Of all the women I’ve loved, I only ever married one.
Adelaide McCutcheon was the most beautiful person I’ve ever known, and I doubt I’ll see her like again.
She had been born a slave, and in February, shortly before she and her family were freed by Federal troops, her master deafened her.
She overcame this, and by the time I met her in the winter of 1899, she was a stunningly beautiful and intelligent woman. Adelaide worked as a librarian at the Cross Library, shelving and managing the library’s financial affairs.
On the evening of December 7th, when we were returning from dinner, I heard a commotion not far from us and rather too close to the library for my comfort. Adelaide, while she didn’t hear the ruckus, plainly saw the folk gathering and then fleeing the scene.
We watched as a young man stumbled towards the library, a haversack on his back and his face a pale mask of pain. He collapsed to the ground and vomited bile and blood into the snow, and as we neared him, I heard the whispering.
Foul voices filled with hatred and spewing such hideous thoughts that I ground my teeth together and clamped my hands over my ears.
Adelaide was unaffected, and she led me forward.
The young man tried to get to his feet, but his eyes rolled wildly in his head, and he pitched forward, dead, as he collapsed onto his side. Books spilled from his haversack, and it was from them that the hideous whispers issued.
When Adelaide looked to me, I mouthed, “The books.”
She nodded in understanding and swept them back into the haversack. She hoisted them onto her back, and together we trekked to my home. Down in my secret library, we set the books aside, locking them away where they would not be heard. Not until I’d built a special room for them.
Neither Adelaide nor I ever discovered the origin of the books, and it was something we discussed in the few short years given to us as husband and wife.
She helped me design the secret library’s silent room, and it is there that all troublesome books eventually go.
Sometimes I go into the whispering books, and they ask a single question.
When will Adelaide return?
They miss her as much as I do.