We stepped out of the elevator and looked around. It was dark so it was hard to see but it looked as though there were little reading lamps next to leather armchairs. A light above us flickered on, which startled us. When we walked forward, another came on.
The new lights allowed us to see a giant oval table in the middle of the room with a stand all the way around it. And there were benches all around the table, too.
As another light came on, I could see that the edge of the table wasn’t a table at all but piano keys. There were piano keys all around the table. This was a giant oval shaped piano. And in front of each bench, on the wooden slanted ledges, were books of music.
“Welcome to the Music Library.” Said Ammon. “If the librarian, Johanna Juditha, is here, things can’t be so bad. I think her office is this way.”
Ammon led us ahead. We passed the giant piano and walked toward a wide set of double doors that had music written on them. It looked like it could be a whole piece from the top of the doors to the bottom.
When we got up close, I could see that the measures and the notes and the time signatures were raised. It looked like the music was made of metal and attached to the wooden door. I wished I could read music a little better. Then I’d know what it sounded like.
Ammon opened the doors and we could hear a strange sound. It had a sort of gulping wailing quality. Like a loon maybe?
We followed it and ended up at the door of an office where warm lamplight illuminated a woman with her head and arms on her desk, sobbing. Ammon looked at me and frowned, then mouthed “Johanna Juditha” before backing up into the hallway and saying very loudly, “Yes, Leandra, this music library is the best in the Akita but be quiet for heaven’s sake, people might be trying to practice.”
The crying stopped and when we came back to her office, the librarian had her head up and was doing her best to appear as if she hadn’t been crying her eyes out a moment before. When she saw Ammon, she smiled, stood and gave him a big hug, saying his name with relief.
“Silim, Johanna Juditha” he said warmly. He introduced us and when all the niceties were accomplished, he patted her arm and asked her what was troubling her. She gulped the air and got as far as, “Nothing” before she started crying again.
“Is it the key?” asked Ammon nervously.
“No, no,” she said, “The key is secure. But - they’re closing the music library.” “Who is?”
“What?” Ammon said with surprise. “That’s impossible.”
“They sent me a notice last week and I tried to contest it but I got the final notification today. I’m to pack up the books, the scores and all the recordings and be gone by the end of the week.”
“The Board is meant to support the libraries – not evict them!” said Ammon with force. ”Where are you supposed to go? Where are the books supposed to go?”
This started Johanna Juditha crying again, and sobbing, “I don’t know. I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m supposed to do.” “Paper and binding!” Ammon exclaimed, just as if he were cursing. “Paper and binding!” he said again. “Well, I can take a bit of your collection. And when I find the other Wandering Librarians, we can spread it out amongst us. The books will not be lost, Johanna Juditha. And we will find a place for you, too. “
Johanna Juditha had continued crying and then suddenly stopped and looked at Ammon. “Did you say when you find the other Wandering Librarians?”
“I did. They have disappeared. And this young lady’s entire library disappeared also, along with its inhabitants. Awful things seem to be happening. To everyone, it would seem. That is why we came. I was worried about the Omphalos of Omphalos. We came to see that your key was safe and the Omphalos was unbreached.”
“What? Of course! Of course. Why should – I’m sure it’s fine. We can see from the bay windows back there.”
We followed Johanna Juditha as she briskly made her way to some large windows which stood beside some shelves with lots of different kinds of recordings on them, reels, cassettes and records.
We looked out the window at the center plaza of the Omphalos of the Omphalos, which Ammon pointed out to me. The center was a small funny shaped space that looked like a spiral shaped innie belly button. It was covered in glass and below it was a spiraling walkway.
“Looks clear,” said Johanna Juditha and Ammon explained to me how the glass would change color and transparency if anyone besides the five dedicated key librarians tried to get in.
Then Johanna Juditha gasped and we looked where she was looking. There was a large pyramid shaped glass building with “Library of the Eye” engraved across the top. In front of it, a pale blue van was parked, with “Withdrawn” written on it in red letters. The back doors were open and a man in a tweed jacket was being pushed into it by two men in pale blue uniforms. Two other men were hauling boxes of books toward the van behind them.
“No, no, no,” said Johanna Juditha. “They can’t take Bertram! This is – I knew they wanted to close his library, just like mine. He refused. And this is how they’ve responded. “
“Where are they taking him?” I asked.
“He’s been withdrawn from the library.” Said Johanna Juditha. “They’re withdrawing him from the entire collection of Akita.”
“Is it like prison?” I asked.
‘”It’s worse. It’s a place where they shred books, turn them into pulp.”
“And what do they do to people?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But no one has ever returned from Withdrawal so I fear the worst.”
Ammon’s brow was looking quite furrowed and he asked Johanna Juditha if we should go down there. “Maybe he needs to give you his key?”
