Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Drum roll, please....We have our writing contest winner!

Hello, readers!

November is not just the month where men have an excuse to grow horrid mustaches (claiming it's "Movember" or "No-Shave November"). No, November is also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. In honor of NaNoWriMo, we'd like to publish a fabulous short story by a fabulously talented young writer. This story is the winner of CCPL's 2012 Short Story Writing Contest for Teens (earning a $25 Visa Gift Card!). Check it out, then check out NaNoWriMo's Young Writers Program and start writing your own novel!

The Library Hermit

by Chloe W.




The library is full of secrets.


Some people might think it merely a building full of books. Dull, dusty, and old. But someone taught me the truth: a library is a place of magic. Within the walls and aisles and pages there lies a world of stories where you can find love, adventure, and home when you need it most.

Let me tell you a story of my own, about the extraordinary girl I met there and the world that she showed me.




It happened on a winter day when I was seventeen. The excitement of Christmas had passed and given way to the slowly increasing dread of returning to school. I went to the library in need of a book that we were supposed to read for my English class, but being the massive procrastinator that I am, I had put it off until just a few days before we were scheduled to return. I can’t even remember what the book was now except that it was painfully dull; the worst tragedy that can befall a book, in my opinion.


I found the book in a badly lit, dusty old corner of the non-fiction floor. As I pulled my book out I saw another with a title that caught my interest, The Secret of the Library. I’d always had a fondness for detective novels, growing up with the adventures of Nancy Drew, but this one looked different. It looked special.

I had only tugged it out of the shelf a few centimeters when there was a quiet click, and then a slight creaking sound as the bottom half of the bookcase swung inward to reveal what appeared to be a dark little room.


I retrieved a torch from my knapsack and shined it in the space which was not a little room at all but a tunnel. It had a very low ceiling, so low than unless you were a very young child you should have to hunch over to avoid bumping your head. And being the very curious girl I was, with little hesitation I started going down the tunnel.


It was terribly dark and rather cold, the air permeated by musky smells that comes from being seldom seen by sunlight. After walking for a few minutes, the tunnel turned into a flight of stairs leading downwards. Once I completed climbing down the twenty or so steps, my torchlight flitted about what looked to be a fairly large underground room.


The room was filled with everything, that is the best way to described it. Shelves lined one entire wall, filled to the brim with books of every size and colour imaginable. One corner looked to be something of a kitchen, complete with a hotplate, one very small sink, and even a little makeshift cabinet for the scant few dishes. Another corner was clearly supposed to be a bedroom, complete with curtains surrounding a bed and a nightstand covered with books.


The main part of the room was filled with some work tables and chairs, holding all manner of things. One was covered in a collection of paints, paper, and artwork in varying stages of completion. Another held what looked to be a bow and many arrows, as well as feathers and crafting tools, and my eyes found a very battered target hanging on the far wall. And yet another was layered with pages and pages of a mixture of handwritten and typed paper. But amidst it all there were books everywhere. Children’s books stacked near a couch. Large pictures books left open over tables, chairs, and floor. And novels everywhere, some with rather unnatural bookmarks sticking out, such as a wooden spoon or a tin of tuna fish, to name a few.


Someone clearly lived here, and by the looks of it they had been here for quite some time, such was the amount of accumulated things; what a kind person would call knick-knacks while a not as kind person would refer to as junk.


I walked over the nearest shelf and was just about to pull out an interesting title when I heard someone scream.


I wasn’t alone anymore.






I turned around to see a girl standing in a doorway on the other side of the room that I had previously not seen, looking rather ferocious. The first thing I noticed was how pale she was, and not in an elegant way either, but in a way that suggested she rarely saw sunlight. She was tall and skinny with long tangled bright orangey-red hair, a colour I didn’t even know could actually be found on a person.


“Oh...er, I’m terribly sorry, only I found the tunnel in the bookcase. In non-fiction. And I, well, I came here and was just having a look around. Really I’m so sorry to nose about your home.” I answered.



“Used the bookshelf door, did you? Thanks for that then, I forgot what was the right book so I haven’t used it in ages. So what brings you to my humble abode, outsider?” the girl said.


