Copyright © 2016
“Cherrycliffe Book Club” © Brenda Dow; “A Matter of Judgment” © Brenda Dow; “Application for a Library Page” © Tina Loretta F. Golland; “Out of This World Library” © Frances Katsiaounis; “Feng Shui of Books” © Diana Kiesners; “The Helplessness of Ants” © Larry Kosowan; “In His Books” © Larry Kosowan; “Keeping the Library” © Esther Lok; “One Night with You” © Marilyn McNeil; “Destiny” © Maria Samurin; “Henry at the Library” © Betty Stewart; “Fiction Goo” © Xavier Wynn Williams
This anthology is comprised of works of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © Tina Loretta F. Golland, 2016
Interior design, typesetting, layout © Maria Samurin, 2016
ISBN 978 0 9949536 0 5
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in any reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without the prior written consent of the authors.
Library Reflections is the first anthology of the Scarborough Scribblers. It came about in 2015, when a new writers’ group was formed. They met at Albert Campbell District Library, first once a month, soon every other week. Writing called to them, and they answered. They became a family, a group drawn together not by blood, but by words.
Time passed, and the group became fondly known as the Scarborough Scribblers. Though they existed in writing bliss, something was missing; a niggling feeling which grew in its persistence. Then, they had it! They knew exactly what needed to be done. Which is how Library Reflections—the treasure you now hold in your hands—was born.
The group had actually deliberated on the anthology theme for some time, but eventually settled on writing about libraries. Some chose public libraries, others school or even home libraries, and a few thought big and imagined libraries in space. Some wrote poems, others short stories. Some pieces were completed quickly, others over time. Their differences were many, but they complemented each other in a way that defies logic.
At each meeting, the Scribblers brought in work in progress for review and commentary from fellow members. The work always remained a unique statement by the author, and yet it was also improved on the anvil of literary criticism.
Besides the feedback, edit, and review process at each meeting, the Scribblers regularly honed their writing and storytelling skills by practicing timed writing exercises from written or verbal word prompts. There’s nothing like a stopwatch to create a short term pressure cooker of inspiration and hilarious writing. Who knew deadlines could be fun?
The Scribblers, of course, also wanted to read books about writing. The group facilitator always made sure that several were available for checkout at every Scribblers meeting. Writers would return inspired and share their discoveries with the group.
So, without further ado, I give you, “Library Reflections: An Anthology” by the Scarborough Scribblers. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Brenda Dow immigrated to Canada from the U.K. in 1956, working in insurance for four years before marriage to husband Brian, and leaving her position to start a family of three sons. Later, returning to the work force at a highly reputable community newspaper, she gained a B.A. in History as a mature student.
Dow’s writing credits include Earl for a Season, a Regency romance, and three Regency mysteries, Friend at Court, Snap Judgment and Friends and Enemies.
A Matter of Judgment is based on a chapter from one of the Regency mysteries, told from the different viewpoint of one of the characters. The Cherrycliffe Book Club is Dow’s first attempt at humour and writing in the first person.
“It’s your turn, Edna!” Augusta, Commissar of the Cherrycliffe Book Club, fixed me with a withering eye. “‘The Deceptive Web’, by Don Quondo. No more excuses!”
Too embarrassed to argue, I just nodded. I felt my cheeks burn. The thought of introducing a book to this group of intellectual Titans intimidated me. Drat on Bill for insisting I broaden my appreciation for the right sort of reading matter by joining a book club. I’d been happy with vampires and whodunits until I met him.
Four days later, I realized how tight my timetable would be. Five weeks to the next meeting. I’d been looking forward to our great adventure – a month of hostelling in Europe with Bill. No computers, no emails, pure freedom! Not to worry! Afterwards I’d have a whole week to work on my introduction to “The Deceptive Web”. No problem!
