Jack enjoyed working at the University library. The people, the books and the wonderful old building. Five circular floors, two upper, two lower and an ornate Victorian reading room. The two upper floors were galleries and the two lower were basements. Quiet and dimly lit. Crammed with tens of thousands of books.
Jack always thought how much the reading room was a contrast to the basements. Windows in the buildings domed roof and a huge chandelier. The space was always filled with light and cool air. He would stand looking around this cathedral of books and feel the cool breeze from some distant corner on his skin. The building was so big it seemed to have its own environment. It felt more like an ancient Italian cathedral than a university library in a grimy northern town.
On the bottom level Jack always found the most peace when at work. The floor was very quiet and hardly used by students. He could never understand why. It was warm, sometimes a little too warm and very quiet. The only sound was footsteps on the floor above, pipes rumbling and an occasional scurrying that Jack assumed was rats. It was an old building after all.
Late in the afternoon this was where Jack would often be. Sitting on a stool shelving, a pile of old books on the floor beside him. He had on occasion even allowed himself to doze for a few minutes. He always heard if anyone coming by the sound of footsteps on the wooded flooring. In the centre of the room was a broad spiral staircase in the centre of the circular repository that linked this lowest basement to the floor above.
All around the edge of the room were smaller study booths, one at the end of each aisle of shelves. Jack had seen the rooms but never been in. They were private, with only the users having keys.
It was one of these doors slamming shut that first woke Jack, noise like that wasn’t often heard on this floor. He sat upright on his stool a little confused, as you are when you awake. Jack had started to sweat while dozing with drops running down his face and splashing on the wooden floor beneath his feet.
One noise stood out, it was hard not to notice it. A swirling whooshing noise like a giant fan or blower coming from the outer corridor. With each rotation, the noise grew louder and faster. Jack was near the centre of the room not far from the spiral staircase. The whooshing grew louder. It was as if some demented centrifuge were hurtling around the outer corridor. This was crazy.
Jack was confused, wondering what was happening. Then he saw it and wished he hadn’t. It wouldn’t have been out-of-place as a gargoyle on some ancient church. He had it was fair to say never seen anything like it in his life. It had a resemblance to a large dog. A cross between a hyena and wolf. Snarling, slavering, spitting and so fast. Hurtling round the edge of the room. Jack sat transfixed. The noise grew louder, the room hotter.
Jacks mind was racing trying to work out what was going on. It certainly wasn’t a living creature, this thing circling the room at great speed, There were long scaly wings trailing behind the creature flapping wildly as it raced around the room.
Large areas of the city slums had been cleared to build the university in Victorian times. Houses, churchyards, graveyards were all destroyed by the ambitious entrepreneurs. Jack wondered what form of apparition this was and what had happened on the site of this library to bring such a creature to the basement. As much as he was intrigued, Jack thought it best to leave. Jack got up and began to make his way to the spiral staircase leading to the floor above.
He managed to reach the bottom step. The creature had made it to the top much faster using the opposite stairway to Jack. The salivating, growling, evil-looking creature stood there staring at Jack. It’s penetrating yellow eyes seemed to burn fiercely within. Jack found himself wondering how this standoff might end when the strangest thing happened. He thought he heard a whistle. A distant whistle from the outer edge of the floor he was still on. From one of the private study rooms.
The creature was gone in an instant, hurtling straight passed him knocking him to the floor. As the animal ran its wings trailed behind knocking books from shelves and stirring up a cloud of dust.
Jack got to his knees and found he was covered in slaver from the creature. He looked up and saw it run along the aisle straight into an open study room at the end of the corridor. An elderly woman dressed in scarves and a dark robe was standing by the door. As the creature to entered she raised her hand to acknowledge Jack and then closed the door. A dark curtain and glowing yellow light was all that could be seen through the glass pane in the door.
Jack decided not to tell anyone of his experience, how could he. He had to return to the floor often but never lingered. Room C16 that he had never noticed before the incident, always had the light on when he passed. One day before he retired and left the library for good he might go down the aisle and knock. Not today though, he was due a nap but not down here.