The LibraryWind hissed inaudibly as it snaked past rustling leaves and stirred the ground below, whispering quietly like a beckoning spectral calling from the grave. The dimming pink glow of the setting sun splashed across the tips of rooftops and daunting trees, casting Forington Woods in an unwelcoming shadow that clouded over its mass like a massive thunderhead.
Adam gazed out his bedroom window, watching the brilliant ball of light slowly sink under the horizon. Despite the summers’ lingering heat, he shivered as a chill crawled down his spine, the evening air brushing through the open glass. He listened to every muffled creak and groan of the shabby cabin that his parents were forced to move into. At night, the sounds were creepy to his twelve-year-old ears, although he knew better than to respond realistically when the horrible monsters flashed in his head. Immature he could be at times, but he was more observant and even-minded than most kids his age.
His overthinking parents were struggling hard this year paying the bills and setting everything straight. Richard, his stern but understanding father, lost his job back in Colorado as a mechanic; Jamie soon quit working at the local nursery once the owner cut back all of the employee’s paychecks and began firing the more inexperienced newcomers; she was bound to get fired next, she fretted during dinner, arms jostling anxiously, unable to mix up the mashed potatoes with the same steadiness. Adam’s younger sister, Serana, was mostly oblivious to the hardening changes and downward slump of the household. Mom went from cooking leisurely every night to nuking TV dinners three times a week. Soon, the Dellrey family relinquished their decent two-story home and moved to a much smaller, less relaxing town miles out of Colorado.
Forington, the dingy small town that was hardly a landmark at all, had a population of just over three thousand residents. It was bleak, unexciting and dreary on most sunrises, usually suppressed with grim overcast or howling windstorms. On the plus side, it didn’t rain very often, but the sun only bloomed maybe ten times a month. “Colorless and devoid,” Richard called it. “I’d rather watch the smoke of my cigarette than walk around this boring town.” So long as he had his carton of Camels and case of Bud Light, Richard was satisfied. Jamie frequently complained that he wasted too much of their precious money on beer and cigs, that things were too tight in order to spend on anything but necessities, but Dad never listened. Sure, he avoided getting drunk and he remained calm, but his jaw set—he wouldn’t live without them.
Now with the limited cash, Jamie no longer catered over her beloved garden or shopped twice a week for new clothes (Sometimes she was as bad as a teenager, Adam grumbled), but that didn’t damper her hope and bubbly spirit. She was overprotective here and there, like all mothers, but she was just as loving and dedicated to her children as ever. She put food on the table, bought her two darling’s clothes and spent a lot of time with them. She tried her best to get Adam and Serana to stop bickering daily, but they shared moments and connections regardless of their age difference. Serana was only nine, yet like her brother, she was more sophisticated than most her age. It was apparently a gift inherited within the family.
“Honey,” Jamie called, walking into Adam Dellrey’s room after knocking respectfully. Her curly brown hair fell limply below her scrawny shoulders, cheeks rosy and smile radiant. She held an enthusiastic personality, seeming to beam with her mere green eyes whenever she spoke to her children. Her figure was slim, jawbone rounded and skin pallid. “Adam, honey, it’s time for dinner.” She smiled naturally.
“Okay, Mom,” he replied mechanically. He rose off the twin-sized bed in the corner of his smallish room, the TV remote sitting by his black pillow. His feet wisped over the carpeted floor, making his way to the tiny dining room next to the even tinier kitchen; complete with one stove, four cabinets, a refrigerator, sink and a microwave. There was an old coffee pot on the short wooden counter unplugged.
Dad and Serana were already at their normal seats, plates and silverware in front of them. Mom had cooked moderate portions of pork chops, green beans and canned corn. Adam grabbed a can of Dr. Pepper from the fridge and sat across from Richard.
Jamie joined them moments later, and Adam dug in. The pork chops were crispy and just right, but the corn tasted bland. He didn’t care much for the green beans either, but shoveled it all down equally. He ate without pause and used the fork like an ice cream scooper, halfway done with his meal before the rest finished a few slow bites.
