07 Sep The Night Library
“The Night Library”Written by Kyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 11 minutes
The downtown library was always a comfort to me as a young schoolboy.
Often getting picked on by bullies, I would hide away in the recesses of the stories I found there, imagining a lifetime of adventures I could never have.
Perhaps my favorite collection of works was one that never left the building at all. It was a large leather-bound volume of children’s tales that was in the antique section of the archives, a place where most kids weren’t allowed to go. Mister Newscome, the Head Librarian, knew me well enough to let me back there because I never took anything without permission. Besides that, as I mentioned before, the book that I loved was actually chained down to one of the reading tables.
Mister Newscome told me the reason for this was because the book was very old, dating back to the late 15th century and one of a kind, so I never really questioned it. All I cared about was sitting down and reading the stories and just getting lost in the pages as I went on adventures in my mind over and over again.
Eventually, I got older, graduated and found myself in need of a job. I figured there would be no better place for me than interning at the library. I wanted to make books my life. They always kept me safe, and I felt at home when I was there, so it wasn’t really a question of if I would do it but when.
Getting the position was easy; Mister Newscome was up in years now and needed the help, and remembered me fondly.
I was told my job would be easy, simply restocking shelves and making sure no one made a mess. The library wasn’t terribly huge, so I didn’t think it would take much to do this.
On that very first day, my thoughts drifted back to my childhood escape in the archives, and I found myself wandering over there, just to be lost in a little bit of nostalgia.
As I touched the old copies of favorites on the shelves, my eyes wandered to the reading table where I would often read that one special book, and I felt a pain deep in my soul.
The book was gone.
All that was left was the rusted chain where it had once been held.
At the end of my shift, I asked my new manager about it. His response was exactly what I expected; someone had stolen the book a few years back.
Then he told me that he thought it was better that way, that the book was gone.
“How can you say that? I used to love those stories!” I told him.
There was something strange about that old children’s collection, he admitted. He didn’t know exactly what, but he always felt that it was not meant to be read at all.
The way he talked made it sound like the book was full of curses and magical spells, and it made me second guess what I had read all those years ago.
“Still, it’s a shame that it’s gone. If only there had been good security back then,” I told him.
The conversation actually reminded him of something important, and he asked me if I minded working as a guard for the library on a nightly basis instead of just being a stock clerk.
The hours wouldn’t be too great, but the pay would compensate for it. Plus, he knew that he could trust me with his merchandise.
I told him I would do it even though I was exhausted from my first shift. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Plus, it still made me so upset to imagine that my favorite childhood book was stolen. This gave me a chance to prevent other irreplaceable classics from being snatched as well, although I didn’t expect there to be any break-ins any time soon.
So when he locked up the building, I grabbed a few stray magazines to keep myself awake and watched the television in his office as a distraction.
Not long after he was gone, the automated lights shut off, and the library was engulfed in darkness. I’m not sure why, but the feeling of being isolated in such a wide space made my skin tingle. It felt odd.
Still, the library was quiet and peaceful, so much so that it was difficult to stay awake. After about two hours of forcing myself to try, I decided to get up and drink a little water. I figured running to the bathroom would help with the situation.
About halfway there, I heard this strange low noise. The kind that you might hear when a house settles in the middle of the night.
Except I had to remind myself this building wasn’t made with the same materials as a regular house, so it shouldn’t have made such strange sounds.
Immediately I got up and grabbed my smartphone to shine a light down one of the carpeted aisles. Nothing. It looked just as peaceful as it had before.
At first, I tried to ignore it. I just went back to archiving the old books and trying to put them away.
It was strange wandering the aisles in the dark and trying to find things. Everything that had once been familiar was strange to me.
About every ten minutes, the strange groaning would return, and it would get louder. It was coming from the antique treasury.
I thought about the collection that had been lost, and immediately started heading that way. Maybe it was another thief coming to steal a valuable manuscript. I didn’t have anything to defend myself with. I didn’t know what to do except that I had to protect these books.
I cautiously stepped into the room, using my tiny phone to illuminate the old leather bounds and paused as I saw the gleam of metal against the surface of one book.
Getting closer, I recognized the rusted chains and the table as being the same from my childhood, except that now suddenly, the book I cherished had returned.
