CampNaNoWriMo Aug, 2012
Word Count 50,444.
What defines a library? Is it a collection of books for the masses? A collection of knowledge, for the taking? Or simply 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 these things were true. Not only did she inherit a brick and mortar building housed with books, she also inherited something a bit magical.
Eleanor trudged up the large marble staircase of the Newton Public Library. The weather was dreary, as was her mood. She had no idea what she was going to do with this massive place. Not only was it falling into disrepair, but it was terribly outdated, and had only a sparse following of loyal patrons. Books were a thing of the past in Eleanor’s mind. Everything had moved into the digital realm.
At first she had been honored to receive her grandfather’s most treasured possession as her inheritance, but she soon realized how much work actually went into the up keep and staffing of the library. She now realized that not only did her grandfather spend so much time in the library because he enjoyed it, but it was necessary to keep things in order.
As a young college graduate, she felt that the library distracted her from pursuing her budding career as a journalist. She had recently finished her internship at a prestigious quarterly magazine, and was about to start a job there full time. First, she needed to get things in order with this library. One set back after another both depleted her finances and her chances at starting her career. So far her boss had been patient and understanding, but he couldn’t wait forever.
Her current challenge was to find a reliable night watchmen. Joe, the man her grandfather had previously employed, had slipped and fallen down the stairs breaking a hip. Eleanor had left the library unattended one night and it had been ransacked causing hundreds of dollars in damage. After that she had tried desperately to find another watchmen to no avail. Eventually she took the duty upon herself, which is why she was trudging up the stairs in the dreary weather late in the evening.
She paused at the giant oak doors, and turned around to view the street below. Cars and pedestrians were making their slow way home as the sun sank behind the cityscape casting an orange foggy glow. It would have been the perfect scene for a greeting card, or even a Christmas television special. She loved this part of town. It had been all she had known for most of her life. She spent countless days and evenings with her grandfather in this library, listening to his stories, and exploring her own. It would be a bitter sweet thing to take this new job and move away from her beloved neighborhood. IF she could ever take the job and move away. With a small sigh, she continued through the doors and into the impressive lobby.
As she made her way through the lobby her shoes made a 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 technically been closed for half an hour, but with such a small patronage hours were more of a suggestion that a rule.
Jill was a rare breed, still more concerned with customers and their satisfaction that her own personal comfort. Sometimes she would stay for hours after the scheduled closing time to allow a flustered student extra time to study for an impending test, or a loyal patron find just the right book for the local book club to indulge in. It didn’t happen often, but when it 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 softly as she slipped out of her rain coat, and sat her purse underneath the counter.
“Hello, Eleanor. Mr. Jennings will be finished here in just a moment. He has about ten minutes left.” Jill replied in the same hushed tone with which Eleanor had initiated the conversation, and a warm smile.
“Anything exciting happen today, Jill?” Eleanor asked, leafing through a stack of return slips.
“Oh no. Nothing exciting per say. There was a bit of a leak in the Natural History section, but Bob 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 sky lights was giving us a fit today. Most of the time it’s as dry as a bone up there.”
“And you said that Bob got everything taken care of? Or do I need to call a repair man to look at the sky light?”
“Well Bob got it all patched up, but I don’t think it would hurt to call a repair man. Wouldn’t want to leave it unattended and lose some of those books up there, you know.”
“Thanks Jill, I’m out of here. You all have a goodnight.” Mr Jennings called as he stood up from his seat at a 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 being thrown, and then started to make her first round through the vast expanse of books. While she was certain that when Jill was waiting for Mr Jennings, that Mr Jennings was the only person left in the building, but it helped pass the time. She also wanted to head upstairs and check on this troublesome sky light issue.
If it wasn’t one thing it was another as far as the building was concerned. Her grandfather had fallen ill several years ago, and until Eleanor came along no one had bothered to keep the building in shape. The staff did what they could, but with out 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 the more she was starting to believe there may have been some truth to that superstition.
She started her rounds on the main floor. She checked the front doors one more time, and turned off the main lobby lights. Then she made her way into the Elwood Room, one of the four meeting rooms. Again, seeing nothing out of place she turned off the lights, and continued on to the Eisenhour 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 the computer stations.
She then make her decent into the basement. There she was met with bright cardboard cut outs of famous children’s characters. Everyone from Mother Goose, to Beezus and Ramona. Peter Rabbit, The Cat in the Hat, Arthur, Barney, and various Sesame Street characters all lined the walls of the Children’s Section. They were surrounded by pastel colored walls and shelves. She paused briefly to pick up a few rogue toys that had escaped Jill’s clean up and tossed them into the nearby basket.
This section was the section that she remembered most. Few things had changed over the years. The colors 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. Still, right where it belonged, lovely 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 tiny classic book? How many lives had it touched, just as it had touched hers? She smiled, and placed the old worn out book back on it’s 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 now dark first floor, and onto the second floor. Young Adult, Adult Fiction, Mystery, and Romance. Up and down the aisles she went pausing only a handful of times to adjust a shelving arrangement or fix a poorly alphabetized slue of books. The Young Adult section was particularly askew. Another task on her long list of things to do. Find a Young Adult librarian.
In a town with a population of mostly older adults, finding some one with the patients and attitude to handle the younger generation was nothing short of improbable. To be honest, Eleanor herself fit the bill better than anyone she had previously interviewed. She should probably consider it, especially since her current employer was growing tired of the shenanigans that came with his most promising young journalist and her tumultuous library taking over her life.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be a young adult librarian, or a librarian in general really. She had just spent so much time in school, and excelled at her job. She enjoyed taking care of the library, but she also enjoyed being out in the field and investigating news stories. If only she could find a way to balance her two passions.
Eventually she got through the second floor, and started her way up the last flight of stairs to the third. Natural History, Science, Adult Non Fiction, and Science Fiction. It was sort of an odd selection to be housed on the same floor, and it had always puzzled Eleanor as to why these sections ended up where they did. As she started her way down the first aisle she thought to herself: “Hmm. I should probably move Sci-Fi down to the second floor and bring Romance up here. It still doesn’t REALLY fit, but romance doesn’t get as much traffic as Sci-Fi…”
As she rounded the last corner she noticed the wet floor sign and small patch in the sky light. It was an eerie silhouette against the moon lit sky, and soft glow from the city. As she drew closer to the damage she noticed that the patch was perfectly cylindrical. Almost as if some one had tried to cut their way through the sky light some time during the afternoon.
“Well that’s odd.” She said softly to herself. “I wonder what could have done that? Or who rather? It was obviously intentional.”
Being curious by nature, Eleanor decided to investigate further. She walked away from the silent shelves and toward the light switch on the wall. She flipped the switch and waited momentarily for the florescent lights to kick on. She turned back towards the shelves as the lights slowly began to flicker to life and saw something out of the corner of her eye. It looked like a small person had quickly darted out of view. Briefly startled she paused.
“Hello?” She called out in a voice much louder than she was accustomed to using in the library. “Is some one there?”
Eleanor waited silently for either a reply, or some indication of another presence in the room. Met with only more silence in return, she made her way back towards the shelves, attributing the incident as nothing more than the flickering lights playing tricks on her eyes.
Now in the blazing florescent light she began to notice more cylindrical damage to the shelves surrounding the skylight. They were almost like burns. Too large to be from a cigarette, but too small and precise to be from a cigar. She ran her hand carefully over the marks. As she did, she noticed not only where there these 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, and quickly turned around to see the source of the mysterious voice. “Who’s there?” She called again, trying to assert a tone of authority.
“If you don’t answer me right away I am calling the police! The library is closed, has been closed for several hours now, you need to kindly show yourself so I can escort you to the exit.”
A small fit of giggles were the only reply Eleanor received, accompanied by small skittering sounds across the floor and into the highest point of the shelves.
“Rats!” Eleanor exclaimed. “I bet this damage has been caused by rats gnawing at the shelves, and I bet there is a nest of them somewhere up in the rafters.”
As she returned from the shelves toward the light panel, something small and sharp hit her in the left shoulder. She turned around to confront her assailant, and instead found a small book on fauna during the Jurassic period sprawled open on the floor. She bent down to pick it up, and quickly returned it to it’s rightful shelf.
She had no sooner replaced the book, than another several sections down flew from the shelf and onto the floor. Slightly unnerved at the recent happenings, she waited to see if any other books were going to come flying off the shelves, then hurried over and picked up the fallen book. Again, as she placed it into it’s rightful spot, another book flew from the shelf.
“Rats!” She exclaimed again, more to calm her nerves with a rational explanation that to scare the pest away. “Nothing more that rats.”
Eventually Eleanor was able to return to the main circulation desk on the first floor. While she quietly passed the time looking over some paper work, she also took down the number for a local exterminator. While she thought it was surprising that none of the books themselves had been gnawed on, she had no doubt in her mind the cause of all the mysterious activity was simply a colony of rats that had chosen to make their home up in the rafters. It still didn’t really explain the hole in the skylight, but it was truly the only logical explanation.
She finished going through the paperwork, and glanced at the clock. 4:15am. In just a few short hours Fritz, the morning librarian would arrive relieving her of her duties. The library itself didn’t actually open to the public until 8am, but because Eleanor was volunteering for the night watchmen duties, Fritz had taken it upon himself to arrive every morning promptly at 6am every day, She hadn’t asked him to, it was just something that he chose to do.
Eleanor was grateful for his kindness. She was an early riser by nature, so switching her schedule around was seriously throwing her off. After she left the library, she seldom went home to sleep. Instead she would putter around her apartment or sit at her favorite coffee shop until the early afternoon. It felt like she was missing too much if she just went home and went to sleep.
Morning was the busiest and brightest time of the day around the neighborhood. Bakers were selling their freshly made wares, to the bustling commuters in a hurry to arrive at their big shot corporate jobs. The sanitation workers were busily cleaning up the streets from the mess left behind by the bar crowd the night before. Dog walkers were out with their assortment of various designer breeds all heading toward one eventual confrontation at the small local park. Everyone was in a good mood, and everything was so full of life. Eleanor loved it. Living in this neighborhood reminded her of an old time Broadway Musical. She could just imagine the songs people would be singing as she walked by them every day. Sometimes she would catch herself humming the tune breezing through her head out loud.
She smiled as the songs of life began to float around in her head, and before she knew it she had burst out into full song dancing around the open and empty library. The words she was singing didn’t make much sense, but she continued to belt them out while gracefully floating around, shoes clicking softly. She sang of the bakers, the busy corporate life, the dog walkers, the bar crowd, and her roll in all of it as the lowly librarian. She spun around several more times, and ended her show with a low bow.
“Thank you, thank you.” She said to the imaginary audience in her head. As she continued her bows, she could have sworn she heard the faintest sound of applause. She assumed it was just her over active imagination, but as she sauntered back to her seat at the circulation desk the sound seemed to grow instead of fade until she finally rounded the corner and took her seat. Only then did the applause abruptly stop.
Ignoring yet another freakish coincidence, Eleanor picked up a book she had grabbed during her rounds, and began to read.
When Fritz arrived at 6am he found Eleanor sound asleep with her head resting on the book she had started only an hour before. He smiled as he walked behind the counter and sat began to get his belongings and daily affairs in order. He would wake her momentarily, but seeing as how she was out cold he figured she needed the sleep. He disappeared into the small employee lunch room just off the edge of the lobby, and started to brew a pot of coffee.
When the smell of fresh coffee hit her nostrils, Eleanor awoke with a start.
“Fritz? Is that you?” She called, half expecting the same reptilian voice she heard in Natural History to answer.
“Yes my dear. You looked so comfortable I didn’t wish to wake you right away.” Fritz answered returning to the desk with two steaming cups of fresh coffee. “I couldn’t remember if you took cream or sugar so I added a dash of both. Will that do?”
“Oh yes thank you,” Eleanor answered taking the warm mug from Fritz.
“So, were they any adventures in the halls last night?” Fritz asked pulling up a chair and situating himself at his usual computer station.
Eleanor wondered about his use of the word “adventure”, but paid it no mind as she sipped her coffee.
“Nothing unusual really. I did discover we have rats living in the third floor rafters. Which reminds me, could you please call this number and ask for Jerry? I got a quote for them to come out and do an extermination, and I was supposed to let him know if I wanted to schedule a date for them to come out.” She answered, sliding a small piece of notebook paper scribbled with notes towards Fritz.
“Rats? You don’t say?” Fritz asked, accepting the paper and taping it to his computer monitor.
“Well I assume it’s rats. There is definitely something up there gnawing on the shelves and causing problems with the sky light. I heard a bunch of skittering sounds last night during my rounds, and several books were knocked off the shelves. Too lofty a task for cock roaches. At least I would hope moving books is too lofty a task for roaches. If not, I’m moving far away from here.”
“I agree. Moving any of those books that have been stashed on those neglected shelves for so long would take much more effort than even a whole colony of roaches could muster.”
Eleanor also smiled at Fritz’s witty remark, then she finished her coffee and started to gather her belongings. She picked up her bag from underneath the counter, and shrugged into her coat.
“Heading straight home today? There’s a nasty storm on the horizon. They say all of this rain is supposed to turn to snow by this afternoon.” Fritz asked helping Eleanor straighten the few misaligned papers left in her wake.
“Probably. It seems like a good day for a nap, a hot bowl of soup, and warm mug of cider.” Eleanor answered fishing through her bag for her car keys.
“That does sound wonderful. Perhaps you could bring me some leftovers this evening when you come in?” Fritz asked, as he escorted Eleanor around the circulation desk, through the lobby and to the front door.
“I think I can do that. Thank you, again for coming in early Fritz.” Eleanor answered as she opened the large oak door to be greeted by a nasty blast of cold wind and sharp cold rain.
“You’re welcome. Anytime. Stay safe out there Eleanor.” Fritz called as he gently closed the door and locked it.
Eleanor tilted her head against the rain, and gingerly made her way down the slick stairs toward her car. She hadn’t parked very far away, but with the cold edge to the wind it felt like miles until she reached her small compact sedan. She quickly opened the door and slid into the drivers seat. Before even adjusting her coat she plugged the keys into the ignition, started the car and turned the heat up on full blast.
The immediate rush of cold air gave her a slight chill as she finally took the time to adjust her coat and arrange her belongings in the passenger seat. Once she got her things in order she clicked the seat belt into place and impatiently waited for the car to start warming up and the windshield to defrost. She stared out through the thin layer of frost that distorted her view and watched several pedestrians fighting against the wind and rain.
No longer were the happy songs of spring and summer floating through her head. The world looked so different under a rain cloud. Even though the same people were out and about doing the same things, the world seemed just a little bit darker. The sun had just peaked it’s face over the tops of the surrounding buildings, and the street lights were still burning brightly casting funny shadows through the remaining frost and slush on the windshield.
Another cold chill ran down Eleanor’s spine, and caught her attention. She flipped on the windshield wipers on and watched the slush float from her view. Checking her rear view mirror, she shifted into gear and cautiously pulled out into the slow moving morning traffic. The roads had yet to become slippery, but people were moving at a snails pace.
The drive of four small city blocks took about twice as long as usual, but half an hour later Eleanor opened the door to her cozy bungalow. She was currently renting a small one bedroom apartment in the basement of a large town home. It wasn’t much, but while in this transitional period of her life it was all she needed. She tossed her bag on to the near by sideboard and stripped out of her coat, being mindful not to slosh the few clinging rain drops all over the place. She opened the front door, and gently shook her coat off. The last few droplets scattered wildly from her coat across her small front stoop and she then pulled back inside and returned her coat to it’s rightful place in the small hall closet. She also kicked off her wet shoes, and then proceeded through her small living room toward the kitchen.
Her fluffy wool socks made a soft padding sound across the cherry hard wood. It was such a homey sound. Something one expects when walking in from a cold blustery morning commute. She quietly grabbed her coffee pot and meandered over to the sink. Filling the pot for only a few cups, she moved to the coffee maker and let it begin it’s soothing task. Pausing for only a moment to make sure her fitful coffee maker was going to cooperate, she then began pulling open her cupboards and gathering the necessaries to put on a pot of vegetable soup and a refreshing dessert apple cider.
She wasn’t much of a cook. In fact if the weather had been less troublesome she probably would have just stopped at the local bistro to pick up some lunch. She had a few go to recipes, which she had carefully written down from her grandmother’s cook book. She now had them stashed in a small tin box above her stove, but most of them she had committed to memory. On this particular occasion, she chose to pull out the box and address the card. Grandma’s Cider was something not to be messed with, as it was a very tedious and time consuming recipe. Eleanor wanted it to be perfect. The soup she wasn’t concerned with as she opened the can, added the required amount of water and set the heat on low.
Carefully she read over the required ingredients for the cider, mentally checking her pantry as she did so.
“Apples, check. Cinnamon, check. Nutmeg, check. Butter, check…” She mumbled to herself. “Hmm… this calls for some festive music.”
Leaving the kitchen she walked back into the small living room and turned on her stereo system. She flipped through several play list on her mp3 player before selecting a collection of her favorite classical composers and their holiday symphonies. Hitting play, she adjusted the volume so a soft ambient flow of sound filled the apartment. Being home during the day while her land lords were at work was just about the only perk to working the night shift at the library.
They had never complained about her making too much noise, but it was nice to be able to lose herself in her music, singing and dance if she felt the need. Spending so much time at the library both now, and while growing up gave her an appreciation for silence and reflection, but at times she felt it squelched her vibrant personality. Normally whenever she felt this way she picked up one of her favorite adventure novels and imagined herself in the middle of the fray. She would normally recite lines aloud, giving the characters different voice inflection and a life of their own. It was a method that had worked for her, through out her life and something she enjoyed immensely. Today she was content in the kitchen listening to the soft drone of music from days gone by.
She carefully selected several apples from the basket of fruit occupying her counter, removed the cinnamon and nutmeg from her spice rack, and collected the necessary amount of butter from the fridge. She then collected a sharp knife, and began to peel the apples. The sweet aroma of apple mingled with the tart and spicy scent of her simmering soup, and completed the picturesque scenario as she peeled.
“This life isn’t so bad.” She said aloud. “There are much worse things I could be doing right now.”
At that moment the rain turned to hail, and then eventually over to snow clicking softly against the small window above the kitchen sink. Eleanor paused in her peeling and peered out the window. It wasn’t much of a view, being a basement apartment, but it was still one of her only views to the outside world. The longer she stopped to watch the large snow flakes fall the smaller and smaller her view became.
She had lived through the winter in her apartment before, but until this moment she had never really noticed how trapped and secluded she became when the winter snows roared in. It briefly unnerved her, and she clicked the burner under her soup to low and scampered from the kitchen to the front door. She threw open the door and stepped out onto the stoop watching the snow as it rapidly became piles of slush and oozed down into her walkway. She would have to do something to curtail the accumulation before settling in for the day, or she would end up figuratively buried alive.
With a small sigh of resolve, she stepped back into the house and gathered her coat, hat, snow gloves, a small shovel, and returned out into the elements.
It took Eleanor about half an hour to both clear the accumulating slush and put down some salt to keep the rest at bay. The weather was so blustery that even being bundled up in her warm wool coat and hat she had still become chilled to the bone. She was thankful that her soup would be waiting for her as soon as she put away her snow gear. Once again she sluffed off her coat, hat, and shoes. This time she didn’t take the care to put them away in their homes, but merely shuffled them off onto the sideboard. She was famished and exhausted. They would still be there after she filled her aching stomach with soup and coffee.
The soft music was still playing peacefully in the back ground as she pulled out a bowl from the cupboard, filled it with soup and took a seat at her breakfast nook. From the nook she could reach both the coffee pot and the silverware drawer. She gathered the rest of the tools necessary to start her lunch and lifted the spoon to her mouth, closing her eyes to savor the first delicious bite of her long awaited soup.
As the warm soup slid down her throat it chased the chill out, and returned the natural warmth to her body. After the first initial bite, she finished her soup quickly. She was in a hurry to get back to her cider. She rose from the breakfast nook and placed her used dishes in the sink.
Returning to her abandon apples and cutting board, she was disappointed to see the apples had browned. It really didn’t matter since they were going to be cooked down and stewed, but it was still kind of disheartening to see the once vibrant fresh apples all withered and browned. Gingerly picking up the apple she had left in mid peel, the continued about her work.
In less than twenty minutes she had her cider simmering softly on the stove filling the house with a wonderful cinnamon apple aroma. It was the smell of winter and fall time, and she loved it. She cleaned up the counter, and washed the few dishes that had accumulated in the sink over the past few days; then she wandered back into her bedroom. It was finally time to get ready for bed. She pulled out her favorite pair of fluffy fleece pajamas, and a clean towel as she made her way to the bathroom.
After a quick shower she padded back out to the living room. She picked up the book she had been working on for the past several weeks. It was a cheesey romance novel that she had randomly picked up during one of her night stints at the library. The story was lacking some depth, but she enjoyed enacting the over dramatic scenes and giving life to the poorly written characters. It was something easy to fall asleep to.
She walked over to the stereo and turned off the music. She also turned on the gas fireplace and checked on the simmering cider; then she wrapped herself in a fluffy cashmere throw and settled in for the night on the couch. She started to read the next chapter in her book, but only made it through a few sentences before her eyes closed.
Meanwhile at the library, Fritz and the part time afternoon librarian Beth were busy cataloging books and keeping the slick marble staircase free from snow and ice. It was a very slow afternoon as expected with the weather being the way it was. There were only a handful of patrons picking up a collection of reading materials for the next few blustery days and weeks. Not that there were ever more than a handful of patrons in the library at a time, but today even some of the regulars had stayed inside from the cold.
“Excuse me, sir?” A young man asked Fritz and he walked around the corner toward the circulation desk and shook the snow off of his coat.
“Yes, can I help you?” Fritz answered, looking up from his computer screen.
“I was wondering where I might be able to find Eleanor Willson?” The mysterious young man asked.
Fritz paused, looking over this stranger carefully. Fritz had been a part of Eleanor’s life since she was very young, and even though there was no blood relation between them he still felt very responsible for her. Especially after her grandfather passed.
This stranger seemed to be an okay fellow. He was clean cut, and well put together barring the obvious dishevelment from the weather. His thick dark brown hair hung just below his deep green eyes, and behind those eyes seemed a kind sincerity.
“Eleanor isn’t in just yet, and who might you be?” Fritz answered.
“My name is Matt Heinz. I have been purchasing several properties in the area, and I was wondering if she was interested in selling this location. It would be perfect for my new concept restaurant. I’d love to open a dinner theater, and this had just the atmosphere I’m looking for.” The young man answered, digging through his pocket to hand Fritz a business card.
“And just what makes you assume Eleanor will want to sell this place?” Fritz asked, now wary of Matt and his intentions.
“Oh I don’t know. I’ve never met this Eleanor in person, but you don’t seem to have a thriving business here.” Matt answered, very much aware of Fritz’s distain. “I just thought I would offer her an option. I’m not going to bully her into selling. When will she be in?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Heinz was it? She won’t be in until after closing time today. She’s got many things to attend to. I’ll be sure to let her know you stopped by.” Fritz answered, not as politely as he should have, but trying to mask his annoyance with this arrogant youngster.
“Do you have a number where I can reach her at?” Matt asked, not one to be easily deterred.
“I’m sorry, we don’t give out the personal phone numbers of the employees here. But if you’d like you can call around nine this evening and she should be available.”
Now it was Matt’s turn to give Fritz a once over glance. He saw the defiance and distrust written all over Fritz. He couldn’t rightly blame him. It’s not every day some one half your age walks in and threatens your job and probably retirement. Matt had dealt with Fritz’s generation enough to know that while they were stubborn and defiant they were also very loyal to their principles. If he could convince Eleanor to sell, the employees would surely not overstep their boundaries and continue much protest. On the other hand loyalty works both ways. It might be very hard to convince this Eleanor character to sell the library out from under her beloved employees.
From what he had read in her professional profile she was a twenty something with a college degree, lots of potential, and a promising career waiting for her as soon as she could get rid of this library. He was hoping her business sense would out weigh her loyalty to these people, although he wouldn’t be able to judge that until he finally had a chance to sit down and meet with her.
He had been trying to get a hold of her for several weeks now. He’d come in at every possible time of day he could think of and spoken to a variety of different employees. Now after his run in with Fritz, he wasn’t sure Eleanor had received any of his previous messages or business cards.
“Well, thank you sir. Have a good afternoon, and be careful in this mess out there.” Matt said to Fritz as he shuffled back into his coat and hat.
“Hmm. Yes, you too.” Fritz said with an heir almost as convincing as Matt’s.
Matt, still undaunted, turned and walked back out into the fray. The storm had let up slightly since that morning, but there was still snow falling. He walked a few short blocks to his parked car, and quickly slid into the drivers seat upon arrival. He had one more trick up his sleeve to get a hold of Eleanor. As he started the car, he picked up his cell phone and dialed the number to Gorhanson Publishing Incorporated. He hoped that they still had contact information for Eleanor on file, even though the prospect of her regaining her employment were slim.
The phone rang several times before a pleasant receptionist came onto the line. “Hello, my name is Matt Heinz. I was wondering if you might have a phone number for Eleanor Wilson? It’s very important that I speak to her.” Matt said into the phone as he flipped the heat on, and adjusted the setting on his heated seats. “Oh you do? Why thank you! Yes, yes I can take down the number now… Uh huh… yes. Thank you again.”
Success! He now had her contact number, and street address. He was debating on whether to call or just stop by. It would save a step if he could just pop in, but it might also put her on guard having a strange man show up on her door step offering to buy her library. He flipped his phone over and over again in his hand, trying to figure out what to do, while he looked at the phone number scrawled onto his left palm.
He put his phone back into his coat pocket, and decided to make the short drive to her apartment instead of making a phone call. Phone calls seemed so impersonal to him, and being personable seemed to be in his favor while doing business in this town. Besides, coming out into the snow and ice would only show her how seriously he cared about his business.
“Yep, that should do the trick.” He thought to himself as he cautiously put the car into drive and merged into the slowly moving traffic.
Eleanor awoke with a start to the sound of knocking on her front door.
“Who in the world could be knocking on my door in this weather?” She mumbled, as she got up from the couch and quickly dashed to the bedroom to grab a bathrobe.
Throwing the robe on and tying it tightly around her waste she unlocked, and slowly opened her front door. Upon opening it she was greeted with deep green eyes, a shaggy mop of hair, and a warm smile.
“Eleanor Wilson?” The stranger asked, with a smooth sultry voice.
“Yes,” Eleanor squeaked in reply, still trying to get the sleep out of her voice, “and who might you be?”
“Matt Heinz. If I could have a moment of your time, I’d like to discuss an important business matter.” Matt answered.
