Matthias sat alone. He was often alone. In the dark.
The library’s stacks were his second home as worked the overnight to help pay for his studies. Aside from the occasional query of “Please show me how the printer works, my essay is due at midnight,” he was largely left alone.
His favorite corner of the library was the rare book room as it was housed in the older, non-renovated part of the building. He appreciated its fading but still visible Victorian charm. He’d spent many a night browsing through books that most students never touched, never mind reading.
Sometimes he thought they may contain secrets, or ghosts of secrets. More often than not they contained nothing more interesting than old sermons or the desperate diary entries of lonely spinsters.
The last of the late night procrastinators had left and the early risers had yet to make their way through the wooded path leading from the dorms to the library. He heard the college chapel’s bell chime twice. 2 AM. Opening his tattered canvas backpack fishing his way through notebooks, paperbacks and pens, he withdrew from its depths a small brown paper bag containing his lunch.
Peanut butter again. His limited finances didn’t allow for much more. Sighing he gazed out the window to his left.
In the silence, he became acutely aware of the night outside. The moonlight filtered through the old, distorted, lead-glass windows, casting shadows across the ancient stacks of books. The walls themselves were alive with the interplay of dust and shadowy light. One shadow formed a finger stretching deeper and deeper into the stacks; it’s bony fingertip resting on a single leather-bound tome.
The compulsion, or more accurately the desire, to reach for that book grew until he had to hold it in his hands. Leaving his lunch untouched, he walked into the stacks.
As he cracked open the ancient book and leafed through its cracked and yellowed pages, the stacks, the shadows, the night outside all dissolved as his head dizzied and his heart raced over what he read. Things that were at once revelatory and yet lost to him. He was drawn into a narrative that defied all reason. It spoke of forgotten civilizations, cosmic horrors, and unspeakable mysteries hidden beneath the earth's surface.
Though he had been a diligent student over the past four years, never had he come across such truths that both attracted and repulsed at the mere reading of them. His rational mind resisted, but the words seeped into and infected his being, filling him with a combined sense of dread and awe.
The abyss was staring back at him. It may have been smiling. A dead-eyed smile.
He felt that he had ventured too far. This brief encounter with forbidden knowledge had shaken him. He knew with certainty that if he spent any more time lost in these pages his exterior self would cease to contain his interior turmoil. So, with a sense of dread that refused to dissipate, he closed the book, realizing with chilling certainty that some mysteries were best left unexplored.
* * * * * *
When the day time staff arrived at 6 AM there was no sign of Matthias other than his untouched lunch on the floor of the rare book room.