Shadows in the Night
Shadows in the Night
Except for the rhythmic ticking of the clock and the occasional dry rustling of pages being turned there were no sounds intruding on the stealthy silence of the old Library. Only the clock perched solidly on the wall behind the checkout counter seemed alive. Round with black trim and white face the ancient Seth Thomas reminded her of those found in old television shows such as the ‘Twilight Zone,’ in schoolhouses, and in hospitals. Quite without personality they sat on their perches along the walls,
In the Library, the bookcases rose to meet the ceiling in row after endless row. Books, some leather bound, more cloth bound, and numerous paperbacked, sat gathering dust. Cloaked in shadow they cast eerie illusions across the wooden floor as though dancing in the flickering lamplight. Neighborly books about cooking, fiction, and personal history, beckoned unseen hands to take them from their mantle, to pluck their information home. Scholarly books sucked in hearty guts stuffed with historical facts while the elegant classics enticed invisible fingers to open and savor them like a fine rare wine. More somber books shrouded in mystery, merely whispered in the back aisles. Each volume radiated the secrets of their inner selves, eager to disgorge a rich repast to everyone who dared to open them.
Air circulating through the ventilation shafts ushered forth ghostly footfalls, pausing now and then as though selecting a well-worn friend from a shelf before moving onward. In her mind’s eye, Sarah could almost see the fingers trailing over the bindings of old friends, hear the grating churning of the book cart wheels traveling up and down the aisles. She cringed at the scratching, scraping noises of texts being shoved gently back into their proper places by some long forgotten Librarian.
It was on nights like these when the library was virtually silent that she vehemently hated the old place. For on nights like these there was nothing but the engulfing, smothering silence and a sense of waiting. Other nights the library bustled with activity. People returned books and exchanged them for others, paid fines, or discussed the newest acquisitions. But nights like these where no one came brought a whole new atmosphere to the hundred-year-old building. It was as though the library demanded a special calling card for entry.
It wasn’t the solitude that bothered Sarah. Solitude she loved, rather, it was the sense of waiting for some ancient, forbidden desire. A sense of anticipation stole through the building on these nights, anticipation of new acquisitions or some such encounter. Waiting and waiting and waiting, growing jumpier with each passing minute and hour. This feeling of uneasy anticipation giving way to the thudding of her heart and an irresistible urge to look over her shoulder each time she left her chair behind the counter.
An urge she couldn’t quite dispel no matter how many times she secured the window latches or lifted the receiver, listening for the harsh buzzing of the dial tone telling her the telephone was still in operation. On nights like these the library didn’t seem the friend she had always felt it to be with its icy tendril rows opening into vast rifts, creeping forward toward the warm circle of light. She couldn’t will herself to move beyond the sanctity of light. Couldn’t make her feet take her back into the dark confines of the encroaching bookcases and aisles, into the shifting shadows.
Shivering, Sarah, aged fifty-nine, picked up the book and tried to read. It was a gothic romance novel fraught with horror, madmen painters, fortune seekers, witches and fires on lakes. Ten minutes had passed before she realized she had been reading the same page over and over again; the words were swimming before her eyes.
She sat with her back to the wall where the clock perched. Sat and stared at the wooden floor until the boards become a wriggling mass of worms inching their way forward. Slowly she rotated her chair to span the length of the lobby. With searching eyes, she glanced at the unused furniture.
Her gaze went to the un-trod wooden floors glistening from a fresh waxing earlier in the day, to the wood stairs making her way upward into the inner regions of the building and darkness. She looked upward to where the shadows grew together.
What noise had it been that called her attention up there? Had it been a fallen book? Or had it been a breeze that had entered through the ancient chimney? A breeze that ruffled papers someone had left behind.
Shaking her head she came to the realization that she was afraid. She feared something in the dark; in the shadows. And she felt silly.
Only children were scared of the dark. Only children felt the insane need to have every corner; every cranny was brightly lighted. Only children were afraid of things bumping and scraping in the night. Sarah was far from a child. She was an adult, a widow to be exact. A widow who lived alone in a big rambling house and still she was scared to leave the soft white glow of fluorescent lighting by her station.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. “Get a hold of yourself, Sarah. What would Jed say? There’s nothing to be afraid of in here. That’s what he’d say. Books are friends waiting to make friends of people.”