Eleanor looked at this stranger standing on her stoop. It was the middle of a blizzard and yet here he was still out and about trying to sell whatever it was that he was trying to sell. She had to admire his spirit and invited him for cider and/or coffee.
“So, Mr. Heinz, what exactly are you out peddling this afternoon?” Eleanor asked after showing Matt through the door and inviting him into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
“Well, actually I’m hoping you will sell me something.” Matt answered taking a seat at the breakfast nook and graciously accepting the warm mug of coffee.
Eleanor took the seat opposite of Matt, and also embraced a warm mug of coffee.
“And just what might that be?” She asked.
“I’m part of the urban renewal committee, and I’m buying up a lot of properties in your neighborhood to bring in developments. The library would be perfect for a new concept dinner theater we are trying to introduce. The location is perfect, and the building itself would only need minimal renovations. I’m also prepared to offer you twice the market value of the property,” Matt started, pausing to take a sip of coffee, “if we can move on this sale in the next ten days.”
Eleanor met this revelation with a blank stare. It was true that the library was a bit of a burden to her at the moment, but it was her grandfather’s. She had been entrusted to take care of not only the library itself, but the employees and the community that went along with it. If she sold the library to this Mr. Heinz many of her dear friends would be put out of a job, not to mention all of the local college students who depended on the library and it’s flexible hours to cram for finals and write their dissertations.
Matt could see the wheels turning inside of Eleanor’s head as he sat there waiting for an answer, or at least a reply. He knew she wouldn’t take this decision lightly, which made her a good business person just as he expected.
“I don’t need an answer today, Eleanor. I can leave you my card, or I can even call you in a few days to give you some time to think about it and discuss it with the rest of your staff.” Matt said, a sly smile spreading across his face feigning innocence and warmth.
Again, Eleanor met his offer with a stare. She wasn’t sure whether she trusted this man or not. Technically the deed to the library was in her name, but it was a publicly funded institution. All he really needed to do if she rejected his offer is start a petition with the town. He couldn’t get the building right away, but he could greatly impact the funding making her life just that much more difficult. Would he stoop that low to get what he wanted? Judging by the fake smile spread across his face she assumed he would stoop pretty low.
“Thank you for coming to me with this Mr. Heinz, but I will certainly need a few days to think this over. If you’ll leave me your contact information I’ll get back to you.” She finally said breaking the silence between them.
Matt nodded, and stood to show himself out.
“Thank you for your time, Eleanor. Here’s my card you can reach me at any time day or night.” He said handing Eleanor a business card.
She accepted the card and escorted Matt out the door. As she closed and locked the door behind him she let out a sigh. This wasn’t the first time some one had approached her about buying the property. There had been vultures waiting outside the lawyers office at the settling of the estate. As far as she knew the library wasn’t in the most desirable location for anything other than a run down Victorian era building. It was set back off of all of the main streets through the neighborhood, in an old forgotten part of town. It might have been forgotten, but it was still thriving in it’s own way.
Many older people still had their homes here. It was a comfortable and cozy place to live and let live. When the younger generations moved out and on it left a nice nostalgic feeling to the neighborhood. It was always a sight to see during the holidays when the younger generations returned to their roots filling the neighborhood with the certain vitality that it was lacking. Only for a few months, and then the new year would start all over again back to the cozy and slow pace of live the rest of the population was used to.
Matt had said he was with the urban renewal committee, but Eleanor as a vital part of the community was present at nearly all city council meetings, and hadn’t once seen him. She also knew most of the people on the committee, and knew that they wanted to keep the library just as it was. It was really the only thing that had stood the test of time in the city, and while it wasn’t exactly a thriving business it was an essential.
She glanced at the clock on the mantle above the fire place. It was only four in the afternoon. She needed to get back to sleep or she would never make it through the night. She wandered over to the stove and checked on her still simmering cider. It was nearly done, so she decided to stay up for a while until she could put the finishing touches on it and store it away.
She slipped out of her bath robe and put it back in the bathroom; then returned to the couch. She sat there staring into the graceful dancing flames flickering through out the fireplace running everything she had just heard over in her head.
On the one hand it would be a blessing to let go of the library and start her new career before she lost the opportunity, but on the other it would greatly disappoint her friends and possibly family if she sold out with no good reason. He grandfather had been approached by several people looking to buy the library from him, and he stubbornly held on to it right up until the moment he passed over. She didn’t quite understand why, other than the library had always been his passion. He treated each and every book inside the walls as if they were alive and their characters depended on him to keep them in circulation.
Those passionate feelings were just something she hadn’t inherited with the stone and mortar. She did have a great appreciation for all of the books, and a bond with the characters of some of her favorites, but the depth of her feelings would never match her grandfather’s. In a way, just recognizing this fact she already felt as if she’d let the staff and library down.
“I suppose it couldn’t hurt them any worse.” She finished her thought aloud just as the timer on the stove sounded.
She hopped up from the couch grabbed a thermos out of one cupboard, and a Tupperware out of another and slowly set about putting the cider into the appropriate containers. She also rinsed out her coffee mug and poured herself a glass. After storing it all away and cleaning up the remainder of the kitchen mess, she sat down and looked out her window once again.
The window was completely covered with slush and snow at this point, but there was still a bright gleam sparkling through from the outside world. It was oddly more comforting to have the window completely covered with the light shining through than to have the gloomy grey skies spitting the rain and hail onto the window. It made the whole scene some what romantic.
Hmm, there was that word again. Romance. It had been on Eleanor’s mind a lot lately. She wasn’t quite sure why. There wasn’t currently a love interest in her life. She didn’t have time, and besides that the only people she saw were the people who came and left the library. Kids either still in grade school, or just finishing college. Or mature adults with families and solid careers. Hardly anyone her age came into the library for anything other than the occasional DVD rental, or to see an event happening in one of the various meeting rooms off of the lobby. Most of them had a girlfriend, baby’s mama, or wife in tow with them, and absolutely none of them stopped to take notice of the mousey young librarian completely absorbed in her work.
She found her thoughts wondering to Matt Heinz. He looked to be in his early to mid thirties, no visible wedding band, and absolutely gorgeous eyes. But behind those gorgeous eyes was something more sinister, Eleanor reminded her self. He couldn’t be trusted, so he certainly wasn’t anything to be desired. But… he was still very attractive, and he was only trying to do his job of buying the property. He did come out in a blizzard, so he was at least dedicated to his work, or trying to woo her.
She shook her head as she finished the last sip of her cider, flipped the light in the kitchen off, turned the fireplace to low and made her way back to her bedroom. She only had a few more hours to sleep before she had to report to work, and she was intending to take full advantage of every minute she could.
The sound of a piercing ring penetrated Eleanor’s haze of sleep. She opened her eyes slightly disoriented and searched for the source of the noise. It took her a few moments to realize it was her phone. She slowly unwrapped herself from the blankets she had been so snuggled wrapped into, and made her way to the living room and her purse. The ringing had stopped by the time she got to her purse. She dug through it, until she found her phone and checked the display. What she saw was several missed calls from both personal phones of the staff and the library itself. A zing of panic shot through her body and a jolt of adrenaline vanquished the last little bit of sleep from her eyes. She didn’t bother to check the voicemail accompanying the number of calls she only redialed the library as quickly as she could.
“Newton Public Library, this is Jill how can I help you?” Jill asked, no tone of distress or panic in her voice.
“Jill, it’s Eleanor. Is everything okay? I see I missed a bunch of calls from you.” Eleanor said, her heart still racing in anticipation.
“Oh Eleanor! Yes dear, everything is fine here. We were just wondering if you were going to make it in tonight. It’s nearly past nine.” Jill answered.
Eleanor sat speechless as she glanced toward the clock in the living room.
“I’m so sorry Jill! I’ll be there as soon as I can!” Eleanor exclaimed jumping off the couch and racing into the bed room to find something to wear.
“Not a problem, dear. I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t been in an accident or something. The roads are quite slick. Be extra careful. I’ll see you when you arrive.” Jill said calmly.
Eleanor still in a rush didn’t bother with the formality of saying her goodbyes over the phone, and simply hit the end key. She raced around her bed room looking for anything half way decent to wear. It wasn’t like she was going to be in the public eye, but she couldn’t just walk into the library in her pajamas.
She found some clean track pants and a matching sweater and quickly threw them on. Grabbing her boots from her bedroom closet, she quickly threw her hair up into a messy bun, grabbed her coat from the closet, the cider and soup for Fritz and her purse as she dashed out the door.
When she opened the front door she was met with several feet of snow on her stoop. All of her shoveling and salting had been in vain. She briefly wondered how bad it would have gotten had she not taken the time to shovel and salt earlier in the day, before diving into the mess.
It was too late to start digging her car out, and the roads looked to be in pretty bad shape anyway. She pulled up the collar on her coat and started making her way through the snow toward the library. It was only a few blocks, and because it had been snowing most of the day there was a chill in the air, but the cloud cover had kept it from becoming dangerously cold.
The snow was still falling. It had gone back to the giant fluffy flakes making it very hard to see while trudging through the several feet that had already accumulated. Even struggling with her footing and shielding her face to keep the flakes at bay Eleanor was still making better time than the few unfortunate drivers slipping and sliding all over the place.
By the time she made it to the library she could barely make out the staircase. One small path had been kept clear and salted, but the rest looked like a giant snowy ski slope. She dashed up the clear path and rushed inside. Getting the large oak door open was a bit of a task, but she managed.
“Jill! I’ve made it!” Eleanor called, trying her best to brush her self off before walking around to the circulation desk.
“Oh my! Is it still snowing outside?” Jill asked poking her head around the corner. She was already bundled up in her coat ready to go.
“Yes it is, and they are large flakes. It makes it very hard to see where you’re going. Are you going to be able to make it home okay?” Eleanor answered quickly slipping her boots off, shaking the few little clinging snow flakes off then just as quickly putting them back on.
“I’m sure I’ll manage. This is nothing like the blizzard of ‘73. It’s just a little snow shower.” Jill said smiling at a fond memory of some event past.
“Thank you so much for sticking around and waiting for me. You didn’t have to.” Eleanor said struggling to get the door open for Jill.
“No problem my dear. No problem at all. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Jill answered carefully making her way down the stairs and out into the slush.
Today instead of immediately closing and locking the door Eleanor stood and watched Jill make her way home. She only lived across the street, but with the few cars out and the treacherous road conditions Eleanor wanted to make sure she made it to her door tonight.
As soon as Jill made it to the top of her steps and opened her door, Eleanor closed and locked the library for the night. Because she was almost two hours late, Jill had gone through and turned off most of the lights and checked most of the floors for anything amiss. Eleanor was both grateful and slightly disappointed with this. Her nightly trek through the library occupied most of her evening. With it half done tonight she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. She wandered over to the circulation desk to see if there were any notes left from the beginning of the day.
Her mailbox was empty, but there was a note from Fritz taped to the computer monitor in her usual station. All it said was he had called the exterminator but due to the weather they weren’t sure when they could come out. She had figured as much, but was glad to see Fritz had called them anyway.
She took off her coat, and laid down her purse on top of her desk, then she set off to finish turning off the lights and checking the library for forgotten patrons. The only floor that Jill hadn’t checked was the third floor, so Eleanor started the trek up the stairs. As she neared the top she could hear the wind whistling through the sky lights.
“I hope that holds. I didn’t even think to reinforce it with anything yesterday.” She mumbled to her self remembering the damage to the sky light she encountered yesterday.
She walked over to the bank of light switches and flipped several of them on so she would have a good view of the sky light and any additional damage that might have occurred over the past twenty four hours.
She carefully made her way down the center aisle until she was directly underneath the damage. So far nothing had changed. The rough patch was still in place, although there was a bit of a leak starting to drip through. She wasn’t sure what the patch was made of, but from down here it looked almost like cardboard, and that certainly wasn’t going to hold up much longer with this weather. Looking around for a solution to her dilemma she caught sight of a step ladder and some plastic sheeting.
Apparently Fritz and Edward had started to shore up the patch, but gotten distracted or forgotten. It was handy that they had left all their materials out in the open and so conveniently close. Eleanor grabbed the ladder and drug it over to the center aisle. She carefully set it up, grabbed a piece of the plastic sheeting and a roll of duct tape. Checking once again to make sure she had all the necessary materials to shore up the patch, she started up the ladder.
As she got closer to the top of the ladder and the damage in the sky light she noticed a quiet noise that she hadn’t heard while on the ground. It was almost like a creaking, or ice cracking. She didn’t think too much of it with all of the melting snow on top of the roof and continued to climb until she reached the summit of her ladder. Now that she was mere feet away from the sky light she knew exactly what the noise was. The glass was about to give way under all of the pressure of the snow and ice.
Realizing what danger she had put herself in by climbing the ladder she quickly reversed her direction as the sound grew louder and louder. She was stepping quickly one foot after the other in a rush to get to the bottom before the whole thing collapsed on top of her, suddenly something snagged at her sweater sleeve halting her progress. Some how in her haste she had gotten herself snagged on a loose rivet. She struggled with the snag, throwing the duct tape and plastic sheeting to the ground in order to free her other hand.
Pulling and tugging at her sweater sleeve all while trying to maintain her balance was quite a feat. She wrapped her free arm around a rung and tried to untangle the snag that way. She had even managed to wiggle her trapped arm out of the sleeve for better leverage, but all of her efforts were in vain. The cracking was still becoming steadily louder until the glass completely gave way.
Glass, snow, and ice fell on top of and all around Eleanor creating a beautifully disorienting scene. Eleanor clung to the ladder for dear life, but the weight of two feet of accumulated snow was just too much. She lost her grip and tumbled to the floor, hitting first her arm and then smashing her head against the bottom rung of the ladder.
Everything faded to black, as the last thing she remembered was looking up at a hole in the sky and the snow flakes falling.
“Is she alright?” Some one asked.
“I think so, but I am not completely certain. We need to get some one from the medical science section!” Another voice, this one more feminine answered. “Kip, quickly, run and fetch some one from Medical Science with experience in falls and head injuries.”
A grunt was received in reply as something scuttled across the floor and started down the stairs.
Eleanor’s head was pounding, and she was afraid to open her eyes, especially with all of the strange noises and voices she was hearing. She knew she had better open her eyes eventually, especially if she had a concussion, but she just couldn’t place what was happening around her. The last thing she remembered was the sky light collapsing on top of her, and being knocked to the ground. Maybe the bump on her head had caused the normal voices of people she knew and cared about to become distorted. Using this thought to shore up her confidence she slowly opened her eyes.
“Tabitha! She’s opening her eyes. I think she’s waking up.” The first voice called.
“Is she now? Quick, stand away from her. You’re sure to frighten her even more, Gabs.” The second voice, presumably Tabitha, replied.
As Eleanor opened her eyes the bright lights and cold air stung them immensely. She did her best to prop her self up on one shoulder, and rub them with her free hand until the sting went away. As the sting went away, so did the blur. She found herself sitting on the floor half propped up against a shelf several aisles over from the sky light deep in the Science Fiction section. Not only was she puzzled about how she got over here, she was also puzzled at the creatures staring at her intently.
They almost looked like humanoid cats. Their bodies were covered in short soft fur, and they were dressed in odd garments made of the brightest fabrics in colors Eleanor had never seen.
“I must have hit my head harder than I thought.” Eleanor said aloud and she straightened herself up against the shelf.
“It was a pretty hard landing, Ms Eleanor.” The first voice, belonging to the catlike creature with deep grey fur answered.
“Yes, well enough with the chit chat. Are you alright?” The second voice, belonging to the catlike creature with soft white fur asked Eleanor keeping a cautious distance.
“Um… Well other than the fact that it appears that I am talking to two cats from outer space, yes I think I’ll be okay.” Eleanor answered. Still not quite sure if she was 100% awake or lost in some crazy dream.
“Yes, well we are from “outer space” as you call it, but we are not “cats”. I am Tabitha, and this is Gabs. We are of the Ursalon galaxy, and our people are called the Sheelong.” Tabitha explained.
“Oh. Nice to meet you both. I’m Eleanor. I own this library. Is there something in particular you are looking for?” Eleanor answered deciding that playing along was better at this point than trying to justify this insanity.
“We know this library inside and out Ms Eleanor. We’ve been living here happily for years.” Gabs said, handing Eleanor a book off of a near by shelf.
Eleanor read the title of the book, glanced at the cover art, and then toward Tabitha and Gabs.
“Wait a moment. Are you telling me you came out of this book?” Eleanor asked.
Gabs nodded, and Tabitha started to become antsy bouncing back and forth from paw to paw.
“How is that even possible?” Eleanor asked.
Before she could get an answer, a large lizard scuttled his way around the shelf followed closely by a doctor who looked like he had come out of the 1900’s.
“Is this the girl then?” The doctor asked in a thick British accent. “A’right deary. Just hol’ still for good ol’ Doctor Marsh and we’ll get you patched up right as rain we will.”
“Sure. Where did you come from?” Eleanor asked as Doctor Marsh began to shine a light in her eyes, and check her over for bumps and bruises.
“Medical History section, deary. Kip ‘ere came down to fetch me after your little spill ‘ere.”
“Oh thank you. I’m fine, I’m fine.” Eleanor answered rocking herself forward and starting to stand up.
She was a little wobbly, but eventually she found her balance. Once again she surveyed the sight before her. Closed her eyes, opened them again, and still these creatures were still present.
“Yes well, I think you’ll fix up right as rain you will. Just put some ice on that bump on your noggin there and you’ll feel bette’ in an hour or two.” Doctor Marsh restated, putting the few tools he had pulled out of his medical bag back in their proper places and with a tip of his hat walking back down the stairs toward his rightful section on the first floor.
“Thank you, Doctor Marsh!” Eleanor called after him, as she turned her attention back to Tabitha, Gabs, and the lizard which she could only assume to be Kip. “And thank you, for pulling me out of the snow.”
“Not a problem at all Ms. Eleanor. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to be getting back.” Tabitha said, a hint of urgency in her voice as she turned, grabbed the book from Eleanor and pulled Gabs along by the ear around the corner of the shelf and out of sight.
Kip scuttled along behind them, his short lizard legs moving as fast as they could trying to keep up.
Eleanor stood there in silence, steadying herself on the nearby shelf. She wasn’t sure if what she had just witnessed had actually happened or if it was just a product of her over active imagination and head trauma. Kip did explain the mysterious rustling she had heard the night before, but it could have just been her subconscious gone awry. She shook her head lightly one more time and headed back toward the aisle with the sky light. Some one would have to clean up that mess and try to salvage any of the books that might have gotten wet in the deluge.
As she rounded the corner the most unusual sight befell her eyes. The snow, ice and glass had already been cleaned up as well as the ceiling completely patched. Not just with plastic sheeting and duct tape either. There was a piece of plywood in place over the hole left by the sky light. It was screwed into place with the plastic sheeting wrapped around and over it to keep any rogue leaks from springing up. It looked almost as if a professional construction crew had come in and fixed everything. Eleanor didn’t know where in the world they went or how they found the materials to do a proper fix, but she was glad that it had been taken care of none the less.
This brought an even more pressing issue to light. If it had been a professional clean up crew that had come in to make the repairs, who let them in and what time was it? She quickly hurried down the stairs and rushed toward the circulation desk, immediately checking the time on the clock. The clock read 5:50am, and as far as she could tell Fritz hadn’t arrived yet.
“Fritz?” She yelled out just in case he had slipped in while she was unconscious up stairs.
She was met with silence.
She then made her way into the lobby to check the front door. It was locked just as she’d left it the night before. No one had been there since she had arrived late last night. The whole event was perplexing and disturbing. Not only the fact that she had been rescued by creatures out of a science fiction book, and checked out by a doctor from medical history, but the fact that the mess was cleaned up and the damage repaired with out any visible entry to the library.
“This has to be a dream. I’m probably still passed out upstairs catching my death of hypothermia.” Eleanor said to herself as she turned and headed back to the circulation desk to gather her belongings. If it wasn’t a dream Fritz would be walking through the door any moment now, and she wanted to be ready to go. She needed to see a doctor.
Right on schedule at six o’clock on the dot Fritz unlocked the door and shuffled his way inside.
“Fritz!” Eleanor exclaimed a little bit louder than she had intended.
“Yes Eleanor? Is everything alright?” Fritz asked taking a tone of concern and rushing through the lobby around the corner to the desk.
“Yes, I just had a little bit of an accident last night, and I want to make sure everything is okay.” Eleanor answered returning to her normal quiet library tone.
“What happened?” Fritz asked, just now noticing the small bruise forming above Eleanor’s left eye. “Did you fall, or did some one break in?”
“I was upstairs checking on the sky light. With all of the snow and ice I figured the patch Edward had put up would need some TLC. I got up there, pulled out a ladder and just as I was about to fix up the patch the whole thing collapsed sending me tumbling to the floor. I hit my head and got knocked out for a little while. Everything seems to be okay, but I just want to head to the doctor to make sure.” Eleanor explained.
“My goodness! What a night! I didn’t even think about the hole in the sky light yesterday. Are you fit to drive darling? More than that are you fit to walk home? I didn’t see your car when I walked up this morning.” Fritz asked concerned.
“I’m fine thank you. This happened at the beginning of the night, and I’m still alive and kicking.” Eleanor fibbed. She felt guilty for lying to her friend, but she didn’t want him to worry, or think she was off her rocker when she tried to explain getting rescued by the Sheelongs.
“Alright dear. Please give us a call when you hear from the doctor. We’ll be worried about you.” Fritz said finally pausing to take off his coat and hat to settle in for the morning.
“I certainly will.” Eleanor answered as she started out the door, not even pausing to put on her coat. She reached the door before the thought of the soup and cider caught up with her. “Oh! Your soup and cider are in the employee refrigerator, Fritz!”
Not waiting for a reply she darted out the door and nearly fell face first down the steps. It was still lightly snowing, and now the thickest of the clouds had moved on leaving a crisp chill in the air and a blustery wind behind them. She walked several blocks before the adrenaline wore off and she had to pause to put on her coat. She didn’t take the time to zip it up, but she did throw it onto her arms.
As she rounded the corner a pleasant surprise met her eyes. Some one had taken the time to brush off her car and dig out her parking space. There was still a thin layer of ice where the new falling snow had met the warm windshield the night before, but that would be much easier to take care of quickly than digging everything out.
She quickly hopped into the car and started the engine, with one hand while grabbing her ice scrapper with the other. Just as quickly she hopped back out of the car and began to scrape at the ice in at a frenzied pace. Before the car even had a chance to completely warm up she was finished removing the ice, and jumped back into the drivers seat. She clicked her seat belt around her waist, and started off through the slush covered streets.
It took her about half an hour to get to the nearest urgent care clinic, which was packed to the gills with people all with varying degrees of cold and flu symptoms. She was about to second guess her decision to come here for medical treatment, when she thought of Tabitha and Gabs. At that thought she realized that possibly coming down with the flu to find out if she had any substantial brain damage was worth the risk. Besides the physical symptoms that might be manifesting, she would definitely need some mental help if she was indeed rescued by alien cats from a science fiction novel. She signed her name to the sign in sheet and took a seat next to the person least likely to cough and sneeze on her.
After a several hour wait, and dozing off several times the nurse finally called Eleanor’s name. They went through the whole weight and medical history jargon, and soon Eleanor was left to her own devices in a private room.
“The doctor will be in momentarily.” The nurse said gruffly, closing the door behind her.
Eleanor started to thank her, but the door slammed loudly before she could get a word in. She was slightly offended, but didn’t take it personally. She was sure that particular nurse had dealt with sick rude people all day. It must be difficult hearing about peoples problems all day every day. Or at least that’s what she told herself as she took a seat on the small worn down examination table.
She glanced around the room at the various charts and insurance company propaganda. The thought occurred to her that coming to the doctors office was a lot like attending a political rally. “Do this for awesome health, don’t do this or you’ll get cancer and die.” the posters screamed from the walls.
The ones that were especially annoying were the ads for one drug or another, citing how wonderful your life would be with their brand, and miserable you would be with the other guy. This lead her to think if everything was really that cut throat, and back to her discussion with Matt the previous afternoon. What would become of her precious library?
There was a sharp knock on the door followed by a small Asian woman in a lab coat.
“Hello there, I’m Dr. Ling, what seems to be bothering you today?” The doctor said not even bothering to look at Eleanor, her nose buried in a chart.
“Well, I was up on a ladder last night had a bit of a slip and hit my head. I just wanted to stop in and make sure everything was okay up there. You know, don’t want to lose any marbles.” Eleanor answered jovially.
“You were looking for marbles and fell off a ladder?” Dr. Ling repeated, finally taking her eyes off the chart and looking at Eleanor.
“Yep.” Was all Eleanor bothered to reply. Dr Ling had gotten the gist of the problem, and with the waiting room over flowing with patients that was all Eleanor could really expect.
“Well then, let’s have a look at you.” Dr Ling said, laying down the chart and quickly picking up several tools from the neatly arranged tray on the small desk.
She went through a quick but efficient check of all of Eleanor’s reflexes, and eye sight. Tested her hearing, and just for kicks even listened to her chest to see if she had any hint of cold or flu brewing.
“Well, from what I can see, you just have a little bruise above your eye, but all of your responses are normal and your pupils aren’t dilated. I think with a little pain medication you will be good to go.”
“One more quick question, before you release me Doctor.” Eleanor said just as Dr. Ling was opening the door.
“Yes?” The doctor answered impatiently.
“Would a fall from say four or five feet cause hallucinations upon impact or soon after?”
“It’s not very likely. Especially since there is no sign of concussion, or additional head trauma. I suppose it’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it.” Dr. Ling answered, quickly exiting the room before Eleanor could ask any more questions.
Well that was discouraging news to say the least. Eleanor had hoped to come in and have some massive brain swelling or a severe concussion. That was more easy to accept than what had actually transpired. She didn’t pause to think too much on the subject, but instead made her way out of the small room and toward the reception desk to settle up.
When Eleanor finally pulled into her parking space it was nearly noon, leaving her just enough time to take a quick shower and get in a few hours of sleep before turning around and heading right back to the library. She slowly made her way through the enormous snow drift that had collected on her stoop, and pushed her way through the front door. The weather had briefly cleared this afternoon, and now a bright winter sun was beating down on the freshly fallen snow. It was still below freezing, so the fact that the sun was shining didn’t mean much for the fate of the snow. It was here to stay for at least the next few days.
She turned and looked at the snow. She should clear herself a better path before nightfall, but if she took the time to do that it would cost her another hour of sleep. She pondered a moment, and then decided that after the night she had sleep was more important that shoveling a path through the snow. She closed the door and locked it, taking no time to slip out of her boots and coat and head to her bed room in search of comfortable warm pajamas.
