Hi guys! I thought it was time again for a new short story. I don’t know what it is that is lately happening to my writing, but everything that I write seems to turn out as these dark, surrealistic stories… I’ve definitely been studying and reading too much Modernism this year! Bleh.
Oh yes, if you have read this little guy on my Goodreads shelf, you might recognize the title of the story. And maybe the end as well. And if you have read one of my all-time favourite Agatha Christie stories, Sleeping Murder, then you might just recognize the… claws…
Anyhow, I’m talking too much and not getting round to the story. Here you go! Hope you enjoy it and leave a comment to tell me what you thought!
All copyrights belong to original artist, Laurent Ménabé.
The library was deathly quiet at this time of the evening. There were no other people, no other movements – only me… and the little noises. Just the little noises to break the dusty, deathly silence. You think I’m hearing the creaks from the bookshelves’ wood cooling down after the heat of the day? Let me tell you that this is not so. The noises do not come from the bookshelves, but I do not know where they come from. Sometimes it sounds like creaking and sometimes like rattling, and sometimes they seem to come from just about anywhere and sometimes they seem to come from overhead.
Outside, the golden light of the westering sun fell in standing pillars through the limbs of the trees. They were ancient trees with heavy, knotted trunks and twisted boughs which formed a canopy high overhead. As the light fell through them, the leaves glowed and sparkled: mostly green and brown, but also with hints of red, gold and silver.
Over the great double-volume main hall of the library, a glass dome stretched. It was inlaid with delicately carved frames of metal and panels of different coloured glass. The evening light also fell through this skylight and drew mandalas of coloured light all over the ground floor of the library. I stood on one of the first-floor balconies, looking down at the floor below. Then I saw another speck of light dancing in front of my eyes. I blinked and it shimmied off to one side. I squinted and tried to focus as it flickered closer to my nose again. It was a firefly – a little glowing ball of light with wings attached. When I opened my eyes after having blinked again, it was gone – this time for good. I sighed and turned back to the bookshelves behind me.
I picked up my bag and started walking through the shelves. It was narrow and dingy in there and the shelves were absolutely stuffed with books. The spines bristled like that of so many hedgehogs.
I was heading for the English Literature shelf. Which was right at the very back, of course. Right at the very back, where the lights were faulty and the little noises intensified in volume in the stillness. When I reached the correct shelf I started to browse down it, running my fingers along the dusty spines of the books.
Directly behind my back, the creaking noise started up. I thought it came from both behind my back and overhead at the same time. I spun round and looked up, but I didn’t see anything. Shrugging, I turned back to my shelf and then spotted the book I was looking for. As I dropped my bag and pulled the book out of the shelf, the overhead light started flickering and the creaking redoubled. This time it was definitely overhead. There was a sound as if someone was filling a paper bag with gravel and shaking it very hard. With the book in my hands, I looked up again and this time I saw a light bobbing across the ceiling.
It was a firefly again, though if it was the same one as previously I could not possibly tell. It was bobbing close to the base of that flickering lamp and by its light I could actually see the base of the lamp for the first time. The lamp was partly pulling out of the ceiling, leaving gaping holes around the base where the screws had torn out of the compressed wood. By the light of the firefly, I could just see inside one of these holes. There was a faint movement in there and I could see the edge of a shadowy shape that was just illuminated by the firefly. The shape was indistinct and at first it drew back out of the tiny circle of light, then it seemed to make up its mind and approached the hole.
All this time I had been standing with the dusty old book in my hands, staring upwards at the hole in cold, frozen horror. I don’t think I would have been able to make myself move at that moment, even if I had thought about it. My brain was so occupied with trying to keep my imagination – which had leapt into overdrive as soon as it saw that firefly – under control that it had basically shut down all other functions, including breathing.
I stared at the approaching shape; I watched it grow distinct. I saw it become a pinkish-grey, hairless paw. I saw its digits curl into spastic claws. I saw it trying to squeeze through the hole in the ceiling, felt my legs finally regain the power and I ran. I dropped the dusty old book and heard it clatter on the floor behind me as I scooped up my bag and took off.
I flew out from between the shelves, through the – suddenly very quiet – library and clattered down the stairs. I raced across the dark main hall and wrenched open the great entrance doors. And moonlight spilled into the library.
During my time inside it had grown dark and the stars glittered and flickered in the sky – like little fireflies. The cool night air washed over me and calmed my racing heart. But then I looked down at the trees – those beautiful trees of this evening – and saw, to my horror, that they had grown faces. Huge, knobbly faces, with shadows dancing between them. And their branches creaked like that sound inside the library and their leaves whispered in the wind. Once again I stood frozen in horror – caught between the horror inside and the horror outside.
That was when I knew I was having a nightmare. And all I wanted to do was wake up. But the problem with this nightmare was that it was reality. The world was the nightmare and the nightmare was the world. And I was wide awake – there was no waking up from this. As I stood there, cornered on the steps of the library, I knew that I had to face at least one of these horrors to find escape. I could go back inside and face the horrible claws. Or I could get off these steps and face the horrors of the dark night. But I could not make myself move. I could not face up to these horrors and so escape from them.
I was in reality and reality was a nightmare. I could not overcome it. I remained on the dark steps.