Chapter no 58 – Nowhere to Land

The Midnight Library


Unmistakably, it had happened.

She was back in the Midnight Library.

Mrs Elm was at the computer. e lights wobbled and shook and flickered overhead in fast arrhythmic blinks. ‘Nora, stop. Calm down. Be a good girl. I need to sort this out.’

Dust fell in thin wisps from the ceiling, from cracks fissuring and spreading like spider webs woven at unnatural speed. ere was the sound of sudden, active destruction which, in her sad fury, Nora found herself managing to ignore.

‘You’re not Mrs Elm. Mrs Elm is dead . . . Am I dead?’

‘We’ve been through this. But now you mention it, maybe you’re about to be . . .’

‘Why aren’t I still there? Why aren’t I there? I could sense it was happening but I didn’t want it to. You said that if I found a life I wanted to live in – that I really wanted to live in – then I’d stay there. You said I’d forget about this stupid place. You said I could find the life I wanted. at was the life I wanted. at was the life!’

Moments ago she had been in the garden with Ash and Nora and Plato, a garden humming with life and love, and now she was here.

‘Take me back . . .’

‘You know it doesn’t work like that.’

‘Well, take me to the closest variation. Give me the closest possible thing to that life. Please, Mrs Elm, it must be possible. ere must be a life where I went for the coee with Ash and where we had Molly and Plato, but I . . . I

did something slightly dierent. So it was technically another life. Like I chose a dierent dog collar for Plato. Or . . . or . . . Or where I – I don’t know – where I did Pilates instead of yoga? Or where I went to a dierent college at Cambridge? Or if it has to be further back, where it wasn’t coee on the date but tea? at life. Take me to the life where I did that. Come on. Please. Help me out. I’d like to try one of those lives, please . . .’

e computer started to smoke. e screen went black. e whole monitor fell to pieces.

‘You don’t understand,’ said Mrs Elm, defeated, as she collapsed back into the oce chair.

‘But that’s what happens, isn’t it? I pick a regret. Something I wished I had done dierently . . . And then you find the book, I open the book, and I live the book. at’s how this library works, right?’

‘It’s not that simple.’

‘Why? Is there a transference problem? You know, like what happened before?’

Mrs Elm looked at her, sadly. ‘It’s more than that. ere was always a strong possibility that your old life would end. I told you that, didn’t I? You wanted to die and maybe you would.’

‘Yes, but you said I just needed somewhere to go to. “Somewhere to land”, that’s what you said. “Another life.” ose exact words. And all I needed to do was think hard enough and choose the right life and—’

‘I know. I know. But it didn’t work out like that.’

e ceiling was falling down now, in pieces, as if the plaster was no more stable than the icing of a wedding cake.

Nora noticed something even more distressing. A spark flew from one of the lights and landed on a book, which consequently ignited into a glowing burst of fire. Pretty soon the fire was spreading along the entire shelf, the books burning as rapidly as if they were doused in petrol. A whole stream of hot, raging, roaring amber. en another spark arced towards a dierent shelf and that too set alight. At about the same time a large chunk of dusty ceiling landed by Nora’s feet.

‘Under the table!’ ordered Mrs Elm. ‘Now!’

Nora hunched down and followed Mrs Elm – who was now on all fours –under the table, where she sat on her knees and was forced, like Mrs Elm, to keep her head down.

‘Why can’t you stop this?’

‘It’s a chain reaction now. ose sparks aren’t random. e books are going to be destroyed. And then, just as inevitably, the whole place is going to collapse.’

‘Why? I don’t understand. I was there. I had found the life for me. e only life for me. e best one in here . . .’

‘But that’s the problem,’ said Mrs Elm, nervously looking out from beneath the wooden legs of the table as more shelves caught on fire and as debris fell all around them. ‘It still wasn’t enough. Look!’

‘At what?’

‘At your watch. Any moment now.’

So Nora looked, and at first saw nothing untoward – but then it was happening. e watch was suddenly acting like a watch. e display was starting to move.




‘What’s happening?’ Nora asked, realising that whatever it was probably wasn’t good.

‘Time. at’s what’s happening.’

‘How are we going to leave this place?’ 00:00:09


We’re not,’ said Mrs Elm. ‘ere’s no we. I can’t leave the library. When the library disappears, so do I. But there is a chance that you can get out, though you don’t have long. No more than a minute . . .’

Nora had just lost one Mrs Elm, she didn’t want to lose this one too. Mrs Elm could see her distress.

‘Listen. I am part of the library. But this whole library is part of you. Do you understand? You don’t exist because of the library; this library exists because of you. Remember what Hugo said? He told you that this is the simplest way your brain translates the strange and multifarious reality of the universe. So, this is just your brain translating something. Something significant and dangerous.’

‘I gathered that.’

‘But one thing is clear: you didn’t want that life.’

‘It was the perfect life.’

‘Did you feel that? All the time?’

‘Yes. I mean . . . I wanted to. I mean, I loved Molly. I might have loved Ash. But I suppose, maybe . . . it wasn’t my life. I hadn’t made it by myself. I had walked into this other version of me. I was carbon-copied into the perfect life. But it wasn’t me.’


‘I don’t want to die,’ said Nora, her voice suddenly raised but also fragile.

She was shaking from her very core. ‘I don’t want to die.’

Mrs Elm looked at her with wide eyes. Eyes shining with the small flame of an idea. ‘You need to get out of here.’

‘I can’t! e library goes on for bloody ever. e moment I walked in it, the entrance disappeared.’

en you have to find it again.’ ‘How? ere are no doors.’

‘Who needs a door when you have a book?’ ‘e books are all on fire.’

ere’s one that won’t be. at’s the one you need to find.’ ‘e Book of Regrets?’

Mrs Elm almost laughed. ‘No. at is the last book you need. at will be ash by now. at will have been the first book to burn. You need to go that way!’ She pointed to her le, to chaos and fire and falling plaster. ‘It’s the eleventh aisle that way. ird shelf from the bottom.’

e whole place is going to fall down!’ 00:00:21



‘Don’t you get it, Nora?’ ‘Get what?’

‘It all makes sense. You came back here this time not because you wanted to die, but because you want to liveis library isn’t falling down because it wants to kill you. It’s falling down because it is giving you a chance to return. Something decisive has finally happened. You have decided you want to be alive. Now go on, live, while you still have the chance.’

‘But . . . what about you? What’s going to happen to you?’

‘Don’t worry about me,’ she said. ‘I promise you. I won’t feel a thing.’ And then she said what the real Mrs Elm had said when she had hugged Nora back at the school library on the day her dad had died. ‘ings will get better, Nora. It’s going to be all right.’

Mrs Elm placed a hand above the desk and hastily rummaged for something. A second later she was handing Nora an orange plastic fountain pen. e kind Nora had owned at school. e one she had noticed ages ago.

‘You’ll need this.’ ‘Why?’

is one isn’t already written. You have to start this.’ Nora took the pen.

‘Bye, Mrs Elm.’

A second later, a massive chunk of ceiling slammed onto the table. A thick cloud of plaster dust clouded them, choking them.



‘Go,’ coughed Mrs Elm. ‘Live.’

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