The dust wafted up his nose. However, despite the discomfort, he took a deep breath. The smell of ancient paper invaded him. God, he loved that place! The tables were collapsing under the books’ weigh and some seemed about to buckle.
An old man hailed him. He flinched: he didn't like it when one of them called him with the hope to sell one of those old books. He moved forward, rubbing his hands. It was very cold on this morning. He prepared himself to explain to the old seller that he regretted but if he came here, it was just in order to admire the old leather binding and the pages yellowed by the passing of time. However, the seller didn’t let him the time to speak and, holding a book, tell him with a tired voice :
"One euro the book! There are books of tales… Do you have children, sir?"
He wanted to lie, to tell him that he lived alone in his adult’s world but was not capable of it. He heard himself saying with a shivering voice because of the winter:
"Yes, a little girl but… I have to go."
Indeed, he was late. His work called him and he could easily imagine the mount of files waiting him at the office. Another table collapsing under pages… He also knew that he would come back home late and would just be able to say "good night" to his lovely daughter before she ran away in the dreams’ world.
He wanted to leave but the seller insisted:
"I had a grand-daughter… She died last spring. Those books belonged to her and I’ll be very happy if an other child can read those tales."
He sighed, why did he say the truth? Now, the seller wouldn't let him go. He bit his lips, embarrassed. Eventually, he searched his pockets and found a euro coin. He gave it to him et took, without a word, the book the seller was holding, then he turned around, almost running. He was very late…
He arrived, ten minutes late and his boss yelled at him. He had to do Lambert’s work, the boss’ favorite one. He had to go through a mountain of files twice higher than he had imagined. He hated his work but it was the only way to assure his family’s future. He thought about his wife who certainly did the housework at that time, as the housewife she was. His daughter was at school, running in the playground. He wandered, thinking about who he was, who he could have been…
"Are we disturbing you, Dujardin?", asked an angry voice.
He looked up at the top of the files’ mountain. He could only see the eyebrows and the eyes of who was talking and moaned mentally. He promptly answered:
"I was thinking about a file. That’s all, sir."
His boss raised an eyebrow and, going back, exclaimed:
"If you need to reflect, maybe will you be more comfortable in your sofa?"
He didn’t answer, letting the threats flow on him. He sighed quietly: it would have been a very long day…
Her watch read nine o’clock. She looked up, sorry, to her daughter:
"Sorry love but daddy is going to be late again… It’s time to go to bed."
The little girl sighed and came down with effort from her chair which was to high for her. She hugged her mom and, then, brushed her teeth. Nicole understood that her child was disappointed, she missed her father She cleared the table and began to clean the dirty dishes. She heard the little steps of Marie which resounded in the corridor. Then, a mattress creaked, her daughter was in her bedroom. Nicole was going to tuck her into bed when the door opened. It was Antoine. Her husband seemed to be tired and impatient. He ran to her and kissed her. Then, breathless, he asked her, worried:
"Is she sleeping?"
"No, she reassured him, she’s still waiting as always."
Antoine relaxed and kissed her again before he went to see his lovely daughter.
He didn’t even remove his coat nor his bag. Nicole was moved, Antoine always took his father’s responsibility very seriously. She went to the gas cooker and put a pan on the fire in order to warm the meal for him.
Antoine suddenly opened the bedroom’s door and exclaimed:
"Guess who's here!"
A crystalline laughter resounded from the bed, then a little girl throw herself in his arms. Her father held her on tight and confessed:
"I thought about you all day long sweety…"
The small arms strongly encircled his neck. Antoine lifted her in front of him to have a better look at her: his daughter was beautiful, just like her mother.
Marie went back to bed and Antoine tucked her into it. He wanted to say goodbye but his arrival, too abrupt, prevented Marie to find the calm needed to sleep. Antoine cursed himself for being too energetic but he was so happy to have finished his work in time! Marie looked at him with her soulful eyes and asked:
"Can I have a story?"
