Wednesday, August 2, 2023

“The Librarian” • by Adriana Kantcheva

The August sky was spilling its insides in unbroken rods of water. By the time I reached the library at Trinity College in Dublin, my dress was completely soaked. I wondered if they would allow me in so wet: yet another wretched tourist.

A shadow moved beside the library. The rain stopped whipping in my face for a second, and the shadow resolved into an old man wrapped in a rain poncho. Strands of wet hair crawled from underneath his hood, which couldn’t keep his long, sharp nose dry. A curving forefinger emerged from underneath the poncho and beckoned to me.

Curiosity gnawed at my caution. I lived my life inside the books I read, wondering when my story would begin. This seemed to be it. I hurried towards the old man. I was about to reach him when he disappeared into a gap. It bore a street sign: Old Library Lane.

I peeked in. The old man skulked down the rain-sodden passage. He opened a door and disappeared into the library building, leaving the door ajar. A wizened hand appeared through the crack and again beckoned to me.

I hesitated. But I so wished to participate in a story worth telling. I pulled the door open to reveal lantern-lit stairs spiraling down. The man’s poncho disappeared behind the nearest turn.

“Where are we going?” I asked when I caught up with my guide.

“To the library.”

“I thought the library was above us.”

“Not all of it.”

I ignored a shiver. “Who are you?”

“The Librarian.”

He smiled a graveyard of browned teeth and removed his dripping poncho to uncover a weathered suit at least two sizes too large. The tails of the bleached coat hung below the backs of his knees.

“Doesn’t the university employ several librarians?”

“But I am the Librarian.” He stopped. “Here we are.”

We halted in front of a second door. I raised an eyebrow at the inscription above it: Caution! Live stories.

We entered a large chamber. Candle flames danced on massive chandeliers. Cabinets reached up to the ceiling, forming a labyrinth of aisles. And the books? There were thousands and thousands of them! Some with ragged edges, others bound in shiny new leather. Some contained not but ten pages, others could stop doors, but all were breathing, whispering with a dry susurrus as if pages turned, covers flapped.

“Let’s see,” the Librarian said. He looked me over. “Definitely a hardcover. Title in uneven letters, I think. Paper of medium weight.”

As he talked, his hands wove colorful jets in the stagnant air. The room spun about me.

“Eleven-point font size, I’d say.” His voice was growing dim. “Gothic style. Page numbering in the bottom margin, centered. Definitely centered…”

The Librarian was still talking, but I could hardly make out the words. He picked me up.

“Bookcase 85 is the right place for you,” I barely heard him say.




Adriana Kantcheva is a Bulgarian writer based in Germany, where she lives with her husband and their three children. After earning a Ph.D. in molecular biology, Adriana worked as a science editor and a researcher, and currently enjoys being a flight attendant. Her writing appears in Short Circuit, Escape Pod, and elsewhere. Find more about her at or connect with her on Twitter @AKantcheva.

“The Librarian” first appeared in Shoreline of Infinity 29.