Under other circumstances, I might have been glad to have the entire library to myself but without books? No way. I tried to figure out what to do. My first instinct was to just wait for my dad to come back down in that comfy chair. But then I had a terrible thought that maybe he’d vanished in the bookmobile, along with all the books and the librarians. I didn’t think so. I was pretty sure he was alright. For some reason, I felt like I’d know if my dad were in trouble, too. But waiting for him didn’t seem like the best solution. It looked like I was the only one here and so I was the one to investigate.
In the detective stories I’d read, the first steps were always to look for clues, so I wandered around the shelves of the children’s room, hoping to find something. I took out a notebook and a pen and wrote down everything I noticed, even the little piles of dust on the shelves. I looked for footprints but so many people came through the library every day, I realized they’d be no help. I looked at the puppets in the children’s room, which remained, even though all the books had gone. There were markers for the easels in the art corner and the beanbag chairs were still there. No one had left any messages on the windows that I could see. Finally, I came to the shelving cart I’d hidden on yesterday and for a moment, considered getting in it again, just for comfort, when I noticed there was a book on it.
A book! One book left. They hadn’t taken everything.
It didn’t look like our usual library books. The cover seemed to be made out of leather. It was all brown and wrinkly. The pages were yellow and a little uneven. It looked like a very old book. I examined the cover – there was nothing written on the front. No title, no author. Just a blank. The binding, though said, “A Book by Dorothea Crane” and had the little blue bird sticker that our library put on the binding of every book. I opened it to the front page. It didn’t have a title page. It didn’t have any of the information you usually find at the beginning of a book. It didn’t have the author or title or date or publisher or anything.
I turned another page and found a dedication. It said: For you. Take Care.
What did that message mean? Take care of who? Of what? And was it really for me? Then I laughed at myself. It was a book. It couldn’t be just for me. How silly.
I turned another page and there was an illustration of our library. I didn’t know our library was in a book!
That’s pretty special. Why didn’t anyone tell me?
Maybe that’s why this book had been saved when all the others were taken.
The next page was an image of books – all stacked up in precarious towers. Some of them looked like books I’d read. When I looked closer, I saw that their spines had little blue birds on them. It wasn’t just the library building in this book. It was the books too! I turned the page. It had only two words written on it.
“Save them,” it said.
The next page said, “Follow the leaves.”
And it had an illustration of a bright red leaf. The next page was blank. And the next and the next.
There were many more pages in the book but they were all empty.
I looked around. There wasn’t a leaf in sight. Just empty shelves. And no one to ask for help. Normally I could read a book to get more information or ask a person – but there were neither books nor people anywhere to be seen. I supposed I’d need to leave the library to find help. Or find the leaves. I decided to bring the book with me. As the sole remaining book of the Dawn Powell Public Library, it felt like it was my duty to look after it, to protect it from the fate that the rest of the library seemed to have met. It didn’t have the plastic cover that most library books did, so I wrapped it in my jacket and put it in my backpack.
I headed for the front door, passing the circulation desk and was about to leave when I realized I hadn’t checked the book out. Just because all of the books were gone and there were no librarians left, didn’t mean I should just forget all the rules.
Luckily, I’d seen the check out process so many times, I knew exactly what to do. I took the book out of my backpack, unwrapped it carefully, set it on the counter of the circulation desk and turned to the back page. The Dawn Powell Public Library pocket was there in the back and I pulled out the piece of paper that was in there. It had no one’s name on it – so I was about to be the first person to check out this book. That was exciting. That had never happened to me before. I wrote my name carefully on the first line of the card. My teachers were always telling me my handwriting was atrocious so I was careful to print slowly and carefully.
There was a stack of return slips nearby so I took one, found the rubber stamp and inkpad and stamped it with its due date. Then, I slid the return slip into the pocket slowly. As soon as the paper reached the end of the pocket, lights began to flash. The sound in the room seemed to suddenly disappear. It felt like being in an airplane and suddenly having my eardrums expand. I quickly closed the book, bundled it up in my jacket and put it in my backpack. The adventure stories I’d read had taught me that when the environment gets suddenly weird, it’s time to get out of there.
There were two sets of doors. The first led to a small entrance area where people hung up flyers and left brochures in a rack. When it was raining they would often shake out their umbrellas there.
The first set of doors out of the library opened easily. A simple push and I was standing by the brochure rack. The second set was more difficult. I gave them a push but nothing happened. The bar on them did stick sometimes, so I put a little more shoulder into it. It didn’t feel like the usual stickiness of the door and it didn’t seem to be locked. It had the strange feeling of bending somehow, like a bubble expanding as I pushed. I leaned my whole self into the push bar and felt that strange bubble sensation again, like the door was a balloon – but I didn’t stop this time, I just kept leaning into the balloon and then there was a pop and the door opened and I was outside.
But outside looked entirely different than it usually did. There were no cars going up or down the street. The trees were dropping leaves, that was usual, sure, for this time of year, but they seemed to be dropping leaves quickly and continually, like a red leafy waterfall.
The trees whooshed as they dropped their leaves. The leaf piles were growing higher and higher. I’d never done any jumping in leaf piles because I was a little worried about what else might have ended up in there – sticks, glass, I didn’t know. Maybe the sidewalk would rush to meet me too hard. But these leaf piles had just formed and there was no one around so it suddenly seemed like the perfect time to jump in. So I just threw myself right into the pile, hoping that it would be soft and pleasant. And it was. Softer and more pleasant than it had any right to be. Fallen leaves should be a little scratchy – these were soft like moss.
The trip was also much longer than it should have been. How big was that leaf pile? Just how tall?
Finally I landed – gently – as if I were a small boat bumping into the shore. I pushed the leaves aside from over my head and found my way out of the pile. I pulled leaves out of my hair, out of my clothes and I finally looked out at the library again. Except it has no longer my tiny red-bricked library. Where my library had been was a grand white marble gateway. White marble steps led up to the entrance and on each step was a red leaf. “Follow the leaves,” the book had said, so I climbed the stairs.
At the top, I found myself in a portico. I knew it was a portico because I’d read a book about Greek gods and goddesses and the book had said that Greek temples had these sorts of covered porches called porticos. The columns had been carved to look like people holding up the ceiling. The stone faces of the columns were all different but they were all holding books with different kinds of writing on them. One of the books had “Ex Libris” carved into it. I knew ex libris meant something to do with libraries because my grandmother had given me a box of stickers with those words on them to put in the front of my books. She said it was so I could know which books were part of my own personal library, separate from my public library books.
There were doors to the left, straight ahead and to the right, all of them were closed. I followed the trail of leaves across the floor of the portico to the right where the leaves dead-ended at a dark heavy looking door with a shiny brass handle. I could see the edge of a leaf sticking out under the door so I tried to open it. The handle didn’t turn. I guess it was locked. I tried to peek into the door, through the keyhole, where light seemed to be shining, but all I could see was the light.
I knocked on the door quietly but nothing happened so I tried to knock a little louder. A gruff voice behind the door said, “What’s the password?” I panicked. Password? The book that sent me here hadn’t said anything about a password. Should I make one up? Was it “leaf” or “book” or “library”? Finally I just decided to go with the truth and said, “I don’t know.”