“Did you see how happy you made her?” Katniss asked.
“I just told her the truth. I always liked her way better than Encyclopedia Brown anyway.” Binny said.
The fivesome had said their goodbyes, made their way from Pemberley, out to the grand hallway, and into the library. The searched for the nearest stairs and started the climb.
The library was relatively empty on this once-in-a-blue-moon day off.
“How high does this place go?” Arya complained after they’d climbed their fifth flight of stairs.
“You know they have to constantly add floors for all the new books that come out.” Hermione answered. She was more quiet than usual after their visit to Pemberley.
So many new works of literary fiction were constantly being published that in just the couple of weeks Binny had been in the Stacks, several floors had been added to the structure.
And then suddenly, there were no more steps to climb.
“If they keep adding new floors to this place, shouldn’t the Rare Books Room, be in some floor below us?” Arya asked.
“Not if they keep moving it up to each new top floor.” Katniss said.
“That seems insane.” Binny said.
“Nothing’s insane when you can just wave your wand and build anything that exists in a book.” Katniss said acidly. Katniss realized what she’d said, and glanced at Hermione, worried she’d made her feel bad. “Oh, sorry about that Hermione.”
“It’s fine. Let’s just find the room.” Hermione trudged forward.
The bookcases weren’t all full on this floor. Though they likely would be soon enough, Binny imagined. The further the group traveled, the more scarce the books got. When they arrived at a section of the floor where the bookcases were completely empty, the lights weren’t even on.
They tried to spread out a bit to cover more area, but the library seemed especially creepy with no books on the shelves, and no lights on – everyone preferred to stay relatively close.
“This is ridiculous. It’s not here.” Hermione said.
Binny had to agree. “I admit, I’m feeling a little discouraged.”
“I wonder if this is once again just an issue of perspective?” Michel said and looked up.
The ceiling at this top level was higher than on the other floors and made of glass. Binny hadn’t noticed at first. But you could look up and see, well, outside. What exactly was outside anyway? Binny wasn’t entirely sure. When she looked up, all she saw was blackness. Endless black.
“My turn. You got to go last time Katniss.” Arya stepped in front of Michel and made a motion with her hands. “Go on. Give me a lift.”
Michel clasped his hands together and let Arya step into the cradle he’d made. Slowly he lifted her up until she was able to pull herself up on top of one of the oversized empty bookcases.
“What do you see?” Katniss asked.
Arya slowly spun around looking in all directions, and then suddenly stopped. “There. I see a light.”
Arya scampered down the bookcase and was off at a run.
The others had no choice but to follow.
After a minute, they came upon the source of the light. A round room, roughly thirty feet in diameter occupied this lonely spot on the top floor of the Library. It too had its own glass ceiling. Binny thought it was like a shrunken down version of the entire top floor.
And then, a door. There was a door embedded in the wall. And just as Sally had promised, a small sign on the door read “Rare Books Room”.
Suddenly Arya didn’t seem so adventurous. Nobody seemed to move towards the door. Binny gathered her courage and turned the handle.
While the wall that defined the room had been smooth on the outside, inside, where it wasn’t covered in bookcases, the wall was covered in wallpaper – satiny dark green wallpaper, with raised burgundy threaded embroidery in beautiful old patterns.
Small, what looked like, gas lamps, dotted the round wall at various points. Arranged around the room were at least a dozen easy chairs, next to small tables that held up beautiful Tiffany lamps with all different colored glass.
At first Binny thought it was a globe in the center of the room. But upon closer examination, it looked like a model of the Stacks itself. Well, at least of the library portion. Binny pressed her face up close and peered through one of the arched entryways. It all looked so realistic, she half-expected to see tiny little people running around in the model. In retrospect, Binny was relieved that she hadn’t.
Arya was examining the model too, with a big smile on her face. Arya leaned on a piece of furniture near the model. It looked like a tall table.
Binny looked around. The others were tentatively looking at various books they had pulled off of shelves. And then she noticed the stand – a reading stand. It was empty.
“They’re all mixed up.” Katniss said in disgust.
“They are crazy, no?” Michel added.
“What do you mean?” Binny asked.
“See for yourself.” Hermione said and handed Binny a book.
The book was heavy, and thick. At first it seemed perfectly normal, but when Binny started turning pages, she got to a point where the typeface changed. And then after some more thumbing through, the typeface changed again. All in all the print changed at least half a dozen times.
