Mr Bell

As a child, all that Beauregard had was his books. He’d run away from the orphanage several times a week, and the police would always find the boy in the town’s library, huddled over huge volumes, because he simply loved to read.

His name had come from a book. His mother could not read, but his father would read to her during pregnancy, and after coming across the name in a book, it was decided that the little child who kicked against his mother’s stomach every time it was read aloud would have the name.

He hadn’t much of anything, losing his mother before he’d even met her, and his father to grief and alcohol, but he had always had his books.

They weren’t his books, of course, for they belonged to the library, but he adored them like they were his own, and when he turned fourteen and was sent out into the world to fend for himself, the first place that he turned was the library.

Dartford had a beautiful library, right in the centre of town. It had been built by Charles Linden in the last days of the 1700’s, before the man went mad.

Once the most celebrated writers of his generation, Linden had become reclusive in his later years and all that was left of him was his words, and the walls that contained them. The people of the town would still talk in hushed tones about the old man being dragged from his library and carted off to the lunatic asylum. That was the last that Dartford ever saw of Charles Linden, but his library remained, towering over the town, filled with knowledge and wisdom. One last gift to the people that had turned their back on him.

Linden had always been an author that Beauregard admired, even after many had decided that his writing had crossed into the bizarre, so Linden’s library had always been his favourite place to be.

He would sleep in it’s shadow, staying warm inside during the day with the friends and familiar places that lived in the pages, and after a while, the kind eyed librarian, Mrs Waterson took pity on the boy, and allowed him to board in the attic of the library, in exchange for working there.

Beauregard didn’t have much at the library, beyond his books, a sink and a camp bed, but he felt like his life was finally changing for the better. He took such joy in recommending books to the visitors, reading fairy tales to the children and keeping all of his favourite books in the best condition.

He would return to the attic every evening with a bowl of soup from the kitchen, and page after page of entertainment. It was, to the boy who had nothing, the perfect life.

Beauregard never felt any less satisfaction from his simple existence. He never longed for money, fame or fortune, but sometimes, as he fell into a soft slumber in his small sanctuary, Beauregard longed for a friend to share his stories with.

He had begun writing stories after working at the library for a while. Mrs Waterson had decided to pay him a small wage, and he would spend almost all of it on paper and ink, forgoing food every few days, so that he could keep himself in writing supplies.

He couldn’t really say when he met Charles Linden, but after a while, it seemed that he couldn’t remember his life before him. Linden had been dead for decades, and yet, he appeared in the attic to the boy, every night as he took out his paper to write.

At first, the man did not speak. He would stand in the corner of the attic, barely visible in the weak candle light, and watch Beauregard writing. Beauregard couldn’t remember the first time he had been watched, and had never felt any shock or surprise at the intrusion, which made very little sense to him. Sometimes, he thought he was imagining it, but sometimes, as the man watched, he was certain that their time together was real.

As strange as it was, Beauregard had never feared the visits from the long dead man. He had often envied Ebenezar Scrooge for his ghostly company, rather than his money as he had read A Christmas Carol, and now, as quiet as he was, Beauregard had a ghost of his own.

Winter had wrapped its icy arms around the attic, and as Beauregard wrote late into the night, watched over by his spectre, Charles finally spoke.

“Would you like to borrow his quill Beauregard?” Beauregard looked up with curious eyes at the shadowy figure in the corner. The candle light crept across the man’s face, shining on every line and crevice as it passed, before the darkness swallowed up the man’s face again. “It’s how I wrote all my best stories.” Beauregard looked down at his fountain pen, wondering how a quill could be any better, but not sure that he could pass up the opportunity to hold the instrument of his idol, even if it was just a dream.

The boy nodded, watching the man lean down to meet him, placing a delicate, white quill into his shaking hands. Beauregard kept the man’s gaze a little longer, his eyes wandering across the red, wrinkled outline of the older man’s stare. He had only ever seen Linden in paintings, but up close, he was in awe of the man, and as he slowly moved the quill down towards the ink, he couldn’t take his eyes from his ghostly friend.

The spirit motioned to the paper without another word and Beauregard swallowed nervously, dipping the quill into his ink pot and holding it above the paper. The room was awash with winter’s chill as Beauregard began to write. He kept his eyes on the pale face of the old man, his hand moving across the page as he wrote.

That night, Beauregard wrote the most beautiful prose. His mind raced with ideas, and he was up all night, Linden watching quietly as the boy wrote. Somewhere close to sunrise, he fell asleep, the quill still clutched in his hands. Beauregard was tormented during a short and shallow sleep. Chased by shadows and spectres as the night dragged on.

The morning came, and the many pages Beauregard had written were scattered around him, the words crossed through and scribbled upon. Beauregard scratched his head, looking through the papers in confusion. The stories had changed. Once so beautiful, they were now chilling. Macabre, melancholy pages of madness. Page after page of insanity and incomprehensible violence. Beauregard turned away, not wanting to see the words that seemed to have come from his quill.

“It’s your madness now.” Came a whisper behind the boy. He jumped, turning to see the cold stare of Linden looming over him again. “You can’t escape Mr Bell, you know.” The man seemed to fade from view as he sighed. “Even now I’ve given him to you, he’ll still be with me.” The man’s voice vanished along with him, and Beauregard was alone in the attic, with nothing but his pages, his quill, and his madness.

He didn’t know the full extent of it, of course. None of Mr Bell’s favourite writers ever did. You see, it begins with a visit from the last, the handing over of the quill to the new, and then, the first piece of prose. It is always beautiful. It is always something that stuns them, shows them their true potential, makes them hungry for more, and then, they will dream as Mr Bell reads their stories.

Mr Bell will want more and more as the days go by. He has so many ideas, so inspired by the world around him, and all the things that his favourite writers can do with them.

They never get the chance to tell him “no”, of course. Who could? He is always their most generous patron. He provides the quill that brings out their best. He knows all sorts of people in publishing. He can take a poor boy from the attic of a library and make him a star.

You’ll always have ink, if Mr Bell enjoys your work. The ink may be red, rather than black, but it’s just as good. The library might be a little quieter, but that’s only because the visitors are experiencing stories in a whole new way. You see, Mr Bell likes to see things come to life from the pages. He was never the best at visualising, but the visitors of the library are only too happy to oblige.

Beauregard thought he’d be the last. He tasted success as a writer for Mr Bell, and he didn’t much like it. He fought, quite valiantly against the madness, but the madness just fought back. If Mr Bell was perhaps just a wealthy, pushy man, Beauregard might have succeeded, but as I’m sure you are coming to understand, Mr Bell was something far greater than that.

The library doesn’t get many visitors these days. Books have fallen out of favour, and this once beautiful building has fallen into disrepair, but every now and again, someone finds their way to our little library, and Beauregard is always waiting at the door.

He’ll read them a story, to try and scare them away, but he’s never quite quick enough to keep them away from me.

You see, I’m looking for a new writer that I might enjoy, and you never know who might pop into our rather unearthly little library. Take you, for example. I’ve got a lovely quill that is looking for a new home. I’ve grown tired of Beauregard and his stories… I think it might be time for him to be put out to pasture, but, you. I see so many stories in you…