A Hidden Place

spiral staircase

(550 words)

‘Connect the Clues!’ said the library sign.
“What’s that about?” I asked a female librarian, middle-aged and plain-looking, with a grey bob of greasy hair. She didn’t look up from her screen, instead pushing a flyer across the desk at me.
“Thank you so much,” I said, my sarcasm seemingly falling on deaf ears.
Hmm. It sounded quite interesting. There were ten clues to things in the library. You filled in your answers to be entered for a draw to win a £100 book token. When was the last time I had one of those I wondered. Probably at least forty years ago!
I read, ‘Clue no. 1. Downstairs, there’s a painting, in a hidden place. If you find it then you’ll gaze upon a famous face.’ I trotted down some stairs labelled ‘To Public Archives’ and walked to an area with racks of newspapers and some stands to read at. Beyond, was a corridor lined with shelves full of magazine holders. At the far end lay what looked like an alcove. Ah-ha!
Many of the strip lights down here weren’t working and the light was poor. The magazines seemed to grow increasingly old as I headed down the narrow corridor. I read a label. ‘Cycling Monthly Jan-Dec 1928’. No one about. I was the only one down here. Disappointingly, a green-cushioned chair sat in the alcove, no painting. Behind it was a door with a push-button lock. Well, it did say a ‘hidden place’ but surely that was private? I looked around nervously, then moved the chair and tried the door. It was locked. On impulse, I punched 1-2-3-4 and bingo! it opened. Someone should change that code!
Inside, lay an ancient brick stairway with an old iron railing. I pressed a switch and small light bulbs, curving down and out of sight, illuminated the way.
In for a penny. Closing the door behind me, I started down a spiral staircase. Down and round and down and round I went. There was wiring along the wall and the little lights continued, although the further down I went, the lower the roof became, until it was scarcely above my head. Finally, the staircase opened onto a small, dank cave-like space with an earthen floor. In the centre was a plinth with a book chained to it. Light came from a single dim bulb in the ceiling. The covers of the book were vellum, smooth cream calf leather. I opened it and my heart thudded at the image of a hideous demon.
Suddenly, all the lights went out. In the total darkness, I started to feel panic rising. Then I felt fetid breath on my face and the hot touch of a scaly hand on mine.
Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith!
I opened my eyes to find myself in a hospital bed, a pretty, young Indian nurse gently shaking my arm.
“What happened?” I asked, groggily, as the room came into focus.
“You fell down some stairs in the library. They thought you might be concussed. We’ll do some tests, it won’t take long,” she said.
“Oh, I had a strange dream.”
I caught sight of my right hand. Across the back were four faint parallel red streaks. “Oh, nothing.”

Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories

  • Please consider making a small donation to help towards the running costs of this site. It would be greatly appreciated.
  • Don’t forget to check out some other stories on this blog. There are over 450!
  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2021 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

21 thoughts on “A Hidden Place

  1. Good thing I didn’t read that at night! What an ominous ending, and I was glued to the story as I kept reading. Glad I came across your blog and can’t wait to read more!

    1. Ha ha. Yes, it’s a scary thought. A library keeps a demon in their dungeon. Stranger things have happened though! Or maybe he just dreamt it and the marks were psychosomatic?!

        1. I used to love libraries. Now (in the UK) they seem to be full of people at computers. Don’t those people have computers at home?! So there are hardly any free tables to read/work at any more.

          Interestingly, my local library has a piece of roman wall running along inside a sunken area in the floor! That wasn’t the inspiration for the piece BTW, that came (indirectly) from a story prompt!

          1. Ironically I’m at a library now because the girlfriend works here and now I’m noticing you’re right about ppl just being on computers. But then I see little kids reading with their parents and that gives me hope.

            Oooooo what a coincidence haha

            1. Yes, there’s a children’s library within my local library too. And no computers there!

              Out of interest, the last time I went to my local library, hoping (unsuccessfully) to find a table to work at, I took a stroll past the people on the computers. They were looking at Facebook, the news, playing online games, nothing ‘book related,’ as far as I could see, not at that moment anyway. In the ‘good old days’ that space would have had chairs and tables to sit and read/work at.

              Anyway, I’ve started to look at libraries a bit differently now, since writing this story 🙂

              1. Aw man that was the same for me. I just saw people on YouTube watching clash of clans videos.

                That’s cool! Its amazing how writing can change our perspective on things.

                1. My library has a fantastic collection of books and documents on local history but now there’s nowhere to go and look at them, because nearly all the table are taken up with computers. Grrr.
                  I think as a writer one tends to be on the lookout for ideas so I’m possibly more open to noticing people and situations now. I still rely on good old story prompts from time to time though!

    1. Thanks very much. When I wrote it I could imagine the chair and the door, and going down a spiral stone staircase. I could almost smell the dankness of the little cave too! So pleased some of that came over!

  2. You’ve borrowed from one of my recurring nightmares, where I’m following a crowd along a corridor or down stairs, going down, down, down, not seeing or knowing what’s at the bottom.

    1. Hello Christine, that is a very interesting nightmare, not one I’ve ever had personally though, but I’m often being swept along by a crowd, usually in a university or a mall type setting. Another I have frequently is I’m with a group who are about to depart in a train or a bus. Everyone’s waiting for me but not only have I not packed, I’ve lost the room key!

      Hmm, maybe there’s an idea for a story there….

        1. Hi Christine, hmm, I’ll have a think about it. It’s certainly something that’s popped up in dream after dream. Usually I can’t find the room or locker or whatever (with everyone waiting, the train about to depart etc.). If I do, then I can’t find the key! Maybe my subconscious mind is telling me I need to find a ‘key,’ but to what?!

Leave your thoughts