“Hey,” my girlfriend, Lynne, says to me. “This looks like a pretty good one.” She hands me a beaten copy of a horror paperback. It’s titled Summer of Sadness and the back tells that the novel is about of group of preteen boys discovering and battling a monster in their small hometown in 1963. It’s an adult book despite the characters.
Summer of Sadness falls from my hand- now shaking- as the volume hits the ground with a dull flop. My legs all of the sudden feel limp, they are quaking slightly also as bile churns in my stomach, looking to escape out of my mouth and my mind repeats the worst thoughts it can think of.
Not now! I plead with my head and my body, Please just wait until I am in my apartment and Lynne is back home. I hate doing this in front of her.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Lynne turns around and asks, worry is in her face. That look tips me over the edge.
I fall to the ground with my ass hitting the library’s carpeted floor hard, I barely notice, however. By the time Lynne can kneel down beside me, I am in the fetal position with tears in my eyes as my entire body trembles. The voice in my head gets louder. It makes me act more violently as the embarrassment of doing this with an audience reaches me. At least we are in a secluded section of the library.
Lynne’s comforting arms surround my shoulders as she picks me up to a sitting position. “… through your nose slowly then exhale through your mouth.” I hear her voice come in at some point. Her breathing has changed to how I should be doing it. I try, but a lump in my throat kicks me into a new gear. I need to find a bathroom quickly.
I start to get up but stumble, luckily my girl is here to support me and I am back on my feet running toward the sad-looking door with the outline of a man on it. I push my way through this entrance and make it to the toilet just in time to wretch my lunch into the bowl in a painful scream. This happens again and again for an indeterminate amount of time until I weakly pick myself off the floor and wash my hands and face off.
Lynne is outside the door, smiling kindly when I come out. I am too embarrassed and beaten to do anything but give a sorry smile back. She takes me back into a corner and we sit on the ground with a collection of mid-century science fiction books to conceal us as I squeeze Lynne tightly, forcing tears back. The shame and embarrassment are too strong though. The tears barrel through the forced-shut eyelids and puddle the shoulder of Lynne’s t-shirt of a b-movie from 1958.
All I am able to decipher are Lynne’s words of encouragement and her soft hands lightly rubbing my back. I could never deserve her.
“I’m sorry, hun,” I croak when I have finally gotten over myself and my ridiculous episode.
“For what, baby?” she asks with genuine truthfulness in her voice.
“For doing that in public and in front of you,” I admit ashamed. This is not the first time Lynne has seen me like this, but it is the only time this has happened in public so far.
Lynne takes my hand and kisses it lightly. My fingers are still shaking slightly. “You have nothing to be sorry for, you cannot help this and it is getting better.” I hug her in return, it’s all I can do to show my gratitude for everything she is in this moment. “Come on, let’s check out our books and head home.”
We take the steps down to the first floor, discovering that the front desk where the stern librarian should be is not at her post. I ring the little bell by the outdated computer a few times, the tinny sound echoing off of the shelves of worn titles. No one comes.
I give Lynne an uneasy look before noticing a few things that should have been apparent a lot easier. For one thing, the tables and chairs- usually filled with patrons reading their selections- were all empty, the seats being tucked neatly back into the desks. What also puts my head at unease is the dimmed lights, giving everything an eerie glow inside the empty library.
“Uhh,” I begin to say. Lynne is already a step ahead of me, discarding the three books she selected at the front desk and going for the front door. It shakes but doesn’t open. Locked in.
I press the button down on the old bell a few more times. Ding ding ding ding! I may as well have tried to use a match to light up an entire forest. Sweat breaks out on my forehead, my hands start to shake once again. My stomach groans in hunger, but a nauseated feeling takes over right after.
“W-w-what do we do?” I ask nervously, I’d love to be home watching a bad movie and laughing at Lynne’s commentary than be here.
“I guess we wait around and hope that someone comes along, Maybe a janitor or something is cleaning up,” she replies, though she sounds a bit uncertain herself.
Visions flashed through my head of cops arresting us- believing us to be trespassing, explaining to the librarian tomorrow morning as to why we are here before her, of forever being trapped inside her- starving to death as Lynne’s body and mine decompose amidst a collection of fictional stories.
“Actually, let's take a quick look around, see if any janitors or workers are anywhere,” Lynne’s voice breaks my thought. We stalk the rows, shelf after shelf of books of all types and sizes standing silently under the dim electric light. A library is a creepy place at night when there is no one here. We don’t find any custodians or library employees or volunteers.
