by Dash Owens
Check out Chapter 1!
The Brooklyn Public Library stands across from the oft-lauded Prospect Park and the distinguished archway of Grand Army Plaza. When Maeve was alive, she quizzed friends and family — “When was this arch commemorated? For whom? What?” She giggled when they fell into her trap and lobbed “the revolutionary war,” to which she readily returned in a low, firm, knowing voice: “Nope. The Civil War.” Maeve also loved to quiz her guests about Prospect Park, the park designed by the same guy who did Central Park. He liked Prospect Park better (she heard once, and repeated.)
The Brooklyn Public Library is a deceptive building. On the outside, the grey, ancient exterior and Roman style architecture gives its viewer a promise. Wisdom is protected within its walls — famous names are etched into the smooth stone — and no one feels quite like they should be able to breach its doors. Inside the Brooklyn Public Library, you find a lackluster food court (it’s only one coffeeshop) and adjoining rooms that resemble larger community college classrooms. When Maeve first moved to New York, she never suspected she could enter such a building and do something as ordinary as check out a book. If she had ever gone inside, she would have been surprised to find a perfectly regular library full of gently used books.
If Maeve ever went to the library when she was alive, she would have never gone upstairs. What would there be for her up there? She exclusively read fiction, with the occasional Plutarch’s Life or Platonic dialogue thrown in, and nothing was posted to encourage her to brave the stairs. If she had, Maeve would have found several more rooms. There’s one in particular with similar long, wooden tables as the room downstairs. Neat cabinets line the walls around the tables. While technically a common room, an inquiring patron would always be informed by one of the librarians at the desk that the room was reserved. About 5 or 6 people are always in this room. They hunch over books or paper. Most of them seem to be writing, but some are whispering in low volumes. They are ordinary looking people. Middle-Aged? A little younger or older? They were all non-descript for New Yorkers, which is to say they looked like a lot of different people.
Now it may come as a surprise to discover that the whispers were not directed to other human interlocutors, but instead to beings who are imperceptible to most people. These “clerks,” as they are referred to by the imperceptible beings, have the uncanny ability to see others who have, for myriad reasons, ceased to live but continue to linger. The clerks don’t seem interested in answering the question of “why” or “how.” The clerks instead work with these nonsubstantive spirits to answer questions, questions they receive in the mail at a P.O. Box in nearby Prospect Heights. They haven’t met Maeve to ask her any questions, nor are they aware of her existence yet.
On a Friday in the middle of Lent, the clerks were murmuring and scribbling away. In the second floor room. One of the clerks raised her eyes to acknowledge a new presence. Pearl saw Edward — about 5’10, thick-rimmed black glasses, and a light pink-robe wrapped around plaid pajama pants and a white undershirt. Pearl gave an agitated glance to Edward’s bare feet. She never shook the belief that his feet could still sense, and she imagined the texture of gravelly concrete and trash under her own soles, causing her toes to curl with sympathetic discomfort. As Edward approached, Pearl fumbled for a recent envelope. She needed Edward’s assistance uncovering the address of a 24 hour locksmith in Greenpoint, but she dearly wanted to avoid eye contact. Pearl regretted her lack of manners when she interacted with the incorporeal, but clerks were told with solemnity to minimize small-talk and polite interactions. For this reason, Pearl immediately began to read aloud the question as soon as Edward stood a few feet away. Nevertheless, Edward cut in:
“I saw a ghost.”
Pearl stopped and looked around at the other clerks. Another clerk, Cassius, took note of Edward’s proclamation. He moved towards them. Pearl envied Cassius’s ability to look directly at the beings, and she sometimes wondered how many years it took him to shake off the persistent dread of staring at death.
“Belinda? Junie?” Cassius inquired with a dismissive tone.
“No, another ghost. A new one. I’ve never seen her before, and I don’t think she’s old.”
There was one other ghost in the room posted near a clerk. They seemed to hear what Edward was saying, but they were uninterested. Edward had seen him before — he was cracked all over: his skin, voice, even the apparent texture of his forgotten hair. He had never introduced himself, nor had he spoken directly to Edward. The unnamed ghost, who Edward called the ghoul, tended to exist in the room until he was done with the clerk, and then he didn’t exist anymore. Edward once asked Pearl about him, but Pearl rarely acknowledged anything Edward had to say beyond answering her own questions.
Pearl spoke matter-of-factly: “There have been no new additions in New York City since 2003.”
“Well, there is one now. I saw her wandering near the Park shuttle stop.”
Pearl exchanged a single, prolonged gaze with Cassius. They were both performing a mental shuffle through protocols memorized and inventories filed long ago. Then, simultaneous nodding and a quick breath–
“Go find her and bring her to us,” Pearl said, her eyes concentrating on slipping the envelope back into the manila folder labeled with the post-it, “To Do.”