I opted for a little tube time while I waited for Bill to come over. One of those book interviews was in progress. Suddenly I heard the words Deceptive Web. I focused. Don Quondo was the interviewee, and I heard the words Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore to buy this book. I smirked. At least I’ll be reading a book that will please Bill. I can grab a copy from the library and take it to read on holiday.
“No way, no books!” Bill declared. “We’re traveling light, remember? What will you leave out of your knapsack to fit in even one book? Besides, the book would be overdue when we get back. Read it then. You’re a quick study.”
Next day, Augusta sent an email, reminding me to get hold of the book, pointing out that a growing interest in that title meant that it might be hard to get hold of a copy.
Suddenly my temples were throbbing in tune with my heartbeat. I did not have time to read the book now. When I got back from Europe I might not be able to pick up a copy. Buying heavy reading was not in my budget. Desperation fed me inspiration. I had two days, enough time to skim through the book and get it back before taking to the skies. Information about the author I could get from the Internet later.
Squaring my shoulders, I marched into the library. I walked along the stacks to the Qs. I almost didn’t find a copy; it had been slightly misfiled. What a narrow escape! What a fortuitous error! What an idea! A better idea! I didn’t want to read it yet, anyway.
No one seemed to be paying any attention to me, and nonchalantly placing the book under my arm, I strolled away and filed it under the Os – an understandable error, I thought. I could find it later and do a better job with more time.
But wait! Some sharp eyed librarian might spot the error and refile the book. I needed backup. Luckily, a young man was re shelving books, and he placed a book among the Qs. Could it be? Yes! I clutched the book to my bosom until he was out of sight. I chortled to myself, “Put it at the back, Jack,” and slid the book behind the rest. But still, it might not be there later. I did not expect to find the book under the large print section, but there it was. Humming to myself “File the book low, Flo,” I deftly tucked the book down on the lowest shelf. The old grannies won’t be able to get on their knees to find it, will they?
There among the paperbacks was the fourth copy I found. Just to be extra safe, I hid it at the bottom of the children’s magazine rack, and exited the library.
The European tour was the experience of a lifetime, except for the rain and the crowds and the restaurant menus I couldn’t read, of course. I arrived home to find several messages from Augusta, reporting the number of library holds that existed on The Deceptive Web. First it was 203; then it was 590. Exasperated I deleted the rest of her annoying emails. “Take a Valium, Augusta,” I said to myself. “I’m covered!” A few days later I was back at the library.
First to look among the Os! I was mildly disappointed. That was the one I had counted on, but was not surprised it had been found. Not to worry, I thought. The same was true of the second book hidden behind its fellows. I began to get nervous. The large print volume on the base level – gone!
My palms were getting sweaty, and my temples were reprising their tom tom beat. Making sure I was not observed, I revisited the children’s magazine section. Eureka! I had it. There it lay in its guilty glory. Did I imagine the accusatory looks I received from people I had not noticed before? Thank goodness that I could use the do it yourself checkout, so I did not have to face the desk librarian. The receipt would just read paperback, no title. I would return it to another library.
I did a good job of preparing for the introduction. I even practiced my presentation on Bill. He said it was fine. Ha! Better than fine, it was inspired, I thought.
Come the day of the book club! After our usual coffee, refreshments and small talk, I was eager to get started. At last Augusta got us all seated and turned to me. “Now Edna will start off our discussions by introducing Don Quondo’s The Spider Trap.
“Bu bu but …” The throb took up its rhythm.
Augusta glared. “You did get my email? My several emails? We had to change the book. Too many people could not get hold of The Deceptive Web so we switched to another of Quondo’s titles.”
London, England 1817
“Pay attention, Thalia! Go straight to the Temple of the Muses.”
The tall, elegant young woman who was the object of this admonition, drew a dramatic sweep of arm across her forehead, careful not to disturb her bonnet. She was dressed in a light, muslin, high waisted dress, suitable for an outing on a warm summer’s day.
“And no sauce from you, young lady!” Lydia Bloodworthy glared at her niece, though with a twinkle in her eye.
