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Tales From The Lib

Halloween 2020

By Arnold Serapilio

Mortimer Marrowbone, not in herringbone.​
Mortimer Marrowbone, not in herringbone.​
"Cockadoodle doo, it’s October 32!...er, minus one."
 
Imagine a skeleton in a black death cloak waving its gnarly knuckles in your face whilst reciting the following: 
 
Halloween at the ol’ library.
Is nothing if not really scary.
Out come goblins and ghouls—
and dead writers, you fools—
you’re not gone just because you were buried!
 
Now imagine the skeleton is cackling maniacally at some unspoken inside joke: muahahahaha, ah hahahahaha…
 
October three-one at the Boston Athenæum is always a dicey proposition. There are innumerable mysterious energies coursing through the universe, and roughly every 365 days (if the Gregorian calendar turns your crank), among constant accelerations and collisions, these energies manifest in our material realm in ways that cause us to lose jurisdiction over our bowels from sheer fright.
 
In other words: sometimes weird creatures go boogity boogity boogity!
 
Beyond the red leather doors of 10½ Beacon,  ghosts get their kicks—and the living kick back...
 
Muahahahaha, ah hahahahaha…
 
 
"The Twitch and the Tomb, pt. I"
 
Eleanora sat at her favorite desk on the storied top floor, putting words onto paper, words she hoped would illuminate for those who cared to know the ideas inside her brain, which was surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid and encased in a protective skull. Her newest project was a sociological investigation she was calling The Subtext Diaries, in which she presented on-the-surface conversations she’d recorded from candid interactions with meticulous annotations about what was really being discussed. For instance an argument between a long-married couple about who was supposed to shift a broken toaster from the kitchen counter to the wastebin wasn’t about a toaster at all. Turned out it was merely the latest expression of a time-honored competition to see who could hurl the most incisive insult extemporaneously—if you were caught preparing your jabs, you lost. 
 
The silence Eleanora relied upon for deep focus was cut by a loud rustling. There was a man sitting at the desk immediately behind, his back to her, aggressively shuffling through a stack of papers that must have been a foot high. He was talking to himself, and loudly—“The fiends! The folly! Never again says I, never again!” 
 
You’ve got to be kidding me, she thought. There’s no one else here but us. He could’ve chosen any other empty desk but he chooses this one?
 
“Sir, can you please not do that?” she ventured delicately. 
 
“A man of my stature, played for a fool! They will rue the day, rue the day says I!” He gathered his papers into his arms and flung them into the air, dancing the jig while they showered down around him.
 
He was an odd duck, Eleanora decided then and there. He was dressed as if he’d been out late partying too hearty in the Victorian era when someone had forcefully expelled him from the premises and he tumbled chaotically through a kaleidoscopic twirly vortex of space-time howling bloody murder before being spit out onto the fifth floor and had yet to wash up and comport himself, i.e., he was dressed real goofy-like, covered in dust and unapprehended detritus and his curious posture suggested severe disorientation. “Sir, please. This is disruptive,” she said.
 
And then. Oh, and then did he turn to her, and did their faces dare drift into shared orbit, and her eyes fell upon his, but wait, he had no eyes, there were only empty sockets, emanating frenetic flashes of white light, and a scar running down the side of his face that looked and moved like a mouth. “Well well well,” the scar hissed, “what...is...thisssssssssssss!”
 
Her scream could be heard in Uranus.
 
 A security guard was at her side in a split second. “Ma’am, it’s OK. I am here to help,” he said. 
 
“Help me? This guy’s got no eyeballs, help him!” she exclaimed, pointing at the morbid tableau before her.
 
“Ma’am? You’re...pointing at an empty desk.”
 
“But this man—”
 
“What man? That’s not a man. It’s a desk. And some papers. There’s nobody here but the two of us.”
 
OoooooOoOooooOooOo….spooky!
 
 
“Disappear Into Thin Air Like You Just Don’t Care”
 
The vanishing of Mortimer Marrowbone was rather unceremonious, as far as vanishings go, though he did rate a brief entry in the Athenæum’s 1894 annual report:
 
Alas, it was not an entirely joyous year. Mortimer Marrowbone left us, under curious circumstances to say the least.  He was last seen here, wandering these very halls, muttering  to himself incoherently as he was wont to do. Though he was a prolific writer he was known for one work and one work only, The Sin Book, which can only be described as a treatise—and in fact, a celebration, a glorification—of what Marrowbone perceived as the inherent and inevitable selfishness of man. He also had a puzzling and eerie fixation on mind control. The book, then, is said to be infused with the eternal vitality of evil. (To that we say, hmph!) One day he left his perch on five, to take a walk perhaps, to peruse the card catalog, it’s anybody’s guess, and never returned. His papers were stacked a foot high for weeks. We all thought he’d come back to retrieve them. He did not.  And his body was never found.
 
He wasn’t a pleasant man, nor was he a generous man. In fact he was a complicated man, but who among us isn’t complicated? If his spirit still resides here—any many claim it does—we hope that it finds peace.
 