“Well, I was looking for a book for school you see. And happened to pull The Secret of the Library and so here I am. Do you really live down here?”


“Of course I do! I’m Katherine, the unofficial library hermit, nice to meet you!”


Katherine, in her very worn looking blue jumper and slightly tattered green skirt, had a presence that instantly commanded a room, and she spoke with such enthusiasm that her every sentence ended with a exclamation mark.


“Very nice to meet you,” I replied, “My name is Melody.”


“Hi there! Tell me, Melody, do you like reading?” she asked me, all hostility gone and replaced with a warm kindness and just a sliver of mischief.


“Why yes, I love reading,” I said. “And how old are you, may I ask?”


“Brilliant! Let me show you this really great book I read last night. It was so exciting, come on! Oi, do you fancy a cup of hot chocolate?” She ran over to the hotplate and put the kettle on, then went over to the nightstand and selected a book from the precariously teetering pile and hopped her way back over to me.


The next few hours were ones I will never forget as long as I live. We just started chatting and it ended up going on for ages, with our conversation touching almost everything, from a discussion on the characters of The Great Gatsby to a rather lively debate on the various merits and faults of sunflowers. I told Katherine all about my family and my childhood, but she always managed to turn the conversation back to me before I could ask about her. Back then I was too enthralled with my new friendship to give it much of a bother, and thought that she was merely very interested in me. In retrospect, I wish I had tried harder to learn about the mysterious past of Katherine, but I never got a chance and she never told me.


After quite a few hours we parted, as I had to get home for dinner, with the promise of another visit the following Saturday. On my walk home, I told myself that next week I would get answers, especially to how this girl came to live alone in a forgotten secret basement of my local library.





For the remainder of winter and the better part of spring, about every week I would go and visit Katherine for a few hours. We never did exactly the same thing. Sometimes we painted or shot arrows or old played games from Katherine’s rather impressive collection of them, but for the most part we just talked and drank hot chocolate.


I learned that Katherine had been living in the library basement, or her “lair,” as she preferred to call it, for two years, and over those years had managed to rig up electricity from the library for her lamps and hotplate, as well as water for the sink. She also “borrowed” her food from the surprisingly well-stocked staff kitchen.


We would sometimes talk about our childhood, but Katherine was always slightly vague and whenever I did press her about her life or why she came to live there she only replied, “Oh, that’s dull as bricks! Let’s talk about something fun!” and change the subject. I soon learned to avoid bringing it up altogether, knowing I would only make things tense for us.


Despite her standoffishness and rather unorthodox way of living, those few months were some of the happiest times of my life. I had a friend who I got on so well with, who I shared so many common interests with, and who was such a joy to be around. I never considered it wouldn’t just go on forever.


But things never last, and as much you want them to and hard as you try to keep everything the same, they never do.


It was one afternoon late in the month of May, when I mentioned how tiring it was having to fill out so many university applications.


“University? Mels, why in the world do you need to go there. You could learn everything you need to here at the library with me!”


I was worried I would upset her, as she was easily upset by my talking about anything further in our futures than next week.


“Well yes, Katherine, I have to go to university so I can get a degree and get a job. That’s just what you do.”


“You can just come live in the library with me. We’d have tonnes of fun!” she said with her trademark enthusiasm.


I remember actually considering just leaving everything, my family,  my education, the one or two sort-of friends I had. Just forgetting it all to live in Katherine’s world, where every day was a new chance for some kind of shenanigans, where freedom was vast, but it wasn’t unlimited.


Except I was excited for university. I wanted to finally take classes that were interesting, to maybe find some decent friends, go to parties, to do normal university activities.


“No, I can’t, Katherine,” I replied, and cracked the bubble we had been living in together the last few months, “I want to go to university and have a proper life. I’m going to get married and have kids and live in a house with a garden and I won’t stay down here rotting away with you in your dungeon of a home. I will go outside and see the world and I will not stay hidden away because I’m scared of everything I can’t control and keep hidden with me.”


“WHAT?” she said, her face becoming a mass of fury I had never seen before. I had insulted her home and her way of life, the two things most precious to her. “You want to go live in the world where people are cruel and heartless? Don’t tell me that isn’t true, because I know it is. I didn’t always live here, you know, and I love the way I live because it’s safe and nobody will ever hurt me again. Nobody!” She was almost crying, and now I felt extremely guilty for causing her any pain.


