Sarah sighed. All the new books were gone already. She’d known Jack was going to make her late. The Blackpool Library was a small, very busy library, and if you didn’t get there early on Tuesday when the new books came out, you were out of luck. She glanced over into the reading area, where Mrs. Jakes was chuckling over the new Evanovich, her blond head bouncing; then wandered into the mystery section. Maybe there was something she’d missed.
“Well, hello Sarah,” Mrs. Bigley looked up from her cart and smiled. As usual, the librarian’s gilt hair was sliding from her long braid and she reached up to tuck it behind an ear. “You’re running a bit late today, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Sarah grumped. “I had to get Jake to work, and that boy just can’t be anywhere on time. Anything good left?”
“Weeel, I think most of the new ones are taken. Did you have your name on the list for anything?”
“No, I thought I’d just wait and see what I was in the mood for.”
“I’d say Jake is lucky to have you for a big sister,” Mrs. Bigley said commiseratingly. “He certainly has grown into a fine young man, hasn’t he? Just like your father.”
“Hmmm,” Sarah muttered noncommittally. “I guess I’ll go into mystery and see if I see anything good. Put me down for #17 when Mrs. Jakes finishes it, please. I know how fast she reads.”
Failing to find anything good in the Mystery section, Sarah moved further back into the library. She also struck out in Romance, where sometimes she could find a good thriller that wasn’t too mushy. Ignoring Sci-Fi, she decided to try Fiction—maybe there was a Joseph Finder or Greg Iles she’d missed. Pushing back her own long hair, Sarah scanned the shelves.
Sadly, Sarah found that she had read all her favorite authors—the downside of living in a small town with a small library. Some of her friends read books on their laptops, but Sarah loved the feel, the smell, the look of books. She loved older books, with their individual typeset and unique cover art. So many of the new books copied the “look” of the art of other books in their genre. She supposed that attracted people to the type of books they liked, but Sarah thought to herself that it was just a marketing cop-out.
Sarah continued to search the alphabet, looking for anything interesting. She lingered in the Bourne series before deciding to move on. In the ‘W’s, she saw a small book that looked like it had lived on the shelf forever. She looked at the burgundy cloth spine more closely: Winter Kill, by Wendall White.
She reached out her hand to pick the slender book up, then stopped as a chill traced down her back. Sarah looked around, searching for a draft. She realized that this far back in the stacks, it was almost as if she was alone in the library. Looking around a corner, she could barely see Mrs. Bigley’s plump form as she shelved her cart. Shaking off her feeling, Sarah took the book off the shelf. Her anticipation swiftly fled as she realized it was, indeed, a book about winter kill. Specifically, a particularly rough winter in a small town in Alaska, and the fate of its populace, according to the description on the inner cover. Sarah tried to put the book back, but it was a tight fit. Finally, she got it shoved back in.
Disappointed, she turned to go back up front. Reluctantly thinking that maybe she should get some books online, she heard a soft “snick”. Turning around, she was amazed to see a door open in the gap between the two bookshelves on the back wall. Stepping forward to peer in the dark space, she saw a light switch. Reaching in to flip it, she saw a long line of old-fashioned hanging light bulbs illuminate a long hallway. They were swaying slightly in the draft created by the door opening. The hall slanted downward, and she was unable to see anything at the end. Curiosity took hold of her and, unable to resist, she stepped in the hall. As she took her first step past the doorway, the door swung shut behind her. Sarah spun as she inhaled sharply. She faced a blank door. Searching the walls, she could find no lever to open the door.
Squaring her shoulders, Sarah decided to hope for a door at the other end. She walked down the hall as the swinging lights above made her shadow act erratically around her.
The hallway ended at a cavernous room. Peering around curiously, Sarah realized the light from hall did not extend far into the large room, but she could see it was circular, with two half-moon tables in the middle. After some searching, she found a switch to her left.
