In a Half-Lit Library

The lights stopped half-way through the 300s.  And so did my feet.  Beyond the toes of my brown loafers, the carpet disappeared and looming bookcases spread unfinished geometric shadows across my path.  In the rows themselves, the darkness grew deeper the longer the row.  Did I want to risk the darkness just to get a third book?

I turned around and walked toward the exit, trying not to think about the rumored stalker that roamed the stacks last semester–trying not to revise the tagline for Alien into “On the second floor, no one can hear you scream.”  As I reached the doors, I looked back at the desolate corner where my third book lay and was surprised to see a light on the far corner.  Perhaps if I followed the path from the fully lit 200s to the one spot of light in the 600s, I could make it to the 800s.  I dismissed the rumors and the misgivings with a quick prayer and set off for the 800s.

I reached the 600s safely, walking through the section of study tables instead of passing the bookcases themselves.  Turning to the 800s, I avoided the fake tree and bulky filing cabinet and reached the patch of light.  To my dismay, I found the bookshelves illuminated by the last bit of light were by American authors instead of British authors.  There is little in life more disappointing than expecting to find C. S. Lewis and being confronted by William Dean Howells.  But I had no choice.  I could not roam the dark rows searching for G. K. Chesterton or Elizabeth Goudge.  My flashlight was back in my dorm room and a cell phone light only lasts 7 seconds.  I walked down the entire row of American authors, trying to pick one I don’t read often.  I hastily decided on Faulkner and retraced my steps across the darkness.

My anxieties were retreating like a tide going out.  I had met no one–sinister or otherwise.  I began to imagine the fictional characters sliding out of the tightly packed shelves, taking form, and walking in the darkness of the library.  They would emerge like unassuming lords of a dusty castle, silent and watchful.  They would wander the rows of books like they would wander the English rose gardens in the summer, or the deck of a maritime vessel, or the dark jungles of 19th century Africa.

I stepped across the border of light and darkness and saw another student enter the second floor.  The library looked normal again as the student plugged in his computer and sat down to study.  I smiled in greeting and walked past.  Stopping at the door, I looked back to the corner where the 800s met the 900s.  And for a moment, I could almost see the characters standing in the rows, spilling out among the tables.  Who they were I do not know–the darkness covered their faces as they stood and watched me leave.  But I will be back to the second floor in two weeks.  I will select a book from the corner of the 800s and 900s and meet some of them in person.

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