Voice in the Stacks - Patreon Story for Halloween

by Banned Library in

"I don't think I can talk to you about this. It's too important. I'm gonna get the book drop," Brenda said pushing away from the circulation desk.

    "Brenda, it's just tradition. Ketchup, molasses, sweet and tangy with a hint of liquid smoke and Worcestershire," I said to her back as she walked away from me and into the technical services department. We had been debating various styles of barbeque sauces for the last twenty minutes and her vinegar infused rant had not reached me.

    The library opened an hour before. A few regulars slumped in, took up their places at the computer lab. The gray dreary day lent a sleepy air to the world, so I had wandered around and settled with Brenda, the only other staff in the building. I don't remember how we got to talking about sauces, but we had and she had given up.

    "It's just about person preference," I said to the empty library foyer.

    "Mommy?" came a sweet voice.

    The children's department sat empty, no little feet running or mother asking what about this one for tonight instead of the one we always read? I ran my mental facial recognition and remembered no children entering while Brenda and I talked. The child could have come in before, when I was still upstairs signing people on the computers.

    "Mommy?" the child's sing song, a little low note, came again.

    I walked around the desk, hands in pockets, strolling. I was sure I would hear the mother give a reassuring "What?" or "Yes, baby?" When all that came was another "Mommy?" I turned my wander that way.

    "Mommy? I want some chicken strips," the voice said.

    I slowed. She was back. I forced myself forward, to try to help.

    I rounded a display on Halloween children's books. Nothing too scary, none of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or Christopher Pike's teen drama slashers. A few Goosebumps, some Neil Gaiman, and one joker had thrown Twilight up there with a sticker that read "Romance is Horrifying." The department felt empty, just me and the books.

    "Mommy? Where are you? I want some chicken strips," the child's voice said again from deeper in the stacks.

    We associate ghosts and goblins with cold because we celebrate them in winter. When the sun goes down, when the birds and the animals flee for warmer climates, when sound gets dampened by layers of insulating snow, the dark beings of our imagination lay in wait with chilling efficiency. The thing is, in a warm library on a cold dreary day, ghosts feel like a slight breeze from a vent you were not expecting to walk under.

    The child giggled as she ran through the stacks, passed through them at a trot, and looked back as if being followed. Her path followed the old layout of the library before we redesigned and gave ourselves more sight lines. She wore a simple shirt and shorts and a smile, echoes of a nicer day. She waved as she ran by, and I waved back.

    The normalcy of the quiet day dampened my shock. Of course the child would be here. Where else would she go?

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