Chapter one

Distress Call from the Public Library

It was a typical afternoon at the main branch of the New York Public Library. The marble halls of the world-amous structure echoed with the footsteps of obnoxious tourists, restless college students, and noisy groups of elementary school students on field trips. Tour guides shared little-nown facts about the library’s expansive history and refrained from rolling their eyes at questions about the movies that had been filmed there. Librarians gave directions to the renowned reading rooms on the upper floors and reminded the guests that library books weren’t allowed in the bathrooms.

There was absolutely nothing to suggest that anything strange or peculiar might occur later that evening, but strange and peculiar events rarely give any warning before they happen.

Security guard Rudy Lewis began his four-pm to‑midnight shift by patrolling the library’s entrance on Fifth Avenue. He yelled at teenagers for climbing Patience and Fortitude, the iconic lion statues that flanked the library’s sprawling front steps. He kindly asked the homeless people sleeping beside the fountains to continue their naps at the shelter down the street, and once they obliged, he went back to the statues to yell at a new gang of teenagers for climbing them. Once the library closed and was cleared out, Rudy spent the rest of his shift patrolling the interior.

For hours and hours Rudy walked up and down the vacant halls of the four-evel structure, inspecting its various forums, galleries, studies, and stairwells. Five minutes before the end of his shift, he was positive there wasn’t another soul in the library and was eager to hand his duties off to the next security guard.

But as he made his final inspection of the third floor, Rudy discovered he was mistaken. At the end of a long, dark hallway, the security guard found a young woman standing alone. She wore a sparkling white dress and had strawberry-londe hair, and her head was bowed as if she had fallen asleep standing up. At first, the sight of the young woman startled Rudy. He had walked past this part of the library a dozen times and hadn’t seen anyone before now. It was like the young woman had appeared out of thin air.

“Excuse me,” he said. “What are you doing?”

The young woman didn’t respond.

“Hey, I’m talking to you,” Rudy said.

The angry security guard shined his flashlight on the young woman to get her attention, but she didn’t move. Once she was illuminated, Rudy could see that she was trembling and her skin was as pale as a ghost’s. For a split second, he worried that she was a ghost. His co‑workers had always warned him that the library was haunted, but until now, he’d had no reason to believe them.

“The library’s closed.” Rudy’s voice cracked as he spoke. “Unless you’re an employee, you’re trespassing on city property.”

Still the young woman neither looked up nor said a word. Her silence was making Rudy paranoid. The longer he stood in her presence, the creepier the young woman became. The fate of every security guard in every horror film flashed before Rudy’s eyes, but he mustered the courage to approach the strange young woman. “I’m gonna call the police if you don’t say something!” Suddenly, the young woman gasped and jerked her head up, causing Rudy to jump. She frantically looked around in a panic as if waking from a bad dream.

“Where am I?” she panted.

“You’re at the library,” Rudy said, but that only confused her more.

“The library? Which library?”

“The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and East Forty-econd Street,” Rudy said.

“Oh no!” the young woman cried. “You have to get out of here! Something terrible is about to happen!”

“What are you talking about? How did you even get in here?”

“I don’t know what she has planned, but you’ve got to go before she makes me hurt you!” the young woman pleaded. “Please, you have to listen to me! I can’t control it!”

Tears spilled out of her blue eyes and rolled down her face.

“Who are you talking about?” Rudy asked. “No one is in here but me and you.”

“The witch who cursed me! She put me under some kind of spell that makes me do things—awful things!”

“Lady, you’re clearly on a lot of drugs,” Rudy said. “I’m taking you outside and calling the cops.”

“You have to get my brother! He’s the only one who can help! His name is Conner Bailey—he should be at Saint Andrew’s Children’s Hospital in Willow Crest—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Rudy said, and grabbed her arm. “This city is full of places that help people like you, but you can’t stay here.”

The security guard tried to escort her to the exit, but the young woman wouldn’t budge. He pulled on her arm with all his might, but she stayed exactly where she was, as if she were glued to the floor.

“It’s too late!” the young woman said. “The spell—I feel it coming! The witch must be close! Please, you have to run!”

To the security guard’s horror, the young woman’s eyes rolled back and began to glow. Her hair rose above her head and floated in the air like a slow-lickering fire. In all his years in security, Rudy had never seen anything like this before.

“What the heck is happening to you?”

The young woman placed a palm on his chest, and a bright blast erupted from her hand, knocking him all the way down the hall. As Rudy lay on the floor, his whole body tingled as if he had just been electrocuted. His vision was blurry and fading fast. With all his remaining strength and in the few moments of consciousness he had left, Rudy reached for his radio and held it against his mouth.

“Police . . .” he wheezed. “We need police at the library . . . NOW!”

Within minutes, Fifth Avenue was illuminated by red and blue lights as two police cars sped toward the library. A policeman emerged from the first vehicle and a policewoman from the second. The officers hurried up the front steps with their guns raised.

“I just got the call. What’s the situation?” the policewoman asked.

“We don’t know,” said the policeman. “A distress call came from somewhere inside the library. Approach with caution.”

“Oh my God.” The policewoman gasped. “Look!” The officer pointed to the library’s entrance as the large doors slowly opened on their own. A moment later the young woman in the white dress levitated through the doorway and landed at the top of the library’s front steps. Even in New York City, the police weren’t accustomed to seeing someone with glowing eyes and floating hair flying out of a building. Once the initial shock faded, the officers knelt behind a lion statue and aimed their weapons at her.

“Hands up!” the policeman ordered.

The young woman didn’t follow his instructions. Instead, she pointed at the statues and two powerful bolts of lightning struck the lions. The police divedto the ground to avoid getting hit.

“What was that?” the policeman asked.

“Lightning!” said the policewoman. “But I don’t understand. There aren’t any clouds in the sky!”

Once the officers helped each other to their feet, they jerked their heads toward a strange cracking noise coming from the statues. They watched in astonishment as the stone lions stood up from their perches, leaped into the air, and landed on the steps in front of the young woman, blocking the officers from coming any closer. The statues roared so loudly, they set off all the car alarms within a block.

“Holy crap,” the policeman said. “The statues are alive! How is this possible?”

The policewoman clicked the radio on her shoulder. “Officer Sanchez to Dispatch,” she said. “The library is under attack, I repeat, the library is under attack! We need all available units to join us immediately!”

“Copy, Officer Sanchez,” a voice responded over the radio. “All available units have been notified. Are you able to identify who or what is behind the attack?”

Still in disbelief, the policewoman hesitated to respond.

“It’s magic,” she said breathlessly. “The library is being attacked by magic!”