It turned out that I didn’t have to worry about Becky’s response to Plato because she started screaming before she even saw the crocodile and missed his entrance entirely.
“What is going on here? Where are we? What is happening? Animals don’t belong in buildings! I want to go home!”
There was a rumbling sound that came from the direction of the elephant. It wasn’t an unpleasant rumbling. It sounded like a cross between a cat’s purr and a hungry belly amplified through a school intercom. Sarkus the elephant took a step back. The sound had silenced everyone, even Becky for a moment. But then she started shouting again. Sarkus’ librarian, Mahout, bowed to the elephant and then began walking very slowly toward Becky in a diagonal line. She had her head down as she approached and she made funny sounds like a bird. Becky began to get a little quieter and then went silent as the elephant librarian came to stand beside her.
Across the room, the elephant made those funny bird sounds, too. Leopoldo the burro blew air through his lips. Plato the crocodile lifted up his head and exposed his neck. Basra the ostrich whistled and lowered her head. Strummer the pigeon pecked at something on the floor. Félix the turtle peeked out of his shell.
I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but Mahout was speaking very quietly to Becky and soon Becky’s face wasn’t red anymore.
When Toti and Félix the turtle turned to look at Johanna Juditha, Johanna Juditha shook her head ruefully.
“They were transported here without their consent and locked in the storeroom all day,” she said.
“O mezamani,” said Toti. “they have had a difficult and an unexpected change of habitat. Wi. Now I see. But you,” she said turning to me, “you seem to be acclimated quickly.”
“I came here on purpose, “ I said, “To find our library. The books disappeared and the people, too, so I came to find them. But the saddest news is that most of the books are below our feet. They’ve been used to make this floor.”
“Ket! How terrible,” said Toti.
“The only ones left are the ones that were in the basement, the ones that were broken or about to be donated to the book sale.”
“Terrible. Show me please.”
I took her to the section of the floor with my library books and pointed them out.
Toti ran her hand over the floor, examining it while the turtle peered down at all the titles.
“Terib.” she said quietly. “Fruktansvärd. Grozno. Kauhea.”
Then she turned to me.
“I am so sorry. I am not sure how they could be extracted. It will take an expert. For now – I think we must acknowledge your library lost.”
I nodded. It was very sad but I knew there was nothing we could do about it for the moment. I’d heard all about that extra strong floor varnish from The Chair.
I noticed as Toti spoke with me, the other Wandering Librarians had been talking with the other kids. The Elephant librarian was clearly explaining things to Becky, Xiaodan the Pigeon Librarian was talking with Svetlana and Oswaldo the Burro librarian was talking with Demetrius. I didn’t see Jelissa anywhere but she must have been with the ostrich librarian.
“Zanmi mwen, don’t worry. The librarians are trying to acclimate your zanmi to Akita,” Toti explained to me. “People are not so different from the animals. They need time and attention to adjust from one habitat to another.”
“What does zanmi mean?” I asked.
“Ah,” said Toti, “in the language of my birth, zanmi is friend and when I make a friend, I can only use my native word. I know very well the words for friend and ami and amigo and sadiq and filos and rafiki and twenty other words in twenty other languages but zanmi is the one that really means it. I know we just met but I know already that we are zanmi.”
Just then, Jelissa re-appeared with the Ostrich and the Ostrich Librarian next to her. They seemed out of breath. Axlam, the Ostrich Librarian waved and said, “Hello, hello, hello. Yes, I am Axlam, in case we haven’t met yet. This is my library, Basra. And this is Jelissa and we have made a discovery. Jelissa, would you - you, explain, please. “
“Sure,” said Jelissa, “ we were just looking through that corridor there and it appears to be an endless corridor of rooms, it just goes on and on and on. We ran and ran and it just kept going.”
Basra the Ostrich appeared to agree, as her beak went up and down.
Axlam said “Yes, and this reminded me of something I read in those books that brought us here. I had thought the ballroom’s architect’s name was familiar when I read it.” “Tryl Birddrop, so?” asked Mahout.