Fluorescent lights buzzed to life, illuminating a rather strange room. World War II propaganda covered the walls not covered by shelves filled with, well, it looked like everything. Food, tools, books lay organized on the shelves circling the room. It must be the town bomb shelter. Sarah had never even known the town had one.
Fascinated, Sarah prowled through the room, randomly picking up books and tools. There were English primers, and American history books. Frowning, Sarah looked at the other books. Why would a bomb shelter have books on learning English and history, but not math or science? Shrugging her shoulders, she replaced the books and went to look at the posters covering the other side of the room.
Sarah frowned harder. The posters were in….German? She had barely passed French I and II, but she was sure it wasn’t French or Spanish. The artwork looked very much like other vintage posters she had seen, but it was just off. Moving closer to peer at them, Sarah jumped when she heard a sudden voice.
“I see you found the shelter, Sarah.”
Spinning, Sarah relaxed when she realized it was the librarian, Mrs. Bigley.
“Been a long time since anyone tried to read Winter Kill,” Mrs. Bigley remarked, looking around the room. “Such a boring book—“
“What is this place, Mrs Bigley,” Sarah interrupted her. “How come no one knows about this? Is it a bomb shelter from the ‘60s?”
“Well, that is quite a story. One you should already know”, Mrs. Bigley looked disgruntled, but continued, “you know how our town history says Blackwell was founded in 1830? That isn’t quite true. There were a few settlers here, trappers mostly. But the bulk of our families came over in the 1930s. We bought out the trappers, bought the general store and the town was ours. Back in that day, there were no computers, no real tracking of populations, especially out here in the mountains, so there wasn’t anyone to say how long we had been here.” Mrs. Bigley paused, running her finger over one of the tables as she moved between the two half-moon shapes.
Sarah watched the finger trace aimlessly over the table as she tried to take in what Mrs Bigley was saying.
“But why? Why does it matter when we started the town? Are you saying that all the founding families came in at the same time? Where did they come from? What does that have to do with this room?”
“The where, Sarah, that’s the important question. All the original families, and there were ten of us, came from Germany.”
Sarah dropped into a chair. From Germany in the 1930s. “Were…were they escaping? Are we Jewish?”
“Jewish!” Mrs. Bigley scoffed indignantly. “Oh no, dear, we were sent. Hitler knew eventually that America would have to join the war. What better way to infiltrate than to send families, set up in an entire town and then spread out? Our children born here?”
“Spies? My grandparents were spies from Germany?” Sarah was glad she was already sitting. Spies. A whole town of spies. But—“how do you know all this? Why don’t we have German names?”
“My Opa was in charge when they first got here. He passed it down to my father, and he passed it down to me. And of course we changed our names, can’t be announcing ‘here is a town full of Hitler’s spies’ can we?” Mrs. Bigley seemed a bit disgusted with that question. “Our grandparents worked very hard at learning English with no accent before they even left Germany.”
“Yes, my grandfather. My father was born here, but he was raised properly by my Opa, and was able to pass on the knowledge to me. I guess if I had a brother, he would have been the one in charge. But I didn’t, so here we are,” she said comfortably.
Sarah sat stunned. Mrs Bigley seemed…proud to be a descendant of Hitler’s spies. Sarah could see hiding the history of the town out of shame. But if she was proud—
“Why doesn’t everyone know about this? You seem to, uh, enjoy the history, so why don’t you share?”
“Sarah,” Mrs. Bigley shook her head in disappointment. “Use your head. Of course we can’t tell the rest of the world. Our mission isn’t done yet.”
Sarah didn’t think her head could spin any faster. As she stared at the table, she realized that Mrs. Bigley’s finger hadn’t left any marks. The table wasn’t dusty. Neither table was dusty. Each table had five chairs, and were placed a few feet from each other, leaving an alley in the middle. Where Mrs. Bigley stood comfortably, as if she had stood there many times before.
“Not done yet?” she squeaked.
“No, my dear, we have a mission and we will keep going. We have had a lot of work to do, and with all the new people in town, we must be ever more secretive. Why, my own husband doesn’t know about this. And we have been married for near forty years. We keep it strictly to the original ten families.”
