Mandy Thompson sat in her usual spot in the Miskatonic library, her books arranged in neat piles around her. Those she had checked, on the left; those still needing investigation on the right, notebook in the middle. Her research - for Dr. Matheson, today - was time-consuming, but often interesting. She especially loved to read the site reports from Egypt - some day she would go there herself, but for now, she had to be content with reading about other scholars' digs.
Dr. Matheson was particularly interested in numismatics - old coins. That wasn't the interesting part, though, at least not as far as Mandy was concerned. It was the other details she came across along the way that fired her imagination to the point where she could almost feel the hot desert sun on her face, even in the cold New England autumn. The shaded tombs and ancient papyri with arcane inscriptions... so much more exciting than boring old Arkham…!
Mandy stretched, imagining her future career as an archaeologist. She didn't have the money to go to graduate school yet - her family were not well-off, and thought archaeology a useless and inappropriate subject for study in any case. But her work as a researcher was steady, and she was able to save a little bit from each paycheck. With a little luck, she might get a scholarship that would help her out too…
A sudden thump and shriek jolted her from her daydream. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" A young blonde woman in a blue cardigan and pencil-skirt, pushing a trolley laden high with books, had bumped into her desk, sending volumes to the floor with a crash that sounded like thunder in the quiet of the library. Miss Foreman, the elderly librarian at the desk, glared at both of them. It looked as if the girl might get into trouble for this, and Mandy felt sorry for her.
"It's all right," she said quickly, helping to pick up the books.
"The wheel on this stupid thing... it never goes straight," the young librarian said ruefully. "I hope none of the books are damaged."
"I'm sure they're fine," Mandy reassured her. "Do you work here, or...?"
The other woman nodded. "My name's Daisy Walker. I just started here last month. You must be a student here... oh, or are you a professor? I didn't mean to assume, but you're so young, I just figured..."
Mandy smiled. "I'm a researcher for some of the professors. I just like to imagine I'm a student."
Daisy returned her smile, but it quickly faded when she saw the stern look on Miss Foreman's face. "I'd better get back to work and stop bothering you, then," she said quietly, and walked off, pushing the cart. Mandy watched her go, admiring the way her skirt hugged the generous curves of her hips...
She was distracted from her pleasant daydream by a strange sight. The pages of one of the books on her desk were turning by themselves, as if lifted by a strong breeze. The strange part was that she could feel no draft, and none of the other volumes seemed to be affected. She tried to stop the pages from turning, but they fluttered stubbornly against her hand. There was definitely no wind that she could perceive - the window beside her was shut tight. "What's going on?" she said aloud, attracting another stern glare from Miss Foreman.
The book was bound in a sickly greyish-green leather, flaking with age. She couldn't remember having picked it off the shelves, and there hadn't been any books on the table when she'd sat down. The librarians were always very stern with people who left their books lying around, and quick to put away any tomes left unattended. Maybe it had fallen off Daisy's cart and gotten mixed up. She lifted up the cover to try and get a glimpse of the title. The Book of Anubis. It could have been in the same section as the archaeology books, then - Mandy still wasn't sure she fully understood the library's idiosyncratic organizational scheme, but the books on Egypt tended to be together. It definitely wasn't a site report, though.
It was written in spidery hieratic, which she wasn't completely proficient in reading yet, but the words she was able to make out at first glance hinted at sinister rites, prophecies of doom. The illustrations were still more disturbing - hand-drawn maps, sketches of buildings, but certainly not of Egypt - places that looked far more familiar, and all the more unsettling for that familiarity. A strange tower that looked more like a Massachusetts lighthouse than the Pharos of Alexandria; a building with a sign that looked remarkably like Velma's Diner... why, that one looked almost like the library itself!
Perhaps it was a personal notebook one of the professors had written that had ended up being shelved by an overzealous librarian... or a new one, like Daisy. The idea occurred to her that she could go ask the young woman if she'd misplaced the book, but now Mandy was curious. She could bring it back before she left... it wouldn't hurt to look at it for a little while. Mandy settled in to decipher the book, since it seemed so insistent on being read.