“Easy there, champ, the food’s not going anywhere,” his dad chuckled, the standard statement he used regularly. On the counter beside the coffee pot was where Richard kept his New York Times newspaper, flashlight (in case of power outages—neither him nor Jamie liked using candles), and car keys. Those items rested there all throughout the week, only the copy of the newspaper changing, and the keys gone missing when he went to work.
“Mommy, I don’t like the green stuff,” Serana complained in that light, girlish voice. “It’s icky.” She was the definition of vegetable-hater. Her trimmed black hair matched the color of Richard’s ruffled cut, neatly lined around her neck like a well-educated and organized child. Jamie loved to be particular in dressing her up, often in casual dresses or proper skirts, blossoming with color. Serana’s tawny blue eyes narrowed at the sloshy beans before her, upper back slumped.
“Sweetie, they’re good for you,” Jamie pressed in an encouraging tone. “Eat them all up if you want Santa to come by this year!” Although Christmas was months away, that never failed to catch Serana’s attention. She wolfed down the beans with a new flare, eyes lit and head hunched.
Adam rolled his eyes unnoticeably. He’d stopped believing in such things over two years ago, so he knew his curious little sister would not fall for that trick too much longer.
“First day at Red Eagle Elementary tomorrow,” Richard changed the subject conversationally, looking particularly at Adam, a faint smile touching his lips. He stopped to take a bite of his food before continuing. “Are you excited?”
Adam shrugged his shoulders. “I guess,” he murmured. Truthfully, he wasn’t fond of meeting new people; he already missed his old friends.
“Hey, kid, you’ll be out of that school soon enough,” his dad said. “Junior high is only a year away.”
“I’ll be thirteen in a few months, next December,” Adam stated, more happily this time. “I can’t wait to get out of that dumb building.”
Jamie chuckled. “Have any plans for college yet?” she contributed, looking away from the plate, teasing a little.
“I’m not thinking that far ahead yet,” he smirked, taking the last bite of his corn. He drunk deeply from his cold can, pausing briefly. “Don’t you think it’s a little early to solidify my future, Mom?”
“Okay, book nerd,” Richard joined, raising an eyebrow. “It’s never too late to start planning.”
“I have time,” Adam shrugged, and got up to dump his plate in the sink. “Serana, will you please take your coloring books back to your room? You left them on my desk.”
“It’s a drawing journal,” she corrected him, slurring the words ever so slightly. Her brow furrowed whenever she twisted her expression in that frustrated look. “I was drawing Kermit the Frog.”
“Whatever, Sis,” he answered. “Just take your journal back to your room, okay?”
She didn’t answer, but he knew she would. Adam dismissed himself and went down the short, thin hallway to his bedroom, the old wood creaking under his weight. Whenever the heater or air conditioner kicked on, it seemed to stir up the entire cabin, causing a loud drone to fill the air.
Forgetting where he left the remote, Adam searched the drawer his television rested upon, accidentally knocking over his Bruno Mars CD and a paperback copy of Harry Potter, witnessing it topple to the floor. He muttered angrily under his breath and picked it back up. Before scurrying back to his warm bed, he turned off the cheap radio beside his TV, which was faintly beating an Usher song out of the speakers. It wasn’t a modernized radio, but it tuned in all the stations he wanted, so he didn’t protest.
He had already completed his nightly routine; took a shower, relaxing in the steamy water longer than necessary, brushed his teeth carefully and combed his knotted wet hair, which was as brown as his mothers’ and matched his deep-brown eyes. Finally, he laid out a pile of clothes for the next day, staring his first day at a new school on Wednesday. Perhaps he’d ask Dad to swing by Quickstop Gas Station down Route 55 for a soda before reaching the school; caffeine was an effective way to start off the day, in Adam’s opinion.
Adam fiddled with his favorite camera for several minutes until he got bored, flipping the TV on. He loved to take pictures, and brought his old-fashioned camera everywhere—the kind with the expensive ink where the picture developed and slid out the moment you took it. Yes, it was that old. His mother introduced photography to him a few years ago, and he’s been thoroughly into it since then.
The sun had entirely vanished, leaving Forington Woods in a shroud of blackness outside Adam’s window. Thousands of insects could be heard chattering in the distance, an occasional hooting owl, and the light breeze swirling around the branches and ferny surface. For some reason, the woods gave Adam an uncomfortable feeling, so he closed and locked the window, and then lowered the blinds before huddling under the blankets.
