Harold enjoyed libraries. The smell of old leather and paper, the quiet echoes of footsteps against marble floors, the rustle of pages turning. Whenever he traveled, he made sure to visit a library.
It was on the way home from work on October 30th that Harold found himself outside of a small, round building made of gray stones on the corner of Ninth Street and Central Avenue. Although normally he enjoyed a longer walk, he’d decided to take a shortcut home, since the dreary rain showed little chance of clearing. A sign over the front door read: Archives and Local History. Harold paused. Surely this wasn’t a new building?
The rain tapped out a steady beat on the sidewalk, splashing up onto the hems of Harold’s pants. Closing his umbrella and shaking it briefly, he pulled open the archives door.
Inside, the circular walls were covered with books of all shapes and sizes. Huge, tan leather folios shared space with thin paper pamphlets. A white stone desk stood in the middle of the floor, behind which sat a tiny old man with a large white mustache and pince-nez. He wore a brown cardigan buttoned up against the chill of the archives, and his skin glowed in the eerie yellow light cast by lamps on reading tables.
The man, who was writing in a large ledger, looked up as Harold entered and a bell quietly chimed.
“Hello,” Harold said, walking up to the desk. “Is this a new facility?”
“Oh, no,” said the old man, sliding the ledger away from Harold. “It is very, very old.”
“Really? I’m sure I would have visited before now—libraries are a sort of hobby for me, you see.”
The old man nodded. “We can be difficult to notice, and yet, we do get enough traffic to stay open.” He smiled, and added, “Why don’t you have a look around? I’m sure you’ll find something interesting.”
Harold thanked him and wandered to the nearest shelf. There didn’t seem to be labels on any of the books. “Excuse me, how is this place organized—”
But the man at the desk was gone.
Harold frowned, then turned back to the shelf and shrugged. He chose a book covered in vellum and carried it to the nearest table. He opened it to the middle and saw a list of names and dates.
Isabella Jackson March 18th, 1765
Marcus Johnson July 2, 1893
Rachel Kelly September 27, 1994
“What an odd book!” Harold said to himself, flipping to the front of the book to find a table of contents. There was none, only more names and dates.
He took the book back to the shelf, but there seemed to be no room, even though he was certain he was returning it to the right place. The old man still hadn’t returned, so Harold left the book on a table. He crossed the marble floor and chose another volume, this time a small, red paperback. Opening it, he found:
Elizabeth Rhodes December 14, 1532
Nancy Riley June 29, 1944
Alexander Rogers January 8, 1845
Harold glanced around. He was alone in the library. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
“Excuse me!” he called, looking around. “What sort of library is this?”
Harold’s voice echoed around the room, but no one answered. He returned to the main desk. The ledger lay open, and Harold pulled it towards him.
Joshua Abbey February 18, 1643
Jane Ackerman May 3, 1961
Harold Adams October 31, 2015
Harold backed away from the ledger.
No. Surely it wasn’t his name. Surely there were many Harold Adamses in the world. He was being silly.
Harold collected his umbrella and hastily left the archives. Every shadow seemed menacing, every noise the sound of footsteps following him. When he reached his apartment, he bolted the door behind him with a shaking hand.
A strong cup of tea, that’s what he needed. He added a dash of brandy and sat down, pulling the newspaper onto his lap but unable to read.
“It was just an odd coincidence, Harold,” he said aloud. He laughed, but it was more difficult than it should have been.
The next morning, Harold awoke to a sense of dread. Glancing at his phone, he remembered why. It was Halloween.
He cut himself shaving rather badly and had to patch things up with a bandage. His bagel got stuck in the toaster, and only a fire extinguisher saved his apartment from burning.
On his way to work, Harold was yanked back onto the sidewalk by a concerned citizen as a bus passed by, inches from his nose. “Are you all right?”
Harold just shook his head and hurried to his office. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, except that he choked on his lunch and had to be rescued by a coworker. His boss told him to take the rest of the day off, as it looked like he could use the rest.
Harold was afraid to leave the building. He decided to take the shortcut again, and when he reached the corner of Ninth Street and Central Avenue, he blinked.
The round, gray building was gone.
In its place was a city park, with a weathered merry-go-round occupied by two giggling children, their mothers watching fondly.
Harold took a deep breath. Maybe he’d been working too hard. Yes, when he got home, he’d schedule another vacation and visit a new library. Clearly he’d had an extremely realistic nightmare.
The weather was clearing, and children were trick-or-treating. Harold felt himself smile. There was nothing to worry about.
Whistling as he entered his apartment, he bolted the door and turned to see the old librarian with the white mustache. He was pointing a revolver at Harold.
“You!” Harold said, holding up his arms. “Who are you? What was that place?”
The man smiled, ignoring Harold’s first question. “It takes many forms, but it will always be something to catch the eye. You never see it until the day before you die.”
He pulled the trigger.