Eric Santanos squinted at the stone structure; the library was bathed in sunlight, making it difficult for anyone to stare at it without squinting. It was the day of the library’s annual sunbath, after all, and huge UV lights were set up to ensure that every crack and crevice received its share. Eric could see scientists patrolling the perimeter of the building, there to make sure everything was as it should be. As far as Eric could tell, it was.
Or rather, it was for the library. For Eric, today was not as it should be. Eric’s usual day of accounting would start with his first coffee of the day, the first of two to fill his legally mandated caffeine requirement as a millennial (Eric usually ordered a piccolo to fit in with his colleagues, though in his heart he wanted a flat white). Following the coffee, Eric would sit at his desk and start accounting, which involved checking off the some variation of the following list:
- Check emails
- Delete firm wide emails from IT
- Delete firm wide motivational emails from executives (Recommend: read any that contain the word ‘wellness’ in the subject title and subsequently delete when you realise the work- life balance plan is not grounded in reality or expectations of your immediate bosses)
- Call client and request information to complete their financial statements (Remember: inform client the information needs to be supplied in Excel format and not hand written. If you can’t copy/paste the figures, you can’t complete the work)
- Explain to client why they need financial statements , why they hired your firm and what a deadline is
- Email client word for word what was spoken about on the call (Tip: cc’ everyone you can think of, regardless of relevance. This will add a sense of urgency to the email and ensure a quick response).
- When information is received, perform an ‘adds check’ to see if the client has performed addition correctly.
- Upon discovering that client did not perform an adds check themselves (and rounding of figures has caused issues) sigh and fix the issue yourself.
- Check emails again
- Check if today is the monthly morning tea to celebrate the birthdays of that month and the PS’s (Personal Slaves) have therefore arranged for cake.
- Procrastinate (Consider achiev ing this by reading the news)
- Check the prior year file ( Use this as a guide for how to do the work in the current year ). If this is a first year file, consider upping your caffeine intact so that you will be able to stay awake for the endless hours of unpaid overtime you are about to commit
- Prepare financial statements in their entirety without asking anyone questions
- Justify why you don’t need to talk to the client again today in person. Possible reasons could include: “That misstatement was really that big of a deal”, “I will just email it to them instead” or “I’ll talk to them about it in the morning”.
Instead of doing all that, Eric was walking up the steps to the library, his heart echoing in his ears. He was walking up the steps to meet a librarian, a librarian who would take Eric into the Archives. Eric had never been to the Archives and had thought his life would continue upon that path like most peoples. But he was here now and he was determined to do his best. Or rather, he was determined to do sufficiently well to not be fired. Eric wasn’t so different from a lot of people.
The double doors to the library opened ominously but Eric was prepared for that. Everyone knew the library produced its own ‘Ominous Sounds’ CD (The best of CD was available for purchase in the gift shop). Librarians and library goers strode across the marble entrance way, the efficiency in their movements giving a feeling it was not bound by the limits of the library; their strong stride giving a sense that they knew where they were going in life as well as in this particular moment.
Eric shuffled his way to the front counter. A frighteningly efficient woman was behind the counter, typing with one hand while holding an old style rotary phone to her ear with the other. Her eyes rose to meet Eric’s as he approached though she did not falter in her other actions. One eyebrow slowly ascended as Eric stared at her in silence. He had talked to countless clients, countless strangers but this was a real live librarian.
“Um, hi, uh, I’m Eric Santanos and I’m here about the-”. He stopped. She had started nodding her head, presumably to indicate her comprehension on the unsaid thing he was here about (Very impressive, since he hadn’t said it yet). She stopped typing long enough to put two fingers to her mouth and whistle sharply (It was also very impressive). She used those two fingers to point towards a lone chair off to the side, which Eric promptly escaped to.
Eric expended a lot of effort on not fidgeting; he glued his hands to his knees and concentrated on pushing his feet hard against the ground. He compensated for not letting his body move by letting his eyes run as much as they wanted, running over every inch of the library they could. The stonework inside the library was just as impressive and foreboding as the outside: all dark greys with even darker writing in an unknown language carved into the stone. One could call the space cavernous. People didn’t since that would be rude, implying that the space was just a home for the bats who lived here (Currently hanging from the ceiling since it was daytime), rather than its importance as the gateway of knowledge in the city.
