01 Aug 2012 2 Comments
Some libraries are tame.
This is not one of those libraries.
Do not wander here.
Not all those who wander are lost & not all those who are lost are wandering.
“Welcome to the Library. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“What do you do here?” she asked.
“We take care of the books and find the ones our visitors most need.”
A stone corridor lead to the high wooden desk. The middle-aged man peered down at the teenager standing before him. Tangled hair fell down her back in a mess of waves and braids. Jeans and a men’s dress shirt covered lanky limbs that had missed too many meals. A messenger bag patched with duck-tape and a coat that looked as worn as the girl before him hung from one arm. It was her eyes that drew him away from the tattooed forearms and small rings that filled each ear. They were old, the eyes of a person who lived through centuries of pain and yet somehow was still moving.
“What do you need?” he asked, watching the tense shoulder and nervous hands, now twisting a button, now pulling a strand of hair.
“Need? Nothing.” she said suspiciously.
“Everyone needs something, no matter how small it may be.”
“What I need, old man, is a few hours sleep. Can you give me that?” she asked with a brittle laugh.
“Sleep? No, I cannot give you that. However I can give you a quiet corner with a good book for the day. The sleep you will have to find for yourself.” he said with a sad smile. “This way.” he said as he left the desk and opened a door hidden to one side.
Stretching she pulled herself upright, sleeping on a desk was not the best idea.
The librarian had shown her to a table in the back of the library, a small desk lamp the only light. She collapsed into the old leather chair and looked up to thank the man but he was already gone. Setting down her bag on the table she pulled on her jacket as her eyes roved the titles before her. Most were in languages she did not speak. Pulling her bag closer she released a breath and was asleep before she could inhale.
Waking, nothing had changed, the rows of shelves still sat on either side of her, the vanilla scent of old paper filling her lungs. The only light came from the small lamp on the table, the rest of the row was dark. Scrubbing a hand through her tangled hair she gathered her things.
There it was again, the sound that had woken her, a rustling whisper of paper in the wind. The air hung around her dead and heavy.
“Librarian? Is that you?” Walking to the end of the row, she looked left and right. The rows of books seemed to go on forever in the dark, their tops disappearing into the gloom.
“Trees…” she murmured as the rustling sounded again. It sounded like wind rushing through leaves. “Maybe someone left a window open.”
The library sat deep in the underground. As the new buildings and cities soared above it, the library was left in shadow. Eventually it became part of the underground, hidden from those who had the money to afford the sky rails and hover cars. Those below were the forgotten, those who could not afford the fees to have an ID, those who were thrown away with the trash from the city above.
Underground was a rough and dangerous place, but it was her home. She had been born in the Sky but came to the Underground as an orphan when her mother’s family refused to take her in. She had no memories of the glittering city above or her mother. The only mother she remembered was the grey and worn caretaker who had made sure the children got two meals a day and had something clean to wear. The rest of their day-to-day lives was forged on their own. Most joined the gangs that ran the streets stealing what they could. She had not, staying with the rough kids only long enough to learn to fight before heading off on her own. People here had little enough to live on without worrying about it being stolen. She ran deliveries for people and did odd jobs. The building she had been staying in had flooded last week, heck, the entire section had flooded, which killed both her home and her job in one quick swoop. Now she had to start over.
She had spent the last week bouncing around trying to find a place to sleep. The few places she found she could not afford, the rest were packed with others that the flood had displaced. Her stomach rumbled reminding her that she had not been able to afford food yesterday. She would have to find a job today, if she could manage to find her way out of the stupid library.
She huffed and kept walking trailing her fingers across the spines of the books. Books were things only the wealthy would buy, real books at least. Now all information was on the net, long as you had a plug you could access anything. Most Sky folks got plugs installed soon after birth. Even some people in the underground had them. They were the information brokers. Have a question? Wonderful, what is the answer worth to you? Everything had a price after all.
She was sure there was useful knowledge here in the books surrounding her but she had no way of knowing what she would be able to sell and no one underground would buy a book. Everything in the underground revolved around the trade. I help you, you owe me.
The librarian had let her stay so she owed him. She would have to see what he needed from her. No one ever without a price, she had just been too tired to care what that price was last night. Now the librarian had an open favor. He could ask for anything and she would be expected to pay.
Again the rustling began. Turning in place she tried to see through the gloom.
Suddenly it hit her, wind so strong it tried to pluck her off her feet and fling her in the air. Twisting she fell and was pushed along by the wind like a piece of paper. Just as quick as it came it was gone, she was left in a circular room with a wide arched door to one side, flung open by the wind. Piles of loose paper and settling dust-covered the floor, a slim red volume lay next to her, scuffed and grimed as she was. Pulling herself upright she sat there on the stone floor getting her breath back. For a moment she had thought that hands were pulling her down the hall but that was impossible, there had only been the wind.
Dusting herself off she picked up the book as she climbed to her feet. In faded gold lettering it proclaimed, “Ask the right questions.”.
“Questions? What questions…” she muttered flipping through the book. With a shudder the book leapt from her hands and hovered before her, ruffling though it’s pages, it stopped suddenly, golden ink blossoming along the page.
“What do you Seek?”
“I want to find the Librarian and go home.” she said, swallowing. Magic was iffy in the underground. It abhorred technology and only those who lived without it would get the occasional sprite or hob to deal with. Most of the time magical wishes backfired and golden treasures crumbled to dust. She wanted to keep her eyebrows thank you very much.
“Where is home?” she read.
“No where, underground. I need to get outside the library.”
“What do you seek?”
“I already told you what I seek! I want to find the Librarian so I can repay him and get out of here!”
The book remained silent, hovering before her. “Ask the right questions, Argh!”
“Can you tell me how to find the way out?” Nothing.
“Where can I find the librarian?”
“Through the door.” the book wrote out. With a snap the book closed and dropped to the floor. She looked up at the massive wooden door across from her. With a sigh she gingerly picked up the small book and put it in her bag. At this rate she might need it later.