The brightness of the page made it impossible to see. I blinked a few times, trying to regain the use of my eyes. I pressed my eyelids together and squeezed.
Finally some darkness began to creep back in, behind my lids, so I opened my eyes and cautiously looked at the pages open in my hands. Light still glowed out of them, albeit with much less force, but I could see some sort of writing on them behind it.
I looked up to see if the librarian had perhaps returned but I could no longer see the forest. I couldn’t see any trees or leaves or trunks. The Tree Librarian was nowhere in sight.
Instead, I seemed to be in a desert. There was sand everywhere. Sand. Sand dunes. Sand hills. Sand. Nothing but sand. It was hot, too. The sun was pouring down on me. I looked at the book in my hands.
“Take me back.” I said to it. “You brought me here. Take me back.”
The book did not respond, it just kept glowing. I touched the page, trying to see past the glow and it was hot to the touch. So I drew my finger back quickly.
I tried to turn the page without touching it but found that the only cool part of the book was the cover resting in my hands.
The sun was high in the sky so relief from the heat was probably a long time away. This was not good. Not good at all.
I opened the book again, hoping it would send me back after cooling down a little. The pages were still blindingly white but I could see the words on them now. There was a heading at the top of the page that proclaimed, "Travel Guide for The Cradle.”
Maybe this place was the Cradle? If so, a guide is exactly what I needed, so I turned to the first page.
"Greetings my fellow travelers!" the book read, "Welcome to the Cradle! It is a landscape of extraordinary beauty and home of the very first libraries. While most of those libraries are now distant memories, many of their books disintegrated into the sand, so you are surrounded with the words of the ancients. Look around, you’ll see remains of many books of the past.”
I looked carefully at the sand and noticed little scraps of paper nestled in the sand. I pulled one out and it said “parchment” and another said “clay.”
I looked back at the page. It continued:
“But be careful, the land is not the most hospitable to those who are unprepared. Do not travel without a map, compass, hat, water and food.”
Well. I had none of those things. I had a handful of cherries and a swallow of water in the canteen my grandfather had given me to take to school. I scanned further to see if there might be advice for what to do about my lack of resources. Luckily, there was a section that offered tips for those who might be stranded in the desert. First, it said to find cover if you were lost in the daytime. It suggested getting under shelter if at all possible and then traveling at night. It also said to save your resources and eat or drink your rations as slowly as possible.
There was a diagram for making a tent out of unusual materials and a list of possible things to use. I took my backpack off and searched through it. My resources included two books (the one that sent me here and the book left from my library,) three notebooks, my grandfather’s canteen, a pencil case – including pens, pencils, erasers, round tipped scissors and the sour cherries. Also at the bottom of the bag, I found a roll of masking tape that I’d brought for our school presentations a few weeks ago. I took the pens and pencils out and started to tape them, one on top of the other, to form a long stick. Once the stick went over my head a bit, I planted it in the ground and pressed sand around its base.
Then I took my jacket off and put it on top. I pulled out the sleeves and the ends on either side and used tape and pens to stake the ends in the ground far enough away to create a tiny little shelter from the sun. It was still really hot under my little impromptu tent but it kept the sun from beating down on me. It was a decent refuge.
Once I’d cooled down a little bit, I opened the guidebook and read some more.
“The Cradle is the heart of Akita. It is where Akita began thousands of years ago and is, therefore, the oldest part of the Global Library.
While The Cradle may not look much like a library today, it was once the home of two of the very first libraries. Its books were made of clay, of wax, of parchment and stone.
The two libraries were on opposite sides of the region and librarians often had to travel between them, to carry books, usually by camel, as camels were the primary mode of transportation then. The libraries were particularly vulnerable to fires and both burned to the ground several times in their history. Each time this happened, every book that was not etched in clay or stone was lost to the flames.
The librarians were devastated by this loss and heartbroken by the way the books became targets for destruction whenever there was trouble in the region. Very few of those fires had been accidental.
The librarians gathered together and decided to do something to protect the books of their libraries. Instead of building new buildings in the site of the old ones – they buried them underground, piling sand over them to hide the books from those who threatened them. They called their hidden library, Akita, which meant “Source” and as time went by, they used the ancient magics that they found in their books to expand Akita in a multitude of directions. They created a whole world of books.
They also noticed that books, like animals, seemed to thrive in different habitats, so they made jungles and snowy mountains. They made hills of red clay and trees. They made plains and cities.
And once Akita had expanded in so many directions, they named the first libraries The Cradle, as it was where Akita had been born and spent its infancy. Some of those ancient libraries have been lost to time, some are buried further below and one remains in the furthest reach of The Cradle. “
So I was still in Akita – just a very dry, very hot, very ancient part of it. Also a seemingly very large part of it. I could see no end of the sand. And the map in the Guidebook gave me no sense of where I might be inside the Cradle. But. I was still in the library, even though that page in my book wanted me to leave, I was still here. I opened up Dorothea Crane’s book again, just to remind myself exactly what it said, to shake my fist at it maybe but when I did, I noticed that another page had appeared. The book had not left my sight, no one was stealing it and scribbling in it, the new pages just seemed to appear on their own.
This new one had a picture of the desert and in it, there was a girl who looked a bit like me, crawling across the dunes, her tongue hanging out. “We told you that children don’t belong in libraries.” The book said, across the top. “This is what happens to children who ignore our warnings.”
I turned the page and the girl was now reading a book with a picture of herself, crawling across the desert. This book was showing me my own situation now and I was more than a little bit uncomfortable.
I turned the page. Now the girl who looked like me was ripping out the pages of the book and crumpling them up. The writing read, “But escape is possible.”
On the next page, the girl who looked like me was smiling happily in her bed, a quilt pulled up to her neck.
It seemed the book was suggesting I destroy pages from the book. But should I do what it told me? Rip up a book? Crumple the pages? It seemed so wrong. This book had told me that children didn’t belong in libraries, which I knew not to be true, so I didn’t trust it, not at all. And now it wanted me to rip up a book? No! Not even to be returned happily to my bed. And what about my library? Who was this Dorothea Crane person? And how was she writing in my book?
I was already thirsty but all of this worrying made me even more thirsty, more thirsty than I could have imagine ever feeling so I drank the water in my canteen. Every drop of it.
I took out a cherry and took the tiniest little bite out of it, catching all the juice of it I could. It was still face-puckeringly sour but it was such a small taste it wasn’t quite so shocking. The good thing about it was that it meant I wouldn’t eat the whole cherry all at once. I could, if I were careful, take a whole hour to eat this one cherry. Bit by bit.