Author : Juliette Harrisson
She rifled through the library’s card catalogue, shivering in the winter cold. A fire was burning back in the main reading room, but its warmth could not reach this drafty spot on the edge of the stacks.
The door to the stacks was open and the dark shelves stretched away for dusty yards beyond her. A low sound drifted through from somewhere over to the right – indistinct, but clearly a human voice accompanied by rhythmic thumps and a second, higher tone squeaking in time with it. Somebody – some people – had found a way to keep warm in the stacks.
She wiped a lone tear from her face and went back to the card catalogue. There it was – ‘A History of the Twenty-First Century’. She pulled the card out, her fingerless gloves catching on a splinter as she closed the drawer. She picked up her lamp and scrutinised the dying light – hardly any oil left. Cursing, she hurried into the stacks.
She could hear scurrying noises as she trotted down the aisles, and hoped it was mice and not spiders. Trying to navigate the labyrinth of shelves too quickly, she tripped on a floorboard and her satchel went flying. Papers and inkwells went flying and as she bent to pick them up, the lamp went out.
She wondered if she should just ask someone for help. Perhaps if they’d finished, the couple on the other side of the doorway could lend her a candle. She thought about calling out for a librarian, but they were all huddled around the fire in the reading room, keeping warm.
A shadow moved in the darkness and every ghost story she’d ever read came flooding back to her in a surge of creaking doors, white shapes and creepy woodcuts. A new sound entered the stacks – footsteps. Gently falling, prowling through the shelves towards her, getting closer… She sank to her knees in a pile of paper and leaned against the nearest shelf, hearing only her own too quick breathing and the insistent plod, plod plod.
‘Are you all right?’ A smiling face emerged from the darkness, uplit by a thick, smoky candle. She screamed.
‘I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! I saw you come in here with a low lamp and I just wanted to check on you.’ He held out a chivalrous hand and helped her to her feet.
‘I thought I’d never see you again,’ she mumbled.
‘I only stayed six months,’ he said. ‘I managed to scrape together enough money for a steerage ticket on a liner and, well, here I am.’ He hesitated, chewing his lower lip in that nervous manner she knew so well. ‘So, um, what are you doing in the stacks?’
‘I’m researching a History essay,’ she said, unable to look him in the eye. ‘It’s on the sudden disappearance of books in the early twenty-first century. I have a theory – ’ She stopped, embarrassed.
‘Yes?’ he said, sounding genuinely interested.
She finally looked right up at him. ‘Well, I think maybe they had some kind of… machines… and they – they stored the books in those…’ she trailed off awkwardly. ‘It’s silly.’
‘I don’t think it’s silly.’
A shudder ran through her body. To cover it up, she said ‘It’s so cold in here!’
‘You know,’ he said slowly, carefully, ‘I passed a couple on the way in who seemed to have found a way to keep warm.’ He smiled *that* smile.
He blew out the candle and they kept each other warm in the pile of spilled papers.
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows