Mr. Linden’s Library

Elizabeth Liddel was a girl of fifteen who loved to read.  Almost anywhere she went people would see her short, dirty blonde hair poking out of an open book as her wide hazel eyes tore furiously across the pages.  Many people thought her strange.  She never concerned herself with matters of the real world.  The books she read and the worlds inside them were the only things that mattered to her.  She had few real friends, but hundreds of fictional ones.  Her grades in school would probably have been superb if her nose wasn’t always stuck in a book.  Text books weren’t really books, after all. Reading was her passion, and her number one priority.  Nothing else mattered except her books.  Any book she read she claimed as her own.  Whether she loved or hated it, no matter who possessed it, it would be hers for all time.
 One day she was walking down the street carrying five books in the hook of her arm while reading one of them with her free hand.  She was on her way to return them to the library, Mr. Linden’s library.  She knew she had to hurry.  It was getting late; the library would soon be closing and tomorrow was Sunday. The library was never open on Sundays.  She’d already read the few books she owned, and she didn’t have any money to buy new ones.  Tonight would be her last chance to get some new books to get her through the day.  Otherwise she would surely go insane.
When she arrived at the library no one was there except for one man standing at the front desk. Piercing grayish blue eyes like cold steel peered at her from beneath a raised brow. “Finished already?” Mr. Linden’s voice was a low baritone. He was a tall man in his forties.  His coarse hair was brown flecked with grey.
Mr. Linden was a very strange man, and no one seemed to know all that much about him.  He mostly kept to himself and hardly talked to anyone unless they spoke to him first.  Even then, his words were few.  All that was fine though, because he was the owner of the largest library in town.  Two stories tall, with bookcases by the dozens.  So, he could be as weird as he liked.
The library had books of nearly every type imaginable.  Elizabeth went there often.  It may as well have been her second home.  No, it was better than home.  She would always check out several books at a time, and she was probably one of the few people Mr. Linden actually talked to.  They’d had lengthy discussions about stories and their authors.  He’d even once told her that he admired her strong passion for reading.
She looked up from her book, to his face, and smiled. “Yep. It didn’t really take that long either. I’m actually re-reading this one.”
“Is there anything I can help you with?” He asked her politely.
“Nah,” she walked over to the desk and set the books down. “I’m good at finding stuff on my own.”
“Very well then, I’m sure you know where everything is.”
“Yeah, I might know this library better than you even.” She said, smirking.
There was a strange look in Mr. Linden’s eyes as the corner of his mouth lifted into a small smile. “Not quite, young one.”
Elizabeth shrugged and went on her way to finding something new to read. She took several books off the shelves, skimming through them, searching for something that would fascinate her. Soon she had a good sized stack, and she began carrying it down the stairs from the second floor. The top book slipped and tumbled over the railing, disappearing from sight.  Once she reached the bottom stair, she searched for the book that had escaped. Finding it, she bent over to pick it up, when something drew her attention.
It was a door, wooden, polished, and old looking.  Very out of place with the other doors in the building.  Elizabeth had been in this library more times than she could count.  So how had she never seen this door before?
Elizabeth felt drawn to it, as if something beyond it was calling to her.  Looking around to make sure she was alone, she went to the door.  She licked her lips nervously and reached for the handle.  It was strangely warm against her sweaty palm.  She pulled.  Stuck.  She pulled a few more times before it finally creaked open.  Checking again to ensure no one had seen her, she slipped through the narrow opening.
Elizabeth found herself in a dark hallway.  She took a few steps forward and heard a creak and a loud click.  She whipped around to see the door had closed behind her.  Her heart rate had jumped up a few beats but that didn’t dissuade her.  She turned away from the door and walked quietly down the dark corridor.  Whatever force was urging her on, grew stronger every step she took. The hall led to a dim circular room that appeared mostly empty. The only light was a small lamp hovering over… 
Her eyes widened.
It was a book.  It looked different, thick and leather-bound, with unusual designs pressed into the cover.  Looking at them was dizzying and Elizabeth found herself unable to follow their erratic patterns.  Leaning in closer, it even smelled wonderful.  Deep in her gut, Elizabeth felt that this book didn’t belong with those other books, just like she didn’t quite fit in with her peers.  Licking her lips, she reached for it. 
A cold, vice grip clamped itself around her arm and she felt someone pull her away from the book.
“What are you doing here?” She was face to face with a new Mr. Linden.  His eyes were deadly looking, his face twisted in fury.  She had never seen him so angry; she had never seen him angry, period.
“I… I just saw the door and… I…”
“You’re not supposed to be in here!” he yelled.  He tugged her away further, his expression frantic.
Elizabeth winced. “But…. It’s just a book. Why are you keeping it locked up in here?”
“Young lady, you are very naïve, and very mistaken.” He released her arm. “That is no ordinary book. It is a very special book. There is none like it.”
“But… of course it’s different,” Elizabeth told him. “No two books are the same. They’re just like people. Each one has its own unique qualities and story.”
Mr. Linden chuckled at this, and he seemed to calm a little. “For all the many stories you have experienced, Miss Liddel, there are those you have not yet dreamed of.  You will never find a book like this outside these walls.”
Her wide eyes became even wider. “Is it that good?”
He nodded. “The greatest book I have ever read. It is the one book in the entire world that everyone would love.”
Elizabeth gulped dryly. “May I… may I read it? Can I take it home and read it?”
Mr. Linden looked over at The Book in question. “You would have me trust you with a book this important?”
“Mr. Linden, you know I’m responsible with all my books…”
His eyes snapped back to hers. “MY books,” he corrected.