In fact, it looked like it had never left at all.
How could that be? I knew I hadn’t seen it earlier in the day. Had I been in the wrong room?
I looked around again, second-guessing myself and feeling confused. Was it simply so late that my mind was playing tricks with me?
For some reason, Mister Newscome’s warning about the book popped into my mind as I touched its edges.
Was it possible this book could be affecting my thinking?
Impossible, I told myself as I slowly opened the pages. I would simply need to review just one story inside, and it would show that this was nothing more than a children’s classic.
I flipped through the volume and chose a tale at random.
The Midnight Shadow. One of my favorites. I remembered every detail as plainly as if time had never passed by.
The story was short and simple but also elegant and powerful. A young boy was running away from home trying to find a better life, only to be confronted by a dangerous creature that lurked in the darkness and discovered that the life he left behind was more promising than he realized.
For a young boy growing up, dreaming of adventure, it was a solid life lesson to discover sometimes the grass wasn’t always greener.
Just as I finished the story, I heard this strange rattling in the lobby and turned about sharply, worried that my initial suspicion of a thief was correct.
As I closed the book, I thought my eyes were playing tricks with me in the library aisles. The shadows looked like they were moving.
Slowly I stepped into the main auditorium, feeling suddenly uneasy in the same space that had once been my sanctuary. I felt I was being watched. Studied.
But I didn’t know by what just yet.
I moved toward the open children’s theater where readings often took place, telling myself it was just my lack of sleep and nerves.
That story had always been so scary for me growing up because in the end, the boy had to nearly die by the Midnight Shadow to learn his lesson.
And now, as I stood in the center of the empty library, I was sure that same creature was watching me in the darkness. I could see its eyes roaming the empty spaces of the dark, taunting me as though it was about to strike.
Was this a figment of my imagination, or had the story itself come to life?
I soon found out the answer as it stepped into the dim light and took form. It was at least twelve feet tall with gleaming claws and sprawling legs. It had a wide mouth like a hippo and made a sound like a screech owl. It was even more frightening than my imagination had ever made it. And it was real.
It moved toward me the way that a predator hunted its prey, sliding in between aisles to confuse me as I stumbled toward the front desk.
My mind was fumbling to recall in the story how the protagonist defeated this beast. It was a simple solution, but at the moment, being confronted by this thing, my mind was blank.
I pushed furniture aside and toppled over stacks of books to try and slow it down, but the shadow just kept coming undeterred. The only thing it cared to do was swallow me whole.
I don’t want to die. I have too many adventures I still want to go on, I thought to myself as I made it to the front desk and hid under the counter.
The massive creature swirled about like a storm cloud, bellowing and reverberating the air to try and draw me out with incessant and confusing noise.
I blocked it out and thought of the story.
The main protagonist ran until it was daytime, the creature drowning in the daylight.
And then I remembered that the library had a basement generator.
I waited for a few moments until the living shadow changed its tactics and began actively to search for me again; then when I knew the coast was clear, I made a run for it.
The basement was not far from where I was hiding, just a small set of stairs that led into an alcove directly below. I was fortunate that Mister Newscome hadn’t locked it. Once in the darkness below, I fumbled about on the wall to find the generator switch even as I heard the shadow getting closer.
As a living darkness, it could twist its forms to fit any place and easily sniffed me out below. Its gleaming eyes filled with anger as I hurried to find the switch. Its eyes opened, and I saw millions of stars twinkling.
Then at the last second, I found the generator and activated it.
Light flooded the basement and the rest of the library. Immediately the shadow dissolved, shrieking into the empty air as it was destroyed, and I caught my breath.
For a few moments, I wondered if what I had experienced was even real.
Then I heard a voice from above. Mister Newscome?
“You’re already here?” I asked in surprise as I came upstairs and saw the mess of the library. The shadow had made sure to make my job look like I was slacking off, especially because the night was apparently already over. My entire shift had passed by in mere moments.
I had experienced the story become reality, and it altered everything as a result.
Of course, the owner was curious about my explanation for the mess, and I wasn’t sure if he would even believe the tale, so before I responded, I went to the archives to check and see if the chained book was there.
