“Achoo!” My sneeze echoed through the halls of the library. It could have been mistaken for a violent spirit seeking retribution. But there was no vengeful ghost lurking amongst the bookshelves. It was just plain old me, blurry-eyed looking for calm, quiet and rationality—a commodity in huge deficit on Halloween night. The ladder I stood on swayed precariously before settling in place. I dropped the book I was holding—worn and black, it faintly smelled of vanilla. I heard shuffling feet and broke into a sweat as the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I climbed down the ladder and squinted at the door. It remained firmly shut, but I suspected the guard could get there at any moment.
I glanced around looking for a place to hide. Not only was I a lock-picking trespasser in a public library after hours, I also happened to chance upon the restricted section, and I went all in. I could get into a lot of trouble.
The aisles were wide, the wooden floors polished within an inch of its life. Every book stood perfectly on the shelves, its spine free of even a speck of dust. There were no desks or chairs—only moonlight that flitted in below the ceiling through narrow sealed windows that merged into walls of books. It was eerily beautiful, the sight of scattered light hovering over bounded darkness.
There was no place to hide—at least metaphorically speaking. I spotted a black bureau tucked in the corner of the room, tiptoed towards it and climbed into the bottom drawer and waited.
I heard the ladder being dragged to its place. I waited. The metallic taste of blood trickled into my mouth. I realised I was biting my lips as I do when I am anxious. My breathing grew ragged and my brow was slick with sweat. I waited for the guard to say something. But it was silent as before.
It could have been minutes or hours, I could not tell. I eventually stepped out of the bureau, gasping for air. I staggered towards the nearest shelf bracing myself against it with a sweaty palm. And then I felt it—warm breath against my neck and the hint of vanilla wafting in the air. I turned to find nothing. Believing it to be a figment of my imagination, I tried to regain my composure as I turned back.
I gasped as the marks left by my moisture-laden hand disappeared—not slowly while succumbing to heat. The wooden shelf before me was wiped clean, the soft sound reverberating through my body. It faded to reveal gleaming wood—a reflection of my haunted face—and with it a fleeting outline of a figure with sharp cheeks and wispy hair towering behind me.
I turned and saw no one. I needed to get out of there.
I walked unsteadily, my fingers running along the spines of the books. I felt warm and queasy and paused to catch my breath. My hand brushed against leather, worn and black. The book I dropped before falls to the ground a second time. Written in beautiful cursive, the frayed pages read:
Return the books, every tome to its proper keep,
There are no nooks where my gaze cannot seep,
Leave no dirt or grime behind,
Three strikes and your life will be mine.
I had dropped a book and left grime behind. My hands shook uncontrollably as I bent down to pick up the book. Blanched lace flowing across the immaculate floor disappearing into the other side of the bookshelf greeted my sight. I lifted myself up and through the sliver of the gap where the book needed to go, I saw a pair of molten red eyes tinged with green; with pale skin, wispy hair decked in square padded shoulder lines, and a flaring skirt was a woman with sharp cheeks towering before me.
There was a vengeful ghost lurking amongst the bookshelves.
I bolted through the door, as I felt my nape squeeze, and out of the library as sunlight trickled into the city. And then it struck me—I did not pick locks to get here, climb walls or… or open a door.
A guard in grey passed right through me as I stood there.
Written by Deepthi Priyanka C for MTTN
Edited by Rajika Ghose for MTTN
Featured Image via wallpaperaccess.com