“Abandoned House of Books” by Jackie Branch

Jackie Branch

I wake up gasping for air, the smell of flames and smoke stinging my nose. I glance around the dim area, the last images of the fire licking at the photos and window curtains fading from my mind. I shake my head to forget the dream, and verify the time. 6:02 AM. I sneak a peek on my phone for any new messages. Nothing. Exhausted despite just waking up, I lie back down and stare at the ceiling. My mind wanders to the meeting place, my home. Hidden away in the Ryverview Conservation Forest, I can’t help but feel at peace in its presence. After a while, I crawl out of bed to get ready.

As I finish tying my shoes, a light chime sounds from the device. I look and see a message from Tyler.

Omw to the forest. U?

With a smile growing on my face, I send a quick reply saying I’m about to leave, completely forgetting about the fire.

The sun’s rays stream through the leaves and branches of the forest trees as I make my way to the entrance.

“Kirra!” Tyler greets me with a brisk embrace, and we begin our journey on the beaten tourist path.

The crunching of our shoes in the twigs and dirt fill the silent void between us. There are some trees with carvings on the trunks, mostly initials inside a heart, some short poems and song lyrics. The hushed atmosphere in the forest engulfs me in serenity. About a quarter-way inside the forest, we turn a different direction from the path. The inner heart of the woods grows more packed with shrubs and life, beetles and crickets chirping at our arrival. We manage to penetrate its barrier, confronted an aged, almost haunted structure.

The library in the forest towers over us ominous and silent, having been abandoned for over 50 years.  Its stone walls and steps decorated with shades of moss and snaking vines, the gray windows cracked and shattered from their invasion. Black spots of mold dot randomly on the interior and exterior, broken chairs and empty beer bottles litter nearby. I put on a rubber glove from my bag and start making a pile of trash. I take a step on the short staircase, wandering ants running from my foot.

No one likes coming here, the poor place rumored with stories of sheltering disease and ghosts. The inside of the home smells musty and ancient, rows of shelves stacked high with books. There are two floors and a basement to the library, but we spend most of our time on the first floor. I walk up to one and remove a thick book about historical artists. The pages are yellow like old teeth, and all around the book are bite marks and indentations. I flip the pages and inhale deeply, savoring the strangely sweet smell of old paper. Tyler strolls off to another part of the crowded area, while I step out to the front steps, lie on my back, and read.