“The name of that hallowed institution always brings out the classic in me,” murmured Thalia, “but it’s only a library, after all.”
“Saucebox! Go straight there. No visiting those cheap circulating libraries you prefer!” Lydia eyed her niece critically, as Thalia loaded three substantial tomes into her drawstring bag.
“But they have all the latest publications.” She bent a mischievous smile on her aunt, which transformed her face into one of beguiling attraction.
“Tush! Romantic trash, my dear! Now be careful with those. They are quite old, and I promised them to the proprietor. He may help you find a book there for yourself. You might as well take advantage of our family subscription. Guineas well spent, I assure you.” After scarcely a pause she added, “And see if he has a copy of Tristram Shandy. Your uncle would enjoy it. Get me anything else by Sterne . . . And ask particularly if they can provide me with a catalogue.”
Thalia scrutinized one of the titles, a collection of sermons.
“Yes, they are well read. I have studied them myself. Bloodworthy’s bookshelves are overflowing and shockingly dusty, and you know he hates anyone disturbing his law books, but he won’t miss these.”
Thalia’s lips curved with cynical amusement. Judge Bloodworthy had no more dipped into those books of sermons and spiritual treatises than she had herself. However, she had to admit that her aunt at least had made good use of them. Moreover, the clientele of the Temple of the Muses might appreciate them better than either her uncle or herself. Picking up the bag, Thalia tested its weight tentatively.
“Heavy? Well never mind, my dear. I’ve ordered up the carriage for you. It will be at the door very shortly.” Aunt Lydia played with a tassel of the shawl. “Jack Thorne has volunteered to accompany you. He has some business on the way.”
Thalia’s eyes flickered. “Is he coming here today?”
“Jack will be sorting your Uncle Matthew’s correspondence ready for his return in a few days.”
Thalia’s stomach leadened. The thought of sitting in the close proximity of a chaise with her uncle’s protégé for an hour or more repelled her. “Oh, no, aunt! I wouldn’t wish to bother Mr. Thorne. Truly I would rather walk.”
“Walk! Really, Thalia! I know you are a prodigious walker, but the library must be more than five miles away, for Heaven’s sake.”
“My maid can accompany me.” Thalia knew that no gently brought up young lady was supposed to walk abroad in the city unaccompanied.
“Lud! Poor Susie! You know very well that she complains about her feet all the time. The library is just too far.” Aunt Lydia’s eyes rested on the light sandals on Thalia’s well formed feet.
“Our footman, then.”
Aunt Lydia ignored her. “Your uncle’s assistant will be happy to carry your heavy bag.”
“Nobody carries my reticule but me.”
Her aunt sighed. “Hardly a reticule that monstrosity! I wonder at you, child. And what is this new reservation you have about my dear Jack Thorne? I thought you were quite his admirer.”
Inwardly, Thalia acknowledged that at one time she had been greatly attracted by the gentleman who had been taken under her uncle’s wing with the prospect of standing for a seat in Parliament in the near future. He was tall, quite good looking, and had an air of self worth. However, of late he had become particular in his attentions towards her. There was a certain patronage in his attitude. The more he pressed his suit, the more she felt his encroachments were an attempt to gain influence over her. A mulish expression transformed Thalia’s pleasant features. “For goodness’ sake! I am too old to be treated like a schoolroom miss.”
Her age was a sore point. She had been raised by her aunt and uncle from infancy, when her mother died of typhus. Her father, nurturing a growing business, did a great deal of traveling, so had given her into his sister Lydia’s care. He died a few years later, leaving Thalia’s inheritance under her uncle’s guardianship until she reached the ripe old age of thirty. Though Thalia could not remember her, she had learned that her mother had had the reputation of being a spendthrift, so he must have feared that his daughter would inherit this trait. As Thalia’s expected role in life would be that of a wife and mother, her father had wished to discourage any prospective fortune hunters from taking advantage of her. If, as would normally be the case, her marriage took place before her thirtieth birthday, the money would pass to her and her husband only with the approval of her uncle. Thalia being in her mid twenties admitted to herself that even now her friends regarded her as nearing the proverbial shelf.
