Year of Ideas: January, The Reading Room

There was a room in the corner of the library, in the quietest place in the building, at contained plush couches and chairs, and in which visitors were invited to read the material they were looking at without having to first take it home. While it was open to the public and available to all, its location made it something of an open secret, and it was never as busy as Yael expected it to be.

The first time he went to the reading room, it had been shortly after the library opened. He attributed the almost empty space to the time and thought nothing of the fact he’d read there for an hour and was still the only one enjoying the couches and the quiet. The next time, however, it was the middle of the day and the library had been opened for ages, so he didn’t understand why he was alone.

After about a week, he arrived to find a small group of three reading in one corner of the room. They all glanced up when he took his seat, with varying levels of surprise, but then returned to their books as Yael opened his. He saw them again at different points over the week, but still no one else, and he didn’t understand it.

Almost two months after he first found the reading room, one of the others followed him when he left for the day. Not in an eerie way, but just in that he stood at the same time as Yael did, and so they were leaving the library together. They left the building to find it raining, which prompted a sigh. Yael opened his umbrella, stepped out into rain, then thought to look back and see if the person from the reading room was still there. He was, so Yael waved, and received a smile and wave in return.

That was pleasant enough for Yael to wave when he next arrived at the reading room to find the group there, which they returned. That day, when Yael stood to go, all three of them did as well. They didn’t say anything as they walked through the quiet of the library, but after they’d stepped through the doors, one of the three—not the one who waved at him before—said, “We’re going for coffee. Would you like to join us?”

The unexpected invitation was a pleasant surprise, so he joined them as they walked up the block to a coffee shop that was about as cozy and empty as the reading room.

“It gets busy after 5,” Rina, the one who’d invited him, said as they all took their seats.

“You have to know the ebb and flow,” Zack, who’d followed him on the day it rained, added.

“Is the reading room the same way?” Yael asked, and the three shared a look before the last of them, Sharolyn, answered.

“No. The reading room is haunted. No one uses it.”

For a moment, Yael thought they were playing a trick on them, but if they were, they were committed to the act enough even their eyes were serious.

“We weren’t sure you were alive, when you came in that first day,” Zack admitted. “Had to see you leave before we could be sure.”

“It’s the first time we’ve seen someone else there,” Rina said. “I mean, the first one who turned out to be alive. There’s about three common ghosts who come into read and a stranger now and again. Wanna hear about them?”

It was, Yael thought, the sort of thing he should probably take as a sign he should find some reason to go home now, but to his great surprise, he did not. Instead, he sat back as his coffee arrived, picked up the warm and solid mug, and said, “Yes, please. That sounds fascinating.” To his even greater surprise, he discovered it was the truth.

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by | Jan 18, 2022