in a Crowded Place
Miss Blanket
Sam didn’t even open the cover to find out what the book was called. She meant to put it right back on the shelf.
Somehow she was still holding it.
When she emerged from the stacks a figure suddenly loomed in front of her.
Sam shrieked and jumped back a step.
It was just Miss Blanket. Sam started to give the old librarian an embarrassed grin, but then she realized that Miss Blanket seemed angry.
Sam had never seen Miss Blanket angry. She backed up another step.
Yet in the blink of an eye Miss Blanket’s expression softened, and she stepped aside to allow Sam to pass out of the stacks.
Sam said, “You really scared me, just popping up like that.”
“You startled me as well,” Miss Blanket said, with just the ghost of a smile. She didn’t seem the slightest bit startled.
She glanced down at the book in Sam’s hand with an unreadable expression and said, “It’s not often I see anybody actually pick up a book from Mr. Spire’s shelves anymore. Especially not somebody so young.”
Before Sam could sort out how to respond to this, Miss Blanket turned away. She crossed the room and busied herself at the old card catalogue—a big cabinet with a hundred little drawers full of yellowed cards that recorded every single book back to the beginning of the library.
Sam didn’t understand the point of the card catalogue. The library used computers to check out books, just like any other library. She took another deep breath to finish getting over her surprise, then went back to her table and sat down with the book from the stacks.
For another moment she watched Miss Blanket. If one had to imagine a librarian, it would be a librarian just like Miss Blanket. She was nothing like Mrs. Gaskell at the registration desk downstairs. Mrs. Gaskell acted and dressed just like anybody else, but Miss Blanket was like a librarian from a movie. Her grey hair was done up in a bun, and her little spectacles had one of those fine chains that ran around the back of her head to keep them from dropping if they fell off her nose.
Yet if Miss Blanket were a librarian from a movie, it would be an old-fashioned, silent movie. Sam could watch Miss Blanket moving about, but any sound the librarian made might have been imaginary. She’d been a librarian for so long that she was part of the silence.
With a sigh Sam pushed away the mysterious book and forced herself into simple machines. She pretended that she wasn’t thinking about the book. She pretended she was getting started on her homework. That way she didn’t have to think about how the weird book made her want to read it and at the same time made the fine little hairs on the back of her neck quiver and twitch.
“A simple machine is a tool that changes the direction or strength of a force to make work easier.”
It was dry reading. Drier than the dust motes floating up in the gabled ceilings. Drier than the thick, grey cobwebs far out of reach in the high corners.
She wondered what had made her pick up the nameless book, and stole another glance at it over the top of her science book.
“From the beginning of mankind’s time on earth, humans worked to make survival easier, to create shelters or cultivate crops, and this lead them to take up the very first simple machines. Perhaps it was a lever to pry up a large stone, or a ramp (or inclined plane), to move a heavy object to a higher level. One of mankind’s first great lessons was that some jobs were just too hard for one person to do alone.”
It occurred to Sam that she should at least open the the mystery book and take a quick look. She was being silly about this. It was just a book.
Sam gave her head an annoyed little shake, trying to focus on simple machines. She pushed up her glasses, brushed back her hair.
She carefully re-read the paragraph she’d just finished, trying to properly retain what she read, but all that stuck in her mind was “that some jobs were just too hard for one person to do alone.”
The ridiculousness of trying to concentrate on homework suddenly struck her as funny, and Sam burst out laughing—earning her a shocked look from Miss Blanket.
A wave of embarrassment replaced the laughter. “Sorry.”
She snapped shut her book, built a careful little pile of the science books from downstairs and pushed them aside. She drew the dull red book from the shelves toward her.
She knew that Miss Blanket was still watching her. Sam glanced up again with another apologetic look, but saw that Miss Blanket was instead staring at the mysterious book.
Sam looked down at the book, her cheeks hot and tingling.
She pretended to investigate it as closely as a detective, just to cover her embarrassment.
The spine of the book was shiny from the handling of a hundred hands—perhaps hundreds of hands. Now that she studied it closely she could see fragments of old letters on the spine: H BR___E _O… The rest was worn off.
She opened the cover.
She gasped at the feeling that jolted through her.
It was if one of those high October thunderclouds had not only come a month early but had swooped down through the gables of Spire Hall. Or as if the wind came from the beating wings of a great storm beast that had settled atop Spire Hall and dug in its talons and begun to scratch its way through the many-gabled roof.
Sam shivered off the thought. She let out a long, gasping breath, not thinking about Miss Blanket watching her.
The feeling was gone. It had passed in an instant. She was holding nothing more than an old book.
But she couldn’t escape the feeling that whatever had just happened, it had happened forever. By opening the book she had released something that could not be put back inside.

Keep Reading

Chapter 4

Bridge to Terabithia

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