The Inside-Out Library

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Hello friends, this is the third in a series of short spooky stories revolving around a shared location. Click the writing tag at the bottom of the page for more.

You can also read this on the r/nosleep Reddit page, which is the venue it was originally written for.

 

 

Not all of these stories happen in the middle of the woods. The township of Ash Hollow has seen more than its fair share of odd things as well.

Back in the 70s we got a library, something that was a cause for great celebration since at this point the town was small enough that damn near anything new seemed like a wondrous novelty. A new fire hydrant got people talking for weeks.

The library had that curious property of buildings with too few windows to seem dark and maze-like even though it wasn’t actually all that big; it was the sort of place where you’d find yourself facing a wall where’d you swear there was supposed to be a way out, thinking “was that always there?”

Stories about the library started circulating almost as soon as it was built. Staff members working late started reporting that books would fall onto the floor of their own accord and they’d hear footsteps walking up and down the rows of shelves even though no one else was there. A lot of this, I’m sure, is simply down to the library’s ill thought out design. I’m not sure I believe in haunted buildings in the traditional sense of the word, but I know that given the right atmosphere the human brain will fill a dark silent house with plenty of ghosts of its own.

Then there are stories about the library that are harder to dismiss. Shortly after it opened some kids were visiting as part of a school activity of some sort and a girl got lost in there. For more than an hour every adult in the vicinity got themselves into a panic making the usual sorts of assumptions that people tend to make when a child goes missing. Just when things were threatening to get really out of hand the girl wandered out from behind some shelves, completely fine. According to her she had gone looking for a book and found herself in a part of the library she didn’t recognize- dimly lit, with rows upon rows of books stretching in every direction. At intervals she found tables and chairs set up for reading and studying, just like you’d find in any library, neat as you’d like. When she realized she was lost she tried to retrace her steps and was unable to return to familiar locales. She could constantly see the bright lights of the “real” library in the distance and could hear the voices of the staff and other children calling her name, but seemed unable to ever reach them or get their attention by calling out. And then all of a sudden she turned a corner and there they were.

A kid tying to play a trick, or making up excuses for being somewhere she shouldn’t have been? Maybe, maybe not. Before long other stories started to pop up about the library. Patrons would frequently show up with books that weren’t in the library’s catalogue- sometimes they weren’t in any library’s catalogue- and when asked to identify the shelf they had found it on would be unable to locate it again. Staff working after closing time reported catching glimpses of people disappearing around corners or behind shelves. Phantom sounds could be heard that were impossible to trace to any source- quiet conversations, the squeak of a book cart’s wheel, at one point even a fire alarm.

In the late 80s a man reported having a deeply unsettling experience in the library. It was quite late, just before closing time, and he was trying to find a particular book. He went to check a shelf right at the back of the building and realized, like the schoolgirl from the 70s, that he was in a part of the library he didn’t recognize.

This person was a thoughtful sort so he decided to have a look around and investigate. He tried calling out to see if anyone would hear him and claimed that he thought this prompted a soft shuffling sound in the distance. The books on the shelves appeared to be completely normal and were labelled with appropriate looking dewey decimal numbers and other library paraphernalia, although the paper slip on the inside cover for stamping didn’t bear the name of the Ash Hollow library, or any other library for that matter. The shelves were numbered in a way that looked normal. Outwardly nothing was amiss, except that the library appeared to have grown a few hundred square feet of extra floor space on the inside.

Taking a notion that some extra height might allow him to see an exit he started to climb one of the shelves and once more heard a shuffling sound, louder and moving closer. Showing a laudable degree of prescience (in my opinion at least) our friend quickly got down off the shelf. The noises stopped, returning the library to complete silence.

After walking through the shelves for a while he came to a pair of double doors which a nearby sign indicated was a stairway leading down. Which was unusual because the Ash Hollow library is a single-floor building, but by this point it was obvious something exceedingly odd was going on. He opened the door and found himself in a wide, wood-paneled stairwell lit by fluorescent lights. He could see that the staircase descended for quite some distance. With no other obvious means of escape he started to descend.

