This story is one of the January Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
I know a bookstore people disappear in.
Every morning, I look at the lost and found corkboard. An old woman stares at the board and touches a picture fondly. A man stands still while tears fall from his eyes as he stares at the picture of a young girl. Countless others do the same. An employee comes up and pushes another poster into the board of a woman who was last seen looking for The Metaphysics of Morals by Emmanuel Kant. She has been missing for over twenty-four hours.
That’s never good. There are a few success stories, such as a three-year-old who was lost for two weeks when he wandered away from his mom to look at coloring books. Most of the time, if the person has been missing for more than twelve hours, then they are gone for good. There are the few adventurous souls who go in as a dare or who are looking for an uber-rare edition of a book located in the darkest parts of the stacks, but most leave a trail to follow if they want to come back.
There are only two rules to follow when heading into the stacks.
- Know exactly what you are going in for.
- Do not listen to the voices.
I overhear employees talking while they shelf books. “Did you see that Adam from the fifth floor got stuck in the contemporary romance section last night? Apparently Natalie from the ninth floor found him crying over A Walk to Remember.”
“No way! I thought the fifth floor got shut down after that basketball team got lost?”
“You know how it is. They say they’ll shut it down, but eventually, people forget.”
I walk to an empty table and look at the posters covering the room in bright letters. “Have a wonderful day and remember to ignore the voices!” I used to not sit as close to the stacks as I do now, but over the years I’ve either gotten braver or more reckless. An employee comes up to me. “Can I help you find anything today?” she asks pleasantly.
“No, I’m okay,” I mumble into the floor.
“It’s really no problem; I was going down this aisle anyway.” She motions to the tied rope she’s holding—I’m guessing a new mandatory employee rule. I shake my head, and she smiles.“Let me know if I can help.”
She starts her journey into the stack, and before I can stop myself, I jump up and run after her. My brain protests against my legs, but it doesn’t matter because deep down I want this. I need to see the end of the stacks.
She turns with a frown.
“Can I come with you?” I ask, breathless.
“The anthropology stack is the most difficult to maneuver with a 78% chance of getting lost. Are you sure you want to come?”
I nod my head vigorously. The smile returns to her face. “Great, let’s go!”
As we walk, she tells me the history. “The Stacks was founded by Amy Stack in 1957 after inheriting a large sum of money from her husband, who mysteriously went missing two years before. The first individual to get officially lost in the stacks was Tammy Grog, who disappeared in the science fiction section. She was missing for seven months. Tammy has been in St. Teresa’s Home for the Mentally Unstable since then and was the first to talk about the legendary voices.” She continues to drone on about those who went missing. I fade in and out of the conversation when I hear it.
“Megan,” it calls. I turn to see if the girl heard it too, but she is oblivious to the voice. “Megan,” it calls again, and my feet turn down an open path I hadn’t seen before. I try to stop, but can’t. “Find me.”
I wake up to flickering lights.
“Megan,” the voice responds.
“No!” I scream. “Let me out!” I shove books off shelves and continue screaming, but I know it is useless. I curl into a ball and cry. The voice wraps me in its sound.
“You are home,” it whispers as I drift away.