If you find this, do not come looking for me.
I think I need to write these notes down in case I don’t find some way out of here. If I do, I will collect them, and nobody will know about this, except for myself and perhaps a very good therapist.
My name is Martin Jacobs, I’m a fourth-year philosophy student, and I used to love Eggleston Library. The cathedral-like facade, the slight smell of dust, the endless stacks of books, squeezed together on these heavy shelves that can only be moved by wheels on the sides. I quite like turning the wheels, actually — moving each shelf produces this low rumble, like the earthquakes we used to get in Palo Alto. Now that the library is nearly empty because of quarantine, it’s the only way you know there are other people here — that deep rumble, echoing through the bones of the building. Ever since freshman year, I’ve found Eggleston comfortably lonely, a little oasis of quiet where there isn’t the expectation to be charming and happy and talkative all the time. Only since last Christmas have I begun actively seeking out that feeling, heading to lower floors where the more obscure books are kept and you can go hours without seeing a single soul.
For that matter, there’s something really odd about this place now that only a handful of people are allowed in at a time because of the quarantine. Lots of the lights are off, and although Eggleston was always quiet, this is a new type of silence— a heavy kind that settles in the back of your throat and can’t be forgotten.
The lights are important, actually. Because they had a problem with the lights on the lower floors being left on by careless students and going undiscovered for weeks at a time, the librarians switched to ones that operate on motion-detection a couple months ago. I used to like it — each little halogen square flicking on ahead of you and off behind you, like a second set of footsteps following you around and gently guiding you to the book you need.
I was searching for a book on solipsism for my thesis when the light turned off. That wasn’t unusual — I was used to having to wave my arms to keep them on if I took too long browsing the stacks. However, as I was standing in the dark, I saw a light flick on down at the end of the stacks. There was no reason to believe it wasn’t another student, but a tingle of fear still shot down my palms. That light flicked off, then the one in front of it flicked on. I thought about how bizarre I would look to whoever was down here so late, standing there in the dark and not saying anything to them.
It was then that I realized I could hear no footsteps.
There was a sense of movement, yes — of something heavy disturbing the air — but nothing so rhythmic and comforting as a step. Instead, there was a rustly sigh, like autumn leaves tumbling over pavement. The lights drew closer, and I swear they paused at the end of the aisle I was in. I was too terrified to even turn my head and see what it was. Then the quiet movement continued down the stacks, and I was plunged into darkness again.
Hoping it was a lighting malfunction, I crept towards the end of the stacks, but the treacherous light above my head flicked on. I froze, but saw nothing. I left my book where it was and tried to walk swiftly to the stairwell.
That’s the weirdest thing, though — there isn’t a stairwell here. There’s a place where the stairwell should be — this place is so confusing that I had to double-check I was looking at the right wall — but where I remember coming downstairs there is simply more clapboard, and a single set of stairs leading downwards. I tried knocking on the wall that goes upstairs, and even throwing my shoulder against it, but it seems exactly as immobile as any other wall in this place. If it is some weird illusion, it’s the most tangible one I’ve ever seen.
I am going to keep searching for another way out. I don’t want to go downwards if I can avoid it. I have the strange feeling that the darkness at the bottom of the stairs is far darker than the kind up here.
I am going downstairs.
The thing that stalks the stacks, whatever it is, has returned. It still has no footsteps, but it is whispering— little chuckles, distant shouts, even snips of poems I barely know. It has only paced the perimeter so far, so I have been hiding within the shelves, but I think it knows I am here. Sometimes the light at the end of the shelf stays on for minutes at a time, as though it is looking at me. I still can’t see the thing, exactly, but I feel its gaze on the back of my neck, as though every book behind me has grown eyes. Still, it doesn’t attack me. Why? I have to assume that it needs me alive for something, but even when I ask none of its logorrheic mutterings have come close to telling me what it wants. I’ve decided to give it a name, at least — Scior — I guess it’s a little pretentious, but it makes me feel better. When I wrote it just now, I heard something like a child’s laugh among the murmuring and rustling in another aisle. I think it may have liked being named.
Today I realized that I hadn’t heard someone else’s shelf rumble on another floor in days. The silence pressed in on me, choking me, and I panicked and pulled the fire alarm. All it did was make a beeping sound, and immediately the lights rushed towards me. I ran into the stacks just in time. Still, nobody has come down to see what is going on, even though by now it must have been going off for hours or even days. I’m starting to suspect it will continue indefinitely. Today, I drank the last of the water in my water bottle, and I don’t know where to get more. It’s just another reminder that I can’t sit here forever.
That is why I am going downstairs. It seems like the only way to have any hope of finding a way out, or even someone else who is trapped here like me. I wish there was someone on the outside looking for me. I wish I could think of someone who would.
I will be careful. Still, if this is the last note, you will know that the downstairs has taken me whole.
I am in the dark and I apologize if this note is a little bit hard to read.
