The Library (Fantasy-ish)

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Slap, slap, slap.

The sounds of stiff leather soles on old stone echoed through the mists. The Undertaker was following me again.

Dammit! How many times did I have to tell him I wasn’t dead? I didn’t care who had filled out what form. I was clearly still alive. Though I was currently creeping through a cemetery. That was probably sending a mixed message, but it didn’t matter! I was still alive and planning to stay that way. I increased my pace.

Clouds were roiling, dark, thick, and twisted overhead. A harsh wind was whipping my coat about my ankles, eddying and swirling the pre dawn mists with it. It was going to rain soon. I could smell it. I had to hurry. The trail of a book was tenuous at best and now these digital copies made it even harder. Words were one thing, but a trail of bits didn’t handle disturbances well at all.

The path ran down a slope. Below was the stoutest, stout structure I’d ever seen. The crypt was a huge stone cube a hundred feet across. Pace wide columns supported an enormous portico over the entrance. Every bit was carved and engraved in intertwining symbols and characters. I thought the bunny eared cherubs riding unicorns was a bit much, but there’s no accounting for taste. Especially when it comes to gargoyles, who are surprisingly sensitive for their rough appearance.

The trail led right up to the entrance to the huge crypt. The front door was cracked open. I wasn’t surprised. Rain started to fall. I slipped inside.

There were no coffins, no burial chambers. Only books. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books. Stacked, shelved, and piled floor to ceiling. I was in the right place.

The Library of Legends was, well legendary. You’d always hear about it. In the backrooms of publishing houses, in the basements of coffee shops, in the deserted hallways of ancient universities. The collection of the world’s greatest forgotten stories. Legends that no one remembered but were sure existed. They sure did and I’d found them. Of course it would be here. Gargoyle’s were the keeper of ancient secrets, what with their "not aging" thing, and their humor went right along with their design sense. It was better not trying to figure it out.

Slap, slap, slap.

So much for losing the grave man.

If tall, pale, and creepy found me, I'd have to think of something, but for now the book lay ahead. I quickened my pace and slid through the stacks as silently as I could manage.

My eyes picked out titles I’d never read but seemed somehow familiar. Titles I’d nod at and have fond feelings of for no reason at all. It was all I could do to keep following the trail and not stop to browse.

What had been a faint trail outside was almost invisible in here amongst so many other tales. I kept going, eyes on the ground, the walls, the ceiling, wherever it had traveled. I lost the trail, picked it up again, more by instinct than anything else.

I was led between leaning shelves, over a literal wall of books (paperback pulp mostly) and then down a twisting staircase. At the bottom were more shelves, and then more after them.

Finally the trail ended at a counter. An old counter made of old wood, with an old marble top. A long eared statue sat behind it on a high stool. He was leafing through a digital book, gargoyles can do that. It was the book, the reason I was here.

I stopped before the counter. He didn’t look up. I waited. He kept reading. There was a small bell there on the counter. I rang it. He looked up.

“Yes?” he asked in an appropriately gravelly voice. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a book,” I said.

“You are in a library,” he replied. “We have many books.”

“It is impressive,” I said. It was, I’d never seen so many books that didn’t exist before.

“Thank you,” he said, seemingly genuinely pleased.

“I’m actually looking for that book,” I said and pointed to the one he was holding.

He looked at the book in his blocky hand then back to me.

“This book? It is good, but it’s quite new, we just got it in. Perhaps you’d like something a bit older? Something with a bit more character.”

That sounded wonderful, but I needed that book. I said so.

He nodded as only a gargoyle can, showing he understood.

“I see. Do you have a library card?” he asked.

I fished in my wallet and handed in it over. The edges were worn, the signature on the back still childlike from when I’d signed it years and years before.

The gargoyle looked it over carefully.

“Excuse me,” a dry voice said behind me.

I jumped and spun around. The Undertaker was standing there looking dour. That’s pretty standard stuff for him.

“May I help you?” the gargoyle asked.

“I’m here for him,” he said pointing a pale nobby finger at me.

“For him?” the gargoyle asked. “Whatever for?”

“He’s dead. He needs to come with me.”

The gargoyle looked puzzled. He looked from the Undertaker, to my library card, to me, and back to the tall man in black.

“Dead men don’t have library cards,” he said.

It was true. I’d heard it somewhere before.

Now the Undertaker frowned.

“The card is valid?” he asked.

“Quite,” the gargoyle replied.

The Undertaker blinked once then. A long slow blink.

“My mistake,” he said, and with a quick turn, he left.

Finally! If only I’d known to show it to him sooner.

With that the gargoyle produced a large stamp from under the desk, smacked it lightly across the book and handed it to me. I had him place it in the bucket I’d brought. Bits are notoriously difficult to hold.

“Two weeks,” the gargoyle said seriously.

I nodded and took the book home. It was very good.

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