Once she found a suitable pair, she slowly crawled out of her clothes and made her way to the shower. Turing the water all the way to hot and waiting for the steam to rise from behind the shower curtain, she paused momentarily to look at herself in the mirror. This was the first time she had actually had a chance to see the bruise above her eye.
An audible gasp escaped her as she looked into the mirror. A “small bruise above her eye” was QUITE the understatement. Her entire left temple and the front of her forehead just above her eyebrow was an ugly purple and brown color. Upon further examination she also noticed bits of dried blood in her hair line. No visible cut, but she assumed it was further back into her hair. She also noticed that her entire left shoulder was the same shade of brown purple as her forehead. How it hadn’t started to ache was a mystery to her. After examining her wounds she second guessed her idea for a completely hot shower, and turned the faucet to a nice temperature just a bit warmer than cool.
She didn’t spend long in the shower as the water found many unobserved scrapes and bruises which immediately started to scream for attention. She did the basic once over just to make sure she was clean, quickly toweled off and attended to all of her new found scrapes. Soon after, as she was covered in nearly an entire box of band aids, she limped her way into the kitchen for a quick bed time snack.
She rummaged through her cupboards, realizing only now that she had neglected to go grocery shopping the week before. All that she had left in her stash was several boxes of pasta, cereal but no milk, and some hot dogs with no buns or even a slice of bread to go with them. She closed the fridge, then opened it again hoping some magical force had delivered something else, but as she expected nothing new appeared.
She decided to munch on some dry cereal and finish up the cider left over from the night before. The cider wasn’t as delicious reheated, but it was much better than dry cereal and water. It also nicely complimented the last few Apple O’s that stood in for Eleanor’s dinner/breakfast. After she finished her snack, she tossed her cider glass into the sink and retired to the bedroom for the few precious hours of sleep she could attain.
It was a bit weird coming straight to bed with out sticking her nose in a book for hours, but after her experience she didn’t really want to have anything to do with books at the moment. Especially the surly romance novel with swashbuckling pirates and damsels in distress. If the Sheelongs could enter and exit books at will, it was a wonder her apartment was still standing with that book laying around unattended all night. She made a mental note to return the book to the library that evening, and investigate this whole characters leaving books thing.
She was desperately curious, but she didn’t feel comfortable asking Fritz or anyone else at the library. The only person she would have felt comfortable asking would have been her grandfather, and he was no longer an option. Maybe this is why he treasured the library so much? He literally had a relationship with the characters in each and every book.
“Impossible.” Eleanor muttered to herself, as she switched off the light, crawled under the blankets and fell into an immediate and deep sleep.
When she awoke, Eleanor was extremely sore and disoriented. She opened her eyes and saw her bedroom ceiling, but it just didn’t fell right. Gingerly rolling over onto her bruised arm she looked at the clock. It was just now seven thirty giving her plenty of time to actually wake up and get going today.
Today was Friday, her last day on the night shift for the next few days. She and Fritz had worked out a deal where she would work nights one week, and he would work nights the next. She still had to come in to open the library, but it was a nice change of pace after not seeing the sun for several days. They had been working this way ever since Berny had taken a tumble down the stairs several moths ago.
She was still looking for a night watchmen to completely replace Berny, but only half heartedly. One part of her expected Berny to show up one evening ready and willing like always. So far it hadn’t happened, but she would be devastated if the moment she hired a replacement, Berny was able to return to work. She thought about possibly having both of them on the shift at the same time, especially after Berny’s accident, but the funding was tight as it was. She didn’t think she could stretch it any further for a second night watchmen.
There was also the whole sale of the library up in the air. She still hadn’t decided what to do. She would mention it at the staff meeting when she arrived. Hopefully she would get some useful incite and not just heated opinions. Either way, if she brought it up she wouldn’t be alone in making the decision, and that took quite a load off of her mind.
With a heavy sigh, Eleanor finally pulled back the covers and rolled out of bed. If she thought she was sore before going to sleep this was an entirely new level of pain she met this morning. Her joints were stiff and even the slightest brush against any one of her bruises sent a searing pain up the back of her neck. Even the weight of her hair against her damaged scalp felt like the weight of a thousand bricks.
She managed to get herself half way put together, and tumbled out the front door in search of breakfast and a good cup of coffee. It was also her turn to bring the pastries to the staff meeting and she would need to drive across town to get them. As she turned to head toward her car she immediately regretted not taking the time to shovel out a path from her stoop.
Today her wardrobe included leggings paired with boots, matching sweater, hat and a short wool pea coat. Not something entirely appropriate for trudging through three feet of snow before reaching her car. It was too late to turn back now, so she pushed forward trying to step in the still fresh boot prints from her initial trek inside that morning.
The managed although far from gracefully to make it through the muck and up to her car. Luckily it hadn’t snowed during her sleep so the car was clean and ready to go. She hopped in and started the engine throwing the heat to full blast. As she was waiting for the car to warm she buckled into her seat belt and took a look around the neighborhood.
There were lights glowing in nearly all of the windows, some with curtains drawn and some without revealing the occupants of the home in the daily evening shuffle. In the Garafallo house hold the family was gathered around the television intently glued to whatever was on the screen. The Donnahue’s were just sitting down to enjoy their late supper, and single mother Jenna Beakerstreet was bouncing her fussy newborn and trying to wrangle her four year old son to get him ready for bed.
The remaining houses only offered shadows through the curtains. Eleanor wondered what sort of lives the families in those houses lived, and what they could be doing at this early evening hour. Many of the closed curtain neighbors had just recently moved into the neighborhood and Eleanor had been too busy to introduce herself. It was almost a taboo thing to do these days. Come over and introduce yourself to your neighbors.
Most of the time the neighbors who were the quickest to introduce themselves had become gossips and busy bodies. They weren’t really interested in being your friend or welcoming you to the neighborhood they were only trying to confirm or deny rumors that had already been circulating about you. This wasn’t always the case, but sadly these days it was more often than not.
Eleanor had lived on this street and in the same apartment for three years, and only briefly spoken to her land lords or neighbors. The people she knew, she knew as patrons of the library. Without the library she would be carrying on in her neighborhood in blissful anonymity. Not that she didn’t enjoy being involved in the community, but a certain responsibility came with public awareness of who you were. She couldn’t have a drunken bender and stumbled down the street on her way home with out the entire neighborhood hearing about it. She’d never had the desire to go binge drinking anyway, but still the option was not hers to enjoy which sometimes made her feel a bit trapped.
A blast of warm air hit her face signaling her car was ready to go. She looked around the street one more time, then shifted her can into drive and motored off down the street. The roads were still slushy and slippery from the deluge of snow the day before. Road crews were working as fast as they could, but it simply wasn’t possible to keep up.
It took her about forty five minutes to get to her favorite bakery, normally only a fifteen minute drive the extra half an hour put her behind schedule. She quickly dashed into the bakery leaving her car running outside. She hoped that they would have her usual order ready for her and there wouldn’t be any additional delay. She had already called Jill and let her know what the hold up was.
In any other business setting Eleanor probably would have canceled the meeting, but since 75% of the staff walked to work and didn’t mind staying over past their shift there really wasn’t much point. Most of them lived alone so there were no families waiting on them, only a hot microwave meal and their television sets.
As she had hoped Jeremiah, the baker had already prepared her standard order and it was boxed up and ready to go the moment she stepped foot inside.
“Hello Eleanor! Running a little behind today?” Jeremiah called as he gathered the two large boxes of pastries and placed them on the counter.
“Just a little behind. This weather has throw me for a loop!” Eleanor said as she made her way up to the counter, digging through her purse to find the correct debit card to pay for her purchase.
“Yes indeed. They say tonight it supposed to be even worse. Expecting two or three more feet.” Jeremiah observed.
“Really? I need to pay more attention to the news. I had no idea. Do you think it’s going to get bad enough that we’re going to have to shut things down?” Eleanor asked, finally pulling out the business debit card and handing it across the counter to Jeremiah.
“Don’t know. We’ve barely had anyone come in today. I don’t think I even made half of our usual orders. In fact I was hesitant to put yours together, but I figured I hadn’t heard from you so you would show up at some point. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” Jeremiah answered handing the card and the receipt back to Eleanor. “Do you need help carrying that out to your car?”
“No thanks. I’ll manage.” Eleanor replied putting the debit card back into her purse, and carefully balancing the pastry boxes into her arms. “See you next week, if not before Jeremiah.”
“Be safe out there Eleanor!”
It was a bit of a trick getting to her car with out dropping the pastries, but Eleanor managed to get everything there in one piece. She swung open the passenger door carefully set the pastries in the seat, closed the door and quickly made her way around to the drivers side. As soon as she closed her door a surprising deluge of freezing rain began to fall coating everything in a thin, yet dangerous coat of ice.
Almost immediately the ice began to collect on the roads and power lines giving everything an eerie shimmering glow. Eleanor didn’t waste much time pondering this event as she was already running late, but instead flipped on her windshield wipers and slowly merged back into traffic in route to the library.
She made her way slowly but surely through town until finally she reached the library. It had only taken twenty minutes, but by that time the rain had switched over to snow. Snow was definitely easier to navigate, although now twice as dangerous with the thin layer of ice underneath it. She pulled everything out of the car and set the pastries on the roof as she slid around in the parking lot. Once she got the hang of it, walking wasn’t so bad. The marble staircase on the other hand was going to be quite a challenge. She had just placed her right foot on the first step as Edward popped out the front door and slipped, hobbled, rushed down the stairs to give her a hand.
“Good evening Eleanor. Let me give you a hand with those. Watch yourself on the steps. They are slick.” Edward said scooping a massive paw around both boxes of pastries like they were tissues.
“Thanks Edward.” Eleanor replied gingerly making her way up the stairs, and holding the door for Edward.
As Edward reached the top of the stairs they both slid into the lobby on the slick marble. Eleanor gained her balance and locked the door behind them, then they both proceeded through the lobby to the Eisenhower room where the rest of the staff were patiently waiting.
“Hello everyone. Sorry I’m running a bit late. Got caught in that nasty frozen rain at the bakery. Please everyone help yourself to these treats while I run up to the circulation desk and get my notes for this week.” Eleanor said, as she slipped out of her coat and hat placing them on the back of a chair around the large meeting table.
Everyone nodded, and said their hello’s to Eleanor then gathered around the pastry boxes. Eleanor quickly dashed out to the desk and picked up a few notes she had scratched on random pieces of paper through out the week. There wasn’t much to discuss other than the repair of the sky light, the status of Berny, and if any books needed repair or replacing. Well there was the whole selling the library thing, but Eleanor wasn’t sure if she wanted to bring that up. Especially on a night where the meeting needed to go quickly and smoothly so people could get home and out of the weather.
Just as she was heading back to the Eisenhower room, there was a knock on the large oak doors. She paused, thinking that whomever it was would see the hours clearly posted and turn away. If they continued to knock however, it might be an emergency and she would need to let them in. She waited a few moments in silence, until she heard another knock. She then made her way to the front door and unlocked it, peeling it open cautiously.
To her surprise, before her stood Matt Heinz shivering and stamping his feet to keep warm.
“Eleanor!” He called, a smile spreading across his face. “I’m glad to see you here. I was told there was a weekly staff meeting today, and I was wondering if I might be able to sit in on the discussion? Just in case anyone has any questions about the sale of the property.”
“Oh, well I’m sorry you came all the way out here, but I’m running a bit late and won’t have time to cover that this week. You’re welcome to sit in, but I really have to get started. People need to get home to their families, and out of this weather.” Eleanor replied, trying to come up with the most convincing less offensive lie she could at such short notice.
In all reality she didn’t want Matt to be anywhere near the meeting, or this building until she had made her decision. She had a weird feeling about him, and she didn’t like it. He was too kind, too smooth, and too arrogant for his own good. He did have a good offer for the sale of the library however, so she didn’t want to be completely rude.
Matt’s smile faded slightly, but he was undaunted and gratefully accepted the invitation out of the blustery weather. “Oh, I see. Well thank you for the invitation out of the cold at least.”
Eleanor smiled as she locked the door behind Matt, and made her way back to the Eisenhower room.
“Okay, let’s get started so you can all go home out of this nasty weather, shall we?” Eleanor said taking her seat at the head of the table, quietly followed by the rest of her staff. “This is Matt Heinz. He’s part of the urban renewal committee and wants to join us for our meeting tonight. There have been talks of a lot of properties going up for sale, this library being one of them. Before anyone ask any questions, I haven’t made any plans to sell the library, but I think we should at least keep the option open to possibility in the future. We aren’t getting any younger and neither is this building. She has served us well, but a time comes to end all things, and I think we should at least be realistic.”
Eleanor hadn’t intended to bring up the topic, but it had just sort of spilled out of her before she could get a reign in on her words. It was the fact that she had grown up with all of these people that she felt it was impossible to lie to them. Even if she had simply introduced Matt as a part of the urban renewal committee and left it at that it would have felt like some sort of betrayal to not tell them the entire truth.
She looked around the table at her staff trying to get any indication of their feelings. She noticed surprise on Jill’s face, Edward, Fritz and Janice remained stoic. Apparently she was one of the last to find out about Matt’s offer, which honestly didn’t surprise her too much. Fritz, Edward, and Janice were always trying to protect her, and the fact that they had kept it a secret from her for so long spoke volumes about their opinion on the matter with out a sound.
“Moving on to the next point. Edward, what do you think needs to be done about the skylight on the third floor?”
“I’m not sure anything can be done until all of this snow melts and the weather clears up. So far the current repair is holding. In my complete honest opinion I think it would be less expensive to remove the skylight and patch up the roof.” Edward answered, keeping one distrustful eye on Matt.
“Anyone else have any ideas or opinions on the matter?” Eleanor asked.
“My nephew has a construction business, Eleanor. I could call him and have him come out to do an estimate.” Jill suggested.
“We can also call Ralf, for another quote. Ralf Perkins? He owns the construction place over off of sixty sixth street.” Fritz threw in.
“Alright, that sounds wonderful. I’d like to get quotes on the repair and/or replacement as soon as possible. Thank you Jill and Fritz for the suggestions.”
The meeting continued on in this fashion for an hour or so more before Eleanor was finally able to wrap things up. It was extremely late and she felt bad for keeping everyone, but they were all engaged in the meeting and never once complained.
She sent pastries home with Jill and Janice, and all of the left over coffee with Edward and Fritz. It was almost like packing a lunch for a school age children. As soon as everyone had gathered their goodies, and the last of the staff had left for the night Eleanor locked the door and began cleaning up.
“So, have you really not decided to sell, or was that just a diversion to explain my presence but not have to get into a giant debate?” A voice asked.
Eleanor jumped, and spun around to see Matt leaning against the door jam of the Eisenhower room.
“What are you doing here? I thought I sent you out with Edward.” Eleanor asked, heart pounding.
“You did, but I snuck back in while you were boxing up pastries. I wanted to discuss my offer with you a little more.” Matt replied.
“It’s ten o’ clock at night, during a blizzard. Don’t you have a wife and kids to go home to or something?” Eleanor asked, with a sharp tone.
“Nope. It’s just me, and yes it’s during a blizzard. The streets are completely impassible. If I wasn’t stuck here with you, I would be stuck outside in my car.” Matt answered. “I don’t have the pleasure of being able to walk home.”
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable with having you here with me at night. I barely know you, and from the looks on their faces my staff doesn’t trust you. My staff is like my family. There is a hotel one block South of here, as I’m sure you know Mr. Urban Renewal. You can stay there for the night.”
Matt was slightly taken aback with this new feisty attitude Eleanor was showing, but he was also slightly impressed. There appeared to be more layers to this Eleanor Wilson than met the eye.
“Well aren’t we Miss Piss and Vinegar tonight.”
Eleanor glared, and sat down the empty coffee cups in her hand before she replied.
“Well you did just show up out of the blue and try to hijack my staff meeting, and now you’ve invited yourself to stay with me ALONE, in the library ALL NIGHT. I don’t know if where you come from that’s acceptable or what, but around here it’s frowned upon. In fact if you don’t leave I’m going to call the police and report a break in. You have over stayed your welcome here Mr. Heinz, and I won’t be accepting your current offer, or any other offer you might have in mind.” She said sternly standing her ground as Matt walked from the door into the room.
“Whoa, whoa! Look, HUN, it’s not like that. Trust me, you are so far from my type it is not even funny. I am here strictly business. I would have come calling at normal business hours too, but in case you’ve forgotten you don’t work normal business hours right now. I’m here on your time.” Matt replied, defensively, but careful not to sound aggressive.
He had underestimated Eleanor and come on too strong, now he was in a frantic race to back peddle out of this before he got himself in trouble. He didn’t really intend to be the bully executive trying to buy out the mom and pop business, but somewhere he had made a mistake and that is what he had become in Eleanor’s eyes. It was obvious he had a lot of apologizing to do if he intended to keep his company in the running for purchase of the library.
Eleanor paused and thought about his statement. It was true that she wasn’t working normal business hours, and so far Matt hadn’t done anything to truly give her the impression that he wanted to discuss anything other than business. It was just odd that he would volunteer to show up in the middle of the night during a blizzard with only business on his mind. Maybe she was wrong about him, but she still had that pin prick feeling in the back of her neck.
“Well, I suppose you’re right. I don’t exactly keep regular hours, but it was still greatly presumptuous of you to assume you could just pop in after hours.” She replied, picking up the previously discarded coffee cups and going about her cleaning.
“I guess you have a point. I’m sorry.” Matt replied standing in the middle of the room watching Eleanor quickly tidy up and put everything neatly back into it’s place. “By the way, what happened to your face? Did you get into a fight?”
“I fell while trying to fix the sky light upstairs. It’s just a little bump and bruise. Here, if you’re going to be here you might as well make yourself useful.” Eleanor said handing Matt a broom and dust pan.
To her surprise he actually removed his coat and started sweeping the various pastry crumbles and dirt carried in from the snow. He wasn’t as thorough or precise as she would have been, but he was helping and her arm was still very sore from her tumble. She would take his help, even if it was half hearted.
“What happened to the sky light?” Matt inquired as he swept up the dust and looked around for a trash can.
“There was a hole cut into it, or something like that. Edward had patched it with cardboard, but with all the snow and ice I was worried about it. By the time I thought of it and got up stairs to do anything with it, the whole thing collapsed on me.” Eleanor answered pointing Matt in the direction of the trash can and stowing away the broom.
“A hole?” Matt asked, fetching his coat and following Eleanor out of the Eisenhower room around, as she started her nightly rounds.
“Yes a hole. I don’t know where it came from or what caused it, but it certainly ended up creating a big mess. Just wait here I’ll only be a moment in each room.” Eleanor explained quickly zipping in and out of each meeting room turning off the lights as she went.
Again to her surprise, Matt waited patiently in the lobby just holding his coat. She wasn’t exactly sure where his manners had suddenly appeared from, but as long as it wasn’t some trick or deception she was okay with it. Maybe she had been harsh in her previous judgment of him. He was only trying to do his job after all. If he truly didn’t have any ill intentions toward her he wasn’t half bad.
“He had also said he didn’t have a wife or kids to go home to…” she thought to herself. With that she gave herself a quick little mental head slap and waved for Matt to follow her behind the circulation desk.
“You can set your coat here with my things. The next thing I have to do it check around on each floor to make sure no one got locked in or anything crazy like that.”
“Does that happen often?” Matt asked setting down his coat.
“Actually it’s never happened, but with a place this big you can never be too careful. For a while we were just locking up and leaving, but a few weeks ago some one either got locked in or broke in and made a mess of the children’s section down stairs.” Eleanor replied opting to take the elevator instead of the stairs tonight.
She pressed the down arrow on the controls and waited patiently for the ancient elevator to make it’s way up from the basement. The cable wined and creaked as the carriage slowly made it’s way to the ground floor. It had never occurred to her before, but she should probably see when the last time the elevator was serviced. As far as she knew the old thing had always worked, and was never out of order, but it was also nearly as old as the building and was probably due for a tune up.
Eventually there was a loud ding announcing the carriage’s arrival and the doors slowly slid open. Eleanor stepped into the carriage first, and Matt followed reluctantly behind.
“It’s okay. This only thing has always been in good working order.” Eleanor said reassuring Matt as the doors closed behind them.
“This old thing? It looks like it fell out of a Victorian movie set.” Matt replied, suddenly regretting his use of the word “fall” as the elevator creaked to life.
“Well, I’m not going to lie, I normally take the stairs but after my accident yesterday I plan on moving as little as possible.”
Matt only nodded in reply as he nervously stuck his hands into his pockets.
The ride to the basement took a little longer than expected on the elevator, but they arrived safely and disembarked.
“Here, you can have a seat if you like. This will only take a moment.” Eleanor offered as she pulled up a small child sized chair, and darted off around the corner up and down the aisles.
Matt looked at the chair, and decided to stand. He had already pushed his luck with the elevator, he wasn’t about to risk sitting in the tiny chair. Instead he leaded himself against the wall and watched as Eleanor made her rounds in and out of the aisles, picking up and reorganizing as she went. Her efficiency amazed him, but then again when one grows up in a highly organized environment it was expected. He thought that Eleanor had probably learned the Dewey Decimal System before she had learned her basic ABC’s.
Suddenly, a skittering noise to his left caught his attention. He spun around immediately, but only saw darkness and shadows. He wasn’t even aware that there was a small hallway to his left until he heard the skittering noise.
“Eleanor?” He whispered. He wasn’t sure why he whispered, but he did.
There was no reply, only more skittering and a small thump. Determined not to be afraid of whatever was making this noise, Matt started to take a step cautiously down the hall way.
“Where are you going?” Eleanor asked, sliding back into view and flipping of the lights.
Matt stopped short, and jumped at the sound of Eleanor’s voice.
“I thought I heard something over there. I was going to check it out.” He answered honestly.
“Over there? There’s nothing over there but the restrooms and a small storage closet.” Eleanor explained as she hit the call button for the elevator once again.
“Oh, it just sounded like this skittering noise. I thought it might be rats or something.” Matt explained as he turned and walked back towards the elevator.
“In all honesty it probably is rats.” Eleanor said, relieved to know she wasn’t the only one who heard the skittering noise only she knew was Kip out and about exploring.
She wasn’t sure why he was in the children’s section, or what he could be doing, but she caught a brief glimpse of him as she was running through the aisles. How he managed to sneak past Matt without being seen was a mystery to her, but then again the entire thing was a mystery. She had intended to investigate the matter further on her own, but with Matt tagging along it didn’t seem like the best idea.
The elevator doors creaked open once again and both Matt and Eleanor stepped inside. Eleanor pressed the button for the second floor and the entire carriage shook violently as it began it’s journey. Stopping to think about it, Eleanor wasn’t sure if the elevator had even made a journey to the second floor. The entire time she was both growing up and working here she had never known anyone but patrons with small children to use the elevator.
“What is that look for?” Matt asked, as he observed the both inquisitive and concerned look adorning Eleanor’s face.
“Hmm?” She asked snapping out of her thoughts.
“You had this look on your face like you were contemplating suicide or something.”
“Oh. I just can’t remember if this elevator has ever been to the second floor. All through out my life here people have always used the stairs.” Eleanor answered honestly.
Now it was Matt’s turn to look concerned.
“Seriously?” He asked, cracking a smile hoping that Eleanor was joking.
She paused for a moment, letting the realization sink in for Matt before she answered: “Well yes, I’m serious, but one can assume since the shaft goes up to the top floor it was used at some point through out history. This building has been here since the late ninteenth century. Just because I don’t remember it ever being used to take to the other floors doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”
Just as she finished her thought, the cab shuddered and ground to a halt with a horrendous scream. The doors dutifully opened, but they were about three feet shy of the second floor.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Matt exclaimed as he peered out of the open doors to the carpet of the second floor which had ironically stopped at eye level.
Eleanor chuckled to herself, and started looking for a way out of the elevator. She quickly hit the emergency stop button preventing the doors from closing yet again, and examined the shaft wall as well as the interior of the elevator for anything to use as a foot hold. If she could get herself propped up on something she could manage to wiggle her way out onto the second floor. It would be a painful and exhausting experience, but it could be done, and it would most likely be faster than waiting for the elevator to return to the basement and the service exit.
After seeing that nothing really served as a very good foot hold she glanced over to Matt. He was also surveying the situation trying to figure out whether to crawl out, or to hang around and wait for the car to return. He was much bigger than Eleanor in both stature and weight. She wasn’t sure if he could fit through the small opening between the top of the cab and the floor.
“Here. Give me a boost, and once I’m out I can call the fire department.” Eleanor suggested.
Matt contemplated this option. It did seem like the only thing they could do at the moment, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled about being stuck in the cab by himself. Even if it was only until help arrived. Reluctantly, he knelt down and put his hands together as a foot hold for Eleanor.
Eleanor was pleased to see that he agreed with her logic, even if not completely willingly. She did NOT want to get stuck in the elevator with Matt. Even if it was innocently she scandalous rumors that would circulate about town were enough to make her blush just thinking about them. She quickly put her small foot into Matt’s hands and wiggled her way out of the cab.
“Okay, I’ll be right back. There is a phone just around the corner. Whatever you do, don’t press any of the call buttons. I don’t want the doors to close on you.” She called to Matt as she hopped up to her feet and dashed toward the phone.
She didn’t hear if Matt replied, but as she rounded the corner she ran smack dab into a tall man in a tweed blazer, smart driving cap, monocle and smoking pipe. She let out a small shriek, and took several steps back.
“Excuse me madam, but have you seen a Basset Hound running about anywhere?” The man in tweed asked in a barely noticeable Eastern European accent.
“A Basset Hound? Um… no, I haven’t. Can I ask how you got in here?” Eleanor answered sheepishly.
“Why I live here. Over there, Mystery section. I was on the trail of some dastardly criminal when my basset hound, Boo, when galloping right off the page and into the library.” Tweed answered honestly.
“Uh huh… well there was some noise down in the basement. Perhaps he wound up down there? You might check… and I’ll keep an eye out.” Eleanor said, as she made her way around Tweed and headed toward the telephone.
“Right, thank you madam.” Tweed said, tipping his hat and heading off down the stairs. “Boo! Here! Come! Boo!”
Eleanor didn’t waste too much time watching where Mr Tweed had disappeared to, but as she made her way to the telephone a young girl dashed past her crying hysterically, followed quickly by a boy about the same age.
“Young Adult.” Eleanor said to herself picking up the receiver on the telephone.
She placed her ear to the phone, and began to dial when she noticed that there was no dial tone. She hung up the receiver and tried again with the same result. With a heavy sigh she replaced the receiver one final time and made her way back to the elevator.
“Matt, I have some bad news.” She called into the cab.
There was no reply.
