“Hi, I’m here for my work project,” said Tammica, stepping up to the information counter.
“Great!” the librarian said smiling brightly and indicating with a wave that Tammica should join her behind the counter. “We’re going to start you shelving books. You’re familiar with the Dewey Decimal System, yes?”
“Good. I’m Carol. Let me know if you have any questions.”
Carol pushed a wheeled cart laden with books toward Tammica.
“That’s it?” asked a boy Tammica hadn’t noticed sitting a short way off. He looked to be a fellow student. “No word of the urban legend? No challenge to find Sorbin’s book? Come on, Carol, you’re slipping.”
Carol laughed. “It’s her first day, Brady,” she said. “I’m trying to behave.”
Brady hopped up and took hold of the cart.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll fill you in while I show you the ropes.”
Brady led the cart to an elevator, which they took to the third floor.
“I like to sort them before I start,” he said, deftly organizing the books into sections. “That makes it go faster.”
“Are you going to tell me about this urban legend?” Tammica prompted, taking the stack Brady handed her and starting the search along the spines for the right number section.
“Legend has it,” Brady answered from the other side of the aisle, “that back in 1928, one of the professors here was this eccentric wizard.”
“Wizard?” Tammica scoffed.
“That was how his students saw him, apparently,” Brady said. “He taught history and sciences, and had this cult-like following of devoted students who competed for his attention. I don’t know. Maybe you’ve even heard stories about him. Professor Alexander Sorbin?”
“No,” Tammica shrugged.
“Well, you’re young,” said Brady, as if he were ten years her senior. “You’ll hear stories about him sooner or later. Anyway, his top students had such a heated rivalry going that it’s said Sorbin decided he didn’t trust his real knowledge with anyone. He got sick and knew that he was dying. He included a letter in his will saying that he had hidden a book in this library that opens doors to the knowledge of every library that ever has been and ever will be.”
Tammica laughed, moving the cart down the aisle to the next section.
“A nice legend,” she praised. “Let me guess, no book was ever found.”
“Exactly,” Brady said, “though plenty have looked.”
“Did anyone ever stop looking?” she asked.
“Eventually everybody stops looking,” Brady said, as if that were obvious.
“No, I mean, did anyone ever stop looking suddenly?” she clarified.
“Oh, like because they’d found it,” he realized. “I guess we’ll never know.”
“Still, it makes a fun story,” Tammica said. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure,” Brady said, though he looked bothered by his thoughts. “You really think someone would have found it already?”
“Probably right away, I’d guess,” she said. “His students knew him well, or at least paid attention to his preferences, if they were that devoted to him. They would have had the best chance at guessing where he’d hide a book.”
Brady didn’t look convinced.
“I don’t know,” he said. “His two top students continued to come here until they died of old age. I think Carol knew them both.”
“You really believe that book is still here?” Tammica asked.
Brady looked embarrassed now.
“I guess I want to believe it’s here,” he said.
“Wouldn’t it stand out, without a label, and this bar code?” Tammica asked.
“You’re crushing my dreams, girl,” sighed Brady, making Tammica laugh again.
She got a sharp glance from a studying student and winced apologetically.
When Tammica arrived the next day, it was with Sorbin’s book in mind.
“Carol, Brady said you knew Professor Sorbin’s prize students” she said.
Carol chuckled. “George and William,” she said, nodding. “Those old boys hated each other to the day they died.”
“Did either of them give up on searching for the book?” Tammica asked.
“No. I suspect it’s what kept them in this city all those years,” said Carol, shaking her head sadly. “George was convinced that the reference to doorways to libraries across time meant that he had hidden the book in among the index cards. Sorbin had never said how large or small this book was, after all. When old George had exhausted that theory he moved onto other reference books. William searched in and behind every single book in the library.”
Tammica laughed in disbelief. “Is that even possible?”
“He took a lifetime trying,” Carol answered. He was at every book sale, and any book slated for disposal went into boxes with his name on them.”
“Did anyone ever think that maybe there was no book? I mean, Sorbin sounds like he was eccentric. Maybe he was just teaching them a lesson about ambition and wanting too much or something. He promised all the knowledge of libraries past and future. Who can promise something like that? Who would believe them?”
Carol smiled at Tammica with approval. “Both George and William would have liked you,” she said. After a pause she added, “they believed it was possible.”
Over the next week Tammica could think of little else. She even went so far as to peek at a copy of Alexander Sorbin’s letter. Her nights became filled with dreams of books and libraries and doors. She began to obsess over the fact that he’d chosen that word specifically. Doors. She studied every doorjamb in the library but found no opportunity for tucking a book in or around them. She hesitated near a section of architectural books.
“I wonder,” she murmured, taking a closer look.
An hour later Tammica sat in one of the scoop chairs that looked inviting but rarely got used. The book in her hands was brittle but in good condition. It had the little sticker indicating its number for the library’s catalog. It even had a bar code and a security strip. She doubted that those meant much, though. The people who had slapped these things into place had done the same to thousands of other books and they likely saw the lack of publishing information or authorship as an inconvenience in their data entry. She traced the cover again, which had a single word imprinted on it. “Doors.”
Tammica turned the pages reverently, taking in the craft of each of the drawings. One every page was a black and white line drawing of a differently styled door. Elegant script indicated that this one was an Athenian door while another was Victorian. Some were modern and others futuristic. They were incredible.
“Well, wizard,” she said, “what’s the secret knock?”
The funniest thought occurred to her, and nearly laughing at herself as she did so, she lifted her fist and rapped three times on one of the doors. She was not laughing when it swung open.
Written by W. C. McClure. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Also, please help support this indie author by buying W. C. McClure’s books http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!