Hidden Trees

The walls are lined floor to ceiling with bookcases. All books ever written are here, arranged in an order that defies understanding. It’s not alphabetical by title or author. There are no call numbers on the spines. The bookcases are not labeled nor do they have internal consistency. Despite this, it’s not hard to find a book. Look for it and there it will be a few books over and a shelf higher or lower. We have all at one point have tried to find the order behind the seeming chaotic arrangement of the books on shelves. The latest endeavor sought to map the shelves.

We measured rooms and hallways and took into account the depth of the bookcases, added in the thickness of the walls. Where two bookcases met in a corner of a room we knew there had to be some empty space. After a couple days of measuring and careful drawing, the mapper found a void in the floor plan. Several bookcases formed a square, eight feet to a side, with others masking it’s shape by forming alcoves and a hallway on side.

The interior area was unaccessible. We searched for hidden levers, rotating bookcases, trap doors, ceiling hatches. We found none. We removed all the books from one bookcase, stacking them in order by shelf. Even empty of books the bookcase would not budge. The shelves were solidly anchored. The back of the bookcase was solid wood boards. We had to know what was in there. There were no nails to pry out or screws to loosen. We were forced to splinter the shelves and crack the backboards. It was painful for most to see. These shelves would never hold books again. Where would those books go now? Would they stay stacked on the floor forever? Would we stack them in the shell of the broken bookcase? I wondered these things too, but we continued tearing at the bookcase until we could see what was inside. Then we kept at it until we could get inside.

There was dirt instead of hardwood floor. The bookcases formed a shaft three or four bookcases high. In the center of this space, a tree grew. Its trunk stretched up beyond the bookcase shaft, dividing into branches covered with leaves that filtered the sunlight. We walked into the treespace, looked up at sunlight, breathed fresh air and walked back out. All of us, each taking their turn, could not finish before the sunlight faded and the air grew cold. We replaced the bookcase backboards as well as we could. Some looked through the gaps and holes but there was no light to see by. Outside the treespace, among the books, incandescent bulbs gave us the same constant light they always had. For the first time, though, we knew it was night. When day came the backboards were removed and the pilgrimage restarted. There was no fighting or arguing. We sorted ourselves into a line in much the same way the books sorted themselves on the shelves.

Those who had entered the treespace returned to mapping the shelves. Where there other trees? We wanted to find them. The map grew out from the tree’s location like roots through the ground. Day after day we measured and counted the rooms and hallways and alcoves. Until the mapper called us together and showed us a void on the map.

Author’s note: The seed for this story came to me while listening to an episode of Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project. The “Rain Days 3/22/16” episode to be exact. They got on the subject of haunted houses and old houses in general. Adam mentions a secret door in a library that led to a room for planting in the garden. And suddenly I had a vision of bookcases being pulled away from the wall to reveal a tree growing as part of the house. This exact image didn’t make it into the story but it was the start.