“Nevertheless, I insist that you do not go by yourself. Jack will escort you.”
All this tended to confirm Thalia’s suspicion that the fellow’s attentions were being encouraged by her aunt and uncle. They were, she believed, anxious for her well being, but one had to admit that her inheritance, moderate as it might be, would be an added advantage for one engaged in a parliamentary career.
As if to confirm her suspicions, the gentleman himself breezed into the parlour, hat, cane, and tan gloves in hand. “Good morning, dear ladies. Are you ready, Thalia? ’Tis a fine day for a walk.”
Lydia simpered. “My dear Jack, make sure she doesn’t lead you astray into one of those circulating libraries,” she cooed, and added only half seriously, “I fear their frivolous novels will waste her fine mind.”
He nodded, broad lips pursed, as if in total agreement. “And lead her into romantic daydreams.” He smiled archly at Thalia.
Had he been listening at the door?
“The naughty puss is insisting she walk to the Temple of the Muses, where she is undertaking an errand for me.”
Unable at this point to refuse his escort without committing unforgivable affront, Thalia contained her pique and led the way out of the house quickly before her aunt could insist they use the coach. As she stepped on the flag way, she noted that the sky had clouded over. Not so fine a day! The weight of her book laden reticule would soon become uncomfortable, but she resisted all offers from her unwelcome escort to carry it. She kept it on her left side, refusing even to change hands, keeping it as a barrier between them, so that he would not offer her his arm.
Attempting to penetrate the shield she maintained between them, Jack Thorne reminded her of an inquiry she had made of him a while before, when they had been on better terms.
“You asked where you could purchase a timepiece in some shop that your uncle would not normally frequent. I have heard of such a place, of impeccable reputation, which is on our way to the subscription library.”
Thalia had quite forgotten. She was planning to present her uncle with a watch in appreciation for his care of her and her financial affairs. She had an ulterior motive. By her ability to buy him an expensive gift having saved up from her rather modest quarterly allowance, she was hoping to persuade him that she, unlike her mother, would not outrun the constable, as the saying was, and he would be persuaded to increase her allowance which would give her a greater degree of independence.
Casting aside her aunt’s instruction to go straight to the Temple of the Muses, Thalia seized on the opportunity. “Then you must take me there, sir.”
“Then you must call me Jack.”
Before she could reply, a spot of rain fell on her nose. A summer shower was definitely about to dampen their journey.
Mr. Thorne raised a hand to summon a hackney cab.
Thalia no more wished to share a hack with her companion than the family coach. She darted to the edge of the road to where two sedan chairs were awaiting clients. She was quickly admitted to one, a familiar chair which was regularly based at that spot and which she had used in the past. She indicated to Mr. Thorne that he should take the other.
His lips tightened. His arm slashed the air angrily, in a signal of cancellation to the hackney driver, who was in the act of bringing his horse around. He ignored the juicy epithet hurled at him by the disgruntled driver.
Disdaining the second sedan chair, he marched beside Thalia’s vehicle, matching the smart pace set by the leather clad chairmen. He maintained a dignified silence during a steady drizzle lasting for the next several minutes, the set of his lips determinedly shaping indulgent amusement.
The sedan chair came to a jerking halt on a narrow street opposite a shop boasting the title Bowen & Sons Watchmakers. Before Thalia alighted, Thorne bent down to have a word, his face uncomfortably close to hers, his voice conspiratorially hushed. “When we go in, my dear, allow me to make some enquiries before we look after your business.”
Astonished, Thalia replied, “You wish to come in? My business there will be a trifle personal. Please, I would rather you waited for me here.”
“Well, the truth is that your learned uncle was anxious for me to make some small investigation into this business. It’s a Quaker company, you know. He is interested in connection with some case he encountered while in the eastern counties.”
