9:00 AM: Nancy Solo: A Haunting We Will Go
She stands in the lobby, mind a million miles away, and grins like a crazy person. The card in her hand feels like a winning lottery ticket, and she wants to sing with the sheer nervous excitement running through her veins. Oh what the heck, she might as well. It's not like they're open for another twenty minutes!
She dances, some goofy thing she'd picked up from the teens who visited for the free internet, sliding across the marble floors inelegantly. The massive skylight above her casts bright bars of shadow and light on her as she slid into the ground floor stacks, singing her heart out in the reference materials section.
It's been too long since she's had a date, far longer than she'd really like, and Ben is cute, even if he has no idea how a car should work. She's been so absorbed with getting the library running that she'd forgotten to breathe.
(It's so easy to become absorbed, to let work become her life, to forget that she needs more than antique ink and vintage maps in her life.)
She should call her sister, let her know that a cute boy wants to see her again, that she'd done something reckless but good. Jamie would probably scold her a little for letting a stranger into her home, but she'd laugh more at her sister's ridiculous crush.
(Nancy can see them at the quiet café down the road, enjoying coffee and the crisp morning air, can see them having a picnic on the library lawn when summer finally comes, daydreams about cuddling and cocoa.)
She's brought out of her reverie by a giggle, soft and childlike.
Huh? She turns to look but can't spot the owner of the laughter, realizing belatedly that at some point she'd grabbed a dictionary to waltz with and of course that looked silly. A grown woman with moon eyes, clutching a dictionary would make anyone laugh.
"Hello?" She hadn't left the door open, but it was unlocked, and it wasn't unreasonable to think a parent and a kid could have wandered in. Saturday was a pretty popular time for working parents to bring their little ones.
The answer was another giggle, high pitched and nearby. So she headed further into the reference section, trying to find her mysterious patron. Maybe they'd found a place to be away from their guardian, and as much as Nancy valued a kid's privacy, she knew the terror a parent felt when their kid was lost was horrible.
The stacks ran out from under the skylight into one of the many wings of the building. But the direction the kid was heading in was the Archives. Kids tended to avoid the underground places.
"Kiddo? Where are you?" She called into the dark hallway, reaching for the light switch out of instinct. The Archives gave her the willies. Curated by past Librarians, the place had the air of a graveyard, filled with antiques from the days when libraries held some of the same duties as museums. She particularly hated the skeletons and had tried to give them some personality by dressing them up.
(Her favorite was the one in the dumb snapback cap. 'Idiot' as he'd been affectionately dubbed by her niece, was kinda adorable.)
Why a library needed five skeletons was beyond her, but she'd done her best to keep them out of direct light and away from prying eyes.
The giggle drifted out of the dark just as she finally flipped the switch, and Nancy couldn't help but feel all of the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. What kind of kid hid in the dark? This game of Marco Polo was getting really out of hand.
The lights in this section were gaslight, something she'd wanted to fix for years but not had the funds for. They flickered dimly and Nancy wanted to shake the person who figured that instead of new lights, they'd preserve these old monstrosities by giving them auto starters. Shadows leaped into definition, cast by the elaborate wall sconces in the antechamber to the Archives.
She was faced with four hallways, each leading to a separate section. The air here felt cool and quiet, heavy with the peace that comes from unuse. It bothered her that her lost kid had run down here, as the floors sloped and the full warren of the old building became apparent. The four hallways were only the start. Like something straight out of a Poe story each hallway led to multiple rooms, rippling out in a spoke like "Masque of the Red Death" manner.
"Ugh," Nancy muttered as she contemplated her choices, "Not a comforting analogy." She gathered her courage and took a fortifying breath. "Hello," she called as loudly as she dared, "Please come out!"
There was silence and then, faintly, a laugh from the direction of the south corridors. Nancy groaned.
Of course mystery kid would be in the medicine archives with her spooky, not-so-scary-unless-you-were-alone-in-the-dark, skeletons. Of course.
(Were there more shadows here than she'd expected?)
The oddities of gaslight escaped her and Nancy swallowed thickly. Well, there was nothing there in the Dark that wasn't there in the Light.
She headed south.
The hallway was lined with old medical advertisements, odd things that promised the user vitality and immortality if they'd just trust this ten cent panacea. They'd been gifted by a local physician roughly fifty years prior from what she understood. They hadn't wanted great-grandads collection, so to the library it went.
The frames were elegantly ornate gilt and glass, and she paused to catch her breath for a moment, the anxiety of shadows and slippery light catching up with her.
The advertisement before her was an Art Noveau masterpiece. A dark haired beauty stared out at her from the frame, his curly hair falling in chocolate waves as dozens of white lilies bloomed around him. He held a bottle marked 'Elixir of Life', boasting a high potassium content to supplement a flagging citizen's energy. The young man in the portrait had lovingly detailed eyes in a shade just shy of obsidian.
Nancy stumbled back, clutching at her aching heart and gasping for air. Reaching forward she frantically ran her hands over the glass.
(The Shadows coil at her heels, seeking to render Aid, but the Darkness objects, soothes her terror with ease.)
She must have blinked. It's just the odd lighting. Ghosts aren't real.
The giggle is louder.
The glass is cold.
She can't turn back now.
The room is filled with curio cabinets, old medicine bottles, newspaper clippings of scientific advancements, and the aforementioned skeletons. Their dull bones shine dryly in the light, a yellowed shade of ecru.
She turns to ignore them when she realizes something is off. The one with the floppy wig has a piece of paper wedged into his ribcage. Trembling fingers pull the piece of paper loose.
The laughter starts up again but this time she realizes what it truly is. The phonograph in the corner, the one she pulls out for Halloween events, has been turned on by a falling medicine bottle. She must have left the 'eerie' laugh track on.
(She ignores that there should be no way that happens when people don't often come here, that the laughter on the track is more of a feminine cackle, that she shouldn't have been able to hear it from such a distance.)
Breathing a relieved sigh, she feels the world right itself. It's just like her to overreact. Nike and Gin were always saying it was unhealthy to spend all her spare time alone in the library. She hurries back the way she'd come, feeling the urgency dissipate with every step she took closer to the light.
She is all the way to the ground floor lobby before she remembers the paper still tucked gently into her fist. Carefully she unfolds it. The looping cursive makes her blood run cold.
Wake Up, Dear!
Not even the warm light of day can cure the terror that takes over.
Nancy runs, locking the library door behind her, effectively taking an emergency vacation. Later she will look back and realize she was being ridiculous, that someone is probably pranking her, that she has a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all, but for now, she runs.
(The giggle echoes behind her.)