Friday, July 01, 2011

More Murders in Libraries!

Every time I go down in what I like to call the Deep Stacks (two floors underground, all the way in the back where you are like five miles from an exit) I get freaked out by the shelvers. They are very quiet, so you never know they're there until you pass a row and someone's in it. Usually they don't hear you coming because they're listening to iPods, so they whip their heads around to look at you because you've alarmed them, and that alarms you, and soon everyone is alarmed. This is the least creepy situation.

The medium-creepy situation is when you are minding your own business in the Old English section, and you see someone pass by, four stacks over, just like the alien in Signs, where you just barely see it and it's gone and you don't really know what it was. You assume (in my case) that it's human, but you have been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, and you are not willing to bet on it.

The maximum-creepy situation is when you are walking down a long corridor with shelves on both sides, and suddenly you realize someone is standing in the shadowy part by the service elevator. She is standing completely still, with her back to you. She does not move the entire time you are walking toward her. You divert to the section you were heading for, spend about fifteen minutes there, and come back out again. And she is still standing in the same position, not moving, not making a sound. Down there in the deep stacks, your brain becomes slower, no doubt because of the increased air pressure (you know like in the ocean and stuff, it's just like that) and you assume there are only possible two outcomes to this situation:

(1) She has died standing up, and I am about to realize my lifelong fear of discovering a dead body (thank you so much, Stand By Me).

(2) She has been bitten by a zombie, and when she inevitably lurches around and faces me, she'll be dead-eyed and bloody, and maybe holding someone's unattached arm . . . and then she will devour my brain.

Neither of these things happened, however. I think probably she was texting. So the outcome was what it always is: I think to myself, "There is a short story or murder mystery in this for someone who writes short stories or murder mysteries, which I do not."

I read a murder mystery once that took place in a library - an academic one even, I believe. It was called something like Death by Dewey Decimal* and on the cover it had a picture of someone's arm flopping out of a card catalogue or something equally ridiculous, which was 100% of the reason I got it out. I didn't like it much, but that was because of the rampant sexism disguised as feminism, which became grating. (It was old.) However, it made me think that, considering the sort of people who write books, there should be more novels about libraries . . . and murder. The Name of the Rose should qualify, I guess, but significant portions of it are deadly boring so it doesn't count. And Miriam Grace Monfredo wrote a series about a librarian in Seneca Falls in the 1840s who always ends up solving a murder. But the murder isn't usually in the library.

So. You heard it here first: MORE MURDERS IN LIBRARIES! They are perfect: lots of silent, dark, isolated places where screaming might well not be heard; all kinds of nooks and crannies and stairwells and elevators you could get stalked through; nice sturdy wooden furniture to vault over or throw at people; and if you tried hard you could probably work in a suspenseful scene of database searching, in which the search terms would be escape AND ("serial killer" OR "homicidal maniac") and of course you would want the full text for that because who could do a proper job hunting down citations under that kind of pressure.

On that note, I think I might have to start packing heat at work. Also, I now have a better answer for people who whine that interlibrary loan takes too long. UNLESS YOU ARE BEING CHASED THROUGH LEVEL B BY AN AXE-WIELDING LUNATIC, YOUR DEADLINE DOESN'T INTEREST ME.

*Addendum: The title was Dewey Decimated, which I think we can all agree is genius. It's by Charles A. Goodrum. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has probably, since 1977, become more progressive in his views on women. At any rate, here's the cover that induced me to read it, as if the title weren't enough:


Anonymous said...

Your description of the far away, isolated stacks is terrific. A long time ago, I used to go to that library on rare occasions, and even took out a book or two. As I recall, they happened to be located in some remote, rarely visited area, where, as you describe, the momentary, perhaps imaginary, glimpse of movement is creepy.

If not heat (or a taser), then you could carry an air horn like are used in sports stadiums (and - obnoxiously - at some graduations and other supposedly more solemn events). That would attract attention. Of course, the noise would either echo off of so many surfaces that no one would know where it was coming from, or it would simply be absorbed by all the books so that no one more than 3 rows away would hear it.

Simon said...

I'm curious now whether an air horn would be heard or not. Are they loud enough to travel through floors? I wonder if there is a time of day when the library is empty enough to conduct experiments. You'd think 8am, right when it opens, would be safe, but there are always people in it then. Pesky kids. Don't they know there are important air-horn-related matters to attend to?