Rowan sighed heavily as he placed yet another book on the tall shelves. He had been maneuvering through the narrow aisles of the library bookshelves all day. There couldn’t be more than two and a half feet between each shelf, and he was just short enough that he couldn’t see the books on the top row. He was exhausted and sweaty because he was on the sixth floor of the library, and that floor was particularly warm and very poorly ventilated. The air up there was so still and thick that Rowan was sure he constantly breathed in dust and airborne fungus.
Now, Rowan actually loved his job, but today the solitude of shelving books was getting to him. He was having a hard time with his anxiety, and spending that much time alone with only his thoughts was enough to put him on the verge of an anxiety attack. It didn’t help that he felt extremely claustrophobic because each aisle seemed endless. It was a huge library, but he was stuck in seemingly one of the tiniest spaces he had ever been in.
Luckily for him, no one really came to study on this floor because of how warm it was. Plus, most students would study in the collaborative study spaces on the lower floors, that way they could talk and not get in trouble for it. This allowed Rowan to take as many breaks as he wanted; really, he needed them because he had to stop often for water and to catch his breath. Some of the books on this floor were particularly heavy, and he was constantly squatting and standing to put them in their right place.
It had been approximately an hour since his last break, so he decided to sit down right by his cart, which he wedged between two shelves to give him an added layer of privacy. He took a heavy gulp of water and played around on his phone for a bit. It was extremely quiet on this floor save for the sounds coming from the mechanical closet, which was about 30 feet away from where he was.
In order to preserve the books, the lights above each aisle would automatically shut off after a few minutes, and when this happened, Rowan was able to sit comfortably in a dim aisle where no one would see him easily.
At first, everything was still, and Rowan sat scrolling through his various social media, and suddenly he heard a weird noise. It sounded like something was scurrying over the ceiling tiles above him. Whatever it was sounded huge, and he was immediately scared that it was a large raccoon. He sat extremely still and followed the scuttling sound with his eyes. It stopped just as it reached the mechanical room doors, which he could barely see through the books on his cart. He moved slowly to get a better look.
He was lucky that his slight movement did not set off the motion sensing lights ahead, so he was able to remain in semi-darkness. He was about to sit back again and assume that it was nothing, when a movement caught his eye.
He gasped quietly as he saw the door begin to open. At first he thought that the library was haunted, which seemed irrational, but the 6th floor was secluded and empty. It wasn’t too much of a stretch that something weird would happen up there. Instead of a ghost, though, he saw a man. This man seemed normal enough. He was tall, with some stubble on his chin. He wore the same light gray shirt and black pants that were given to the maintenance technicians at the library. For the most part, he looked like an ordinary man, save for a rigid scowl plastered on his face.
Rowan watched as the man peered left and right before exiting the mechanical closet. As he did so, he took a rag out of his pocket and wiped his hands with it. It was a dark rag, but it seemed to be covered in a rusty-colored stain.
He walked away slowly, surveying the aisles as he passed. When he looked down the aisle that Rowan was in, Rowan was sure that he had seen him. The man paused for a moment as he squinted into the dim aisle, craning his neck to see if someone was there. When he had assured himself that he was alone, the man continued walking, sticking the rag back into his pants pocket.
Automatically, Rowan was suspicious of him. While normally he would have just assumed that it was a maintenance man doing his job, he couldn’t get past how sketchy the man had been as he exited the mechanical room. And whatever was on that rag, it looked like blood.
He could hear the man as he walked towards the elevators, and he didn’t dare even breathe until he heard the elevator doors close and begin their descent. He looked over at the mechanical closet door and noticed that the man hadn’t closed it completely. The latch was resting on the frame of the lock, so while it normally auto-locks when it closes, it was still open for Rowan to investigate.
He walked quickly and quietly to the door and opened it, using his phone as a flashlight to see into the darkness. It was surprisingly roomy in there, with creepy looking stairs leading down to the mechanical rooms on the other floors. Rowan looked around to see if there was an outlet or anything that would explain what the man had been doing moving around in the ceiling. That’s when he noticed a relatively large vent close to the door.
He shone the light on it and noted that only two screws were in place, probably because the maintenance man had been working on it. At least that’s what Rowan told himself. He looked a little closer and saw that there was a small spot of that rusty color that he had seen on the man’s rag. Around the edges, it looked like the paint had been scratched off, and the drywall was covered in deep gouges.
Rowan crept forward to get a better look. This vent seemed just big enough for a person about his size to crouch in, and he was just about to try and open it when a noise snapped him out of his curiosity-induced trance. It sounded like a faint tapping echoing through the vent.
He heard the ding of the elevators in the distance, which startled him and caused him to practically run out of the room. He shut the door quietly and resumed his work in the stacks, though he did so facing the door of the mechanical room. Sure enough, the man returned. When he saw that Rowan was in the stacks and could see him, he scowled and passed by the door completely.
Rowan glanced at his watch and saw that his shift was almost over. Already, he was formulating in his head how he would investigate what the man had been up to in the vents. He absolutely had to know what had been making that sound. His paranoia heightened because the man was still on that floor with him, Rowan quickly wheeled his cart towards the elevators. For the rest of that night, he could not shake the feeling that he was about to discover something sinister.