Kurt sat at the desk for four long hours. A research project brought him to the library that night, but no part of him had believed it would take so long to finish things up. He sat deep within the bowels of the library with only the bookshelves for company. He hadn’t seen another person in well over an hour, but then, he sat in a corner in the lowest level of the library.
He still had more work before he finished up, but he could do the rest at home. In truth, he simply wanted out of the library. Every little sound seemed to echo off the brick walls and cement floors. The place was creepy.
When his things were packed away, Kurt stacked up the books he had used, but didn’t leave just yet. He leaned back in his seat and listened to the pops in his neck and back. He stretched with a groan and then stopped to consider what else he wanted to get done for the night. That’s when the writing on the table caught his attention.
He’d seen it before, but hadn’t really paid much attention. Graffiti covered the desk and wall in front of him, mainly just names with a year next to most of them. Apparently back in 92 Sara had sat at that very table, as had Travis in 85.
Curious, Kurt leaned forward and studied the different names. The oldest year listed was '69. Over thirty years ago someone had sat down, perhaps to write a paper as Kurt was, and scratched their name into the wood. Were they the first to mar the surface of a new table? The idea of it intrigued Kurt. In an odd way Jeremy, who had written his name in '69, reached across time to give Kurt this little piece of information. Kurt would never know who Jeremy was, but at the very least, knew where he had sat one day.
Other names gave him even more information. Apparently Heather was a slut and Greg claimed to have had sex in the library. Other scribbles didn’t contain names but merely statements about which fraternity or sorority was the best, or what band the person enjoyed.
On the white-washed brick walls people used pens to write down their messages, no different than the table. Once again he stared at names and dates, some of them only years, others with the month and day listed. A part of Kurt wanted to know who these people really were. What age, what major, what interests they had. Why had they chosen to sit at that table and not any of the others? More privacy, perhaps, or maybe just because it happened to be closest to their book, the very reason he had chosen it. Perhaps some of them had even sat here to write a paper for the same teacher Kurt now did. After all, the man had taught at the school for nearly forty years.
In the end, Kurt couldn’t help himself. Four hours of his life had been spent at this table, and that seemed like enough time to warrant the addition of his name to the prestigious list. He dug an old red pen out of his backpack, the ink dried up. There wasn’t much space left on the table, but Kurt found a little patch for himself, and began to carve.
It took him over ten minutes to finish his message. He wrote only the fact that he had sat there, and left it at that. He didn’t bother with the year, his message probably the only name on the table without a year. With his work finished, Kurt leaned back and studied his message, written in jerky, oddly shaped letters but easily readable.
“Not too shabby,” Kurt said to himself with a smile. He stood up and slung his backpack over his shoulder, the books he needed to check out in hand. His eyes swept the table one last time, taking in all the names, and lingered on the upper corner. The word Welcome had been carved into the wood, and he hadn’t recalled seeing it before. He shrugged, and turned to leave.
Four flights of stairs greeted him, and with his heavy books in hand, Kurt begrudgingly climbed up them. He hoped he’d be able to get some work done when he got back to his dorm room. Kyle, his randomly assigned roommate, wasn’t exactly the quietest of people. Something told Kurt he needed to prepare for a power struggle to commence if he dared to ask for Kyle to turn it down.
Aside from Kyle, Kurt wasn’t disappointed with his first year of college. The work wasn’t quite as hard as he’d been led to believe in high school, and most of the people on his floor were nice enough. Only three more weeks of classes awaited him until summer and a return home. Those three weeks would be filled with more work than Kurt felt like doing, but knew it couldn’t be avoided. His current paper was just one of these end of semester assignments he needed to get done.
That very paper was what he went over in his head as he walked through the upper levels, through the rows and rows of books shelves, on his way to the main lobby to check out. When he walked out into the lobby he slowed, thoughts of the paper momentarily dispelled. The lobby looked unusually empty, even for so close to closing.
No one stood behind the check-out desk. Kurt set his books down on the counter and looked around. From what he could see, the library was empty, of both students and personnel.
“Hello?” Kurt shouted. No one walked out to greet him and no one asked him what was wrong. “What the hell?” Kurt muttered to himself, and walked over to the entrance. There was no way they had closed down for the night without him realizing it. All the lights were still on, and from past experience, Kurt knew they called over an intercom for everyone to leave before they locked up.
The front doors wouldn’t open. Kurt stared through the glass doors at the world outside and the pouring rain. “Damn.” Kurt hadn’t bothered to bring an umbrella or coat, unaware it was supposed to rain. He had a decent walk ahead of him, and didn’t want his books to get wet, so he might as well find out what was currently happening.
