The trail ahead was sunny and bright. Butterflies flitted to and fro. Birds sang. Bees buzzed over the fragrant wildflowers. The red leaf path continued from the door in a long line across the meadow and up and over the hill.
“Looks like the path ahead is pretty clear, “ said Edna.
“Thank you,” I said and was about to walk through the door when Edna told me to wait.
She scrambled up her stool again, reached behind some books and pulled out something.
“I want to give you a bookmark.” she said, “So you can remember where you were and how to get back here.”
She came over and handed me a little piece of cloth that looked like a tiny woven hall rug.
“It’s one of my favorites.” she said as she watched me tuck it into the book that had been left behind at my library.
I thanked her, put my backpack back on and stepped over the threshold of the passageway onto the green grass of the meadow. I turned back to look at the librarian one more time and as I did, I saw her waving as the bookshelf closed behind me.
It was a bookshelf on this side, too – though here, the shelf was very out of place. I don’t think I’d ever seen a bookshelf in the middle of a field before.
I followed the trail of red leaves, walking through the grass, enjoying the buttery sun shining, getting a whiff of wildflowers every now and then. There were the chirps of birds and crickets singing loudly through the landscape, while the clouds floated lazily by up above.
It was the kind of place I could be tempted to dawdle. I passed a rock that practically cried out, “Sit on me! Pick those daisies nearby and make yourself a crown!”
But I kept following the red leaf trail. I walked up and over a hill through fields of green. I knew some songs about meadows and I found myself humming them.
I rounded another hill and could see down it that the trail led straight to the grove of trees at the bottom of the dell. As I got closer to the trees the choir of birds and crickets got oddly quietly. And when I stepped into the shade of the first tree, there was a sudden hush. And the temperature dropped. I considered unwrapping the book and putting on my jacket. It was also much darker in here – but the red leaves had enough shine on them to keep them visible.
I walked through the chilly dark grove of trees, keeping my eyes on the red leaves that led me, trying not to search the dark for scary things like wolves or snakes or whatever dark things might appear in a dark place.
The leaf trail stopped at a pile of red leaves and continued again after it in three different directions. How was I supposed to follow all three trails at once? They veered off in such different directions. How was I supposed to choose?
Then I noticed that the pile was made up of several different kinds of red leaves and that the trails were three different shapes.
I thought I should follow the leaf in the book so I pulled it out of my backpack, put on my jacket, sat on a nearby rock and opened it.
I found the picture of the leaf and compared it to the leaves ahead. I flipped through the pages to see if there were other clues I’d forgotten about and noticed that there was a page I hadn’t seen before. Where there had once been an empty page there was something written. It said, “Children don’t belong in libraries. Go home, little girl. Libraries are not for you.”
Who had gotten into my book and why had they written such a horrible thing?
I slammed the book shut, stuffed it into my backpack not even worrying about wrapping it back up. Who could say such a thing? That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Of course I belonged in a library. I was practically raised in one!
I stomped over to the middle trail, the one with the long pointy leaves and stamped all the way through the dark woods until the sun started to break through the trees and it became a more friendly forest, like a Frog and Toad forest more than a Hansel and Gretel forest. Now it was the kind of forest with birds singing and sunlight streaming through the branches. It smelled like fall. The air was crisp and tart, like an apple in a bed of fallen leaves.
As I looked around, I noticed that the tree trunks all seemed to have handles on them. I walked to the closest tree and looked it up and down. Tall. Barky. Leafy. I put my hand on the little brass handle and pulled. It was a little door and when it opened, it revealed several shelves of books in the tree’s trunk.
I looked at the spines of the books. The books didn’t seem to be in any particular order. The authors were all different. The titles ranged from fiction to non-fiction with no obvious method of organization. There was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn next to The Giving Tree which was next to Trees of North America. But not all the books were about trees. There was a book about Isaac Newton, too.
Just then, a head popped out of the branches above. It was upside down and all the hair hung down toward me like a curtain. The face was friendly and a little bit red. Maybe from all the blood rushing into it.
I think the face was smiling too but it was hard to tell. The upside down mouth opened and said, with a Celtic lilt, “Howjawdo? Welcome to the Tree Lyebree. I’m Crann, the Tree Librarian. Are ya looking for a booook?”