“How do they play together?” the Keeper demanded of me.
I murmured a quick thanks for the conversation before moving myself closer to the Keeper. We spent half an hour with the devices. This would hopefully keep the Keeper occupied, on and off, for the next several days. Weeks. Months. However long it would be.
“What did you do during school today?” the Keeper went on to ask.
I answered the question with as much detail as I could muster. I wasn’t fond of school, especially now. However, it was unfair to keep it from the Keeper, who obviously craved for that time. We moved away from the table in the centre of the chamber (remembering to take my bag) to the corner of the room where the Keeper kept all of their belongings. Shelving which had been emptied from the books which remained in here to in turn be filled with the trinkets from life before and the life during. As always, I could see each of the gifts I had brought them in the forefront. The newer, the more accessible.
“What did you bring today?”
I should not have jumped. I knew we were not alone. The older man sat where he always sat, in the corner. I could see the magic on him. A part of me found it to be show-offish, but I knew this was the only place left he could do that. Let the magic shimmer over his hands, leaving trails through the air as he moved his fingers. It may have been a display, but it was a display for himself.
“Those little electronic pocket pets,” I told him. “From back before they had more than black pixels. Back before they had all of those online capabilities.”
The old man chuckled. “I remember those! Four of them, too? That couldn’t have been cheap.”
I glowered, but thankfully the Keeper did not seem to be listening to us, focused in on their latest presents.
“I brought you something!”
The Keeper looked at me with hunger, something I never used to see on their face, but now hardly saw them without. I moved over to the large table in the middle of the chamber. The surface was strewn with the tomes of this hidden place, of the tools of their and their father’s trade, shut away here out of sight. Much like the Keeper.
There was some empty space, plenty of it, across the long end which faced the only way in and out to the library. I set my bag down there, pulling out the pocket pets.
The Keeper’s eyes went round. “You know you’re not supposed to bring electronics in here.” Their voice remained rife with desire.
I shot them a smile. “It’s old. It doesn’t have all of those hook ups. The only things it connects to,” I pulled a couple others out of my bag, putting all but one on the table, “are others which press up against these sensors here.” I tapped at the top of the small device. “Your dad gave me the go ahead, I asked to make sure. These ones are yours.”
They leaped upon the devices, examining them with relish. I sat down, keeping explanations to myself. After all, the longer it took them to figure it out, the more they had to do.
“What took you so long?” The Keeper spoke with impatience. I never used to hear that from them, but now it had become more common.
“I had school.”
With those words, I felt freer. Free, trapped within this place. I tried to hide those feelings, because I knew how the Keeper would feel about them. But here, I could say anything and it would be all right.
The Keeper would always be able to say what they wanted, because of this place. The corner of their lips twitched down, then up. They folded their arms in front of their chest. “Oh, right. It’s Monday, isn’t it?”
“Tuesday,” I corrected. “We didn’t have school yesterday.”
“I miss school.”
I wasn’t surprised. I did think it better to change subject.
I followed the Librarian through the shelves. I didn’t watch him when we arrived at the space between two of the tallest bookshelves. I had seen it many times before. I looked at the bookshelves as the opening appeared. I felt relaxed as he gently shoved me through the opening, which disappeared behind me with the rest of the library.
I walked down the stairs, trusting in my familiarity with the space between the steps more than anything else. There were sixty seven steps, all in complete darkness. I had done this often enough I could feel the hum surrounding me.
Warning those below someone was coming.
When vision returned, I was in the chamber. The entrance was behind me, a hole within the walls of bookshelves. It looked like an extension of the library. Once, it had been.
The Librarian was a mountain. I had never known a larger person in my life. With wide shoulders and arms like mountain roots, none of the books were beyond his grasp. Occasionally he stood on a small step stool to reach the very top of the shelves for dusting. The stool always creaked and everyone always stepped away from it. I didn’t worry about him falling. If the stool broke, the Librarian wouldn’t fall. He just couldn’t reach the top of the shelves.
“Did you want to see my new pocket pet?” I asked him.
He shifted and looked down at me, silent as ever. I pulled the one I had in my pocket out to show him. It rested in his palm, completely engulfed.
“I bought four of them,” I continued.
This told him everything. Things I couldn’t say out loud, that I wouldn’t say out loud. He nodded and returned it to me.
I was ready. “What do you recommend today?”
I did the same thing I always did: return the books I had checked out. I trundled over to the main desk, only really approaching when it was the Librarian. None of his assistants meant anything to me. I didn’t know them well enough. They had to know who I was, I came to the library almost every day. One of the women there smiled at me. Occasionally I smiled back, unable to help myself. Still, I never approached until the Librarian stepped behind the counter.
I pushed my books forward, as well as my library card. One by one, the Librarian swiftly entered each one into the system, filing them somewhere under the counter where I couldn’t see the rest of the process. He returned my card. I felt the thrum of the plastic as I only ever did when he returned it to me. Shifting the strap of my bag on my shoulder, I began to peruse the shelves again.
An hour later found me in the small section of foreign language books that still remained. There had been many more, once. Books in other languages, rather than books about them. I read these books anyway. I didn’t know another language, though I knew a lot about them. Now the section was encroached upon by history books and the culture of our state. The latter had become a much larger section than it needed to be. I wondered how many different ways one could read about a single subject without reiterating the same facts. I still occasionally checked one out. Just in case. It would look good on my record, alongside my variety.
While I stood there, pulling out random books, the Librarian eventually moved beside me.
Much like the other common folk, I made sure not to bring any undue attention to myself when I went to enter the Vault. Just another reader, another student, another well-behaved member of society. No one for the Official to notice.
This is part of the reason I stopped writing in my diary. Why I burned everything I had written before. No one could know what I did on my own days off. No one would ever find out what actually happened here. I would not be the one to betray what little we could keep. Even if it means I can’t write about the Keeper anymore, or their father, the Librarian.
Our names are unimportant.
I was always aware of the irony – wishing a government official was actually less well read. People always said reading helps you open the mind.
This is why she always worried her well-loved government might one day destroy her well-loved library. The days she had off she spent hours of within the walls, reading every single book she could pull off the shelves. And many more she couldn’t. She asked the Librarian to do that for her. He was as tall as a mountain. None of the books were beyond his grasp. Every single novel he handed to her made her eyes sparkle. It’s hard to imagine a woman like her is actually so stupid as to blindly follow the government.
This was why she was in the library, every single day. To read all of the books before her government destroyed it.