Eric brought his gaze back to the front counter just as a different librarian stepped away from it towards his chair. This librarian was kitted out with the standard librarian gear Eric had seen every librarian wear (the hand axe and bow) but also had some extras that Eric couldn’t even guess what their use was. Why carry chalk? Several thick pieces were holstered on the librarian’s hip, stacked ready for quick draw.
“You must be Eric,” the Librarian said as he approached. He offered neither his own name or his hand to shake.
“Yes, pleased to meet you” Eric replied, jumping to his feet.
“Let me introduce you to Lily, she will be guiding you to the Archives this morning”
Eric turned his eyes to the other librarian he had not noticed. She was wearing a pencil skirt and flats, her hair twisted up with a pen holding it in place. Glasses covered the eyes staring at Eric while a neutral smile graced her face. She did not look like any librarian Eric had imagined. They murmured simultaneous ‘pleased to meet you’ followed by thick silence.
“Well, we should head off” Lily said brightly. “Quicker we get you back up here the quicker you can get back to… accounting”. Her pitch went up and she lingered on the ‘ing’ of ‘accounting’; she said the word in that overly bright enthusiastic way of people who don’t really understand the word they are saying.
The first librarian nodded once at Lily and then a second time at Eric before moving off to join the others striding through the space.
Lily started walking and Eric fell in beside her. They soon walked through an archway, “Archives” lit up above it in flashing neon lights. It was surprising (Not the sign since it was just good sense to label things clearly. Eric had learned the value of a good audit trail in accounting and he appreciated it when he found it in other areas as well). The surprise was that they had reached the Archives so quickly; The Archives to Eric called to mind dark spaces and depth, not the first hallway off reception. Lily took the steps that followed the archway confidently, her feet covering a familiar path. Eric was less sure, his feet searching for the next step with his hand on the rail. It seemed like an age but was actually only eighty-nine steps (Yes, he counted).
The stairs had led down into a circular vestibule, with five hallways leading off them. Eric could see books lined each passage but other than that they appeared as identical, brightly lit paths. Lily confidently stepped forward to the right most passage.
They walked in silence for a few beats but there was a question that had been bugging Eric and he wanted to release it so badly.
“Uh, Lily, right? Can I ask, I mean, I’d like to know…what is the purpose of the chalk?”
She slid her eyes to give him an incredulous look. “To mark your passage of course. So we don’t get lost”. Her tone added “Duh” but she politely didn’t say it, which Eric appreciated.
“But… why don’t you have any then?”
“Because we are not going far so getting lost is not a concern” Her tone added ‘Dear’ to the end of that sentence, as if he was a child for asking.
“But- I thought the Archives were in the furthest, darkest section of the library?”
“So you think the Archives are the most dangerous section of the library and they are going to let a third year librarian and a junior accountant go there alone?”
“Huh, I never thought of it that way”.
Her sideways glance this time said “Of course you didn’t think” but what she actually said was “So why are you down here? What do you need from the Archives?”
Eric trotted out the same answer he had been saying to everyone for the past three days, ever since he had found out he was coming here. “The IASB, that’s the International Accounting Standards Board, have issued a new accounting standard in regards to leases and there are some gaps within it that we need filled in. Specifically, it doesn’t have enough guidance around how to account for dark magic circles, DMC’s, and if they are a lease or a service. I’m heading into the Archives to find the answer in the Oracle’s scrolls”.
“Why are you specifically looking into this?
“I’m expendable” is what Eric said but that might be too honest when Lily worked in the Library every day. “I’m junior enough to be sent out to gather information but senior enough to know what information to gather. I also ran a 5km fun run recently so I’m reasonably fit and could conceivably run away from,”monsters, “things in the library”.
Lily pondered this, then said “Why would the answer be in the Oracle’s scrolls if it is not within the accounting standard? That’s makes no sense”
“Well our technical expert would probably be able to interpret the answer from the standard but he is on holidays at the moment, so the protocol is to consult the scrolls”
“That still makes no sense. Why would the answer be in the scrolls?”
