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It took several trips up and down the ladder to clear the first shelf, but Emily didn’t mind. She was already entering the zone. However, she was startled out of it on her last descent of the ladder. As she reached the bottom, carefully carrying her bundle of books, she knocked one of the framed photographs over. Luckily, it just fell over backward, flapping onto the shelf and doing no damage other than to Emily’s nerves. Depositing her pile of books on the desk, Emily rushed back to put the photograph back in its rightful position.
Picking it up, she looked at it. Turning it over in her hands, Emily satisfied herself that the photograph was no worse off for its tiny ordeal. Then she looked at the image itself. It was a black and white portrait of a young man, whom she guessed was in his late twenties. Judging by the clothes he wore, she suspected the photograph had been taken in the late 1940s. There was nothing remarkable about the photo, except for his expression. She knew smiling in photos wasn’t as commonplace then as it was today, but still. The guy looked incredibly somber, and there was a melancholy in his eyes that made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. If Emily had estimated the date of the picture correctly, it was entirely possible that he’d lost loved ones—and friends, as he could well have been enlisted—during the war. For that, she could completely forgive him his seriousness.
Emily stroked a thumb across the glass, just where his face was. It was an unconscious move, but when she’d done it, Emily wondered if deep down she was hoping to make him feel better. There went her imagination again. She shook her head at her own oddness and put the photograph down gently before moving back to the desk to get on with her epic task. Glancing around the room as she sat down, Emily suppressed a sigh. It was lucky she liked her job. This library contained an awful lot of books.
A while later, Emily was well and truly in the zone. After her delayed start, she was working through her task thoroughly and efficiently, and she was confident she could get several more books done before she left, especially if she remained uninterrupted. So far, she hadn’t come across any pieces that needed any more than surface cleaning. This collection was well looked after.
Unfortunately, though, she couldn’t switch off her bodily functions, and by the time she’d finished the book she was working on, Emily was desperate for a loo break. As she stood to go off in search of the nearest usable toilet a grumble from her stomach told her that now was probably a good time to have a proper break, too, and get something to eat. Pulling off her gloves, she resolved to do just that.
Emily found a toilet without too much trouble, did what she had to do, and made her way back to the library. She half expected to see George on her travels, but she remained completely alone. Probably just as well, she thought, it meant she could eat her food quickly and get straight back to work. It didn’t stop a small part of her wishing he’d pop in and see her again. She mentally berated herself for even thinking it. She hardly knew the guy and yet she was thinking about him. The lack of sex had obviously sent her libido into overdrive. She needed to get laid—and soon.
After eating her dinner—an actually quite delicious pasta salad she’d picked up at the local supermarket on the way here—Emily tidied up, put her rubbish away, and settled back down at the desk to continue her task. Just as she was about to carry on, though, she noticed the diminishing light. Moving to the switches, which she’d noticed earlier by the door, Emily flipped them all, bathing the room in a glow that was gentle, but perfectly adequate for working. She sat down once more, snapped her gloves back on, and got down to it.
Emily worked in peace for a while longer . . . until she felt a draught on the back of her neck. Carefully placing down the book she was retouching, she fidgeted in her chair and moved her head from side to side and up and down, as if to erase the odd feeling. She forgot it almost instantly, until a few seconds later, it came again, as though someone was blowing on the back of her neck. Emily shivered, both at the sensation and at the thought that had entered her mind. Goosebumps crept over her entire body, and the third movement of air made her jump up out of the chair and spin around to face the source.
There was nothing there. No one. Emily rolled her eyes. Why on earth was she getting like this? She’d worked in dozens of rooms, perfectly alone, and not once had she creeped herself out. Why now? When her gaze fell on the window, she rolled her eyes again. Of course. Old houses like Westbury more often than not had panes of glass that didn’t fit into their frames properly. The draught was coming from the window. Emily crossed the room to the window, drew the curtains—she’d open them again before she left, and Mrs. Thompson would be none the wiser—and sat back down again. Shaking her head at her own stupidity, Emily continued working on the book she’d just abandoned, quickly becoming absorbed in her task once more.
A noise from over by the ladder startled her, making her jump and almost jab herself in the eye with the end of the brush she was using. Turning, she saw the photograph she’d righted earlier once more lying down. She’d obviously not fixed the stand properly. After downing her tools, Emily stomped across the room, cross at the seemingly endless interruptions, and grabbed the photograph. She checked it to make sure it held firm, wagging a finger at the man in the image.
“Just you behave. I’ve got too much work to do to put up with your shenanigans if you don’t mind.”
She didn’t know she’d spoken aloud and giggled at the realisation, stopping abruptly when it hit home just how peculiarly she was behaving. This place was making her crazy, she decided, which could be catastrophic, considering she hadn’t even finished one shelf of books yet, and she had considerably more to do. She’d be a wreck by the time this job was done.
Shaking her head again, Emily walked back to the desk and took her seat. She resolved to knuckle down, get the first shelf completed, and call it a night. Hopefully a decent amount of sleep would make her feel more herself and mean she could put this idiotic behaviour behind her and return to Westbury tomorrow with her sensible, hard-working head firmly screwed on. She hoped so, anyway, because this simply wouldn’t do.
Emily was able to finish cleaning the first lot of books without any further interruptions. She heaved a sigh of relief and swapped her book cleaning tools for her shelf cleaning tools. All she had to do was clean the empty shelf, replace the books, put the library back to how it had been when she’d started, and be on her way. Tomorrow was another day, she mused, and she was determined it was going to be much more productive than this one.
Emily had just put her feet back onto the floor after her third trip up the ladder when she felt something touch her right leg, down by her ankle. She wore trousers, so if it had been some kind of insect it was doubtful she’d have felt it. Besides, it was moving up and down, as though stroking her. Still looking forward at the ladder and grasping its handrails, Emily froze in place. She couldn’t move, speak, scream, or even bring herself to look around.
She’d never been so scared in her life. The stroking sensation crept higher and higher until it reached her hip. Finally, something in Emily snapped and she screamed at the top of her lungs, lurched away from the ladder, and ran out of the library.
She was gone before the photograph hit the shelf again.
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