She Was Dead To Begin With

I was alone that morning in the library when the strange woman returned the book that did not belong.

That sentence has been in my head (and on paper) for about six years now. It’s the first line to a story. I think. The thing is, I have no idea what the next sentence is. I’ve tried figuring out who “I” am[1], who “The strange woman is”[2] and why the book doesn’t belong.[3] The number of possible¬† permutations of all three variables is staggering. And I think I’ve decided that they don’t matter. Nothing I could come up with could improve on the story. I think that one sentence is the story. The universal I, a hint at longing, lust or love and the deliverance of knowledge arcane, foreboding and possibly forbidden. Anything else i might have to say on the matter would just be embellishment. This story is a little longer than six words, but it fulfills the same quality as that exercise in concision: economy of language, precision of word choice, reliance on and acceptance of the profound and multiform variability of the English language, it’s nuance speaking volumes in single vowels. More importantly, it’s an exercise in knowing when to stop.


1. which is more than the usual existential conundrum, as there are quite a few possibilities besides myself, narratively speaking.

2. Is she very strange? Merely peculiar? A little eccentric? Does she walk with a limp, have a glass hand or an eye patch? Or is she just inscrutable? Perhaps she’s a Manic Pixie Dream girl? A femme fatale? A mousy, gangster’s moll with a lisp?

3. I’ve determined it’s at the very least not the usual sort of wrong book, as in it simply comes from another collection. It should be a portentous book, full of omens and riddles, possibly in a cipher, maybe in a made up language. I toyed around with it containing the secret history of the United States, but then i read Crooked little Vein and decided that well was dry.