“What defines a library? Is it a collection of books for the masses? Is it a collection of knowledge for the taking? Or is it merely a quiet place to contemplate and learn? One might say that it’s a magical place filled with imagination, creativity, and the lost thoughts and ideas of the past. For Eleanor, all of those things were true. Not only did she inherit a brick and mortar building housed with books, but she also inherited something a bit magical.
Eleanor trudged up the broad marble staircase of the Newton Public Library. The weather was dreary, and so was her mood. She had no idea what she was going to do with her massive inheritance. Not only was the building itself falling into disrepair, but also the catalog was outdated, and only a sparse following of patrons remained loyal to the old system of borrowing physical books. Society had progressed by leaps and bounds in the years since Eleanor’s grandfather had opened the library. Most everything could be found online these days, and print books were becoming a distant relic of the past. As much as Eleanor tried to keep her library relevant by updating the computer system and providing ample space to access the Internet from various electronic devices, fewer and fewer people continued to wander through the doors.
At first, she had been honored to receive her grandfather’s most treasured possession as her inheritance, but she soon realized how much work went into the upkeep and staffing of the library. She now understood why her grandfather spent the majority of his time between the four stonewalls of the library. His time and dedication were necessary to keep things in order, more than his straightforward enjoyment of his charge.
As a young college graduate, she felt that the library distracted her from pursuing her intended career as a journalist. She had recently finished her internship at a prestigious quarterly magazine and received an offer for a full-time position. Unfortunately, before she could accept the job, she needed to get things in order with this library. One set back after another both depleted her finances and wore on the patience of her prospective employer. So far, the team had understood, but with each passing day, they made it more evident that they wouldn’t wait forever.
Her current challenge was to find a reliable security guard to patrol the grounds after hours. Joe, the man her grandfather had previously employed, had slipped and fallen down the stairs breaking a hip. Soon after Joe’s accident, Eleanor decided to leave the library unattended and cut costs. She soon learned why Joe had maintained his employment over the years. When Eleanor arrived the next morning, the library had been thoroughly ransacked, causing hundreds of dollars in damage. After that, she tried desperately to find someone else to no avail. Eventually, she took the duty upon herself, which is why she found herself trudging up the stairs in the dreary weather late one winter evening.
She paused at the giant oak doors and turned around to view the street below. Cars and pedestrians were making their way home slowly as the sun sank behind the cityscape casting an iridescent glow. It could have been the perfect scene for a greeting card or even a Christmas television special. She loved this part of town. She had grown up here both physically and emotionally. She spent countless days with her grandfather in the library, listening to stories, and making her own. It would be bittersweet to take this new job and move away from her beloved neighborhood if she could ever take responsibility and walk away. With a small sigh, she continued through the doors into the impressive lobby.
As she made her way through the lobby, her shoes made soft clicking sounds across the marble floor. As far as she knew she and the evening librarian, Jill, were the only two people in the building. The library had closed half an hour prior, but with such small patronage, hours were more of a suggestion than a rule.
Jill was a rare breed. She was still more concerned with customers and their satisfaction that her comfort. Sometimes, Eleanor would stay for hours after the scheduled closing time to allow a flustered student extra time to study for an impending test or to let a loyal patron time to find just the right book for the local book club. These exceptions didn’t happen often, but when they did Jill never complained; she just quietly found things to do, whether it be cataloging, sorting, or filing until her patrons were ready to leave.
Eleanor rounded the corner and saw Jill patiently waiting behind the circulation desk for a single patron to finish up his allotted time on the public computer.
“Good evening, Jill” Eleanor whispered as she slipped out of her raincoat, and tucked her purse underneath the counter.
“Hello, Eleanor. Mr. Jennings will finish in just a moment. He has about ten minutes left.” Jill replied in the same hushed tone and a warm smile.
“Anything exciting today, Jill?” Eleanor asked, leafing through a stack of return slips as she took stock of various papers littering the circulation desk.
“Oh, no. Nothing exciting per se. There was a bit of a leak in the Natural History section, but Dan got it patched right up. Thankfully it didn’t damage any of the books.”