Eric opened his mouth to retort but realised he didn’t actually have a response. They continued in silence, each pondering the last question posed, the sound of their steps their only company. Or was it? There was a slight… humming noise emerging above the background silence. Humming didn’t describe it in full; it irritated the mind, like a bee buzzing too close.
Lily slowed down, with Eric matching her movement. At the upcoming end of the passageway he could already see four other passageways they could go down. Or that the sound could be coming from.
“It’s a CPH but- but there shouldn’t be one around here. Eugene would not have directed us down this way if one had been detected in this area”.
“A Convenient Plot Hole. The holes are drawn to missing information. Specifically when people discuss missing information”. She was dismissive, her mind focused on something other than Eric’s lack of knowledge.
They reached the end of the passageway and Lily peeked around the corner, Eric edging in close to copy her.
There was a man standing next to a shadow where no shadow should be. He was about a metre away from it, staring into its stillness. It was dark, unmoving and yet it felt… alive, even from where Eric was standing. It felt like a true life as well: not the former life of a dead tree or the promise of life like a bud about to flower. It felt unnervingly alive, like a robot given a too human voice.
“What should we do?” he whispered.
“But- what will happen to him?”
“Nothing” she repeated.
He moved his gaze from the hole to her, to find she had done the same.
“The CPH can’t fully feed off the energy of one person, it needs at least two people. If it sucked in two they would be sucked into the depths of the hole, compelled to discuss explanations for the missing information. Since it’s only a single person at some point he will break free and decide to get on with his life”.
They watched in silence for a few more beats before Lily whispered, “We will detour down the right passageway. It will take us longer but we won’t go too close to…to…” She drifted off.
“Lily?” His uncertainty came through in his tone, driven by the pause in her words.
“Who is that fool?” she spat out.
That fool was a man further down the passageway who was running at a full sprint directly towards the CPH. He was a librarian by the axe in his hand, though Eric could see no sign of a bow.
Lily stepped out from behind the corner. “Stop! There’s a CPH!”
The fool yelled back, “I know!” He kept running but he glanced over his shoulder once. Eric followed his gaze to see a… thing chasing the fool. It was at least seven feet tall and covered in armour, with shiny obsidian-black skin visible in the joints of his armour.
“Nuts” Lily murmured. As they watched the fool reached the hole. He long jumped straight in, his feet landing somewhere in the middle. At the touch of his feet, the darkness expanded to engulf the feet of the first man and spread further towards the armoured monster. It skidded to try and halt itself but slid into the hole anyway.
The two men and the creature paced within the confines of the shadowed circle, gesturing wildly. The thing did not attack the men and the men did not attack the thing. Eric could see their mouths talking but no sounds reached him, as if the hole itself swallowed their voices. Or ate them. Bizarre was the only word Eric could come up with to describe the scene.
“Well they’re all trapped there now” Lily muttered. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a phone. Eric gazed in wonder when he saw it; he was in the presence of a real Nokia 3310. Not a toy, not a reluctant replacement when a smart phone broke but a phone used every day by the wear on the keys. Lily started typing on the phone, her thumbs flying as she typed out a message. “Ok. I’ve alerted head office about this. Let’s keep going”.
Lily strode confidently down one of the other passageways. She evidently had no fears they would run into another hole or whatever that thing chasing the fool had been.
“So what was chasing that guy?”
“Really? Just- just a monster? It doesn’t have, I don’t know, a Latin name or something?”
“Do you think there are many volunteers to come down and study that thing, give it a scientific name?”
He certainly wouldn’t have. “No. I just assumed someone would have done it”.
“Everyone always assumes that someone would want to do that. Well no one has and I don’t see anyone volunteering anytime soon”
“What will happen to it? To them, I mean?”
“You mean now that they’re trapped in the hole?”
“Nothing will continue to happen to them. Now that there is more than one person in it, they will all debate the missing information that lies at the core of the CPH. Eventually they will come up with an acceptable work-around that explains everything and the hole will be fed well enough for them to escape”
“What happens if they don’t?”
