Svetlana’s wondering about the way out made every single one of us stop and look around.
Jelissa stepped forward. ”I noticed that there are two other doors than the one we came out of. I suggest we send three people to the additional doorways to investigate – One to go in, one to hold the door open, one to watch and report back to the others in case of any funny business.”
“Wow, Jelissa.” I said, “you did some quick investigating.”
“I like detective stories,” said Jelissa, shrugging.
We split up and went to the two remaining doorways to see where they led. I went to the middle one, closest to me, with the Music Librarian and Jelissa. Luckily this doorway wasn’t pitch black like the one we’d come from. It was a lounge area, like they had in old fashioned theatres to smoke in in old black and white movies. A chaise lounge or two, some of them on wheels, a water fountain and a big puffy dusty rose colored ottoman. That room led to another room, also furnished like a lounge with bathrooms off to either side. Jelissa had stayed by the first entrance and when we were about to go into the next room after – she called us back.
Jelissa said, “There’s a lot going on out there.” We came back into the ballroom and found Svetlana running toward us.
“That room was full of wild animals!” she said, breathlessly. “People and wild animals!”
I noticed then that Demetrius was sitting by the door fanning himself trying to catch his breath and Becky was sitting with her head between her knees, crying. Svetlana’s hair was flying everywhere as she got to us. I’d never seen her like this. She said, breathlessly, “We went through a dark passage, like the other side and when we opened the door at the end, I saw a Crocodile and an elephant in a room just as tiny as the room we were in. It was loud and terrifying! What in the world is this place?”
“People and animals?” I asked.
“Wild ones” said Svetlana. “They all roared at us when we opened the door.”
“Wandering Librarians?” I asked Johanna Juditha.
“I think it’s likely,” she said.
“Let’s go look,” I said.
“When did you get suddenly brave?” Svetlana asked. “ You never want to play anything scary at the library and now you want to go look at a room of wild animals?!”
“I guess so.” I said.
I walked straight to the other door while Johanna Juditha tried to calm an unhappy Becky. I strode right through the dark room toward the frame of light at the end, just as it had been on the other side. There were a lot of loud animal noises coming through. I knocked on the door and heard the noises stop.
I shouted into the door. “Hello, Wandering Librarians?”
I heard several voices say hello and yes. So I was right.
“We’re here to rescue you.” I said.
A man’s friendly voice came through the door. “We’re real sorry to have scared you like that. Our libraries weren’t so sure whether it was friends or foes out there.”
“Oh, we’re friends,” I said. “And I’m just going to open this door slowly.”
“Don’t you worry,” said the man. “We’ll all be quieter than a roundtail muskrat hidin’ from a panther in here.”
I opened the door and there, standing very quietly, were a room full of animals, each with a person by its side. The room was smelly but almost silent when I came in.
The elephant filled much of the room, its head pressed into the ceiling. On its back were several shelves of books that hung over a tapestry. It had an embroidered and beaded headpiece with an image of an open book stitched into it. Holding the elephant’s lead was a tall woman in a red tunic and flowing orange skirt. Little mirrors sparkled from the fabric and her arms were covered in bracelets.
There was an ostrich, who wore what looked like a platform on its back with many drawers. It looked kind of like it was wearing a file cabinet. The woman with her hand on its neck had large kind eyes and a green scarf framed her round face. An orange and red striped scarf was draped over her shoulder and tied round her waist, hanging over her sweatpants. Her shoes reminded me of Jelissa’s sneakers.
The burro’s mane was braided through with colorful threads in bright vibrant shades. The man next to the burro wore jeans, a light green shirt and a hat that looked designed to keep him out of the sun.
There was a man wearing rubber overalls that looked like they were for wading in water and a leash hung from his hand and I looked down to see a large crocodile, wearing what looked like a giant backpack, calmly blinking at me.
Next to a huge green turtle with a little wooden house on its back, was a woman, in a pale blue ruffled dress with gold bands wrapped around her dreadlocks.
A pigeon flapped its wings from the shoulder of a person wearing a black t-shirt with a picture of someone smashing a guitar on it. Their long beard was braided and had sparkling blue beads in it. Their grey hair sat on top of their head in a messy bun.
“You must be the Wandering Librarians,” I said. “I’m so glad to have found you. I’m Leandra.”
They all smiled and nodded warmly and said “Thank you, Leandra” in a chorus of voices very different from one another. I showed them the door and warned them that it was dark in the hallway before they’d get to the ballroom.
“Thank you kindly,” said the man with the crocodile, whose voice I recognized as the one I’d heard through the door. He continued, “My name is Cooper. This is my library, Plato. People are sometimes scared of him but he’s sweeter than a honeybee settin’ in a honeycomb.” Cooper turned to his colleagues and said, “Why don’t y’all go out first, just so Plato doesn’t scare the beejeezus out of anybody who isn’t expecting him.”
“So,” said the woman with the elephant, “I think, Xiaodan, you should go out first since very few are scared of pigeons. And hello, Leandra, I am called Mahout, this is my library, Sarkus. So, thank you for letting us out. Out you go, Xiaodan.”
“I am waiting,” Xiaodan the pigeon librarian said, “to say thank to person who has released us. Thank you, Leandra. I am Xiaodan and this is my library, Strummer. We thank you and we go.”
They bowed a little and went through to the dark hall.
Next the burro led its librarian right to me.
“My library, he is saying thank you and to tell you his name is Leopoldo and I am Oswaldo.”
The burro pulled Oswaldo out of the room.
“Wow, wow, wow,” said the woman with the ostrich. “There are so many of us, you will never remember all the names, unfortunately. But Basra and I, we thank you. That is Toti with her library, Félix,” she said pointing at the woman with the turtle who had been steadily walking toward me for some time. “Oh, oh, oh, and I am Axlam. And now we go, go, go.”
When the turtle finally arrived at the door, its librarian, Toti, said, “My friend Axlam is very fast. And Félix and I are very slow but we do thank you, zanmi mwen, for opening the door. Would you walk with us? We could keep the calm before the bigger animals emerge.”
We walked together through the dark hallway and I told Toti about the ballroom and all the people waiting for us.
When we came out into the ballroom, I could see that chaos had already kicked in. Demetrius was taking short breaths and looked very pale. Svetlana was leaning against a wall, trying to smooth the same length of hair over and over. Becky was red and getting redder by the minute. Jelissa and Johanna Juditha seemed to be trying to reassure her.
By the time Mahout and Sarkus the Elephant came in, Becky looked ready to explode. I didn’t know what would happen when Cooper came in with that crocodile named Plato.