Gertie and Bridget go to the library
Gertie stepped into Flories’ school library and took a deep breath. The smell of exposed wood, binding glue, and dust greeted her.
The school library had started as the personal collection of Julia Flories, a witch and part-time botanist, whose goal was to create a school that united magic practitioners and non-magically-inclined individuals alike. After her death, it continued to be grown by those who wanted to study her collection and shared her vision to enable others to learn about both the sciences and magic. It was the tallest and deepest building on campus, as far as anyone knew. It stretched so far into the sky that magical bindings were in place in lieu of structurally sound architecture.
“Can I help you?” The woman at the front desk was pleasantly plump, with cheeks that touched the rim of her large glasses as she smiled.
“Yes, thank you,” Gertie said. Everyone needed help in this library. It was far too large to just walk around and find what one was looking for. “I’m looking for the Flowers of Dark Meadow series?”
The librarian frowned. “I believe you could check out the electronic version on our website-”
“I like physical books.” Gertie shrugged. “I can be old fashioned about some things.”
The librarian grinned. “Our young adult selection is on the sixth floor.” She pushed a section of her desk and it moved away, granting her an exit, and moved back into place once she was clear. “If you’ll follow me…”
The librarian led Gertie to a small wooden platform next to one of the towering bookshelves. The platform was just a step above the normal floor, but it had a wooden waist-high railing nonetheless that the librarian and Gertie ducked under.
Checking to make sure Gertie was next to her, the librarian gripped the railing. “Sixth floor,” she said.
The platform shot into the air.
Gertie jolted a bit, not expecting the speed.
The platform lifted through a perfectly sized hole in the second floor, and then the third. Gertie looked down and saw a few teachers on one of the levels, staggering under armfuls of books to distribute to their students.
The platform finally stopped, and Gertie and the librarian ducked under the railing and paced along the shelves.
“Hm…” The librarian stopped in front of a shelf that was labeled “twelfth century biological sciences”. She looked confused.
“What is it?” Gertie asked.
“The young adult fiction should be here.”
Gertie squinted, and made out a paper note on one of the higher shelves, next to the sign that labeled the section. “Miss?” She pointed it out to the librarian.
The librarian touched the side of the bookcase.
“Eleventh shelf,” she said. The shelves slid out into a staircase, leaving their books to float in their absence. The librarian climbed, and fetched the note.
“Of course.” The librarian sighed, climbing back down to Gertie. “It seems one of our ghost librarians moved the young adult fiction section.”
“They haven’t been open to learning the computer system and-” A book flew at the librarian’s head and she ducked. She pushed her glasses back up her nose, and Gertie noticed a spark of enchantment on the glass.
“Viola, please.” The librarian directed her words to an empty space in the air. “Where did it get moved?”
Gertie watched the librarian tilt her head and listen to the ghost of a former librarian.
“Did you really think that appropriate?” the librarian asked. She must have heard an answer in the affirmative, because she sighed again.
“One of the librarians moved the young adult section down to the negative tenth level. I can take you-”
The bell at the front desk rang and a ruckus of childish babble floated up. The librarian leaned over the railing and looked down to the ground floor. She bit her lip. “There’s a field trip today, I forgot. Give me one moment.”
The librarian went to a door labeled “Faculty Only” and returned with a candle. “This will lead you to the right section and shelf.” The librarian lit the candle with a match from her pocket. The candle wick sparked with flame for a moment, and a ball of light lifted from the candle all together.
It hung in midair, and the librarian cupped it into her hand. She spoke to it as if it was a person. “Negative tenth floor, section 31W, shelf 12-11. Got that?”
The ball of light danced about in confirmation, and flew through the air back to the platform.
It waited patiently for Gertie to join it.
Gertie stood next to it awkwardly. It didn’t move. Gertie placed her hand on the railing, like the librarian had done.
“Negative tenth floor,” she said, hesitantly. The platform started plummeting, the candle glow by her side.
Once Gertie and the hovering flame were past the ground floor, there were torches lighting the darkness. Even more comforting, though, was the light that Gertie’s little pathfinder granted her.
The platform slowed and stopped, and Gertie ducked under the railing again to stand on the negative tenth floor. As soon as she was gone, the platform flew up and away. Someone else must have called it.
Carefully, in case the platform came back, Gertie stared down the hole the platform would have eventually descended. She saw torch lined walls as far as the eye could see. It seemed that there was no end to the books in this library.
Gertie turned and took a deep breath. The darkness was intimidating, but at least the familiar scent of books surrounded her.
The maze of bookshelves before her made Gertie stop to consider her choices, but the ball of light zipped forward until it got to an intersection of two aisles. Hesitantly, she followed it. When she caught up, the pathfinder darted to the left and waited at the next turn.