Thalia stared. “You did not tell me that. I did ask my aunt if she knew of a watchmaker, which my uncle would not normally patronize. She is aware of why I wish to know. I am assuming you discussed this with my aunt. I did not tell her I had asked you.”
He smiled. “I admit. We did touch on it in conversation.”
“Did my aunt know we would be coming here today?”
“Anything I can do to assist you both is a pleasure to perform.”
“You boasted of this company’s impeccable reputation.” She took the rough hand of the foremost chairman, who had been quietly taking in the interplay between his customer and her escort and handed her out of the front of the chair. “Please wait for me,” she ordered him quietly.
She rounded on Thorne. “Do not come in with me, Mr. Thorne! And please do not expect me to act as your spy in investigating this firm.”
Thorne’s face reddened in annoyance. “As you wish! I have a small business matter to attend to; a snuff dealer’s along the street and just around the corner.” He indicated the direction. “You may find me up there when you have finished your business. Don’t be long, or I will have to come back after you.” He stalked away.
Feeling a little gratified that she had ruffled her companion’s usual smug composure, Thalia entered the shop. She conducted her business with an elderly counter assistant. After making her selection out of the watches available, she stood at the counter while the assistant wrote down her engraving instructions. To Uncle Martinet in appreciation of twenty five years of love and care, Thalia. Martinet was a pet name with which she sometimes teased her uncle who had a tendency towards pomposity mixed with authority. It usually served to divert him.
As she looked about at her surroundings, she suddenly found her eyes locked in contact with another pair of eyes – a young gentleman with fair, wavy hair, a little taller than her, though not as tall as Jack Thorne. He disappeared. She wondered how long he had been staring at her, and how he had suddenly disappeared. For a moment she wondered if she had imagined him, then she realized that in the area leading to the back quarters of the shop there was a mirror angled in such a way that their eyes had met in the mirror.
Her business completed for the moment, Thalia re entered the chair and was quickly borne along the street. She could not see Jack Thorne yet, but she was unconcerned, now anxious to get to the library to conduct her aunt’s business.
Thalia was contemplating when would be her next visit to a circulating library …
A shout! Crash! A moment of shock!
Thalia’s head was twirling. A sensation of somersaulting! Her head came in contact with the soft top of the chair, with her shoulder resting against one side. More shouts! A few moments of disorientation! She felt no pain. It was strange to discover that her head was lower than her body, which was crunched awkwardly above her.
Perhaps Aunt Lydia’s caution had not been without merit.
There was a noise of scuffling and angry shouts. She realized that the sedan chair, its bearers and she herself had come under attack by footpads. She pulled her thoughts together. She was alive. Nothing seemed to be broken. She had to help herself. Luckily, she had always been energetic, a lover of dancing and blessed with a supple frame. One leg was twisted in an unnatural position. As she tried to untangle it, she gasped at a twinge of pain. Inch by inch she managed to squirm into a cramped sitting position, and at length with a great deal of difficulty thrust aside the front facing door to the sedan and crawl out.
Outside was a scene of mayhem. The chairmen were engaged in fisticuffs with three rough looking fellows, two of whom were armed with cudgels. One of her bearers had blood running down his temples and was staggering backwards in poor shape.
As she drew herself out, she found that the chair had landed on its side, with a broken shaft, partially tilting it upside down. Her reticule lay beside it. If it was an object of theft, it had not yet been snatched. She picked it up, and perched herself on the ruined chair to relieve the pain of her leg. Bruised, not broken, she hoped. Glancing round, there was no sign of Jack Thorne.
Hearing running footsteps, she looked round to see a young man in dark grey suit stop nearby as if eager to lend help. He seemed hesitant to join in the brawl. One of the ruffians made a feint against him, which he easily dodged. The ruffian crowded him, making obvious his intention to draw battle. The newcomer stepped back, threw aside his hat, and took up a defensive pose. With a gasp, Thalia recognized the young man whose eyes had met hers in the mirror.
