If purgatory was a library, would you stay there….
The Book Ghosts by Elisha Gabriel
‘No rest for the wicked!’
‘Who said that?’
Greg shuffled out from behind the book shelf and grinned.
‘I might have known,’ said Anne. ‘Can you please move those books, we have a delivery arriving from France today. You do know don’t you Greg, that it is the wicked who rest too early on the other side. If they had kept their minds active we wouldn’t be doing this right here, and now.’
‘Did you think you would still be working in the afterlife?’ asked Greg
‘I don’t call this work. Besides, what else would I be doing. I’m not the idle kind. We can’t go anywhere and I’ve no intention of becoming a grave slab potato like that one.’
Anne pointed at a solitary figure slumped up against a headstone. ‘What a sad state. It won’t see her off and away to peace if she mopes around.’
‘Are we in purgatory?’ asked Greg.
‘So some say. I don’t have issue with it. There are far worse things we could be doing than tending to a library. We are all here to learn and then we can move on,’ said Anne.
‘You know so much already. What did you do to get to this place?’
‘Never you mind what I did young man, ask yourself why you are here. Now can you get on with those books. Thank you.’
Greg liked Anne. She was a tall, slender woman, and seemed to be getting taller by the day. Her long dark dress shifted gently as she heaved books around, dumped them on her grand desk and stamped them for issue. He decided he had come to a good place. Better than most he had heard of on his journey to the library.
‘Do I get to go out and spook the living?’ asked Greg.
‘Oh so many questions!’ said Anne. ‘You can’t. Only the privileged can do that. They get to do the interesting stuff.’
Greg had been at the library for some time. He wasn’t sure how long.
There were no clocks and no walls to put them on. It was an open space of shelves floating amongst the trees and stones regardless of the weather or season. It was an outdoor library.
He knew the sun and moon came and went, the shelves would vanish whilst they all rested, and he heard the crows in the tops of the trees as they squawked in the constant wild wind.
He was, of course, in his home town. He knew most of the people buried with him, but beyond the graveyard there was little else he could see. The church and house were in the distance. He had not tried going there. Many living people walked by and visited, sat on the stones, too k photographs, had picnics. Most, if not all of them, didn’t notice the dead. The y never saw the library and its magnificent shelves or the great desk either.
‘You’re daydreaming’, said Anne as she flung a book over at Greg’s head. ‘Get on with it’.
He glanced at Anne sheepishly and continued with his task, occasionally looking at the living tourists passing by. It was a busy place, possibly one of the busiest in the world. Some of the residents didn’t like it. They wanted peace, but getting there was a learning process. They had to read to enlighten their souls.
Greg wondered what he had to learn that he didn’t already know. He knew why he hadn’t made tit to the place of peace, why he wasn’t totally rested. He had done some things as a living person that he wasn’t too proud of. He glanced down at his suit. At least he had been buried in a decent outfit. He carried on with his job of moving books, in silence.
A rumble in the sky could be heard and a dark cloud appeared over the library. Greg glanced. Anne laid out a vast cloth over the stones and stood waiting. Slowly, one by one, the cloud released books on to the cloth. Ten, then twenty, then fifty, two hundred. They were the French authors Anne had ordered. She held an envelope in her hand and released it up on the breeze to the cloud which sucked it up. It was an order for children’s authors. Greg watched with fascination.
Anne then placed the books on to the shelf designated for new arrivals and took the inventory attached to the final novel – The Hunchback of Notredame. She gave a sigh of contentment at a successful delivery.
Greg couldn’t help but wonder if all dark clouds brought books with them and that he just didn’t notice when he was living. Every night he watched as the dead rose from their graves to browse the shelves, picking a book or two, taking it to the desk where Anne would stamp them, not with a date, but with the reader’s name. He was responsible for returns, ensuring they were in good order and put back in the right spot on a shelf.
The library didn’t grow in size, only in variety as the decades slipped by. Greg would sometimes flick through the books with amazement at the breadth of imagination and wisdom. He read the occasional story, but was mostly busy working, keeping the shelves in order and helping Anne. He wondered, some days and nights, when his time would come to rest, if ever. It wasn’t that he was tired, but sometimes he felt as if he missed others he had not seen for some time.
Greg spent some of his time observing the living walking through, enjoying his invisibility and their ease. There was the occasional drunkard who would fall asleep on a tomb and then rise with regret and stiffness in a daze and stumble away. There was the graveyard cat he named Branwell which spent most days just meditating in sunshine or tucked under the sunken, tilted slab of Mr Wilfred Grimshaw, in the fog and rain. The cat was aware of the spirits and seemed to enjoy their company over the living. Greg assumed Branwell had been mistreated and forgotten and had made his escape to the stones and trees.
Some people stayed awhile in the yard, soaking up the atmosphere, perhaps waiting to see something ghostly at dusk or at night. One regular visitor was a young woman, always dressed in black with a book in her hand to read or write in. She sometimes took rubbings of the gravestones, or photographs, looked about for found objects. She seemed to spend quite some time there.
