The library sat quiet on a Friday morning. The kids were in school, the soccer moms still sipping their coffee at home, and the elderly patrons just leaving after reading the paper and finding their holds. The clock ticked on, matching the click clack of the keys in the computer lab.
I grabbed a cart of books and headed upstairs where the bulk of the collection was kept. Brenda had the circulation desk and had a hand over her mouth, laughing at something on Facebook. Our page Freddy was emptying the bookdrop. As I walked off the elevator, the book cart wheels rattling, I smelled smoke.
"You smell that?" I said.
Chris's head jerked up out of a book. His salt and pepper hair dangled in his eyes, and he lifted one hand to push it back. He sniffed and said, "No, what is it?"
"Like a computer? Or smoke in the bathroom?" Chris stood from behind the reference desk that sat facing the elevator and the stairs.
"Like a smell of something burning," I said and parked the cart by the desk and followed my nose.
The smell got stronger near the back of the nonfiction section to the right of the desk, back where the biographies were held. I walked down the rows doing a spot check. Empty, empty, empty… Then I saw him on the last row where the books faced the large bay windows.
The man wore a brown leather jacket draped over his thin form. He faced away from me. Something lay at his feet giving off a small plume of smoke.
"Sir?" I said.
"Want me to call the police?" Chris said.
"Not yet." I walked down the row of books. I raised my voice. "Sir, What's-"
The fire alarm chose that moment to catch up to the situation. The building was old but up to code, so some things worked better than others. The city council was more eager to invest in computers than they were an adequate fire suppression system.
I turned to Chris, saying, "Clear the floor and I'll meet you outside."
Then I continued down the row of books. The man stood still, a statue among the books.
"Sir, I need you to leave the building," I said.
He turned to me and my stomach filled with acid. I took an involuntary step back. The man in the brown coat wore no shirt, the tattoos visible on his chest of animals. White rabbits ran across his thin chest, snakes coiled around his stomach, and spiders littered the skin from his neck to his waist in the spaces in between.
He held out his hands and said, "I read the story Lewis wrote and am here to deliver a message. Bow to the orange and eat the apple and be free. Thank you for your time."
Then he turned and ran. He did a little hop over the small smouldering fire and cut left along the back of the building. I had a choice of chase or fire. I am not good at running.
I stomped at the smoking ruin of paper on the floor. Pages of a book stuck to my shoe, the ashes grinding into the tile floor. When I was sure it was out, I followed where the man had gone, peaking around the corner. Nothing.
I made my way through the nonfiction section, checking that no one was here, then went across to the fiction section. He found me there.
I felt the tile on my knees with a crack of pain. Then my vision went orange and red and pain rolled over my head. A sharp kick to my side, and I fell over. Then he was on me, the tattooed man in the brown jacket leaning down with a knife in hand.
"A first sacrifice," he said and the knife came down.
To be continued...