“Let’s go back to waiting by the desk, someone has to come by eventually,” Lynne says.
“My dear, you two are locked in aren’t you?” a voice speaks from behind the two of us that has me nearly jump out of my skin. I knock a biography of Nikola Tesla onto the ground. “Well, that’s no way to treat a book, there, is that?”
I turn around to see who spoke and the sight makes me want to jump through the locked doors that are keeping us in this library. The man is short and stout with an impressive mustache and early-1900’s clothing. He carries a pipe that smolders evenly in his hands and a pocket watch in his vest. The man looks at us through big eyes behind circular spectacles that sit at the end of his nose. What really makes my skin crawl is the fact that this man is glowing a pale orange and I can see shelves of novels through his smoky skin.
“I did not mean to frighten you two,” the glowing man says again in a cheery, but sorrowful voice, He reminds me of a rich oil tycoon caricature and the slightly British-accented voice does not help, “but really. To go throwing the biography of the great Nikola Tesla on the ground? I daresay that is quite ungentlemanly, my good sir.”
I nervously pick the book back up and place it back into the space where it was knocked down from. Neither of us speaks still.
“Now that’s more like it!” the transparent stranger says with a kindly smile on his face. He takes a puff of his pipe then speaks again, “Now, you two are locked in, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes,” Lynne says while I still search for my voice within my throat, “we lost track of time.”
“Ah yes, I bore witness to the young man’s little… episode there,” he speaks to Lynne but indicates me. Smiling again, the man addresses both of us, “Well, no worries, such a thing can happen to the best of us, some more than others, but does not make a man any less of a man to show his true self to the woman he loves. Say, what are your names?”
“Lynne,” my girlfriend speaks, “Lynne Manheim.”
“A pleasure and a gift, Miss Manheim!” the man tilts his hat slightly.
“Charles Farese,” I answer back sheepishly.
“Mr. Farese charmed to make your acquaintance tonight!”
“How about you?” Lynne asks, I notice that she is now standing beside me, “What’s your name.”
“I am Parker Caldwell,” the stranger says with a smile and a hand over his chest.
This introduction sends a pickle down the right side of my body. “You mean Park Caldwell as in… in-?” I point a finger over my shoulder in the general direction of the front doors. If anyone were outside of those doors and looking up, they would see a sign that read, ‘Parker Caldwell Public Library.’
“Precisely, my good sir,” Mr. Caldwell says, “This building was erected by my grandchildren when my personal library burned down after my death. Though I have to say that I was heartbroken about the fire, this library was a perfect replacement for it! I love being able to enjoy watching people get lost in the thrill of finding a new land within the pages of a novel or studying young couples in the throw of love with nothing but time on their hands.”
“So you’re a, an um-?” a ghost? I want to say this, but I am not really sure if I should.
“A what?” Caldwell asks kindly and patiently.
“He means to ask if you are a ghost, Mr. Caldwell,” Lynne says for me.
“Please just Parker will suffice,” is the answer we get first, then Parker Caldwell ponders the question for a moment, “I guess you could say I am. More of a memory for a beloved and treasured place, but yes, the term ghost suffices! Now, I know you two probably have many questions, but I think you two should get home.”
I don’t know why, but Caldwell tells us to get home scares me slightly. Does he mean home, home? Or death?
“If you could just follow me, I know a door that leads to the back alley out of here and does not have an alarm attached to it.”
We follow Mr. Peter Caldwell’s memory through the aisles as he softly tells us about books he has read since his passing. His favorites included a number of our most beloved and he even gave us some good recommendations. We were to the thin door placed between two shelves before any substantial time passes.
Caldwell’s hand seemed to materialize somewhat as he clicked the tiny lock and opened the door, “Ladies first,” the old man said as Lynne stepped outside and turned to wait for me. Just as I was about to exit and thank Peter Caldwell he stopped me and gave a serious expression on his face as he addressed me, “Now, Mr. Farese, I meant what I said earlier. Have no shame in showing that lovely woman of yours your true self, the good and the bad. Many great men and women in history have had issues similar to yours and worse, but they still accomplished a host of amazing feats in their life. Treat her right and she will do the same for you and you two will be beautiful together.”
“Yes sir,” I told him, taking his words to heart. I walked outside into the cool breeze of the night air and took Lynne’s hand.
“Good night Ms. Manheim and Mr. Farese, it has been a charm to meet you two tonight and discuss literature with you. Never stop reading!” Mr. Caldwell beamed from the door he had let us out of before it closed. We each gave our own parting words, hoping he would hear them before heading home to enjoy the rest of our night with each other.