And so it continued. The air started to get warmer, until it was much too hot given Gertie’s winter wear.
“How much farther?” Gertie asked, not expecting the pathfinder to answer her. She wondered how the librarians could keep track of the dark halls of books.
Lit torches got fewer and far between, until the only light was the pathfinder.
And then it went out.
It just snuffed out, as if something had purposefully blown on it, and Gertie was swamped in darkness.
Her eyes started to adjust, and she saw a small figure hiding behind one of the shelves.
“Hello?” Gertie said. She heard a sniffle.
“Can you help me?” The figure asked. It came around the corner until it was a few feet in front of Gertie, and she could see it was a small boy.
“Of course.” Gertie kneeled to be at equal height with the boy. “My name’s Gertie. What’s yours?”
The boy shrugged, averting his gaze shyly.
“Here, come with me,” Gertie offered her hand. “We can-”
The boy snatched her hand, his eyes blazing white for a moment, and Gertie screamed.
Bridget fell out of her chair.
“You okay?” Ernest asked.
Ziggy barked, floating above Bridget’s head, his stance in full alert.
“No, I mean…” Bridget stood, shaking her head free of the vision. “I’m fine. I think Gertie’s in trouble. Or she’ll be in trouble soon. I’m not sure.”
Ernest looked at his watch.
“I guess you don’t want to finish helping me with calculus?”
“Later. Tomorrow.” Bridget packed her books up and started for the door.
“Text if you need my help.”
Bridget pulled up the locator app that Gertie had given permission for her to use. It let each sister see the location of the other’s phone. The app loaded, showed a spinner for a while and stopped. A text bubble popped up.
We’re sorry! It looks like we can’t locate Gertie’s phone. It might be off or be out of range of service right now. Please try again later.
Bridget took a deep breath to calm herself. She slid the phone icon next to Gertie’s name to the left and clicked on the emoji of a person.
Warning: Using this app to magically locate the person must only be done in emergencies. If your contact expresses discontent-
Bridget clicked through the alert and waited for the locating spell to do its work.
A dot with Gertie’s avatar picture appeared over the school library.
Why wouldn’t her phone be working there? Bridget wondered. Ziggy whined and Bridget turned to him.
“Gertie’s going to be fine,” Bridget told him and herself as well.
Bridget ran across campus to the library, breaking a sweat from the effort. Ziggy zipped along behind her, tongue and ears flailing in the wind. Bridget would have thought it was adorable if she hadn’t been panicking.
They stepped foot inside the library and almost barreled through a group of kids.
“Woah.” Bridget sidestepped a nearby second grader and collapsed on a bench.
A ghost of a mouse screeched from being disturbed and Ziggy barked at it.
“Sh!” a gaunt man in a gray pinstriped suit directed at Ziggy.
Bridget glanced up at him and could only see him in her ruined eye. He was a ghost. If that hadn’t clued her in, the fact that he was hovering a foot off the ground did it.
“Sorry,” Bridget said. “Where can I find the...living librarian?”
The ghost librarian pointed toward the head of the group of children, who were slowly sitting down at tables at their teacher’s direction.
Bridget sighed and waded her way through the class. Ziggy floated behind her.
The librarian turned to Bridget, her hair sticking out of its ponytail and looking quite frazzled.
“If you need help finding a book, you can use one of the computers-”
“No, I…” Bridget sighed. “I think my sister is in trouble in here.”
The librarian’s brow furrowed in worry. “I knew she was taking too long. She went down to the young adult fiction section, negative tenth floor.” She brushed some loose hair behind her ear. “I would go with you, but if I left these kids unsupervised-”
“I understand. Thank you,” Bridget said, and ran through the library to the nearest platform.
“No running!” another ghost librarian yelled at her.
She reached a platform, slapped her hands on the railing, and all but shouted, “negative tenth floor.”
Ziggy reached Bridget’s heels and the platform sped down as if it sensed her urgency.
The platform screeched to a halt and Bridget jumped over the railing.
Ziggy wuffed nervously behind her, and pointed with his nose.
“That way?” Bridget asked.
Ziggy barked again. They headed into the shelves.
As they delved deeper in the library, farther away from the light of the platform’s hole, Bridget noticed that many of the torches lining the walls were smoking, as if they had just been extinguished. She warily grabbed the next lit torch she saw.
A few more shelves in and Ziggy got restless. It had been getting warmer and warmer, and Bridget recognized the energy of magic thrumming in the air.
And she could hear something.
Bridget slowed down, whistled for Ziggy to heel, and held the torch out in front of her warily.
There was a sobbing out in the darkness.
“Hello?” Bridget called.
“Can you help me?” she heard.
A small girl shifted hesitantly into the light.