When she looked up again, it was dark outside, and all the other students studying had gone for the night. She rubbed her eyes, trying to figure out how the time had passed so quickly. The book had been challenging to read at first, and she was still uncertain about some of her translations, but it had been mesmerizing once she'd gotten into the flow of the handwriting. Mesmerizing and terrifying all at once. It was not an old book, couldn't possibly be, even though the cover and binding looked ancient. But surely no ancient tome could speak of events in Arkham, signs and portents that seemed to have an uncanny resonance with things she had recently seen... The latter half of the pages were blank. She stood, shutting the book abruptly, but its madness seemed to have wormed its way into her mind.
She stepped over to the window, pushing it open for a breath of fresh air. On the street below, an old hobo and his dog stood under the feeble glow of a streetlight. He looked up at her and tipped his hat, and she felt, somehow, as if he understood her fears. The moon hung low in the sky, full and red. The book had referred to a red moon, had said it would be the final portent that would presage the return of the so-called Ancient One. As Mandy watched, something too big to be a bird was briefly silhouetted against the scarlet surface. She shut the window and turned away, more unsettled than before.
A tap on her shoulder made her jump. "Sorry!" It was Daisy again. "I just wanted to let you know I'm closing up for the night. I said your name a couple of times, but I don't think you heard me. You must have been miles away!"
"I guess so," Mandy said slowly. "Listen... was this book on your cart?" She turned to her desk to show Daisy the strange book, but it was nowhere to be seen.
"Which book?" Daisy asked.
"...It was just here," Mandy said, feeling as if she might be going mad. "It was green and sort of old-looking, and it said The Book of Anubis on the cover..."
Daisy shook her head. "I think I'd remember if I'd seen that. Sorry. Do you need to find it again?"
Mandy was torn. On the one hand, she wished she'd never seen the book in the first place. On the other hand, it was unsettling to think it had just ... disappeared, or into whose hands it might have fallen. "Do you mind helping me look?"
"Of course not," said Daisy with a friendly smile. Together they looked on all the nearby desks, and under them, and then on the chairs and the window-ledges and in the wastepaper basket. Finally, Mandy threw up her hands in frustration, but Daisy didn't seem fazed. "Somebody might have reshelved it," she suggested. "We can look it up in the card catalog and see if maybe it's back on the shelf."
"I guess that's why you're the librarian," Mandy said with a hint of a smile. Just having Daisy there to talk to set her mind more at ease, and made all the strange things she'd seen that day seem less frightening. There was something comfortingly normal about her. And it didn't hurt that she was cute, which further helped to take Mandy's mind off her growing sense of apprehension.
She followed her to the card catalog and watched as the librarian leafed through the records. "How do they organize the books here?" she asked curiously. "It's not like any library I've ever been to before."
"Oh, I know!" Daisy said, rolling her eyes. "The first librarian here developed his own cataloging system and they still follow it even though it doesn't really make sense. It took me two weeks just to start to get the hang of it, and there are still lots of parts I don't understand, like why architecture books go in the same section as physics, and language and literature is all mixed in with occult... Here we go, The Book of Anubis. Oh, the card's ripped, it's coming right out!" She carefully removed the card, holding its place with one finger, and looked at it more carefully. "Someone's pulled this out, ripped it, and stuck it back in," she said, frowning. "Half the information's missing, too. All I can see of the author's name is that it ends with '-ius', that's not helpful at all!"
"There's something written on the back," Mandy pointed out. Daisy flipped it over and her rosy cheeks drained of color, becoming pale. "What is it?" Mandy asked, feeling her anxiety begin to grow again.
"It's handwritten, and it just says 'GET OUT...'" There might have been more, but it's torn... I don't know what it said."
"It's probably nothing," Mandy said, though she didn't really believe that. "Is there enough information from what's left to find out where the book should be shelved?"