“Matt? Matt are you okay?” She asked peering into the still open cab doors.
What she saw would have been shocking to anyone who hadn’t just run into some one in period dress from the 1920’s and two young love sick teenagers. The cab was filled with pink flamingos, and Matt was standing there in complete shock pressed against the back of the cab afraid to move.
“Where in the hell did these come from?” He whispered sharply, trying not to startle the flamingos.
“Probably Adult Fiction, but there’s no telling with everything on this floor.” Eleanor answered. “Give me your hand. The phone is dead we’ll have to do our best to get you out this way.”
“What do you mean probably Adult Fiction? Do you keep a menagerie of exotic birds next to Adult Fiction?” Matt asked carefully making his way through the honking and biting flock toward the door.
“No, they probably came from one of the books. I don’t know how it works. I thought it was just a hallucination from my fall last night. Apparently not. These books are sort of “alive” I guess.” Eleanor explained to the best of her ability, while grasping Matt’s hand and trying to lift him out of the cab.
“The books are alive. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?” Matt answered sarcastically.
He was taking it surprisingly well, much better than Eleanor had, although he probably thought that the elevator had completely failed and he had plummeted to his death and this was merely his manifestation of purgatory, She would have to ask him after she got him out of the elevator cab.
They both strained and struggled for several minutes, but eventually Matt was free of the cab and the flamingos. Both of them sat down on the floor in front of the cab as the elevator doors slowly moaned shut and the elevator descended to the depths flamingos in tow honking and carrying on.
Silence ruled between them. Eleanor wasn’t sure what to say, and Matt was sitting either in disbelief or contemplative silence. Moments turned to hours, but eventually Matt broke the silence.
“So, a magical enchanted library? Is that what you’re telling me?” He asked, with no obvious tone of sarcasm in his voice.
Eleanor wasn’t exactly sure how to reply, seeing that she didn’t exactly know herself. She stared into Matt’s eyes searching for any hint of sincerity.
“I honestly don’t know, although you seem to be pretty accepting of the idea.” She said, finally taking the initative to get up off the floor. They had barely touched the rounds, and she still had a lot of filing to do before her day was over. Thankfully the library was closed on weekends so she didn’t have to worry about interfering with anyone else’s schedule, but she really didn’t want to be here all night and then again all day if she could help it.
“Well, I don’t see any other explanation for what just happened. No matter how illogical a magical enchanted library is, it’s better than the alternative.” Matt answered, also rising to stand.
“What do you mean?” Eleanor asked.
“I would much rather believe I was trapped in an elevator with magical flamingos than ghost flamingos. Just like I would much rather believe I want to purchase a magical, building for my dinner theater than a haunted building.” Matt explained.
“Ghost flamingos? Where would ghost flamingos come from, and why in the world would they be haunting a library?” Eleanor asked, trying to figure out Matt’s logic. She was starting to think the encounter had knocked a screw loose.
“Exactly. See? After that a magical enchanted library doesn’t seem so far fetched does it?” Matt replied, as Boo scrambled past, followed by a flustered Mr. Tweed. “Do I want to know who they were?”
“Boo, and Mr. Tweed. Or at least I’m calling him Mr. Tweed. I didn’t actually catch his name.” Eleanor answered as the love sick teens walked by, now holding hands back around toward the Young Adult section. “I have no idea who they are, so don’t even ask.”
Matt nodded, and turned to survey the rest of the room.
“Anyone else running around that we should be on the look out for?”
“I don’t think so, although I have no idea where the flamingos came from. I’ve noticed that most of the things appear in twos or groups. I have yet to run into a solo…er… character.”
Again, there was an awkward pause between them.
“Anyway… let’s get these rounds finished and back down to the main floor. If the phones are out, the power might be next, and I have yet to encounter anyone or anything on the main floor.” Eleanor said, bravely starting off down the aisles to finish her rounds.
Wasting no time, Matt followed closely behind Eleanor as she zipped up and down the aisles picking up several books that had fallen to the floor, and placing them back on their proper shelves. She paused momentarily in the mystery section to flip through a few pages of a book.
“Ah. His name is Count Sascha.” She said, closing the book and quickly locating it’s proper place on the shelf.
“Who?” Matt asked.
“Mr. Tweed. This is his book, and his name is Count Sascha.”
Again they set off through the aisles at record speed. Finishing in less than ten minutes, they both powered up the stairs to the third floor.
Eleanor cautiously stuck her head around the stairwell looking for anything strange or unusual before allowing Matt to join her in the small landing.
“Be super careful up here Matt. This is the Science Fiction and Natural History section.” She said stepping quickly but lightly toward the first aisle.
“Why is that a problem?” Matt asked, following close behind, also being very wary of his foot falls.
“Dinosaurs and space invaders.” Eleanor replied darting down the first aisle, and back up the second before slowing to stick her head around the third aisle.
Matt followed silently, still not entire sure what to make of this night. He knew he wasn’t crazy because there definitely HAD been a flock of flamingos in the elevator with him, but these other characters seemed almost staged. Other than the flamingos Mr Tweed, the two teenagers and everything else he had seen could all be a very elaborate ploy to scare him away from his investment opportunity.
It wouldn’t be the first time in his career that some one had gone to great lengths to save their property, but even he had to admit if this was all just a ruse, it was a very convincing one. Although, Eleanor would have had to have these people literally waiting in the wings somewhere because Matt dropped in completely unexpectedly. It’s not like he told anyone he had planned to attend the meeting or anything. There was also the weather factor.
While most of the library staff lived close by, he had never seen these people. Either anytime in his various visits to the library or around the neighborhood. He had been scoping out properties for several months now. He was no stranger to the immediate area. If she had hired these people, or brought in her friends they would have had to drive from somewhere to the library, in a blizzard.
He still wasn’t entirely convinced, but he would pretend to play along for Eleanor’s sake. It would be easier to convince her to sell, if she believed that he could continue to carry on the magic in the library. Especially if she believed it herself.
They finished their rounds on the third floor with out incident, and started the long trek down the stairs back to the main floor and the circulation desk. The power had remained on through out the night, which was a bonus, but the weather had not improved. In fact it had snowed so much more in the past two hours that you could see the tops of the snow banks just below the windowsills.
“Oh wow, look at that.” Matt exclaimed, catching the reflection of the street lamps off of the snow and ice outside the large Victorian windows.
“It is quite a sight to see.” Eleanor agreed, not really paying attention.
“No I mean LOOK. The snow is up to the windowsills.” Matt said again, starting off into the lobby to get a better look. “How far off the ground are these windows you think?”
“Probably five or six feet, but snow always gathers around the building like that. It’s kind of like a wind tunnel through this street. Everything blows into our building and stacks up. It’s a night mare on Halloween with renegade candy wrappers and what not.” Eleanor said, still not really paying attention to Matt. She was more concerned with getting her paper work done so she could go home.
Matt had made his way to the windows and peered out into the eerie scene. As soon as he looked outside he’d wished he hadn’t. It was a lot worse than he thought. What Eleanor said was true, there did seem to be quite a bit of snow blown on to the building, but there was also quite a bit of snow surrounding the building. He strained his neck to see how far the snow had stacked up against the door, and was not pleased with what he saw.
“Eleanor… you might want to come look at this.” He said rather impatiently.
Eleanor, who had just started on her stack of paperwork, let out a sigh. She reluctantly got up out of her chair, and made her way through the lobby to the window where Matt was standing.
“What is it?” She asked, not bothering to hide the annoyance in her voice.
Matt pointed toward the door, and Eleanor’s gaze followed. Immediately when she saw the snow stacked up in front of the door she understood. The doors opened outward. If the snow was too deep or too compact they would be trapped until some one could come and dig them out, but with the phones dead they had no way to contact anyone. No one would know they were here until Monday morning. An entire weekend trapped in the library together.
“Well, before we get too worried about it, let me unlock the door. Hopefully it’s just snow that’s blown in and is still light and powdery.” Eleanor said, walking toward the door digging around on her keychain looking for the proper key.
She found the key and slid it into the door. With a sharp click the lock was disengaged and she pressed against the handle and the door. It was an old heavy oak door. It took some time to get the hinges to loosen up, especially in the cold, so when it didn’t move at first she was still undaunted.
Matt stood by watching as Eleanor struggled with the door. He wanted to help, but he wasn’t about to do so until asked. Mostly just so the severity of their situation would sink in with Eleanor. She pushes, tugged, pulled and jiggled the door to no avail. Finally, she turned and looked at Matt. He didn’t wait for her to ask, but instead slowly sauntered over and began to help her push against the door.
Between the two of them they managed to get the door cracked open just enough to break the seal and hear the cold and blustery wind whistle by. The door was definitely not going to open wide enough for either of them to get out, nor would it even open enough to signal for help. Their worst fears were confirmed. They were trapped.
Matt began pacing back and forth as if wearing a hole in the marble was the fastest way to get out of their predicament. Eleanor couldn’t decide if he was frightened or just plain irritated. She knew, personally she was neither frightened or irritated, only slightly forlorn about not being able to sleep in her own bed.
This wouldn’t be her first time spending the night in the library. True, she had never been stuck here against her will, but she knew the employee kitchen was well stocked with snacks and the couches around the corner were just as if not more comfortable that her furniture at home. She even had several comfortable blankets stashed in her cubby underneath the circulation desk. As long as the power stayed on they were in good shape. As if reading her mind, the power flickered and over head lights began to wane.
“What was that?” Matt asked momentarily stopping his pacing to glance up at the lights and they continued to flicker up and down.
“Looks like the power is about to go out. We should probably go grab something to eat before we lose the microwave.” Eleanor answered quickly walking back towards the employee break room., which also happened to be the room where the weekly meeting had been held.
Matt followed dutifully behind, still frustrated at this turn of events. It was true he didn’t have any pets or family waiting on him to get home, but it was still home. He wanted to take a shower, throw back a shot of bourbon and watch some television. It was the weekend, and aside from the occasional dinner out he enjoyed his time at home by himself. Especially since he was so busy trying to sell things through out the week. He enjoyed his job, but it was draining, always trying to figure people out and become what they wanted to see so he could make a successful sale. He never was truly able to just be himself unless he was at home behind closed doors. It was his sanctuary.
Now, not only was he prevented from going home to unwind for the weekend he was stuck in the middle of this library with Eleanor and who knows how many other people playing along in her little charade of the mysterious haunted library. As he thought of the other people he had encountered he also thought of the fuse box. Maybe it wasn’t the power actually going out, but another trick Eleanor had decided to employ. The thought also crossed his mind that she had her employees block the door to prevent his exit. Although she had no idea he was intending to stay and he was able to get back into the building with ease after the rest of the staff had left.
It was more frustrating to him that he couldn’t figure her out. She seemed innocent on the surface, but also well put together as she displayed in the meeting just a few short hours ago. Cunning, cleaver and sophisticated enough to keep the peace while delving into delicate subjects. He also wondered whether her innocence was just a ploy.
He watched as she pulled out several microwave snack from the small refrigerator and popped them into the microwave. The power was still flickering violently so it would be a miracle if anything actually finished before they completely lost power. He was still hopeful though. It had been several hours since he had eaten anything, and he was starting to feel it.
“What’s for dinner?” He asked taking a seat at the long boardroom style table.
“Microwave pastries, and maybe some popcorn. Could you do me a favor and start a pot of coffee? All of the supplies are in the cupboard underneath the coffee maker.” Eleanor asked browsing around the rest of the kitchen surveying their prospects for the next day and a half.
Matt didn’t answer, but rose from his seat and started a pot of coffee as requested.
Eleanor couldn’t figure him out. She knew he wasn’t to be trusted, but she couldn’t exactly figure out why. It was just something of a gut feeling. He seemed fake. Always trying to sell something, or convince you to sell something. She didn’t even really believe his whole bit about the enchanted library. She wasn’t even sure that she, herself believed the whole enchanted library thing. She did know that they had both seen the fiasco on the second floor, so she wasn’t crazy, but something about Matt’s nonchalant reaction to the entire thing made her wonder what was going through his head.
Eleanor was a good reader of people. It wasn’t very hard for her to distinguish friends from enemies, which is why she excelled in her journalism profession. Getting to the root of the actual story was never much of a challenge for her. It was almost like second nature, but Matt had her thrown for a loop.
She was torn between the desire to get to know him better, and the fate of the library. It wouldn’t have been the first time her heart and curiosity got her in trouble. She was kind hearted by nature, and genuinely cared about all the people in her life, which was a very big problem for some one in the corporate world. Even in college her genuine spirit caused problems. She had been surpassed and walked on by many fellow students. Even now after experiencing the cut throat tendencies of the world she was still undaunted in her out look on life. Which, she decided, spoke volumes about her as a person whether the rest of the world recognized it or not.
Just as the microwave sounded their dinner was finished, and as the coffee pot finished percolating the power flickered violently one more time before going completely out.
“Well that was pretty good timing.” Matt observed with a sign of resignation, as he poured both himself and Eleanor a cup of coffee.
“Sure was. Here you go. It’s not much, but it’ll have to do.” Eleanor said graciously accepting the mug of coffee from Matt in exchange for a microwave dinner of macaroni and cheese.
Matt took his original seat back around the table, and Eleanor took a seat immediately across from him. They both ate in silence as the wind howled around outside and the thick slushy snow beat up against the windows. It was dark, but the low light of the emergency lights was enough to give a calm slightly romantic glow.
“How long do you think those lights will hold out?” Matt asked as he popped the last bite of mac and cheese into his mouth.
“I’m not sure. They are all run on emergency generators, but I have no idea when the last time was that the generators were serviced. They could last all night, they could last all week.” Eleanor answered standing to pour herself another cup of coffee, which was still blissfully warm.
“Is it safe to assume the furnace is not on the back up generators?” Matt asked, also standing and throwing his trash in the small trash bin next to the door and pouring himself another cup of coffee.
“I don’t think so, but there is a gas fireplace around the corner from the circulation desk. If we can get it lit, it will at least keep up from freezing. It won’t do much for the rest of the place, but we won’t freeze to death.” Eleanor answered absent mindedly as she walked out of the board room toward the circulation desk.
Matt lagged behind a bit, to tidy up. He wasn’t sure why he felt obligated to clean up the few stray crumbs and put away the various utensils used to make the coffee, but he did none the less. It was something about Eleanor. He just genuinely wanted to help her out, even with out being asked. It had started as an act to win her over, but now he felt this weird obligation.
He soon caught up to Eleanor lounging on a couch next to the fireplace snuggled underneath a blanket still diligently working on her required paperwork. On the couch across from her he noticed another blanket draped over the back. He wasn’t exactly cold yet, but he appreciated the gesture. Taking his cue he sat across from her and quietly watched the flames jumping around in the fireplace. He hadn’t noticed this nice feature before, although he had never really been over on this side of the library.
He glanced around taking in the signs and locations designated to this section of the library. Apparently this little reading nook was stashed between the reference section and periodicals. Noticing the newest issue of Newsweek, he rose and grabbed it, then returned to his seat stealing a glance at Eleanor.
She had the butt of a pen set squarely between her teeth as she read over the weekly reports. She was also absent mindedly twirling her hair around an index finger, with her glasses slipped down to the very tip of her nose. She looked so much older than the early twenties listed on her professional profile.
Matt supposed that came with growing up in an environment filled with the previous generations. It wasn’t a bad thing by any means, just an observation. She kind of reminded him of his older sister in a way. Maybe that’s he felt such a strong obligation to help her, and so inexplicably close to her. He sighed, and returned his attention to the Newsweek.
Eleanor waited for him to get deeply entranced with his reading material, before she returned his long and awkward stare. She had noticed, but wanted to let it run it’s course. He was just as curious about her as she was about him apparently. Which only piqued her curiosity that much more. How long would this go on? This game of secretly trying to figure each other out? She hadn’t a clue, but it seemed that they were both stuck in the middle of a tireless investigation of each other.
She sat down her paper work, which she had finished nearly an hour ago, and picked up her coffee mug carefully watching Matt to see just how into his reading he actually was. When there was no obvious reaction she spoke: “I’m sorry, but I have a question.”
Matt looked over the magazine right into Eleanor’s deep blue eyes. He paused for a moment, then marked his place in the magazine, folded it closed and set it down on a nearby table.
“What’s that?” He asked.
“Well… what else do you… you know, do? Other than sell buy properties and remarket them. You must do things for fun.” Eleanor replied, a wee bit nervously.
“What is this? A date?” He asked, jovially.
“Well, no, but we are stuck here together for a while I figured we should get to know each other a little bit, and besides that. I would love to know why you keep stealing glances at me like I’m the strangest person you’ve even encountered.” Eleanor answered honestly.
“Oh, well…” Matt answered a slight blush coming over his face. “I don’t know. What do you mean for fun? I don’t really have much free time from work. A lot of my properties are out of state so I’m on the road a lot.”
“That explains the lack of girlfriend or wife.” Eleanor thought to herself.
“In addition to the library I’m a freelance writer, and I’m trying to get into journalism. I had a job lined up, but it’s been so long I doubt that I still have it. It’s okay though. My grandfather left me quite a bit of cash in addition to the deed to the library. I should be okay until I can get away from here for a while.” Eleanor offered, hoping to get more of an answer from Matt. To receive you had to give a little.
“What did your grandfather do in addition to running the library?” Matt asked, shifting on the couch to find a more comfortable position.
“I don’t actually know. As long as I can remember he was here. I assume he was in the military for a while like the majority of his generation, but after that I don’t know. He never talked about his life prior to the library, and my parents never mentioned it either. I guess I’m kind of obligated to know since I’m basically filling his shoes, but I haven’t had a chance to research anything. It’s only been a few months since he’s passed. I should ask Fritz. They’ve been friends for years. We don’t really talk about the whole incident though. It was pretty tragic the way it happened.” Eleanor went on.
“I’m sorry, what happened if you don’t mind talking about it?” Matt asked. He was genuinely interested, he just hoped that Eleanor believed that after his previous tactics.
“Well, he was walking home from here one evening, and mugged at knife point. He gave the muggers everything they asked for, but they stabbed him anyway. He probably would have lived if some one had found him a few hours earlier. They didn’t find him until the next morning when he didn’t show up for work. By then it was already too late. They still haven’t caught the guys.” Eleanor answered, emotion filling her voice.
Immediately after she recanted her story Matt wished he hadn’t asked. It was stupid and selfish of him, especially since she had just said moments before that she and Fritz didn’t like to talk about it. She had known Fritz all of her life, and she had just met Matt. Why should she share this deepest little piece of her soul with him? He gave himself a mental kick in the face.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” Matt said, torn between whether to go and comfort Eleanor, or stay in his seat.
“It’s okay.” Eleanor answered regaining her composure. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it when you were looking into this area for your dinner theater or whatever you want to put here.”
“Well, I’m not actually part of the Urban Renewal committee.” Matt confessed sheepishly. “I only said that so Fritz would give you the message. I’ve been here for several weeks trying to get a hold of you, but the message never seemed to get to you.”
“I know. I’m actually one of the members of the committee, but thank you for your honesty.” Eleanor answered, making Matt just that much more uncomfortable.
“Well, gee. I feel like a total jerk now.” Matt said, looking from Eleanor toward the still dancing flames in the fireplace. “So if you’ve known this entire time that I’m not actually on the committee why have you even been entertaining the idea of selling the property to me? I mean, you have been entertaining the idea or I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
It was Eleanor’s turn to look into the flames for an explanation.
“I don’t know. I would like to sell this place. It’s not that I don’t love it here, or want to keep this little part of my grandfather alive, it’s just that the building is falling apart. It’s a publicly funded institution, with the funding dwindling faster than we can raise it. All of my staff is very committed, but they are also getting up there in age and next to impossible to replace. I’ve tried putting out adds in the local paper looking for new people to hire, and so far I’ve only had two calls. Both of those calls were just kids looking for ways to serve their assigned community service. No one wants to work in an old out dated library.”
“I just think it’s inevitable that this place goes under. It’s just a matter of time. We don’t even have half of the books we used to. Things fall apart and we don’t even bother to replace them anymore. Our circulation is at an all time low. We used to be a vibrant, vital part of the community, now we’re just becoming a forgotten eye sore.” Eleanor explained with a sigh and a yawn.
She glanced at her watch and noticed that it was getting close to 5am. She hadn’t realized that it had gotten so late so quickly. How long had she been babbling on? She wasn’t sure.
“When you put it like that, it does seem to be the only logical thing to do. Sell the place, I mean. Not trying to get you to sell it to me, but it is logical.” Matt replied, also with a slight yawn.
“It is. I just don’t want to pull the plug prematurely and put all of these wonderful people out of a job, and I have no idea where I would send all the books. Our last two book sales have been completely pointless. Getting rid of the entire library will be impossible. Even if I let every patron and every employee take their fill of books I would still be left with thousands. Even the state library wouldn’t take most of them due to their condition.”
“I can understand that. It would be a large undertaking.” Matt said, as he began to doze off. It wasn’t that what Eleanor was saying was boring him at all, it was just 5am and he had been awake nearly twenty four hours now. Besides that it was so cozy here by the fire, and he was warmed from the inside with coffee as well.
“Then, there is this whole enchanted library thing. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I shipped all of these characters off without a second thought. Especially since I’ve only encountered good, well meaning characters. How does that even work anyway? How is it that some characters can come out of books, while others can’t? Is there some magical book life granting fairy floating around? Are there rules to who can and can not exit the book? What if villains start popping out of books and wreaking havoc?” Eleanor blabbered on, before she paused to notice that Matt had fallen asleep.
With a heavy sigh, she got up from her chair, grabbed the blanket from the back of the chair and gently placed it over Matt. She had decided that he wasn’t a bad guy. He just didn’t understand all that was going on with the library at the moment. Maybe if she continued to explain how things were he would withdraw his offer, or be willing to work to her conditions. She could only hope.
Since she wasn’t even remotely sleepy, she decided to make another round through out the library. She hadn’t heard anything since the commotion on the second floor, but she couldn’t just sit idly by and wait for time to pass either. She would feel awkward and creepy watching Matt sleep, and so she set off up the stairs to the second floor guided only by the dim emergency lights, which also seemed to be fading fast.
She made her way through the second floor with out running into any one, and none of the books had been misplaced since her last round either. She was still so curious about how these books came to life. She needed to ask one of the characters. This was the only time she had actually wished that she would run into some one. Previously she had always conducted her rounds with a hope that no one had been forgotten, or hiding until the doors closed. Now she wanted to run into some one unexpectedly around the next turn. Eventually she stopped pacing through the aisles of the second floor and made her way up the stairs toward the third.
The third floor too was also left just as it should be. No books misplaced, no rogue characters flitting about causing trouble, nothing out of the ordinary at all. She wasn’t even greeted by any unusual noises.
“Maybe there is a certain time that all of this happens?” She thought to herself. “Maybe it’s only after the library closes? Or maybe it has something to do with how their books have been misplaced?”
Eleanor thought about this momentarily as she leaned up against a shelf in the science fiction section. All of the characters she had encountered had come from books left laying around after the library had closed. Once she reorganized the shelves they seemed to disappear, or at least return to their books. Is that what brought them to life? Some one taking an interest in their books? Was it the act of reading the book itself that sparked life into them, or was it the act of leaving their book unfinished? Did one have to read the book aloud, or was it only when the imagination was left in silence that the magic began?
After a few moments more of deliberation she decided to try out her theories. She walked down the aisles and picked up random books that she had never read. Both from natural history, and science fiction. Then she returned to the small landing where there was the most light. She started with the science fiction book and read a section out loud.
“The moon shone brightly on the world of Hebbetifh. Cassandra and Blain stepped out of their star ship, not sure what they would encounter or what to expect. This was their first mission out side of their home galaxy, never before had either of them set foot on alien soil before.” She read, before she closed the book and set it on the small table.
She waited for close to half an hour to see if Cassandra and Blain would show up out of the aisles looking for adventure, but when she didn’t see them she began to flip through the natural history book looking for an appropriate passage to read. She found a nice nonviolent passage about herbivores, and silently read to herself. Again she stopped in mid passage and lay the book aside, while she waited anxiously to see any sign of the small reptiles she had imagined.
Another half an hour passed with no sign of either Cassandra, Blain, or the little herbivores. Frustrated, she left the books on the table and went in search of something else to read, and other theories to debunk. She tried pulling the books off of the shelves, and then replacing them on a different shelf, pulling the books down and dropping them on the floor, and also just generally abusing the books. Folding over pages after silently reading a passage, reading out loud and then announcing her distaste in the books. Nothing she did would bring a character to life.
After several hours of this she, picked up all of the books she had misplaced, and returned them to their proper places. She was exhausted, and no further in her investigation than before. It was time to go down stairs and take a brief nap before the sun started to peak over the horizon. Once the sun rose there would be no where to escape it’s rays. Even in the basement there were windows that allowed the sunlight to filter in during the day. Although, those were sure to be buried by snow and slush the light would still find a way to filter through, just like it did in her apartment.
She slowly made her way down the stairs and into the small reading area where Matt was sound asleep just as she had left him. She silently curled up on her own couch, underneath her own blanket and slowly drifted off to sleep.
As she slept Eleanor dreamt of all of the things that had been racing around her mind over the past twenty four hours. The sale of the library, the strange occurrences with book characters, this odd whatever it was going on with Matt, Cassandra, Blain, and the small herbivores she had tried to summon before calling it in for the night. Everything was just a weird mishmash. It kept her mentally awake until the sun finally broke it’s way through the gloomy clouded sky and filtered into the library waking her up.
She slowly rose off of the couch and stretched making a half hearted attempt at straightening her hair and rumpled sweater. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she glanced toward the fire place and notices two small lizards basking in the heat. She rubbed her eyes again, shook her head and took another look. Yep, they were still there basking. Could these be the little herbivores she was reading about the night before?
Quickly she glanced over at Matt, who was still sleeping soundly. He was quite comical all wrapped up in his blanket, curled up on the small couch with a tiny puddle of drool collecting on his pillow. She smiled, and then headed upstairs to see if she could find Cassandra and Blain.
“Hello?” Eleanor called as she reached the top of the stairs.
She wasn’t sure what she would find if anything, but she certainly didn’t want to creep up on space explorers unannounced. Especially if they were the owners of the suspected lasers that damaged the sky light. Slowly she made her way through the aisles one by one, but to her surprise she didn’t find anything.
“Well that’s odd. I wonder where those lizards came from?” She wondered aloud.
She tried to think back to which book she had read aloud and which book she had read silently, but after her fitful night of sleep she just couldn’t remember. She let out a sigh and made her way back to the main floor.