Both seemed to fall into a natural wrestling crouch. They tussled for a while. The bloodied chairman was by now hors de combat, freeing up another footpad.
Thalia heard a muffled shout, which sounded like “That ain’t the one. Clobber him!” The footpad with a cudgel was coming up behind the young man from the watchmaker’s, hovering for a good shot.
With cool calculation, Thalia gripped the drawstrings of her reticule, and, whirling the book weighted bag round her head three times, she whacked the hovering rogue on the side of the head. He fell like a shot pigeon.
In the moment that the wrestler footpad hesitated as if puzzled, not knowing his next move, his young opponent seized Thalia’s hand and told her to run.
Thalia jumped off the ruined sedan, being rudely reminded of her hurt as soon as her foot touched the ground. She managed to cover several steps but soon realized that she was in trouble, so he put his arm around her waist and they made as fast progress as they could, the bag of books bumping between them. She wondered at her own reaction to her situation. She was not at all dismayed by the fact that her slender self was being touched in a familiar embrace by a stranger of the opposite sex. How wanton of her!
As they turned the corner, heading in the direction of the watchmaker’s shop, Thalia looked back. Jack Thorne was charging towards the miscreants brandishing his cane. A member of the Watch was also approaching from another direction with intent to break up the disturbance. The footpads were abandoning the arena with great dispatch.
She paused. Her leg was throbbing painfully. It was not broken, she assured herself, because she could stand on it, but she thought of the horrendous bruise she would see on it when she got home. No prodigious walking for her any more that day.
Sensing her discomfort, the young man swung her into his arms, bag of books and all and carried her along the street to the watchmaker’s shop. He set her down on the chair in front of the counter. She warmly expressed her gratitude for his efforts to protect her. His name, she learned was Michael Bowen, part owner of the business.
She waited there while Michael Bowen went to find out the condition of the chairmen. Returning to the shop, he found Thalia searching in her reticule for money to give to the chairmen. He reported back that their injuries were not severe. Some blood loss and bruises had resulted from the scrimmage, but most of the damage was done to the elegant chair itself, a bad crack in the paneling plus a broken pole. He had retrieved his hat, which luckily had suffered no real harm in the mêlée.
Jack Thorne followed closely on his heels. He declared that he had given suitable fees to the chairmen, but Thalia thought more would be needed on their behalf. The temporary loss of the chair would also result in a grievous disadvantage to their livelihood. However, she knew where to find them, so when Thorne procured a hackney cab, Thalia bowed to the inevitable and allowed herself to be helped aboard.
There remained some distance to reach the Temple of the Muses. After a further period of silence interrupted only by the clopping of the horse’s hooves and the rumble of wheels, Thalia managed to interpose her reticule on the seat between them. At last, Jack Thorne could hold himself back no longer.
“Indeed, you cannot deny your aunt was right in insisting that I lend you my chaperonage this morning.”
Thalia merely glanced at him side ways.
“’Tis shocking! Footpads roaming the streets of London in broad daylight!”
This offering received no comment, so he continued. “It was immensely fortunate that I was there to watch out for you. Did you see how those scalawags scampered when I came on the scene?
“Doubtless they were more afraid of the Watch,” said Thalia, goaded, and immediately regretted her juvenile retort. It was beneath her dignity.
He threw up his hands in frustration. “I felt myself honoured to be in a position to render you signal service. I fear I am being rewarded with pique because you did not get your own way about riding in a chaise, Thalia.”
They arrived before the colonnaded portals of the Temple of the Muses. Thalia did not wait to see whether Thorne paid off the hack, or ordered the driver to wait for them. She was so much in disgust of the self promoting way in which he had presented himself. To her mind he was by no means the hero of the incident. Indeed, a certain suspicion was already forming in her mind. There had been something strange about the whole episode. The fight between Michael Bowen and his antagonist had hardly been serious. There had been no real threat to him. It was almost like a fight on the stage of a theatre, until she heard that shout, “That ain’t the one. Clobber him!” It was only after that the fight became vicious. One man with a cudgel had come up behind Mr. Bowen in a cowardly fashion. There had been blood on the cudgel.”
