Back In The Stacks
By Alexandra Erin
Curling our fingers tightly around the hilts and hafts of our weapons, we slunk our way down the row of bookshelves, stopping at the end to peer around the summer reading display there.
“Hold on,” Tommy said. She adjusted her helmet, which kept slipping down over her eyes. It was still too big for her in her third year of hunting. “Okay, I’m good.”
“Shh,” Penelope hissed, much louder than Tommy had spoken. I jumped, and we all glared at her. “Well, we don’t want Ms. Alperstein to hear! She’ll kick us out!”
“Why would she kick us out?” Tommy asked.
“For talking,” Penelope said.
“You’re allowed to talk in libraries,” I said.
“Then why do they have signs everywhere saying to be quiet because people are studying?” Penelope asked.
“Because people are studying,” I said. “Do you want to catch a dragon or not?”
“Of course I want to catch a dragon, that’s why I’m here!” Penelope said.
“Kids, please keep it down back there!” Ms. Alperstein said, from out of sight at the front of the library.
“Then keep it down, like she said, or you’ll scare it away,” I said. “Come on.”
We weaved our way deeper into the stacks, eyes always searching for the tell-tale signs of the book dragon’s passage.
Books left upside down or with their spine turned inwards might have been a dragon’s handiwork, but only if they fit into certain subtle patterns. The dragon would move move in a fittingly serpentine pattern as it scampered sinuously across the shelves, its claws slipping into the cracks between the books for grip.
When the dragon moved from the shelves to the floor, some of the shiny flecks in the tiles would be missing. They would grow back, of course, in a day or two. They always would. This was part of how you knew the trail was recent.
“What’s that?” Tommy asked, pointing upwards. There was a rustling among the paper stand-up snowflakes on top of the shelf. We saw a golden tail flick briefly into view, and then vanish just as quickly.
“I think it’s heading for periodicals,” Penelope said.
“Split up!” Tommy said, and we did.
Ten minutes later, we were kicked out of the library, not so much for talking as for running, making big clanging clattery noises when we dropped our weapons in surprise when the dragon reared up and readied its confetti breath, and for having axes and swords in the library in the first place.
“Honestly, every year,” Ms. Alperstein said to me while waiting for my mother. “You’ve never caught one yet, but every year you try this. I ask you, why?”
“They always hoard the best stories!”
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