Barbara Males waited for old Mr Bina to shuffle through the door.
“Buh-bye, Mr Bina!” she said. “See you tomorrow!”
But she wouldn’t.
Rafiq smiled and waved and said, “Not if I see you first.”
A few minutes had ticked past their seven o’clock close time, but she didn’t mind. Ever the gentleman, Mr Bina. He looked after the books he read. He asked insightful questions and held pleasant conversations. He never dragged the exchange on too long, and always got the hint when she needed to get back to work. And — most of all — he never made too much noise. The librarian’s dream guest. Barb often thought he only came here for the company.
Not that King’s Point Library ever had many trouble makers. She’d never had a problem with — well — anyone. Not since she’d taken over the role of the librarian from Mrs Madron back in ‘97. Barb had come to think of the library as her hideaway. She even preferred it to her own home. Too many neighbours on her street made too much noise. Too many inconsiderate troglodytes. Not in King’s Point Library, though.
The notion that books belonged to the nerds and the outcasts of society had been an unfair label. But — Barb reflected — a helpful one. No drugs or booze or loud music here, thank you very much. No explicit sex or nakedness on the walls — if you discounted the erotic and romance section. No, this impression of the library as a dusty old place with boring old books… Well, it kept the idiots at bay. What fun could they have in a library? A two-litre bottle of cider on a park bench could provide all the entertainment they required.
“Let them have their fun,” she’d once told Rafiq over a cup of tea. “And let us have ours. We live in separate worlds.”
“…and never shall the twain meet.” Rafiq blew the steam from his beverage with a gentle breath.
A weighted thump startled her from the back of the library.
Barb jumped, her reverie popped.
She glanced around the stacks and shelves. Hundreds of books. A multitude of different categories. Lightbrown wood. Navy blue carpets. Tables and chairs. Clean white walls. Not a huge library, by any stretch of the imagination. A break room round the back — employees only — and a restroom to the side. But big enough for the needs of their section of the city. If someone wanted an obscure tome, they could check out the huge Tilgreen Library in the centre of the city.
Barb scanned the scene. An old-timer who’d not heard her announce the closing time. Their hearing aid had run out of batteries. Or a student who worked on a report. So absorbed in their work, the rest of the room reduced to a fuzzed-out blur. God knew she’d been there before. Or only someone who’d gotten so wrapped up in whatever book they read, the world around them ceased to exist.
Silence stretched out, thick and still. As if the building itself held its breath. Waiting. Watching.
She frowned and smiled at her stupid self. “Imagining things, old girl.”
She took a step towards her desk.
From the western side of the library.
Barb paused, zeroed in on the direction. She swallowed her mouthful of saliva. Something clicked, loud in her ears. She cleared her throat. And used her best Librarian Tone. Barb couldn’t remember the last time she’d had to bring it out. She pulled it off the shelf, dusted it, and gave it a shot. “Hello? Is there anyone there?” A few uncertain steps from the glass double doors, not yet locked. The late evening sunlight still bright and warm. “Only—” she licked her lips, dry “—only we closed—” she glanced at the clock “—almost 12 minutes ago.”
The heat from the sunshine warmed through the glass. The air she pulled down into her lungs felt chunky. Sludgy. Barb passed an empty table and chairs, all seats tucked under. Neat and proper.
She tried again.
“The library’s closed now. If you wouldn’t mind please heading to the exit, thank you. We’ll be open at eight sharp in the morning.” Only they wouldn’t. King Point Library would never open again.
A shuffle. A rasp of a foot upon the floor. The whisper of cloth. A clatter against the linoleum.
Her head jerked in the direction of the bathroom. Everywhere else had carpet. Except for the little spot in front of the sink in the breakroom. And Barb didn’t think anyone dared to go in there without permission. Her first thought went to some poor old dear. They’d had an accident and needed to clean up. A more worrisome idea came after — they’d had an accident of the less embarrassing kind. Hit their head. Unable to speak. She’d need to call an ambulance, try to jimmy the lock.
Barb rushed to the bathroom door. “Hello? Excuse me?”
Was that a low moan?
She stood, inches from the door. She didn’t want to scare them. “Are—” She started again. “Are you all right in there?”
A sandpaper groan. A slap against the floor.
Barb’s eyes darted to the handle.
The little green indicator showed.
They’d not locked the door.
“I-I’m coming in! My name is Barb Males, and I’m opening the door now, okay?”
A deep rumble. It sounded almost like a growl, only that couldn’t be right, that couldn’t be right at all.
Barb depressed the handle and pulled the door open.
“Oh,” she gasped and staggered back.
Her hands flew to her face.
Two people occupied the bathroom. One sat on the toilet, the other straddled on top. Faces pressed against each other.
Her mind tried to process the sight and failed. A thousand thoughts rushed through the bottleneck of her brain. They crashed into one another, a logjam of words. Sex they’re having sex having sex in my library oh my god what to do call the police in my library I don’t believe it I—
And then she saw the blood.
And the one on top pulled away.
Bits of skin and gristle and meat and tendons came away with them, yanked away, gripped in their teeth.
The one on the seat flopped backwards, lifeless as a newborn. Their face — from the bridge of their nose to the top of their neck — torn away. Bloody black holes gaped where the features should have been.
The one on top — a woman, Barb now saw — turned to face her. Gore matted her hair, smothered her face. Her jaw gritted together in an animal snarl, bits of meat between the teeth like shredded beef. Her eyes took Barb in. Wide. Bloodshot. Pupils dilated. Insane.
Barbara Males screamed — the last noise she’d make in her life. Save for a few liquid gurgles.
The woman leapt from the restroom like a coiled snake.
This is part of my project (novella?) for April’s Camp NaNo. The plan is 30 short stories, 30 characters, 30,000 words. Give or take. All set in the same city. All focused on the same event.
This is actually #23 in the project. I also submitted part #1 to the monthly #BlogBattle, and parts #3, #10, and #17 to Reedsy.