Black Book of My Heart

By: BW Ellis
Originally Published: February, 25th 2021

Note: This fictional short story was written in response to a competition on the Vocal publishing platform. The two requirements for the story were that it involved a black Moleskin notebook, since they sponsored the competition, and that the dollar sum of $20,000 was included since that was the prize. I received an honorable mention for this submission.

They tried to take it from me, clasped in my hands I held it close, never letting it go. They saw it gave solace and they wanted it.

Didn’t they know it was only for me? Didn’t they know that the calm and joy it provided would never wash over their hearts as it did mine? Did they only want to deprive me of something they could not discover for themselves?

That day on the train when the old man fell in obvious grief, I was holding my book when I offered him a hand up and told him, “There will be a time when you can think upon the love in your heart without the pain that comes with it”. As he looked up at me, eyes weeping their fluid emotions, I could see how he simply needed someone to care in that moment.

Growing up, the quote was a simple thing she said to me but they think it was some profound wisdom from the book I clutched. I don’t remember who recorded that video on their phone, nor do I know why the light shone from my book as it did, a reflection maybe. A glisten of the playful illumination danced across the man’s face as he recovered his composure.

I really wish they hadn’t shared the video, wish they hadn’t called the trick of light on the book “miraculous”, wish people didn’t give it such divine portent. It was a private moment between strangers in a public place, like many that happen from time to time. It didn’t need to become such a thing, why would anyone want to go viral like this?

They thought it was a holy book, a scripture of untold wisdom, that the light was a flicker of the divine. They claimed it the word of the creator of the universe, not realizing that it was from the creator of my universe, mine and mine alone. They berated me as selfish for not sharing it.

They pushed and prodded calling me heretic and deceiver for being so content yet not sharing a sliver of that joy with others who needed it so terribly. They ostracized me from their community and shunned me as an outcast to convince me of the wrongness of my attachment to the little book. 

Then the others came. A different “they/them” with the same hole in their being, the same vacuous and vacant center sucking everything they could consume in an attempt to fill the void.

They claimed the small black book as a part of “their” teachings, demanding I release it into “their” loving care. They claimed to have an enduring respect for what they sought yet I have seen how they treat each other in the name of “their” messiah, seen the pain they cause with “their” righteousness.

No, I would not surrender it to them, I would not allow them to tear out the pages of this little book the way they have torn asunder the values of their deity’s teaching.

Still others came when they heard of this thing, this gift of a life gone by that I hold with my white knuckles.

Masters of reincarnation who claim the identity of now dead personas sought to pretend that this book was once theirs in a former form. That to withhold it is to deny them the perfection they have labored for lifespans to acquire and share.

I knew their claims to be untrue, not just in my mind but in the core of my being, so I denied them this and went about my way.

Invaders found me and at the point of a sword attempted to cut away my hands claiming their prophet left the book for their people. That my blood was a simple thing to wash from the tale of its origin. They threatened me as an apostate to their faith, as a blasphemer to their creed, and they had murdered many before that offered them far less insult than I in denying them their desires.

I ran from the mob. Secured in my home, doors locked and windows drawn, hid from their pain and rage, hate and anguish. I sought out dark hidden places and the strength to fight them off should they find me. For the book that had brought me such perfect inner peace, that shone like a spotlight in a pitch-black night was slowly taking my lived life away.

Perhaps in our world a slice of perfection cannot long exist, it simply withers in such blistering chaos. It attracted with its glow the horde of unfulfilled humanity. They all sought to stain it with the taint of their ideologies and I couldn’t survive fighting them off.

Another approached with a different tactic, a more insidious strategy to relieve me of my light and my love. With velvety smooth tones and language polished to a high buffed shine, this one offered me cold hard cash for the calming tranquility this creased and worn document provided.

I tried to devalue it, told them the book was empty, that not one word filled its pages and that it had no value to anyone but me. They wouldn’t listen, words were not what they wanted, that wasn’t the famous part.

The cadre used their focus of will and greed for the beacon of light in my life to enact great suffering in exchange for it. They made my world such a black morass that neighbors, family, and friends, even distant relations felt misery in their lives so I would be tempted to release the black Moleskine, but how could I?

She spent the last few weeks of her life pouring her soul into that book, printing on every page the wisdom of her heart and the fire of love in her eyes. She made it for me to carry, to love as her proxy after the death in her body slowly carried her into oblivion. The woman who gave me life, gave this book a life of its own for me to carry her memory within and nobody else could care for that memory better than I.

But to have something so pure in this world meant that you could be thrust into a life of impurity. That to hold even a small part of another’s eternal being in your hands is to invite the lowest qualities of those who professed enlightenment and divine understanding yet couldn’t appreciate it.

I could not be whole without it, but I also could not live with it while the throngs of wanting arms attempted to snatch it from mine. I could not have a lover or a friend without fear their affections were nothing more than subterfuge, an obfuscation of their true intent. I could not enjoy a moment’s peace or rest, for I would always need to guard it.

The overwhelming lust and temptation caused by this imagined icon of power prevented them from abandoning their pursuit. I needed a way to live with myself, a way to separate it from me without losing what was inside.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should consider with seriousness what the priests and the imams claimed. Maybe the clerics and the pastors had a point when they sought to share it with their flocks. Certainly the wealthy and the depraved who haunted my life were only to be defeated by satiating their insatiable appetites.

I no longer wanted to be the piece of meat at the table, surrounded by wild hungry wolves licking their fangs in anticipation. I desperately wanted the peace the pages promised me, even if it meant I couldn’t hold the pages any longer.

“Make me an offer!” I shouted while standing on my front step to the cameras and notepads claiming the mantle of responsible journalism.

From there the circus really took off with offers that ranged from marriages and promises of fame to proclamations of righteousness beyond mere monetary compensation. Coins both rare and beautiful, wrapped in cash with a bright golden bow dangled on the ends of wanting hands.

While the scratching and clawing of those who wanted the little black book jabbed ever closer, some of them diverted. Factions began fighting factions and soon they battled each other with far more violence than they tried with me. As if the cherished gift in my arms was now the prize of a bloodsport rather than the focus of spiritual bliss.

I quickly tired of the squabbling and sought to bring the discussion to a close. I told them that I had a number in mind and the first to guess the number and hand over the money could keep the cherished binding at the center of the strife.

Dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, and then it was said. Twenty thousand dollars and zero cents handed out in two neat stacks of $100 bills, wrapped into bundles.

“Sold!” I said and released the grip from my book of paper in exchange for their stacks of cash. They looked so very proud of the purchase. I told them, like the time before, that there were no words in it, its value only sentimental.

They never opened it, for the prize was attaining the unattainable, not the wisdom inside. They only inspected the worn cover and creased binding before inserting it into their inner pocket and walking away with the crowd straggling behind.

I was so relieved. 

Not at the burden of fame transferred, however, a weight did lift from my shoulders. Not at the money paid, but that would allow for much happiness to come. Not for the end of trouble caused to my friends and neighbors, family both close and far. Family who seemed a little disappointed I would give up on the precious item from one we all loved.

I was so relieved that they never noticed the envelope that came in the mail. That they never saw me use the sandpaper to scuff up the shiny new black book I bought nor the time I spent creasing the bindings and covers so they looked remarkably similar to the original.

I was relieved they didn’t open the book and demand their money back for the obvious forgery I had passed off while they paid (what I felt completely justified in calling) the purchase price of fame.

The End