Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Chapter 3

It was on a Wednesday in early December that Seamus discovered the most intriguing part of the Menlo Park library.

It was near closing time and the quarterly round of tutor training had just finished up in the basement conference room. Deborah and Maria had gone upstairs with the prospective tutors and Seamus was cleaning up the room, putting away the projector, and picking up a few information packets that had been left behind. He had already made one trip back up the elevator with the cart containing the leftover snacks and drinks, so he didn't have much to carry this time and decided to take the stairs for a change.

This took him to the opposite end of the hallway, where he noticed a smaller, darker corridor branching off, and leading down a few steps to a level slightly lower than the rest of the basement. He hadn't even known that it was there before, and its lights were off, so it was hardly noticeable from the main area of the basement hall.

Intrigued, Seamus abandoned the stairs for a minute to take a look. Down the steps was a fairly short corridor that contained only one door. The door had a small window in the upper part, but he couldn't make out much that was inside the room. It didn't seem to have any windows or light source inside it, and there wasn't much coming from his side in the hallway. But he thought he could see the beginning of a row of shelves full of books. He couldn't see the far walls at all. For all he knew, it could extend under the entire library. He tried the door. It was locked.

A faint voice came down the hallway. "Seamus? Are you still down here?"

He turned and popped back up to the main basement corridor to see Deborah at the other end of it, by the conference room.

"Oh, there you are. We were about to take off for the night. Do we need to get anything else from down here?" She stuck her head in the room to give it a quick glance.

"Nope, I got it all taken care of. We can head on up." He led the way to the elevator and pushed the button. Once inside, he turned to Deborah.

"Do you know what's in the lower level, down at the other end of the hall?" he asked.

"Lower level? Oh, you mean by the stairs?" Deborah was about 55 and had a bad knee, and had probably never bothered taking the stairs. "I've never been down there. I think they store old books down there for the annual book sale."

"You mean the great big sale out in the park in June?"

"Yes. Donations and old books are hauled down here once in a while, so I assume they must get shoved in there. And I remember seeing people drawing them up by the cartload last summer before the sale. I don't think they ever actually bring them all out, though. Someone told me once that the room is so big and has so many books in it that they never quite manage to empty it. There are probably some ancient, mildewy books down there since the library was founded in 1916."

"Really? Wow. That must be quite a place." By now they were back at the Project Read office and were gathering up their bags and coats to head home.

"I suppose so. I don't think anyone gets down there very much. Susan over in the main office probably has a key, but she doesn't think about it much except around June. Anyway, have a safe drive home. I'll see you next week?"

"Same as usual."

Deborah headed off to her car and Seamus stood by his bike for a minute, watching the lights turn off in the library and wondering about the darkest place beneath it.

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