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Friday short story time: "All Quiet"

Last week, I did not manage to post a story, as I was trying to rattle through a draft of my long-in-progress novel. (If it makes it any better, I did succeed.) This week, I am back, with a story not at all inspired by both a library tour I went on earlier this week and an incident when my phone battery died overnight and I therefore slept in late.

Oh, and I could claim it’s a Halloween edition , there’s a bit of a horror vibe in there somewhere. If you squint and really look for it. If you want more stories, you’re in luck.

All Quiet

by Nick Bryan

Everyone knows you shouldn’t talk in the library. But, it turns out, if you find a big enough library, the rules can lapse a little. And this one was so huge that you could always find a corner to have a chat.

On the third floor, north block, fifth turning, second left, there was a row of small rooms with tiny windows. Or, as Louise put it one day, ‘does this library remind you of a repurposed prison? Or is it just me?’

Anne didn’t look up from her books for a second. Yes, you could have a conversation here, but she hadn’t been right then. ‘Come again?’

‘The library. Doesn’t it remind you of a prison?’

So, Anne looked around. Tiny, rectangular room, one door, alongside a row of similar rooms. If not for the array of books on one wall, this would be a convincing cell, right down to the blackening stains. The door, though, was reassuringly cheap wood. In the event that someone did try and slam them inside, she would like to think they could kick their way out.

However, she didn’t want to have that in-depth a conversation about it with Louise. So all she said was ‘Yeah, I suppose,’ before returning to her book.

And she was still looking at her book when she woke up face down a few hours later. In fact, her lips were stuck to it, which was disgusting. Pulling herself free, she looked around. It was ten o’clock, so the library had been closed for an hour. The lights were off, it was dark and bloody Louise was nowhere to be seen.

The rickety door was closed. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she noticed a small note next to her hand.

‘Hi Annie, you were asleep,’ it began, helpfully, ‘so I let you rest, I’ll call you when they’re about to close so you have time to get out.’

Her trust in her friend taking a shameful ebb, she pulled out her phone. The battery was dead, as it often was. Since upgrading to a ridiculous touchscreen smartphone, Anne hadn’t quite grasped that it might need to be charged every night. So not only had this wake-up call failed to reach her, there was no easy way to call for help.

So she was alone, in a library that seemed bigger than any other building, late at night. She pulled the door open, relieved to find it wasn’t locked. Louise must have pulled it shut to make sure she wasn’t disturbed, she thought, reminding herself to give her good friend a firm slap to the head later.

However, once out in the corridor, it was cold. The heating probably went off at night, she thought. Hopefully there was a security guard, or someone to let her out. If not, surely she could sue? Because shouldn’t they check the silly little rooms for sleeping students before locking them inside?

Litigate later, she thought. Escape now. This was becoming terrifying, after all.

Would the lifts be turned on, this late? Did she know how to get out without them?

Bloody hell. Was there a light switch? How about power?

She took another tentative step down the hall. There was a crashing noise from somewhere, a few walls away, but she didn’t scream. Just because she was alone in an empty building, late at night, that was no reason to turn into a stupid teenager from a horror film. Even if she did visibly twitch instead.

So Anne rounded a corner and faced row after row of shelved books and rolling ladders. The smell of old volumes, at least, had gone nowhere. The windows were bigger here, so the darkness was less oppressive. She advanced, trying not to think bad thoughts.

Suddenly, a book leapt at her. She was sure she hadn’t imagined it.

Abandoning all her scholarly awareness of the cliché, Anne screamed like a girl. And ran. It was dark, but she saw another volume hurl itself into her path. Suddenly, she was in some kind of hallway. It was huge, but familiar.

Wasn’t the staircase around here somewhere? Her memory was hazy, but this must be the way out. A huge ladder crashed to the floor, and a spray of books rolled out towards her. Completely on reflex, Anne leapt backwards.

Unfortunately, she was closer to the stairs than she had anticipated. Seconds later, she was tumbling into freefall, shortly before knocking her head sharply on the bottom step.

The security guard had only just emerged into the hallway, so he didn’t have a great view, but that looked a lot like blood trickling out from behind her ear. Shit. This didn’t seem as funny now. How was he supposed to know she’d panic like that?

Story copyright me, there’s no point in stealing it when I’ll probably let you use it for free if you email me and ask nicely. Or just post a nice link on your website/Twitter, I like those.


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