Blake checked his watch—thirty-six minutes—and sighed.
He tried walking backwards now, tapping the books in reverse order, to see if this would help pass the time.
A series of stern-looking portraits glared down at him from the walls. Like magicians, they were dressed in dark capes and had sharp, pointy beards. Elaborate ruffs, like squashed chrysanthemums, burst from their collars. The older men had jaded eyes and tortoise-like skin, but there were also a few pale-faced boys like himself. He glanced at their nameplates: Thomas Sternhold (1587–1608); Jeremiah Wood (1534–1609); Isaac Wilkes (1616–37); Lucius St. Boniface de la Croix (1599–1666). Each man was holding a small book and pointing to a relevant passage with a forefinger, as though reminding future generations to remain studious and well-behaved.
Blake disregarded their frowns of disapproval and continued running his fingers along the books, rapping the spines with the back of his knuckles.
All of a sudden, he stopped.
One of the volumes had struck him back! Like a cat, it had taken a playful swipe at his fingers and ducked back into hiding. He whisked his hand away, as though stung.
He looked at his fingers, but couldn’t see anything unusual. They were smeared with dust, but there was no obvious mark or injury on his skin. Then he looked at the books to see which one had leaped out at him, but they all seemed pretty ordinary, too. Just row upon row of crumbly old volumes, like toy soldiers in leather uniforms standing to attention—except that one of them had tried to force its way into his hand.
He sucked on his finger thoughtfully. A thin trail of blood, like a paper cut, was forming where the book had nicked his knuckle.
All around him the library was sleeping in the hot, still afternoon. Shafts of sunlight hung in the air like dusty curtains and a clock ticked somewhere in the distance, a ponderous sound that seemed to slow down time. Small footsteps crept along the floorboards above. That was probably his sister, Duck, investigating upstairs. But no one else was around.
Only Mephistopheles, the college cat, a sinewy black shadow with claws as sharp as pins, was sunbathing on a strip of carpet near the window and he only cared about one thing: himself.
As far as Blake could tell, he was entirely alone. Apart, that is, from whatever was lurking on the shelf.
Excerpted from Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton. Copyright © 2006 by Matthew Skelton. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.