Serana skipped inside minutes afterwards, retrieving her journal without a word. “What are you drawing?” Adam asked, more out of courtesy than curiosity.
“I’m coloring the forest,” she said meekly, holding out the journal and flipping it open. The rough sketch was quite good for a nine-year old; the trees looked like tall brown figures, and the grass was mostly circles of green, but the sun was neatly drawn above and there were dozens of flowers. It was totally unlike the woods itself, but not bad. She was proud to show off her work, like an artist at a museum.
“That’s awesome,” Adam enthused, turning his attention back to the television—Cartoon Network dominated the screen. “Keep it up, Sis.”
“I will!” she beamed, and then trotted off.
A couple hours after she left, Adam yawned and stretched stiffly; his digital alarm clock claimed it was ten-thirty in big red letters. Contemplating, he rolled over and breathed, “My last year at elementary school. Wow.” And before he realized it, Adam had drifted off into the inviting recesses of sleep.
The next morning was, to Adam’s disappointment, covered in gray clouds. The air was moist and warm, but that didn’t make up for the oppressing atmosphere and gloomy appearance of Forington. The town itself was old, crumbling buildings and bricked sidewalks, old rental DVD stores and gas stations, two small schools and an even smaller police department. Nothing extraordinary, dull, almost lifeless.
A large, white-trimmed sign read: Red Eagle Elementary—come support the Red Eagles tonight at the high school football game! And was printed in black lettering. The school was puzzle-shaped, an orange brick structure, a single flagpole and a decent-sized playground in the back. Like the rest of the town, it was a bland and drooling sight, seemingly frozen in time. Only the buzzing murmur of the little kids entering the building gave it any life, most of them younger than Adam or only a year older. He was in sixth grade, the highest in elementary. As good news, not many students could pick on him anymore.
Adam left the half-empty bottle of Mt. Dew in the car, hugged his dad goodbye, grabbed his backpack and sulked tiredly to the front doors. The last school I went to was at least three times as big, he grumbled in his head.
At least the school was an even temperature, but a bit stuffy. The office was on the other side of the door, a few short yards away. The receptionist, an overweight woman with beady brown eyes and thick glasses, smiled at him pleasantly—or at least, it was supposed to look pleasant. Adam thought it looked kind of unsettling.
“You must be Adam Dellrey!” she greeted in a scratchy voice (Adam shuddered inwardly—the daily announcements were going to be horrible).
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied amiably, not exactly staring into her eyes. “The principle told me to come here in the morning.”
“Yes, Mr. Wilson requires all new students to pick up their class schedules here,” she explained, still smiling. “Here you go! I’ll show you where everything is, and you can come down any time if you need help finding a classroom.”
She handed him a slip of paper, which plainly displayed all of his classes and what time they started. He had Social Studies first thing, with his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Macabre. He had four classes with her, and then he went down the hall to Ms. Cummins’s room, but he didn’t quite know that yet.
Once the nice lady showed him all of the rooms, the cafeteria and the gym, she scurried away, stopping him outside his homeroom. The anxiety kicked in, and with a knot in his stomach and a deep sigh, he turned the knob and walked in.
Adam was unimpressed. The entirety of the classroom was as average as ever; rowdy, wild sixth graders chatting loudly and bustling around the brightly lit room; neatly lined columns of wooden desks, a large marker board on the right side of the teacher’s desk, self-motivating posters along the yellow-painted walls, and rectangular-shaped florescent lights covering the high ceiling above. The teacher herself, whose desk identified her as Mrs. White, was a middle-aged blond with an uplifting personality and a quick smile.
She hurriedly scurried over to Adam once she noticed his entrance, a welcoming smile on her smooth countenance. “Adam Dellrey!” she exclaimed. “Welcome to Room 216! I’m Mrs. White, your homeroom teacher.”
“Hello, Mrs. White,” Adam replied in kind, but shyly. He hardly looked her directly in the eye.
“Why don’t you find an empty seat wherever you’d like and get to know your new classmates? The bell will ring in just a few minutes.” Her wide smile never faded. “Do you have all your supplies?”