Marrowbone leaves behind a vast body of work and we encourage you to explore his writings. But please, pretty please, do not ask us about The Sin Book, for it may very well be possessed by demonic spirits and apparently our insurance can’t cover any more...mishaps.
 
Moving along now to the journals of Charles Cutter, who on the topic of Marrowbone’s seminal tome had this to say:
 
We come to a most confounding range—for it is a range of one single solitary book—and yet, my fidelity to completion compels me to include it, unspeakable evil contained within the book notwithstanding. I have therefore decided it prudent to isolate the text in the (likely futile, I fear) hope that the great distance will shield us from the book’s terrors. I hereby banish Marrowbone’s wicked work to…well, I’m not going to tell you where, as that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? What, you want me to draw you a map that leads to your most certain demise? Anyway, the call number is EZ4 .u. 2. say.
 
It is believed that Marrowbone never left Athenæum property, that there is no cozy nook or corner where his restless spirit cannot be felt. For decades, staff and members alike have tried to make contact with Marrowbone. They tried everything: ghost hunters, priests, outside consultants.
 
And then there was the séance. 
 
The Trustees’ Room was the perfect place to make contact with the dead because it had a long table that comfortably seated eighteen people and a door for privacy. Plus if anybody got too scared they could cower in the bathroom.
 
The guests were seated around the table, holding hands, all eyes closed. The man running the invocation, Lionel, was at the head of the table reciting an ancient occult prayer. “Bibbily boobily woobily doo,” he said in his authoritative baritone (he was a retired five star general). “Ba-ba and ga-ga and pippity poo.”
 
What happened next is disputed, but as this was before the Athenæum had security cameras, nor can it be disproven. But as the legend goes, the curtains caught on fire. At the same time there came a demonic screech so sharp and so piercing that it shattered the glass door to the Washington Private Library. And Lionel, who had once led his men to victory in World War II, and subsequently watched his grandchildren blossom into intelligent and thoughtful young adults onto whom he looked with pride, had turned into sand.
 
“Lionel!” shouted Abigail, one of the attendees.
 
A great wind scattered Sand Lionel into every crevice and cranny in the room. “Maybe if we sweep him up fast we can somehow piece him back together,” said Rita.
 
The broom and dust pan leaning against the far wall burst into flames.
 
“Blimey,” Rita said. 
 
“AAAAAAAAIIIIEEEEEEEEEUUUGGGGGGGHHIIIIEEEEEERRRRRRRRUUUGH,” screamed the invisible but palpable presence.
 
But apart from the thunderous disembodied shrieking, the spontaneous flaming, and the sudden disintegration of Lionel before their very eyes, they never saw a convincing sign from the other side. Not one.
 
Brrrrrr it’s cold in here! Must be the inimitable chill of Death!
 
 
“The Twitch and the Tomb, pt. II”
 
Eleanora relished the cold water on her face. She needed realignment. What had she seen back there? She’d seen a man. Definitely. She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t delusional. This place was haunted, wasn’t it? Didn’t people have stories about ghosts appearing, interfering in daily affairs? How could an institution like this one that was so rich in history not have at least one ghost? Mathematically it just wasn’t likely. 
 
Down to Reference she perused the digitized journals for reports on sightings of apparitions, anything paranormal or steeped in unease. The Athenæum had its share of oddities. Back in the 1940s for instance, a longtime member and librarian disappeared, never to be heard from again. More recently, a staircase had appeared out of nowhere overnight and led to a transcendent void. So there was precedent at least. And then she found the annual report from 1894 (it was the first one she clicked on at random, how fortuitous!).
 
“Marrowbone!” she said.
 
“Ssshhh,” said the librarian on duty.
 
Mind control, eh? Was Marrowbone an occultist? Was the fact that he’d appeared before her proof positive he had somehow gained control of her mind? 
 
She did a quick mental inventory. My name is Eleanora Crisp. I am from West Hartford Connecticut and I am 27 years old. I like reading, singing in the shower, and dancing in the living room. I dislike it when people breathe heavily in public. What amuses me most is cosmically-checked arrogance. Picture somebody so smug you can see it in the way they are walking down the street and then they are struck by lightning. Now, what do I find appalling? Ah yes, the idea that I’m supposed to look at the price of $3.99 and be tricked into thinking the cost is closer to $3 than $4. OK, mind checks out. That’s all me.
 
As a longtime member Eleanora knew that when you were trying to locate an obscure text, you were best advised to check in with the late Charles Cutter, who in his tenure at the BA had kept voluminous journals detailing his many wild and crazy exploits as a rock star librarian who created his own classification system against all odds. Reading his journal entry on the subject of The Sin Book, she was surprised to learn of the existence of a tomb at the Athenæum. Now this she had to see. It must be in the basement.
 
Eleanora wound her way down the Drum. As she approached the basement level the lighting dimmed and she felt dizzy. Then, electricity behind her eyes caught her by surprise and she fell to the ground. She realized that the sensation wasn’t painful; no, what she been stricken with so suddenly was a pang of nostalgia for a moment in her childhood that she could see clearly in her mind’s eye, but that she could not place as having actually happened to her. The view was from outside looking into a house through the kitchen window. It was overcast but not raining, a tad warm but somehow she understood it to be November. In the kitchen were a man and a woman standing at a counter conversing. What was the significance of this, and why was she remembering it now wistfully? Was she remembering a movie she’d watched? A Dream? Or oh no...was this Marrowbone in her head?
 
