The dimly lit maze of bookshelves had always drawn Lauri to the basement of the Portland Public Library. It struck a great balance between aesthetic and edgy. The dusty books encircled and consumed her, making her feel academic in some sense. She tapped her foot against the worn, dark red carpet to the tune of her lo-fi beats as she tried to remain alert at the late hours. The occasional flickering of the lights also helped to keep her awake along with the infrequent rumblings from the heater.
Here in this secret spot under the city, Lauri could finish her U.S. history and pre-algebra homework without the worry of others bothering her. No one else wanted to venture down into the abyss of books waiting to wither away, and barely anyone besides the head librarian and her could brave the mildewy stench. After many afternoons studying in the basement, she’d traversed enough of the maze to find a few isolated desks—perfect study spots—but there was still much left to uncover.
Two days before her pre-algebra test in Mr. Warren’s class, Lauri sat in the library’s subterranean lair, tackling linear equation practice problems. Amidst the silent books, she worked diligently. Yet she somehow couldn’t get more than two questions in a row correct, an unusual occurrence for the stellar student.
Lauri decided to take a break, get some water, and refocus. A common study tactic for her. Lauri journeyed up the four flights of stairs to the nearest water fountain, carrying her empty bottle. The head librarian’s mouth gaped slightly upon seeing Lauri emerge from the library’s depths. He whipped his head around towards the young girl.
“Shouldn’t you be heading home now?” asked the librarian.
“I won’t be too much longer.” replied Lauri. The librarian, uncomfortably tugging at his collar, stood up to protest, but Lauri had already returned to the underground labyrinth. She took a sip from her refilled water bottle and turned her attention back to practice problem twenty-four in her textbook.
“Alright, this one needs point-intercept form. What is it again?” she thought to herself. “Ummm. Umm. y equals b x—no, that’s not—”
“Must be a…a couple? Or something. I don’t know. Alright, focus!” Lauri turned her attention back to the textbook. “Ah, yes: y equals—”
Thud. Thud. Riiippp.
“Okay y equals m times—”
Thud thud rrrrriiiiiiiii—Clank.
“Ugh. Okay, y equal m times x plus—”
And then, silence. Finally, Lauri could finish practice problem twenty-four in peace. Then, the familiar mildewy stench of the basement combined with a growing sulfuric stink of rotten eggs to create an even more dreadful and oppressive smell.
“Great. A natural gas leak. What else could go wrong?”
Lauri abruptly stood to investigate the source of the unnatural odor that infiltrated her secret haven. As she searched through the dark labyrinth, the sounds intensified as well. Their echoes scattered through the alleys of unopened books. She turned the corner and found a few books scattered on the floor in the narrow alley between the shelves.
“Can’t this stupid couple clean up after themselves?”
She put the fallen books back on the shelves and then continued to track down the natural gas leak.
“Fantastic. They must be a few shelves over…”
The sounds were close.
Closer than before.
Close enough to resonate in her ears. Suddenly, a whole bookshelf fell beside her, now resting against another one. Shuffling under the books, there was a dark figure. At first, Lauri thought it resembled a crocodile until she noticed it had six—eight—a multitude of limbs that were ripping pages out of the books. Pronounced spines and spikes coated its entire body. The most distinct feature was, by far, the large cavity in the middle of its torso where it was stuffing the crumpled pages—eating the crumpled pages!
Sensing a change, the crocodilian figure stopped its gluttonous rage. Lauri screamed, and the figure thrusted one of its limbs toward her feet, tossing aside a particularly withered copy of Bleak House. Lauri’s foot was in its prickly grasp. The ravenous figure had found a more interesting snack.
Lauri let out another piercing scream. And as she desperately threw half-eaten books at the hungry beast, she remembered how her mother had urged her not to spend Halloween evening studying in the library, even if it was a weekday.