“No. There are safeguards in place. We cannot have two keys at risk at once. We have to go. Quickly. I’m going with you. Do you have a plan?”
“I do not, as yet, have a plan. My first step was to come here to see you,” said Ammon. “So far, I am traveling where it seems safe to travel, steering clear of unknown books wrapped up in burlap and twine and hoping to discover all that has been lost.” “Did you say books wrapped up in burlap and twine?” asked Johanna Juditha.
“Like that?” she said, pointing to a package on a wooden chair behind her. “I hadn’t had the time to open it yet.” “Thank goodness you did not, or you would have disappeared, too. Let’s bring it with us – it is safer in our hands then left for someone to stumble upon. And we can, for the moment, rescue your rarest books. I can keep those safe at least.”
“How many do you have room for?” Ammon looked at the camel and said, “12”
Johanna Juditha inhaled sharply.
“But we will come back for the rest! Do not worry!” said Ammon.
She nodded and then hurried away.
Ammon began unstrapping various packs on the camel’s back and moving books around, clearing space for the additional ones. He took out several books from his shelves and piled them on the desk. He then carefully wrote down each book and its current location in a ledger.
Johanna Juditha returned with a stack of scores – many of them looked hundreds of years old. Some of them were closed up in plastic bags. Ammon took them and put them on the camel’s shelves.
Once the scores were secure, Ammon asked Johanna Juditha to lead us out of the library.
“We’ll have to go out the front. They may be after me, too.” Johanna Juditha said and led us down the grand hallway, which had sculptures of people’s heads on columns. I assumed they were composers. I recognized one from a cartoon. There were great big paintings too. Bigger than me. There was one of a man playing the violin, in a suit, one of a woman in a long green silky dress playing a cello, a drummer, a xylophonist, a trumpeter and a few instruments I didn’t recognize.
At the end of the hallway was another door with music on it. Johanna Juditha suddenly sang something loudly and the doors opened onto a landing lit with a chandelier.
We stood above a black and white tiled lobby and a grand staircase before us. The marble staircase sloped down in two directions and it was covered in red carpet. The banisters were a sleek carved wood, like mahogany.
Johanna Juditha went down the stairs but Ammon stopped suddenly at the top. The camel wasn’t going anywhere. Ammon tugged at the camel’s reins – but there was nothing doing. Ammon looked at Johanna Juditha apologetically.
Ammon said to the camel, “Tabus, my beloved monster of books, I know you do not like stairs. I know. But this is the way out.” Johanna Juditha looked back at them.
“The Library won’t go down the library stairs.” I explained to Johanna Juditha.
“Is there another way out?” asked Ammon.
“The only other way is the service elevator at the back, which will take us right past the Withdrawal van.’
“The library may be persuadable. It’s worth a try. Take this book – “
He reached into a sack and removed a bright orange book with a slick plastic library cover. It didn’t look like a Very Special Book to me – just a regular library book. He handed it to me and whispered to me to start reading it to the camel and then walk down the stairs a bit. I just needed to keep reading until I reached the bottom.
“Normally,” he said, “I do not recommend walking and reading, especially down stairs but these are extenuating circumstances.”
So I began to read aloud to the camel, with Johanna Juditha spotting me to make sure I didn’t tumble down the stairs. As I went, Tabus just extended his neck. On the next page, I went several steps below and didn’t raise my voice – and the camel leaned down even further. When I went down another couple of steps, Tabus stamped his feet and looked at Ammon in frustration. Ammon simply walked down a few steps and gestured for me to keep reading. I read and the camel’s neck stretched longer than I thought would be possible.
Ammon gave me a look that seemed to suggest I go on a little bit further. I did and the camel made a sound of frustration with his lips. I walked down another step – and another and another – and still the camel didn’t move. Tabus turned his head to the side, trying hard to hear me read the story, but clearly only understanding a word or two.
So Johanna Juditha and I walked all the way down to the bottom of the stairs and when we got there, I started reading again very loudly. Tabus shook his head back and forth, shaking his shoulders a bit as well. Ammon stood patiently, nodding and watching me read. Finally, just as I was about to finish the first chapter, the camel suddenly backed up, pulling his head from Ammon’s hand and then catapulted past him down the stairs to join us at the bottom.
Tabus arrived, breathless, to stand behind me and I read on until we came to the end of the chapter at which point Ammon took the book and put it back on the shelf. He patted Tabus and promised him we’d finish reading later. We were ready to go on.
There were grand doors at the end of the lobby, big enough for a carriage to get through if it wanted. They too were covered in measures of music. Johanna Juditha sang a different tune and they swung open, revealing a plaza. We stepped outside, all of us breathing with relief – taking in the crisp air of the outdoors.
Just as we began to make our way across the plaza toward a copse of trees, a car sped around the circular drive and stopped in front of the entrance to a building on our right.
Johanna Juditha froze.