The Book that Cried
“And they all got home safely.”
“Tommy Hawkins, you’re pants. That is the worse ending I have ever heard,” Suzy said, with a wide grin.
“Ssh!” Mrs Barker, the Librarian, looked over, giving the pair her characteristic withering look.
Tom and Suzy immediately buried their noses in the homework spread out on the table in front of them, but as soon as Mrs Barker had pushed her trolley of books along to the next section, Suzy turned back to the despondent Tom.
“It’s supposed to be a ghost story.” the girl whispered. “It’s supposed to be scary. But nothing happens, and they just go home. Tom, it’s bor-ring.”
She prodded Tom’s essay with her pen, as if trying to push some life into it.
“But there ain’t no such thing as ghosts!” protested the boy. Then, quickly lowering his voice. “How can you be scared of something that doesn’t exist?”
“That’s just the point, it’s imagination. What people can imagine for themselves can be worse than what really is…” She shrugged her shoulders. “Anyway, that’s why I wanted us to come here.” Now she looked hastily round, and her voice was a murmur: “Did you know the Library’s haunted?”
Tom looked around. The Library didn’t strike him as old, nor as modern. It just was. Of course, it was more recent than some other parts of the school that were all dark, carved wood and beams and funny uneven windows criss-crossed with black lines. But here the walls were grubby and worn where thousands of students had walked by, trailing a hand along the wall. There were patches of damp, and loose wires hung down from one of the neons. Overall the room was blocky and functional, far removed from the ornamentation and decoration that was visible elsewhere. It was the last place you would expect there to be a ghost.
“I don’t believe you!” he said emphatically. “If you’d’ve said somewhere like the top corridor, or the headmaster’s room, you might’ve had a chance… But here? No way!” He scanned the tables and book-lined alleys all around. “Unless you mean Mrs Barker,” he added with a grin.
“Well, you’re sort of right—” Suzy said, looking around in turn.
“Not Mrs Barker?” Tom started, then bent his head over his composition as a short sharp cough sounded from behind the nearby shelves.
Suzy moved closer.
“No stupid!” She was now speaking directly into his ear. “But it’s not the Library as such, it’s one of the books. That’s how everyone thinks she—”
“She? How do you know it’s a ‘She’?
“Are you listening or not? She’s trapped in one of the books…”
“Sssh!” he said urgently, lifting his hand. “There’s someone else here. I can hear… crying?”
“What are you on about?” said Suzy with a touch of annoyance in her voice. “So you knew all along… Tom Hawkins, that’s not fair!”
But Tom wasn’t listening. He had stood up and was moving his head round, and craning his neck to catch a glimpse of whoever else was in the Library with them.
“Sssh! Can’t you hear?” he asked, waving his hands to quieten Suzy.
“No I can’t, Tommy Hawkins, and stop playing around. It’s not funny,” snapped Suzy.
“What are you talking about?” He turned and looked down at the girl.
“The ghost. People hear her crying. You knew about it all along, didn’t you?”
“No I did not. What is it? You’ve got someone hiding! Julie, or Chrissie. Where are they?”
“So you can hear her then, Tommy Hawkins.”
The boy span round. Mrs Barker was standing in front of their table.
“I haven’t heard her myself for years…” She spoke softly.
“You mean, this isn’t some sort of joke?” The boy looked worried.
“I don’t think so,” said the Librarian. “And you can still keep your voice down Master Hawkins, this is a Library, after all.”
“So where is she?” He twisted on his chair.
“It’s getting louder now, is it? More present and… more unbearable? At least, that’s how I remember it…”
“You mean, you really can’t hear it?”
He looked up, wide-eyed.
“Oh, I don’t think I really want to, not considering—” And she stopped abruptly and looked at the two children. “I think we should be closing now. If you’ll pack your things and leave quietly.”
“But—!” started Suzy.
“No ‘buts’ young lady! Pack your bags, and you should go now!”
In the corridor outside, Suzy turned to Tom, examining his expression.
“Is it.?” she started. “Is she still..?”
He frowned as he nodded.
“It’s terrible,” he whispered. “She sounds so sad… We’ll have to come back. We can’t leave her like that. Tonight.”
He hitched his bag up onto his shoulder, and set off down the corridor, leaving Suzy to catch up and demand an explanation.
* * *
“We can’t just break into school like that!” Suzy exploded as soon as Tom joined her in the bus shelter.
