in a Crowded Place
Library Ghosts
Miss Blanket returned Sam’s smile, but in her case the smile was an enigma. Sam could see that Miss Blanket knew what Sam meant. The old librarian was teasing her.
“What do you mean that it’s not over?” Miss Blanket asked in a playful tone.
Then she said, more seriously, “No, you and your friend have solved the puzzle that has troubled us more than any other for many a long year.”
At this Sam glanced at Heather—but Heather’s expression showed that she didn’t have a clue what either Sam or Miss Blanket were talking about. In fact Heather’s look made Sam think that Heather’s thoughts were still catching up on everything that had happened since she stepped up onto the third floor.
Miss Blanket said, “Alan was so wrapped tight in his secrets that when he first arrived we barely recognized his presence. He was a forgotten memory—or rather, a new memory lurking in a forgotten bell tower. He only gradually crept into the shadows of our world of the third floor, lurking in far corners, behind the spiders and their webs. He was a spy in the living world, nurturing his secrets.”
Bartholomew smiled at Miss Blanket with a gentleness that startled Sam—for just a brief moment the unsettling memory of a statue come to life brushed its icy fingers across her thoughts.
“He was in torment,” Bartholomew said. “He was a secret we could not fathom. He would not reveal his secret, would not say it aloud. We coaxed him to tell, tried to make him understand that his reward waited if he would just admit what kept him here. We demanded, bullied, pleaded. But we could not help him.”
“Without you he was a secret that might have remained locked to us,” Miss Blanket said. “He showed himself to you. You were placed in grave danger, and watching it tore at our hearts. We tried to stop it—as terrible as his torment was, it a pale shadow the danger he was in for trying to lure you. It was a pale shadow of the danger to you. Yet you have overcome. You wished to help him, and help him you have. He is at peace.”
Bartholomew laughed, suddenly. After his normal, booming voice his laugh was as light as a summer wind playing across the third floor. “And to think that the solution lay right here in our library, if we had only known to look.” His laugh faded into a secret smile at Miss Blanket. “But then, it’s not the first great mystery whose solution lay beneath my very nose.”
“You have allowed him to escape forever,” Miss Blanket added, giving Sam another gentle smile.
Forever. Sam tried to picture forever. She couldn’t. Forever added up to a lot of storm-raked winter nights, springtimes full of melted snowflakes and budded leaves, dreamy summer mornings when songbirds sang from the trees around Spire Hall, songbirds that flew south and when the leaves bled to autumn colour. The Southside Trading Company would close but Heather and her mom would find something else.
The word sighed through her. Forever. Not forever in the sense that the ghosts knew forever, but forever for her. He was free but she had lost him forever. A friend, found and lost—given but not taken away.
She would miss him. She would miss him but she already knew it wouldn’t be so bad. That was what Miss Blanket and Bartholomew had meant. He was free, so she should add some happiness to the dull ache of missing him.
Her earlier thought rose up again, and she said, “But it’s not finished. I’m glad we helped Al, but what about you two?”
As soon as Heather heard this she understood, and said with a frown, “Yeah.” She gave them a speculative look, from Bartholomew to Miss Blanket, as if she wouldn’t mind helping to be rid of two more ghosts. “What’s keeping you two here?”
Bartholomew and Miss Blanket both laughed, and looked at each other with a shared secret. Bartholomew said, still smiling, “There are no mysteries here to solve.”
“No mysteries at all,” Miss Blanket added. “We need no help. You have done more than you can imagine, and you may return to your normal lives.”
Sam paused, chewed on this for a moment. Normal? She imagined a return to normal—bickering over Piekarnia cookies with Aunt Stacie, and hanging on Heather’s every word as she told the latest Jenny Mayfield story. Did that version of normal still exist?
She decided that it did, but only in a way. Sam seemed to see the world through different eyes now, as if something had been added. She was alive, and hadn’t really understood that before. She was not alone—never had been. Inside a crowd, perhaps, but sheathed in the crowd. Anonymous, but very much herself and with her own special life.
Maybe she would go with Heather to the Hallowe’en party at the Community Centre after all. Maybe she’d dress up as a pirate—that wouldn’t take much work.
Miss Blanket broke into her thoughts, said, “What harm would there be?”
Sam didn’t understand, but when she looked up she saw that Miss Blanket hadn’t been speaking to her. The old ghosts watched each other, some unspoken thought passing between them. After a long moment Bartholomew nodded, slowly, and looked at Sam and Heather. “Perhaps you have earned this,” he said.
He beckoned for them to follow. He led them into the towering stacks. He strode quickly along, though his feet didn’t quite touch the ground. He ran ghostly fingers along the spines of the crumbling old books, and they seemed to glow a little as if his touch gave them new life.
When he came to the farthest stack in the farthest corner he reached into the most inaccessible bottom space and retrieved an ancient book.
