The upside down face smiled at me and tilted quizzically.
I wasn't used to talking to upside down faces but I said, “Yes. I am looking for a book. I’m looking for a lot of books, actually.”
“A LOT, ya say? Crivens! I hope ya brought a wagon. We don’t have any bags for boooks, ya see. Ya can only take as many as ya can carry.”
Crann’s face disappeared back into the tree. I spoke to where it seemed to disappear.
“No,” I said, “I don’t want to take a lot of books with me. I’m looking for all the books from my library. They’ve gone missing. So I’m looking for a book that might help me find them.”
The leaves were shaking above me and then a foot appeared on a lower branch and then another foot, both clad in old-fashioned leather boots. Then the legs and the torso descended and before too long I had all of the Tree Librarian in front of me – all except the head, which was still among the leaves.
From up there I heard her say, “Missing lyebree? No. No. NO. It can’t be. That’s. . .” And then she leapt down off the tree entirely and stood before me.
She had wild red hair that reached out around her head like a lion’s mane. She was dressed in short corduroy brown pants, with a brown tweedy vest and a green and brown checkered coat with tails. Her face was slightly less red at the top than it was at the bottom. She had a little gold leaf pinned to her green cravat. When she smiled, I noticed a big gap between her front teeth. Then she frowned again.
“Missing lyebree. This should have been reported. This is very serious. There should have been messages and meetings. Not that I like meetings. I don’t. I can’t be still for ‘em, honestly. But we ought t’have been informed.”
I had no idea what to say to any of this so I just shrugged.
“Oh never mind, “ she said, taking my hand and shaking it, “That’s not yer concern. Yer concern is gettin’ yer library reinstated as quickly as possible. Am I right?”
“Right. How didja end up here in the Tree Lyebree?” she asked.
“I followed a trail of red leaves.”
“Trail of red leaves. Hmm,” Said Crann, the Tree Librarian, scratching her head, ”Pointy or round?”
“The leaves. Were they pointed or round?”
“Roundish,” I said, “but then pointed.”
“Hmm. Serrated or not?”
“The edges are a bit like a saw, like this,” she said, pointing to a leaf nearby.
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Did it look like a fish to the side, a ghost standin’ up or a paw print pointin’ down?” she asked.
“Yes!” I said.
“Sassafras,” said Crann and pointed to a tree a few feet away that was covered in the very red leaves I’d been following.
“Yes!” I said, running toward it. “Just like the ones in front of my library.”
The librarian somehow got there before me and held out a hand.
“Now hang on,” she said. “Let’s not be too hasty. It is all well and good that ya have found the font of yer path. But before we investigate further I think it might be important to investigate one other thing first. That is, who left this trail for ya and what are they tryin’ to accomplish? Any friends here in Akita? Enemies?”
“No.” I said, “I’ve just arrived. I never even knew this place existed before today.”
“Away ye go! Is that so?” said Crann, the Tree Librarian.
“It is.” I said. “Do you know who might have left me a trail of leaves?” “Did they leave ya a trail of leaves or did they leave a trail of leaves behind them? That’s something to consider. It could be, they came from here and went out.” “So maybe they’re not leading me anywhere?” “Could be to lead themselves back.” She said.
“Was anyone here? Before?”
“Oh, we’ve had heaps of visitors to the lyebree today. Heaps! But I woulda seen someone break off a branch or collect a stack a leaves. The trees would have let me know. But – let’s look at the sassafras shelves and see if we can find you the book you need.”
The Librarian approached the tree and placed her hand on the handle – then shouted, “Wait!” and scampered up the tree.
I saw leaves fall. A little shower of the red leaves fell on me like rain. The librarian rustled through various branches saying, “No, no, no, no,” as she moved. Then she climbed down and landed with a hop in front of me.
“Th’ coast is clear” she said.
“What were you looking for?”
“Anythin’ suspicious. Maybe a spy hidin’ in the tree, givin’ out leaves? Ya never know.” “Spy?” I asked.
“We get a few. Every so often. I usually flush ‘ em out pretty quickly. Now, let’s see what’s on the shelf.”
She opened the door at the front of the tree and something fell out onto the ground.
“Xylem cambium bark!” She exclaimed. “That’s never happened before.”
I walked over with her to examine what had fallen. We stood over it and looked down.
It was about the size of a loaf of bread, wrapped in burlap and tied up with twine. The librarian looked at me and asked if I’d ever seen it before, which I had definitely not.
“How did that get here?” Crann wondered to herself and then said, “I’ll check the records. Someone has definitely been here at this shelf.”
She dashed off deeper into the forest and left me standing before the shelf, the strange package at my feet. I prodded the package with my toe. It was solid. I knelt down and lifted a corner of the burlap and couldn’t see anything but more burlap. I felt along the edges. It was very much book shaped. The librarian was nowhere in sight. I decided to just pick up the book. Maybe it was for me.
It was heavy – a big thick book, I imagined. I turned it over in my hand and on the other side, I discovered a red leaf tucked into the twine. Someone must have stashed it here for me to find.
Since it seemed like it was for me, I untied the twine and unwrapped the burlap. It was a book. I knew it. But what kind of book was this?
It was bound in dark leather with raised markings all over the cover in interlocking circles. In the center, there was a circle, like a little painting. It was a picture of a book on a desk. Light appeared to be shining off the pages – as if the pages were glowing. On the binding there was a small gold star that was sort of pearly and sparkly and swirly at the same time.
I opened the book to see what the inside looked like, whether there were pictures or if the words inside were in English. When I did, a tremendous light poured out of the pages, blinding me.