, she shook the matchbox. “This. Tell them the matchbox worked.”
Before I had time to register a complaint I was shoved outside. It was blowing a gale and I could feel little dangly bits around the edges of my wound flapping. It was…grim. But my eyes were drawn to the three large bald men in suits standing by a large black van a few feet away from me, who were all carrying shiny handguns. I assumed that these were the people I needed to talk to.
“Hello,” I said. “She says it works.”
The man in the middle took a step towards me. “Where’s the proof?” he asked. I gestured to my chest.
“I think I’m supposed to be the proof,” I told him. “The thing in the matchbox did this to me.” He moved closer and bent down to examine my wound. He used his pistol to move my shirt aside and get a better look. I thought it best to leave him to it, but looking at the blood dripping onto his weapon I couldn’t help but wonder how sanitary it was.
“Fair enough,” he said. “Is she inside?” I nodded, and he took a step back, taking his handgun out of me. “Laura? Is he telling the truth, then?”
“He is,” I heard her shout from behind me. She was poking her head out from behind the door. “I told you it would work, I just needed more time.” The man nodded.
“We may have been too hasty. What do you say to the idea of coming back?”
I turned and saw Laura take a cautious step towards us. “I say you spent the last hour trying to kill me.”
The man held his hands up. “We thought that you didn’t know what you were doing. We thought you were wasting our time, but clearly we were wrong. I apologise. I was too hasty and it won’t happen again. Besides, we need you to figure out why he’s still alive.”
Laura grinned. “I’ll expect a pay rise.” The man grinned back and nodded.
I’d been standing there, listening to this back and forth and wondering if I should say anything. I had hoped that I would be left out of it, but clearly, that wasn’t the case. As I was about to ask how they planned to find out why I was still alive, the man’s two friends picked me up and bundled me into the van.
No one said a word and I thought it best to keep my mouth shut. We drove for about twenty minutes, then a bag was put over my head and I was carried inside a building. I had no idea whether I was above ground or below but when the bag was removed I was in a cell. Not the worst cell imaginable, thankfully. It was clean, I had it to myself, there was a toilet. All things considered, it could have been much worse. My main worry was what to do about the hole in my chest. I did briefly consider filling it with wadded toilet paper but I’m sure you can deduce why I didn’t. Mushiness. Sorry, anyway, I didn’t think I needed to worry about infection. I just sat there and waited. I was sure someone would come and explain things to me eventually
Which brings me up to now. Two men I didn’t recognise opened the door and brought me here to talk to you ladies and gentlemen. Can I ask, have you figured it out yet? Why I’m not dead? Does it have something to do with the thing in the matchbox? Oh, how’s Laura?
Hope you enjoyed this one. It was fun to do something a bit different. Initially it was going to be another story with Elsie the ghost from She Wore Stripes, but this happened instead. I'd written a couple of quite grim things so it was nice to have a bit of fun with this.