“Stop your nonsense!” Eleanora chastised herself. “Just think. If I were a late 19th-century librarian, where would I stash a book of unspeakable evil?”
 
She was at the very bottom level of the drum now, she could tell by the brick floor. And that brick floor did open up, and from the depths shone a blinding light.
 
“What the—?”
 
A hand reached up from the void, grabbed her by the ankle, and pulled her down.
 
 
 
“Welcome to my home,” said Mortimer Marrowbone. “I’m Mortimer Marrowbone.”
 
“Where am I? Who are you?” Eleanora asked as she rose to her feet. “Wait, never mind.”
 
“I trust you didn’t have any trouble finding the place?” said Marrowbone.
 
“Sure didn’t! I just bumbled along in the darkness and then the floor opened up and swallowed me whole.”
 
“Lovely,” said Marrowbone.
 
“I saw you earlier,” Eleanora said. “But I can’t help but notice that right now you have um, well you know...eyeballs.”
 
“When I make an appearance,” said Marrowbone,” I do so in style.”
 
“Are you saying you find not having eyeballs to be stylish?”
 
“You’re too young to understand.”
 
“So um, where are we exactly, you know? Am I dead now? Have you”—Eleanora gasped—“have you pulled me into Heck?” She was careful not to move about too much on account of she’d never been beyond the third dimension before. In fact she couldn’t really see or feel herself anyway. She could hear Marrowbone, could sense him, could hear and sense herself. But that was it.
 
“You are not dead. Nor am I, really, but you are not dead in precisely the way you’re secretly hoping. And I am dead in the way you understand, yes. One perk of the state I am in is, there really is no one state. There are no constraints. You are wherever, whenever, whoever.”
 
 “Pfffft,” said Eleanora. “Whatever.” 
 
Marrowbone continued, “I do not recall how I passed the material realm. But when I still had blood flowing through my veins, when I had veins at all, I was a reader. Oh, how I read and I read! But I did not understand, you see. There were so many ideas and I simply did not understand. I cursed those eyes of mine, how they had forsaken me! And so did I pluck out mine own eyes—as was the style at the time.”
 
“And your talking scar?”
 
“Oh, I cut myself shaving one fine day.”
 
“But how does it talk?”
 
“Beats me. I always was lousy with a razor.”
 
“OK. Well how about your Sin Book? Word on the street is it’s so dastardly that anyone who comes into contact with it either becomes possessed by demons, is doomed for all eternity, or else has to spend the rest of their natural lives scrubbing spreadsheets.”
 
“What in the name of all that is holy is a ‘spreadsheet’? It sounds awful,” Marrowbone said.
 
“It sure is, ” Eleanora said.
 
“As for the perceived power my book has, that I cannot speak to. One freeing thing about death is that you can end your sentences with prepositions, with impunity! I simply wrote my heartsong. The rest is history.”
 
“Why did you appear to me today? Why do you haunt the Athenæum?”
 
“Ah, but it is you who haunts me,” said Marrowbone.
 
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat,” said Eleanora. “You’re goofed out babe.”
 
“It’s true! Every year, some miscreant thinks it’s a good idea to contact me. Gathers his yokel friends around a table, turns off all the lights, whispers some mumbo jumbo, and then I’m supposed to just appear and dance on command. The fiends! The folly! Never again says I, never again.”
 
“Huh,” Eleanora said.
 
“It’s rather tedious, you see.”
 
“We need to let you go,” Eleanora said. 
 
“You need to let me go,” Marrowbone said. “And move on. I’m done. I'm gone. And that’s it. And may we cross paths again as infinitely dense points of eternal light.”
 
Marrowbone vanished.
 
“Wait! Come back! I don’t know where I am or how to get back to my world!”
 
“Ma’am? Are you OK?” Eleanora opened her eyes to find the security guard knelt over, his face betraying concern.
 
“Where...am I?” she said as she sat up.
 
She was back on the fifth floor.
 
“You were sitting at this desk right here,” he said, pointing to the desk where she’d seen Marrowbone earlier. “You were muttering something about...I’m not sure what, folly maybe? And then you took all your papers, threw them into the air, and collapsed on the floor. You must have hit your face on the desk on the way down because I see you have a cut down your cheek and you’re bleeding. Unless that was there before?”
 
“Yesssssss,” said the cut, “it wasssssssss.”
 
OooOoo I’m so scared, I’m shaking in my shoes! In fact I’m shaking so violently I’ve fallen to the ground whimpering in the fetal position!
 
 
“Anyway, Sweet Dreams”
 
Muahahahaha, ah hahahahaha…
 
That skeleton in the death cloak is laughing again. What’s so funny, Mr(s). Skeleton, hmm? What do you know that I don’t? Hey—what happened to my hands? I can’t see my hands! I—why am I disappearing? Who turned out the lights?
 
If your bones turn to dust
and your nails turn to green,
May your restless soul soar, and
Happy Halloween!