“Katherine. Please. I’m sorry. I like the way you live but I want to do more than just read and shoot arrows. I’ll still visit you, even if I live far away, when I come home for holidays,” I replied, trying to piece together our old closeness. Trying to keep things the way they were. “Everything will be fine, you’ll see! Should we make some hot chocolate?”


“No.” said Katherine with a little laugh, all anger dead and gone, leaving behind only sadness. “I think it’s time for you to go. It’s getting late. Your mum might worry.”


“But are you still mad at me? Are we still alright?”


“We’re okay, Mels. I’ll see you next week.” she replied, with only a hint of her usual cheer.


I was tempted to stay and work things out with her, the tension not gone as much as it had a band-aid put on that would inevitably fall off. But I didn’t want to be home late, and I thought we could just sort it out properly next week. And so with an, “Okay, I’ll see you next week, Katherine!” I left.


“Goodbye Melody.”


Just before I went up the stairs, I looked back and saw her standing there, something she had never done before. Usually the second I started walking away she was up and moving a thousand kilometres an hour, off to start a new project. But this time she was still, her massive mess of red curls still, with a sad smile on her face.


I never saw her again.




When I returned next week as usual, Katherine’s room was dark. I had never seen it without all the lights on before, even that first time I saw it everything was bright and alive.


“Katherine?” I called. Before, she had always been there waiting for me.


I used my torch to find the switch and turn on all her various lamps. Nothing was different. The tables were still covered with all manner of projects, her bed unmade as usual, and the books everywhere.


Then I saw the note. On the couch where we had spent many hours talking together lay a small piece of folded paper with “Mels” written in Katherine’s sloppy writing on the front.


I was slightly shocked to see the multitude of tearstains dotting the page, covered in words that became less and less legible until they finally and messily ended with her lonely initial.




I’ve taken your advice and gone to try and find myself a proper life. I won’t be coming back to the library. It was such a privilege and joy to be your friend these last few months and I’ll always fondly remember all the laughs we had. Have a fantastic life!


I’m sorry.




I read it over a few times, trying to process that she was actually gone. It was my fault, I thought. My words had pushed her to leave her home and leave me without her.


Katherine’s energy was so great that it couldn’t help but manifest in even a simple goodbye note, she was always so full of spirit and excitement, ready for the next adventure. Only the orphaned “I’m sorry” confused me. What was she apologising for, moving out? I couldn’t contain my happiness for her; she had finally left her self-imposed imprisonment and was going out into the world to live her life.


And so with a hopeful spring in my step that maybe someday I would see Katherine, now tan and healthy but still just the same, I turned off all the lights and left the basement for the last time, a place that would become only a memory.




During the next few weeks, I developed a habit of scanning the newspaper my father got every morning for something, anything, that may have even hinted at Katherine. Maybe a story about a young girl who found her long lost family and was happily living with them in a nearby town, or better yet a teenager who had taken the movie business by storm with her fiery hair and personality to match. I missed her, of course, but contented myself imaging all kinds of fantasies in which Katherine finally found herself a proper life.


Unfortunately my newspaper perusing was all for naught. I read plenty of articles about who was most likely to win the upcoming elections. There was one very sad article about a girl who had jumped off the bridge just the week before, and a rather colourful article on catfish farming, but nothing that could be about Katherine.


I slowly accepted the fact that I might never know what my dear friend Katherine went on to become, but I comforted myself knowing that whatever she did, she would do it brilliantly.


And so I went on to attend university, which wasn’t as fun as I had built it up to be. Followed by a number of jobs I hated until I finally found one I hated slightly less than the others. I had a number of relationships, but none of them ever amounted to anything. Many times over the years, I wished for the easy playfulness of the library basement with Katherine.




I never did find out what happened to Katherine, despite a lifetime of searching for information.


But I will always remember those months of afternoons with her. She taught me to always look deeper when reading books, to imagine characters as people and really think about things like author intent and metaphors.


She taught me that the library is more than just a building full of books and more than a place of knowledge; it is a home. But for me and Katherine it was refuge for two lost souls who needed each other.

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