What is happening is wrong, make no mistake. I watched the Official the other day, hovering around what was once the entrance to the Vault. Whether or not she had been suspicious of the spot, I couldn’t tell. I did my best to stay away from her. But now it didn’t matter either. She could be as suspicious as she wanted, there would be nothing to find.
So magic remains hidden here. I wonder often about that old man, where he could go now to still be a magician. The young woman, who had continued her studies despite how life has become. The young boy, without a place in order to harness his power, might be discovered by someone if he doesn’t learn how to conceal it. The Librarian, without his child, without the rest of his Library, forever sealed away.
I am the only one who hadn’t lost anything like that. I don’t have any magic.
I am the only one who only lost the Keeper.
No one could know anything was different. Whatever reason the Keeper had, I would not endanger the Librarian by letting anyone know that something had happened. I returned to the library to spend all of my time there as I usually did.
I couldn’t cry. Even more than that, I couldn’t lash out when I saw the Official. Not that I could. She terrified me.
And that would be it, wouldn’t it? Because of fear trapping us, the Keeper is gone. Because of trying to stay safe, they are just as dead as they would have been had the Official found them. Our own fear is just as dangerous as the actual violence that the state threatens upon us. There is no going around this. It was a hard lesson to learn.
To make something of this lesson? Even harder. Despite knowing what has been sacrificed in order to learn this, that doesn’t make the fear go away. Knowing better actually might make it worse.
I wondered why they did it. Why now. I sat down on the swing next to the boy, our tears as silent as each other’s. All I could think about was our last conversations. Was it the talk about the Official? The mention of doing something? Something that none of us could do? All the power they had left, with all of the power contained within their magic, seemed to be the power to make sure their father wasn’t caught harbouring magicians and their tomes.
Or was it that? Was it the slow drain of their very being, caused by their incarceration, necessitated for their own safety. From the fear of what would happen if they were discovered.
The boy eventually left. I tried to make it so it didn’t look like I had been crying when I finally went home. I would have to do this for many months.
My thoughts filled with the Keeper. Only them. “But what about them?”
The boy still didn’t look at me, but as he wiped his face with his sleeve I knew the answer. Why we couldn’t go together. Why no one could go anymore.
The Keeper had closed the way. No one to get in or out. Not even them.
I wondered if they were still playing their pocket pet, or if it was already too late. The Librarian’s avoidance seemed to be my memory causing me direct pain. Of course it was. If it wasn’t…
No, if the Keeper closed the way, there would be nothing the Librarian could do. This I was certain of. He wouldn’t have let them do that. All I could imagine was that it happened while the Official was there, because he would have stopped them otherwise. With the Official there… a death sentence, not only for the Keeper, but for everyone. For the library. For the tomes that the Keeper sealed.
I followed him to the park, hearing him sniffle without seeing it. When I thought about it, his eyes had looked rather red.
We arrived at the park before too long and he ran over to the abandoned, swing set, jumping onto one of the seats and letting the motion carry him back and forth. “We can’t go together anymore.”
His words made no sense. “What?”
“No one can go anymore. It’s closed off.”
I stared at him, understanding not nearing as one might think it would. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“They closed everything off.” His words came closer to home and I suddenly realized what he might be referring to. “So we can’t go together anymore.”
The Librarian’s hollow eyes.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.