Invention and Invitation

Midmorning sun streamed through the hallway’s peaked windows. The watery light served only to darken the shadows where it did not fall. No sunlight reached the library door.

He pressed his eye to the dark keyhole, knowing he wouldn’t see anything. Just dark. But he could imagine the books, great locked tomes with secrets that would make any decent person faint away. The library had to be filled with things like that, scowling masks from the dark continents, great bladed swords once been held by brutish vikings, maybe even a ghost, moaning and rattling chains between the towering shelves.

The air smelled old and lifeless, like he’d crawled deep into a cave and was breathing the stuff of his fur clad ancestors. Once again, the outside world failed to have any effect past the threshold of these old walls.

Pressed to the door, he did not see anyone move past the peaked hallway windows behind him. No footsteps, no polite cough, just his name uttered in full and out loud behind him. He barely swallowed his yelp as images of vikings and ghouls flashed before his eyes. Still, he twisted to face whatever gruesome gargoyle guarded the library. Despite what the other boys said in the yard, he was no coward.

In the failed light the servant’s face was shaped in shadows and pale planes. The tall man looked down on him as he tried his best to gurgle an excuse. True, his uncle had said no, forbidden his presence in the library, even in this hallway, but he was kind to books, good at school, and quiet. Ideal qualities for someone permitted in a forbidden library.

The servant watched him mumble and backtrack until they were both silent. Then the tall man leaned over him and pushed against the handle. The thick door, heavy and carved with ancient flowers, flowed open and the shadows receded.

With an outstretched hand, the servant invited him inside the library.

***

The train shook him awake. Around him, the sleeper car vibrated in time with the tracks. On his way to Westerland County, where his family’s ancestral home waited, and he was dreaming of his summers there.

It made sense in a way. The old house had terrified and fascinated him with its arcane architecture and odd refusal to let any outside warmth cross its threshold. Now returning there, he was remembering it. Except that he’d never gotten inside the library. During that summer long ago those doors had stayed closed and locked.

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