Hau Tree Green

Annie sat in a pool of yellow light and moved her hands through the pile of books in front of her. All of them looked very old. The lenses of her dark glasses showed no reflections.

This late, we had the whole upstairs part of the library to ourselves. Pillars rose up and up, to the dim ceiling. Night showed in the small windows high over our heads. Ranks of shelves radiated out from the collection of tables and disappeared into gloom and shadows. There was a constant tiny shifting, rustling, sighing susurration from the aisles. I wondered if it could be ghosts doing it.

“It’s the books,” Annie whispered, as if she could read my mind. “Books always do, and when it’s perfectly still, you can hear them. They move by themselves.”

She went back to turning pages, and I went away a little to give her some space. The murmurs from the stacks rose and fell. She was right. The books were making the sounds, and it unsettled me. I touched the gun in my coat pocket.

There were footsteps on the stairs, and after a minute a librarian followed them through the arched entrance. She crossed to where I stood, a young woman who was working hard at being old. A pair of tortoiseshell spectacles hung on a chain rested on her bosom; the tiny glass beads glinted in the low light. Her hair was pulled back tight into a painful-looking bun.

“We’re closing in fifteen minutes,” she hissed. “You need to start getting ready to leave.”

Her breath was a little bit sour, like she had been eating disapproval. I tried for a snappy comeback, but nothing came to mind, so I settled for a nod. She looked at me like I was an unpleasant memory, and gave a small shudder to underline things.

“Fifteen minutes,” she muttered, in case I hadn’t been paying attention.

I trailed behind her as she crossed to where Annie was sitting. The librarian bent and whispered, then glanced over her shoulder at me once and left. Her sensible heels clicked on the stone floor. I could hear them going down the stairs long after she was out of sight.

“I can’t find any reference to a red fisherman’s float,” Annie said. “I found a list of the lost glass, but it isn’t on it. I must have made it up.”

“You didn’t make it up.”

She stared at the pile of books, as if willing it to give up its secrets. I felt her frustration.

“Nothing is what it seems,” she said. “Nothing is ever what I think it’s going to be.” High over our heads, the shadows moved. They swirled and then settled again, like a cloud of bats.

“I am,” I said. “I’m what you think.”

She took off her dark glasses and looked up at me, surprised. Her eyes were even darker. She held my look for a long moment, and then a slow smile caught her mouth at the corners. “Yes,” she murmured, “You are, aren’t you? Why are you different?”

“You,” I said.

She considered it for moment, nodded as if things were settled, and went back to the books.

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