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 Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist Aneesha Kocharlakota! Amruta finished 7th grade this past school year. Aneesha’s story is called “The Ink Conundrum.” Enjoy!

THE INK CONUNDRUM 
By Aneesha Kocharlakota

A pounding headache swarmed through my brain as I rose my head from against the cold metal bus window. The bus made its final stop with a deafening hissing sound. As I followed the crowd of students as they rushed to get off the bus, I noticed the raindrops on the window. I stepped on the freshly drenched sidewalk, making an effort to step in the puddles along the way.

My birthday had always been my favorite day of the year. For seven years straight, there wasn’t another day that could top my list. I made my way over the library, pushing the rusted blue door open, taking in the sight of bookshelves lined up against each other. Many would describe the library to be lonely or dreary, but I found it to be quaint and modest. The lack of people never bothered me much.

I walked over to the tallest shelf and reached up to pull out the thickest book, tracing the name engraved on the side in gold: Oxford English Dictionary. I opened the book out on the table, flipping through the pages whispering under my breath, “concourse, conductor, confiding.”

“Conundrum,” I whispered as I found it. I traced the definition, copying it down, “a confusing and difficult problem or question.”

I caught sight of the next word on my list and began to look for debilitating. Flipping through the rest of the pages, I tested out a black pen I found laying on the table making scribbles on the book multiple times. At that very moment, I noticed the puddle of black ink seeping and taking over the paper. I tried wiping it off with the sleeve of my shirt, but the ink had already stained the paper, leaving a big black stain at the corner of page 198.

I stared blankly at the page as worry etched across my face. I thought of all the possibilities of what could go wrong if I admitted my mistake. I hastily shut the book closed and started shoving it into the place where I had pulled it out, before quickly walking away from the shelf. 

~

Despite what had happened the day before, I’d always find that I wound up back at the library the next day. And, walking through the aisles the next day, I pulled out the dictionary and flipped to page 198 embracing myself to find the dreadful stain where I had left it. Only to see, it wasn’t there anymore.

I find that it’s necessary to stop here and review the definition of a conundrum:  “a confusing and difficult problem or question.” This is exactly what I found myself in, as I stared blankly at the now clean page.

I flipped through the pages inspecting the corner of every page for a glimpse of the stain thinking that I’d somehow missed the page number. Each page was crisp, white, and blank without a hint of ink anywhere on the page. I agonized over the possible frightening explanations as I double-checked each page. 

~

That night, I lay wide awake anxious about the disappearing stain. I jumped as a tree branch slammed against my window. I turned around, pulling my blanket up higher, as the wind whistled outside. A cloud of black smoke reminiscent of the black ink drifted across my face before vanishing just as strangely as it had appeared. I imagined what the librarian would say, wondering if I would ever be allowed in the library again, shuddering in fear. 

I stood inches in front of the library, building up as much courage as I could. The library didn’t seem as welcoming as it did the day before, pushing open the same rusted blue door felt different. The lines of shelves didn’t seem inviting anymore, instead, hiding what was lurking in the shadows. I made my way over to the old-fashioned hardwood desk chewing on my fingernails. 

“Ms. Bruenski…” I asked under my breath timidly.

“Yes?” The librarian answered as she continued to attend to the papers she was filing.

“The dictionary…” I whispered pointing towards the shelves.

“The dictionary is on the third shelf, if you bring it here, I can check it out for you,” she answers in a monotone voice continuing to focus on stamping something on a book.

“Ink fell on it…” I mumbled remembering last night’s thoughts.

“Ink fell on a book?” She looked at me, eyes widening as she began to focus on what I was saying.

I began to explain the story from the start to the beginning, from the day I found the book to the ink disappearing yesterday.

“Oh, Sweetie, we just replaced the book. There were already many creases and rips” She answered smiling, as her strict demeanor weakened.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I thanked her and began to walk away with a skip in my step. At that moment, I realized that it’s okay to reach out for help instead of overmagnifying my worries. I made my way over to the same homely shelves, pulling out a new book, ready to begin my new adventure.

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