“Natural History section? Isn’t that up on the third floor?”
“Yes, it is. One of the skylights was giving us a fit today. Most of the time it’s as dry as a bone up there.”
“And you said that Dan took care of everything? Or do I need to call a repair company to look at the skylight?”
“Well Dan got it all patched up, but I don’t think it would hurt to call a repair company. We wouldn’t want to leave it unattended and lose some of those books up there, you know.”
“Thanks, Jill. I’m heading out for the night. You all have a good night.” Mr. Jennings called as he stood up from his seat at the nearby computer, and made his way toward the front door.
“Thank you, Mr. Jennings. If you’ll wait just a moment, could you walk me to my car?” Jill replied.
“Sure thing. I’ll be just outside the door. Goodnight Eleanor.” Mr. Jennings said, continuing his way through the lobby.
“Goodnight!” Eleanor called as she helped Jill gather her belongings and bundle into her coat. “Goodnight to you as well, Jill. Thank you for staying over tonight.”
“Any time, dear. Any time.” Jill answered, buttoning up her rain bonnet over her silver permed locks and making her way toward the door.
Eleanor listened carefully for the sound of the lock to engage and then started to make her first round through the vast expanse of books. While she was certain when Jill had been waiting for Mr. Jennings, they had been the only people left in the building, making rounds through the vast halls helped pass the time. She also wanted to head upstairs and check on the troublesome skylight.
If it wasn’t one thing, it was another as far as the building was concerned. Eleanor’s grandfather had fallen ill several years ago, and until she came along, no one had bothered with the upkeep of the building. The staff did what they could, but without the vigor and passion of her grandfather, things slowly began to fall apart. Some of the patrons said that a part of the library died with him. The more Eleanor tried to keep things together with, the more she was starting to believe there might have been some truth to that superstition.
She began her rounds on the main floor. First, she checked the front doors, and turned off the leading lobby lights; then she made her way into the Elwood Room, one of four meeting rooms. She saw nothing out of place and turned off the lights before continuing to the Eisenhower Room across the hall. More of the same followed until she had gone through and turned off the lights in all of the meeting rooms, the lobby, and powdered down the computer stations.
Finishing on the first floor, she decided to make her descent into the basement. In the basement, she met with bright cardboard cutouts of famous characters from popular children’s books. Everyone from beloved classics to more recent figures lined the walls of the Children’s Section surrounded by pastel-colored walls and shelves. She paused briefly to pick up a few rogue toys that had escaped Jill’s clean up effort and tossed them into the nearby basket.
The Children’s Section was where she made many of her favorite childhood memories. Not many things had changed over the years. The bright color on the walls had faded, and the books were slightly more tattered, but all in all, it was still the same. She waltzed up and down the aisles until she found her favorite book. Again, right where it belonged lovingly repaired more times than she could count. She was surprised that it was still even in circulation, but the fact that it was, brought a warm fuzzy feeling. How many children had read through this little classic book? How many lives had it touched, just as it had affected her own? She smiled and placed the old book back on its rightful shelf as she continued on her journey through the library.
After she finished with the basement, she made her way up the stairs past the first floor, and onto the second floor, which held the Young Adult, Adult Fiction, Mystery, and Romance departments. She went up and down the aisles pausing only a handful of times to adjust shelving arrangement or fix a poorly alphabetized slue of books. The Young Adult section was particularly askew, creating yet another task on her long list of things to do. She needed to find a Young Adult librarian, and she needed to find them quickly.
In a town with a population of mostly older adults, finding someone with the patience and attitude to handle the younger generation was barely short of impossible. As she mulled over her recent interviews, Eleanor realized that she fit the bill herself better than anyone she had interviewed. As she continued to move books around, she pondered: “I should probably consider it, especially since the journal is growing tired of the shenanigans that come with the tumultuous library taking over my life.” She muttered to herself with a deep sigh.
She enjoyed taking care of the library, but she also enjoyed being out in the field investigating and writing up news articles for the journal. After putting in so much time and effort to earn her journalism degree, throwing away the opportunity she had received from the journal to continue maintaining the library seemed like a waste. If only she could find a way to balance her two passions.