“Anyone still here?” Kurt shouted even louder. “Anyone?” This time he screamed it as loud as he could, and heard his own voice answer him as it echoed through the lobby.
“Great, just great.” Kurt walked back over to the check-out desk and leaned against it as he considered his options. He checked his watch, and then the clock on the wall behind the desk. Both told him he still had a good forty minutes before the library closed. Kurt hurried back over to the entrance and the library hours posted on the door. No additional message told him the library was going to close early that day.
“There has to be someone here,” Kurt said under his breath. He liked to hear a voice, even if it was his own, as a means of dispelling the sense of isolation that had already begun to creep into his mind. He hadn’t liked it when sitting at the desk, but his work kept him occupied, and he’d known that other people joined him in the building. Now, he just felt alone.
The break room was empty, as was the computer room. He checked the entire upper level and didn’t find another soul. He shouted occasionally, but no one responded. He left his bag and books by the desk while he hurried down the steps into the lower levels of the library. He knew of a few emergency exits on the backside of the building, and decided to try for them.
None of them opened for him, and through each he stared at the storm outside, which had apparently picked up. Lightning flashed occasionally. Kurt heard the low rumble of thunder, but didn’t linger on it. A part of him considered what the repercussions would be for shattering a window to get out. No, he wasn’t ready for that yet.
Kurt hated the sound of his footsteps on the cement floor. He passed by rows of desks built in the walls for people to use, a light above each of them. Briefly he paused and glanced at one of the desks. Three names had been carved into it, just like in the table he’d been sitting at. Up ahead, a light had been left on over one of the desks. Kurt stopped next to it. The spit he was about to swallow got caught in his throat and Kurt began to cough as he stared down at the desk.
Once again he saw the word Welcome, carved over the entire surface of the table in deep, perfect grooves.
When Kurt stopped coughing, he took a step closer to the message. Slowly, he reached out his hand and felt the words. “What is going on?” he whispered, and almost expected a response. But no, the table wouldn’t answer him. A person had carved this word into the table, someone who didn’t know Kurt and probably never would. That was all.
Kurt turned off the light above the desk. He backed away from the table, his mind so tense that the echoes of his own footsteps surprised him. His head jerked to both sides to confirm his isolation. A part of him actually took comfort in this, while the other part only cringed. He continued on his way, offering the desk a brief glance back, before he opened a door and walked out into a hallway.
The carpet was thin and worn out below his feet. Kurt hadn’t been to this section of the library before. Around a corner and he walked out into a giant room, more desks and computers to his right, and rows of books to his left.
Next to the computers Kurt saw a desk where the person in charge of the area should sit. More than that, he saw the phone on the desk. A smile spread across Kurt’s face as he ran over . He could call the school’s info line and tell them what had happened. They should be able to tell him what to do, or notify the campus police to unlock the door for him.
A thick layer of dust covered the desk. Kurt frowned as he ran his finger through it, curious how long it had been since someone last sat here. So long as the phone worked, he didn’t care. As soon as Kurt put the phone to his ear, his hand jerked back in surprise. Something loud screeched through the receiver. It almost sounded like someone was using the internet with the phone line, but not quite. The steady stream of piercing static never faltered, so Kurt put the phone back into the cradle.
He hadn’t brought his own phone, since he didn’t want to be disturbed while studying. Now he kicked himself for it. There had to be another phone that worked.
Kurt’s hand was on the stairwell door when he froze. Someone had carved into the wooden door, just like the desks, only the message he read was the one he’d carved. The only thing different was that now the proper year had been carved below it. The jerky, barely legible style appeared to be his own.
“Just check the phone,” Kurt said out loud. Understanding began to dawn in his mind that things were considerably worse than they seemed. He wasn’t just locked in the library after everyone else had left. Kurt tried not to consider this. He ignored the message he hadn’t written. First came the phone.
The stone staircase was in disrepair. Rust covered the metal guardrails that ran up them. Kurt stopped on the first landing. A window built into the wall was coated with stains. The glass was warped so badly Kurt could barely see out it. He didn’t linger for long.
A crack had destroyed half of the top step. Even the walls looked like they’d been splashed with filthy water. Kurt had walked down this very stairwell to get to the bottom floor over four hours ago. It hadn’t been like this. He needed to try the phone.
The lobby had changed in the short time since Kurt had left it. Three tables had fallen over after a leg apparently broke. Chairs were strewn across the carpeted floor, which was frayed and almost nonexistent. The lights had dimmed courtesy of the grime on every light panel up above. Wispy cobwebs danced in the air from the ceiling.
Kurt brushed the dust off of the phone before he picked it up. He only needed to lift it off the cradle to hear the crackling noise on the other end, twice as loud as before. It filled the giant lobby and echoed over and over again. Kurt dropped the phone back in its place.
