Alone
in a Crowded Place
CHAPTER
4
Bridge to Terabithia
The strange feeling from the book was gone so quickly that Sam questioned whether it had really happened at all.
She flipped through the first few dirty pages, all of which were PROPERTY OF SPIRE HALL PUBLIC LIBRARY, until she reached the title page:
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
- By Katherine Paterson -
She explored a few more pages. It was just a story.
She’d expected… Well, she wasn’t sure exactly what she’d expected. Certainly something more dramatic and mysterious than this.
Still, she turned to the first page of the book and began to read.
It started with a farm boy named Jesse who wanted to be the fastest runner in his class. Sam wasn’t particularly interested in farming, or running, and she didn’t really connect with the character of Jesse even though she knew she was supposed to. She did, however, like the character of Leslie once she came into the story—even though she could tell that she wasn’t supposed to like her yet. Leslie seemed to be good at everything, and didn’t much care what people thought of her.
In real life she envied people like that, but it was different in a story. In a story it was easier to just admire them without feeling a little bit jealous at the same time.
“Would you like to sign out that book?”
This time Sam only jumped a little bit. Miss Blanket was back, as silently as she’d gone.
Sam closed the book and studied it for a moment. It didn’t seem mysterious at all anymore.
“I guess I might,” Sam said. She smiled at Miss Blanket, thinking at the same time that she probably wouldn’t bother to sign out the book. “I’ll probably sign it out when I go.”
“I can do that for you,” Miss Blanket said, holding out her hand.
Sam handed over the book. Apparently she was taking out the book after all. “Thanks.” She watched as Miss Blanket carried the book over to the big old card catalogue. Just because she was taking it didn’t meant that she had to actually read it.
Then, realizing what Miss Blanket was doing, Sam cocked her head and frowned. The librarian was fussing with an old-fashioned date stamp, and taking the card from the little pocket in the back of the book.
“I didn’t know you could still do that,” she said. “Sign out books that way. I thought the library stopped doing that a long time ago.”
Miss Blanket glanced over her shoulder at Sam with an odd little smile, but didn’t respond.
She finished up with the book and returned it to Sam. There was an awkward moment, when Sam reached out to accept the book but Miss Blanket didn’t immediately let it go. The old librarian seemed to be uncertain about something.
“This is a book with an unexpected adventure,” she said at last. “Be careful that it doesn’t carry you too far.”
Sam couldn’t prevent a frown. Then, not wanting to seem rude, she forced a smile. “I’ll do my best.”
Miss Blanket finally released the book. She nodded, turned away, and then vanished down the stairs from the third floor.
Sam sighed. She’d lost what little interest she had in the story. On the other hand, there wasn’t the slightest thing interesting about simple machines.
There was nothing else but Bartholomew Spire’s crumbling old books, so she flipped through the book until she found the place where she’d left off. But she didn’t really read. Instead she thought about Heather.
On Saturday afternoons Heather often helped at her family store, the Southside Trading Company, a few blocks down Dunston from the apartment buildings. It wasn’t what you’d call a booming business, but it struggled along by selling a little bit of everything from groceries to gifts to school supplies to second-hand clothes.
Heather’s mom didn’t like Sam hanging around the store for hours, but she didn’t seem to mind if Sam stopped by to visit. She thought about doing that—leaving the library before the rain came, and going to visit Heather. Staying just meant sinking farther and farther into a pit of boredom.
Suddenly Sam froze, looked up, found herself holding her breath.
Sometimes you just know that something isn’t right. It’s sort of like when you’re just nicely drifting off to sleep, and then suddenly jolt yourself awake, blinking into the darkness, because you’re sure you just heard a sound that did not belong.
She had definitely heard something, something more than the tired old creaks and sighs that filled the silence of the third floor.
She was alone. She’d already been back in the stacks, and there wasn’t anybody there. She’d watched Miss Blanket leave. It wasn’t possible for there to be anybody else on the third floor.
She listened as carefully as she possibly could.
Nothing, nothing… And then, yes. There was the sound again. Somewhere, back in the stacks, somebody had turned the the page of a book.
Sam told herself that some bored reader had found his way to the third floor of Spire Hall Public Library. She tried to convince herself that it was likely just one of those old men with wispy hair who sometimes came gasping their way up the stairs in search of a book as ancient as themselves. Somebody had slipped into a different part of the stacks when she’d been back there finding the book.
That didn’t make sense. There was nobody there, and nobody had passed her at the table.
But she was not alone.

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