“Did I hear what?” I asked.
“Exactly. There’s nothing to hear. Usually when the Union meets, there is a cacophony of sound – all the animals, all the chattering of the librarians, the singing of union songs. There is nothing, though.” “Should we maybe not go in there then?”
“Maybe. But I think I must investigate. Perhaps it would be safest for the library to stay here with you.”
I looked at the camel who looked at me and squinted. “I think we should all go together,” I said. Tabus pawed the ground and seemed to agree.
“Then we must all go very carefully.”
We stepped gingerly into the tent village and looked left and right. We could see booths and tents but no librarians and no animals. Nothing was out of place, though. There didn’t seem to have been a fight or anything. Everyone had just disappeared.
I stumbled a bit over something and when I looked down to see what it was, I noticed a piece of burlap. I bent down to examine it.
“Be careful!” said Ammon, “We don’t know what happened here!”
I kicked at the burlap and uncovered a piece of twine.
“I might have an idea.” I said. “But I’m not sure yet.” As we walked past more tents, as I expected, we found three more pieces of burlap and three pieces of twine. “Yes.” I said, “That’s it, then.” The librarian looked at me and cocked his head. “What is it?”
“They all read books like mine, like the one that sent me to the desert. My book was wrapped in burlap like that and twine like that. I think whoever sent me here, must have caused the librarians to vanish as well. Though that doesn’t explain the libraries.” “It does actually. That is very logical. The Wandering Librarians are so attached to their libraries, the libraries will follow them wherever they go, even at their own risk. To separate one of us from our library is almost impossible unless we will it so.” The camel stuck his head under the librarian’s arm and Ammon rubbed its chin.
“It is alright, Tabus. It is alright.”
We stood dumbly for a bit – unsure of what to do about a whole camp of vanished librarians.
“How many are gone, do you think?” I asked.
“I do not know,” said the librarian, “We do not take attendance at the meetings – so I do not know who was here and who has vanished.” I looked at the twine we’d picked up already.
“That’s four,” I said. Then I looked around at the empty marketplace. I saw another piece up ahead and picked it up and called back, “Five!”
Ammon understood immediately and went down another avenue to pick up another piece of twine, saying “Six” and we went on, in opposite directions, picking up twine and counting.
I had gathered a dozen pieces by the time we re-encountered each other near the water trough where we started. The librarian had collected thirteen pieces of twine. So altogether, we were missing 25 librarians and their libraries.
Ammon handed me his twine and suddenly sat one a nearby crate with his head in his hands. The camel rested its head on his shoulder.
“We’ll find them.” I said, “Probably they’re with my missing library and librarians, too.”
Ammon looked up and agreed that that was the most logical idea.
“And meanwhile,” I said, “can we all agree that none of us will read a book wrapped up in burlap and twine ?”
“Agreed” said Ammon, then suddenly jumped to his feet and rushed to one of the library shelves. He pulled out an atlas and opened it to a colorful illustration. The camel and I peered over his shoulders at what seem to be a map of Akita. I could see The Cradle, Gate 1 (where I’d met Edna) and the Tree Library.
After studying the map for a moment, the librarian slammed it shut, put the book back and tightened all of the library’s straps.
“Edinkid! We need to get to Omphalos, right away.”
“It is the city at the center of Akita. If someone has kidnapped an entire chapter of the Union of Wandering Librarians, there is great trouble. None of the books in Akita are safe. We may all know the horror you felt when your library’s books disappeared.”
“Yes. I think it is very serious. It was very serious before, of course, one library lost is a very grave problem…but to lose all of them?”
“Once we get to Omphalos, we can go anywhere you need to to find your books. But I must first know that the keys are secured. I may be the only Wandering Librarian at liberty.”
“We don’t know yet. But I assume the worst. It is very good I was late for this meeting. I thank you.”
Ammon lowered his head and Tabus bowed his head as well.
I bowed mine, too. I wasn’t sure if we were bowing to each other or praying or observing a minute of silence for the missing librarians or just exercising our necks.
Ammon carefully packed the burlap and the twine into a bag that hung next to the library’s shelf.
“I want to help you.” I said. “You helped me. A lot. So if I can help you when we get to Omphalos, I want to.”
“It might be very dangerous for one so young.” He said, concern on his face.