She swiftly entered the library, and headed straight for the busy counter. Normally, she would have gazed round in ever returning awe at the interior, its lining of bookcases filled with innumerable volumes. This time, she cast around hopefully for a glimpse of some acquaintance on whom she could call to carry her back towards her home, but all to no avail, so she resigned herself to the inevitable. Another hour of Jack Thorne’s company!
The library was well staffed, so she did not have long to wait before an obliging young man relieved her of her burden of books, and found a senior man who was delighted to receive this gift from their most gracious client, the wife of His Honour Judge Bloodworthy. He made no mention that the spine of one of the books was broken. She was treated with great respect, and a chair was brought for her, in view of her injured limb while she waited for the requested volumes and the latest catalogue.
A short time later, she and her unwelcome escort were again seated in the hackney cab, bound towards her home.
Unable to tolerate her continued silence, Thorne addressed a few comments on the library, and then the passing scene. Thalia returned only the occasional one word responses, her head averted.
“That shop fellow could have done more to help. He could have looked after the chairmen. A bit of a coward, really. From what I could see he didn’t relish fighting until forced into it.”
Thalia’s head swiveled. “From what you could see! Are you telling me you had a ringside seat?”
“You go beyond foolish, Thalia. I was engaged in the snuff business. When I realized … I was approaching to your rescue with all haste. You were too busy to notice. It was I who scared them off.”
Thalia’s eyes blazed. “You are calling him a coward. He is a Quaker. Fighting is forbidden to Quakers.”
“Some Quaker! I doubt if a Quaker would wear the style of headgear he sported.”
“You had time to mark his style of dress? Heavens preserve me! You told me yourself that Bowen and Sons is a Quaker firm. If he hesitated, it was to force himself to go against his deeply held principles. He acted to save me. I cannot and will not fault him for that.”
“Fah! He’s only a shop assistant so ’tis not surprising he ran away.” Then, before she could articulate her rejoinder, he added, “Granted he took you with him, though you were hardly in danger when I was there, but he did serve to distance you from that bloody commotion.”
Not bothering to correct him as to Michael Bowen’s status as an owner, which he must surely know, because they had exchanged names at the shop, Thalia turned away again to indicate her refusal to argue further. There were so many unanswered questions. How had this whole situation occurred? The suspicion had been growing in her mind that the whole event had been staged so that Jack Thorne could become a hero in her sight by coming to her rescue. The thing had not turned out well, due to the damage to the sedan chair and its carriers, and to her leg, for that matter. The premature arrival of Michael Bowen on the scene might have turned a devious plot into a fiasco.
The hack drew up to the Bloodworthy residence. She prepared to alight.
Martinet! Whatever had she been thinking? When he pulled out his valuable timepiece in chambers, how could he show it off to his colleagues? What a foolish inscription she had made. It was completely disrespectful. Maybe it could be changed. Maybe tomorrow would not be too late. She must change it. She would go back. Perhaps Mr. Bowen would be there…
TINA LORETTA F. GOLLAND has been writing down her thoughts and ideas from a young age – often in rhyme. One of these days she plans to read all she’s written and rhymed and reflect. As hobbies, she enjoys graphic design, drawing and lettering, as well as B&W photography. She may not have heard that there is now colour film available. She still uses film and her television is a 9” black and white set. Before computers were widely used, Tina worked in the printing trade as an offset film stripper for about twenty years. She’s still a little offset.
art, and science,
Are just a few
of a library’s ambience.
I’ve always found books
a wonderful retreat,
To help me find answers
or to help me sleep.
You need a page
to complete a book,
You’ve searched everywhere
and don’t know where else to look.
I am here
ready to put away the books,
Give me a try
and you’ll be hooked.
Call me when
you have a moment,
To talk about
my library employment.
