Their family had lived in Raccoon Dive for more than two hundred years. Wendy wondered how old the name was, given that it made their northeastern mountain town sound like the bottom layer of an especially moist dumpster. She didn’t hate living there, but all the tourists sure hated visiting.
You could see the signs of it everywhere. Only a handful of people in Raccoon Dive even littered, so if you saw a candy wrapper, chances were you could guess the first, middle, and last name of the culprit. They had so few local sports teams to compete against that they won half their games based on absences and forfeits. Wendy was in tenth grade, so the place where she saw the most signs of their insularity was her school’s library.
It was a decent size and the bookcases were old and dark, with none of that ply-board assembly nonsense. She heard some newer schools nearby were storing books in plastic bins. The thought to her was far more disgusting than any dripping dumpster. She spent most evenings in there, looking through the books and waiting for her mom to get off work and come pick her up. She could’ve taken the bus, but a bus was just a plastic bin for people anyway.
Wendy always wanted the personal touch, the one on one. Sitting there, with a book, was a silent conversation between minds that cared not for time. Coincidentally, she could never read anthologies. There were just too many voices to focus on.
It didn’t take long one evening, after an especially rigorous chemistry test, for her to realize just how much the books in their library had eaten their own tail. They had a dozen volumes, all comedies of manners, written by three sisters from the same family a century ago.
The science section had volumes arguing with each other, penned by rival entomologists, constantly refuting each other’s experiments and classification systems. Sometimes Wendy would find their jabs so humorous that she would grunt and earn a scowl from the librarian. She knew it was an affectionate scowl, because the librarian always stayed later than she did.
Her current book, one of the last for her to touch, held a startling revelation. The last name on the cover, Durant, matched her own. Could it be possible? Was this an ancestor? She tore the book open and devoured the preface. It was going to be great. So great that she wanted a little privacy. Wendy eyed her surroundings. Of course there were no other students, they were all either on the buses or hosing each other down with silly strong over the most recent forfeit, so she could stealthily head to the back of the library and claim the most comfortable chair.
The volume was bound in leather and titled: Orlando Durant’s Diving. She didn’t care if it was a manual for swimming techniques; she was going to read the entire thing. Fortunately, there was barely any swimming in it at all. It was actually the story of her possible ancestor’s attempts to start a family feud in the vein of the Hatfields and the Mccoys.
It seemed Orlando was extremely irritable, and found the company of animals more pleasant than people. Wendy saw a grouch, but she also saw a kindred spirit, a flame that perhaps still burned in her. People-like things were always better than people. Animals, books, daydreams of the most romantic partner possible, all better than the real thing. She did not judge him too harshly when she read about the tricks he pulled, like dumping wild pigs into the largest home belonging to the other family, who were called the Blorets. He had even used some sort of pig delivery mechanism: a large metal chute he’d shoved into one of their first floor windows.
She was smiling. Orlando was such a card. In fact, she wanted to leave him one. It was something she did sometimes, just to make the conversations more real. She was more skilled at sketching than writing herself, so her cards were always pictures rather than messages. She brought out her notebook and pencil, and began to draw the imagined face of Orlando. She put in her own cheekbones just for some family resemblance.
She wanted to get her two cents in though, so she provided a counterargument. She thought she had the power to convince him that the Blorets weren’t so bad. She drew Orlando and a Bloret daughter standing together, feedings the pigs rather than shooing them in or out of the house. Wendy’ phone beeped. Her mother had arrived. Only a third of the way through the book as well. There was always tomorrow. Wendy tucked the card in between the pages, returned it to the shelf, and headed for the parking lot.
The next day, back in the chair, with rain pouring outside and failing to distract her, Wendy cracked into the diving once more. Strange. She didn’t remember putting the card upside down. She pulled it out only to find it was a blank piece of lined notebook paper. She must have flipped it over a dozen times before setting it aside. Perhaps the librarian was playing a trick on her.
Wendy read. Orlando seemed much more conciliatory with the Blorets from that point on. The tricks stopped. He danced with a Bloret girl at the autumn harvest festival. She couldn’t help but picture the imaginary face she’d drawn on the Bloret girl. Was it imaginary? Now that she thought about it, she had based the face, somewhat, on a younger version of the librarian.
She had to try something else. She drew another card. A wedding this time. She hadn’t spoiled the ending for herself, but she just knew Orlando was the type to have a few illegitimate children but never marry. That could change, if he listened to the voice of his descendant. When she finished the card she ripped it out loudly, placed it, and closed the book. She waited three minutes, and couldn’t contain herself after that.
Once more she dove in. Once more the card was blank. She read ravenously, even as she started to feel strange. It was like things moved inside her, like a lava lamp, but never drifted too far. Her teeth groaned like icebergs and she wondered, in the back of her head, if they were actually shifting. Orlando was more important at the moment. He had listened. He was not too stubborn to see what the world could be like if people tried to understand each other more.
The feud was gone. Wendy had never read the ending, but she had assumed he’d succeeded. He was escalating things until her cards, her whispering, started to meddle. Maybe they were just dreams to him, but they changed him. He had wed that Bloret girl. They had many children, and he only had one or two illegitimate ones after that. He ended the book on on an old fishing canoe, thinking about fish he could catch and cook that were normally considered unpalatable.
Wendy closed the volume and gasped. Her hands were different. Her skin was darker and her fingers stubbier. She felt her face and her hair, and it didn’t quite seem to be hers. A bigger nose, less beautiful but perhaps cuter. Teeth a little more crooked, but legs a touch longer.
It really was a conversation, passed through the family tree, convincing it to grow in a different direction. Orlando had shaken the branches, infused the blorets, and Wendy had some of them in her now. She was a new person. Shocked that all her suspicions about the depths of books had been true, she could do nothing but wander around and see the library through changed green eyes.
The first person she saw was the librarian. Her face, different as well, had the biggest grin she’d ever seen. There must’ve been a Bloret in her history somewhere. Raccoon Dive was insulated, but there was always someone to listen.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by brooke2698 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop bytwitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!