Short Story: Under the Library

The following short story was submitted to my English teacher for a gothic story assignment.


The sound of thunder woke the previously dormant Nola Porter. Alarmed, Nola’s eyes shot around the room and she realized that she was in the town library. As Nola groggily awoke and brushed back her straight black hair from her pale white face, she tried to make sense of the situation and gradually recalled that she had come to the library to do research for her seventh grade end-of-the-year paper.

Usually, the library was bustling with activity, but as Nola scanned around, she found that the building was eerily silent and all was still. Through the window, Nola could see the pitch black sky. Still believing it to be a dream, she pinched herself, to no avail.

Nola backed out of her seat and left the wooden table where she’d previously been napping. “I wonder what time it is now,” she thought aloud.

She continued down one long aisle to a window to better inspect the conditions. Rain snaked steadily down the glass window as Nola peered out. Through the clouds, she could see a full moon, evidence that night had fallen upon the town of Tuppence, Vermont. A sudden flash of lightning startled Nola and sent her tumbling backwards.

Staving off panic, Nola rushed to the front doors of the library and pulled with all her might. The metal clamps didn’t move an inch. A shocking revelation shot through Nola’s mind- she was trapped in the library for the rest of the night.

Of all of the buildings in the town to be trapped in, the library had to be at the bottom of the list. Constructed in the 18th century out of stone and mortar, the establishment more closely resembled a castle than a library. From the inside, the library resembled a prison- endless rows of books, several wooden tables in a corner, and a total dearth of color. With the dim lighting providing insufficient illumination of the library’s halls and aisles, Nola had no idea what was lurking in the shadows. “I want to be home,” she wished more than anything.

Nola cautiously walked over to the checkout desk near the doors. On the wall, she saw a sign that confirmed her fears- the clock read 12:30. Nola guessed that it would be another seven or eight hours before the librarians would return. It was now a matter of survival.

After a couple minutes of pondering her next step, Nola walked to the other side of the checkout desk and threw open the cabinets in search for any helpful tools. There were a couple stampers, some paper clips, sticky notes, and, after some rearranging and shuffling, a flashlight. Nola pulled out the flashlight and turned on the switch, but the flashlight, apparently operating on low battery, emitted only a dim, inconsistent light. “This would have to work,” Nola thought.

Nola backed out from the cabinet and walked toward the tables. Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again, she reversed course and turned into an aisle to grab a novel to keep her occupied.

After inspecting a couple aisles, Nola turned into one and checked the shelves for the right book. She saw one, a black book with red lettering, and dusted the cobwebs off to reveal the book’s haunting name- The ABC Murders. Suddenly, a loud creak blasted down the aisle and Nola turned to see that the aisle she’d turned into was now a staircase leading down below the floor. The passage was dark even with the illumination of the flashlight, but believing it to be a secret exit out of the library, Nola carefully descended into the darkness. It was a choice she would regret.

The steps led Nola down about 10 feet from the library floor, at which point the floor closed overtop the stairway and a stone wall slowly opened, revealing a spiraling staircase illuminated by burning torches. Now trapped under the library, Nola had no choice but to continue her descent.

Nola’s stomach churned as she apprehensively walked. She jumped when a rat crossed between her legs and raced down the stairs, but she regained her footing and kept walking. The nerves in her body were on edge, bracing for whatever was waiting for her in the shadows.

A chilling howl echoed through the staircase from the bottom and Nola silently screamed and instinctively closed her eyes. The flames on the torches flickered and a chilling wind caused the hairs on Nola’s neck to stand straight up. But Nola knew that there was no use in turning back. In a couple steps, the staircase ended, giving way to a voluminous and dimly lit chamber that sent an overpowering wave of dread through Nora’s bones.

“Who’s there?” Nola choked out, terrified. “Show yourself.”

Nola’s feet were planted in a puddle of water and stayed frozen as she frantically glanced around the damp and cold chamber for another exit. Dim echoes bounced off the walls, but Nola couldn’t tell where they were coming from. She tried to turn on the flashlight, but after one short burst of light the bulb died out.

Nola saw a prison cell in the corner and took a closer look. Then she saw what was in the cell- dozens of rotting skeletons in a heap against the wall. She screamed and jumped back. A strange prickling sensation brushed against her neck and Nola turned around to see, suspended from the ceiling, a damp noose.

Overcome by terror, Nola fell straight on her back. Water drenched her clothes as she hastily tried to stand up and she scampered to the base of the staircase. Clutching the flashlight, Nola sprinted as fast as she could up the stairs. Her panting echoed off the walls but she could still hear feet clapping the ground behind her. Nola didn’t let up, clenching her facial muscles and trying to keep up the frantic pace. Someone, Nola knew, was on her heels and would pounce if she took a false step.

Then, after innumerable twists of the staircase, the stairs straightened and Nola ran out and into the sanctuary of the library. She brashly turned into the next aisle and took refuge behind the row of books. From between the titles, she could make out the feet of her pursuer steadily walking down the next aisle. Tears trickled down Nola’s face, but she didn’t wipe them.

As the feet made their way down the adjacent aisle, Nola scooted in the opposite direction. The figure reached the end of the other aisle and approached her aisle, and Nola frantically scrambled backwards towards the wall. She could not make out the shadow at the end of the aisle and felt herself enter the bright illumination of the full moon. But she was unable to move, for two cold and bony hands clasped her throat.

“Next time,” a voice whispered in Nola’s ear. “Don’t forget to return your library books.”

Nola Porter was never seen again.


The librarian closed her book and smiled at her audience of elementary school-aged children. While she seemed to take amusement at the story, the looks of horror and bewilderment struck on the faces of the children mirrored those of their shocked parents.

“So remember, children,” the librarian cackled. “Bring back your library books on time!”

Before leaving her seat, the elderly librarian gave the children one last ghastly grin.

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