This story is by Joshua D. Riesland and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Going to the basement was M.C.’s least favorite part of volunteering at the library. On her way back, M.C. had lost direction. In front of her stood a cave-like entrance. M.C. placed her hands on the black stone and entered the dark cave. The cave opened to a large room glowing an eerie red. M.C. searched around the room for the source of the light. A table in the center of the room held several macabre decorations. The back wall had several shelves carved of stone. Sitting on one of the shelves producing an annoying hum was the source of the red light. M.C. pulled out her phone and shot off a text.
To: John Proctor III, Roger Giles
– PPL/ 3:10 p.m. Sharp/ You won’t want to miss this!”
Roger and John exited the car and closed their doors. The wind slapped against their faces. John pulled up the lapels on his letterman. The ash gray colonial style building in front of them had a penny tile mat in front of the entrance. In black tiles it spelled out Peabody Public Library. Something that was probably added in the early twentieth century according to M.C. The bell, attached to a thin black iron, jingled as they opened the door.
“Guys,” M.C. said, “I’ve found something that you have to see. It is a one-of-a-kind item and it’s here in this library. I nee…..”
“What? What is it? Tell us already,” Roger interrupted.
“Well, it’s a book.”
“You found a book…… In a library…. This is the exciting news? M.C., girls do a lot of weird things but calling us here to tell us you found a book in the library. Really!? This is even worse than the time you tried to get Roger to wax his lip.”
“Hey, waxing my lip hurt. A lot.”
M.C. glared over the top of her glasses. “This isn’t just any book. That’s why I need your help. We’re going to have to hide in here until the librarian closes and leaves for the evening.”
“Why do we have to hide to see a book?” Roger asked.
“Because it is in a secret location where no one goes. I was volunteering in the library and accidently stumbled into a room that held “other” books. The librarian found me in the room and said, “You must never go into this room again. It’s off limits” she used a tone that people usually reserve for yelling at dogs. Trust me you are gonna want to see these books,” M.C. said with determination in her voice.
Nonchalantly John replied, “Yeah, yeah, sure. We can hide in the janitor’s closet at closing time. But this had better be good.”
“Ooooohhh, it will be.”
“So, I guess we’re doing this?” Roger asked cautiously.
“Apparently, we are.”
John, M.C., and Roger all hid in the janitor’s closet and waited for the librarian to leave. They heard the solid click of light switches, the sound of the bell ringing, followed by the sound of the door locking. Then silence. Slowly their eyes adjusted to the darkness. John came into focus holding up one finger, signaling for everyone to wait. Roger and M.C. patiently waited for John to let his finger down. He did so, and slowly opened the closet door.
The windows of the library gave a clear view of the sidewalk outside. Night had settled in, and the interior of the library had very little light.
“This way,” M.C. whispered
The three of them slinked along the back wall of the library. Behind the reference section a set of stairs threatened to swallow in darkness all who entered.
“Use the handrail.”
“I got it; what about you John?”
“I feel it. Let’s go.”
Step by step down the stairs the footsteps echoed. The wind whistling outside elevated the eerie feeling in the basement. Abruptly, a small light ripped through the darkness.
“Sorry, Roger. Sorry, M.C. I figure down here no one can see the light. Might as well use it to see. So which way now M.C.?”
John and Roger followed her until the bland white walls revealed a recessed, black chiseled rock, cave-like entrance. A moist, musty smell permeated the air. Dripping water echoed in the dark.
M.C. whispered, “The book is in there.”
“Let’s go in, then,” Roger said hesitantly.
John held up his phone light; it struggled to pierce the dark in the short, narrow hallway. The trio entered theroom. Several books in old leather covers sat on shelves and a table. Two of the books were chained to the wall. At the back of the room a shelf contained a solitary book. The book emitted a red light.
“See, I told you that it would be worth it. Aren’t these weird? Just leave the red one alone.”
“M.C., why don’t you want us reading the one glowing red? Does it give you magical powers or something?” John smugly asked.
“Something like that,” M.C. replied, dripping with sarcasm.
A long wooden table dominated the center of the room.
“Candles attached to skulls by wax, Awesome,” Roger exclaimed.
M.C. grabbed a match from the glass jar, struck it, and held it to the wick. The wick lit and produced a dark green flame. Roger turned. Hanging from the ceiling was a golden cage holding a crow.
“Oh, Crap,” Roger said, grasping his chest.
“The librarian must know about all of this, right?” asked John.
“She did catch me down here; and I don’t think the crow is feeding itself,” M.C. replied.
Without making a sound the crow’s stare locked firmly on the trio. John stretched out his hand, and the crow turned his head tracking John’s movement.
Whoosh! A gust of wind blew out the candles. The books on the wall rattled their chains. The book glowing red intensified and produced a humming sound. M.C., Roger, and John turned to face the book.
John darted toward the glowing book. The chained books leapt toward John as he ran past.
“John, no!” M.C. called out.
John picked up the glowing red book and opened it. He flipped through the pages and then began to read.
“All that is in here is a dumb poem.”
John tossed the book toward the table. It landed and slid toward Roger and M.C. Roger picked it up and turned the pages until he came to the poem. Then read it out loud.
“In Salem, they took many
In Peabody only three
Whoever reads or hears this
Cursed they will be.
They took three of ours
We’ll take one more
To settle the score
Each one blamed for the death
Of the one who came before.”
“M.C. this is some weird stuff. I gotta say you came through on this one. But we should probably get out of here.”
“You’re right we should probably get out of here. Let’s go Roger.”
M.C., John, and Roger entered the hallway and moved up the stairs. John turned off his light as they reached the top of the stairs.
“I didn’t think we were down there that long,” M.C. said as she stared at her watch.
“How is it morning?”
“Excellent question, John.”
Rays of light crept through the windows of the Peabody Public Library. Orange and yellow leaves leapfrogged over one another down the sidewalk. No person could be seen. The streetlights flickered off. John, M.C., and Roger walked toward the front door. The clock above the checkout desk clicked as the hour hand landed on seven.
“The library opens in thirty minutes; we need to get out of here before we’re seen.”
“How do you know that?”
“Yeah, why would you know that M.C.?”
“She knows that because she’s been helping her great, great, great, great grandmother here at the library,” Mrs. Corey the Librarian said as she stepped in front of the door.
“If you’re her four times great grandma that would make you…” Roger’s voice teetered off as he counted fingers.
“Dead!” John yelled.
“Oh sweetie, Witches don’t die.” Mrs. Corey cackled.
“I’m sorry guys. This is the only way to keep the curse from killing me,” M.C. cried.
“What is the only way?” Roger pleaded.
“Offering you two as a sacrifice in place of herself,” Sneered Mrs. Corey.
Mrs. Corey pointed toward the basement. John and Roger moved against their own will toward the basement stairs. Mrs. Corey turned around and smiled at M.C.
“Honey why don’t you open the library up for me. We wouldn’t want to disappoint our customers.”
M.C. turned around, threw on the lights, and opened the Peabody Public Library at seven thirty like it always had for hundreds of years.