One day she was sat reading, with Branwell by her side, in the autumn sunset, the crows making their noise in the treetops above her. Greg couldn’t help but notice her pensive face. He wondered what was on her mind and whether she should go home soon before the graveyard stirred. He was also curious to know what she was reading and he edged closer to look over her shoulder.
‘You could ask,’ said the young woman.
Greg stepped back with surprise.
‘You could ask what I’m reading instead of looking over my shoulder,’ she said.
Greg cleared his throat to ready himself for speaking but felt fearful. This had never happened to him before. He smiled nervously as she turned and looked directly at him, wondering if he should disappear under his stone.
‘Hello,’ she said.
Greg gave a little wave with the fingers of his left hand. The young woman waved back, mimicking him.
‘You can see me then,’ said Greg. ‘And you can talk to me, can you hear me?’
‘Yeah, I hear ya. I see you and the woman most days here, looking after books or something.
What are you doing?’
Greg shuffled nervously, he wasn’t sure if he should say what they were doing or why.
‘Oh, we keep a library here for everyone,’ he said.
‘My name’s Asha by the way and you are?’
‘Greg. I’m Gregory O’Brien’.
‘I see you died aged just eighteen in 1842. So young,’ said Asha.
‘There are more buried here, younger than me, just bairns. Thousands of people.’
Greg glanced nervously at his own gravestone, he wasn’t sure what to do or say next. Then he remembered.
‘What are you reading?’
‘Wuthering Heights’ said Asha, ‘I thought it would be a good place to come and read it, especially as this is kind of a ghostly library place. You are all so well-behaved. No one has tried to scare me away yet.’
‘Anne might if she sees me talking to you. I don’t think I should be. Please don’t ask me any more questions,’ said Greg.
‘But I can ask questions about the books you have here surely? There’s no sin against knowing what is kept in a library, quite the opposite!’ said Asha. She smiled at Greg.
‘Maybe next time. I better go home before it gets dark. Good bye.’
She waved as she walked down the path, through the gates and then disappeared, like a ghost.
The following day as Greg was sorting out the adventures section he spotted a book he hadn’t seen before. It was bound in a red and gold cover and had writing on it he that he couldn’t understand. A language he didn’t know of. He flicked through the pages. There were great elaborate and highly colourful illustrations of people and places he didn’t recognise. He paused. Then decided it would be silly to take the book if he couldn’t read it. He took it to Anne’s desk.
‘Why is this book here,’ he asked. ‘What language is it?’
Anne glanced at the bold cover. ‘My dear Greg it is a collection of tales from the world of Arabia and is written in its language. I doubt you will find it of any use unless you can read Arabic. Can you?’
‘Can anyone here read Arabic?’ he said.
‘I don’t know, it’s never been taken out, so I would think perhaps not,’ replied Anne.
‘I’ll take it out anyway, I can look at the pictures in it, they are beautiful,’ said Greg.
‘Very well,’ said Anne. ‘Can you deal with any lates please today, we seem to have a few tardy readers.’
Greg nodded. He did what he was told. There was nothing else to do. He put the Arabian book on his grave for later. He hoped Asha would come by again and he could show her what he had found.
At four o’clock Asha appeared. Greg ran over to her, the large book under his arm. He waved at her enthusiastically.
‘I’ve got a book you might like to see. I don’t think you will be able to read it,’ he said.
Asha sat with Greg on a stone and took the book from him.
‘Oh yes, I know this. It’s a collection of tales told by a young woman called Sheherazade. It’s full of magic. You will love it!’
She flicked through the pages looking at the illustrations then stopped.
‘This one,’ she said. ‘Let’s go here.’
‘Go where?’ asked Greg. ‘What do you mean? I can’t go anywhere.’
‘Yes you can,’ said Asha. ‘You can go if you really want to, on an adventure.’
For the first time Greg wasn’t so sure. He had been at the graveyard for a long time. But if the offer was genuine he felt he surely had to take it. He wondered if Anne would miss him.
‘I better check with Anne, she might need to replace me,’ he said.
Anne appeared from behind a bookcase and waved at Greg as if to say off you go. She smiled at him and disappeared. Greg looked at Asha and shrugged.
‘Let’s do it,’ he said. ‘How does this work?’
Asha threw the book on the floor and pinned back the four corners of its pages with small four stones she pulled out of her bag.
‘It’s a magic carpet,’ she said. ‘Not just an ordinary rug. You have to believe in it.’
Greg stared at the illustration on the page as Asha stood and pulled Greg up by his hand. This startled him, he hadn’t felt the human touch for a long time. The carpet started to rise from the page and lay itself out in front of them. Asha stepped on and gently tugged at Greg’s hand. He followed. A gentle breeze appeared and swirled around them, faster and faster.
They vanished on the magic carpet in to the book of stories, and that is when Greg’s adventures began.