Sam saw right away that this book was different than all of the other books in the library of Bartholomew Spire. Where as most looked as if they’d been much loved, this one might have been new. It was ancient, but looked as if it had never been opened.
Bartholomew set the book on a low table pushed against the shelves and said to Sam, “Young Alan Jordan knew the story of my family quite well. I listened to him tell you the story, and I have very little to add. But my story, and Miss Blanket’s story, are linked and we have known the truth for a long time. The truth lay in this book.”
“It is my father’s family Bible,” he said. “One might think that the very idea of such a selfish man as my father having a Bible at all was a strange idea. I should have seen by its very oddness that it hid a clue.
And then, after the beginning of my long vigil here, Miss Blanket came, looking for her own lost souls. She, too, had no reason to look inside this book. It was only in the last moment of her life, the very last moment, that she looked inside. And the shock killed her.”
To Sam and Heather’s surprise, Bartholomew telling them that Miss Blanket had died of shock made both of the old ghosts laugh again. Heather gave Sam a look that suggested they were crazy.
“You see, my father meant for me to look inside,” Bartholomew explained, reading their expressions. “He repented, at the end, before left the house with his loaded pistol to end his own life.”
Bartholomew opened the book and extracted two small sheets of paper that were crinkly with spidery old ink. “You see? ‘My dearest son,’ it says. It was his confession. He wrote down the whole story, how he’d had William and Jane Stanley seized from their bookshop as I returned here to plan for my brother’s funeral. How he had taken out papers in the name of “Blanket,” given them money, and told them that if they ever returned, if they ever tried to contact me, they would be killed and I would die with them.”
Miss Blanket sadly shoot her head. “I doubt my mother would have heeded him for long,” she said, “whether she was using the name of Stanley or the cruel name old Andrew Spire had given her. But she died at my birth, and my grandfather died when I was very young. I was raised by strangers.
“I had so little to go on, but I knew that I had been born here at Southside. I had heard the name Spire from my grandfather. I came here to try to learn the truth.”
She sighed. “I did not learn the truth. I could find nothing, but I stayed here just the same. Bookshops were somehow in my blood, I suppose, and an old library nicely fit the bill. Then one day, after years had fallen upon years, I came across this old Bible. I wondered why I’d never noticed it before, and when I flipped through it in idle curiosity these papers fell out—the final confession of Andrew Spire. I confess that the shock of learning my family’s fate simply did me in.”
Sam looked from one to the other of them. “You mean, you’re father and daughter? Bartholomew’s your dad?”
She nodded happily. “Yes. The reward for my search, perhaps the reason I stayed, though I did not know it. I found my father.”
Sam frowned. “But if you know this, why do you stay? What holds you here now? Wasn’t that the business that you left behind?”
Bartholomew grew thoughtful. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, it was the business we left behind. It was the end of my search for my lost love, and the end of my daughter’s search for her lost father.”
He frowned thoughtfully, then said slowly, “But since we’ve found each other, it doesn’t seem to matter much to us whether we are here or elsewhere—whatever that elsewhere is that we would have gone had we accepted that fate.”
“And here,” Miss Blanket, added thoughtfully, “we can sometimes help others.”
Heather finally stirred herself. “You mean, you’re happy just being ghosts?” she said. “Just hanging out here?”
Both Bartholomew and Miss Blanket laughed again.
“It’s an important job we do,” Miss Blanket said.
“What?” Heather demanded. “Haunting a library?”
Heather grinned at Sam, giving a playful shake of her head to suggest that all of this was a little crazy. She did it in a way that was meant to be teasing, and both Miss Blanket and Bartholomew smiled.
“Of course,” said Miss Blanket. “All libraries need ghosts. That’s just the nature of libraries.”
And with THE END, I offer my heartfelt thanks to you for reading Alone in a Crowded Place. I have deeply appreciated and enjoyed your comments.
I would like to extend my deepest thanks, too, to @EBaddley. Do you know the feeling, when you love a book, and you can’t wait for the movie? You’re really excited, but also a little apprehensive that they might wreck the book that you liked so much? And then, do you know the feeling when the movie gets it just right? That’s the feeling I had. Elizabeth started drawing Alone when it was still a story in my head, and she drew it even better than I had imagined. She also brought a lot of her own ideas to it. You’re looking at one of those many ideas right now. At first, when I didn’t even know enough about the story to suggest scenes for her to draw, she came up with some “bookish” things. She drew these delightful foo dog bookends, and I knew right away that I wanted to write THE END and then bookend the story with this playful pair. There were many times when her drawings added things to my story. Her movie got it just right.
If you’re interested in hearing a bit more about how I became a writer, or about writing Alone in a Crowded Place, here is an interview from the Storybird blog:
Thank you, again, for reading.

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