Conner made his way through the shelving, pushing his cart full of books to be returned. He’d been working at the State Library for a few months and loved the place. The history, architecture, books. A small part of him always kept lookout for an unused room that he could move into. No-one would notice if he did, but every single room, nook, and cranny was occupied. At times, he thought he could hear the whole building creak and groan under the pressure of containing all these words, pictures, artefacts; as if the addition of one more item would cause the building to rend apart and spread pages fluttering across the city.
He was deep in the archives, placing books back onto shelves that only got pulled for research. Books once returned might sit until someone else was doing some obscure research into, well, the migratory habits ofmus volans rinocerotis, the lesser unicorn bat. Conner continued deeper into the archive, returning books to their homes until his cart was empty. Emerging out of the archive, Conner got thinking. Was there an unread book? Returning to the book drop off spot, Conner put his cart back into position and looked at his watch. Damn, home time. He’d have to revisit this idea tomorrow. Making his way out of the library, clocking off, distractedly saying goodnight to his fellow librarians, Conner set off home.
Next day, Conner was at the library, stamping his feet in the morning light, clutching a coffee strong enough to melt a teaspoon. He’d skipped breakfast to get here early. Overnight, he’d developed a Plan. A Plan worthy of a capital “P”. Not that it was a sophisticated Plan. As far as Plans went, this one wasn’t even on the scale of putting together a Swedish flatpack, but a Plan it was. With a wave of his keycard, Conner was in, clocked on, and at one of the terminals before anyone else had arrived. Conner executed his Plan. He accessed the report system, and simply sorted books by the number of times they had been requested in ascending order. That was it. Thinking about this, Conner was no longer sure the Plan deserved the capital “P”, but at the top of the list was one book –one– that had never been so much as requested. Ever. Not once since it entered the catalogue. Just one. The book that no-one had read. He scribbled down its details and headed to the archives.
Conner made his way quickly through the shelves, slowing as he got closer, checking titles until he reached the shelf. Running his finger along the books, just hovering above the spines, Conner homed in on the book, closer and closer until his finger stopped, not quite touching. There it was, the book no-one asked for. His hand vibrated ever so slightly as he reached out and touched it, a thrill running down his spine, Conner pulled the book from the shelf.
He turned the book over in his hands, examining it closely. It was bound in sumptuous, almost velvety leather, dyed deep blood red. The back was bereft of anything, just the texture of the leather, and the spine had just the title picked out in gold leaf. On the front was just the title, embossed, and like the spine, picked out in gold leaf with a border of symbols or ancient text that looked like it had been stamped by hand. The book had a heft to it, like the words contained within all held purpose and wisdom. Conner brought the book up to his face, closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath, savouring the aromatics of the cover, the old pages, the ink. With a sigh that frilloped up from the depths, he opened his eyes, read the cover one last time, and reverently opened the book to read.
Conner made it half way down the first page when with acrackthe book landed on the floor. He was now just a whiff of ozone and mist of carbon, being sucked in and filtered out by the environmental management system. The book sat on the floor, closed, a thick frost sublimating off, just that little bit heavier than before.
An hour or so later, Katrina made her way through the shelves with her cart, collecting books to be taken up to the main floor. As she came through the deepest part of the archive, she caught just a slight electric tang in her nose causing her to sneeze. Looking down as she fished for a tissue, she spotted a red leather bound book on the floor. She picked it up and looked it over. Victorian era at the latest, she thought, most likely earlier. Victorian era books annoyed her, and looking at the title embossed in some dodgy blackletter font, decided that this one in particular would annoy her all the more. She carefully slotted it back into the shelf and moved on, looking for her next book.
No, thought Katrina, some tacky bound Victorian era schlock horror novel calledThiever of Souls was not for her.
Mel pulled her cart to a stop and sighed as she did every time she pulled up to this machine. Bloody northern suburbs hipster hardware developers and their crappy backronyms. Seriously, theDigitisingENgine andIndexingScanner? Who names something as important to a modern librarian’s life after a railway station? Thank fuck they weren’t based near Abbotsford. This thing was big enough without needing to make it three times the size just to fit the name on. At least this was the last day she had to deal with DENIS; once he’d had his way with this cart of books, Mel’s involvement in this project was done. Today, the last of the rare collection would be digitised and DENIS could be sent up to new acquisitions and out of her life.
She looked over her last batch and sighed again. The detritus of the collection. Nothing spectacular to send DENIS off with. All the really impressive books were already done. Mel grabbed the first book off the pile, fed it into DENIS and hit the “Go” button. With a whir and occasional disconcerting thump, DENIS drew in the book and proceeded to digitise it, turning each page with a carefully calibrated puff of air and then imaging each page with top of the line image scanners. Mel watched the first few pages appear on DENIS’s terminal, and satisfied that all was okay, went off to grab a coffee.