“So, what happens to me? I mean, what happens if someone does pull out Winter Kill and finds the room?”
“Well, you belong, dear. I am glad to see you here actually, your father has not been, well, dependable.”
“Dependable? What does that mean? And what if I didn’t belong? What happens then?” Sarah sputtered out. “And how can the ‘mission’ not be done? Hitler died in 1945! What else is there?”
“So many questions. I understand, Sarah, this has been rather sprung on you. This is one way your father has not been dependable. As firstborn,you should have been told years ago. It will fall to you to carry on. “ Mrs Bigley paused, seeming to gather her thoughts.
“ Let me tell you a story: according to the world, Adolf Hitler rose to power after the first world war. He made a majestic stand in the second world war, only to fall on April 30th 1945 from a self-inflicted gunshot. But that is not the truth, Sarah,” Mrs. Bigley said earnestly. “It really was just a story. Hitler would never shoot himself. I can’t believe anyone even bought that tripe.”
“How do you know he didn’t die?”
“Because he contacted us afterwards.” Mrs. Bigley seemed to realize Sarah needed a minute to take that in.
“How…but how do you know it was him? Anyone could have sent a communication in 1945!”
“It had Hitler’s personal code. Ava didn’t die either, which is fortunate as she was pregnant in April ’45. His message said that he and Ava were going to ground until after their child was born. It was a boy, Sarah, a fine boy born in August ’45.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t understand this. Even if Hitler didn’t die, what possible mission could you have? Why all this secrecy? I just don’t get it,” Sarah whispered. Mrs. Bigley’s attitude of excitement over the birth of Hitler’s child, her claim of the ‘mission’ was rather scary. Sarah started to wonder how she could get of the room and away from the previously motherly librarian.
“Hitler was a visionary, Sarah,” Mrs. Bigley said sharply. “He would have united all countries and gotten rid of the riff-raff. That goal is still in front of us. In this day and age, with all the horror in the world, how can we not work towards it? People who don’t know their place, trying to play leaders across the world. We can’t have it. We need our visionary. We need to continue to build our master race. ”
Sarah rubbed her temples. As she swept her ash hair over her shoulder, she realized with shock that she, her brother, her father—they all were Hitler’s template. Tall, blond, blue-eyed. Her height, which had been great in high school basketball and most of her teammates shared, suddenly seemed ominous.
Her father had been pushing her to go to college recently. Sarah was happy in Blackwell, and was thinking about community or online college. But he wanted her to go away, rather far away actually. Sarah suddenly realized that every college he mentioned was half a country away. Was this why? Was he trying to get her out? Mrs. Bigley said he was undependable. Did he not agree with this mission? What would happen to him if he managed to send her and Jake away? Why couldn’t they just all move?
Questions continued to swirl in her brain as Sarah looked at the familiar form of Mrs. Bigley. It suddenly seemed important to keep her talking.
“And—and do we have a visionary? I mean, Hitler’s son must be over 60 by now. And Hitler is dead?” Please, Sarah whispered to herself, let Hitler be dead.
“Hitler died in ‘88, sadly. But his son, he believed in his father’s vision. Hitler had realized, you see, that while Germany was mighty, another country was the one to conquer.” Mrs. Bigley stopped, seeming to wait for Sarah to finish the connection.
Mrs. Bigley nodded her head approvingly. “Yes, America. America is a leader of the world. From here, his mission can be carried out. He and Eva moved here in the ‘50s. His son couldn’t do much, not being born here. But they settled in the South. Hitler approved of the Confederacy of course. His son married, and his son was born here. He can be in politics. He can mold our country in shape it should be, and the rest of the world will have to follow.”
Sarah stared at the librarian in horror. Hitler’s family was alive and well in America. And involving itself in the country’s leadership, still dreaming of the master race and conquering the world. It seemed like a far-fetched plot from a book. Like that one by Roth where Lindbergh won the presidency instead of Roosevelt and kept America out of WWII. And her town was in on the secret.