“In my backpack, ma’am,” he assured.
“Great! I look forward to getting to know you.” With that, she went back to her desk, greeting students as she passed. Friendly, open…this might be a good year for Adam.
“Hey, new kid!” Someone shouted from across the room. A sandy-haired, scrawny boy walked up to Adam, grinning from ear to ear. “How old are you, man?”
“Thirteen,” Adam said with less enthusiasm.
“Awesome! My name’s Chad. Wanna sit over there with me?”
“Sure thing,” he shrugged. “I’m Adam.”
Together the young boys found two desks near the center of the room, kids their own age laughing and entertaining one another. One boy, shorter than Adam but much thicker, was rambling on about his impressive deck of cards from an animated television series. Overhearing the conversation, Adam shook his head. I thought most people outgrew that crap by thirteen, he thought indifferently. His parents never wholly approved of those kinds of cards, although Adam was unsure why.
Chad had a notebook and pencil laid on his thin desk, and there was a cool drawing sketched on the page of what looked like a mythical creature. Adam studied it briefly, but shortly turned his attention to Chad himself.
“Where did you move here from?” he asked conversationally.
Adam was about to reply, but one of Chad’s friends interrupted. “Hey, C!” an overweight kid crowed, his red cheeks bloated and his black hair tussled. “Did you watch the football game last night? Cable messed up on me, so I missed the second half…did the Cowboys win it?”
“Yeah,” Chad answered with the same amount of excitement in his voice. “Romo intercepted minutes before…”
Uninterested in sports, Adam tuned out the conversation and began shuffling in his own backpack. He pulled out a blue pen, a folder and a notebook, placing them on his desk. He tucked a hand under his chin and stared ahead, letting his thoughts overtake him. Chad seemed like a friendly guy, but Adam knew nothing about him yet. Still, it’d be nice to make a new friend this early at a new school, so Adam promised to be more open than he normally would. Perhaps he would blend in nicely, even though Forington Elementary appeared as bleak and…grey as the rest of the town. Adam gazed out of the large window; the sky was continuously covered by thick, colorless clouds, not a drop of rain fell nor was there a hint of movement in their depths. He sighed and flicked his eyes to the front of the classroom, now noticing how good Mrs. White looked for a teacher.
Adam spent the next few minutes missing his old friends while Chad remained distracted, until finally the bell sounded and Mrs. White silenced the room. The first subject of the day was Language, and the teacher quickly scribbled words on the white board in red marker; Adam jotted down the vocabulary and followed along, not wanting to fall behind on his first day.
The hour felt shorter to Adam than it probably did to the other students, because the next thing he knew, the board had twenty-five words and their definitions written neatly, and he had copied them all. Mrs. White had spent a bit of time explaining what they would be learning for that day, covering any assignments one might have missed yesterday, and also introduced Adam formally to the class. His name was greeted with a short mumble of hellos, but Chad was the most enthusiastic, slapping him on the back. An encouraging person, Adam thought with relief. Man, he reminds me of Toby back home. Toby was his trusted and closest friend, so that faint reminder was both painful and relieving.
“Okay, class,” Mrs. White announced, snapping Adam back to reality. “Time for recess, but please, everyone leave your stuff in the classroom. That includes you, Mr. Smith.” She eyed a dorky boy sitting alone in the back of the room. “I don’t want to have to track down every textbook and pencil you misplace.”
Adam stood up when everyone else did, slightly confused. “Follow me,” Chad said to him, walking with the jumbled crowd. “We have recess twice a day; once in the morning, once in the afternoon, about twenty minutes each time.”
Adam shrugged and followed silently, squeezed against the other students as everyone tried to get out of the door at once.
It was colder outside than Adam expected, but still fairly warm. The playground consisted mostly of an open field with a jungle gym, swing set, monkey bars, a couple benches and three tetherball poles. It was constructed in a random order and the entire playground was built in an unorganized fashion. Farther in the distance he could make out the outline of the woods, though the playground had a tall wired fence surrounding it. As the mass of the school ran out and started enjoying themselves, Adam viewed the area, and was unsurprised to see that it still appeared empty and devoid of color.
