The library isn’t real. 

It exists, of course. That much is indisputable. But it is not real. 

That doesn’t bother you overmuch. Neither are you. 

The stacks are dark tonight, in the library which is not real and thus can contain neither stacks nor darkness, and you hold your lantern higher than you usually would, the light catching the glittering edges of books bound so long ago and far away that the materials used are lost to almost all knowledge. 

Not yours, of course. You know what they are, as well as you know that your lantern is not a lantern, but merely the light that has to exist if the darkness does, because how else would you see your way? (You could always decide that the stacks weren’t dark, of course, but the library tends to react badly to that kind of meddling. It has a very strong sense of internal narrative consistency, and you’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to let it alone when it comes to that kind of thing). 

The light from your lantern (and, for the moment, it is a lantern. It fits the aesthetic you prefer to cultivate, and the library allows it for that reason, even if it would otherwise abhor the pseudo-flame so close to the books) pools around you, a small sphere of glowing orange bobbing down the cavernous spaces between the shelves like a leaf caught in a current. Above you, the pages rustle gently in the warm, welcoming dark, as though whispering to each other in a language even you can’t quite translate. 

This is normal. Or, at least, as normal as anything in the library ever is. Familiar. Comforting. Homely, perhaps, if that was a concept which made much sense to you. 

Ahead of you, something makes a sound which is none of these things. 

You stop. Consider. 

It was a very small sound. It’s possible that, if you ignore it, the library will reassert normality around you, and the sound (and its originator) will go away, filed back into… wherever the library files things that it deems inappropriate or untidy. 

That would be the easiest thing to do. 

But, then again, it has been a very long time since something like this happened last. And you are the librarian. That ought to come with some rights and privileges. 

And besides, of all the sounds that something that shouldn’t be in the library could be making, ‘Help me’ is definitely one of the most intriguing.

Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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