She leaned over the railing and called, I think there's someone left in the building.
Somebody. Maybe the lady from the second floor?
I thought she left. She was talking to a group of students and I think she left, he said looking up to where the librarian leaned over the railing with a puzzled look on her face.
The librarian said, She left all her things then. Books piled up with papers and things. I've told her not to do that.
The library assistant said, What do you want to do?
Come up here and help me gather it up.
He climbed the stairs and thought on the second landing he should have brought a cart. How much could the old lady have left, though? She was little and kind, a nice smile and a cheerful attitude. She liked books on ancient Rome and Egypt and forgotten tribes of the Mediterranean and he had helped her research people old and new. The woman had kind big eyes offset by rough yellow teeth and the library assistant liked her.
The librarian stood by the carousel holding several pieces of paper. The library assistant said, how much is there?
Alex, the librarian said with a voice full of rattle and shake.
Yeah? Alex said and saw the paper she was looking at. It was a pencil drawing, crude and done with a hard hand, of a snake creature with the arms and legs of a man and the open vile mouth of a reptile, blunted teeth cold and full.
That's a mess, Alex said. His attention turned to the other piles of papers filled with more crude drawings and texts in English and others more ancient. Was she translating?
We should burn this, the librarian said.
Let's just put it in lost and found and go home.
Around them floorboards creaked and groaned. A shelving unit popped and far deep in the building small feet scuttled. The library wanted sleep.
We should burn this, the librarian said. Her fingers clutched the paper with the snake man drawing. The paper crackled under her touch as if it already burned.
Okay, well, that's kinda fucked up. I'm going to get a cart and we can load this stuff up and go home. The old lady can get it tomorrow.
As he walked away, Alex thought he heard the crackle of fire. He thought he heard a sound of laughter. He thought he heard the librarian say something about what should be done and could be done and all the paths that branched and flowed with some leading to fire and pain and misery and others leading to a simple life of ignorance and bliss. He took the steps two at a time, telling himself that he could hurry and get the cart and make it home in time to maybe meet up with the girl in the apartment above him because they got home at the same time sometimes. He could ask her out and would if he saw her tonight because those branching paths went far and into the distant darkness. He found a cart and wheeled it with its squeaky wheel to the elevator and hoped the elevator would not freeze. They needed to go home.
Alex hoped as the waited on the elevator. It dinged and he got in and pushed the single button needed for the two story building. The elevator whirled to life and rose. When the doors opened, Alex screamed.
The librarian waited for him. Both of her hands clutched dozens of papers, wads of papers. She stood staring at him in the doorway to the elevator and threw the papers at him. Some flew wild and all scattered and one or two found his chest.
What the hell, Brenda? Alex said.
Take them, Brenda the librarian said and turned and ran toward the desk.
Alex watched her go and picked up the papers that lay around him. More drawings and scribblings. He smoothed some of them out and put them on the cart and wheeled the cart out of the elevator in time for Brenda to come back with more handfuls. She threw them at him once again.
Okay, stop that shit right now, Brenda.
Brenda ran back to the desk and began gathering more papers. Scooping them into her arms and laughing now, the sound a bubble popping and reforming in the quiet air. We must get them all out, she said.
Brenda, Alex said and caught her hand.
Not again, not again, not again, not again, she said again and again. Her hand trembled and shook. Alex asked her what was wrong but she continued her chant. Not again.
Alex helped her as much as he could. She continued balling and gathering. He stacked and grabbed and stacked more, piling things away from her.
All at once she was done, straightening saying I'll go check the study rooms. Then she was gone.
Alex found a box and gathered the papers into it. He placed it near the lost and found. Brenda came around the corner from the study rooms looking cheerful and calm.
You okay? he asked her.
Yep. You ready to go?
They locked the library and left. At his apartment building, Alex held the elevator for the young lady that lived above him. They rode up in silence and when he got off on his floor he attempted to share an awkward smile. She was on her phone.