“Wanna go sit on the swings?” Chad suggested, heading in that direction. Before Adam agreed, Chad let out a low groan. “Aw, man! Fog’s coming in again tonight.”
Adam turned in the direction Chad was, and sure enough, a clumpy wall of mist hovered far away near the outskirts of the empty part of the field, like a massive cloud. You couldn’t see anything past the wall, which was unsettling and kind of creepy to Adam.
“Does it get foggy around here a lot?” Adam asked without looking at him.
“About once or twice a week,” Chad replied in disgust. “It gets really annoying, and it blocks off the satellite signals and messes with the cable…at least, that’s what the ‘logical’ explanation is.” Chad shook his head but continued walking. Adam followed suit.
Logical explanation? Adam questioned inwardly. That was a weird way of putting it. What exactly did he mean? He opened his mouth to inquire, but something else caught his attention from the corner of his eye, something he didn’t notice before.
There was a medium-sized brick building on the eastern side of the field close to the playground, but on the other side of the fence, with a short walkway leading to it. It was half crumbled, the foundation withered, and parts of it were black. It looked as if half of it had been burnt to the ground, and the rest collected dust and sat perfectly still, like the building itself had been sitting there for several years. On the front of the building in large, faded white print were two words and a number that was cut off: Public Library, 19—. Adam assumed that was a date, but why someone would’ve printed it on the front was a mystery to him. But that was not why he couldn’t take his eyes off the burned library.
Something in the pit of his stomach tightened the moment he gazed upon the structure, something about it caused his spine to tingle and his skin to break out in goose flesh. It held a haunting, ominous presence, like something out of a movie. It was as if the building towered above him and laughed, mocking him, but at the same time, he was transfixed. Withered parchment lay around the library, pages left from books and piles of bricks scattered along the parts of the floor that were visible. There was no door, but the other half of the building was intact and shrouded behind the crumbled mess.
Chad noticed Adam stopped dead in his tracks to stare at the library, followed his gaze, and paled. “Hey, Adam,” he called. “What’re you doing, man?”
Unable to remove his eyes from the building, Adam murmured, “What happened to that library?” The eeriness he felt did not diminish the longer he stared.
“I’d have thought even an outsider like you would have heard about it,” Chad said edgily. He stepped closer to Adam. “The story behind that library is kind of a town legend, I guess you could say.”
“Legend?” Adam repeated curiously, forcing his eyes to look at Chad. The knot in his stomach loosened.
“Well, uh, not really a legend,” he explained. “It’s a true story. What happened to that library sort of became a town memorial, in a way, something that everyone remembers and talks about from time to time.”
“Like the Great Depression?” Adam guessed.
“Kind of, yeah, except that the Great Depression a national crisis. This story is more of a Forington crisis.”
“So it was something bad?” Adam had a cold chill run down his body, yet he didn’t even know what it was yet. The library itself made him anxious enough.
“Something awful is more like it,” Chad confirmed, anxiety clear in his own voice. “No one really likes to talk about it very much anymore, but it still gives me the creeps.”
Adam was getting frustrated. Why did he have to keep prying for answers? Was he really that reluctant? “What happened? Like, what’s the legend?”
“Like I said, it’s not really a legend, because it’s a true story.” Chad hesitated before continuing, giving Adam a sideways glance. “One day, when the library was used regularly, there was a group of kids from school that were having some kind of book fair or whatever. It’s a pretty big library, lots of space…anyway, it was late in the afternoon on a winter day. The sun was already going down, and it was really foggy that day. The students were just looking at books and whatnot, when…well, no one knows exactly how it started, but the building caught fire. Officials think it was just some kid playing with matches or something, but no one really knows. No one ever found any matches, or even a cigarette lighter.
“It started on the left side of the building, obviously, the side that’s burned. When the librarian and the assistant teacher noticed it, they started shuffling everyone out really fast. They wanted to get everyone out and then call the fire department, like anyone else would do.”
Adam nodded, listening intently, but wishing he’d get to the point.
“So, they managed to get everyone out of the building, or so they thought.” He paused for dramatic effect. “But when they started counting all of the students, they came up short.”
“Go on,” Adam urged slowly, now staring narrow-eyed at Chad. For some reason, his heart was racing and his blood pumping.