Or at least it looked like a small girl. Bridget’s right eye saw that. But her magic left eye couldn’t be deceived. She saw putrid magic, inked words bundled up into a dark chaos that had managed to disguise itself. She saw a tail of energy leading away from the girl like a tether.
“I don’t think I can,” Bridget said, edging to the right, where the tail led.
“Please?” the girl begged, stepping closer to Bridget.
The dark magic started riling itself up inside the girl. It sparked and threatened at the edges of its girl-shape, almost losing its hold.
“I’m lost myself.” Bridget took another step.
The child reached out, and Bridget swung the torch toward her.
The magic inside the girl roared and her voice warped. “Fine then!”
The child’s shape twisted and became a black net of magic. It stuck to the shelves, blocking Bridget’s escape.
Bridget turned and ran, following the tether.
The creature overturned the shelves, trying to trap Bridget, but as it collapsed on her she dove out of the way. Ziggy barked, and Bridget looked down to see what the creature was tethered to. A book had fallen onto the ground, pages open and crumpled against the wooden floor.
She lowered the torch she held to its pages and a fire sprung to life.
“No!” The creature shouted, turning red and white as it was devoured. In a matter of moments, it was gone. The book’s remains sizzled on the slightly singed wooden floor, ashed pages crumpling into dust.
Bridget took a deep breath.
Ziggy whined and stood on his hind legs, pawing at her hand to get her attention.
“Right,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Bridget ran, following after the speeding dog that would unthinkingly pass through bookshelves that Bridget couldn’t.
They came to a door labeled “Faculty Only”. Bridget slammed it open, revealing a small room of tables, an ancient computer, and a little boy crouching over Gertie’s head on the ground. Bridget looked for where his tether led, and saw the book on Gertie’s chest, her hands clutching it as if she needed it there.
“Gertie!” Bridget shouted, and her sister shifted to look at her. Her eyes were so glazed, it was as if she couldn’t see anything.
“No!” The boy shouted, and ran to Bridget. He moved faster than Bridget thought possible, and he barrelled her over. The torch in Bridget’s hands went flying into the room.
The magic was filthy, the feel of it infecting Bridget’s nose. She shoved the boy off of her and heard him hit the wall.
“Bridget?” Gertie murmured.
The boy came up behind Bridget and jumped, landing on her back. His arm closed around her throat. He was stronger than he looked too.
“Gertie! Burn the book!” Bridget managed to hoarsely shout.
Gertie looked at the book in her hands, and the torch on the ground. She dropped the book onto the flames, and it was set alight.
The boy screamed and burst into flames. He was gone.
Bridget panted, leaning against the wall in exhaustion.
Gertie groaned and kneeled. Ziggy whined in fear and snuggled up against her cheek. The ice cold of his ghostly touch brought her more to her senses as Bridget ran to her side.
“Let’s get out of here.” Bridget pulled Gertie’s arm around her shoulders and lifted.
Ziggy led the girls out of the maze of books. Bridget carried another torch, but they didn’t encounter any more of the creatures.
The librarian greeted them at the platform, a bunch of the little pathfinder lights surrounding her.
“Oh, I was just about to look for you,” the librarian said.
Bridget looked at her in disbelief. How could she be so calm?
The girls explained what happened as the platform ascended with all four of them on it.
“That sounds like cursed books,” the librarian frowned. “I’ll send some of our ghost workers down here to search for more. I can’t imagine why we’d have any in unrestricted sections.”
“Maybe they missed being read,” Gertie mumbled almost incoherently, leaning against her sister’s shoulder.
“Is she going to be okay?” Bridget asked.
The librarian nodded. “A good night’s sleep is all she needs. Cursed books take a very long time to permanently affect someone. If you would like a book on quick remedies-”
“No thanks,” Bridget said quickly, not wanting to see another book for some time.
It was a long walk back to Gertie’s dorm. Bridget texted Ernest, and he arrived with a rug that would float as long as he played a tune on his piccolo. It made for an interesting little parade, as Gertie lay on the floating rug, with Ernest playing and Bridget and Ziggy (who no one could see, of course) following behind.
Bridget and Ernest got Gertie up the stairs and into her bed.
“Calculus tomorrow?” Bridget confirmed with Ernest as he left.
“Eh.” He shrugged. “It looks like you have your hands full. I’ll just stop by here if I find a tough problem.”
Bridget nodded, smiling her relieved thanks. She set Gertie’s electric kettle to boil and spooned her favorite tea into a bag.
Gertie sat up with a jolt, took in where she was and her sister standing before her, and groaned.
“What?” Bridget asked, concerned.
“I never got the Flowers of Dark Meadow books,” Gertie said.
Bridget glared down at her. “Borrow them online.”