"Y-yes," Daisy stammered, "it's in the Asenath Derby Memorial Reading Room. But ... it is past closing time now, maybe we should come back and look for it tomorrow?"
Mandy felt a cold shiver crawl over her skin at the idea of leaving the library for the streets of Arkham, alone. Exposed. "I hate walking after dark. I never usually stay out this late."
Daisy looked sympathetic. "Where do you live?" she asked suddenly. "We could walk part of the way home together. I've got a place in French Hill. Is that on your way?"
"It is now," Mandy said, making up her mind. She actually lived in Easttown, but French Hill was sort of on the way, and she was glad of the offer for company. "Let me just get my things and we'll go."
"Same," said Daisy. "Meet me by the front door in five minutes."
Mandy resisted the urge to run back to her seat and grab her notebook and bag, not wanting Daisy to think she was frightened - or overly excited, either. Still, she thought there might have been a little reciprocal spark from the librarian, and was looking forward to maybe angling for an invitation up to her apartment for a drink and seeing where things might lead. The library at night seemed larger than during the daytime, full of darkened alcoves and shadows that moved when you caught them out of the corner of your eye. She made her way back to her desk and began packing up her things. Outside on the green, she caught a flicker of movement, a dark form crossing the quad. It shuffled more than walked, as if its legs weren't attached quite right. That old hobo, she thought, it must be. I've seen him around lots of times, he's harmless. The thought wasn't as reassuring as it could have been. She stuffed her notes in her satchel, tugged on her coat and hat, and half-ran, half-walked toward the library's entrance.
She stepped into the marble foyer, her high heels echoing up to the vaulted ceiling. Daisy was by the door already, and with the light behind her, Mandy couldn't make out her features. But she did see Daisy slipping a book into her purse. She couldn't see it clearly, but it was just about the same size as the Book of Anubis had been.
Doubts began to gnaw at her. Daisy could have planted the book for her to read... Daisy had had the opportunity to take it from her while she was distracted, looking out the window... And now Daisy was offering to walk home with her, with a mysterious book in her purse, and there was someone - or something - creeping around outside in the bushes. Mandy felt an unreasoning panic growing within her, as if she was being led into a trap.
Daisy turned and waved, noticing Mandy standing there. "Ready to go?" she asked, with what sounded like a forced cheerfulness. On the moonlit grounds behind her, some misshapen form crouched in the shadow of the statue of Chancellor Dunham, and seemed to beckon to her in a twisted mimicry of Daisy's gesture.
"I... no, I can't!" Mandy cried, and bolted from the room, back into the relative safety of the library. As she ran, she could hear Daisy calling her name, but she tried to ignore her - it was all just a ruse, a cruel trick...
She ran blindly through the darkened stacks, not looking where she was going, until she ran headlong into a bookshelf that she would have sworn wasn't there before. She staggered back, and books tumbled to the floor around her. In the moonlight that slanted through a window, she could see, lying open on the floor before her, the Book of Anubis. So Daisy hadn't stolen it from her after all! She felt a surge of relief as she reached down to pick up the volume. It was lying open to one of its blank pages, except, in the silvery light, it didn't look blank any longer. Instead, there was writing on it in a language that was both unfamiliar and, somehow, known to her. The words formed in her mind and came out of her mouth nearly simultaneously, her tongue somehow wrapping itself around the arcane syllables. The markings swirled before her eyes, and a black hole appeared at the center of the page, its edges flickering with a lambent green light, growing larger and larger until it engulfed her...
The following morning, the janitor reported the mess to Miss Foreman, who sighed and sent Daisy to clean it up. Daisy reshelved the fallen books carefully in order - all but one, which she stared at for a long moment before tucking it under her arm and taking it back to her desk. She also took the pair of high heels lying abandoned in the midst of the pile to the lost and found, in case their owner should return looking for them some day. She wasn't overly hopeful, but stranger things had happened...