The temperature in the building had dropped significantly over the course of the night, and there was a crisp chill in the air. She checked on Matt once again, and then made her way to the small employee break room in search of sustenance that didn’t require a microwave. It was very slim pickings consisting mostly of coffee creamers, a few stale coffee biscuits, and some dry cereal. She rummaged up a clean coffee mug, poured herself some cereal and added several coffee creamers in lieu of milk. It tasted terrible, but it was all she could find and she was famished.
While she finished her last bites of cereal another thought occurred to her. With out heat in the building the pipes were likely to freeze. She had read some where that if you turn on the water ever so slightly that it will prevent the pipes from freezing. She wasn’t sure about the accuracy of this claim, but she also wasn’t sure what would happen if she DIDN’T try at least something.
She set about wondering around the library until she had turned on just a trickle of water in every faucet she could find. She also paused and took the time to straighten her sweater and fix her hair. She wasn’t exactly sure why she did this, but it made her feel a little bit better about the situation she found herself in.
When she returned to the main floor, she found Matt just beginning to stir from his sleep, and that the storm had finally run it’s course. The sun was beaming brightly, and reflecting of the fresh fallen snow. Having finished all of her work the night before, she walked over to her couch, grabbed the blanket, and wrapped herself tightly as she took a seat on the floor closer to the fire.
She briefly wondered where the small lizards had disappeared to. While she was making her rounds and getting ready for the day she had lost track of them. She glanced around the lobby a few times and when she still didn’t see them she shrugged.
“Good morning.” Matt grumbled clearing his throat, and also shifting closer to the fire.
“Good morning.” Eleanor replied with a pleasant optimistic tone in her voice. “Did you sleep well?”
“As well as one can while being hold up in a library with no heat.” Matt answered honestly. “How about you?”
“About the same. The snow finally stopped.” Eleanor answered as she pointed out the large window to the clear blue sky.
Matt’s sleepy eyes slowly followed Eleanor’s direction toward the outside window.
“Thank, God. If it had continued much longer we would have been buried alive!” Matt exclaimed finally standing up from the couch to stretch. “Wow it got cold quick in here.”
Eleanor nodded silently, as she watched the flames dance in the fireplace. She didn’t mean to be rude, but she wasn’t used to having this social interaction first thing in the morning. She was a quiet solitary person by nature as one tends to become growing up in a library. She hoped that Matt would understand and not take it personally, which he seemed to as he neatly folded his blanket and placed it back on the couch before returning to his seat.
“Do we have any breakfast, or more coffee?” Matt asked running his fingers through his disheveled hair.
“There is some dry cereal and coffee creamer in the employee break room. That’s what I had. It’s not the greatest but it’s better than nothing. You can help yourself to whatever you might be able to find in there.” Eleanor answered, still not taking her attention away from the flames.
Matt got up and headed toward the employee break room. It was pretty clear that Eleanor wasn’t a morning person so there was no need to sit around and make things awkward. He shuffled across the cold marble in his socks. He wasn’t sure when he had taken his shoes off through out the night, but that wasn’t unusual. He was kind of wishing that he had taken the time to put them on before wandering off. The floor was like ice. Not surprising since the temperature in the building had dropped at least twenty degrees since the power had gone off the night before, but it was still quite a shock to practically bare feet.
Before he made his way into the break room, he detoured to the door. He wasn’t intending on being able to open it, but it was worth a shot regardless. He unlatched the lock, and pushed his entire body weight into the door. With his lack of shoes, and the several more feet of snow that had accumulated over night, the door didn’t even budge as it had previously. He tried again, but ended up with the same results.
Finishing that pointless charade he moved over to the window. He knew it didn’t open, but he was hoping he could at least see the damage and the outside world. As he peered over the mountain of snow, what he saw surprised him.
There were people milling about all through out the streets. Children were pulling each other on sleds, adults were digging their way from their front doors toward the streets, and street department trucks were cautiously working their way through the snow and slush layer by layer. It wouldn’t be long until the neighborhood was back up and running at all.
He smiled, and took the time to etch “help” in the frost that had formed inside the large window. He wasn’t sure how much good it would do, or if anyone would pay attention to the library which was always closed on weekends, but it was worth a shot. Finishing that task he made his way back to the break room.
He too rounded up some cereal and poured some coffee creamer over it. It was pretty awful, but better than empty stomach. Soon after her finished choking down his breakfast, he tidied up his small mess and headed back toward the only warm place in the building. As he was crossing the lobby two small lizards of dubious origin skittered out of his path. He paused, and watched them disappear underneath a closed doorway leading to another meeting room.
Seeing the lizards made him wonder what became of the other people he had encountered, and if the flamingo’s would be okay in this cold. He also wondered where the flock could be. Surely not still trapped in the elevator? He shrugged and continued his way around the circulation desk toward the reading area and his assigned couch.
“So, good news.” He called out as he rounded the corner.
Eleanor shifted her attention from the flames and turned to face Matt.
“The rest of the world still exist, and in fact the neighborhood is quite lively with activity. We should be out here in no time.” Matt said, smiling as he took a seat on the floor next to Eleanor.
Eleanor didn’t reply, lost in her own thoughts, but did let a brief smile indicate that she shared Matt’s enthusiasm.
They sat in an awkward silence both staring into the flames, until Matt spoke once again: “So, what’s got you so deep in thought this morning?”
“It’s nothing really. I’m just trying to figure out this whole book thing, and how some characters come to life, but others don’t and what the “rules” are.” Eleanor answered still not taking her eyes off of the flames. “Is it only certain characters that are allowed to exit the book, or does it just depend on what some one happens to read? Do they need to be read aloud, or can people randomly pick up a book, flip through to a random page and bring things to life? It’s all so confusing. Unbelievable actually. I sound crazy, don’t I?”
Matt paused thoughtfully before answering: “Well, to anyone else who didn’t get stuck in an elevator with a flock of flamingos, I suppose you would.”
Eleanor couldn’t tell if he was being serious or making a joke, but instead of delving into the matter too deeply she let it slide. It really didn’t matter if he thought she was crazy or not. She was fairly certain after being locked in the building over night and seeing all of the various structural problems that Matt wouldn’t be contacting her about a sale.
“I experimented with some things last night, but I was so exhausted by the time I was finished and went to sleep I had completely forgotten my experiments. I did manage to summon, if that’s the right word to use, two little lizard herbivore things from a natural history book.” Eleanor explained.
“Those lizard things? You… summoned them?” Matt asked the surprise on his face undeniable.
“You saw them?” Eleanor asked, now even more intrigued.
“I did, they were in the lobby when I came back from breakfast.”
After hearing that Eleanor jumped up to her feet and dashed for the stairs, not even bothering to look and see if Matt was following or not. While she had been sitting and studying the flames, she had remembered that she had neglected to return the herbivore book to it’s proper shelf the night before, and she had read it silently to herself. That must be the key to whatever magic was inside this place. Unfinished stories, trying desperately to come to life and finish their tale. As she was running up the stairs two at a time, she briefly wondered if this was something that happened in all libraries, or if it was something inherited with time.
Most of these books had been loved over generations, but recently things had started to become forgotten. She always thought it was just an expression that her grandfather had used when he said the books needed to be read, and kept alive, but now she wasn’t so sure. Maybe the key to keeping these books literally ALIVE was to read them start to finish.
It was still all a big mystery and illogical to her, but on one hand her child like imagination could rationalize it. That would also explain the reason the children’s section had yet to have any incidents. The characters were too young to really develop into a life of their own outside of their bindings. While there were few classics adorning the children’s shelves, most of the books were new and consisted of much of the popular children’s literature of the day. Once they had either been destroyed or ran their course of popularity they were usually the first ones to go at the book sales. Nothing on those shelves had been at the library for more than two years. Which really raised more questions than it answered if this theory was correct, but there was only one way Eleanor could be sure.
She stumbled as she reached the top of the stairs and saw the book on herbivores just where she had left it on the small book collection table by the stair well. She ran over and snatched the book off of the table, flipped through every page until she reached the passage she had started the previous night. She sat down on the floor and began reading where she had left off.
As she read through the various facts and statistics she was sure to visualize the scenes vividly. Every frond on every fern, every leaf on every tree, and every scale upon these little creatures backs were firmly planted in her minds eye. She continued until she reached the end of the chapter, and when she looked up what she saw amazed her.
No longer was she sitting in the middle of the floor in the library, but she was surrounded by lush vegetation and masses of the small lizards skittering and crawling all around her. She smiled as one crawled up her sweater and rested comfortably on her shoulder flicking it’s small forked tongue in and out of her ear.
“What on Earth?” Matt’s voice echoed through the foliage. “Eleanor?”
“Over here! Just follow the sound of my voice!” Eleanor answered. “Isn’t this amazing? I figured it out!”
“Figured what out?” Matt asked brushing aside one last palm frond to find Eleanor sitting on the floor smack dab in the middle of the jungle that had apparently sprouted overnight.
“How to bring the books to life!” Eleanor exclaimed excitedly.
“Ah… that would explain the jungle.” Matt answered.
Eleanor couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere. She wasn’t sure if even HE could tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere.
Matt ran his fingers through his hair with a look of disgust, disbelief and despair. He wasn’t a creative person by nature, and what seemed to be happening was just plain illogical. Books did NOT come to life. They sat there on a shelf. True, the did prompt a lot of inspirational things and changes in the world, but that was about the extent of their magic as far as he was concerned. Eleanor must have had these things staged. He didn’t know how or why she could have or would even want to, but it just had to be the case. It was the only sound scientific and logical explanation. If he just kept telling himself that, eventually Eleanor would drop the act and confess to the ruse. He was sure of it.
She didn’t seem to be the deceptive type by nature, only by necessity. He had hoped by opening up to her last night they could avoid any more of these shenanigans but apparently she wasn’t convinced, or she had just set up an entire contract of work to be done involving the deception and it was too late to turn back now.
Eleanor noticed the look of disgust on Matt’s face. She wasn’t sure if it was related to the fact that she seemed crazy and could bring books to life, or if it was due to the fact that they were currently sitting in a small jungle oasis with lizards and various insects floating about. She had to admit, if she hadn’t just experienced the jungle appearing around her, she never would have believed it. Even her first encounter with the Sheelongs had made her question her sanity. It was understandable that he would be disoriented and confused. The look of disgust however took her off guard, and was slightly offensive.
Surely he didn’t think this was all some elaborate plan to keep him from buying the library. How could she possibly import tropical plants overnight? He had been with her during her rounds which covered every nook and cranny of the library. Not to mention he heard Boo skittering around before she even knew that he and Mr. Tweed were running amok upstairs.
The more they were both waiting in awkward silence staring at each other the more they both realized that each had seen exactly what was on the other’s mind. Embarrassed they both looked away, and regrouped before addressing each other.
“I’m sorry, Eleanor. It’s not that I think you’re crazy, it’s just an awful lot to soak in all at once. I mean, would you believe it if you were in my position?” Matt said, leaning up against a large palm tree.
“Well, no. In all honesty I don’t believe it from my position, but I can’t really deny it. I mean look around you Matt.” Eleanor answered, slightly more defensively than she had intended. “How could I pull all of these things off with out you noticing? I mean I’m resourceful and all, but an entire flock of flamingos, a twentieth century detective, two random angst filled teens, an entire box full of lizards, and a jungle? When you went with me on my rounds last night you saw every nook and cranny of the library. There is no where to store anything that you haven’t already seen. It’s improbable, I’ll give you that, but you are standing right here. It is obviously not IMPOSSIBLE.”
Again they stared at each other with an awkward silence between them. It seemed to last for an eternity, but in reality it was only a few moments before Matt asked: “Okay. So if you can bring books to life, how do you get everything back?”
“I’m not exactly sure on that one yet. Every time I’ve encountered a character they’ve always disappeared on their own. I assume when I go to put this book back on the shelf, everything will either up and follow me or disappear.” Eleanor answered honestly, as she began to get up.
Matt offered her a hand, which she refused. She was still slightly mad at him for his silent accusation. If he had been that judgmental over something amazing and wonderful happening at the library she could only wonder what trivial things he had also been judgmental of. Her hair? Her glasses? Her small stature? Her authority as curator of the library? Her staff? The more she thought about it the more angry she became. Not just at Matt, but also her self for letting her guard down and sharing her deepest most vulnerable thoughts with him. He had never once cared about her or her opinions it was all just a show to take advantage of her, and she had fallen for it like a love sick school girl.
“Ugh! Stupid!” She yelled aloud, before tearing away from Matt and into the jungle in search of the correct shelf for her book.
Sitting in the middle of her imaginary jungle it didn’t seem all that big, but as she continued to fight her way through branches and vines she suddenly realized that she had no idea where she was going. She had headed in the direction she thought was toward the shelves, but now after several minutes of intense thrashing around she wasn’t so sure.
She paused to get her bearings and looked around. As far as she could see there was nothing but thick foliage and a dim glow from above. She tried to gauge the distance she had traveled in her head, but she had stormed off in such a hurry she hadn’t really been paying attention. She had also jumped up in such a hurry that she had knocked the little lizard who had chosen to perch on her shoulder off violently. She immediately regretted this, and silently hoped that the innocent little creature hadn’t been hurt.
“What am I doing?” She asked her self aloud.
This wasn’t her. She had been behaving irrational and emotional since Matt had showed up on her front door step two days ago. Was it the emotional stress that she had been bottling up since her grandfather had passed away, or was she really just a victim of a school yard crush? Regardless of what had triggered all of this behavior she was ashamed of herself none the less. Now she had potentially caused harm to something that only wanted to show it’s appreciation toward her. What made things even worse is that it was a small defenseless thing. She felt like a monster.
“Eleanor? Eleanor!” She heard Matt’s voice in the distance. He couldn’t be that far away, but it sounded like they had been separated by miles.
“Over here!” She called back, hoping that he would be able to pinpoint her voice and find her. She was also sure she had left quite a trampled path through the foliage in her blind rage.
As she waited for Matt to catch up to her, she continued exploring through the leaves and trees trying to figure out where the shelves had disappeared to, and what direction she had traveled. As she pushed back one more palm frond, she found a book shelf. Ironically it was a shelf in the science fiction section, and not natural history where she had intended to go, but it at least gave her a frame of reference.
“Eleanor?” Matt called again, much closer this time.
“Just keep following the trampled plants straight ahead of you.” Eleanor replied. “You’re heading in the right direction.”
She heard Matt crunching through the leaves, cursing under his breath the entire way, and eventually they were reunited.
“What was that all about? You just like randomly storming off into jungles do you?” Matt asked, not bothering to mask his annoyance.
“I didn’t just storm off, I knew where I was going. We’re over by the shelves. I got a little turned around and ended up in science fiction as opposed to natural history, but it’s only a few shelves over.” Eleanor answered, also not bothering to mask her emotions.
Matt started to say something, and then thought better of it, and sighed.
“Well, I have absolutely no idea where we are or where we should be going, so lead on oh spontaneous one.”
Eleanor nodded as she grabbed a hold of the book shelf and being careful to not loose sight of it, lead them back to the beginning of the aisle.
“Natural History, should be just a few shelves to the right.” Eleanor said, pushing her way from the front of the shelf until she found the next.
Matt followed closely behind her watching her navigate cautiously through the trees, vines and ferns. Eventually she found the right shelf and began to head down the aisle. As they both turned and headed down the aisle the jungle began to thin. After a few more short steps they reached a surreal looking clearing. In the middle of the clearing the shelf was clearly visible, as was the empty slot where the book belonged.
“Well, I’m not sure if this is going to work, but here goes nothing.” Eleanor said as she carefully placed the book back into it’s properly catalogued spot.
They both waited, hoping the jungle would some how disappear or at least shrink to some extend. Moments passed with nothing, and then as Eleanor began to reach for the book to check the catalogue number, a quiet rustling began to head toward them. The sound grew louder and louder as it grew closer and closer until it was practically on top of them. They both looked at each other anxiously until a wind blew through the immediately surrounding foliage, and like a hurricane up rooting trees everything began to swirl around them. They both covered their heads and shielded their eyes, no sooner than the wind had began it was still again.
When they opened their eyes, everything was back to normal. The shelves were no longer covered in vines or filled with trees. It was as if the jungle had never existed. As she looked around for any traces of remaining jungle, Eleanor smiled.
“There you go. That’s that.” Eleanor said with an heir of satisfaction, and a smug grin directed toward Matt.
Matt was still skeptical. He hadn’t actually SEEN the jungle disappear into the shelf. Because of the wind he had been forced to cover his face and close his eyes, but he did have to give Eleanor credit for making everything so believable. If she really was the one in charge of all of this.
He glanced around the surrounding shelves looking for an interesting title. If it was true what Eleanor had said, he would also be able to “summon” characters out of a book. Opting for something other than Natural History he turned to his left and browsed the Science Fiction shelf. Not seeing anything that really grabbed his fancy there either, he closed his eyes waving his finger around in front of him until he reached out and grabbed a book. He immediately pulled it off the shelf and flipped it open to a random page.
“So if this is true, all I have to do is read this silently to myself, and picture it in my imagination?” Matt asked.
“Theoretically. It worked for me.” Eleanor answered as she nodded. “It might help if we take it down stairs with us though. It’s getting pretty chilly up here.”
Matt hadn’t noticed the sharp drop in temperature while foraging through the jungle, but now that the walls were open and the air was circulating again it was quite cold. He nodded in agreement, closed the book again and they both headed toward the stair case.
They made their way down stairs and back over to the reading room, but not before wandering to the door to check the progress of the dig out. The neighborhood was still covered in snow and slush, but most of the walk ways from the door steps had been cleared. There were only a few pedestrians straggling outside, as the wind had picked up, and the sky became cloudy. Looking up at the sky they both silently hoped that there wasn’t more snow heading their way.
As the day had worn on, the sun had melted the frost lining the windows as well as Matt’s plea for help. They didn’t see any progress made on the library steps or path, but they tried the door again anyway. Still no movement. Stubbornly they tried one more time, this time achieving about an inch of movement, but still not enough to get out or even set out a signal.
Eleanor wasn’t too worried. As soon as Monday morning rolled around Fritz would be here faithfully shoveling his way in, and then they would be free. It was only a few more hours she told herself, even though it was nearly a day and a half.
Matt on the other hand was becoming restless. He was tired, hungry, and frustrated by the entire situation. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy Eleanor’s company, but this whole enchanted library was getting on his last nerve. What was she going to do when he sat down to read the book he had grabbed from upstairs and nothing happened? How was she going to rationalize that?
On the other hand, if this library really was enchanted, he had picked a passage with a sure fire way to get them out of here. He wasn’t sure of the title of the book, but his cursory glance of the random page he had flipped to indicated that two tribes were at war with massive weaponry and heavy machinery. If THAT couldn’t get them out of the library they might as well just turn off the fire place and freeze to death.
“Well, let’s get to this reading bringing things to life bit.” Matt said, turning away from the door and heading back to their camp.
Eleanor followed quietly. She knew Matt was scheming something, but she didn’t know exactly what. It was painfully obvious to watch the wheels turn in his head whenever he was deep in thought. It would be interesting to see what the next few hours would bring.
They rounded the corner and both took a seat on their prospective couches. Eleanor wrapped her legs in her blanket, and Matt settled down with his book. He flipped through several chapters until he found the passage he was looking for.
“So there aren’t any special rules or anything I have to follow?” He asked.
Eleanor shook her head, and continued to look at him expectantly.
He paused to read her expression momentarily, and then delved into the book, reading silently. The passage he was currently reading wasn’t as in depth as the one he had flipped to up stairs, but he was sure this would work.
On the planet of Kunl the Niken tribe was busily preparing for battle, readying their massive war machines, cleaning and readying weapons, and finishing up last minute battle drills. The warriors of the Niken tribe were a proud people, and fierce in battle. They relished the chance to face their sworn enemies the Vapt tribe, and return their kidnapped princess to her rightful place.
The leader of the Niken tribe, Prince Javhoo, watched from a far as his soldiers prepared for battle. He was impressed with how far some of the younger soldiers had come. It had been a long and tiresome journey from their home town on the opposite side of the planet, fraught with peril and sacrifices.
Matt stopped reading, and looked up from the book. He and Eleanor still sat in the reading area, the power was still out, and the fire was still flickering in the fire place. Nothing had happened.
Eleanor looked on expectantly, as if Matt had only half completed his task in bringing the book to life. He stared back at her blankly, either waiting for instructions or for her to double over laughing, She wasn’t quite sure so she remained silent.
“Okay, now what?” Matt asked annoyed, finally breaking the silence.
“Now, we wait. It didn’t work immediately for me the first time either. I had to sleep on it.” Eleanor answered honestly pulling the blanket from around her legs to cover her upper body.
The fire was still burning brightly, but there seemed to be a new depth of cold in the air. She couldn’t quite tell why, but it definitely seemed colder. She was also getting quite hungry. Her cereal had worn off hours ago, but she wasn’t sure if there was anything else to be had in the break room. She also didn’t really want to adventure back through the cold and foreboding lobby. Instead she tried her best to rewrap her blanket and scoot ever so slightly closer to the fireplace.
Matt huffed and puffed, slammed the book closed and tossed it, not so gently across his own couch. Then he too pulled out his blanket and wrapped it around his arms. He didn’t look at Eleanor, he only stared into the flames. He too was getting very hungry, which only made him more cranky. He needed to get up and go back into the break room in search of lunch, but walking through the lobby and past the stubborn snow blocked door would only irritate him that much more, so he decided to stay put. Eventually Eleanor would have to head into the break room for something and he would follow. He saw her lay her head down on the arm of the couch and close her eyes. She had mentioned something about sleeping and her success of bringing the first book to life. Maybe if he lay down and took a nap something magical about his subconscious would summon his tribe of warriors? He sighed, and adjusted the cushions on the couch.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt.” He said as he too curled up in his blanket and slowly dozed off to dream land.
Matt awoke to a sharp pain in his left shoulder. He didn’t know what was going on, but it felt almost like he had been stabbed. He slowly opened his eyes and rolled over. What he saw both confused and slightly frightened him. He rubbed his eyes, trying to banish all remaining traces of sleep as he sat up.
“You there! State your name and purpose!” A young funny looking person shouted at him.
“What are you talking about? Who…WHAT are you?” Matt asked, finally getting his bearings and staring at the creature before him.
It was about average human height, but covered in a coat of fire red fur, laced with stripes of brown. It’s facial features were also very much like a human with the exception of a third eye placed squarely on top of the bridge of the nose. He was a biped, and from this angle Matt couldn’t tell if he had a tail or not. His small hands, featuring seven fingers, were wrapped tightly around some sort of metallic spear or weapon of some kind, and he did not look pleased to be meeting Matt.
“I am Narvo, of the planet Kunl proud Nikeni warrior. State your business!” The creature answered, once again jabbing Matt in the shoulder.
Matt paused and soaked in all of the information this Narvo character had just announced. He was from the book. The book had actually come to life just as Eleanor had predicted. He was in shock, amazed, and totally dumbfounded.
“Uh, I am Matt of the planet Earth, proud property sales and acquisitions manager. I am trapped in this building, what we call a library, and need help in making my escape… to… rescue a princess of Earth.” Matt delivered sheepishly. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to play along, or what. He was hoping Eleanor would also soon be rousted from her sleep to help him out. He wished that he could see around Narvo and send some kind of signal her way to hasten her awakening, but Narvo completely blocked his field of vision.
“Property acquisitions? Do you take them? Will you steal our great castles and cities!?” Narvo yelped immediately on the offensive.
“No! No, no!” Matt said sharply trying to calm Narvo before he went into full warrior mode and used his staff for more than poking and prodding. “I… it’s more of a trade. I don’t just go around pillaging and plundering. There is fair trade.” He tried to explain as he shifted nervously in his seat.
Narvo paused and considered Matt’s statement for a moment. Matt appeared to be unarmed, and he was in the company of a female which could have been the princess. He was unaware of what Matt would have to rescue her from though. She seemed to move freely around this “library” as if she owned the place. She had recently gotten up and disappeared around the corner. If this Matt fellow was to be protecting and rescuing her he was doing a terrible job.
“If you are indeed protecting the princess, why has she gone off alone while you were asleep?” Navro asked, still not letting his guard down.
“She went off alone? To where?” Matt asked, trying to sound more concerned than he actually was for Navro’s benefit.
Navro stepped closer to Matt and edged the sharp point of his staff into Matt’s chest.
“Perhaps you aren’t her rescuer, but her captor, and I should take you back to my camp?”
“Camp?” Matt asked surprised. He took a quick glance at the large clock hanging over the fire place. He had only been asleep for less than an hour. How could this character have a camp set up? He wished Eleanor was around to help him understand all of this. He didn’t quite know the rules or how exactly things worked. “Shouldn’t we be looking for the princess? I mean if she went off on her own, we should probably go to find her.”
Navro did not change his stance or remove his spear from Matt’s chest, but he did pause to think about what his captor had said. He supposed Matt could have been watching a strong willed princess who decided to wander off on her own with out consent. It was quite a common thing to have happen. Especially on his home planet, although if anyone had truly lost a princess as this fellow had done he would have been punished by death.
Matt could see Navro pondering his suggestion, so he decided to take his chances and continue embellishing in hopes to win over this small minded young warrior to his cause of eventually breaking out of this library. If he could convince him to help find Eleanor, he could certainly convince him of the rest of the story about being trapped inside the building and trying to get out.
“She could be very frightened, and very much in danger. We really need to find her. Please, great warrior, help me find her.” Matt pleaded in what he hoped was a convincing tone.
Still uncertain what to do Navro slowly lowered his spear. Matt was clearly not a physical threat, but Navro still didn’t trust him. Something about his over emphasized points, and grand gestures seemed insincere. Regardless, he was the only one who truly knew the layout of this strange land, and he would be sure to lead Navro to the princess, whom if needing to be rescued called for Navro’s help would be a wonderful feather in his cap, and hopefully move him up the ranks in the Nikeni army.
“Alright, lead the way.” Navro said, having lowered his spear, still not taking his eyes off of Matt.
Matt rose slowly from the couch, didn’t bother to fold his blankets, and headed toward the lobby. He wasn’t even sure which direction Eleanor had gone, but he figured he would start in the break room. That’s the first place he would have gone after waking up. Which his stomach reminded him as he walked through the break room door, Navro close behind.
Matt looked around, to the empty room. It didn’t even look like she had been here at all this morning. Everything was just as he’d left it the day before right down to his over turned cup and coffee ring on the table. He paused for a moment feigning interest in the coffee ring as if it were some important clue, and thought where else Eleanor could have gone. He supposed she could have gone on one of her rounds, but there really was no need. The doors were still firmly secured by the snow, and the only action he had seen was on the third floor when the jungle suddenly appeared.
“She’s not here.” Matt said, finally breaking the awkward silence between him and Navro.
