I often wonder what books would say if they spoke.
I know that they could speak the words on their yellowed pages, but what if they had more to say? What if they could tell us of more than their printed texts, of what happened after the grand ending on their last pages?
Like many unmoving things, books see things that people do not. In this library, I know that some things have happened; things that people have not seen.
At least, the ones that have seen didn’t live to tell about it. That girl in a puddle of her own blood, the officer found dead next to her, who passed away of unknown causes.
None of the workers at the Caligo Library like to work the closing shift. Today, though, I was stuck with it. The girls that work here refuse to stay, claiming they don’t feel safe. Of course, us guys don’t feel safe either, but none of us want to say it. I always have some kind of excuse, but I’ve put it off for too long, and my manager threatened my job if I didn’t take a night shift soon. I need the money, so no matter how scared I am, I’ll stay. I have to.
As I wheel the book cart over to the history shelves, I laugh at myself. I’m being dramatic. Nothing bad- barely anything at all- has happened within these antique walls for years.
There was just that one time. That one thing.
That’s what they told me.
It’s cold in the library; I guess they don’t heat it after hours. Why would they? I pull my thin cardigan tight around me, not bothering to fix the way my dark hair gets tucked underneath it.
I know I’m not supposed to be here. It’s frowned upon for women to be out late at all, especially without their husbands permission. I don’t have any other choice though, and my husband is dead anyways.
It’s almost ten o’clock. I’ve, admittedly, gotten sidetracked after finding a book buried beneath piles of others to be thrown out.
When books are discarded, it’s often because they’re damaged, but this one is completely intact. The cover is a deep pine color, the edges designed with an ornate gold border. I look for a copyright page to check for a date of publication, but there is none. I’m sure I would remember if I had ever seen it before, there’s not even a title on the front.
It intrigues me beyond reason, so I set down my rag that I was using to clean the countertops and begin reading.
I waste no time. I’m here for a reason.
Walking as lightly as I can, I head over to the history section of the library. There’s something important there, I just have to get to it before I’m caught. I know it won’t be long, so I quicken my pace.
Reaching the freshly dusted shelves, I run a finger over the rows of book spines, scanning rows for one without a title. That was the only description I was given, and I start to worry I won’t find it.
But I must. So I keep searching.
I crack the book open and stare at the first page. I’m shocked to see that the book is written by hand in tiny cursive letters. It looks old, maybe even vintage. Why would anyone at the library throw this away?
The page is dated, like a journal. September 17, 1922. I also notice that the writing is not in English, but in some language I’ve never seen before. As I flip through the other pages, I see that each entry is in another handwriting, as if written by another person. Finally, I reach a page in English. It’s a short entry, only half of the page.
Finally, I find the book. My fingers tingle as they brush the cover, and I pull the book out of its place. A surge of relief floods through me. I found it.
I flip to a page at the end of the book, and take a pen from a desk nearby. I begin to write.
September 17, 1962
It is with great care that I write these words. It has been far too long, searching for this book, and finally I have it. Of course, whoever has the book never has it for long, but anyone reading should know that.
I will make this quick, for I know I will be found soon. They will do to me as they do to all the daughters of my family line.
They will burn me.
I won’t let them, though, just like my mother before me never let them catch her. I have come prepared, and they will find me dead before they come. My only reason for writing this is to
I flip the page, but there’s nothing. It’s completely blank. The entry ends, and it’s the last one there.
I run a hand through my short hair, utterly confused.
My only reason for writing this is to… what?
I’m only jolted out of my daze when I hear a knock at the locked library doors.
My only reason for writing this is to
“Hey! You there!”
I pull my pen away from the paper quickly, whipping my head around to see who’s calling after me. It’s a guard. I didn’t hear him open the library’s double doors.
Why didn’t I lock it? Oh, how stupid I was. I should have thought of that. I just need a little more time.
I desperately want to finish my sentence, just one more sentence, but there is simply no time to waste. All I can do is sign my name, and brush the powder stashed in my pocket over it so that no one can read it and then I snap the book shut. I wind my hair up as I run, pin it back with the pen, and bolt towards the back exit.
If only I changed before coming here. The thin white slacks and matching t-shirt that I was wearing beforehand are not ideal for running from authorities.
But I suppose it will have to do.
The guard is much faster than me, that much is obvious, so I try to find somewhere to hide. I’m not going to make it to the door.
“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”
I don’t stop. I keep running. He shoots.
Startled, I jump at the sound of knocking coming towards the front of the old library. After regaining my composure, I stand up and walk briskly to the doors.
Once I’m close enough to see clearly through the windows, I see the face of a pale young woman with ebony hair, dressed in white hospital attire. She waves slowly, a kind, warm, wide smile on her face. I see no danger, and she is standing out in the cold. I only falter for a moment, but when it starts to rain, I decide to let her in.
The bullet rips through the muscles in my leg, and I realize that his shot wasn’t intended to kill me. They would never let me die that easily, they still need to burn me, after all.
I collapse immediately, and the book flies from my hand. I reach to get it, but the officer retrieves it before I can crawl over.
“NO,” I screech, reaching for him. “Give it back, you thief!”
“You won’t need this back at the institution, Mallory Garson. I doubt you’ll be given new privileges any time soon after pulling this little stunt.”
