Miss Eleanor watched the man at the table out of the corner of her eye. He’d been coming into her section of the library every few days lately, researching something; he’d hand her a slip of paper with what he was looking for on it and then go wait at the table until she brought the book down to him. At which point he’d mouth the words ‘thank you’ and nod to her, and then get out his notebook and get to work with the book. He took careful notes, she saw, in handwriting that wasn’t all that bad but still wasn’t up to the standard of copybook excellence she’d had drilled into her as a child. He was also careful in his handling of the books he asked for, which was something she approved of especially since they were all very old books and some were rather fragile.
And he knew to be silent, of course; she’d never once had to shush him. That was important to her, the fact that he knew to be silent. This was the research section of the library, after all, and talking was discouraged because it was disruptive. It was especially disruptive to Miss Eleanor, who had extremely sensitive hearing – always had – and for whom the soft rustle of pages turning was like soothing music to her ears but voices sounded like nails going down a chalkboard.
She had temporarily stopped watching the young man and was going through the card catalog when she heard him stand up, and then he walked over to her with another slip of paper. Two books in one day? She took the slip and looked at it, but it didn’t have the name of a book on it. Instead it had a sentence: Do you have a minute? I need to show you something.
Miss Eleanor raised an eyebrow at him, but she nodded and followed him over to the table. He made a note of which page he was on in the book, then closed it and picked it up, showing it to her, and then he flipped a page in his notebook and wrote something on it: The damage on this book is from humidity, Miss Eleanor. They need to fix things on this level so that doesn’t keep happening.
He looked concerned, and she picked the book up herself and took a closer look. It was a relatively old book, and it was indeed showing damage from improper storage. She took his pencil and pulled the notebook over: Do you think they will?
They told me they were going to, was his reply. But that means there’s going to be construction going on down here, and it’s going to be very loud. I don’t think you can stay here while they’re doing it.
Agitation made her next writing much less precise. I can’t leave the library. I won’t leave my books.
He nodded, although he was now looking even more concerned. I know, Miss Eleanor. You’ve been here for a very long time. He paused, obviously thinking about what he wanted to say. They’ll have to move the books too, and the card catalog. Would you be willing to go with the books?
She considered that, then held up a finger to let him know she needed a few minutes and went back into the stacks. She looked at the books. Many of them were showing damage, and so were some of the shelves. And the wood of the card catalog was looking a little warped as well. She came back to the table where he was still standing, feeling nervous but determined that something had to be done. When?
They’ll start packing things up as soon as you’re gone, Miss Eleanor. I made arrangements for the books to be taken somewhere safe, and for you to be there to take care of them…but we have to leave now. I’ll take you there, but you’ll have to trust me.
Her eyebrow went back up. That sounds suspiciously like you’re up to something, young man.
He blushed, but shook his head. Not really. I just don’t want to make you angry. He sighed, then took a folded page of a newspaper out of his bag and spread it out on the table. They wouldn’t let me have the whole thing, he explained. They were afraid it would get damaged down here. Page Four, third column, two-thirds of the way down the page.
She leaned over to look. The paper was dated March 12, 1924. In the third column, two-thirds of the way down the page, was a very small entry about a librarian being found dead in the library, supposedly from a heart attack. It said Miss Eleanor Twitty had been a valued employee at the New York City Public Library for fifty years, and had no known family. A memorial service was scheduled to be held in the library after hours in three days’ time. Miss Eleanor read it twice, then turned it over to check the other side of the page, making sure of the date. Before she could ask, the young man pulled another, much newer-appearing paper out of the bag and handed it to her. And he mouthed the words, I’m sorry.
The dates differed by sixty-odd years. She checked them both again, they were authentic so far as she could tell – she’d worked long enough around books and documents to be able to spot all but the most clever fakes. She looked into the young man’s eyes. “Why?”
Hearing her speak startled him, he opened his mouth…and then closed it again, smiling and shaking an admonishing finger at her before grabbing the notebook. Almost made me slip there, Miss Eleanor. Because you deserve better than to just be gone, so I made a deal with the library: I’d move you so they could fix up this level, but they had to move the books and everything and let you continue taking care of them.
Miss Eleanor realized that if she thought about it, she could remember things being…different. There had been a time when she’d gone home at the end of each day, home to the little rooming house where she’d lived for years and years. That had just been a place to sleep, however – the books had always been her life, and the only lover she’d ever had or wanted. Her eyebrow went up again. “And if I’d refused to leave?”
He shrugged. I’m really glad you didn’t, let’s put it that way. Like I said, you deserve better. I told them they had to wait, to let me try to talk to you first before anything else was done. He grinned, a very boyish and mischievous look. They didn’t like it, but it’s not like they could call anybody else to help them.
“And why exactly is that?”
I own a company. We catch ghosts for a living – usually ghosts that are frightening people or hurting them.
Miss Eleanor nodded slowly. As odd and impossible as that sounded, she didn’t think he was lying, and the idea that the library – her library! – had thought she would hurt someone was upsetting to her. Now that she was thinking about it, though, she could vaguely remember a few times when people had come into her section and tried to speak to her and she’d…dear God, had she really screamed at them? Did being dead make a person lose all self-control? What a disturbing thought – and no wonder this young man was being so very careful not to make a noise! “All right, young man, I’ll trust you. What do we do now?”