There is no bottom. I’m not in Eggleston, at least — I have gone down nine or ten flights of stairs, and I know there weren’t that many basement floors. Three flights ago, I stopped being able to hear the fire alarm on the floors above me, although trying to find a way up towards it is as futile as ever. I’ve taken to hiding on the empty shelves near the floors of the stacks — oh, Scior has started coming in between shelves now, as well. I hide by squeezing between two shelves, or wedging myself into one, and hardly dare to breathe. Now it has acquired something like a shape — a man, or a woman, or a child, just their shadow from the corner of your eye — but then it vanishes between one light and the next.
I wish I knew what Scior wanted from me. I’ve tried to resist the draw into the deeper and deeper floors of the library. Today I attempted to stay inside a stairwell until the last possible second, walking backwards to keep an eye on the ascending stairs— but I blinked and the wall was smooth again, like the way up never existed. I know Scior and the stairs must be connected in some way — both of them seem to be driving me downwards, further into the library. The only resistance is passivity — staying put and waiting for a change.
I’m so frightfully bored. Even terror, after a time, exhausts me, like a rope unraveling under constant tension. Perhaps I will read one of the books.
Scior caught me yesterday. I think it was yesterday — whenever I wrote that last note. I thought it had left me alone, so I decided to read. I was in a section on psychology, and selected one of the more interesting-looking books — but as soon as I brushed the spine, I felt a rush of air from the end of the stacks as Scior barreled towards me, not even giving me time to react before it tore into my mind. I didn’t even have to read the book — it was reading me.
Have you ever thought about what a page must feel as you write on it? I believe it is something like having your skin devoured by a hundred tiny scratches. But it wasn’t just the contents of that book that poured into my mind — more, more, things I didn’t need to know, things I couldn’t possibly have read, stretching against the inside of my skin like an overripe watermelon. It burned, but beneath the pain I felt this deep, sincere joy, like an inside joke or a difficult confession — the thrill of being known.
In a few more moments, I think my head would have burst, or my mind reduced to mush. I only survived because my shin hit the shelf. I may have been floating — the memory is a bit fuzzy with pain, but I threw the book aside, and Scior fled whispering off into the darkness. My hands are marked with tiny red lines. I fear that if I look too closely at them they will begin to form words.
There is still the stairwell downwards. I will keep going down, I think, when Scior quiets down again. There must be a bottom. If this is, somehow, still Eggleston — a possibility I doubt by the second — I dimly recall a water fountain in the basement. I am dreadfully thirsty. And even if it isn’t, my thoughts are consumed by dark, cool caverns and underground rivers that run backwards. I feel if there is water, it is below me. I must be careful not to let myself touch the books again. I may write more, to resist the temptation. These words, at least, are safe.
In all of this I keep coming back to the question of why I am trapped here. Why me, of all people?
If Scior’s intention really is to kill me, then perhaps I am convenient. I don’t have many friends to come looking for me. I haven’t spoken to my mother since we fell out at Christmas. Now I wish I had. But that can’t be all of the story. After the excruciation of being read, just for a few seconds, I am certain that if it wanted to kill me, it could — so why is it tormenting me? Why does it want me to choose?
I guess what I’m most afraid of is that it chose me because it knew I would like it. The reading, I mean. I keep thinking about my mind lying vivisected, the blissful rawness of being understood from the inside out, more intimately than a lover or a parent possibly could. It hurt more than anything I have ever experienced and I cannot stop thinking about it. The lines burned into my skin are my own thoughts. These words are among them — as I write, I see them appearing across my wrists, with a slight tugging and the cold burn of excoriation. I think the library wants me to read the books, to make them real. Perhaps it knew I would desire what it offers in return.
No, I was wrong earlier. I suppose what I am most afraid of is that there is no reason it chose me at all.
This is the last note. It has been a week, or a month, or maybe an hour, but I simply can’t take this anymore. The pages and ink dessicate me. I am maddeningly thirsty.
The fear has not abated. If anything, it has gotten worse, with Scior running down the aisles faster and with less warning. I know soon I won’t have time to hide before it catches me. I watch lights flash by and squeeze my eyes shut against the mildewy air that follows it.
It is so angry. It is so angry. I no longer believe that Scior and the library are different — one is the extension of the other, the product of neglect. As a teenager I used to explore abandoned places — old schools, rusted barns, overgrown mansions. There’s something faintly inhuman about a place when no one remembers who it belonged to. Sometimes it feels like it never belonged to anyone at all. That’s the way Scior sounds to me, when I can hear it keening — something deeply, inhumanly lonely, as though leaving the library unseen for so long turned it into whatever people are when they are not people.
Foolish, foolish, to think that we could trap all these little bits of people here alone and expect them to behave themselves. There is nothing quite so lonely as a book unread. I used to walk these stacks and run my fingers along the spines of the books here, imagining they were the hands of whomever penned them. Now I can feel those same hands reaching out, tugging, pulling at my skin, at every follicle, at the beds of my fingernails and the backs of my teeth.
I am going to read one of them.
I know it did not turn out well for me last time, but I believe I have no choice. There are no stairs on this floor — not even a set leading down. I worry that I have reached the bottom, or the top, or simply the end.
To whoever finds this: leave. Don’t come to the library alone, not until it’s full of students and laughter and couples kissing behind the stairwells again. The books may believe that by reading them you will save them. If you’re finding these, I could not.