The air stunk of musty books and an old building. The library was an old worn building with rotting boards and a broken window somewhere on the second floor where no one ever goes. A chill ran down her spine as she felt the now familiar presence. A presence has often visited since the day Jed was buried, unseen, unheard, but there as on so many similar nights before. It insidiously worked on her subconscious, seeking, probing, reaching, and drawing her closer, bringing back childhood fears of being alone in a dark room.
How she wished, Jed was there. Good, kind, quiet Jed who had run the library before his death. Jed had always turned a quietly amused smile at her silly fears but never laughed at them. Chuckled, yes, but never laughed. Dear old Jed who was long buried in the town cemetery down on Morningside Drive. How she wished, she could feel the strength of his arms around her one more time.
“C’mon, Sarah,” Jed whispered.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Sarah. Come join me.”
Gasping, her eyes sprang open as her foot bumped against the step.
She was on the stair landing looking up into the black regions of the second floor.When had she left the safety of her chair? Her footsteps echoed sharply against the wood and mingled with Jed’s voice. Underneath it all was a shifting, rustling noise like parchment with a quill tip moving over it.
“Who’s there?” Her voice cracked, nearly inaudible and high. Clearing her throat, she tried again.
“Who’s there? Lester Naughton, is that you again?”
White hands gripped the polished banister, she slowly, reluctantly, hauled herself upward one step at a time, pausing often to crook her head and listen. Listen to what? Was she listening for the childish laughter of an eleven-year-old boy as he careened around the corner and down the stairs nearly bowling her over? Or was she trying to hear the quiet chuckling of her late husband, or the ghostly pattering of library patrons long dead?
Rounding the corner at the top of the stairs she noticed the rustling sound had stopped. Only the faint, rhythmic ticking of the clock below could be heard and her ragged gasps for air.
Timidly stepping down a darkened aisle she came to an abrupt stop. A dark shape materialized at the far end of the hall. It was shaped like a man; yet, it had a fluidness that sent waves of ice down her spine.
Fear made her throat dry; her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. It made her heart hammer maddeningly in her chest; her palms were wet and cold. This same fear made her want to shut her eyes and scream.
A thin chuckle drifted around her head, buzzing past her ears. “Go away!” She cried, hands wildly chasing the voice around her head.
“Go away!” Abruptly the whispering voice stopped.
Tears streamed down her sunken cheeks; Sarah dared to peek from behind her fingers and looked down the aisle. Her brown eyes snapped open.
The aisle was empty and silent with only the books beckoning her forward. There were no shadows waiting for her, no Jed’s voice speaking from the grave.
Relief flooded her; she raced to the end and slapped her palms against the wall. There was nothing there. The books and the vacant library and the boredom and the darkness had played a trick on her foolish mind.
She slumped against the cool wooden planks of the wall. She could almost hear Jed saying, “Now see, what did I tell you? It was nothing to be afraid of. It was nothing.”
“Nothing,” she muttered, tilting her head against the wall. With infinite slowness, she slumped to the floor, legs stretched out to form two sections of a triangle.
The sound of her laughter sounded odd in the vacant library. Laughing loud and hard, tears stinging her eyes, a thin, blue-veined hand reached up to wipe the salty water away. Eyes closed; she rested, taking deep breaths to calm her. A feeling of complete foolishness crept into the pit of her stomach, tickling as it sauntered its way up her body to escape in a fit of uncontrolled giggling from her lips.
Her hands pressed against the solid floor and prepared to push her thin body up. Her eyes darted from the aisle to the floor, shifting back and forth. She stared back down the aisle toward the stairs.
There was nothing to frighten an old lady. The library held hundreds and hundreds of books waiting for eager hands to open them. They were books of all kinds just waiting to become someone’s dead friend.
Out of the peripherals of her vision, she caught a movement down the opposite aisle. Turning her head, eyes bugging, she opened her mouth to scream. The shadow Jed reached to draw her into welcoming arms, pressing her to his chest until finally, all that remained were the shadows of the night.
The only thing out of place in the library were the books of Jed and Sarah peeking down some innocent shelf waiting for new friends to come along in the shadows of the night.
Copyright © FM Burgett 2015
All rights reserved.
The right of FM Burgett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 First published as an e-Book by FM Burgett US Edition. All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental
Burgett, FM (2015-03-01). Shadows in the Night. FM Burgett. E-book Edition.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
Shadows in the Night is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Loved this. Working in a fairly old library myself, I know the feeling in those aisles in apparent desertedness quite well. This is a wonderful tale.