In answer, he packed the papers back into his bag, and then pulled out some sort of fantastical gadget with little blinking lights all over it and placed it on the table – moving the damaged book well away from it, she noted with approval. The gadget was about the size and shape of a large shoebox, and it had a cord on it which was connected to a red button. He flipped to the back of the notebook, to a page which had a lot of writing on it. This is a ghost trap. I know it looks a little weird, but it won’t hurt you, I promise – my two best friends invented it, and we’ve tested it thoroughly. I’ll open it, light will come out the top, and all you have to do is step into the light and you’ll be inside. You’ll be safe there until they have the books moved, and then I’ll let you out again so you can get things arranged the way you want them in the new space. It’s going to be a soundproof space, too. You’ll be able to see people and talk to them if you want to through a one-way intercom, but you won’t be able to hear any noises they make. Please say yes.
She nodded again. “Yes. Will you be coming back to finish what you were working on, or was that just a ruse?”
He almost laughed, covered his mouth with his hand to stop the sound from getting out. No, I really was doing research for a paper I’m working on. I’ll be back to do some more once you have the new place set up. A lot of the books I need to look at are in your section, and you know them better than anyone.
That was probably true. Still… “You are a little flatterer, aren’t you? Do you have a name young man?”
He blushed again, nodding. Sorry, forgot to introduce myself. I’m Peter.
Miss Eleanor smiled at him. The ones who did real research in her books tended to forget little details like that, too caught up in the voyage of discovery they were currently embarked upon, and she’d always found it rather endearing. “Very well, Peter. Let’s get this done and over with so I can get back to work.”
Peter nodded, then moved the blinking box down to the floor and arranged it just so between them. He held up the notepad. I won’t be able to watch, the light’s too bright. Just step into the light, and once you’re in it will close up again. I’ll let you out the same way, just in reverse.
He took a step back, holding the red button in his hand, then turned his face away and squeezed his eyes shut and pressed it; two little flap doors on the top of the box flew open and a dazzling wedge of light shot out; Miss Eleanor could see why he wouldn’t have been able to look, it probably would have blinded him. She lifted up her skirts so they wouldn’t catch on the flap and gingerly stepped into the box, not quite squeaking with surprise when the light lifted her up directly into the wedge and then with a stretching sort of sensation pulled her down into the box.
Peter opened his eyes once the trap closed, and checked to make sure she’d gone in. The blinking green light said she had, and he sighed. He hadn’t lied, he really had practically blackmailed the library into relocating Miss Eleanor once he’d found out who she’d been, but he hadn’t told her it was going to be a good six months before he could let her out again. Not that she’d know the difference, Egon said ghosts in the trap were pretty much in stasis until they were let out again – asleep until released, as Ray put it. He sighed again, picking up his backpack and shrugging it over one shoulder, then lifting the smoking, steaming trap with his other hand and heading back upstairs to let the librarians know they were good to go getting the old books and things packed up. Peter liked librarians, always had. The city funding guys who kept shorting them on their budget, though, not so much.
Which was why he was going to make sure the city rep and the library administrator got a really good look at the trap before he left to go back to the firehouse. Because he’d already warned them that in six months Miss Eleanor was coming back – either into her new space with her books and the card catalog so she could answer questions for patrons and draw more visitors to the library, or into the library’s main lobby at high noon so she could let those patrons know what she thought of the noise they were all making. Peter had done this job for free with the understanding that those were the library’s only two options, and he’d gotten the librarians to side with him on it too.
Miss Eleanor was one of their own, after all. Dead or not didn’t make any difference.
The elementary school children stared through the glass in awe at the semi-transparent woman in her old-fashioned long dress as she shelved books in the sealed hall. There was a plaque on the wall which identified the woman as a former librarian named Eleanor Twitty who had died in the library after fifty years of service and had simply never left, and a large display board near the double-paned glass wall which was crowded with child-drawn pictures and little letters addressed to ‘Miss Eleanor’. Several of these little offerings had small thank-you notes pinned next to them which had been written in beautiful old-fashioned handwriting.
One of the children turned to the living librarian who was acting as their class tour guide. “Why is that man in there with Miss Eleanor?” she wanted to know. “Our teacher said Miss Eleanor is really dangerous and nobody can go near her!”
The librarian shook her head. “Miss Eleanor is a ghost who can’t stand noise, dear – she’s only dangerous if you make a lot of noise, which is why we have soundproof glass between her and the rest of the library. And that man is Dr. Venkman, he’s working on a research paper and Miss Eleanor helps him by finding the books that he needs – just like any other librarian. Miss Eleanor knows him, and he knows not to talk to her out loud. See the little notebook he has next to him on the table? That’s how he asks her questions.”
The little boy beside the little girl had gone round-eyed. “But I thought Ghostbusters busted ghosts and put them in jail forever!”
“They do,” another little boy confirmed. “They lock them up in their basement.”
“Not all ghosts,” the librarian explained. “The Ghostbusters only lock up bad ghosts, or ghosts who hurt people.” She indicated the glassed-in room. “They’re the ones who designed this room for Miss Eleanor to live in with her books and the card catalog. They wanted her to be happy.”
“Ghosts can be happy?” The little girl stared through the glass again. The ghostly librarian spotted her and smiled, giving her a little wave, and she waved back enthusiastically. “I’m glad Miss Eleanor is happy.”
The living librarian smiled. “We are too, dear. We are too.”