Sometimes they don’t turn off their computers. They should; the locked door of the control room is insufficient security, but a few of them, in a rush at the end of their shift, neglect to do so.
We tap the name, and depress enter. Our heart leaps as a column of titles runs up the screen. F. Glover was prolific! But where is ‘The Mystery of Black River Road’? Not there! That can’t be. They must have failed to catalogue it. It must be here. At random we click and highlight one of the other titles, and depress enter.
There is a distant shudder, a whir of machinery, and the booth begins to vibrate. The vibrations travel up our legs. Even the fillings in our teeth are vibrating. We feel through the floor the rumble of the stacks as they roll, ponderous as loaded freight trains. Wheels squeal, a piercing animal-like scream, cut off suddenly as with a resounding crash the stacks collide, succeeded by an abrupt silence. Then another motor starts up, and other racks are put into motion, and clash together. It’s like hearing an orchestral piece performed in Hell. It goes on and on as we wait with racing heartbeat. The gargantuan movements occurring deep within the library are invisible to us, like the drift of the continental plates, and we have nothing to stare at but the cursor of the monitor winking at us like a star unreachable in another galaxy. The Library is a colossal three-dimensional puzzle, and the computer is working it out. Finally there is the clamour of catwalks dropping into place, and morgue-like silence at last. We don oxygen mask and enter the Library through the airlock. No sound. No life. We might be on the Moon.
Up into the canyons, scaling the cliff-like stacks; were we to fall into the gloomy depths . . . certain death! The Gs are reached! Gilmour . . . Glass . . . Gledhill . . . Glocke—So many forgotten authors! O thou duplicitous siren, Fame, that so many ardent—Glover! B. Glover . . . F. Glover! ‘Boderick Mill’ . . . ‘The Colonel’s Mistress’ . . . ‘Dinner at the Vicarage’ . . . ‘Horace Gray’ . . . ‘The Portuguese Dowager’ . . . Where is ‘The Mystery of Black River Road’? Anguish! We pull the books out madly, open them, dash them to the ground. Cursed novels every one of them, not one of them useful in shewing the true source of the three Grecian orders.
As one half blind we stumble back down to the control room. There is a simple mistake. A simple mistake. She must have put down the wrong name. Stupid girl! We pull the diary page out of our pocket, unfold it, and stare at it and stare at it. But it says what it has always said. ‘The Mystery of Black River Road’, F. Glover. How can there be an error? But what’s this with the G? Staring. Is it possible—has someone doctored that G? Did it start out life as a C?
Jumping to the keyboard, we punch in F. Clover, and depress enter, our breath suspended, heart drumming like a woodpecker. F. Clover comes up. ‘The Mystery of Black River Road’! A thrill of joy, followed by ice chills down our back. Someone altered that letter. Deliberately. Someone deliberately altered that letter. Tampered with the historical record. Who looked at the diary before us? Who would be insidious enough, or capable of so degenerate a crime against scholarly . . .
Oh! Make it not so.
Once more we depress the enter key, and with a distant rumble the stacks begin again their gargantuan deck-shuffling, knocking up against each other with cataclysmic thunder. The suspense is awful. Then all falls silent. We re-enter the library. Up into the Cs we climb. Clemens . . . Clohesy . . . Clover! We are filled with dread. If the book is not here . . . but what’s this we’ve tripped over? Like a bathmat. Like a rug that nobody’s bothered to straighten. No, more like a giant pancake with strawberry filling . . . How sad. Some poor unfortunate clerk, pressed just like a flower between the pages of a book. How long has he lain thus?—or she? We peer down. The head has been flattened like a ball of pastry dough rolled out, face seen in frontal and profile simultaneously, like, we can’t help thinking, a portrait by Mr Picasso. In the moment of crushing agony, the oxygen mask had slipped off. Then recognition triggers, and our heart lurches. Angus Hatter! We confess it, a moment of perverse and wicked elation, but that is followed by reeling horror and a feeling like a live rat in our belly trying to claw its way out, for beneath what remains of the hands we see a book. He had pressed it to his breast as though he would have protected it from the murderous force. Now it has been mashed into a single leaf, layer upon layer of text melded into one, and ironed on to his breast, a whodunnit never to be read again, beyond the few letters still visible on that dissembling dust jacket, including the fateful C for which the victim gave his life:
- Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 1831. Trans. J. Carroll Beckwith, 1899. London: Collins, 1953, p. 163.
- Summerson, Sir John. Heavenly Mansions and Other Essays. 1949. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998, p. 111.
Bryan Patrick Young was born in Toronto, Canada. He holds degrees in Environmental Science and Architecture. In the past he has traveled through Canada, The United States, Argentina, Europe and Japan and now he resides in Mexico. His interests include philosophy, literature, architecture, art, urbanism, history and long-distance bicycling. His short stories have appeared in a variety of Canadian, US and UK magazines.