“Yes, Tryl Birddrop, ‘renowned architect of the brand new ballroom of Omphalos’ the book said. But seeing all those lounges repeating and repeating, one ridiculous room after another made me remember where I’d read about Birddrop before, unfortunately. Yes, he was referenced in a book about prison design. He is apparently especially gifted at creating beautiful jails. Or crafty cages. Tricky traps. Yes, and that, my friends, is what we find ourselves in – a beautiful clever trap.”
Becky wailed, “How are we going to get out of here?”
Mahout the Elephant Librarian leaned into her and made a chirping noise.
“Yes, it does seem bad, unfortunately. Yes, but do not despair,” said Axlam. “ Mr. Birddrop has a pattern and his prisons tend to all feature a similar way out. Yes, I will bet a lot, that that wall there,” she pointed to the only wall without a door, “is porous. Yes, you can move right through it under the right conditions. But most people don’t know what the right conditions are, unfortunately – nor would they think to check on the solidity of a very solid wall.”
“That would explain why the car could get through it but probably Ammon couldn’t. Don’t you think?” I asked. “And he could be just beyond the wall!”
“Let us hope,” said the Music Librarian.
“Now wait just a skeeter flyin’ minute right here.” Said Cooper the Crocodile Librarian. “Did you just say Ammon?”
Xiaodan added, “Ammon? Of Longest Line of Wandering Librarians? Is he alright? We worried when we did not see him.” “He was rescuing me,” I said, “when I ended up in the Cradle the same way you ended up here I expect. By one of those books wrapped in burlap.”
The Wandering Librarians nodded and then shook their heads.
“Yes,” said Axlam, “we should have been suspicious when we found those books scattered among our tents. Unfortunately, we are all irredeemably curious people.”
“To our detriment, so” said Mahout.
“To our credit,” said Xiaodan. “Person who sent us here knew this. Used our best quality against us.”
“But who sent US here?” asked Demetrius. “We didn’t open any weird books.”
“We can not be sure, unfortunately,” said Axlam “how you got to Akita or this ballroom.”
“It was The Chair who brought Leandra and I here to the ballroom,” said Johanna Juditha.
This made all of the Wandering Librarians exclaim, then murmur and bring their heads together to confer. Several of the librarians got very animated and some of them hit their fists and shook their heads.
Then Oswaldo turned to us. “I am sorry, niños. I am trying very hard not to be the big goat right now but I feel the way so many of my colleagues do. Because we have realized it is possible,” said Oswaldo,“ that The Chair imprisoned us as well and it makes us very upset. “
“The Chair does not like the Union of Wandering Librarians, so.” Said Mahout. “She has always tried to divide us.”
“Bless that crazy woman’s heart. I heard she once tore a book clean in half,” said Cooper, “right in front of a room full of librarians.”
The librarians all gasped.
“Right in half,” said Cooper, shaking his head.
“Wow, wow, wow,” said Axlam.
Strummer the Pigeon whistled and Xiaodan whistled and said, “We need to get through that wall like our eyebrows are on fire.”
“Yes, to get through there, unfortunately, what we need is momentum.” Said Axlam.
“Momentum?” asked Demetrius.
“Yes, one has to be going very fast to get through the wall, otherwise it is painfully solid, unfortunately.”
Jelissa had gone to the wall and put her hand on it to feel. “Feels like any other wall.” She said.
“Yes,” said Axlam ”it should. It will take running at it, unfortunately. And it is a great act of faith to be going so fast toward something you are sure is solid. I’m not sure how our libraries could be convinced. Or even ourselves, unfortunately.”
The other Wandering Librarians agreed that their libraries would have a hard time running at a wall, not to mention they themselves.
“How do we know this is true?” asked Demetrius. “What if I were to run full speed toward that wall? How do I know I’m not going to smash myself into bits?”
“Yes, that is a good question, unfortunately” said Axlam, while the ostrich bent her head into Axlam’s waist.
“I have an idea,” said Jelissa, and she took off her shoe and hurled it at the wall with great force. The wall engulfed it and the shoe disappeared like a berry falling into custard.