Gabrielle sprinted past the thrillers, her breath catching in her throat. With each row of stacks she passed, she felt her heartbeat quicken, expecting to find the flames at any moment swallowing up bookcase after bookcase, barreling toward her with the unstoppable fury that only the kindling of thousands of old, dry pages can provide, but they never revealed themselves. She skidded to a stop at the end of the room in the midst of the mysteries. Where was the smoke coming from? It was so thick, so pungent, so…everywhere, and yet–
She turned on her heel and flew down a row to the dark corner that was philosophy. The books were untouched, and she let out a short breath: she didn’t want to find the fire as much as she did. Chewing on a lip, she looked up. Why had they left her alone? It was only her first shift on the job, and they hadn’t even shown her where the extinguisher was!
Gabrielle clanged her way up the metal spiral staircase, and in a dizzying blur, she tripped out onto the landing. The smoke splayed out before her in all it’s cloying, ensnaring glory, curling up over the tops of the stacks below and slowly descending on the ancient tomes. The catwalk that ran the outer perimeter of the library was already so thick with smoke she could not see its far side.
Racing past the biographies, she cursed her predicament: she only wanted to be lazy, to sit back and scroll through endless nothingness on her phone with her feet thrown up on the desk, the doors locked until sunup and get paid for it. Was that so much to ask? They put the ad in, after all. It wasn’t her fault the position seemed absolutely pointless!
The cloud was thick and she couldn’t see where she was going until she ran face-first into shelving on the far wall, knocking a book free. She picked it up, glancing at the title, A Concise Introduction to Logic, and started waving it in front of her face. “Shit, should I have called 911?”
It was then she realized the smoke was everywhere but she wasn’t coughing or even winded. She took in a deep breath, the musty smell of old pages and varnished wood, but no smoldering, not even any heat. And the alarms–if there were any–had yet to sound.
Gabrielle turned, gripping the banister and looking out over the whole of the place, the criss-crossing shelves, the long oak study tables, the chair still spinning in the flurry that she left it moments earlier behind the desk, and of course the originless smoke. It swirled before her and she reached out a finger toward it. As if it were alive, it shot away from her hand, and she gasped, jumping back. The smoke came together then, in front of her, away from the books, moving on its own above the cases. Silently she watched it twist and contort until it became recognizable, letters, forming two words in the sky:
Then as fast as it had appeared, it cleared in a single poof. Gabrielle shuffled back into the shelves and slid down onto the ground, taking in big gulps of air. In her slide she’d knocked a book free and it had landed at her side, a dragon on the cover.
“This is why they need a night librarian.”