Antoine hid a sigh of tiredness. He was exhausted and clearly couldn't read anymore. But, when he saw his daughter, he thought that definitely, he could not refuse anything to her.
All of the books on the shelves have already been read. Marie wanted a new story. Antoine remembered the book he had bought and took it from his bag. He looked at it for the first time:
The book was ancient, the bindind damaged. The cover’s corners were dog-eared and yellowed. The title was written in big letters above a picture representing a sleeping woman: Sleeping Beauty.
Antoine opened at the first page while Marie wrapped up in her braid, letting only her little head out.
Nicole thought that Antoine was too long saying good night to his daughter. The dinner would be burnt! She went to the bedroom and saw Antoine, trapped by Marie who asked for a story. She smiled and put her hands on her husband’s shoulders.
Antoine smiled too and began to read:
"Once upon a time…"
An uncontrollable urge to sleep got them. They fought. Antoine was unable to read one more word: darkness invaded them.
The pan was still on the fire, the dinner smoked, reducing to ashes.
In the bedroom, the small hand of Nicole’s watch indicated ten o’clock. A spark, a flame, soon, a real fire triggered. The gas, still on, whistled and sang loudly.
The fire propagated in the kitchen.
Nicole and Antoine could have heard the gas’ dark song, but they were trapped in a dead sleep. Marie was locked in the dreamworld.
The heat did not wake them up. The smoke did not disturb them, the dreamworld was certainly stronger than reality.
Two days later:
"That’s terrible", he whispered.
His walkie-talkie crackled. He took it from his belt and adjusted the frequency. His superior’s voice rose in the air:
"According to the report, everything has been destroyed except one thing which has no damage."
The agent shrugged his shoulders:
"Well… It was just lucky…"
"It’s a book, Agent Mills. A book survived from the flames while all burned. Even the bodies…"
The agent shivered and said something stupid :
"Is it, maybe, fireproof ?"
"Of course… A book plenty of flammable pages… Are you kidding me ?"
Then, the voice in the walkie-talkie sighed deeply. The agent wrinkled. It was not good for him to irritate his superiors… The voice continued with a more pinched tone:
"Well. The item is a book about Sleeping Beauty."
No answer. The agent gave himself a mental slap. He really had to stop this acrid and heavy humor. Otherwise, his superior would… set him on fire?
He waited the orders and headed for the police station which had taken the book as evidence. He adjusted his cap and his false uniform of policeman. He moved forward, determined.
The police station was weirdly calm. Agent Mill opened the door with apprehension. It was empty. The silence was terrible. He swallowed and touched with his fingertips the pistol grip of his weapon, ready to shoot. The police station was small, he checked it out quickly, only one room had to be inspected: it was there where the police recorded all the evidences. He opened the door and stumbled over a soft object. He turned the light on and understood that it was not an "object". It was a body. Agent Mills took his walkie-talkie and announced with a toneless voice:
"There is a…"
He stopped. His superior get impatient:
"What’s going on Agent Mills?"
Mills understood that he was wrong and rectified:
"There are three corpses…"
He checked if they were alive. He cursed:
"Need medical support right now! Three men asleep."
"Only asleep?", asked the voice.
Agent Mills tried to wake them up but in vain. He saw the book he was looking for, opened at the first page. He answered:
"It’s impossible to wake them up, I suspect the item we are looking for being the cause of this."
"Is the book there? Medical support incoming."
"Yes, it’s here."
He wanted to approach it but the voice prevent him:
"Please, don’t look at what it’s written, we don’t know what could happen. Take that item and leave before the rescues arrive."
Agent Mills closed his eyes and started looking for the book blindly. His hand touched the item. He closed it quickly and put it in his bag. He eventually opened his eyes and looked at the bodies. He whispered:
"Poor ones… I hope that they will wake up one day…"
Nothing could be less certain.