“You look a bit overwhelmed, dear,” Mrs. Bigley said. “Why don’t you go home and talk to your father? I am sure he will be happy to know that you are part of our history now.” The last part seemed a bit sly to Sarah, although she didn’t know why.
“Yes, yes, that is a great idea,” Sarah agreed, grasping at the lifeline. She started walking back towards the hall.
“Oh, and dear? I know you didn’t find anything to read today. I do feel bad about that.” Mrs. Bigley walked over to a shelf and picked up a black book. “Why don’t you try this one?”
Sarah looked at the copy of Mein Fuehrer Mrs. Bigley was holding out to her. Silently she grasped it and they both walked up the hall. The lamps still swayed, adding to the eeriness Sarah felt. When they reached the door to the library, Sarah looked around. She still didn’t see a mechanism to open the door.
Mrs. Bigley smiled. “There is a secret—it’s the light switch. Most people are not willing to stand in the dark, so almost no one ever discovers it. Go ahead Sarah, flip it.”
Sarah looked at the librarian. She was challenging her, seeing if Sarah had the courage to stand in the dark with her after all those revelations. Deliberately Sarah reached out and hit the switch. Immediately all her muscles tensed as she wondered if Mrs. Bigley was really going to let her out of here. She found herself clutching Hitler’s book to her chest. After an eternity, the door slid open with a soft rasping sound. Thankfully, Sarah stepped back out into the real world.
“Sarah,” Mrs. Bigley stopped her before she could hurry out of the library. “Straight home and talk to your father. He will explain everything.”
Sarah half turned, nodded. Then, tucking her head, she sped through the library and out into the sunshine. The town looked the same as it had an hour ago. Main St still had the town hall at one end and the park at the other. Locals still wandered the road doing errands and chatting with friends. Sarah could hear a dog bark a street over and knew the postman was on that road: Wolfie always barked when Mr. Jonah went by. Sarah shivered as she thought of the bluff, blond postman. Did he know? Was he part of the “mission”? He was always so nice. And seemed so normal. Just like Mrs. Bigley.
The town might look the same, but Sarah knew it wasn’t. She turned towards her house, hoping her father was home.
Sarah looked around her dorm room. Her belongings were finally put away. Her clothes in the closet, her pictures of Dad and Jake on the wall. Her dorm was located at the far end of campus and the sound of Manhattan traffic was like a river running by.
Sarah’s political science books nestled on the shelf next to her European history books. Mrs. Bigley’s copy of Mein Fuehrer leaned heavily against the other books. She had a huge course load this first semester. Heather, who didn’t seem to take anything terribly seriously, thought Sarah was bit obsessed. Her roommate was down at the Commons right now, waiting for Sarah. She was leaving to join her when her new laptop, sitting on her desk, beeped. Sarah turned back, hoping the email was from her father. It was from Mrs. Bigley. Stunned, Sarah sat down.
Her father had gotten Sarah out of town as fast as possible after she came home from the library. He had confirmed everything the librarian had said, but added that many people in town were no longer in support of the “mission”. They felt they had to stay to control those that were devoted to it. What could happen if they all left? And who would believe them if they went public? But most of those townspeople wanted to get their children out and far away. If nothing else, the mission would die from lack of new members. Like Sarah’s father, many of the original families no longer passed the knowledge on to their children. So Sarah was at NYU at her father’s insistence. She had not wanted to leave him or Jake. And now this?
How had Mrs. Bigley gotten her email? And why? Did she know why her father had sent Sarah away? What would Mrs Bigley do then?
Leaning forward, Sarah pulled up the text of the email. There was an article on a well-known Congressman from Kentucky who was a prime candidate for the Tea Party 2016* nomination for President. Underneath, it said:
“Study hard dear. And don’t forget to vote.”
*I would like to say that all of this is fiction and meant to cast no aspersions on the Tea Party or any congressman, from Kentucky or not