“Shhhh!” The voice is harsh and grating, like nails on a chalkboard. The librarian gestures pointedly at the ‘No Talking or Laughing’ sign, eyebrows arching sharply as they struggle to pull themselves over the ostentatious bird wings fanning out from the frames of what this woman deems a pair of glasses. Her narrow, reptilian eyes follow me quizzically as I turn to continue talking to Grace.

“You know, there’s a rumour that Mrs. Atkinson had a couple of court-funded trips to an asylum.” Grace’s eyelids snap open wide as she shoves a panicky hand over my mouth, masking my growing grin.

“Can you be any louder?” Grace is approaching full-blown panic mode, her eyes darting over to Mrs. Atkinson, ensuring that she is still focused on her online poker game. “Besides,” she continues, hushed, “nobody would allow a crazy person to work with children all day.”

I roll my eyes dramatically. “You don’t need to whisper. She can’t even see you, let alone hear you.” 

As the older sister, Grace has always been the calm, pragmatic one, never known to fall victim to the same fiery passions and half-baked plans that I appear to live my life by. The one who smoothes out my rough edges like snow on a grimy road, suddenly making me appear palatable to the general public. A running joke between us is that I would end up a crazy recluse without her.

“She’s probably just sick of spending all her days in this sad place,” Grace defends. Oh, and did I mention, she is definitely the bleeding heart type. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in her books and there is not a glass empty enough to not have some amount of water. 

She’s right about Mrs. Atkinson though, which happens more often than I care to admit. The library lacks the funds to stock any book from the last few decades, forget attracting a visitor other than the odd snotty, wailing child, or handful of students in exam season. Anyone who is willing to work here must be at least as musty and time-worn as the books, and able to stand the suffocating atmosphere for more than a minute. The dark wood cuts you off on every side, absorbing every trace of oxygen, and casting looming shadows that dominate the already watery light that has managed to squeeze through the tightly shut windows. It’s enough to throw even the most level-headed person off the deep end.

Somehow, Grace and I have managed to spend most of our free time over the course of our lives in this library without suffering from any obvious adverse effects. In fact, I could chart the course of my life in the walls of this building. The shelves hold the best moments of my life in their nooks and crannies, from the most pivotal to the most mundane. From playing games on the ancient computers, to opening college acceptance emails; from starring in our two-person plays, to the whisper-shouts of heated arguments; from reading our first books, to cramming for finals, everything has taken place here.

Surprisingly enough, Mrs. Atkinson has been an unlikely background actor in our lives, ever-present for all of these moments, like a mould you just cannot get rid of. She has been the librarian for the town library for as long as I have been alive, and is one of those people who have a face of an indiscernible age. The remnants of beauty cling on viciously, apparent in her high cheekbones and full lashes, but it is impossible to tell whether she is as old as she seems, or has just been beaten down by life long enough that every battle is etched into her skin as a reminder that she will never win. 

In a town as small as this, where every resident meets nearly everyone else at some point in their day, rumours are rife. Though, I have never heard more about anyone than Mrs. Atkinson, likely just due to the fact that in a town where secrets are a myth, no one can agree on a single fact about her. Some say her children hated her and escaped the town as soon as they graduated, never to be seen again. Some say she never had children in the first place, which is why she has always walked around with a sour expression and a far-off look in her eyes, while some say she never wanted them as she has an unquenchable hunger for the blood of children. Admittedly, the last one is mainly passed around in the playground by terrified preschoolers. 

“We should really just get those books for Anne and Jacob and leave,” Grace reminds me, bringing me back to the real reason we’re here. 

“I’ll do it, but be done with your homework by the time I’m back, I still want to get a milkshake on the way back.”

Borrowing a book takes much longer than necessary as you have to wait for Mrs. Atkinson to leisurely enter it into her computer in some sort of cruel protest for making her adapt to the times. However, I return to our spot in good spirits, eager to scarf down a vanilla milkshake with extra whipped cream. It does not last long as I suddenly realise that Grace is nowhere in sight. Panic slowly building in my chest, I run through the surrounding rows. 

Grace is also the paranoid, or as she likes to say, careful one. She would never leave without telling me. I have always chalked her ridiculous worries up to too many late-night binges of ‘Criminal Minds’, but they don’t seem so ridiculous now. My throat suddenly seems as wide as a straw, and a straw with a hole that prevents even my gasping breaths from getting any air into my lungs. I sprint towards her favourite section (historical fiction), and her real favourite section (young adult), and am rewarded with shatteringly empty rows and more than a few odd looks. Despite the rules, I am calling her phone as I do this. I finally make my way to Mrs. Atkinson in a desperate attempt, feeling a pressure build up behind my eyes, threatening to explode.

“Mrs. Atkinson, have you seen Grace anywhere?” She looks up lazily, her eyes behind the hideous frames narrowing, as if discerning if I am playing some sick prank on her. When she seems reasonably certain I am not lying, her eyebrows remain furrowed, in a more confused expression than before, with a more confusing layer of compassion lurking underneath.


I have no patience for her swinging moods right now, and I race back to our spot, aching to see her burnt umber locks in their characteristic loose braid slung over one shoulder. She is still gone, and I lean back into the chair, suddenly feeling tired. All the fiery adrenaline of a few minutes ago drains out of me, leaving cold, hard, despair. All I am feeling now is empty, like someone has taken an apple corer to my organs. 

Car tires screech outside, a knife-sharp sound that rips through my eardrum like tissue paper, and suddenly I am no longer in the library. The memory overtakes me and I’m in the driver’s seat of my Jeep and it’s turning, turning, turning. Somebody is yelling, it may be me or it may be the decades-old vehicle as it tears in two. My head is spinning, my mouth and nose full of an acrid, coppery scent. My arm has a tongue of fire eagerly licking at it, and it feels wet and dripping and I cannot breathe, cannot think, cannot move. I am jammed by the seat belt and a suitcase. A light blue suitcase with faded stickers and writing and a letter ‘G’ tag. It’s familiar and itches at the corners of my memory, but my mind is a fog and it takes a few minutes before the answer appears. 

My heart in my throat, I force my head to the passengers seat. Her head is at an awkward angle, blood staining her mocha hair a vivid black. Her hands still loosely surround an old John Green novel but they’re cold to the touch, like a marble statue. I feel a sob building in my throat but I am too tired to even let it out, and when the wave of exhaustion crashes over my head, I welcome the darkness.

April 30, 2021 16:50

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Alex Auclair
15:13 May 04, 2021

Your story is full of detail, which painted vivid pictures of the scenes in my mind. I really like your use of imagery. When Grace disappeared I was drawn into the story and needed to know what happened to her. I think the ending may need a little more explanation in the sense of how long ago was the accident? Was the first part of the story a common occurrence where the main character came to the library and relived the car crash? I'm curious about the connection between the library and the car crash. This is a good thing because it means ...


05:14 May 06, 2021

Thank you so much for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it! You're absolutely right, I left the ending quite ambiguous so it's likely necessary for it to have more explanation. Thanks again, I'm really grateful for the feedback!


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