“That book is mine,” I seethe. “Give it back or else.”
The officer barks out a laugh. “Or else what? You have nothing over me, Ms. Garson.” He opens the book, my book, and glances at the first page. He scoffs, flipping through other pages. I sigh in relief when he fails to look at the very last one. I should have written it in tongues, just like mother told me. I curse myself for forgetting. “This isn’t even in English,” he exclaims, throwing the book on the ground away from me.
I scream; a raw, guttural sound, and use every bit of strength I have left to grab his ankle and yank, causing him to lose balance and fall.
I just need to hold it. If it’s not in my hands as I die, the words will be lost to a world full of people blind to the message. The tradition will have failed, with no one left to carry it.
The weight of that responsibility weighs impossibly heavy on my shoulders, making it even harder to crawl over to the deep green covered book on the floor. The officer is quickly getting back on his feet.
I’m so close to it, my fingers almost touching it’s binding. I just need to hold it, then I can reach for the knife in my pocket. Once I have it in my grasp, I can slit my own throat.
I’m so close.
“What are you doing here so late?” I ask the girl, leading her inside. She looks at me shyly, hands clasped behind her.
“I could ask you the same thing.” Her voice is smooth and light, almost childlike. It echoes in my ears, and I shiver.
“I work here,” I explain, after taking a moment to regain my composure. “I… I took the night shift.”
“Well,” the girl laughs, a light, lilting sound that seems to reverberate off of every wall. “Aren’t I so lucky, then?”
She moves towards the front desk where I was just seated. Her movements are graceful, impossibly mesmerizing.
“What’s your name?” I ask, trying to be polite.
“Mal,” she responds, not looking my way.
She looks down to the countertop where I set down the mysterious handwritten book I was reading.
“What’s this?” she inquires, and I shake myself out of my haze to walk up next to her. When I get close, I feel a chill that I previously thought was the outside air.
Maybe there’s a draft.
“I found it in the pile of books to throw away,” I explain, and the corners of the girls lips tug downwards.
“Thrown away?” Mal asks, her voice becoming sad. She picks the book up, lightly stroking the book with her finger, tracing the swirls and designs of the gold border. “Why would anyone throw away such a pretty book?” she whispers harshly.
“I-I don’t know,” I stutter. “I took it out just now.”
“So you’ve read it?” Mal questions, still whispering chillingly, but her voice becoming soft again.
“Well, all of the pages are written in another language. Except for the last one, but it’s unfinished.”
She flips to the last page, and runs her fingers gently over the words written in ink. I study her face, she looks forlorn.
“Oh, yes, I remember.”
The officer scrambles to his feet and kicks the book away from my reaching hand, then stomps on my fingers with a heavy boot. I shriek, and pull my hand close.
“That should teach you a lesson, girl!” he booms, and I continue to scream. The officer’s face contorts with rage, and he covers his ears. “Shut up, would you?” he yells, but I don’t listen to him. Finally, he pulls out handcuffs.
“I’m taking you back to that loony bin, where you belong,” the officer roars.
He reaches to grab me but I roll away. I fumble in my pocket to find the cold blade I brought. I look the officer dead in the eye as I stop screaming briefly, just to inhale.
I ignore my raw throat. It won’t matter soon, anyways. I screech louder than I ever have before as I slice my throat smoothly with the clean metal blade. My wails turn to gurgles as the blood fills my throat, and I drop, bleeding out in the history section of the library.
Fitting, I think as I die, that my end will be written in blood on the floors, right next to the history of everything else.
It makes me feel important as I succumb to the darkness. Not light, as many have claimed, because I know I’m not going there. Not yet.
Not until my job is done.
“Have you read this b-before?” I ask, trying my hardest not to let my voice tremble.
“Oh, darling,” Mal coos, reaching over to run a finger along my jawline. “You don’t get it, do you?”
She turns back to the book, then hands it to me, still open to the last page. Although I’m confused, I take it from her slender hand. She smiles sweetly, and leans down until her face is near the book. She inhales, and blows lightly on the page.
Her breath blows away a fine coating of powder on the bottom of the page. Under the dust is a name written in sloppy letters.
“Mallory Garson,” I say aloud, not looking up from the page. “Isn’t that the crazy girl who died here in the sixties?”
The girl doesn’t respond, but I still don’t look up; I’m too deep in thought. Mallory Garson. Mallory. Mal…
The glint of metal catches my eye, and I finally lift my head. Mal, Mallory Garson holds a knife above her head, her face contorted in twisted rage.
Before I even have time to yell for help, she has reached around me and plunged the knife into my back, pulling us close together. Mallory leans in, now only inches from my face. I gasp and sputter, and she twists the knife slowly in my back, ripping at the flesh around the wound.
I groan painfully, but am unable to speak. The pain is so agonizing my brain doesn’t even seem to comprehend it. I feel Mallory’s cold, lifeless breath on my cheeks, which are becoming damp with miserable tears.
Mallory hushes me gently. “Don’t worry, dear, your death will be an honorable one.” I slide to the ground, unable to stand any longer. Mal slides down with me cradling me in her arms, holding the book to my chest.
She leans close, her ice-cold lips brushing my ear as she whispers into it, “you’ll keep the tradition alive.”