It was the teardrop, as it hit the page, that brought her around. It blotted the paper, expanding over the words: “Get out.”
“Get out?” she asked herself. Her voice felt dull — muted, and a little drowned. She was seated at an old-fashioned desk, which was etched and scratched with chaotic swirls. Above her head was a steel clock bearing only the numbers twelve and six. The second hand was stuck in a loop, ticking one movement forwards and then one back: tick-kcit-tick-kcit-tick-kcit.
To her left and right, stretching to the end of the room, were bookshelves: plain, brown, wooden. They reached almost to the ceiling. She had no recollection of entering the library, selecting this book, or choosing this desk. Between her fingers the pages of the book felt Bible-thin, like onionskin, and she had no memory of having read a single line. It was short and finished with the words “Get out.” The cover was hard, old, and white, with no title and no script on the back.
She read the spine: “The Final Hour of Katherine Wylam.” The words were handwritten, in careless, black ink. Katherine Wylam? The name seemed familiar.
“What is my name?” she asked herself. Standing, she threw the book down. Her eyes were warm and itchy. Her throat was dry. The words “Get out” repeated in her head, recurring with the backwards tick of the clock.
A coldness crawled upon her. She ran to the end of the shelves. On either side, the aisles were identical: row upon row of books, with a desk at the end and a clock on the wall. Thirteen, fourteen more aisles. Each one deserted, each one the same.
Her heart seemed to rattle, and she stopped. The mosaic floor, with its interlinking cubed patterns made her nauseous. There was no sound, besides the stuttering of the clock. Snatching books from either side, high and low, she hurled them at the clock. Each book was a replica of the last, and on the final page the words “Get out” were circled by a round, wet tearstain. “The Final Hour of Katherine Wylam” was etched into each spine in black, cursive hand.
“How?” she demanded. She raced down fifteen, thirty, forty more aisles until she found someone. A woman, sat at a desk, with a white book in her hand. A tear fell from the woman’s eyes onto the page and she seemed to sway, before standing and dropping the book.
“Get out!” she screamed.
The woman stepped through her and shivered.
Ian Turner is a former teacher, who lives and writes in the North East of England.