Most towns have a library. They’re public buildings, institutions of knowledge and fantasy. The books held within are almost sacred; librarians and their assistants: the priests and acolytes of knowledge and lore.
Some libraries, however, are not public. They hold forbidden secrets and untold stories.
Congratulations, reader. This is your invitation. Welcome to the Library of Shadows.
* * * * * *
I was always interested in literature, marveling at writers creating entire worlds in the form of text on a page. Literature was my escape, and as a child, I spent huge amounts of time in the local library. I read everything I could get my hands on, filling my head with facts, theories, and countless stories. I read about great wars between magical races. I read of mankind traveling among the stars. I read of human technology with no understanding of what it could mean. I was always driven by a thirst for more.
It wasn’t until college that I discovered The Library.
I earned my invitation in college. It was Halloween, and instead of partying with my classmates, I was in the university library, reading. I had a kindle, but there really wasn’t any replacement for a real, pulp-and-ink book. I’d sit there for hours, intoxicated by the slightly musty smell of pages waiting to be turned. The reverent silence of the library was a welcome break from long days of lectures and homework. Library staff would clear the building out at 10, starting on the top floor of the building, sweeping for undergrads cramming last-second for tomorrow morning’s test, or grad students desperately researching for their doomed thesis project. When the librarians came around, they’d beg. “Just another hour!” they’d cry. “Please!”
But the reply was always the same.
“The library is closing now. You’re welcome to come back tomorrow.”
But not me. I respected the library. Instead of begging for more time, I would simply ask the librarians if I could bookmark my page and have them hold the book for me overnight. Always, they would smile and say yes. This night was no different.
As I packed my bag and headed outside into the crisp autumn air, leaves crunching underfoot, I plugged in my headphones and turned on some music. Looking up, I noticed the moon, full but half covered by clouds. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Time to return to my classmates, I thought.
I took the “stoner path” through the woods back to the dorms. I’m happier when I can extend my isolation just a few more moments. The woods are dark, the canopy thick with pine needles and maple leaves. Occasionally, a beam of moonlight squeezes its way through to light my path.
Before long, I realize my walk is taking longer than usual. Looking around, not recognizing any of the trees around me, I notice a light in the distance. That must be the dorms. I was so busy blocking out the world that I lost the path and very nearly got lost myself. I head in the direction of the light.
Several minutes later, I stop walking and turn off the music, straining to hear the sound of late-night debauchery from the dorms. I hear nothing. The light is closer, but I realize I’m lost. This part of the woods is eerily silent, and the moon no longer penetrates the dense tree cover. I am completely and utterly alone. Still I walk towards the light, knows how to make it back to campus. I check my watch, 10:45. It’s getting late.
Finally, I’m able to make out the shape of a building. It’s three stories tall, with worn stone steps leading up to five arches. Behind them is a single caged light over a set of tall double doors, made of a smooth, dark wood and held together with two-inch thick iron bands. It looks heavy and hangs on sturdy-looking hinges. There’s an iron knocker on each door in the shape of a snarling dragon’s head. I raise my hand and knock, three times.
The sound of metal on wood is loud and hollow, I hear it echo beyond the door. No answer. As I’m about to give up, the doors open inward, soundlessly. My hair stands on end. Before me lays an empty hallway with a large circular desk illuminated by a single hanging light. I can just about make out the shape of a person sitting at the desk.
I call out tentatively, “Hello?”
Before I can finish speaking, my ears are assaulted by a loud shushing noise that seems to emanate from the walls. I wince. My voice echoes. The shushing does not.
I approach the desk, the sound of my slightly damp sneakers squeaking on the floor my only companion. The voice that lives in the back of my head wishes I’d kept my music playing. The person sitting at the desk looks up. She’s a severe-looking older lady, her gray hair pulled back into a tight bun. She’s wearing silver-rimmed half-moon glasses on a fine silver chain.
“Can I help you?”
She sounds annoyed, as if my presence has interrupted an important task.
I manage to stammer, “Yes, I think I’m lost. How can I get back to campus?”
Her expression shifts to amused.
“Oh, it’s your first time. I see.”
I’m shaking. I realize the air around me is cold. Cold enough that I can see my breath. The receptionist makes a note in a ledger I can’t see.
“Welcome to The Library of Shadows.”
The words hang in the air for a moment. The what?
“I just really need to get back to campus. Is there a phone here? Do you know where we even are?”
I check my watch again. 11:15. Shit. Sensing movement behind me, I look over my shoulder and catch a glimpse of the doors shutting. My heart starts racing.
Soft, diffuse light rises behind the desk, exposing the back of the building. Immediately behind the receptionist’s desk, a grand staircase made of stone and carpeted in a deep purple carpet, trimmed with silver rises 15’ high, to the second-floor landing. Behind that, row upon row of bookshelves stand tall, filled with books.
Hooded figures meander between the shelves in silence. Some are pushing carts filled with books to be returned to the shelves, others browsing the shelves. One or two are sitting, propped against a bookshelf, reading.
A warmth begins to radiate throughout my body, starting in my chest. I feel like I’ve been welcomed home.
The receptionist speaks again, a softer voice this time. She repeats herself: “Welcome to the Library of Shadows.”
She hands me a black metal card with silver text on it. It reads Welcome to the Library. On the back is a silver book icon with a circle on the cover.
“This is your library card. Any time you need The Library, go for a walk and place your thumb in that circle. Feel free to explore, but be careful in the basement… Remember, The Library is always hungry.”
Publisher’s Note: The author requests that if you enjoy what you’ve read and would like to support them, you may do so by showing your support to non-profit organization, The Treatment Advocacy Center, at Treatmentadvocacycenter.org. The Treatment Advocacy Center was founded in Arlington, Virginia, by E. Fuller Torrey, MD, in 1998. Dr. Torrey had worked for 15 years at a Washington, DC, clinic for homeless people with severe mental illness and authored Out of the Shadows: Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis about the criminalization of mental illness.
In the fifteen years since its founding, the Treatment Advocacy Center has participated in the improvement of treatment laws in nearly half the U.S. states and promoted the implementation of those laws. It has produced a manual for mental health professionals who are implementing assisted outpatient treatment (AOT); fought state hospital closures; published evidence-based research on topics including the impact of untreated severe mental illness on law enforcement, the criminalization of mental illness and anosognosia (“lack of insight”); filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court and state courts; raised public awareness of mental illness treatment issues through active media outreach; and otherwise served as a watchdog for and champion of expanded treatment options for its target population.
Dr. Torrey has said he was motivated to found the organization by a conviction that “until we find the causes and definitive treatments for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, we have an obligation to try to improve the lives of those who are suffering.” Today, he says, “The Treatment Advocacy Center is the only organization willing to take on this fight.”
The Treatment Advocacy Center is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating legal and other barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness. The organization promotes laws, policies and practices for the delivery of psychiatric care and supports the development of innovative treatments for and research into the causes of severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The Stanley Medical Research Institute is a fully integrated supporting organization to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
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