Once again, it had vanished from sight.
It was then that I worked up the courage to explain the strange things that occurred while he was gone. Mister Newscome didn’t interrupt as I explained how the story had come to life and tried to harm me. In fact, when I was finished, he admitted that he wasn’t surprised to hear this would happen.
He reiterated what he had warned me about the book before and then admitted something that struck me as odd.
Besides me, as a child, no other customers would ever bother the chained book. It was as though the mysterious fairy tales were calling out to me, tempting me to read more.
As long as I told their stories, they could continue to exist, Mister Newscome told me. I didn’t understand what he meant. But the following night, I would learn.
I thought about his words all day until it was time to clock in, wondering if the book would reappear in the darkness. I waited patiently, perhaps anxiously, to see if it was true.
Then I heard the strange noises, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The book had returned.
I hurried to the archives and decided to see if another story would come true. I had to know if this book was taking a part of my soul.
The story I chose was called “The Stone-Eyed Serpent,” a terrifying tale about a monstrous serpent that would make anything it bit turn to stone.
There was no way this could become reality, I told myself. I was convincing myself that these stories were just figments of my imagination. That’s all it was.
Then I heard a rustling in the library, as though something ancient had suddenly been awakened.
I closed up the book hurriedly and went to look. Was it really the giant snake come to attack?
I didn’t see anything in the shadows, and for a moment, I was sure that it was all in my head.
Then I heard its vicious hiss as it filled the air. The creature was here.
I stood still, watching as it slinked out of the shadows and towered over me. It looked like it could crush the entire building.
Its gleaming eyes told me that it was there to kill me, nothing more and nothing less. I had to run.
But where could I go? My feet took me to the other side of the library as fast as possible, but the serpent was faster.
It whipped through the aisles and began to coil around me, its fangs showing me that they were dripping with the magical poison.
I thought back to the story, knowing that I had to offer it something to defeat it.
But what did I have? I only had my body.
I stuck my hand out, trying to shield my face as it sprung forward and latched onto my fist.
It slammed its jaws closed, and I screamed out, kicking and screaming as the venom went straight into me.
Before I knew what was really happening, my hand was back, and I saw that it was turning to stone. The snake seemed to be laughing at me as it slithered back to the shadows, its job done, giving me a reminder of what this powerful book could do.
I watched in horror as my hand turned to stone, and I frantically wondered if it would spread to the rest of my body. I had to act quickly.
Moving toward the front of the library, I got my cellphone ready and called 911 as I prepared to slam the front door and take off my hand. It was the only chance I had at survival.
I closed my eyes, said a prayer and screamed as it shut and my body was severed from the poisoned hand.
I blacked out shortly after that.
When I woke up, the hospital told me that I was lucky to be alive and I would be under psych evaluation for 72 hours because the injury was considered self-harm.
Mister Newscome came to visit me though, and to my surprise, he brought a gift. It was the chained book.
I actually recoiled in terror when I saw it.
“Get that fucking thing away from me! It needs to be burned. Destroyed somehow! It’s a curse!” I screamed as he shut the door, and we were alone.
He smiled and placed the book down, shaking his head and telling me that he had tried to warn me.
Then he explained how he knew of the book’s power. It had been his curse too. Many years ago, he had come to the library and been fascinated by the ancient collection. Not realizing that the more he read, the more he was bound to the library and forced to keep the stories alive.
He wondered if the curse would ever end. And then I came along, a young lad that had a curious mind like his. And now the curse could be passed on and he would be free.
As he finished telling me all this, I saw his body deteriorate and fade away; it was becoming ash. Or dust. A collection of stories now suddenly turned to nothing. Forgotten and abandoned just like this cursed tome.
And now I am the one that must tell these stories. Despite everything that I knew was real. I did try to escape and never return to the library. But the book controlled me in ways I couldn’t expect.
I am now part of this library, just like the previous owner was. Just like the others that come after me will become. We will tell these stories and make them reality, making nightmares survive for another generation.
The only hope I cling to is when I see eager, curious people come into the library, and they read. Perhaps eventually, the book will reappear and take one of them hostage next.
Maybe it will be you?
Maybe then you can be part of the story too.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available