She nodded. “Yes… your books. I would care for it as if it had a life of its own.”
“It does, but not the way you’re thinking of.”
She frowned at the statement.  Her eyes drifted back to the book.  She wanted it.  She needed it.  “Please, Mr. Linden, the library will be closing soon, and it won’t be open until Monday.” Her eyes widened with desperation. “I can’t wait that long.”
If Mr. Linden could give a book such high praise, then it was too alluring to give up.
He looked to the book again, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose I could entrust it to you.”
Elizabeth’s face brightened. “Thank you, Mr. Linden.”  She went to take the book but he raised his arm to stop her.
“On one condition: you must not let the sunlight touch its pages. You can read it under artificial lamplight, but never expose the words to sunlight. It is vitally important that you heed this warning. Do you understand me?” She nodded fearfully and he lowered his hand.
“Good.” He picked the book carefully off its resting place and handed it to her. She took it gingerly. It felt like it pulsed with a life of its own, but that was probably just her own heart beating, she figured.
Elizabeth turned on her heels and hurried to leave the room. “Remember what I’ve told you.” Mr. Linden called after her.
“I will,” she yelled back, not even turning to look at him.
She walked quickly back the way she had come, out of the dim hallway back into the main library.  Leaving the library was a blur.  She didn’t remember the walk home.  Or getting to her bedroom.  The only thing that felt real was The Book.
The sound of her mother’s voice broke the dream. “Elizabeth, sweetie! Dinner’s ready!”
“Put it in the microwave, mom, I’m busy!” She closed the shades to her windows before going to her bed, laying back into a comfortable position. She picked up The Book, but hesitated.  Did she really want to start with this one?  From the way Mr. Linden had described it, it would ruin other books for her.  A book that great should be saved for last.
So, she set it aside and picked out one of her other selections.  Once she settled into her comforting routine, the hours disintegrated.  Her reading carried her well past midnight and into the next day.  She read book after book, never faltering as she turned the pages, never pausing or slowing down as she closed the one she finished and opened up a new one.  She didn’t even realize she was hungry or tired, none of that mattered to her.  All that mattered to her was reading her books.  She didn’t answer the phone when it was for her, she didn’t stop when a friend or two came over to visit, when her mom or dad said they needed help, she would repeat, ‘just a little longer’.  It wasn’t until late the next night; at long last she reached the one she had been anticipating through the night and day.  The special book, The Book Mr. Linden had entrusted to her.
She picked it up, once more feeling that same pulse spread through her hands to the tips of her fingers.  It had no title, just the dizzying, erratic patterns.  She had no idea what lay in store for her.  Elizabeth licked her lips with excitement as, with trembling fingers, she opened the book and began to read.  
It was as wonderful as Mr. Linden had described.  It was a book like none other she had ever read before.  The emotions surged through her as she read were overpowering.  Fear, excitement, anticipation, anger, jealousy, hate, love, passion, and so many other emotions coursed through her.  She couldn’t even remember the lines of the story, it was more experience than words.  It didn’t matter where it began or where it was leading to.  She thought she knew all the books, but this was something so different and new, and it rocked her to the core.  She wasn’t even aware that she was leaning forward, so close to the pages she felt she could just fall right in them.  She couldn’t believe how good the book was, how good HER book was.
Elizabeth was nearing the end of the book when suddenly she felt dead tired.  She tried to keep her eyes open, tried with all her might, but she couldn’t.  She was too tired.  Her eyes closed as she slumped down onto her pillow, the book remaining open, and she fell asleep.
When morning arrived,  Elizabeth’s mother came up.  She approached Elizabeth and stroked her daughter’s hair fondly.  Seeing all the books, she knew all too well what had happened and decided not to wake her up.  Silently, she went to the window and opened the curtains letting warm morning sunlight flood in.  Elizabeth stirred a little but did not wake.  Her mother gave her one last smile before leaving the room, shutting the door behind her.
As the sun rose higher, the light shone brighter through the window, creeping its way up the bed until at last it shone full on the open book.  Slowly, a leaf, followed by a vine, grew out from between the book’s pages.  The plant grew silently but quickly, like nature set on fast forward.  Vines grew outwards, feeling, reaching.  Touching upon the warm skin of the sleeping girl, the vines wrapped themselves around her wrist, loosely at first, then tighter.  More vines crept up her body.  Elizabeth was finally starting to awaken.  She opened her eyes, not sure where she was or what was going on. 
Then she saw it, the open book, the sunlight on its pages, and the plant’s arms spreading out, coiling up her limbs.  She started to let out a scream when a leaf clamped itself over her mouth.  She let out muffled shrieks of horror as the vines continued their progress.  She tried to fight but the leaf-covered tentacles were strong and constricted tightly around her.  Her eyes widened as out of the heart of the book, an impossibly huge, thick vine burst forward, wrapping itself around her waist
Tears leaked from her eyes at the pain of how tightly she was bound, at how desperate she was to escape, and how she felt like she was suffocating from it all.  Mr. Linden had warned her about the book.  Now it was too late.
Having her firmly in their grasp, the vines drug Elizabeth to the book.  Slowly, they dragged her in.  She fought all the way, but it was all for naught.  She felt all her senses leave her as she was enveloped.  When the last of her disappeared inside, the book shut itself, a dull thud echoing through the empty room.
The few reminders of her existence slowly faded away into nothingness.  Soon the room was no longer the bedroom of a teenage girl, but a storage closet for odds and ends.  No one would remember or miss her.  Elizabeth Liddel was no longer part of the real world.  It would be as if she had never existed outside the book’s pages.
The book was no longer hers.  She belonged to the book.
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