LIBRARY by Benjamin Welton
“You want to know a secret about this place?”
Jane leaned over Patrick’s cubicle. Her wide, green eyes twinkled with electric excitement. Patrick saw a hint of drool at the corner of her mouth.
“Sure. I’m always happy to know secrets,” Patrick said a little too eagerly.
He had been working at the library’s archival research centre for about two months. It was an easy summer job that paid okay. For a struggling Ph.D. student like Patrick, $13 an hour was a lifesaver that allowed him to (barely) pay the rent each month. So far, only his fellow workers made the job somewhat annoying. There was Lynette, the diminutive and loud New England Italian who only talked about her physical illnesses; Georgina, the faux-English 80-year-old who bragged about sleeping with B-list actors from the 1970s; Prospero, a sluggish non-entity whose milquetoast personality did not live up to his outlandish name; and Cathy, a woman who danced in the kitchen while making tea and talking about how she was almost a famous poet. The other workers in the centre were graduate students too. Patrick tolerated them, although he often grew tired of hearing about their cats and anti-anxiety medication.
Jane was the only person in the entire building that Patrick actually liked.
“This place, including the downstairs library and the vault, are cursed!”
“It’s cursed. I mean, I don’t know for sure that there is some kind of hex on this place, but it certainly seems like it.”
“What do you mean specifically?” Patrick took a sip from his cup of coffee, but spit it into the trash can when he realized it was stone cold. He choked on the near-frozen liquid until Jane slapped him hard on the back.
Jane laughed, then continued: “Do you know how many people have died after working here? I have been here less than a year, and I have already seen two brain aneurysms and one bicycle accident. Prospero nearly died three months ago from a heart attack, but managed to cling to life.”
Jane laughed again, this time because Patrick exclaimed so loudly. Luckily, they were the only ones in the office; the rest of the staff was away at a lunch meeting.
“Right? I’m telling you that this place is cursed. Better yet, I did hear one story from the cleaning crew about how badly cursed this place might be.”
“Okay, I’m game. Lay it on me.”
“Well, Claudio is the Portuguese janitor that cleans our carpets, and…”
“Wait, I thought he was Brazilian.”
“No, I’m pretty sure he’s Portuguese. Or maybe he’s from the Azores. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. So, one night way back in the day, Claudio left work at his usual time—5:30 p.m. However, on this day, Claudio made it all the way to Brookhaven without realizing that he had left his cell phone in his locker.”
“Dude, I would have been flipping out,” Patrick said over a fresh cup of coffee.
“Me too. I have panic attacks if I walk outside without my cell, let alone drive twenty minutes without it. But I guess Claudio is made of sterner stuff, right? Well, that night, Claudio came back to the building. It was around 7-7:30, and since it was winter, it was pitch black outside. The only light was coming from our floor.
“Realizing that nobody should be working here that late, Claudio took the south elevator up, walked a few steps into the lobby, then heard the boss’s door slam shut.” Jane pointed to the office door belonging to Camille DeJean, the centre’s boss who never came to work.
“Next, the lights in the reading room started to flicker uncontrollably. There were sounds of glass breaking and cries of pain. Claudio was freaked so bad that he forgot all about his cell phone and drove home. The next day when we opened, there was no sign of any disturbances.”
“Maybe it was a nightmare,” Patrick said.
“No way. I’ve talked to Claudio down in the lunch room. That guy is still shaken up about the whole thing. He’s even convinced the other cleaner, Angelina, to never come up here.”
“So that’s why this place is so dirty,” Patrick snickered.
“I don’t know about you, but I think this place has a ghost. Maybe even a demon. That’s why employees keep dropping like flies.”
“Now why would we be haunted? Our building was only built in the ‘90s. Nobody ever comes in here either. What would cause a haunting here?”
“Man, have you ever looked through our archives? We have some seriously old stuff here. Some of the books are from like the 1600s. One book I saw was written in Latin and bound in human skin.”
“Yes way. I’m telling you, one of our archives contains a spirit or a curse or something else. I’m going to prove it tonight if you want to join.”
“How are you going to prove it?”
“EVP sessions, video cameras, tape recorders, and thermal imaging, man. Document the haunting with science. Haven’t you ever watched Ghost Hunters?”
“Sure, but that is all fake.”
“The show might be, but ghost hunting is the real deal. I have done it before and have heard some crazy stuff. I’ll let you hear it tonight if you come.”
Patrick finished the remnants of his coffee. He smirked at Jane, but remained silent for a while. When he spoke, he slammed his paper cup on his artificial wood desk.
“Sure, what else have I got to do on a Tuesday night?”
Patrick met Jane outside the building later that night at nine o’clock. The flat, grey library occupied a desolate block right next to an industrial park. Its only other neighbour was a scrubby field that once hosted baseball games. Besides Jane and Patrick, nobody else was around.
“Sure. How are we getting inside? Are we breaking in?”
