|Tales of the City
by Dan Harris-Warrick
An old-fashioned university library in the heart of New York City. Most of the lights in the windows are off, but one, near the top floor, is still on.
A STUDENT is hunched in a library cubicle, buried deep in the dusty stacks. It is the light of that cubicle that we saw through the window. He stares blearily down at his books.
A BUZZER sounds.
He looks down at his watch without really noticing what it says, then picks up a few books and shoves them in his bag.
He pauses for a moment, and blinks a few times, unsure of what he's doing.
The buzzer sounds again, this time longer and seemingly more insistent.
The student grabs his bag and walks out.
The student walks as though he is on automatic pilot; it's obvious he has walked this route many times before. His eyes wander tiredly from building to building.
This part of the city is old and dirty. The pavement's littered with trash. A few gang signs are sprayed on the walls. All of the storefronts are either guarded by an iron grill or boarded up. A neon sign flickers feebly as the student walks past it. Except for the student, the streets are deserted.
The student's feet keep walking. His mind drifts.
As the student keeps walking, the architechture around him starts to change. It becomes a little more ornate, a little more decorative, a little more Gothic. He doesn't notice.
The student walks past a patch of graffiti sprayed on a stone wall. Instead of the usual gang signs, this graffiti is ancient-looking runes.
A figure in a dark hood passes the student, going the other way. A red eye glints momentarily from under the hood.
The student keeps drifting. The architechture becomes even more Gothic, now including elaborate stone figures of various mythical themes. It is now clearly nowhere in New York. A large stone griffin guards one doorway. The student still doesn't notice anything.
An elf--tall, slender, with pointy ears, a sharp nose and light hair, and wearing a leather jacket--walks by. The student blinks at him, but he's gone before the student can get a good look.
For the first time, the student looks around. He is standing in front of a skyscraper, but a skyscraper that could have been designed by the people who built Notre Dame. It's made completely out of stone, with ornate carvings, tall, thin windows, and elaborate, angry-looking gargoyles.
The student looks completely bewildered. He looks around for street signs, but there are none. The streets around him twist off in odd directions. He scans the skyline for familliar landmarks, but can't find anything he recognizes. He look around for a moment longer, shrugs, then sets off in a random direction.
As the student walks now, he is constantly looking around for anything he can recognize. It's useless. He's completely lost. As before, there are closed stores, but some are labeled in completely unfamilliar characters.
The student spots a man standing on a streetcorner. He walks hopefully toward him, hoping to ask for directions-then stops suddenly as he gets a closer look. The man's face is crawling with silver wires, twisting in and out of his skin like worms. The student jumps back, then, trying to act calm, turns and walks in another direction.
After what seems like an eternity of walking, the student comes to a building labeled "Library." It clearly isn't the library he was in before, but it's lit and open, and the student walks in.
The library has a few reading tables in front. A handfull of strange-looking people are sitting at them, reading ancient books. Behind the reading tables, the stacks vanish into gloom.
As the student walks in, a strange calm descends on him. He belongs here. Everything outside is foreign, but he belongs in this place.
To the right of the entrance is the circulation desk. Seated behind it is the LIBRARIAN, an incredibly old man. His eyes are rheumy, his hands shake, and his face is impossibly withered. He looks hopefully up at the student.
The student looks at him.
The student thinks for a moment.
Before the student's eyes, the librarian shrivels into himself and disintegrates into a pile of dust, which quickly vanishes.
The student shows no surprise. He walks around the circulation desk, sits down behind it, and pulls out a book of library records. He is home.