“We don’t need to,” he said gruffly. He pulled a large bunch of keys from his backpack.
“What the—?” started Suzy.
“I just borrowed them, OK?” he said, pushing them into a rather smelly sock, and then back into his bag. “I’ll put them back after.”
He cut her off again.
“Caretaker’s lodge,” he said. “I was passing. They were there on the table. It was like they were asking me to take them.” When he saw her expression, he added, “No one saw, right? What d’you think? But all the same, it’s not like I’m stealing them or anything. We’ll put them back tomorrow.”
“Tommy Hawkins,” she said. “You’ll get us expelled, or worse.”
But she was smiling when she said it.
* * *
That night they set off through the back streets and alleys where people would be less nosy. And from there it was just a matter of slipping through the mangy privet hedges and onto the playing fields, and then staying in the shadows from the sodium street lamps until they reached the school buildings.
Tom stopped and pulled two balaclavas from his bag.
“You’ve seen too many films,” said Suzy. “Put them away. If anyone catches us and we’re wearing those, they’ll know we’re up to something. As it is, I’ll just say I forgot something in my locker, and you’re just giving me a hand—”
“Why you?” He stuffed the hoods back into his bag rather roughly.
“Thomas Hawkins,” she said in a fair imitation of the Headmaster’s voice. “You have a reputation: Trouble is your middle name—”
“It’s not always my fault!” he snapped.
“And whose idea was it to break into the Library? Nuff said!” she whispered as he remained silent.
He turned the key in the lock, and they were inside.
“But it’s not like I want to do anything bad…” he said, finally, painfully, after giving her remark full attention. “I mean—”
“Don’t lock the door,” she hissed. “How’d we get in without the keys?”
He looked at her.
“Some of us do think before doing anything,” she said, tapping him on the head. “That’s why you’re always in trouble.”
She turned her back on him and set off down the dark hallway.
“Where are you going?” he hissed when he caught up with her. “It’s the other way…”
“My locker, remember? Just to make sure.”
Once there she unlocked it and took out a geography text book. “This’ll do,” she muttered. “Now give me your bag.”
He looked at her defiantly.
“Because! What else are you hiding? Crowbar? Torch? If we do get caught, you don’t think they’ll search us? Hand it over!”
He pulled it from his shoulders and the weight in her hands confirmed her suspicions.
“What have you got in her?” she asked. “Bricks?” He looked down at his trainers, rubbing the toes together. “OK. I don’t want to know.” she said. “You can get it back tomorrow.” Carefully, so as to make no noise, she closed the locker. She turned to the boy who was already starting to move away. “And as soon as we get to the Library, you find somewhere to dump those keys!”
“You sound like me Mum. Always telling me what to do like I don’t know nothing.”
He rolled his shoulders as he protested. Suzy just shrugged and tip-toed alongside as they headed towards the Library building.
Although they knew the corridors off by heart, having traipsed them for years from classroom to classroom, the absence of light transformed everything: cupboards seemed to become doorways; posters and windows on the wall had shifted places. The shadows were heavy and oppressive.
“Ssh!” said Suzy.
They waited, not moving.
Eventually Tom said, not a little aggressively: “What’d you say that for?”
“Thought I heard something,” she whispered. “Sort of got the feeling someone else was here…”
“Nah…” said Tom, although he also had the feeling they were being watched. “C’mon.”
They turned into a winding staircase, and edged their way down in the dark.
In the corridor they had just left, it was now as if someone had switched on a light in a nearby building, or as if the moon had just come out from behind the clouds. But there was no other building, and definitely no moon tonight. There was just a girl in a floor-length dress, standing in a pool of pale light. As she watched, great heavy cupboards moved, sliding back to their original places, hiding the entrance to the staircase that Suzy and Tom were now descending.
The girl turned to the tall dark figure that appeared next to her. He snatched at her hand, as if he had caught her trying to get away.
“They shall do, Sir? Do tell me they shall do…” she whispered with insistence.
He tugged on her hand, as if to lead her away.
“We shall see…” he muttered in a low voice.
“And shall you stop punishing me now, Sir?”
When I finished this story I remembered “Something to Read” by Philip Pullman, a rather spooky story that also involves a library. It hasn’t been republished too often, but if you do have the chance, do read it. Oh, and as you’d expect from Mr Pullman, it’s a lot better than my story.
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Last edited: Sunday, September 20th, 2009blog comments powered by Disqus