I wish I could have said something happened that I was a part of. That I was able to help someone, or at least that I learnt something. But no matter everything that I had tried to do, it ended up that none of it mattered. The next time I went to the Library, the Librarian wouldn’t pay me any notice. There was something hollow about his silence.
A boy that sometimes showed up to play with me and the Keeper waited for me outside the Library, when I forced myself to leave half an hour later. “Did you wanna play?” he asked.
We never played outside of the chamber. He had never asked. For some reason, it felt strange. “I have to go home,” I told him.
He grabbed my sleeve. “Please, can we play for a little bit? The park, just five minutes?”
That didn’t seem much like play at all.
It was some sort of ritual. Music played and the beasts would dance around a big pointy rock. Other people had told him this was strange, but as he had seen it every night he sneaked out to look in the woods all he knew was that he didn’t know why.
He had tried to ask in the past, but breaking into the circle made everyone scatter. He mentioned it at school. No one disbelieved him, but no one else had seen it.
“Maybe you’re going about it wrong,” she said as they ate lunch in the cafeteria.
“I have to be,” he replied, “or else I’d know by now.”
“No, I mean maybe you shouldn’t ask.”
He rolled his eyes. “You sound like my mom.”
She poked him. He flinched. “No, silly! Dance with them. They’re all dancing, right? Then they won’t run away.”
It was a good plan. They agreed to go out that very night.
The young woman settled at the table with the volume she wanted to read, while the Keeper and I returned to our pocket pets. I tried to distract them with other conversation, so they wouldn’t spend as much time with the new devices. Keep them new for as long as possible.
Then, after my hour was up, I would say my farewells and ascend the steps once more. Sixty seven steps upward to take with my eyes closed. I waited at the top of the stairs, hands against the separation between the passageway and the Library. I was right on time. The Librarian opened the way in only a minute and I stepped out, back to pretending I was searching for another book. I picked one up soon after (I had decided upon it the last time I was here) and meandered my way to the front to check out.
I did not see the Official. My way home went without event.
Come one, come all! To the breathless
excitement brought to you by those above!
Listen to the sounds, from music to crowd,
elation crystallized within your very
being. Can you hear the music? Can you hear the
rabble? It’s a conglomeration of everything, of
all the success we have wrought. Success you might
try to comprehend, only try. But no worries, we take care of
everything for you. Come one, come all! We say so.
“I wish she would be sent somewhere else,” I couldn’t help but gripe. “It’s not like others aren’t sent off to do things all the time.”
“It depends on what the person’s role is,” the young woman told me. “The Official watches over this sector. We aren’t to be rid of her unless we begin to be rid of the entire establishment.”
Those words made me feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t the only one, because I could hear the old man cough from where he was sitting. Our conversation hadn’t been all that quiet. The Keeper said nothing.
Like that, the young woman dropped the subject. She ran her hands over the top of the tome, the hard look in her eyes fading into the same sort of monotonous dread that the rest of us knew all too well.
It was not the first time someone had said something of that nature. It always ended this way, with nothing coming of it. No one here knew what to do, even if we felt as though we had the courage to try. I certainly did not. I’d never had that sort of courage. I had spent it all in keeping the secrets of the magicians around me. I spent it for the Keeper, as it didn’t matter if they had courage or not. They would live here, out of sight, as long as this lasted.
Their father would live, in full sight of everyone but them, as long as this lasted. And there was nothing they could do about that.
When he had the new hand made, he hadn’t expected there to be a terrible problem with it. If it stopped functioning, well. That was one thing. He had been without his left hand before.
Spasming around his neck was a very different problem.
“What are you doing?” his assistant asked.
He gestured with his flesh hand as if it were obvious. His assistant frowned and came over to him. In no rush. If he wasn’t losing oxygen, he would have fired the man.
“Interesting.” His assistant reached up and managed to deactivate it.
He gasped for air as it went limp and then rigid. Thankfully no longer around his windpipe.
“Were you rubbing your neck beforehand, or was it magnetically drawn to your throat?” his assistant continued.
He glared. “It’s an artificial hand, not arm,” he rasped. “There must be some sort of bug. Prepare the table, I’m getting this off now.”
The Keeper reluctantly let go of their pocket pets long enough to scramble up one of the ladders and grab a sheaf of papers, bound in ruby leather. They dropped it down into the young woman’s hands. She caught them, though the suddenness of it obviously startled her. “Thank you.”
“I thought you were going to be here sooner.” The Keeper almost sounded accusatory, but they might have been. The Keeper was very adamant that their time not be wasted, whether it was waiting for someone to show up or how they spent their time within the Keeper’s presence. Keeping the Keeper happy was each of our prerogatives.
Even if the Keeper’s prerogative should have been the same toward every person who entered this place, in case of coming across someone with a bad enough temper that they would take a perceived slight out on the entire Library.
The young woman’s lips turned down. “The Official was in the cooking section. I didn’t feel like being obvious about my escape.”
None of us liked talking about the Official, for good reason. The Keeper had never even met the woman. They never would, because the moment they did would mean the end of everything. The end of this library. The end of their father. The end of them.
Finally, the ends
In a breath of light
Needs outweigh the desires
Ire burning bright
Screams on the pyre
Hopeless accomplishment mends
The sound of the passageway being accessed caused as much heart failure as it did anything else. Even while knowing the sound would be different if it was someone the Librarian hadn’t let in himself, the sound always made me panic. If for some reason someone came in who might let the regime know what lay down here… I wondered if the old man thought that about me – some child who showed up here so often. Did he think I was trustworthy?
Were all of us waiting for the other to break?
I recognized the woman who entered. She had the odd habit of touching her forehead in greeting, even if she didn’t say a word to the person. I watched as she went through the motions toward the old man, myself and the Keeper. I instinctively returned the gesture, as if that was how one was to respond.
The Keeper merely waved her over. “I found the volume you were looking for.”
The young woman joined us.
It was the tones of the clock striking three that made the house creak.
Padma held her breath and waited. The first tone came slowly. The house groaned, then fell silent. She had run out of time. She started running for the door.
The second tone sounded louder, but it had to be because the grandfather clock was down on the first floor. Padma tripped at the bend of the staircase. Grabbing onto the railing, it broke (as she knew it would) and she fell down to the living room.
Padma felt more than heard the third tone. Three o’clock. She struggled to her feet and glanced over to the entryway. She could still make it out. She had to.
Then she heard the sound of the piano. The laughter. She slammed against the front door, opened it, and closed it behind her.
She was safe. Somehow. Padma listened, but heard nothing from within the house. Then she ran away as fast as possible.