Navro only replied with a blank stare. Obviously she was not here unless she was some sort of magical being with invisibility spells and abilities. Navro thought to himself, but he chose to hold his tongue. He still wasn’t sure what Matt was capable of, and he didn’t want to get in too far over his head. He would already be severely scolded if Matt was not the protector of the princess as he had come to believe, he didn’t want to risk angering a possible royal on top of not helping a princess.
Matt couldn’t tell what Navro was thinking, but he decided that since he hadn’t spoken or attacked him with his spear that they were still on good terms. He started to walk out of the break room waiting for Navro to follow. When Navro turned and started behind him, Matt continued through the lobby and up the stairs heading to the third floor.
As they climbed the stair case past the second floor, an interesting tropical smell began to waft down the stairs and fill their nostrils. To Matt it was a very pungent unpleasant smell, but Navro didn’t seem to be affected by it at all. There were also several strange noises that echoed down the stairs. Matt couldn’t tell if they were animal in nature or some diseased humans crying out their death throes. Again, Matt noticed, that Navro wasn’t phased by any of this.
Was this the normal environment on his home planet? Had Matt inadvertently brought the entire planet of Kahul to this tiny library? He certainly hoped this wasn’t the case, if nothing else but for Eleanor’s sake. If she had ventured into this unknown world all by herself with out the book, there was no telling what kind of harm she might put herself in.
Finally they reached the top of the stairs, and to their surprise they were met with a very entangled jungle wall of vines, covered in the most exquisite, yet dangerous looking neon flowers. Matt paused unsure of what to do. He slowly reached out a hand to attempt to part the vines, and was met with a swift response from an elegant coral colored flower. It practically jumped off of one location on the vine and raced over to intercept his hand bearing small razor sharp teeth and making a very distinct hissing sound.
“What in the hell is this?” Matt asked as he pulled his hand back.
“Those are the Spintalli flowers. The protect sacred ground. What are you attempting to access?” Navro answered, now even more suspicious of Matt.
“The princess. She comes here frequently to meditate.” Matt answered. “Eleanor! Oh princess Eleanor!” He called hoping to hear a reply.
They waited while silence followed his cries. The only sounds that could be heard were the tiny little Spintalli flowers dutifully patrolling their vine and protecting whatever it was they thought needed protecting on the third floor. It was then that Matt realized what they were protecting. The book shelf. He couldn’t reshelf the book and return things to normal until he found a way to get around these Spintalli flowers.
“Uh oh.” He mumbled to himself.
“What did you say?” Navro asked.
“Oh nothing, it’s just a phrase we use here on Earth when things don’t go as planned. Perhaps I have made a misjudgment and Princess Eleanor is not residing up here, but instead down on the second floor.” Matt answered.
“Why would she be residing on the second floor instead of up here, if this is where she normally meditates and there are Spintalli flowers guarding her?” Navro asked, tightening the grip on his spear.
Matt noticed Navro’s hand tighten around the spear and was searching desperately for a logical answer, when suddenly a loud crash from behind the Spintalli vine both made them jump and put them on high alert.
“What was that?” Matt asked, assuming it was some other deadly tree or flower.
Navro didn’t answer, but only waved his hand in a gesture that Matt assumed meant, to put it politely, “shut up.” Matt obeyed, and stepped down several stairs giving Navro the advantage, since Navro was the only one in their little group that had a weapon.
Cautiously Navro moved closer to the Spintalli vine, being very careful not to disturb it. He leaned his ear just millimeters away from the vine and listened closely.
Matt couldn’t hear anything, but something must have peaked Navro’s interest because almost immediately his expression went from fierce warrior to concerned compassion. Matt could only hope that it was Eleanor crashing around trying to get out of this crazy jungle that he had brought to life.
“Matt! Matt! Is that you? Help!” Eleanor’s voice echoed through the vines.
Navro stepped aside, waiting for Matt to rush to Eleanor’s aid. Instead Matt just looked at him in a rather awkward exchange. They both stood there waiting for the other to do something until a large growl drew their attention back to the Spintalli vine.
“Matt! Help!” Eleanor cried even more desperately.
“Go!” Navro yelled at Matt. “Your princess awaits your services! She needs you!”
Matt stood still momentarily, and then quickly snatched Navro’s spear and charged at the Spintalli vine. He had no idea what he was getting into, or even why he had reacted this way. Immediately after taking the spear he had regretted his action, although Navro didn’t seem too upset. Instead he followed Matt into the fray.
Not only did the Spintalli flowers have razor sharp teeth, which cut through flesh like butter, they also spit acid with deadly accuracy. If Matt hadn’t been covering his face out of sheer reflex he could have been blinded. The further he pressed into the vine the thicker and more populated with flowers it became. Not only did they make the intimidating hissing sound, but they also screeched with quite ferocity. Just as Matt was about to give up, he crashed through the other side of the vine into the small landing of the third floor with Navro tumbling out behind.
Tripping over his own feet, Matt crashed to the floor. He quickly righted himself, readied the spear, and did a quick glance around the room.
“Eleanor?” He called cautiously, still not sure what to expect.
The acid burns on his arms, and various chew marks left from the Spintalli vine were starting to scream in protest, but he did his best to ignore them. He hoped they were like a bee sting and would gradually fade with time and care. If they turned out to be more like poison ivy and the pain lingered for weeks and possibly months, he was fairly certain that he would pass out in the next few hours.
He turned to see Navro close behind him, also attempting to hide some pain. Matt noticed that Navro’s third eye was tightly shut and watering profusely, but the warrior seemed undaunted.
“Eleanor!” Matt called again, with a little more gusto this time.
“Over here!” Eleanor replied from somewhere to their left. “I’m in Natural History. Directly underneath the sky light. There is… something, after me.”
Navro and Matt turned to follow the sound of Eleanor’s voice as they both weren’t quite familiar with the lay out of the library. Other than the Spintalli vines the library had remained mostly the same. It wasn’t a complete take over like the jungle before. There was still the extremely musky smell, but Matt assumed that whatever the smell belonged to was after Eleanor.
They flew by shelves pausing only momentarily to take a cursory inventory of each. Eventually they reached the end of the shelves, and turned around racing the other way. They dashed back to the other side of the library, still not finding Eleanor or the mysterious beast. Frustrated and slightly out of breath, Matt looked toward the ceiling trying to get his bearings and fix on the sky light. Eleanor did say she was directly underneath it. Navro did the same, and turned his two uninjured eyes toward the ceiling.
The sky light itself, being buried in snow slush and ice, was only a dim glow peaking out from one of the various panels. That made sense to Matt why he couldn’t find the correct aisle, but it didn’t make any sense as to why he couldn’t find Eleanor. With out a word between them Matt and Navro darted back to the aisle directly underneath the sky light. They both looked around, and still the savage sounding beast nor Eleanor was anywhere to be seen.
“Eleanor?” Matt whispered. He wasn’t sure why he whispered, but it just seemed like the most prudent thing to do considering the circumstances.
“Up here!” Eleanor answered.
Matt and Navro tilted their heads in the direction of Eleanor’s voice, and there perched tightly on the stop of the shelf she was.
“What’s after you? Where did it go?” Matt asked glancing around to make sure whatever it was wasn’t sneaking up on them getting ready to attack.
“I don’t know where it went, or what it is.” Eleanor answered poking her head out of the shelf to get a better view. “Wha…er… who is that?” She asked referring to Navro.
“I am Narvo, of the planet Kunl proud Nikeni warrior.” Navro answered picking up on Eleanor’s failed subtlety.
“Oh, of course.” Eleanor said, trying to rearrange herself in the shelf so she could eventually climb down with out too much assistance.
“Can you describe the beast that was chasing you, Princess?” Navro asked kindly ignoring her curt reply. She was royalty after all. He shouldn’t have addressed her with out being addressed first, but on this strange planet he thought he could get away with it.
“Princess?” Eleanor asked, still struggling to rearrange herself.
“Yes!” Matt jumped in quickly. “Princess Eleanor. Can you describe the beast?”
Eleanor gave Matt a curious glance, and then answered: “It was something like a giant dog, but with scales, or a very shiny coat. I couldn’t really tell, but it wasn’t friendly that’s for sure.”
Matt turned to Navro seeking an answer to the mystery creature. Navro, who had never stopped observing his surroundings, cocked his head and pricked his ears, but didn’t answer.
“What are we…” Matt began, before he was silenced by Navro.
Navro raised his spear and in near silence moved toward the end of the aisle. The farther away he got the more Matt and Eleanor began to notice a low growling sound. Apparently whatever their foe was, Navro had both spotted and cornered whom or whatever was stalking Eleanor.
Matt and Eleanor watched as Navro’s fur began to bristle and his ears flattened against his head. There was an instant of silence, then suddenly Navro threw himself into the bottom of the shelf. There was a sudden scream, a brief bit of shuffling, and the nothing.
“What just happened?” Eleanor asked aloud, even though they both knew what had happened.
“I think it’s safe to come down now.” Matt replied, moving over to the edge of the shelf to help Eleanor down.
He reached his hand up, and Eleanor took it. He held her steady as she climbed down the shelf. Once she was on the ground again she shook out her matted hair and brushed herself off. She wasn’t remotely dirty or rumpled, but it was more of a gesture of reasserting her confidence, and feigning superiority. She wasn’t sure why Matt kept referring to her as princess Eleanor, but she assumed it had something to do with Navro.
They both waited for Navro to emerge from the shelf. They assumed he had been victorious, which was a rather bold assumption, but they did none the less. As the time passed and no one appeared, they began to suspect something was wrong.
“Wait a moment.” Eleanor said, the light bulb suddenly flickering on above her head. “They dove into the shelf! What if they’re trapped in another book?!”
With out pausing she rushed down to the place where she had seen Navro dive after the mysterious creature. It was just as she feared. Both Navro and the creature were gone, but there was a book that had fallen out of the shelf behind.
“This is the natural history section, Matt! We can’t have science fiction characters in a natural history book!” Eleanor exclaimed rushing past Matt to retrieve the fallen book.
She picked it up and began to furiously flip through the pages until she found Navro. Once she did, she marked her page and ran back to the shelf where Matt was still waiting. She wasn’t sure if he was in shock, or just didn’t know what to do any more. She shrugged it off and showed him the page.
“Look! He’s in a diagram of the middle ages! Fighting that… that thing!” Eleanor exclaimed unable to keep her self contained any longer. “And how to we get him out of this book when the text doesn’t have any mention of Navro and this creature? How to we get whatever else you imagined BACK into their book with OUT Navro? And…”
“Eleanor!” Matt interrupted. “Please! Calm down. I don’t know anymore than you do. I do know we need to get Navro out of that book, and all of these Spintalli vines and other various things lurking around from his book BACK. As to how we’re going to accomplish this I am just as clueless as you.”
Eleanor, shocked at Matt’s rude interruption, calmed down and began to think logically again. She knew that to get everything from one book back all you had to do was return the book to the shelf. Maybe if they put Navro’s book back onto the shelf, both he and the creature would be extracted from their current predicament in Natural History. It was worth a try.
“Matt, where is Navro’s book?” She asked.
Matt looked at her with a blank stare. He couldn’t remember exactly what he had done with the book. He remembered tossing it somewhere out of frustration last night, but he couldn’t remember exactly where it landed.
“It’s down stairs somewhere.” He finally answered.
“Okay, so let’s go get it. I have a theory.” Eleanor answered heading off toward the stairs.
“It’s not going to be that easy.” Matt said following Eleanor as she rounded the corner and nearly ran smack dab into the middle of the Spintalli vines. “Be careful. They bite, and spit acid in your eyes.”
Eleanor stopped and turned around to face Matt.
“What?” She asked, as she parted the vines with her hand and stepped through.
Matt was both shocked and amazed. From what Navro had told him the Spintalli flowers protected sacred places, although perhaps once you made it into the sacred place you were worthy to pass as you pleased un harmed? Maybe. Eleanor had passed through unscathed, so it was definitely worth a try. He headed toward the vines and reached a hand tentatively forward, when nothing appeared he brushed his way through practically running over Eleanor on the other side.
“What were you talking about?” Eleanor asked again.
“Oh, nothing.” Matt said leading the way down the stairs.
Eleanor shrugged and followed Matt. When they reached the lobby a surprising site met their eyes. There was an entire camp of Nikeni warriors camped around their fire. Tents were erected, various, what Matt and Eleanor could only assume were beast of burden, were tied to the large marble support beams dotted through out the second floor, and many much larger and much more intimidating warriors milled about doing their daily activities.
Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, Matt caught movement and quickly moved Eleanor out of harms way. A spear stuck neatly into the wooden shelf behind them. They both turned in the direction which the spear was thrown to see a large Nikeni warrior descending upon them with full force and brute strength.
“Wait!! We come in peace! This is Princess Eleanor, and I am Matt Property Acquisitions Manager for the fair planet of Earth. We mean you no harm!” Matt yelled as he and Eleanor began to sink towards the ground in a vain effort to protect themselves.
The advancing warrior stopped in his tracks just inches away from issuing a fatal blow to the back of Matt’s skull.
“Why are you spying on our camp?” He asked with a ferocious growl.
“The fire. This was our camp previously, we only went out in search of… food.” Matt answered straightening up slightly, still standing between Eleanor and the warrior.
The warrior didn’t say another word, but stood in quiet observation of Matt and Eleanor. What they had said seemed sincere, especially since Matt was doing such a fine job of protecting Eleanor, and she had yet to speak.
“Navro, your scout. He found us and was about to lead us back to your camp, when he bravely sacrificed his life in defense of the Princess.” Eleanor added, finally taking the time to speak and stepping around Matt. She bowed her head as a sign of respect, and curtsied politely.
Matt observed this and was eternally grateful that he had found Eleanor. If he had been left to his own devices he probably would have been strung up and sacrificed to some intergalactic science fiction god. She was so poised, and tactful even in the most unusual situations. He didn’t know how she accomplished this, but he wished she would take the time to teach him.
What Matt didn’t realize was that as he was admiring Eleanor’s tact and grace, that a small smirk had spread across his face. Eleanor herself noticed, as well as the warrior. It was painfully obvious what Matt was thinking to both of them, but following in Eleanor’s lead the warrior chose to ignore it.
“As Navro has sacrificed his life in your service, Princess, we will honor him with a feast tonight. We would be greatly pleased if you would join us. I Jronf will escort you to meet with our colonel.” The Warrior explained, returning Eleanor’s gesture of kindness with a small bow and tilt of the head.
“Thank you for your kindness.” Eleanor replied.
“Come, this way.” Jronf said as he began to head back toward the lobby and the fire place.
Eleanor followed confidently behind, as Matt brought up the rear of their little train. Matt was still enamored with Eleanor’s ability to adapt to this situation with out any previous thought. He was right not to underestimate her before when it came to her business skills, but now after seeing her in this fantasy world that had taken everything he had ever known and flipped it upside down, it came to an entirely different level.
Jronf walked into the camp, past several large beast and a myriad of tents all filled with warriors of equal or greater status than himself with an immense confidence. As soon as he encountered a fellow warrior his posture changed. There was a mutual gesture exchanged between them, and then Jronf continued on his way with Eleanor and Matt close behind.
Eleanor was completely amazed with the detail of the camp, and each individual in it. She had a very vibrant imagination, but nothing compared to what she was seeing brought to life here through Matt’s imagination. Everything was so incredibly detailed, she just couldn’t get over it. She also really wanted to find this book so she could read it in it’s entirety. She had never really been a big fan of science fiction, but if this book was anything like Matt had made it out to be through this display it was something she would enjoy.
Eventually they made their way through the camp and to the most eloquently detailed tent with several armed warriors keeping a vigilant guard. Eleanor stopped several feet away from the warriors, and grabbed Matt’s hand as he continued to follow Jronf. Matt stopped short and took two steps back until he was positioned behind Eleanor and she released his hand. He wasn’t sure what was going on, as Jronf entered the tent with out any opposition from the guards, but he trusted Eleanor. Especially after the display on the stairs.
“What are we waiting for?” Matt whispered to Eleanor.
“An invitation. If we just charged in there uninvited we could start an all out war. You don’t just barge in on royalty or people in command. Especially in a foreign society. When they are ready for us to enter Jronf will come back to get us.” Eleanor explained.
“How do you know all this? Have you read this book before?” Matt asked, his voice rising just above a whisper now.
“No, but I have read lots of other books with royalty and military caste systems. That’s generally how it works.” Eleanor answered honestly.
Matt started to reply with another question, when Jronf popped his head through the tent flap and told them to enter. Eleanor only gave a cursory “I told you so” glance in Matt’s direction as she lead the way through the door and into the tent. When they were all inside Jronf made the introductions.
“This is Princess Eleanor of Earth, and Matt Property Acquisitions Manager.” Jronf explained pointing to each of them as he made the introduction. “And this, is our fearless leader Colonel Ishp of the Nikeni Tribe.”
Eleanor tilted her head down, and curtsied once again. Matt followed her lead with a small bow, and in return Colonel Ishp did the same. After the formal introductions there was an awkward moment of silence between all of them. Because she had never read the book Eleanor wasn’t certain if she was to initiate the conversation or wait for Colonel Ishp to make the first move. They all waited silently, until Matt spoke.
“Colonel Ishp, we are honored that you would grace us with your presence.” Matt said.
Eleanor held her breath, hoping that Matt hadn’t spoken out of turn, which by the surprised look on Colonel Ishp’s face he seemed to have done. Her thoughts were racing to make up for Matt’s offense, when Colonel Ishp finally spoke.
“Please. Sit.” He said as he motioned to two small pillows off to the left of the tent.
Eleanor lead the way and took a seat on one of the pillows, as Matt followed her lead.
“I am honored that you will have us in your land, Princess Eleanor.” Colonel Ishp said as he also took a seat on a larger more plush pillow at the head of the tent. “Jronf tells me that you were rescued by our honorable scout Navro during an ambush. He was a good warrior, and we will mourn his loss deeply.”
“He was a good warrior, and his sacrifice won’t go unnoticed in our kingdom.” Eleanor agreed, still not quite sure where the conversation was going or how the dynamics were supposed to flow.
Colonel Ishp nodded.
“The reason we are moving through your land Princess is due to a brazen attack against us several months ago. We are currently hunting the vile Vapt tribe to exact our revenge. According to our calculations they should be somewhere nearby. I will be honest with you, stumbling into this strange land was quite a surprise. All of my navigators have failed to locate our position on any of our maps. I was concerned that this was all some trickery put into place by the Vapt to throw off our trail. After meeting you, I can see that clearly it is not. Our maps must be outdated. I do apologize about the intrusion.” He explained.
“No sir, it is I who apologize for not welcoming you. What, if I may ask was the Vapt tribe’s offense?” Eleanor asked, treading cautious ground. She needed to know if Matt had read and imagined anything the Vapt tribe had done. If he had, the event was likely to play out in the library as well, and she wanted to be prepared.
Colonel Ishp paused at this bold and invasive question, but decided that since he wasn’t familiar with the customs of Princess Eleanor’s land, he would not be offended.
“The Vapt tribe has been our mortal enemies from the beginning of time. We had lived in peace for several hundred years until one day a few months ago our beautiful princess Neem was kidnapped, and many brave Nikeni warriors were slain in the process. It is our mission to not only avenge the death of so many warriors but to return our princess safely. Our latest reports indicate that she is still alive and well, although trapped in a well fortified dungeon.”
Matt and Eleanor exchanged glances. Immediately from Eleanor’s scathing eyes Matt had realized what his mistake was. He had read through the passage in the book, for the battle and war machines to aid in their escape from the library, but in doing so he had opened a whole other can of worms regarding the actual battle. The Vapt tribe were just as likely to be here in the library as the Nikeni tribe, and if they eventually crossed paths it would be a bloody battle to the death.
Matt and Eleanor had to find the book and get it back to the shelf as soon as possible, but even being in good with the Nikeni people wouldn’t change the fact that what was once their small cozy reading area had been transformed into a full fledged battle camp. Even if the book had just been laying on the couch when Matt got up this morning, there was no telling where it could have gone to now, and really no tactful way to search for it.
Matt wanted to kick himself, and he was pretty sure that Eleanor wouldn’t mind taking a swing or two either.
“What is it my friends?” Colonel Ishp asked noticing their distress.
“I am worried for the safety of the princess here. If the Vapt tribe has kidnapped your princess what’s to stop them from coming after her?” Matt answered, hoping that was the right thing to say.
“There’s no need to worry about your safety here in the presence of my fine army, Princess.” Colonel Ishp directed toward Eleanor, completely ignoring the fact that Matt had spoken to him.
“What I am most worried about is the Vapt tribe getting a hold of our sacred book.” Eleanor answered, seeing that nothing Matt could say would be taken seriously.
“Sacred book?” Colonel Ishp asked intrigued.
“Yes. It is our most sacred text. We had it hidden in our small camp, which was some where over there close to the fire before we set out on our morning search for breakfast.” Eleanor explained. “Normally we keep it on our person at all times, but when Brave Navro surprised us we took measures to hide it until we established that he could be trusted. Now that you have made your camp here, it will be nearly impossible to find.”
“Why do you think the Vapt tribe will be interested in this book?” Ishp asked, sending Jronf off on some mission with a subtle hand signal.
“It contains all the secrets of our land, and culture. All of the books through out this fortress do, but that one is the most sacred. It details the royal blood lines, battle tactics, religious ceremonies, everything that you don’t want to fall into the hands of some vile war mongering tribe like the Vapt.”
“I see. We will do our best to help you locate this book, and protect you from the Vapt.” Ishp said sternly. “I give you my word.”
“Many thanks, Colonel. Many thanks.” Eleanor replied.
They passed the next few moments in silence. Eleanor still wasn’t sure how the dynamics of this culture worked. So far she had been lucky with her guesses and assumptions but at any moment she was likely to do or say the wrong thing and ruin everything they had worked hard for. She did notice that the Nikeni tribe were very suspicious of everyone they encountered, so their alliance was tentative at best. She was also worried about Matt. Everything he had said and done in the past hours had only complicated things. He was no expert at diplomacy that was for sure. She needed to get him alone and explain things on his level.
She knew he had a wonderful imagination, she was sitting in basically living proof of that, why he couldn’t apply it to his behavior was beyond her. She hadn’t even read the passage out of the book, and she was able to navigate her way through the Nikeni society with surprising ease.
Matt was uncomfortable with the silence. He was also very uncomfortable with the fact that after Eleanor mentioned the book that Jronf had disappeared. If Jronf found the book and decided to flip through it, it would basically depict his future and ruin all trust between the Nikeni and the two humans. If anything it would make things worse if they appeared to be working with the Vapt tribe.
He began to fidget in his seat looking anxiously out the tent door. Eleanor and Colonel Ishp noticed his anxiousness. Ishp looked to Eleanor for an answer that she did not possess. She tried to convey this with out speaking, but had no idea the subtext of body language the Nikeni were so apt to use. She must have been successful because Ishp returned a subtle nod and settled back onto his pillow.
A moment later Jronf tore through the tent door wielding the book.
“I found it Colonel!” He exclaimed handing the book to Ishp.
Ishp looked it over, front to back, opened it and flipped through several pages. He didn’t appear to be reading it, but both Matt and Eleanor waited on baited breath. Eleanor now knew why Matt had been so anxious. It hadn’t occurred to her that after finding the book the Nikeni would actually want to READ it.
“Interesting.” Ishp said in a low voice. “This is unlike any other sacred text I have encountered.”
“Why do you say that?” Eleanor asked innocently, yet firmly.
“Parts of it are written in our language. I was not aware that you were fluent in Nikeni, Princess.” Ishp answered with just as much authority.
“Personally, I am not. I only know what I have memorized from the text. I never thought I would encounter a Nikeni Warrior in person.” Eleanor answered honestly.
Ishp paused to look at her, and decide if he believed her. He didn’t actually take the time to read through any of the passages, but he did catch a glimpse of his native tongue here and there. He wasn’t in the habit of denouncing others beliefs, but there was something that just seemed off about Eleanor and Matt. He couldn’t place his finger on it right away, but it just didn’t seem right at all. He wasn’t concerned with a threat from them, and he believed that they were not associated with the Vapt tribe, but he also wasn’t sure he could give them his full trust. They needed to be watched closely, for it was obvious that they had their own agenda.
“Jronf, please escort the Princess and her aid to their guest quarters and return here immediately.” Ishp instructed. “Then I want you to return to me. We have business to discuss. One of the scouts has found evidence of the Vapt not far from here.”
Jronf only nodded, and gestured for Eleanor and Matt to follow him. Eleanor stood first, followed by Matt. She nodded her head toward Ishp but offered no parting sentiment. She had a feeling they had been made, and even though they were being escorted to their own private tent it was actually a polite way of imprisonment so the Nikeni could keep an eye on them.
Matt didn’t even acknowledge Ishp as he followed Eleanor and Jronf out the door. He knew now that the Nikeni thought of him as nothing more than a slave. It was slightly insulting, but he guessed that he couldn’t really blame them for thinking that. He was in the company of “royalty” after all, and he did most of her bidding. He shrugged it off, and continued to follow closely on Eleanor’s heels.
They all wound through various tents serving various purposes until they reached the very outskirts of the camp. Here there were several modest tents. Clearly not a prison enclosure, but clearly not for the truly important people of camp. Eleanor thought it was odd that even though they didn’t trust them the Nikeni were stationing them at the edge of camp. Then it occurred to her, if the camp was attacked the people on the outskirts would be the first prisoners or causalities.
Jronf opened and secured the tent flap allowing Eleanor to enter first. He then followed by Matt entered and explained their living situation.
“These are your bed rolls, and your rations will be served promptly in an hour. You may move freely around the camp as you wish, but we ask that you not cross the boundary established by the security forces. They are authorized to shoot on sight anyone who crosses the boundary with out permission or an escort. It’s for your safety only Princess.” Jronf explained. “If you desire an audience with Colonel Ishp, please feel free to come to his tent and request one with the guard. They will either grant you entrance or tell you a time when you can be seen. As for your… aid, he may not leave the tent unaccompanied by yourself. Do you understand?”
Eleanor nodded, and Matt rolled his eyes. Jronf took the eye roll as an offense, and desperately wanted to avenge himself, but because the offence had only come from a lowly peasant slave he decided to let it go.
“Thank you Jronf.” Eleanor said as Jronf tilted his head down in respect, and slowly backed out of the tent, before unlatching the door and closing it.
Matt and Eleanor waited a few moments to be sure Jronf was out of ear shot and then began to set up their accommodations. It seemed like a pointless gesture to Matt as Fritz would be arriving in just a few short hours. They wouldn’t be staying here for long, especially now that they had the book back. The only thing they had to do was come up with a distraction for the guards so they could slip up stairs and reshelf the book.