“There were thirty-one students altogether and two adults. When they counted the students, there were only seventeen.”
Adam’s blood ran cold. “Wait…” he mumbled. “So, that would mean that…they left fourteen kids inside the building?” He was dumbfounded, almost infuriated. “How can you forget fourteen children? How old were they, anyway?”
“The oldest kid was ten years old, but don’t get ahead of me. That’s not the ending to this story.”
Adam clamped his mouth shut, eyes widening.
“They didn’t forget fourteen children,” Chad went on. “When they all filed out of the library, the children just…weren’t there. The teacher rushed inside to look for them, of course, but the building isn’t that big; it’d be very hard to misplace fourteen kids in the first place. The assistant teacher came out of the library with a few burn marks, but want to know what the messed up part is?”
“Tell me,” Adam pressed, the strain visible in his tone.
“…The teacher claimed that there was no one in there. Not a living soul.”
Adam recoiled. “What? How is that possible? How did they slip out?”
Chad shook his head. “You’re missing it, Adam. Look over at the building.” The two turned, and Adam observed as Chad spoke. “There’s only one door to that library-- one small, narrow door.” He raised a finger. “Do you see the windows? All of the windows looked exactly like that, high up and twined together in a way. It’s way too high to climb out of, especially for a bunch of little kids. And even if they climbed on top of bookshelves or something, in the very short time that they had, the drop would’ve easily broken their legs. The door is too narrow for more than two to exit at a time. Sure, it was foggy and hard to see, but if I’m not being clear enough, it is absolutely impossible for fourteen children to slip outside of that library or escape the eyes of those adults.”
Adam’s heart sunk in his chest. How could something so…awful happen to those poor children? He couldn’t imagine the agony of the parents. “Were any of the bodies recognizable after burning like that? Or did they put out the fire in time?”
“Did you not hear what I just said?” Chad retorted. “The teacher never saw any kids. That’s where the legend part comes in, right? Not a body was found, Adam. No one ever found any evidence of the children.”
Finally it began to sink in. The puzzle pieces clicked in Adam’s head. “No…bodies…?” he uttered in disbelief.
Chad shook his head. “Nothing at all was found. They couldn’t have slipped out with only one exit and no windows to climb through, and there were no bodies once the fire was out. Not a shattered window, a sign of struggle…it was as if they completely vanished.”
“How is that possible?” Adam was shocked at how weak his own voice sounded.
“I haven’t told you the scariest part yet…” Chad resumed, unwillingness thick in his voice.
“What else could there possibly be?” Adam questioned, but he was listening. He was sick, and wanted to barf.
Chad hesitated for the longest moment. “Well, when the reports were filed that night…apparently one of the kids had a camera, and liked to take pictures of everything.”
Chad paled, his eyes filled with debate. He was very dreading what he was about to say. “It was a little girl…she took pictures of the building while it was on fire. Although it was foggy, you could still see the photos pretty clearly disregarding the light of the flames.”
“What are you getting at, Chad?”
“In one of the pictures…well, the camera picked up something in the background…near the library. The other children and the adults claimed to have seen nothing, but…it’s right there in the picture.”
“What’s right there? What is it?” Adam couldn’t take the anticipation; he was practically leaping into the air where he stood.
“We should really stop talking about this,” he quickly changed the subject. “Recess is almost over anyway.” Chad turned on his heel and walked swiftly towards the school. Adam angrily kept pace.
“Chad, what was in that picture? When did this happen?”
“1986 is the date,” he replied, purposely only answering the last question. “So it was twenty-seven years ago.”
Adam continued to badger Chad about what was in the picture, pressuring him to cave and his imagination running wild. It sounded like a scary story someone would tell a younger kid, but Chad seemed dead serious. What if it was just a joke?
When Adam called him out on it, Chad responded, “I’m not messing with you, dude. If you don’t believe me, then go to the library yourself. The pictures were lift inside the building, but I don’t know why. People go up there from time to time, but most are too scared. They say it’s haunted, but I think that part is a bunch of bull.”
Despite his obvious fear, Adam was annoyed with Chad for not telling him, but a sense of adventure kicked within him. He crossed his arms whenever he sat down at his desk beside Chad. “Humph. I think I will go after school today.”