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Hell On Wheels

Chapter Text

Ch.1

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New York City is a bustling place full of people, animals, and cars. An annoyingly few places within the city will give you close to true peace, one place being the New York City Public Library. Its proud stone lions stand at attention, defending the peace normally found inside the building. Blocking most of the steps main walkway is workers on scaffolding cleaning the lions. Today there is a thrum in the air. The normally bustling building is mostly empty. A chill coming from deep within the bowels of the building is radiating and echoing outwards, scaring the pigeons away from the steps and the wave of normal visitors. The few brave or dumb enough to tempt the warning are those tired college students who haven’t finished their assignments and people who don't know any better. 

 

Inside, the building stands unusually empty and quiet for this time of day. Most of the desks are empty, every patron in their own quiet bubble,save for the librarian. She is nearly the perfect image of what comes to mind when you think of a librarian: an old lady with graying hair held in a tight up-do, only a few wispy hairs out of place, thin wire glasses to help her read fine print titles, tied with a beaded string around her neck and a slight purse in her lips from the noisy patrons to the library. This woman, Alice, fit the image, completing the look with a half-full book cart. She pushes through the main reading room: big and cavernous, with high ceilings and halfway empty tables. She makes it across the room, picking up the few books left out by the patrons and is even handed a few by some of the dead on their feet, college students littering the tables. The one student that catches her eye, causing her to linger, is a middle aged man that smells like leather grease. He had handed Alice a book on shipwrecks. 

 

With her cart now filled, Alice makes her way down to the basement to put the books away and place the ones needing to be taken upstairs to the main shelves in a separate cart. Once in the basement, the tall shelves and low ceiling all serve to create a feeling of deep foreboding, like something's wrong in the bones of the space. It is the kind that makes the air tight in buildings where tragedies have happened. There is a point, right before she crosses the final threshold from the elevator, where a younger person probably would have run away and not finished the work, but Alice is not a younger person. She is wiser, older. She should know better than to let idle fears get in her way.

 

As Alice files and places the books on their proper shelves, a chill enters the room, despite the light from upstairs filling the entryway. Her breath comes out in puffs, which makes little sense for the season, as it is early fall. The answer Alice gives herself is that the underground basements of the library have always been cold. 

 

She continues counting and stacking books. She notices an inconsistency in the row. There should be 20 books. Alice just put two of them away, but there are only 17. When she goes back to her cart to count the stack and find the misplaced books, she hears a soft whooshing noise, like the sound of books being moved.

 

Alice quickly moves around and is met with nothing. The hallway is empty, save for the stacks of books and the few straggling carts and the row of filing cabinets. Nothing is out of place. Alice turns back to her stacking and counting, thinking at first that she might be making mistakes in her old age. No, she's been a librarian for 40 years at this point. Making mistakes, like losing books, at her age is quite uncouth.

 

Settling on dealing with the rest of the books later or leaving them for an intern, Alice hears an unfamiliar noise: the opening of a metal filing drawer. She curses herself for letting an overactive mind impede her duties. Alice is a woman grounded firmly in reality, so the cause of the noise must be one of the other library workers down here with one of those headsets on. The noise sounds off again, loud and rusty. Alice should not be hearing anything of the sort if she is alone; the hallway sits quietly, with no footsteps, there should be no one at the filing drawer in the hallway Alice is in. 

 

She moves further down the hallway and Alice is now in front of the filing drawer. The drawer pulled out of place is L to M. As calm as Alice can; she pushes it back. It closes once before quickly opening back up. Assuming this is a prank, she calls out for the new intern Frank to see if he'd tied strings to the drawers to make them pull out. Some preparation for a holiday prank that she won't be a part of. Then another drawer opens and then another. All the drawers open simultaneously with a cacophonous noise that better belongs in a garage than a library. 

 

The paper cards fly with more speed and fury than Alice would have ever assumed towards her. She puts her arms out to defend against the would-be paper projectiles. Some cards cut her hands, a sharp sting following the assault. 

 

Completely disturbed and upset at the pressing development, Alice makes her way back out of the hallway, trying to make for the stairs that lead back up to the main part of the library. There are people up there, not the lonely foreboding of the dank darkness down here. Alice doesn't make it all the way up there before she runs into another body. Alice is greeted with the form of a woman bathed in pink light holding a book. 

Alice finds herself noting, as she starts deep breathing to calm herself down, that she's under a light, offering some childish form of protection.  

 

The woman's hair is a well-maintained bun of white, a few strands coming off around her face, soft and feminine, almost a mirror of Alice’s own up-do. She's wearing clothes that don't fit the era, at least 100 years out of date. The lady lifts her hand to her mouth and hushes Alice with a single soft finger. An idle thought passes through Alice’s mind about the women’s appearance, to which she chalks up to the fright she just suffered. The women’s feet give the impression that she's not touching the ground.

 

Alice begins to apologize to the figure. It's only polite being raised as she was. She is struck silent as the figure turns, looking up from the book. The women’s hand is made of translucent skin, and delicate bones pick through. As the figure holds the finger over her lips to let out a ‘shushing’ noise, the already cold air drops in temperature. 

 

The small hairs on the back of Alice’s neck stand up. There is a voice in the back of her head, growing louder as Alice opens her mouth one last time to apologize or remedy the situation with whatever ghostly impression of a human she has offended. 

 

She isn't even able to get out an attempt at an apology before her ears start ringing.

 

The creature in front of her is suddenly no longer human, ghastly as it’s mouth opens, wide and monstrous. It lets out an earsplitting noise, Alice can barely comprehend it before she is reeling backwards, as darkness overtakes her vision