Jenna sits behind the library desk, staring at the time in the bottom right corner of the computer. The unflinching 1:24pm reminds her there is still more than 30 minutes left until her volunteer shift is over. She taps her feet against the floor half-mindedly, waiting for someone to come to her to sign out a book or a computer.
“Excuse me, can I take this book out please?”
A voice wakes Jenna up from her day dream. A boy in a dark blue sweater is standing in front of her. His face obscured by a pair of thick black framed glasses and overgrowing bangs.
Jenna takes the book. “The Secret of Angels by Paula Brook”, and holds it under the scanner. On the cover, a girl dressed in the 80s clothes reaches out from a hospital window. Both the cheesy title and the ripped corners suggest the book is older than her. Jenna flips to the back to stamp the due date. The last time this book was checked out was in 1982.
“Here you go, enjoy!” She smiles and passes the book back to the silent boy. He walks away without saying anything back.
Jenna stares at his back with interest and curiosity. This boy has been coming to the library every two to three days since the beginning of this semester. Every times, he takes out an old book that hasn’t been checked out in at least 15 years. The topic ranges greatly too, from cheesy romance to parenting guides to outdated science fiction. It seems he isn’t borrowing these books because of their content, but purely because they are old. Even his clothes seem to be from a different era. Jenna sees him most often in stiff collared shirts buttoned up to the top and a knitted sweater over. From his student card, Jenna learned that his name is Jeffrey but Jenna prefers the nickname “antique boy”.
After checking out the book for the “antique boy”, she walks towards the book shelves and starts to sort books alphabetically by their author’s last names, first names and then titles. Jenna loves books. The fresh smell of print in new books, the yellowed pages of old books, even the feel of their spines calm her down when times are stressful. She enjoys wiping the dust off the books and stacking them neatly on the shelves. Nothing gives her more pleasure than seeing an old book being picked up by a reader, eager to hear the joy and sorrows the book has to tell.
Time passed by fast. Antique boy came regularly, saying little, borrowing a new book each time. Jenna tried to make conversations with him, but he was disinterested. Once she touched the tip of his finger when she reached for the book. They were as cold as chinaware. Another month passed like this.
Jenna started to have nightmares more often. But when she wakes up gasping and sweating, she can’t recall what the nightmare was about, all that remains is the blood chilling fear. Antique boy came more and more often, almost every day now. It might be her imagination but a sickening gray is slowly rising upon his face, a bit more obvious every time. Suspicion is beginning to build up in Jenna, she can’t quite draw the link, but something is off.
Antique boy came again today. He looked so pale and weak as if he is a cardboard cutout that will collapse any moment. This time he didn’t borrow anything. He stood in front of the desk, he opened his mouth as if he wants to say something, but eventually left silently two minutes later.
“Do you think he’s okay?” Jenna can no longer hold back her concern and asked Rachel, the other volunteer at her spare.
“Who?” Rachel asked.
“The boy who really likes old books. He was just here, pale as paper.”
“What are you talking about? What boy who really likes old books? There was no one here.” Rachel answered dismissively.
A cold chill went up Jenna’s spine. She typed Jeffrey’s student number, already memorized after typing it in so many times, into the computer, hands shaking.
“The barcode you inputted is invalid, please check again.” A disapproving buzz came from the computer.
With unsteady breath, Jenna searched up the books she remembered Antique boy had signed out. They were all recorded in the computer catalog as still in the library. She went to the shelves to check. None of the books were there.
The rest of the day was a blur to her. Jenna sat in front of her desk at home, thinking about what happened today over again and again. Who was antique boy? A ghost from the past? A book thief? The spirit of the library?
“I guess I’ll never know.” Jenna sighed. Giving up, she stood up to get a cup of juice when she kicked something solid under the desk. It was a cardboard box. Having no memory of this box, Jenna bent down to open it.
It was filled with books.
And right on top was The Secret of Angels by Paula Brook.