Short stories

A Room Without A Soul

There is one peaceful room in that whole house.

It doesn’t look like anything much. There is an old couch with old-fashioned embroidered cushions scattered across it. There is a lamp with an unwieldy red shade, and the curtains are an indifferent paisley print, old and stiff. The carpet is worn and faded.

It’s a quiet room, and the light only brings it to life on certain winter afternoons, when the angle of the sun is just right.

There is not a single book on the shelves in that room. There are ornaments on shelves all round: some delicate and valuable, others so cheap the plastic feels tacky to the touch. There are china and brass and pewter and plastic ornaments, all jumbled together, and not a single book.

It is the only room in that house without books; the only one untroubled by the ripple of pages, the susurrus of long-dead voices and voices that never were. It is the only room in that house where you can be alone with your own thoughts, free of the weight of it all.

If you stray into that house, reader, you may at first delight in it. The smell of new books, the musky scent of the older volumes, the tang of leather from the bindings of the most precious. You may smile at the way the books fall open in your hand, at the way things almost seem to spring from the pages — sounds and scents and impressions of places long ago and far away. It is a delight, the way there is always another book, exactly the right book for that moment.

But at last, no matter who you are, you will find yourself uneasy. The whispering never stops, you see. From room to room, there’s nothing but books.

You will find nothing to harm you in that house. Just books. Books about far-away places and local customs from the town over the hill. Books about people long dead and the newest autobiographies. You will find fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, mass markets and collectors editions, all stacked together in a riot of lurid covers and tasteful bindings.

The rooms will close in around you. Though you go from one to the other, there are few windows, and they’re all painted shut, the handles rusted in place, the glass too old and thick to break. There are books in every room, clustered around the sinks and the baths, leaving almost no place for plates and cups and bowls. There are many doors, but they all lead to more books.

At last, I hope, you will find a room that’s different. You will find the one quiet room in all that house. Close the door behind you and breathe. Sit on that old couch, rest your head for a while on the old-fashioned embroidered cushion. Take in the scent of dried lavender and something colder, fresher; the window in that room opens, if you push back the paisley curtains and try the latch.

Enjoy the silence.

Before you go, perhaps you’d like to take an ornament with you. That little shepherdess, perhaps? The plastic cowboy? Put it in your pocket.

Take care to close the door behind you, and make sure you don’t forget how to find that room. You’ll need to find your way back there, before long.


The prompt was to find a really true quotation and somehow turn it inside out. I chose the quote usually attributed to Cicero: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”


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