Soon she finished her chores on the second floor and started her way up the last flight of stairs to the third. The third floor housed the Natural History, Science, Adult Non-Fiction, and Science Fiction departments. It was an odd selection housed on the same level. Eleanor had always wondered why her grandfather chose to put such an unusual assortment together.
“Hmm. I should probably move Sci-Fi down to the second floor and bring Romance up here. It still doesn’t fit, but Romance doesn’t get as much traffic as Sci-Fi…” Eleanor thought to herself as she began to walk up and down each aisle.
As she rounded the corner around the last shelving unit on the third floor, she noticed the wet floor sign and a small puddle beneath it. She glanced up, and a small patch glistening with condensation caught her eye. The stamp was an eerie silhouette against the moonlit sky as she watched a single droplet fall into the puddle below. As she slowly walked underneath the skylight to inspect the extent of the damage she noticed the patch was perfectly cylindrical. It seemed like someone tried to cut the glass instead of age or a stress fracture.
“Well, that’s odd.” She mumbled softly to herself. “I wonder what… or who could have done that? It was intentional.”
Eleanor decided to investigate further. She was curious by nature. There was something about the damage to the skylight that didn’t sit right with her. She walked away from the silent shelves and toward the light switch on the wall. She quietly flipped the switch and patiently waited for the florescent lights to kick on. Many of the bulbs were showing their age as they buzzed angrily and flickered to life. Eleanor turned back towards the shelves. In the dim glow between fits of flickering, she saw something dash across the top of the shelves. She merely caught the apparition out of the corner of her eye. It seemed like a small person had quickly darted out of view. Briefly startled, Eleanor froze in place.
“Hello?” She called out in a voice much louder than she usually used in the library. “Is someone there?”
Eleanor waited silently for either a reply or some indication of another presence in the room; however, she met with only silence in return. After scanning the room thoroughly in the flickering light, she made her way back toward the shelves. Once she reached the first shelf, the lights stopped flickering and reached their full potential.
Now in the blazing fluorescent light, she began to notice more cylindrical damage to the shelves immediately surrounding the skylight. She stared at the shelves quizzically studying the small round holes bored into the old wooden cross beams. They looked like burns. They were too large to be from a cigarette; yet too short and precise to be from a cigar. She carefully reached up and ran her hand over the marks. They were barely within her reach as she stretched outward standing on the very tip of her toes. As she examined the very few she could reach, she noticed not only where there what appeared to be new marks, but several years of similar marks had been painted over and repaired.
“What in the world could cause such a thing?” Eleanor wondered aloud.
“Lazzzzzars” A seemingly reptilian voice answered from behind her.
Eleanor gasped, dropped her arm quickly to her side and turned around looking for the source of the mysterious voice.
“Who’s there?” She called trying to assert a tone of authority. “If you don’t answer me right away, I am calling the police! It’s after hours. It has been for quite a while now. You need to show yourself so that I can escort you to the exit.”
Small fits of giggles were the only reply Eleanor received, accompanied by little skittering sounds across the floor and to the highest point of the shelves.
“Rats!” Eleanor exclaimed. “I bet rats gnawing at the shelves have caused this damage, and I bet there is a nest of them somewhere up in the rafters.”
As she returned from the shelves toward the switch panel, something small and sharp hit her left shoulder. She turned around to confront her assailant, and instead found a short book on fauna during the Jurassic period sprawled open on the floor. She bent down to pick it up and quickly returned it to its rightful shelf.
No sooner had she replaced the book than another, several sections down, flew from the shelf and onto the floor. Slightly unnerved, Eleanor waited to see if any other books were going to fly from the shelves. When everything remained quiet for several moments, she hurried over and picked up the fallen book. Again, as she placed it into its rightful spot, another book flew from the shelf.
“Rats!” She exclaimed again quickly reaching down and putting the most recent projectile back onto the shelf. “Nothing more than rats!” She yelled into the darkness.”
Look for Eleanor’s Library on Amazon. Kindle and paperback versions available now. Audiobook coming soon!
Copyright: R. MacCeile 2019