“So what was all that about in the Colonel’s tent?” Matt asked Eleanor as he plopped down onto his newly unrolled bed roll.
“What was all what about?” Eleanor asked, also plopping down on her own bed roll. It was softer than she had expected, and she assumed it was filled with the down of some feathered creature.
“The weird watching, body language thing.” Matt clarified. “The parts of the conversation you so graciously left me out of your highness.”
“I’m not sure what you’re referring to. There was some nonverbal communication but none of it had to do with you.” Eleanor said, turning to lay down and take advantage of the soft bed roll. “Ishp was watching us to see how we interacted with each other. If I hadn’t put on the heir of superiority he would have realized our sham. Is that what you mean?”
“Well partly, and they eyes. You were doing lots of things with your eyes. Both of you. So much so in fact I had trouble keeping up.” Matt replied, taking a moment to actually observe his surroundings.
“You put yourself in that situation by claiming I was your princess. I never would have bestowed such weight on your shoulders if Navro had found me first.” Eleanor spat sarcastically. “You can’t sit there and complain that you don’t get any respect from these people with a clear monarchy, when you put yourself in the lowest position possible.”
Matt thought about what Eleanor had said, and she was right. He did kind of get himself into this predicament. At the time it seemed like the only way to keep Navro from killing him, but now he had wished he had thought it through a little better.
“So, getting the book back to the shelf. What’s our plan? We only have a few hours before Fritz shows up.” Matt asked.
Eleanor didn’t reply right away and instead stared at the tent ceiling deep in thought. She knew they were running out of time, but she was also beginning to wonder if this was nothing more than a crazy hypothermic dream she had concocted. She was still having trouble wrapping her head around the fact that books could come to LIFE when read correctly in the proper setting, and she was sitting there in the thick of one of those reincarnations. It just didn’t make sense. While she was having an easier time accepting and dealing with it than Matt she was still mentally exhausted from trying to figure it all out.
“I have no idea, Matt.” She finally answered with a sigh. “You got us into this mess, it’s your turn to figure it out.”
“I think I’m pretty much stuck here with out you, Princess.” Matt replied sarcastically.
He had a point and she knew it. With out her he would most likely be shot or stabbed on sight wandering around the camp. She wasn’t even sure they actually needed to wander around the camp. What they really needed to do was get to the stairs, but certainly the guards would have the stairs covered well, especially since Jronf had managed to ambush them there. The only other option was the elevator, and there was no guarantee the elevator would even work. If only she could some how convince Ishp that the Vapt tribe was lurking on the third floor, but considering all of the restrictions and trust issues it was not going to work. No matter how convincing she could be, there was no way they could get out of the camp or up to the third floor, at least in their current state.
“I wonder…” Eleanor began, sitting up on her bed.
Matt also perked up at the sound of excitement in her voice.
“You wonder..?” Matt asked, also trailing off.
“I wonder how much trouble you could get in if you went out by yourself as a distraction. I could definitely slip away if everyone was focused on you.” Eleanor said, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
Matt looked at her with a curious intensity.
“And just what prey tell, would you like me to do to wreak havoc your majesty?” He asked matching Eleanor’s mischievous tone.
“Oh, nothing.” Eleanor said, smiling as she hopped from her own bed roll and sat down next to Matt.
She had a plan, and it would be epic.
Even after the rations had been served, and the Nikeni evening rituals had been performed there was still quite a buzz of activity going on through out the camp. Most of the higher ranking officers had retired to their tents, and the low ranking warriors were busy cleaning up after the beast and finishing various other chores. Matt was waiting patiently by the door of the tent for the right moment. Eleanor’s plan had more potential than just sitting around waiting for something to happen, but he wasn’t quite sure it was fool proof. It required a lot of him to make his way unnoticed through the entire camp until he reached what could only be described as the stables. There he was to incite a stampede, or at least cause a whole bunch of turmoil thus creating enough distraction to give Eleanor a chance to get out of camp and up to the third floor.
He had been waiting for over an hour, just watching the goings on in the camp and tents beside them. Apparently the other tents in their neighborhood were occupied by diplomats, and various other dignitaries. He wasn’t sure why they were stationed on the outside of the camp instead of being barricaded close to the center, but he also wasn’t really sure exactly what the social hierarchy of the Nikeni people. As far as he could tell it was pretty much the opposite of every other functioning society on Earth, but then again it didn’t have to make complete sense because it was just the product of an authors imagination.
Matt could only assume that the author viewed his world of the mighty Nikeni warriors as the perfect society, and the Vapt tribe was everything he despised about the world. He couldn’t blame the author for the way he viewed things. Most of the politicians in the world were easily corruptible, and selfish. Greed was what fueled most societies, but a society of strong warriors with an infallible sense of right and wrong was something he could admire if not aspire to attain. Maybe the author had it right, and society had just developed all wrong?
He pondered this fact a little while longer until the last young warrior had retired to his tent. It wasn’t all that late by Earth standards, just around eight in the evening, but because there was no sunlight available for them to judge the time he assumed that the Nikeni were living off of the schedule set forth in their book. He waited several moments more, and then snuck out of the tent. As soon as he exited he paused waiting to see if they were being watched. When no one flew out of the shadows after him he assumed he was safe. He quietly made his way through the maze of tents, trying his best to stick to the outer perimeter of the camp. So far he hadn’t been spotted, or spotted anyone along his way.
It was almost an eerie site to see how such a bustling busy camp could become so entirely still at night. In the back of his mind he was wondering if this was a set up and some one was watching him, but he chalked that up to pure paranoia and continued on his way. At last he reached the stables, and made his way inside.
Once inside such a sight befell his eyes he gasp out loud. He had never seen such beautiful creatures. They were quadrupeds, covered in a beautiful iridescent blue fur. It was short across their large muscular bodies, but came to a plume mixed with greens and yellows around their heads and necks. The animals were almost equestrian in nature, with the same basic shape as a horse only with paws instead of hooves. Each paw had four muscular toes and ended in several sharp claws. Their faces could only be described as a large breed of canine, with erect ears and soft eyes. After putting some more thought into it they most resembled the ancient Egyptian god Anubis, but blue and standing on all fours.
Matt stood in awe of these creatures, as they quietly observed him. It was odd to Matt that they only stood and watched him instead of stirring around as most no sentient animals would have when disturbed. Then it occurred to him that he had no idea the function of these animals. If he released one from it’s stall it was just as likely to eat him, as it was to cause a scene. A wave of hesitation washed over him, and he slowly started to back out of the stables in search of another plan when suddenly he heard a voice ask: “Where are you going?”
Matt immediately spun around looking for the source of the voice, and saw nothing. He listened carefully for the sound of foot falls out side of the tent and still he heard nothing. Again, he started to leave the tent, and again the calm collective voice asked: “Where are you going?”
This time instead of spinning around to see if he could confront whom he only assumed would be his captor, he froze and replied: “Who’s there?”
“Aren’t you going to feed us?” The voice answered in reply.
“Feed…” Matt began before he trailed off.
It was the creatures talking to him. He didn’t quite understand it as he could see all of them and none of them were making a visible motion to indicate talking, and then he slowly realized that the voice he “heard” was actually coming from inside his head. These creatures were telepathic!
“Um… I would be glad to feed you, but I really have no idea what you eat or where it’s stored. I’m just kind of popping in for a visit.” Matt answered aloud.
“But we’re hungry.” A collective chorus of voices called.
“Yes, well… Hey, if I let you guys out would you do me a favor?” Matt asked, hoping that their level of understanding was a bit beyond basic food and shelter.
“Will you feed us?” They asked.
“Sure.” Matt answered, even though he still had no idea where or how he would accomplish such a task.
“Then, yes. We will do you this “favor” you speak of.” They answered, visibly perking up and paying more attention.
Moments later the herd of creatures were slipping their way out of the tent. Matt watched as they silently walked to their chosen spots. He had to admit setting up a plan of action with creatures that could be a part of the plan was much easier than hoping things would go according to plan. It was a little bit of relief. He had hoped that Eleanor was poised and ready, but they had no way of communicating with her. He crossed his fingers, and set his part of the plan in motion.
He quietly untied one of the tent support ropes, and then moved to the next one. In less than ten minutes he had completely disassembled the tent. The only thing that was holding it up was the sheer weight of the canvas like material resting on the support beams. He exited the tent and waited for his signal from the creatures. A quick flash of blue indicated that they were ready, and he pushed the first support poll over.
Moments later all hell broke lose through out the camp. The creatures ran wildly around waking everyone they could, somewhere a small fire had been set to one of the tents. Matt saw this as he was quickly trying to make his way back to Eleanor. It concerned him, as he hadn’t mentioned that if there was fire set to the building they would all be in grave danger. He soon saw the flames die down, and continued on his way back to their tent.
Eleanor was patiently waiting for the signal. As soon as she heard the creatures running about and making their strange calls she moved toward the door of her own tent. She first peered out as if examining the commotion out of curiosity, and then she made her way toward the back of the tent. While Matt was busy setting the creatures free and initiating the commotion, she had been quietly working on an escape route directly through the back of the tent and as close to the stairs as their position in the camp would allow.
She had worked vigorously to un stitch a seem in the tent providing her self with a back door. She peered cautiously through the small hole she had created and waited for the perimeter guards to return to camp. So far neither her self nor Matt had seen any one guarding the perimeter. She was wondering if it was all a ruse to keep them in line, or if these guards were so dedicated to their cause that even the complete and udder destruction of their camp wasn’t enough to draw them away from their post.
She turned quickly as she heard a commotion in the tent next door. Two people were arguing quite loudly in a language she couldn’t understand. She wasn’t sure if it was Nikeni or something else, but they were very clearly upset. Suddenly the two burst through the front door of the tent. They were not Nikeni by any means. She wasn’t sure exactly what they were, but she had a good idea that they could be a part of the Vapt tribe. She pulled her self back toward her make shift exit and the intruders stood and stared at her. They obviously weren’t expecting to find a human in this tent, and it looked like they weren’t quite sure what to do with her. She wasn’t about to sit around and wait until they figured it out, and so she kept inching closer to the back of the tent.
The two intruders began talking amongst them selves in their native tongue, a dastardly look in their eyes every time they mentioned Eleanor. Eventually after a brief conversation the larger of the two began to walk toward her. She had almost made her way completely to the back of the tent. She was inches away from the exit, her back was nearly pressed against the canvas like material, then suddenly a noise from outside distracted the two intruders and she bolted out the back of the tent with out a second thought.
As fast as she could run she ran towards the stairs. She had the book tightly tucked underneath her arm, and a blood stream full of adrenaline propelling her forward. Her still un healed injuries from the fall several days ago were screaming at her as she ran. She was also very sluggish due to the cold and lack of nutrition she had been dealing with. As she ran past she glanced up at the large clock hanging in the lobby. It was nearly midnight. They had approximately six hours to get this problem taken care of before Fritz was due to arrive. If Fritz even could arrive. With everything that had happened in the past few days and hours neither Eleanor nor Matt had stopped to check the progression of the weather.
She could hear the two tent intruders following close behind being very careful not to make too much noise. If nothing else that confirmed that there were indeed Nikeni guards patrolling even though she hadn’t seen them. She quickly bolted behind a shelf hoping to deter them. She was so close to the stair well she could practically taste it, but she didn’t want them following her if she could help it.
Continuing to wind her way through the variable maze of shelves, she eventually came to the mouth of the stairs. Not stopping to take a second thought she bolted up them two at a time. Rounding the second floor landing, she came to an abrupt stop.
There was a wall of vines and flowers that had completely over grown the access to the third floor. Looking more closely she realized that these flowers were the Spintalli flowers that Matt had warned her about on their previous adventure on the third floor. She still wasn’t so sure why Matt was so concerned about them. She had walked right through the vines with out so much as a flicker from the flowers.
A noise from behind her, caused her to spin around. The two intruders had spotted her, and were quickly making their way up the stairs. She didn’t have any more time to waste. She charged directly into the Spintalli vines and clawed her way up the last flight of stairs. As soon as she broke the barrier of the vines she realized why Matt had been so concerned. The flowers immediately began to attack her, both with voracious bites and a liquid secretion that burned on contact.
Before she could help herself she let out a scream, which only angered the flowers more. Even in her immense pain she continued to fight her way up the stairs. By her calculations she was over half way there. There would only be a few more steps until she would reach the top and be free of these hellish flowers. Slowly, surely, step by step she continued, until she finally broke free, and tumbled out onto the third floor landing. Again she let out a scream, and shook as she wiped off the remnants of the flowers and acid from her arms and face. Her legs were relatively untouched, but the rest of her upper body was scathed with seething open wounds.
After removing most of the burning acid and biting flowers, she did her best to regain her composure, and set out to find the correct shelf, hoping that the Spintalli vines would at least deter the people in pursuit if nothing else.
Matt was lost in the cross fire. He lost his way about half way back to the tent, and was now doing his best to avoid the flying arrows, animals, and spears that were either running rampant or being thrown with deadly accuracy. Not only had his stunt with the animals stirred up a commotion, but the Nikeni camp had been discovered by the Vapt scouts and was in the upheaval of being invaded. Everywhere he looked there were soldiers engaged in vicious hand to hand combat.
Because of the savage nature of the attack the Nikeni had no time to activate their war machinery. All of it was now sitting in piles of ruin where it had been originally stored. Even the beast, those that hadn’t already been slain were unable to help their masters gain any ground against the Vapt. Matt looked on in horror as he eventually made his way to the outer camp and his assigned tent. As he quickly ducked in, he was both relieved and extremely concerned with the fact that Eleanor was no where to be seen. He hoped that she had made her escape before the battle with the Vapt had begun, but there was no way to know for sure until she reached the correct shelf and brought and end to all this madness.
Matt didn’t know what else to do, so he sat down on his bedroll and decided to wait it out. Eventually some one would come along looking for him. At least he assumed that some one would come along looking for him. Especially since as far as the Nikeni people were concerned Eleanor was visiting royalty. He only hoped that they hadn’t already searched the tents and declared this one a total loss.
Just as he got settled into his bed roll, Jronf burst through the door, bleeding profusely and missing his entire left arm.
“Where is the princess?” Jronf asked completely out of breath.
“I don’t know. They took her!” Matt replied, trying to sound upset and fearful.
“Where? How did they take her?” Jronf asked, becoming more alert.
“Through… there!” Matt said pointing to the hole in the back of the tent, unsure of what to say.
Jronf looked through the hole in the tent and grabbed Matt with his remaining good arm, and they both took off through the hole. Looking left and right as they ran away from the me lay, they eventually ducked behind a shelf and Jronf collapsed.
“Jronf? Are you okay?” Matt asked, more to be polite than anything else.
Clearly with his loss of blood and substantial injury Jronf was not okay, but Matt had no medical training to treat a human, let alone some alien species.
“I am going to pass from this world into the next.” Jronf answered honestly. “It is fate, but I will die with an honorable death. You must find Princess Eleanor, and rescue her from these vial Vapt cretins.”
Matt looked into Jronf’s eyes. He could see the immense pain and deadly sincerity of his request.
“I will.” Matt answered. “Is there anything else you need for me to do?”
Jronf returned the look of sincerity, and closed his eyes. His chest rose and fell with several more shallow breathes until he finally laid still.
Matt sat in silence not sure what to do or say. He had no idea what was going to happen at this point. Did Jronf come back to life when Eleanor returned the book or was his fate here on Earth the same as it was written in the book? How did all of this happen? What had he done? He didn’t know how he was ever going to make this up to Eleanor. If he could even find Eleanor. He assumed that she had made it to the third floor, but everything had gotten so out of control and chaotic he had no way to know for sure unless he went up there himself.
Coming to this realization he stood up, peered out from behind the shelf, and cautiously made his way out from his hiding place heading for the stairs. He took them two at a time until he reached the second floor where he was greeted by two more strange creatures who were clearly not of the Nikeni tribe. They were similar in stature and humanoid in likeness, but unlike the Nikeni these creatures had no fur, and only two eyes placed close together on their broad foreheads. They also had what could only be described as claws protruding down their spines from the back of their necks all the way down to the tips of their prehensile tails.
Matt could only assume that these two creatures were part of the Vapt tribe, and quickly ducked behind a shelf hoping he had not been spotted. He couldn’t see exactly what they were looking at, but to him it seemed that the Spintalli flowers had taken over the entire third flight of stairs.
The two creatures muttered to themselves in their native tongue, clearly frustrated with the discovery of the Spintalli flowers. One of them shook some sort of staff toward the vines, and the other protested violently with a back hand to the face. This escalated the argument to an entirely different level of loud. Matt cringed hearing noises that should never have come from a living being as he watched.
With the Vapt as well as the Spintalli flowers blocking the stair well he wasn’t sure about what to do. There was one other option, but it wasn’t an option that he was looking forward to. The elevator was located on the opposite side of the stairwell just out of sight. He wasn’t worried about needing a distraction as the argument was clearly the main focus of the two. He just had to make his way to the elevator bank and hope that the elevator chose to cooperate. If it didn’t he would be helplessly exposed. It was just a guess, but he really didn’t think running into these two from the Vapt tribe at a time like this would be very conducive to keeping in good health.
Never the less, he didn’t have the time to wait for the Vapt people to finish their argument, or move away from the stairwell. So, he took a deep breath and made his way toward the elevator bank. Once he got there he crossed his fingers and pressed the call button. A few breathless moments later the cables began to creak and moan bringing the car to it’s destination. Thankfully the Vapt’s argument was so intense that they didn’t take pause to notice the noise from the elevator.
Matt waited impatiently, quietly fidgeting with his hands trying to keep himself occupied and less concerned with the two creatures arguing a few feet away. He knew the elevator was slow, but he didn’t remember it being this slow. He also didn’t remember the flock of flamingos, until the elevator car finally creaked it’s way to a stop and the doors shuddered open. As soon as the doors were completely opened the entire flock of flamingos burst out of the elevator in a confusing display of neon pink feathers, legs, and wings. The noise was unbearable! All of the honking and carrying on, but Matt fought his way through the masses of water fowl once again and hit the button in the elevator trying desperately to close the doors before the Vapt wondered what those strange pink creatures were and come over to investigate.
The doors were mostly closed before he saw the Vapt round the corner into the elevator bank. They looked shocked and completely ill amused as they were both blocking their faces with their hands and slashing at the flamingos with their staffs. The doors were almost completely closed when the smaller of the Vapt spotted Matt hiding in the elevator. The creature let out a horrendous roar and charged through the flock spear raised ready to do some serious damage.
Matt cringed and willed the doors to shut faster as he did his best to hide behind them. It seemed like everything had gone into slow motion. Matt saw the creature pause and throw his spear. He watched the spear fly through the air heading directly toward his midsection, and just before impact the elevator doors slammed shut with a much more obvious clang than Matt had noticed before. Nanoseconds later there was a clink against the doors, which Matt could only assume was the spear head.
Matt collapsed on the floor of the elevator shaking violently. He wasn’t sure if it was lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, or just plain fear that was causing him to shake, but try to the best of his ability he couldn’t stop. It took several minutes for the elevator to find the motivation to start on it’s upward journey, but eventually the cables began to sing their familiar creaking song and the car began to rise slowly.
After regaining his composure Matt returned to his feet. He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead, and ran his fingers through his hair. It was a bit of a nervous habit he had with his hair. It was probably murder on his already receding hair line, but nervous habits were very seldom great for your health or appearance. Suddenly the car came to a grinding halt, throwing Matt back onto the floor.
He picked himself up and listened carefully. He couldn’t be sure if the Vapt had figured out a way to get into the elevator shaft, or if it was just the elevator’s gremlins acting up again. While he stood silently listening, he came to the conclusion that it was merely the elevator malfunctioning again. It still wasn’t a good thing, but it was infinitely better than having two alien creatures about to crawl in and skin him alive.
He began to pace back and forth reevaluating his plan of action. He was at least out of harms way for now, but he still needed to make it to the third floor. He looked up, hoping to see the stereotypical emergency escape panel. To his relief there it was, right where he expected it. He jumped up with his arms fully extended over head and knocked the panel out onto the roof of the elevator car. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get up on the roof of the car, or what he was going to do once he got there, but it was worth a try.
Eleanor dashed up and down all of the aisles looking desperately for the correct spot on the shelf. As far as she knew the Vapt had been stopped by the Spintalli vines, but they could have just gone back to camp for tools and supplies. She couldn’t see any slot missing a book. Frustrated she stopped and dropped to the floor. She pulled the book out from under her arm and carefully looked it over. The catalog number was half missing. There is no telling where this book had actually came from. It could have been misplaced for months with the missing catalog number.
The only thing she could do was find the book on herbivores she had replaced earlier and retrace her steps. Matt hadn’t gone very far before snatching this book haphazardly off of the shelf, so the slot had to be close by. Even if it had been miscataloged, hopefully returning it to the spot where it came from would do the trick. She tried to remember the title of the book on herbivores, but really hadn’t been paying that much attention. She wished that the power would come back on so she would have the aid of the electronic computer catalog. Anything really to help her get out of this nightmare.
She waited a moment to see if her silent wish would be granted, and then set out down the first natural history aisle in search of a book on herbivores. She searched and searched and searched. Reading every title closely, and examining every color of the book spines. Nothing was jogging her memory at all. She wasn’t even sure if herbivore was actually in the name or if it had just been something that she had seen and been willing to try.
“Oh this is next to impossible!!” She shouted out loud. “What on earth am I going to do now?”
In a blind act of rage, she shoved several books aside and replaced the book about the Nikeni and Vapt into the newly emptied slot. She closed her eyes and waited for the magical whooshing sound that would indicate their freedom. After about ten minutes of this, she reopened her eyes. She hadn’t heard or felt a rush of any kind, so she made her way back to the stairwell. To her disappointment, the Spintalli vines were still draped over the stairwell, and the flowers were still patrolling, now on high alert since they had been recently mauled and trampled by Eleanor.
Eleanor let out a sigh, and headed back down the aisle to pick up the book and continue her search. It was very discouraging to know that the book had to be returned to the EXACT spot from which it came. The next thing she would try would be to alphabetize it by author. Hopefully whomever had previously returned it to the shelf had done the same.
It had taken several tries, but Matt had finally managed to hoist himself up onto the roof of the elevator car. The shaft was nearly pitch black, with only a small amount of light filtering in from the snow covered skylight that also dubbed as a maintenance hatch. It was less than a candle’s worth of light, but once Matt’s eyes had adjusted it was enough to basically see what was going on around him.
He examined the cable assembly, which looked like it hadn’t been serviced since the building was built over one hundred years ago. No wonder this old beast of a machine was having trouble getting place to place. The lubricant on the cables had all but dried up and flaked off, and the cables themselves had taken on a deep shade of rust. They seemed stable enough to hold the weight of the car and it’s few passengers, but after seeing them in person Matt would never set foot on this elevator again. In fact, if after all of these shenanigans were over and Eleanor decided to sell the place, the first thing Matt would do after signing the papers would be to scrap this elevator.
As if reading his mind, the cables slipped slightly causing the car to jolt and Matt to lose his footing. He stumbled into the wall of the shaft, barely being able to keep his balance and footing. As he tried to right himself with out stepping off of the car and into the abyss his hand wrapped around something familiar. He couldn’t quite figure out what it was until he was stabilized, but once he got his footing back he could have jumped for joy. It was a service ladder!
He pulled on each rung with in grasp to make sure they were secure, and then he started his accent toward the third floor doors. He wasn’t sure how he would get them open once he got there, but that was a bridge he would cross when he came to it. Slowly but surely he climbed rung by rung making his way up the shaft. He couldn’t be more than five or six feet away from the third floor by his calculations, but physically climbing the ladder was extremely hard work.
He had never been a physical labor type of guy. Even when he was young he had delegated his physical work load onto his younger brothers. He wasn’t unfit by any means, but he hadn’t been to the gym in several months, and he was feeling it. He looked up above his head, and to his relief the doors were just a few rungs above. He continued to climb until he was in about in the middle of the doors. He couldn’t exactly see the triggering mechanism to open them in the dark, but he was feeling around the edges of the door anyway. He didn’t actually know what he was looking for, which made his search that much more difficult.
Eventually his hand found a small cable attached to what felt like a pulley. He pulled with all of his strength and the doors slowly began to creak open. He let out a small sigh of victory and continued to pull on the doors until they were open enough for him to squeeze through. Once he accomplished that feat he found a small ledge for a hand hold above the door and swung himself from the elevator shaft into the third floor elevator landing.
He did not land gracefully. In fact he landed with a very loud thud as he fell into the wall, and knocked over one of the small reading tables. Momentarily stunned, he looked around the room. Something was off about it. It seemed darker, perhaps a little more green. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he was also still a bit dazed. He closed his eyes for a moment to regain his composure. As soon as he opened them again he realized what the problem was. The entire elevator bank had been over run with Spintalli vines.
“Great.” He mumbled to himself out loud. “Just what I wanted to deal with.”
He looked around his new surroundings. He did have the table. Maybe he could use it as some sort of shield to protect himself from the acid and bites of the Spintalli flowers. He looked over the small end table, and then he looked back at the Spintalli vines. This patch was much more thick than the one he had encountered previously. It was as if the entire library was being overrun with this magical vine that only protected sacred places. Which Matt could kind of understand as this was apparently the place where books came to life. From their standpoint, being in a book, this place would be the Mecca of Spintalli flowers.
Making up his mind he grabbed the small table and snapped off three of the legs, leaving one as a handle for him to hang onto. He grabbed one of the other legs, and cautiously poked at the Spintalli vines. Immediately hundreds of flowers raced to the surface and began dancing around in their effort to intimidate Matt. If they wouldn’t have been so darn painful to deal with they would have been cute little creatures. They certainly did have an over abundance of personality for plants.
He took a deep breath, raised the table to shield his upper body and face, stuck his arm straight out in front if him waving the table leg back and forth and charged through the vines with all of his might. With his shield the pain from the bites and acid was much more bearable. It was still something he never wished to do again, but at least he didn’t feel like the flesh was melting off of his face.
It seemed to take forever to get through this patch of Spintalli, but eventually he broke through and nearly ran straight into Eleanor who was rushing down an aisle at break neck speeds. He lowered his shield and took in the scene. He couldn’t understand why anyone would be running head over heels willy nilly INTO a Spintalli patch, but as he looked over Eleanor’s shoulder it immediately became clear. The same creature that Navro had followed into the wrong book, or at least another one of the same species was hot on Eleanor’s trail, charging end over end in a voracious display of anger.