She returned just as DENIS was finishing the final page and watched as it closed the book, imaged the back cover and spine, and then carefully ejected the book. Mel took the finished book, entered its details into the terminal, and then placed it onto the return cart. Turning to the original pile, Mel grabbed the next book and carefully repeated the process until as the day wore on, she was left with just one book. Mel picked it up and was surprised how heavy it was. She gave it a quick once over – DENIS could be picky at times – and satisfied that it didn’t have anything too unusual about it, fed it into DENIS.
DENIS drew the book in and began scanning. Still a bit concerned, Mel glanced at the screen to see the cover coming up. It was all good. The deep, dark red of the cover was there along with the gold leaf title. She looked across at the scanning unit to see it turn the page and begin scanning the inside cover and title page. All was good. There was something about this book that, well, unsettled her. Mel watched as it flipped to the first page and started scanning. Concentrating to work out what was odd, Mel turned back to the image that was coming up on the screen.
“What the fu…”
Mel leaned in towards the screen. The images in the marginalia appeared to be moving. Shifting. Changing. She leaned in close to read the text. There was acrack, and a whiff of ozone and a slight mist of carbon hung in the air, ready to be inhaled and exhaled by the environment management system. DENIS’s precise scale updated the record with a slightly heavier reading and continued scanning until it had finished the book and ejected it, ready to be re-shelved.
Geoff finished reading the email by gently head-butting his desk. As far as naming a month went, it wasn’t great. Archive August. Bloody marketing. At least the department was getting some recognition, but really? He raised his head and began to work the issues on this. He was required to choose one item a day from the archives for the website and daily email. That was the good bit. The bad bit was pretty much everything that was the good bit. An item a day. A brief synopsis. And it was already mid-to-very-late-July. It wouldn’t have been too bad if he didn’t already have plans for August that involved him not being anywhere near the Library. He mulled over passing it down the line, but they were all exhausted after the digitisation project. They’d already had two staff members up and leave without saying a word recently, it’d be unfair to drop this on them as well. Geoff sighed, fired back a quick “Consider it done.” and went to grab a cuppa.
Three hours, two planning meetings, an odd conversation with missing persons, and still no cuppa later, Geoff sat back at his desk. He didn’t have time for this. An item a day, 31 items! He’d be away with the family from the 31st, up at the farm. No phone, let alone internet, so no remote posting. That was the whole idea. He’d have to write them in advance. Nope, not even time for that. Thinking about it, each item had a synopsis already. A plan formed. What if he wrote a quick little script to grab a random item and post it along with the synopsis. Doesn’t matter what he thought of them, someone would find it interesting. Should only take an hour, then he could put all this aside and get on with work. He sat up, cracked his knuckles, bellowed out a “Yes please!” to Araminta who was heading on a tea run, and got to work.
By lunchtime, Geoff’s script had randomly selected 31 archive items and queued them up.
By afternoon tea, Geoff had forgotten all about it.
Six days later, Geoff and the family were up in the Alpine area, blissfully cut off from society on the family farm.
The next day, Geoff’s first archive selection went out to the Library’s email subscribers. An astonishingly boring treatise from the 1700’s on the behaviours of insects. Only of interest to entomologists, but wow, there’s a lot of entomologists out there.
Day two was a floriography dictionary from Victorian England.
Day three was a collection of medieval cartography bearing a vague resemblance to reality. Geoff’s trawl through the archives began to be noticed.
Days four through to nine threw up magic tricks from the late 19th century, a scholarly journal on unicorn bats, Bourke and Wills’ original packing list, samples of early Sumerian clay tablets, a 1950’s pulp fiction that used the word ‘Dame’ more than strictly necessary, and an astonishing collection of pressed plants from an 1890’s expedition through Papua New Guinea.
By now, all the underground sites on the web had picked up on it and were directing people the Library’s way. The word had begun to percolate upwards to the cool, the trendy, and then the mainstream media. Geoff’s wander through the deep recesses of the Library had garnered a devoted following. Millions subscribed to the mailing list, not wishing to miss out.
It was probably unfortunate that the next item didn’t have a synopsis. Just a picture of the cover. Bound in a deep blood red leather. Symbols embossed in the cover. A title picked out in gold leaf. A true conundrum served up from a cabinet of mysteries.
How could the inquisitive possibly resist?
Day ten presented a geological map of Australasia from 1964. Not surprisingly, not too many people clicked through.
Day eleven was a gem of a collection of gems. Geologists would have been all over it. Except, for some reason, no-one was clicking.
Nothing was published on day twelve. No email went out. The Library’s servers were off-line and no-one was bringing them back up.