Cobwebs on My Shelves
by Swetha Amit
I stand there in the middle of a bustling street. Cars are whizzing past me. People walk by me without a second glance. I feel a sense of hollowness inside me. Darkness has engulfed my inner chambers. Those same chambers were once filled with sounds of pages being turned over, footsteps of the librarian, and hushed whispers of members reading. It’s been years since anyone has ventured inside. The heavy rain showers have chipped my coat of white paint. I feel little insects crawling within me. They have made the corners of my inner walls their little webbed homes. Rats scurry inside and probably nibble on the pages of books. The ghosts of those dead authors, cursing me for not caring for myself- an old, dilapidated library building withering away over changing seasons.
I have seen happier days. The steps leading up to my heart would be filled with folks scurrying up and down, with books clasped in the warmth of their embrace. Little children would huddle in the corner cushioned seats, reading books after school. Adults would sit and write in solitude. Oh, and I miss the friendly chatter between the members and staff as they asked for book recommendations. Happy faces. Disappointed faces. Serious faces. Faces scarred with the wrinkles of worry or stained with the remnants of tears. I have seen them all.
It all started with that incident a few years ago. A girl fainted. The one with two thick plaits and glasses-who would be engrossed in Judy Blume. Came here every day at four and left by dinner time. She mostly kept to herself. She was found lying limp near the shelves. Probably lack of sleep or just lack of food. When she regained consciousness, she claimed she heard voices behind her. When she turned, she saw a woman with matted grey hair wearing a black cloak, muttering something, and disappearing between the books. Rumors spread like wildfire that I had evil spirits lurking inside me. Who would have thought city folks would fall prey to small-town grapevine? And then there was another death. This time, an old lady passed out. When help arrived, she had stopped breathing. Then, one night, the librarian observed how books began to tumble from the shelves by themselves. I began to be referred to as the old haunted library. After that, nobody dared to enter me. Overnight, I was orphaned and disowned like that old mill in yonder. Once, there were lights and festivities within me. There was a time when I would host famous authors and listen to them talk to an enthusiastic audience.
I miss the weight of feet trudging up my stairs and the people gazing wistfully at me, awaiting to return the next day. Standing three floors tall, I am still swarmed by trees. Their leaves are yellow like my book’s torn pages—pale ghostly yellow with roaches crawling on them. The icy grey cobwebs linger in every corner, where spiders and their families seek refuge. This eerie solitude unsettles me every day as I turn older.
Then, one day, I see two men enter my premises, stare at me, and engage in hushed whispers. The crunching noise of their feet stepping on fallen leaves rings in my ears. At first, my heart soars in hope at the prospect of being revisited by the human clan. Two weeks later, they arrive again, accompanied by more people and machines. The whirring sound drowns the noise of the cars. I see them coming at me with a force that startles me. Before I can react, I feel parts of me crumbling. Every brick on my wall crushed to smithereens. The trees appear more significant and more distant. I now lay on the muddy ground amidst strewn dead leaves.
Man will now build another source of entertainment where people will engage in more laughter, chatter, and popcorn. The world will move on without a glimpse of the past. Once, in this place stood an old, dilapidated library with the musty smell of old books. Now, it is buried under the muddy earth. Books Beyond Salvation. Books Beyond Recognition. But the spirits of those authors of those books that adorned my shelves will still linger in wrath. Man’s greed destroyed that cobweb home and refuge to little insects. Once, I was a refuge to many. Now, I am no more.
About the Author:
Swetha Amit is an Indian author based in California and a recent MFA graduate from the University of San Francisco. She has published works across genres in Atticus Review, Oranges Journal, Toasted Cheese, and 50+ other journals. Her two stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2022. She is an alumnus of the Tin House Winter 2022, Tin House Summer 2023, and Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop 2022 and 2023. Find her at: https://swethaamit.com