I’ve been coming to this library increasingly often after I found the twists and turns through the aisles that take me to where they keep their most interesting books.
Not many people visit this isolated wing, which adds to the appeal.
No need to check the books out formally when it’s such a cozy place to stay and read whatever catches my attention on the overstuffed shelves.
Besides, the more often I visit, the more chances I have of running into her.
The friend I met here could not be more lovely if she were hand-painted by a Renaissance master. She haunts this place no less than I do, and she is the only one who can tug the line of my gaze away from the treasure trove of books I love to explore.
I turn the last book I read over in my mind while I drift through the quiet aisles, my gaze brushing each spine, searching for something new to spark my desire.
Like so many in this wing, that book blurred the line between reality and fiction in the most captivating way.
While I look for another to devour, she appears, rounding the corner of a nearby shelf. Her face brightens when she sees me.
She floats in my direction immediately, impossibly smooth strides hidden by a floor-length dress that matches her ethereal beauty.
My heart always skips a beat in her presence. When those gem-like eyes of hers fix themselves on mine, my tongue trips and tangles uselessly inside my mouth. It’s all I can do to offer her a crooked and bashful smile in greeting.
“Looking for something new?” She breaks the silence first, as she usually does. Her poise never seems even the slightest bit disturbed.
“Yeah,” I admit. “Not anything in particular, just…” I shrug, trailing off.
“May I offer a suggestion, then?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say. “Something you’ve read recently, or…?”
She grins. “Actually, a recommendation directly from the Librarian! I’ve been telling her about you, and she had some ideas based on what you told me you liked.”
“Wait,” I reply, confused. “I thought that old man who’s always at the front desk was the librarian.”
My friend responds with bright laughter like the sweet tinkling of a music box. Unlike some others, her laughter never feels like ridicule, only an expression of delight.
“Oh gosh! Did you think you’ve still been in the library you entered from every time you visited this place?” Her eyes practically sparkle with affectionate humor.
“Y-yes…? Where else could I be?”
“You’re in our library now, of course!”
Another library? Connected to the regular city one?
My deepening confusion must be plainly visible on my face as my friend’s mirth softens into sympathy and she tries to explain.
“The Librarian wasn’t satisfied with our collection, so she sent its roots out to tangle with all the others out there!” She nods to herself as if that explained everything. “Almost nobody can follow the Tangle like we do, y’know. But that’s what makes you so interesting!”
She holds out the book—apparently recommended by this enigmatic Librarian of hers—to me. I take it, and as I do so, my fingertips brush her hand.
Her fingers are cool to the touch, glassy smooth, and hard as stone.
And just like that, the spell breaks.
I see my friend—truly see her—for the first time. My gaze falls to where her sleeve slips down from her hand and notice the seam of a skillfully crafted joint, and how her perfect face is truly without flaw, not the work of capricious nature but that of a masterful artisan.
I don’t know if it’s envy I feel or something more, but when my mouth opens to speak, the words die on my lips, unspoken.
Perhaps my friend has some special affinity for that which isn’t, but she seems to hear the things I don’t say to her.
She presses the book firmly into my grasp and takes my other hand in hers. In a voice soft with empathy she asks, “do you want to come back with me?” A smile I can only describe as hopeful touches her mouth. “We have comfy seating, and I can introduce you to the Librarian.”
“I’d like that,” I respond without hesitation.
With gentle guidance, she leads me deeper among the books, far beyond where I’ve had the chance to explore before. I don’t know what to expect, but I expect I’ll at least find plenty of nice stories to read.