“Nope. I grabbed the keys from Angelina. She crossed herself and warned me not to do this, but whatever.”
“I guess we’re both crazy.”
In response, Jane shook the small clutch of keys. She used a long and oddly shaped one to enter a side entrance, then picked a chubby key to unlock the security doors guarding the library’s main reading room.
Patrick looked around the empty and dark building. “Damn, libraries are spooky when they’re empty.”
“Yeah, like schools.”
Jane pressed the “Up” button on the south elevator. The chime of the lift sounded disturbingly loud in the silence. They rode the elevator up to the sixth floor.
“Okay, I’ll set up here in the lobby, you go in the reading room.” Jane handed Patrick a small tape recorder. She then told him to keep his cell phone on “Record” until it almost ran out of power.
“And do not turn on the lights,” Jane barked as Patrick walked towards the reading room.
The reading room was no bigger than a college classroom. However, it was full of knick-knacks, like sculptures of Greek gods, landscape paintings, and movie posters from the 1940s. Underneath the display cases, which housed everything from newspaper clippings to photographs and at least one combat knife from World War I, were rows and rows of books. Patrick had never bothered to look at any of them, so he decided to start snooping.
Patrick leafed through several small, army-issued pulp novels that were fraying to the point of extinction. One book’s cover showed a partially nude woman in the clutches of a giant robot or alien with green skin or steel plating. He tried to be as gentle as possible with this book, but ripped at least three pages while Jane asked questions to the ghost. This was all part of her EVP session. Patrick also asked questions, but he was mostly concerned with rifling through the books.
He thumbed through another book. This one was a history hardcover, written in 1965. It concerned somebody named Alfred Packer, a prospector who went out West in the 19th century. While snowbound with others high up in the Colorado mountains, Packer resorted to cannibalism. Patrick noted that the book’s dust jacket claimed that the author thought that Packer was innocent of the charges.
Patrick stopped his impromptu book search when he landed on a medium-sized brown book that smelled very, very old. The binding was rotten, and the leather was chipping and had probably been chipping for over a hundred years. Using his cell phone as a reading light, Patrick cracked the spine on the tome and began. Reading proved impossible because the writing was a mixture of Greek and Latin. The spidery text, which was in red ink, would have been indecipherable even if it had been written in American English. Patrick flipped back to the front page in search of an author, but could find no name. The only thing on that page was a strange coat-of-arms that portrayed a triptych: the left side showed a knight in green-ish armour riding a pale white horse, while the middle section showed a black castle high up in the mountains and surrounded by a meandering moat. The final section on the right was downright gruesome: it showed the severed head of a man with a long black topknot and a moustache. The head’s left eye was being feasted on by what looked like an inky crow.
Patrick was on the point of putting the book away when he came across the pictures. One was a crude drawing showing a rural scene where a group of nude tribesmen were dancing around an open fire. Above the flames and on a grill, Patrick saw pieces of severed human flesh. Another picture, which had also been drawn by hand, showed the cannibals feasting on the cooked flesh. Towards the back of the book, Patrick saw a drawing of a strange demon-like figure with a bull’s face and horns. Where the creature’s stomach should have been there was a rectangular window with flames and the shadows of grasping hands. That is when the lights of the reading room flashed on.
“Okay, my elbow really hurts from PT this morning. Gosh I need some Advil.”
Lynette was seated at one of the room’s desks. She was nude, but had a white table napkin placed over her knees. An equally nude Prospero took a long and slow sip of seltzer water, while Georgina, also nude, mindlessly worked a crossword puzzle.
Only Jane and Claudio paid any attention to Patrick. Claudio pointed a revolver at him, while Jane was sharpening a large butcher knife.
“Don’t worry, Pat, we won’t eat until the boss shows up. The bad news is that we will be eating you.”
Patrick tried to make a run for safety, but Claudio shot him in his left kneecap. The blood began oozing out, the deep red mixing with the lighter red of the reading room’s carpet. The pain was unbearable.
“Don’t hurt yourself trying to escape. It is pretty hopeless,” Jane said.
Patrick wanted to ask why they were all doing this, but he could not form words to save his life. All of his energy was focused on his wounded knee.
“You know that book is really fascinating. It has taught all of us quite a lot, but it has been terrible for our employee turnover.”
Georgina laughed at Jane’s comment, but did not look up from her crossword puzzle. Cathy, who was knitting while nude, said in a childish sing-song voice, “She’s here.”
The chime of the elevator rang. Patrick felt the carpet shake. Something heavy was coming. He heard it utter a deep, inhuman moan. Its toenails, which had to be long, tapped on the carpet. The horror of it all dawned on Patrick—the boss had arrived.
“I got to tell you, my therapist is not doing anything for my lower back. Gosh, it hurts so bad,” Lynette said to Prospero over the wet crunch of the first bite and Patrick’s last scream.