One day, at your local library, you are looking around the very back shelves. There is a particularly boring looking book there, but for some reason it catches your interest and you find yourself removing it from the shelf. However, as soon as you move the book, the bookcase opens in like a door, revealing a deep dark tunnel.
I had never thought to look through the dusty, moth-eaten tomes in the historical section of the library until that afternoon, not until local history and genealogy had caught my attention, since moving to the city only a short time before. This building was known to have quite a history of its own, having survived a pair of wars mostly intact, with the exception of having been looted and partially burned during one unfortunate siege.
Sadly, even with the outcry from local interest groups, and the city preservation group, the building would most likely be torn down to make way for a new housing development, if a reason besides its age couldn’t be found to make it worth preserving. There were threats of imminent domain, and in an effort to appease, the neighborhood had been promised a shiny new and updated building a few blocks over to replace the present one, but that did little to quell the anger, of what sadly seemed a vocal minority. The mayor, city council and zoning board only seemed concerned with the money they believed the new development was poised to begin bringing.
The cellar stacks weren’t off limits to be explored, and read while in the building, but research materials, and books considered antiques, were not permitted to leave the cellar. The air was cool there, as I wove between the many rows of shelves, into the oldest part of the dimly lit chamber, where the air smelled faintly of dust, old paper, and cedar blocks placed among the rows of books to keep moths from chewing at the bindings.
I hadn’t seen much of interest in that section, the books seemed to be mostly old agricultural journals, and plans for antiquated machinery. I am sure they would hold collectors value for someone, but outside of being donated to a museum, I could scarcely imagine what could be done with them when this library closed, if they decided packing them up and moving them wasn’t worth doing.
Row after row of books, passed by in their dusty sameness, before I stopped to look at one, a bit intrigued. It was smaller than most others; its cover was soot stained and illegible. It seemed quite odd that they would re-shelve a book that was in such deplorable condition. I suppose that tucked back into a corner as it was, in the dimly lit room, it was easily overlooked, as the cellar was rarely visited, and dimly lit in comparison to the rest of the building, with the exception of the small reading area near the stairs that lead to the main part of the building.
Intrigued I went to pluck the small book off the shelf, wanting to at least let someone on staff know about what I had found, but the book would only tilt, not budge from the shelf. As I tugged harder there was an audible click and a groan as the heavy bookshelf in front of me began to swing inward away from me, vanishing into darkness. My stomach tied up in knots at that point, but curiosity won out, as I fished my penlight out of my backpack, and shone it into the dark corridor that had just opened up behind what had seemed until then to be a solid stone wall.
A short distance beyond the doorway, the tunnel brought me to a set of curving stone stairs, that while covered in cobwebs seemed sturdy enough, and beyond that another closed, but unbolted door swung in with a groan, with considerable effort as I leaned against it. There was what seemed a cool draft as the door came open. Nothing seemed to stir within, and the air smelled of dust, and cobwebs and drop clothes covered everything inside the room.
I lifted the nearest cloth half expecting something to jump out at me, Having seen far too many horror movies was making my imagination run away with me, before I took a breath and scolded myself as I drug the cloth to the floor. Under it was what seemed to be a very ornately carved heavy wooden table, and on it small chests, that were sadly locked, sitting among the chests were several sets of what appeared to be fine silver place settings, and boxes with china. I would have begun to wonder if I’d walked into an ordinary storage room, it the stuff didn’t look at least a couple of hundred years old.
My eyes got as big as saucers as I moved through the room, tossing aside the other drop clothes to see what was underneath. There seemed to be a treasure trove of artwork, antique furnishings, and more locked chests, of which I could only begin to guess the contents. By then I was filthy and my hair was filled with dust, and my heart pounded as I tried to decide exactly what to do with what I had discovered. My conscience would have eventually won out even if most of it wasn’t too heavy to carry away.
I tried not to yell incoherently when I raced back out of the cellar to the front desk, and tried to get the attention of the head librarian. She looked at me quite nervously, probably because of how filthy I was when I told her something had happened in the cellar that she needed to see. It was almost closing time by then, so she and another couple of the ladies followed me. I was nervous when I lead her back toward the door, which I had reclosed behind me when I went out again to keep someone else from stumbling in. Her jaw dropped open as wide as my own had when I pulled at the book and the door swung inward. The ladies were all but shaking as they looked over the contents of the room, wondering if what was inside could be the answer to their prayers when it came to saving their lovely old building from the wrecking ball.
They unveiled their find in front of the police and the local media only a short time later. It turns out to have contained most of the treasures that had been feared lost before the battle that had partially burned the oldest section of the building. The original curator had taken care to hide everything in the hidden cellar vault he had prepared when he heard the armies were drawing near. He had however been killed not long after repairing the building just before the war ended, telling no one what he had secreted away there. The developers thankfully gave up trying to tear down the building, and had instead chosen to build around it.
As for myself, I must confess my inner magpie got the better of me. That day, I slipped into my backpack the one small beautifully carved chest for which there seemed to be a key. After hiding it away for some time, I finally mustered the courage to open it one evening when I was alone in my room. It contained a stack of love letters written in beautiful handwriting, a lock of hair wrapped in a square of linen, a framed portrait of what seemed to be a lovely young woman, and a small child. Wrapped inside a square of velvet inside a small silver box was a ring, a large opal in a delicate setting of gold and silver vines.
More than once I pondered over whether or not I should have kept what I had taken. After a while of my nagging conscience getting the better of me, I still hadn’t returned it, but instead had begun to research, just who the author of the letters was, and if someone, anyone, was still around to pass them down to. Part of me thought it would be a shame to see them auctioned off with the rest of the treasure.
It hadn’t taken as much digging around as I had thought, the letters having been written by the wife os the library’s curator, who had passed on a few months before the fire. Their daughter had by then married, and had one surviving child, a daughter, the trail from there seemed to become more difficult to follow, but part of me felt obligated to try. I could at least give someone that much back, even if I never breathed a word of how I had come across it, or where it had come from.
Someday, someone would get an envelope with the portrait, the letters and the ring inside, and a typed letter explaining why. To me it seemed rather romantic that all of his own the curator had taken time to hide, were those things that meant the most to him, most likely to pass on to his daughter at a future time that never came. As for the box, I planned to keep it, if nothing else but for the memories. Maybe I will hide a special thing or two of my own inside, and wait for someone to discover it one day, and wonder about who I was, and what was closest to my heart. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy endings.
(sorry if the story seems a bit convoluted….I was half asleep when I wrote it. Ya gotta write while everyone else sleeps sometimes)