MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Lenora was wretchedly unhappy.
She was wretchedly unhappy despite the fact that she was lounging in the back of a giant limousine, so wretchedly unhappy that she had thrown herself across an entire leather seat and was kicking away at one of the doors. She was wretchedly unhappy despite having incredibly rich parents and an inattentive nanny, despite everything. They’d stuck her with this nanny while they were gone. Normally an inattentive nanny would be wonderful, but this nanny insisted on dragging Lenora all over the city in her parents’ limo so the nanny could see her friends and shop and do every boring thing an adult could possibly want to do. Lenora had to go along for all of it, and she was BORED. BORED. BORED.
She’d tried everything to make it an interesting summer. “Look!” she’d said to her mother, who was selecting her most glamorous dresses for the trip Lenora wasn’t going on. “The planetarium is hiring an assistant. I could apply!”
“Nonsense, Lenora!” her mother had said.
“But why not? I love the stars.” And she did, even though she could hardly see them, living in the big, bright city her entire life. “How about this? The art museum is hiring a tour guide!”
“And the zoo’s big cat habitat is hiring someone to feed the tigers…”
“But WHY?” asked Lenora, sure that she could do any of these things if given the chance.
“Because none of those places is going to hire an eleven-year-old,” stated her father, who was in the other closet trying to decide which of his five hundred ties to bring. “Now, stop being silly and do try to get along with the nanny. She comes from a very good family.”
And so Lenora found herself lying flat on her back across the incredibly comfortable limousine seat and staring up through the window at passing skyscrapers. She thought about how bored she was and kicked at the door of the limo again.
“Stop that,” said the nanny as she tapped away at her phone. She was sitting several feet away on her own seat.
Lenora pushed herself up enough to look out at the passing city, its museums and parks with trees for climbing and sculpture gardens all blurring by. So many wonderful things out there in the vast world, and she was exploring absolutely none of them. All this on a day when she’d worn her favorite loose, comfortable dress, hoping for some excitement. “Where are we going now?” she asked. The nanny had spent the morning rushing from one horrid boutique to another, buying herself dresses for parties while Lenora sprawled on chairs with nothing to do. Yesterday it had been perfume shops all day long. Lenora wanted to know what fresh nightmares awaited her this afternoon.
“To the library,” said the nanny. “Now shush, I’m one marshmallow away from winning a gold sparrow.”
Lenora perked up. “The library? You? Why?”
“I’m checking out a book to impress the friend I’m visiting later.”
Lenora sat up completely. “Can I go to the children’s section?” With a stack of books beside her, she thought, she wouldn’t be bored for days and days.
“No,” said the nanny.
We’ll see about that, thought Lenora. The nanny was, after all, quite inattentive.
Their chauffeur let them out on the front steps of the library and leaned back against the limo and unfolded his newspaper.
“Don’t get comfortable,” the nanny warned him. “We won’t be long.” She pulled a candy bar from her purse and began to munch.
Lenora and the chauffeur exchanged sympathetic eye rolls as the nanny marched up the steps (the nanny chomping on her candy bar as they passed a NO FOOD IN THE LIBRARY sign) with Lenora in tow. But she was only in tow at first, then gradually less so as they climbed the stairs. By the time they reached the front desk, she had gotten herself completely out of tow. At that point it was easy to slip away.
She raced down one row of shelves and then another, putting distance between herself and the nanny before she could make a beeline for the children’s section. Lenora loved the children’s section. She loved libraries and being surrounded by silence and people reading. She threw her arms wide and inhaled deeply. This particular library was very new and did not smell enough like books yet to suit Lenora. But it did have lovely, large windows through which sunlight poured in eagerly, and beautiful cedar beams that stretched up to the high ceiling. Her parents hardly ever brought her here, and Lenora was determined, when she grew up, to go to the library anytime she wanted.
Her evasive route took her around the long way. She was in a section with books on philosophy (I’ll read those when I’m older, she thought) and then books on math (she adored math but wasn’t here for that today). She turned down a row she was certain led to the children’s section, but instead it turned into a room full of books in a foreign language. She ran back and ended up surrounded by poetry. She flew past history and theater and hung a left at biology. The children’s section was nowhere to be found. Instead the stacks and shelves seemed to get taller and taller and the rows longer and twistier.
She was lost. This gave her a jolt of pleasure.
As she stood contemplating everything she knew about how to escape from mazes (you could try taking every right-hand turn, for example), she suddenly heard voices. She rounded a corner and found a younger boy trying to get into a small room full of complex-looking books on astrophysics. But a man blocked his way.
The man had a fat, purplish face and looked quite angry. His head was jammed into a bowler hat and his body was wrapped in a too-tight overcoat, quite odd for a warm summer day. On his coat was a badge that said LIBARIAN. “You can’t go in there,” he told the boy.
“But I just want to see,” pleaded the boy.
“You are far too young for those books. You wouldn’t understand them. Besides, they’re full of lies. Now go away!”
Lenora spoke up. “Really? They’re all lies? Then why are they in the library?”
The man’s head turned slowly toward Lenora. The rest of his body was perfectly still. Then something moved under his overcoat, like a snake wriggling across his stomach. She felt a tremor inside and took a step back.
“They won’t be for long,” the man said softly, his eyes narrowing. “I’ll be removing them soon.”
Lenora gulped, then looked at the boy, who was gazing at her with hope. “But you’re not even a librarian,” she said to the man, her voice hardly shaking at all.
“Of course I am,” the man murmured. Lenora thought something flickered behind his eyes. He pointed at his badge.
“That’s not how you spell librarian,” said Lenora.
The man’s eyes flickered again, like a snake’s tongue. “It’s an alternative spelling.”
“I’m going to find a real librarian,” replied Lenora, taking the boy by the hand and turning away. Partly she wanted to find a real librarian, and partly she wanted to get away from this man as quickly as possible. But then she heard a rush of air, and when she turned back, the man in the bowler hat was nowhere to be seen.
The boy looked up at Lenora. “What should I do?”
Lenora was resolute. “You should go on in and read whatever books you like.”
“But the man said I was too young, and the books are all lies.”
“Hmm,” said Lenora. “A real librarian wouldn’t tell you something like that. I think if a librarian were here, she would tell you to go in.”
“Really?” said the boy, gazing at Lenora with wide eyes. “Are you sure?”
The boy dashed off happily and was soon immersed in a book on Einstein’s gravitational lenses. Satisfied, Lenora returned to thoughts about alerting a real librarian to the man’s presence and also finding the children’s section before the nanny could chase her down.
A great thundering, like a granite boulder splitting open, startled Lenora. It echoed from the direction she’d just come.
Curious, she went to see what it was. And it was something that Lenora was sure hadn’t been there before. Where there had been a regular, blank wall, there was now a towering wall of old stone. Into it was carved an enormous archway. Above it, a phrase had been deeply chiseled:
KNOWLEDGE IS A LIGHT
Lenora’s skin prickled at the words.
She stepped forward cautiously. The hall beyond the arch curved away into darkness. She couldn’t see where it led. But she could smell something wonderful—the scent of many old books, a musty and thrilling odor, the sort of thing you would love to sniff if you poked your head up into an unfamiliar attic. And she could hear sounds, clacking and squeaking, but nothing she could identify.
Her heart pounded. Beyond this arch lay something she had never seen before, something new. If the nanny were here, she would order Lenora to turn back immediately.
Lenora stepped through the arch.
Copyright © 2019 by Zeno Alexander