After three flights of stairs he came to another pair of double doors. A sign read “third” with no further elaboration. He opened the door a crack and peaked through to find another endless expanse of shelves stretching away from him, identical to the one he had just left. He continued on down the stairs.

After three more flights he came to a door with a sign which said “Caution: flooding”. The door was locked tight. He continued.

The bottom of the staircase was no closer by the time he got to the next landing. Another pair of double doors, another sign, this one reading “Warning: Pale Entity. No Passage”.

You might wonder what would possess a man to open a door with a sign like that on it, but I suppose our hero figured that following the rules hadn’t exactly helped him so far. In any case he cashed in the credibility chips he had acquired with his earlier sensible behavior by going on through.

It was pitch black inside. Light from the stairwell illuminated yet more rows of shelves, but covered in a visible blanket of dust. The room was full of a certain kind of smell- not decay exactly, but “that smell you get off old books you find lying around in your attic”. From somewhere overhead he could hear the feathery shuffle of wing-beats. He had an impression that there was a vast space above his head, far higher than the normal library ceiling.

Our hero peered into the gloom for a bit, then worked up his nerve and said “hello?”

Nothing at all happened for a few seconds. Then he became aware of a soft sound in the darkness, “like when there’s someone being really quiet and you can just about hear their breathing”. He almost didn’t notice the figure coming rapidly toward him out of the shadows.

The light from the stairwell fell on two round, shining eyes and a bald human head covered in bone-white skin, the mouth a dark open pit. Our friend shrieked and slammed the door shut, then took off up the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him. I suppose we must give him some credit for that. You’d be surprised how atrophied some people’s fight or flight response is.

(While we’re on the subject: if you ever find yourself in a situation like this your first response should always be flight, never fight. Trust me).

Anyway, he was barely at the first landing before he heard the sound of the double doors below him crashing open, followed immediately by soft but rapid footfalls following him up the stairs.

There is a level of terror most people never feel in their lives, when the mind has encountered something so alien and strange that to look at it in full light almost seems like a fate worse than death. Our library explorer did not attempt to catch a glimpse of the thing chasing him. He simply ran, leaping up the stairs three steps at a time, crawling on all fours when he inevitably tripped and fell. He passed the flooded door and flew up the next three steps, lunging for the handle of the “third” door.

And then he stopped, his hand on the door handle, and I believe his moment of hesitation is the only reason he was able to tell me this story, because who knows where he would have ended up if had gotten lost in that place?

Even though the footsteps of the creature were already crossing the landing directly below he turned and continued his ascent, his legs burning, his lungs on fire. He reached the last door just as his screaming muscles were about to give up and threw it open. He ran blindly around a shelf and slammed straight into a librarian coming the opposite direction.

No one could get a very good explanation out of him for what he was doing in the library after closing time until the police got him to a hospital and got some sedatives into him, and needless to say his explanation wasn’t taken very seriously.

A few years later an elderly widow went missing. Her last known location was the town library, right before closing. Staff reported seeing her head into the back shelves, but none of them could attest to the fact that they saw her come back out.

The Ash Hollow library is now closed permanently. Officially the building failed some kind of health and safety check, but I have it on the authority of a senior staff member that they pulled some strings to get it shut down without due cause. I can only imagine what kinds of things they experienced that would motivate them to willingly put themselves out of a job.

Before the closure I took a trip into the library myself and managed to retrieve a book. It’s called “Principles of Underground Cartography” by James. E. Hallowell and I’ve been unable to find any mention of it or its author anywhere else. The contents of the book are interesting if you read between the lines, and it currently sits in a large safe in my house.

I collect more them stories, you see. There are a lot of interesting things in that safe. Stick around and I’ll tell you about more of them soon.

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