She thought it’d be fun; fun and adventurous and daring and as close to Heaven as she’d get without snuffing her candle. She’d planned everything out—so perfectly—and had made contingencies for the “just in case” that may pop up. And then she’d made contingencies for her contingencies. And on top of all of that, she’d kept everything a secret. Not a soul knew about her plan.
She wished she hadn’t been so thorough.
The scraping and whispering had died down somewhat from the moments before, but even hiding under the checkout desk, she could still hear them moving around. The floor was no longer buckling, though.
“They can’t be moving. Not all the way over here. Not so far from the aisles,” she whispered; voice shaking and cracking and catching in the back of her throat and making her want to cough. When she looked over at the stacks, she couldn’t see any light, couldn’t smell any wind or perfume, and couldn’t hear any voices. But something was moving; she could hear it clearly. She held her breath, calling on tricks she’d learned to calm herself; gluey tears blotted her vision and stuck to her eyelashes. Letting out a slow breath, Lesedi let her eyes fall to her shaking hands. She clenched her fingers into tight fists, and let her fingernails dig into the soft skin near the meat of her thumb.
“This sucks,” she whispered. “This sucks, this sucks, this sucks!” She squeezed harder, until she was sure she’d broken skin. Opening her hands and holding them under the pale moonlight that was shining from one of the large windows in the nearby reading annex, Lesedi saw small, shiny, red lined crescents glittering back at her. “But… But I can do this,” she hummed. “I can get out. I just need to think. I just… There’s a way out; there’s always a way out. I just…”
In her mind, an image of a glass lens flickered. “No. Something else. Something other than that.” She ran through an extensive list of possibilities, of alternate routes she may be able to take; anything that would allow her to forgo calling him. But there wasn’t.
She hated to admit it, but she couldn’t deny it was the only sure way out.
As sure as anything here is, she thought.
Rolling to her knees, and silently pulling her backpack off one of her shoulders, Lesedi peeked over the edge of the librarian’s check-out desk; looked out into the dark of the building to see if they still wandered about. At first, there didn’t seem to be any more of them moving around, and she thought—hopefully—that perhaps they’d gone away, or that she’d been overly paranoid and imagined the whole thing.
But then, from around the corner of one of the aisles furthest from her, she watched a man in a heavy button-up shirt step into the large central area. He was bald and even in the dark, she could see he was pouring sweat, all over his body.
“Mlondolzi…” she pleaded.
The man walked into the middle of the central area and stopped to mop his brow. She saw his lips moving, and at first, she couldn’t hear what he was saying, but like a lazy echo, the words made their way back to her.
“…reason I keep my collar buttoned up is the children. They follow me along country roads. Everyone wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them.” The man sighed and continued walking towards one of the other aisles, unbuttoning his shirt as he did. “It keeps right on going,” he said slipping off his shirt. “All of me is Illustrated…” His voice disappeared as soon as he stepped out of sight.
Lesedi rose higher from her spot behind the desk; eyes rolling in her head, head swiveling side to side, heart beginning to race. From where she stood, beams of moonlight cut through the darkness, allowing her to see exactly what was going on, exactly what she might happen upon if she were to venture out. But she knew from her time within the stacks, from her time running through the aisles that the moonlight didn’t penetrate there. The world was different there. It was longer and darker and damper and impossibly strange. There were people walking in between the stacks; people that shouldn’t be real, that shouldn’t exist; visions of places that shouldn’t be real; atmospheres that were terrifying and corporeal despite it being impossible.
She’d hidden in one of the back areas, long ago; in a tiny reading nook with lots of pillows and lots of chairs. She’d arranged them all to look natural; to hide herself within the confines of a seemingly unthreatening set up. And it had worked. Lesedi had hidden successfully from the librarians when they did their final rounds, picking up the dozen or so books that had been left out and stowing them on the “Shelving” cart. She’d hidden from them, convinced that at any moment they’d discover her and escort her out of the library. She’d imagined the scolding she’d receive from them when they learned she was trying to stay the night in the library, and the pathetic excuse (but it was sincere) she’d offer in response: “I love books. That’s the only reason I wanted to stay. I just wanted to read and sleep in the library because I love it.”
Her plan had gone perfectly though.
There was no need to offer her reasoning because the librarians never found her. They’d simply closed up shop the way they always did, talking and laughing about this, that, or the other, and finally shut off the lights before locking the doors behind them. Lesedi, in the dark of the library, waited an extra five minutes before coming out.
“Just to be safe,” she told herself. “Just in case they come back for something.”
But no one came back.
And Lesedi was alone.
And until ten minutes later—until she’d been out of her hideaway and had entrenched herself deep within the heart of the aisles of fiction—she didn’t realize how dangerous that was.