“Dangerous how?” I asked.
“I do not know yet,” said Ammon.
“Dangerous, like they could take all the books from my library?”
Ammon conceded the point.
“We shall see,” he said. “Meanwhile, let us go.”
He set off walking quickly to the other end of the camp.
At the edge of the encampment, there was more sand, seemingly no different from the direction from which we’d come. As we stepped onto it, though, I noticed that its texture was a little different, less sandy, more pebbly. We walked on this sand several paces before the librarian reached ahead and seemed to feel for something in the air and then he caught hold of it. As he did, the horizon seemed to bend a bit right where his hand was. Then he drew his hand to the side and the landscape before him moved, like a curtain, revealing a darker space behind it. We passed through the opening - Ammon holding the curtain open for me and Tabus and once we were all inside, he let it fall behind us.
It was extremely dark. Darker, perhaps, due to our having come from such a bright desert.
“Where are we?” I whispered, trying to feel around me, feeling completely blind.
“Short Cut,” said Ammon.
“Why is it so dark?” I asked.
“To prevent anyone who is not a Wandering Librarian from traveling this way.”
“How does it do that?”
“Well – our animals do not need their eyes as much as people do to make their way.” “They see in the dark?”
“Some do. But most of them smell their way through. There are smell signposts along the way.”
“Like road signs for the nose!”
“Exactly,” said Ammon. “If you pay attention you might be able to sense some of them.”
“Ah!” he said. “There. What do you smell?”
“Exactly. Now. I’ve taken this path enough times to know that once we can no longer smell them, we will come to a fork in the paths. On one side, almonds. To the other, pine needles. The almonds will take us to Omphalos. The pine to The Tree Library.”
It was exactly as Ammon said. The smell of oranges faded and ever so faintly, I caught the scent of pine and almonds. The almonds led us to the right and so we traveled through the dark. Singing and smelling things. Ammon said the singing helped them keep time and also helped them keep their spirits up when they were troubled.
Eventually, five songs and several smells later, we found ourselves looking at a frame of light that smelled faintly of old moth balls.
“Why did they choose that awful smell?” I asked.
“From the other side, this entrance is just an old closet, full of old clothes and such. The smell not only is appropriate for the location but also helps discourage people from rummaging around in it.”
I covered my nose with the scarf Ammon had given me. He opened the door and the smell of mothballs got even stronger. Then he cleared several rows of heavy coats out of the way and Tabus and I followed him through the space he made. We carefully walked past boxes cardboard piled on boxes, some with dates written on them and some with all sorts of things spilling out of the top. I saw a stuffed rabbit, a tennis racket and a hat with a pom pom on top of one box.
“Lost and Found,” said Ammon. “People leave so many things behind at the library.” We came to another door and Ammon felt around the frame of it, as if he were looking for a spare key – but then the door opened and the frame expanded, making the entrance at least three times bigger than it had been.
“Just the right size for a camel,” said Ammon as he scratched under Tabus’ chin. We all went through into a pretty ordinary looking hallway – something that looked a lot like the offices in the basement of my library. Ammon slid his hand around the frame again and it returned to become a regular sized door. One the door, a sign read “Lost and Found.”
We walked through the halls, which looked like nothing special – the fluorescent lights flickered above our heads. Ammon told me they were designed that way so as to discourage anyone not in the know from exploring this hall.
We came to a large service elevator and Ammon pushed the up button. There was a loud clatter, as the elevator came to life several floors away.
As we waited, Ammon explained that we were in one of the most important libraries in Omphalos – part of a group of libraries called the sensory libraries. We were in the Library of the Ear where we would meet with the librarian who held one of the five keys that unlocked the library at the center of Omphalos.
“The Omphalos of the Omphalos,” Ammon said.
“What’s in there?” I asked.
“The most precious books in the world,” said Ammon. “In some cases, they are the only copies in existence of important texts. The printer’s gallery copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, for example or Leonardo da Vinci’s missing notebook. There are manuscripts and recordings and anything irreplaceable - which is why I feel I must check to be sure it is secure.”
The elevator was one of those that opened up and down and required Ammon to pull a large lever to open the doors. Noisily, the elevator took us up past a sound library and a library of languages. Then we stopped at the button with the M on it.