“They should but if not, someone from headquarters will arrive and just start shouting random pieces of information at them. It’s human nature to look for patterns and explanations and to find them even when they don’t exist, so that information will be built into an answer. They will adapt the evidence to fit their theory and eventually just walk away”. She looked at Eric, “If I have learned one thing working at the library, it’s this: people want answers but they are happy for answers to be given to them. Most are after a solution, not an understanding and that difference is key”.
Eric though about the most oft quoted question he was asked when he asked questions: “What did they do in the prior year?” The underlying advice in that question was, “Do what was done in the prior year”. It fit Lily’s statement and Eric’s career so far all too closely.
They walked in silence but Eric wasn’t as awed by the library as he had been earlier. “So… Why did you become a librarian?”
“Oh, I don’t know” she said carelessly. It was careless but it came off as an oft repeated phrase; it was something she trotted out anytime anyone asked her that.
She didn’t meet his searching eyes. “No, I do” she replied, her soft gaze on the floor ahead of her steps. She continued, “I love learning and I love books and I love being a guardian of both of those things”.
“That’s really admirable” Eric said softly. She smiled back just as quietly. “Tell me something you’ve learned recently”
That smile of hers grew. “There are some great foreign words that I wish we had in English. Like schadenfreude, the pleasure felt in the misfortune of others. And tingo, which is when you take stuff from someone’s house by slowly borrowing all of their things”
“I have definitely committed tingo” Eric said, thinking of his family. “Most of my kitchenware has been obtained by committing tingo against various family members”.
“Me too; I certainly was not about to buy my own toaster”.
“I know, right! I don’t even know where one buys a toaster from. I’ve certainly never seen one in a shop window”
There was a pleasant beat of silence, that lull between words where something pleasant to hear had just been and would soon be again.
“I have to say,” Eric confessed, “I thought that the fool’s long jump was pretty impressive”
“It was so impressive, wasn’t it? That was Rick and I have never seen the man jump so far”
“How do we know he wasn’t trying to jump over the hole and he actually missed entirely? That could secretly have been a terrible jump”
“The opposite of his personal best”
“His personal worst”
Those quiet smiles were growing louder.
“So why did you become an accountant?”
“I actually don’t know”. He draw out his words, pronouncing each syllable in ‘actually’ precisely. “I just fell into it”. Her gaze encouraged him to continue. “Unlike you, I don’t really have that passion for a particular job, I think I could do anything”. Those eyes pushed him to dig deeper. “But… I think I want to work for a particular company, one that is doing good things. I haven’t found that company yet. But that way, even if I don’t have the passion to be leading the charge, I can support them and make it possible for others to do so. Does that make sense?”
“Absolutely. I love being a librarian and learning myself but I also love helping others learn. There are often others who come to the library on their journey with a destination in mind: they want to be doctors or they want to solve a societal problem. I can’t answer their questions because I don’t know the answers; I haven’t been to their destination and I don’t actually want to visit. But I can guide them on their journey and I can show them the path to get there”
“It’s about the journey, not the destination”
“You know you’ve just guided me, right?”
Her eyes asked the question she didn’t voice.
“Before I came to the library, I was unhappy with my job and uncertain why I was doing it. You’ve just put into words all my not even unspoken but unacknowledged thoughts”. He tried to synthesise and convey everything he was feeling about Lily into three short words. “Lily, you’re amazing”.
Their smiles were roaring now and Eric didn’t want them to end. He was searching for something to say when he felt his phone buzz silently against his leg. His smile quietened and grew apologetic as he quickly pulled it out to check. “Oh”
“The technical expert emailed in the answer that I came to the Archives to find”
“Oh. So… I guess we’re not going to reach your destination”
His grimace turned back upside down. “I guess not”.
They turned around together and started walking back, their steps slow to draw out their time together and in sync as a result of the time already spent together.
He searched for something witty to say and came up with: “So, ah… are you heading back to work now?”
“Yes, I’ll be re-shelving in the children’s horror section this afternoon,” she glanced at her watch, “My shift there doesn’t start for another hour though”.
“Do you want- I mean I still need to drink another cup of coffee-so if you’re, you know-“ She interrupted. “Are you asking me for coffee?”
A dozen possible sentences beginnings ran through Eric’s mind but he cut them off. “Yes” She smiled. “I’d love to”
He smiled back. Today was a good day.
By Kit Ward from Australia