Eleanor grabbed Matt’s arm and dashed straight back into the Spintalli vines, which were still on high alert from Matt’s intrusion. It was actually less painful to run through them this time. Matt wasn’t sure if he was just getting used to them, or if they were confused as to why he would charge through only to return moments later. Either way, the creature that was chasing Eleanor did not want to mess with the Spintalli patch. It growled an intense growl, but did not pursue them any further.
“What was that?” Matt asked as they both tumbled back into the elevator bank and collapsed on the floor.
“I still have no idea. I don’t know if it’s part of the Spintalli plants or if it’s something else that’s supposed to protect sacred places, but it will NOT let me put the book back on the shelf.” Eleanor answered breathing heavily. “It took me ages to find where the book actually belongs because it was miscataloged, and once I did find the correct shelf, that thing started chasing me again.”
Matt looked at Eleanor. She looked terrible. She had many weeping wounds on her face and hands, which he could only assume were from the Spintalli, and her sweater had been nearly shredded. Her long brown hair was also a complete mess, and her shoes looked like they had been gnawed on my a very angry dog.
“You don’t look too much better your self.” Eleanor said, reading Matt’s expression.
“No, well I don’t suppose I do now do I?” Matt said with a small chuckle. “Those little Spintalli vines will eat you up. Literally.”
Eleanor returned his smile, and attempted to fix her mess of hair.
“So, now what do we do? We obviously have to get this book back on the shelf, but how do we get past that thing?” Matt asked after several moments of silence.
“I’m not exactly sure.” Eleanor answered honestly. “I know I can barely out run it, but other than that I’ve never tried to actually face it or fight it. I don’t even know what it’s weaknesses are. We should have asked Navro before just sending him after it.”
Matt nodded in agreement. Everything up until this point had been nothing but a completely on the fly by the seat of your pants type deal. Rushing into anything else would not help their situation, and they seemed to be safe hiding behind the wall of Spintalli, so they had time to think about it. Now they just had to figure out exactly what they were supposed to be thinking about.
“Well, if you can distract it, I can run and put the book away.” Eleanor said.
“Distract it how?” Matt asked.
“You have that little table armor thing going on. It’s teeth aren’t nearly as sharp at those Spintalli teeth, and you could jab at it with the broken leg.” Eleanor said factually.
Matt couldn’t really argue. That very plan was what was sitting in the back of his mind this entire time. It was just the first plan that popped into his head and he didn’t really want to spring forward until thinking it through.
“Is that the only option we have?” Matt asked.
Eleanor gave it some serious thought, and as far as she knew there weren’t any more options. There weren’t even any better weapons other than the few broken table legs. It was a discouraging plan, but it was a plan none the less, and it seemed to be the only plan that made sense in their current circumstances.
“Yep.” She answered.
“Well then, let’s get this over with.” Matt said, standing and offering a hand to Eleanor.
Eleanor took his hand, grabbed another one of the broken table legs and prepared to face the Spintalli once again. They both braced themselves and charged through. This time the Spintalli were much less aggressive. Eleanor wondered if that was their weakness. If they could only keep up the attack for so long before they gave up and needed a break. If that was the case they could no longer count on the Spintalli as protection. At least not this vine. Although the very sight of Spintalli seemed to scare most of their pursuers off.
It took much less time to fight through the vine as well, and soon both Eleanor and Matt had emerged on the other side weapons in hand ready to fight the beast. It was no where to be seen, but that was nothing new. It had pulled the same stunt before Navro had gotten trapped in the other book. Eleanor and Matt couldn’t let their guard down, even for a second.
They both crept slowly toward the correct shelf, Eleanor leading the way and Matt bringing up the rear keeping his shield high to cover both of their torsos. They rounded the corner, and still had not encountered the creature. Eleanor paused to listen, and heard nothing. She started to pick up the pace by quickly jogging to the correct spot on the shelf. Matt kept close behind her, until eventually they reached the one small empty slot where the book that had caused so much turmoil had originated from.
They both paused momentarily as Eleanor carefully looked around and began to raise her hand toward the correct shelf. Still the creature had not returned. She placed the book on the shelf, lowered her hand and looked around once more.
Matt seeing that the deed was done, lowered his shield, and also took a cursory glance around. It was supremely odd that nothing had tried to attack them at this juncture when EVERYTHING had been out to get them only moments before. Something wasn’t quite right. They both waited for the quiet rushing of things returning to normal for a few moments, and then suddenly out of nowhere the beast lunged at Eleanor.
She screamed as it knocked her to the ground and began to gnaw on her sweater. Matt reacted quickly by beating the creature with the table leg as hard as he could, but it didn’t last long before a searing pain shot through his back left shoulder. He had been speared by one of the Vapt tribe. They had finally made their way to the third floor. He ignored the pain and the yelling Vapt as he continued to beat the beast attacking Eleanor.
Nothing seemed to faze it. Eleanor was also holding her own, by kicking and clawing, and even returning a few bites of her own, and yet the creature kept attacking. Thankfully Eleanor had been wearing a thick wool sweater, or other wise she would have been a goner. Both fighting and kicking and screaming, putting forth all of their efforts Matt and Eleanor raged on until, suddenly as soon as everything had began, it ended. The creature leapt off of Eleanor, and the Vapt retreated back to the second floor.
Not sure what happened, but not really caring either way, Matt and Eleanor collapsed into each others arms. They were both sobbing terrible heart wrenching sobs, until they both passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Eleanor awoke first. She was wrapped in a warm blanket and surrounded by emergency personnel. She tried to sit up, and only then realized that she was strapped to an ambulance gurney.
“Hello?” She called in a very weak voice. “Hello?”
The closest EMT stopped what he was doing and rushed over.
“Hello, I see that you’re finally awake. How are you feeling?” He asked kindly.
“I don’t know. What happened?” Eleanor answered honestly. “And where’s Matt?”
“You were trapped in the library without heat or food for several days. When we were able to get in at the request of your employee here we found both you and your friend severely hypothermic on the third floor. We’ve already taken him to the hospital. You’ll both be okay, but he was far worse off than you. An injury to his shoulder had caused him to lose a lot of blood. Do you remember how that happened?” The EMT answered, checking Eleanor’s vitals one last time before hoisting her into the awaiting ambulance.
Eleanor drew a complete blank. The last thing she remembered was putting a misplaced book back on the shelf, and having an argument with Matt.
“No, I’m sorry I don’t.” She eventually answered.
“It’s okay, nothing to worry about. Here just lay back and rest a bit. The roads are still pretty bad it might take us a while to get to the hospital.” The EMT said, as he secured the gurney and gently closed the doors behind him self.
“That sounds like a great idea.” Eleanor whispered out loud, as she slipped back into a blissful sleep.
Eleanor had spent several days in the hospital recovering from her unexpected lock in at the library, but now as she stepped out of the taxi she was glad to see her quaint little apartment. She was finally home. The snow had melted almost as quickly as it had accumulated leaving only small puddles and piles in it’s wake. The sun was shining brightly, and there was just a hint of warmth in the air. Of course after you’ve nearly frozen yourself to death anything above freezing feels warm. She paid the cab fair, and made her way to the front door.
As she opened the door she was overwhelmed with the comfort of being in her own home. Everything was just as she’d left it with the exception of the mail on the counter that her land lord had collected while she was away. She took off her shoes and jacket and returned them to their rightful home in the closet, then she picked up the stack of mail and made her way to the bedroom slowly flipping through the various letters, get well cards, bills and advertisements.
Not seeing anything of great interest she laid the entire stack onto her dresser and made her way into the bathroom. She turned the faucet on to a pleasant hot temperature and slowly made her other preparations necessary for a shower. As she slowly stepped underneath the soothing water being careful to nurse her still mending wounds, she felt complete and relaxed, and finally her mind began to wander and review the events of the past few days and weeks.
Matt had been released from the hospital a day before she had, and she hadn’t heard anything from him or about him since. She wasn’t sure if that was necessarily a bad thing, but it was a little disappointing. They had been through so much together in those last few hours at the library. He had defended her, not only with his heart but with his body. She felt warm safe and secure as he held her before they both passed out. It was a nice feeling, but obviously it wasn’t meant to last. She imagined that he was somewhere with a girlfriend on a tropical island basking in all that wealth and a killer smile could bring you. If she had money that’s where she would have spent several days recovering, but she was a lowly college grad with no substantial income, and so here she was. Just perfectly excited to be in her own home, in her own shower, on her own time.
The library had sustained substantial damage from losing power in the blizzard. Most of the plumbing had frozen and needed to be replaced, the elevator car was stuck between the second and third floors, and something terrible had happened in the reading lounge on the first floor. The fire department said it looked like a stray spark from the fireplace had caught the rug on fire causing major damage to much of the furniture and flooring. Thankfully it hadn’t reached any of the shelves of magazines or Eleanor and Matt wouldn’t have made it out alive.
The entire place was a mess. Other than the burns and scarred furniture there was no trace left of the Nikeni or Vapt brief inhabitance which was an immense relief, but the library was still closed until further notice. Eleanor was wondering whether it would even be worth the money to make all of the necessary repairs, or if now was a good time to cut her losses. It wasn’t something she wanted to do, but after her recent adventure the entire staff would completely understand. It would make her feel a bit less guilty about making the sale, but it still wouldn’t provide an income for the families of her staff. She knew that most of them were on a social security fixed income, and they enjoyed having a little extra cash by working for her. It would be hard for them to find jobs anywhere else, and it still just didn’t seem quite fair. She doubted that she could recover the cost from all of the repairs in a decent matter of time though. The only way to give the money back to the community who had donated so much over the years was to sell the place. It was a sad and harsh reality, but it couldn’t be changed. She let out an audible sigh as she turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. It was going to be a long difficult process getting all of the paper work in order, and finding new homes for all of those beloved books.
After toweling off and hopping into some fresh comfortable clothes she set about cleaning up the kitchen. She hadn’t left a large mess, but after nearly a week the little bit of food she had left out or in various cups and plates was starting to take on a life of it’s own. It was a task completed quickly and efficiently before she poured her self a hot cup of tea and settled in on the couch. She didn’t feel like reading, so she flipped on the television.
What she saw both shocked and amazed her. It was the local news recanting all of the turmoil and devastation endured by the city during what was labeled as the worst blizzard in one hundred years. The library wasn’t the only thing substantially damaged. The court house, police station, and several fire houses were all very nearly destroyed. Several roofs on major grocery store chains had collapsed, as well as many people being displaced by their own homes collapsing. Seeing all of this made her reconsider her decision about the library. Maybe the entire community would be more willing to help since they were all going through their own various struggles and challenges. She would have to think on it more. The only thing she planned to do right now was relax, so she turned the channel to something less traumatic and stressful and settled in.
It wasn’t long before she was sound asleep dreaming of her adventures both past and present. She dreamt of the Nikeni people, Boo, Mr. Tweed, and all of the other characters that she had run into in her first days of exploration. She also wondered how many more characters would be waiting for her when she returned to the library. The emergency crew hadn’t been careful when they broke into the library and began to assess the damage and look for Eleanor and Matt. Many books had been knocked from their shelves, or shuffled aside haphazardly.
Eleanor still wasn’t sure exactly how these books came to life. She assumed that it had to do with the reader’s imagination, but as far as she knew the reader had to be present. If those books that had been knocked askew had been read days or even months prior to being knocked around, would their characters still come to life? And what exactly was the rule about characters? So far other than the Spintalli vines, the guardian creature and the Vapt tribe none of the other characters had wanted to cause Eleanor or any one else harm. Did it just depend on who was behind the imagination? Did some one with ill intent had the ability to bring the evil out of the books while some one with good intentions only brought the good out? There were still so many unanswered questions.
Eleanor had no desire to ever attempt to bring another book to life on purpose. Maybe if she stumbled into a character it would be okay, but she certainly didn’t want to be the one responsible for anything damage that might follow. Which lead her thoughts back to the sky light and the small round holes. Being so close to the science fiction section they very well could have been lazars that caused the damage, but if that was the case how did the battle stop and where the owners of the lazars go? She didn’t remember finding any science fiction books that hadn’t already been replaced.
Then her thoughts wandered to Barry. Had Barry been harmed by a rouge character from a book? Was his fall down the flight of stairs not accidental? That thought concerned her more than anything else. The books didn’t seem to come to life when they left the library, maybe it really was something about the library building that had just a hint of magic in it. If that was the case she didn’t want to risk her patrons or next night watchman getting injured. She would have to talk to Fritz.
Fritz didn’t seem a bit surprised to see the strange damage in the lobby, or the strange wounds left on Matt and Eleanor. He didn’t come right out and say it to her, but Eleanor knew he was in on it. She would just have to make time to ask him. In fact, she decided she would give him a call just as soon as she got motivated enough to open her eyes and get up off the couch.
By the time Eleanor woke up it was late evening, and the television had switched itself off leaving a dull blue glow across the living room. She slowly rose off of the couch and went for the phone, dialing Fritz’s home phone number. He answered on the first ring, and agreed to meet her at one of the local coffee shops that had not been damaged by the storm.
She hung up the phone, and headed toward the bedroom to brush her hair and change into something more suitable for going out. A few moments later she emerged, grabbed her coat and hat out of the closet, slipped on her boots and made her way out the door. She decided that after being laid up in a hospital bed a walk would be good for her, so she bypassed her car and made her way down the street.
The neighborhood looked strange. It was obvious that they were recovering from some major disaster, but since the snow had all but melted away it wasn’t immediately apparent as to what type of disaster had befallen them. There was trash and ruined furniture piled up on the curb in front of houses with now boarded up windows and caution tape surrounding their doors. Many lights were still off through out the neighborhood leaving a kind of eerie post apocalyptic flicker through out the cool evening air, and the normal pedestrians walking to and from work were scarce to say the least. Although the scene was disturbing Eleanor trudged on merely pulling her coat a little tighter together, and her hat a little bit farther down over her ears.
It was only about a ten minute walk, and when she arrived Fritz was waiting for her, with a table and a large cup of her favorite drink. She smiled as she walked in, glad that Fritz had arrived a head of her. The small coffee shop was packed to the gills with patrons. Most likely from various other bakeries and coffee places that had been damaged during the storm. Some of the people she recognized and waved to, and others were completely new faces. Many of the people in at this time of the evening were local contractors, insurance agents, police and fire crew, and city street workers. The city was rebuilding, and it was going to be a momentous task, some how involving every one of these new faces. It sent a surge of pride through Eleanor to live in such a place where even in the worst of times people could always come together.
“Hello Eleanor!” Fritz called happily as he stood and pulled out an extra chair.
“Hello, Fritz.” She replied with a gentle smile, as she sat down and let Fritz return to his own chair.
“I’m glad to see you are doing well. Even felt up to walking here I see.” Fritz said as he handed the cup of coffee to Eleanor.
“Yep, right as rain now that I’ve warmed up a bit.” Eleanor replied taking a long blissful sip out of her cup. She didn’t realize how much she had missed gourmet coffee until that particular moment.
“Certainly. What is it you wanted to talk about my dear?” Fritz asked, not one to beat around the bush.
“Well, don’t think I’m crazy, but I was wondering if my grandfather ever mentioned to you that there was something special about the library?” Eleanor started in slowly, not wanting to jump right in to the tales of alien worlds and magical books.
“Something special?” Fritz asked quizzically. “Well yes Eleanor. The library was very special to your grandfather. He always swore that when you read the books up on the third floor things came to life! A vivid imagination your grandfather had. That is one of the main reasons he had the sections organized they way he did. His favorite books were always natural history and science fiction. He would spend hours at a time up there reading and creating entire new worlds. Yes he loved all of the books, but especially those on the third floor. Why do you ask?”
Eleanor thought long and hard on this one. Obviously her grandfather had shared his secret with Fritz, but she wasn’t sure how seriously Fritz took her grandfather. She couldn’t rightly blame him for thinking that her grandfather was a bit of a kook. He was a very eccentric individual, but that’s part of what had endeared him to the community.
“Have you ever seen anything strange on the third floor, Fritz?” She asked, again attempting to get some more information out of him before exposing her own crazy adventures.
“No my dear, have you?” Fritz replied, with a coy smile twinkling in his eyes.
“Ah! You are just messing with me. Yes, Fritz. They came to life for me too, and Matt. How long has this been going on? Is that what happened to Barry?” Eleanor asked, relieved that she wasn’t the only one who thought the library was enchanted.
“The library has always had a magical quality to it, Eleanor. Something enchanted and mysterious has always inhabited the third floor. When your grandfather and I were growing up here we always used to love going up to the third floor and settling in with our favorite books. How often can you say that you actually participated with Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn in pulling pranks and causing general discord? For the longest time the librarians thought that your grandfather and I were covering for two of our friends by using the pseudonyms Tom and Huck, but whenever they went searching for those two other boys they were never anywhere to be found, except snug in our back pockets between their bindings where they belonged. It’s part of the reason your grandfather took over the library in the first place, and why I have worked here for so long.”
“Everything had been going only great until these last few months. As the world became a darker place, and the books became filled with dark and dangerous material we started having problems. Violence is such a common theme now among authors. Horror, suspense, sex, and drugs. All of it has filtered into the library and thus filtered out into the imaginations of our patrons. Your grandfather and I tried our best to keep these things from our shelves, but it is inevitable. When the masses want guts and gore, eventually they will find their way onto your shelves even if not permanently. You have the same problem with everyone that you had with Matt. They think that all of these terrible things are just fiction, and the devastation they cause could never happen in real life. I think Matt learned his lesson after everything he put you though, but who knows?” Fritz explained.
Eleanor listened patiently, and in awe of everything. Why hadn’t her grandfather informed her of the library’s potential for destruction? She would have sold it to the first bidder long ago, if she had known he felt like that.
“Fritz, if you and my grandfather both knew the eventual demise of the library, why keep it open so long? Why didn’t you just cut your losses years ago and retire?” She asked.
“It’s slightly more complicated than that, Eleanor. We knew the potential for dangerous destruction, but we also know the potential for wonderful creation! Think of how many children are inspired every day when they read their favorite books? How many young students have aced a test by using the knowledge from our encyclopedias instead of looking things up online from dubious sources? The good in the library still far out weighs the bad. Or at least it did until Barry got tossed down the stairs, the skylight caved in, and you were nearly killed. Now all of the good is gone. It isn’t always bad, unless you get a careless sadistic person reading a vile sadistic book, but unfortunately that seems to be happening all the more frequently.” Fritz admitted sadly.
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this when I took over, Fritz?” Eleanor asked.
“Again, it was a matter of denial. I thought maybe if a new set of eyes and ears were in charge things would get better before they got worse. I shouldn’t have put you at risk, and I feel terrible about it. Can you ever forgive me?” Fritz asked, a tear rolling down his cheek.
“Of course, Fritz. You are like family to me, and nothing will change that even a little misjudgment. Who else knows about the library?” Eleanor said kindly.
“The entire staff knows. You were the only one we hadn’t told yet. It was for your protection, Eleanor.”
“I understand. So since everyone knows how dangerous the library has become, would any one be opposed to closing it?”
Fritz paused here a moment. He couldn’t really speak for everyone, but at the same time he knew it was best. Hopefully everyone else would also understand.
“No Eleanor. I don’t think they would.”
Eleanor and Fritz continued to talk well into the night. So long in fact that they didn’t notice until the attendant came up to their table that the coffee shop had closed around them. They talked about everything and nothing at all. Once they got the awkward conversation about the fate of the library out of the way talking to Fritz was like talking to her grandfather and it brought an immense sense of calm and stability to Eleanor’s life. Something she hadn’t felt in quite a while, and she was grateful for it.
The official decision to close the library would be made at the next city council meeting, which just happened to fall on the upcoming Monday. Eleanor would invite the staff over for dinner a day or two before to break the news to them. She was proposing that instead of closing the library completely they sell the current building and move to a smaller more manageable location, which would also mean a smaller more manageable collection of books. Mostly children’s books and reference material. If the proposed plan worked, the heart and soul of the library would live on in her grandfather’s legacy and the danger that comes with adult fiction would be controlled much more closely, if the danger followed them to the new location at all.
She still had no idea what she was going to do with all of the books that they couldn’t bring with them or the building itself. How many people want to buy an old Victorian building in need of major repairs? She certainly wouldn’t get full market value especially in the current state of the city. She would also have to be very wary of people trying to scam her out of the property now. Not that she didn’t have to be careful before, but now the scam artist would be out in full force, preying on the distraught people of the neighborhood.
Instead of heading straight home, Eleanor detoured the back way through alleys and down streets she very seldom used until she reached the library. She slid her key into the lock, and opened the large oak door apprehensively.
“Hello?” She called, not really expecting an answer, but she couldn’t be sure.
According to Fritz the power had been restored a few days after the blizzard, but to keep any further water damage from spreading the water and gas had been shut off. Eleanor reached around and flipped on the switch to the over head lights. Slowly but surely they flickered on to provide their comforting yellowish glow. She left the door propped open slightly and made her way into the building, around the corner and behind the circulation desk. She looked around and the mess left behind by the Nikeni and various emergency people.
The burn marks left all over the furniture, the destroyed antique rug, all of the dirty boot prints and stagnant puddles of water. It was a complete mess. After examining everything, she made her way to the employee break room and dug out a mop. She could at least make the place presentable before she attempted to sell it.
It didn’t take very long to wipe up all of the soot, and dry out the floor. After she completed that task she began walking around looking for misplaced books to return to their shelves. She didn’t want a repeat of the last few days especially while no one was here to watch what characters did what. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary on the first floor, so she made her way down to the basement. Everything in the children’s department seemed intact. A few books were missing here and there, but she quickly located them and placed them back on their proper shelves.
It wasn’t really the children’s books she was worried about anyway. Their characters were innocent and happy. Even the “bad” guys were tame compared to the adult books. In all honesty the more she thought about it the more she kind of wished that the children’s books would come to life. She enjoyed them, and all of the happiness they brought to the world. Maybe she would come back down here and read some of her favorites just so she could meet the characters. She pondered this momentarily, decided against it and made her way up toward the second floor.
Again she made her way around all of the shelves looking for misplaced books. The second floor looked relatively untouched so this round went much more quickly. And then she made her way to the stairs. The molding, banister, and most of the stairs had been eaten away and scared by the Spintalli infestation. It was surprising to see how much actual damage they had caused. While she was racing through them Eleanor didn’t stop to think that the wooden stairs beneath her feet could collapse at any moment. Although with all of the vines and flowers growing all over the place she sincerely doubted that she would have fallen to her death.
At that moment, with the Spintalli vines intact. Now, she was very concerned and watched her step closely. Once she made it to the top of the stairs, she paused to listen at the landing. She couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary, so she cautiously made her way up and down the aisles. Strangely none of the books were misplaced up here on the third floor. After hearing how the emergency crew had torn everything apart up here trying to find Matt and herself she was kind of surprised, until she turned the final corner and ran right into Matt.
She let out a small yelp, until she realized who he was, and then she got angry.
“What are you doing in here?! How did you get in, and what gives you the right to trespass on personal property?!” She yelled.
“Calm down, I’m sorry I startled you. I got in through the back door. Apparently it was unlocked at some point during our rescue and never relocked. I’m only here to return this book I grabbed before they hauled me away.” Matt explained, holding up another science fiction book.
Eleanor snatched the book from Matt’s hand, looked at the catalog number and stormed off down the aisle, slamming the book back into it’s place on the shelf. She was not happy to see Matt at all, let alone here in her library after he just up and left her without saying goodbye at the hospital.
“Eleanor, I’m sorry I didn’t come to visit you while you were recovering, but I had my own recovering to do. I came back didn’t I? I actually stopped by your apartment, but you weren’t home so I came here.” Matt said, chasing Eleanor down the aisle. “Look, I even picked up the mess around here on the third floor.”
Eleanor wasn’t going to be won over by the oh I was going to stop by but didn’t have time charade. If he really wanted to see her, he could have at least sent a card or called the hospital. She had no doubt that he wanted something from her now, but he clearly didn’t really care at all.
“Matt, don’t give me those lines of crap. You very well could have at least sent a card if you didn’t want to see me face to face. Just where did you go to recover, eh? Home to your wife who doesn’t exist? Or off to some tropical island with a girlfriend?” Eleanor spat in his direction, as she turned on her heel and started to head for the stairs.
“Tropical island? What? No. I don’t live on this side of town. It took me nearly two days just to get into my apartment because of the storm. Until I could do that I stayed with my parents in the suburbs. As soon as I got back into my apartment, and assessed the damage, yes my roof collapsed, thanks for asking, and had the insurance guys come out to look at it I came right back here, to check on you.” Matt said defensively, following Eleanor down the stairs and back into the lobby.
Eleanor made her way back behind the circulation desk and sat down with a harrumph. She had intended to call the police when she reached the desk, but Matt could have a very valid point if his story was true. Now she wasn’t sure what to do. Matt stood beside her quietly, waiting for her to make the next move.
It said a lot about him that he wasn’t going to argue his point home unless he absolutely had to. She still could be misjudging him, but she just wasn’t sure. They had been through a lot together, but it was in such a short period of time, under such unusual circumstances. Finally after several tense moments of silence she looked Matt in the eyes and said: “Okay. I’m sorry for reacting so harshly. I’m sorry about your roof. Did it cause any significant damage?”
Matt smiled, glad to see her Eleanor’s logic still won over her emotions.
“Not really. I will have to have the kitchen completely redone, but all of the important stuff that actually makes a house a home is okay.”
“Well that’s good anyway. So are you still in the market for a run down Victorian building?” Eleanor asked, turning her attention from Matt and gesturing toward the remnants of the library around here.
“I could be, if the owner was willing to part with it.” Matt answered quietly.
“Oh, I think the owner has had QUITE enough of this place.”
They both waited there, soaking it all in. The fact that Eleanor was selling the library, the fact that Matt did actually kind of care about Eleanor, and the fact that both of their lives had been changed in a profound way over the past week and a half. They were both thinking about it all, and yet nothing. Staring off into space, until Eleanor stood up gathered her coat and hat, and made her way to the lobby. There was nothing more that could be done with this place until they were shipping books to the new location. Matt followed her lead, and waited on the front steps as Eleanor closed the large oak door for the last time and set the lock.
“So, is there anywhere left in this neighborhood to get a cup of coffee and maybe some dinner this late?” Matt asked as he and Eleanor made their way down to the street.
“Not yet, but I hear there is supposed to be a sweet dinner theater opening in the next few months.” Eleanor answered with a smile.
“Well where do we go until then?” Matt laughed.
“Back to my place. I’ve got some killer veggie soup and hot apple cider.” Eleanor answered.
“Sounds like a plan. Lead the way.”
Eleanor set off in the direction of her apartment, Matt keeping stride beside her, and she felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time. Excited, content, and above all happy. It was a nice feeling, and with the library behind her now, there were unless possibilities waiting in front of her.