Binny closed the book and turned it over in her hands. The spine looked like it had been sliced lengthwise and then glued back together. And then Binny realized, it wasn’t one book that had been sliced lengthwise, it was slivers of six books that were split and then merged into one. One book, made of six different books.
“I think we’re close!” Binny almost shouted, she was so excited.
“Close to what? And why so loud?” Hermione said.
Binny blushed. “Sorry. I think I know what this means. Remember, King Azaz told us that certain areas in certain books were private?”
“How is that related to this book butchery?” Hermione waved one of the volumes in her hand as she spoke.
“I think they places that are off limits are cut out of the books downstairs and brought up here and assembled into new books.”
“That’s creepy.” Katniss said.
“We need to search all these books for one that has a chunk of the Phantom Tollbooth in it.”
Everyone started at a different spot. After a few minutes, Arya found a tattered volume. The cover was a happy bright blue. A sketch of a boy and a huge dog with a clock embedded in its side graced the cover. It read, “The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster, Illustrations by Jules Feiffer.”
But when they looked at the spine, it was impossible to understand what all the different books were that had been sliced to form this new creation. The little horizontal slivers of letters didn’t make sense in combination. And in the bottom few rows there were no letters at all.
The back of the book was even more confusing. It looked and felt like stone. The whole book was heavy too. How the stone and the paper stayed bound, Binny wasn’t entirely sure.
Binny opened the cover of the book. It started on page 20. Binny read, “As he drove along the peaceful highway he soon fell to daydreaming and paid less and less attention to where he was going…” Binny flipped forward a couple of pages. Milo was wondering where he was. A far away voice wailed, “You’re … in … the … Dol … drums.”
“This is it. This is the right book. Let’s do it.” Binny was excited.
“Let’s do what?” Hermione spun towards Binny.
“Go in. What else?”
“Go in? To someone else’s book? You’re crazy.”
“We do it all the time. We live in the Secret Garden for god’s sakes! Not in a secret garden but in The Secret Garden.” Binny voice rose a little in frustration.
“Yes, but that’s different. The Special Requisitions Desk creates those places for us from books. We don’t just waltz into someone else’s book. It’s not done. And more importantly, it’s not possible.”
“I can go into my own book.”
“Of course, you’re already in there. You belong.”
“There must be some way to go into these Doldrums. After all, Enkidu went in here, and disappeared.” Michel said.
“Maybe this thing could be of use?” Arya announced. She had wandered away from the group when Binny and Hermione were arguing, and was now standing in front of the tall bookstand that she’d been leaning on before.
“It’s a lectern.” Hermione explained. “The professor puts their notes on it and lectures the class.”
“I’m surprised you don’t have one of your own.” Katniss said mostly under her breath.
Hermione ignored Katniss. “I’ll demonstrate.” Hermione took the hybrid book that started at page 20 of The Phantom Tollbooth and started to read. But before she could complete the first sentence, she proceeded down path they were all familiar with from their daily morning ritual in the library. Hermione shrank into the book on the lectern, or perhaps the book grew larger. Either way, in a moment, Hermione was gone. And then, as if to punctuate the surprisingness of the moment, the book too disappeared with a familiar gentle ‘pop’.
“Oh no.” Michel uttered.
Katniss and Arya stood staring at the spot where Hermione had been standing, mouths agape.
“Oh yes.” Binny said triumphantly. “You were right Michel. There was a way to go into these books. And Hermione found it.”
“Excuse me. I found it.” Arya complained.
“There’s only one problem.” Katniss said. “The book disappeared along with Hermione.”
“When we disappear into our books, our books end up back on one of the shelves. Maybe that’s what happens here too? We need to find that book.” Binny instructed.
Everyone split up and started combing the shelves.
“Well that would have been too easy.” Arya uttered in frustration. She had gone straight to where she’d found it the first time.
“This room isn’t that big. We’ll find it.” Binny said.
And after a few minutes, they did.
“Should we all read at once, or do this one at a time?” Arya asked.
“Let’s try all at once. I don’t want to have to find that book another three times. It was annoying enough to have to do it twice.” Katniss said.
Binny placed the tattered fusion of several books, with the tattered blue cover, and the back made of stone on the lectern. She opened the page, gave the others a signal with her eyes, and they all started reading.
“As he drove along the peaceful highway he soon fell to daydreaming…”
If anyone had been in the Rare Books Room to hear this shared reading, “daydreaming” would have been the last word they heard, followed by a gentle pop. And then, only silence.