His books were still on the counter, but they weren’t exactly the same anymore. The pages were tattered and yellowed from age. His backpack had deteriorated away as well, one of the straps barely held on by a single thread. But most of all, Kurt stared at the counter top, where next to his books the word Welcome had been carved, and below it, his message, just as it had been on the door.
Kurt didn’t care about the possible repercussions of his actions. He ran over to one of the desks and picked up the computer monitor, its glass screen already cracked and unusable. He screamed as he threw it at one of the large windows in the lobby, his cry of rage repeated to him by the giant room, just as the crack echoed when the monitor hit.
Only the monitor shattered in the attack. The glass didn’t crack, wobbling just a little right after the monitor hit. Kurt collapsed to his knees and watched the dust puff up from the thin carpet.
“How is this happening?” He asked himself, and then shouted it to the room, just in case he wasn’t alone. Maybe he really would meet Jeremy or Heather or Travis or any of the other countless people who had carved their name into a desk within the library. After all, wasn’t that why he was here? The message seemed to be rather clear.
A wooden crack caught Kurt’s attention. To his right he watched the leg break on a table. The monitor on top of it spilled to the floor, as did the chair the falling table overturned. A piece of plaster fell from the ceiling and crashed onto the floor close to where Kurt sat. He got up and moved to the check-out desk.
He absently picked up one of the books he had so recently planned to check out. The pages continued to rot away as he held the book open.
His message had brought him here. Maybe if he destroyed it, he could go back. The idea sounded as good as any.
With his backpack in hand Kurt ran through the stairwell door and down the steps. Large cracks ran through most of them, the steps about to collapse in upon themselves. They held well enough for Kurt’s journey to the bottom floor of the library.
Rows and rows of rotted books greeted him. The word Welcome had been carved into almost every desk. The word flashed in front of Kurt’s eyes over and over again while he ran down the rows, until finally he found the large table in the corner of the room that he’d sat at. And there, carved into it, his message, only with the year carved below it.
Kurt pulled the pen he had used out of his backpack and bent over the table. When he pushed on the table with it, the plastic pen cracked in his fingers, and shattered. He had two more, but both yielded the same results, the pens so aged they were unusable.
The strength flowed out of him and Kurt fell back into the seat. It creaked under his weight, but held.
Even if they didn’t know a way out and only told him he was trapped here forever, Kurt still wished the other people would join him. The isolation, in such a large and silent place, tore at his mind. He’d always hated being alone. During the first few weeks of the fall semester, when he had sat in his room each night, aware he was surrounded by people he didn’t know, his parents so far away, Kurt had wanted to have friends again so badly he had no choice but to go and make them. Here, he didn’t even have such an option.
His fingernails were discolored and cracked. Kurt brought his hands up to his face and squinted at them, barely able to see in the dim lighting. The skin was dry. It looked aged, but not older, if such a thing was possible. Kurt’s mouth felt dry and his eyes burned.
Behind him, one of the rusted metal bookshelves caved in under the weight of the books and spilled its contents to the floor. A cloud of dust puffed out from the destruction, and when it settled, only book covers remained on the ground, the pages inside aged into oblivion. The entire building was dying along with Kurt, all except the tabletops.
For the first time Kurt realized how clean and perfect they looked. The table he sat at wasn’t touched by the decay all around it, nor were the desks that lined the walls. Kurt stood up on legs that didn’t want to support him, and walked down the line of desks. All of them looked perfect, immortalized in this place, just as the names written on them were immortalized until someone replaced them. And then another person would come along and write their name, the process repeated endlessly so long as the library existed. Then they would come here and live through the same thing Kurt had. In an odd way, Kurt didn’t feel alone anymore. So many names and so many people understood an experience the same as Kurt. They were joined, in their own way. He held a connection to every name carved into that table, and they held a connection to him. In truth, he’d never really be alone again.
He walked back to his table and sat down. He should stay here, next to his message. Now that he understood, he wished he had written more. At the very least, future students would know he had been there, and that would have to do.
Another bookcase gave out, and then another after that. The ceiling began to collapse on him. The cement walls cracked and crumbled away. The lights dimmed before they extinguished altogether.
Kurt sat in the darkness.
He joined the others who had been there, wherever that might be.
Philip lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and holds a degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Film from the University of Kansas. As a beginner in the publishing world, he's a member of both the Horror Writer's Association and the New England Horror Writer's Association, and has had numerous short stories published in a variety of publications, such as the Beneath the Surface anthology, Midnight Echo, and The Absent Willow Review. More information on his works can be found at www.philipmroberts.com.
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