Frances is a life long reader who enjoys attending book clubs and the Scarborough Scribblers Writers’ Group. She is interested in scientific innovations, reads diverse biographies and always has a few novels on the go. She studied English Literature and Psychology at University of Toronto. She lives with her husband and daughter in Toronto, Canada.
With heavy feet, I slowly proceed up the ramp to the entrance of our living quarters. The four of us, two men and two women, will be sequestered for an entire year in geodesic pods in a desert in Texas. If we make it through, we will begin our long journey to Mars. The flight time, one way will take six months. I wait on the ramp as two others ahead of me check in. Their backs are towards me so I can’t see who they are. I turn around to cherish the last few moments outdoors. Time stands still as I survey my surroundings and absorb the sun’s rays on my face. My footprints are embedded in the dry, dusty earth at the ramp entrance.
Suddenly, a flash of sunlight blinds me. It is from the face shield of a helmet. Someone, dressed in a full space suit, is hopping around on the ground just as our predecessors did on the Moon. It’s obvious that he is clowning for the cameras and scrum of reporters. Is this a publicity stunt, I wonder? A reporter yells out, “How do you feel?” Slowly the helmet is unlocked and air escapes with a ‘whoosh’. Dramatically, with head bent low, he removes the helmet. All we can see is tousled, short brown hair. Quickly he raises his head revealing piercing blue eyes, playful smile and movie star good looks. I’m shocked to see that it’s Roger! I wave to him and smile. He acknowledges me with a nod and smile in return as the cameras pan over to me. I’m thrilled that he has made it through the grueling tests too. How did he keep this a secret? One serious reporter asks, “Is it safe?” In a competent, technical voice Roger replies, “Systems and configurations have been thoroughly tested.” A young reporter, swinging her ponytail asks, “What will you do for fun?” He looks right through her and replies with a sly smile, “Read of course.” Peals of laughter engulf us all.
Just then I hear a piercing bird call and look high up into the sky. Two majestic eagles glide and dip on the wind currents above us. I shield my eyes to block the sun so that I can track them. Individual wing feathers sometimes pop up and I wonder if this is intentional. Strength, courage and the ability to see things from different perspectives are just some of the lessons we can learn from the eagles. This is an excellent omen for us at the beginning of our journey.
I’m jolted back to attention as I hear, “next.” I take one long breath and fill my lungs with the scent of rain, earth and creosote bushes one last time. Reluctantly I take the last steps up the ramp. A few moments later my precious novels and entertainment items clear the baggage check in. “This is it, no turning back,” I say with trepidation. He does not reply but smiles and waves me on. Just like customs, I feel right at home. I take the final step through the door lock. My heart beats quickly in anticipation as I rush and tiptoe down the hallway to find my own room. I drop my luggage on the floor and head back down the hall to explore. The efficiency of each area is a marvel. From the grey and white kitchen, I hear the showers running in the distance. The others feel right at home and are getting ready for tonight’s party.
As adrenaline slows in me, I settle into a comfy chair by the window and stare out at the lifeless desert. This site was chosen to allow us to acclimatize to the red, rocky landscape of Mars. It all seems like a dream. I reflect back to one year ago this very day when I first signed up for the Mars mission. To my surprise I made it past all the selection rounds. Is it my light hearted humour or imagination that got me through? One will never know.
I am excited and nervous about meeting the others. “Relax,” I hiss out loud. Taking deep, cleansing breaths, I reassure myself by repeating my mantra, “Everything is in order. We are well trained and ready for the challenge.” Practicing my introduction I say out loud, “Hi, my name’s Anna and my specialties are books, architectural design, building construction, psychology and photography.” “No no no”, I say out loud, it sounds like a job interview. There will be lots of time to get to know each other. We are in good hands with Roger, our fabulous systems engineer. He will configure and trouble shoot for us and keep us laughing. I can’t wait to see who else is with us and see what they have brought for our library! Car and truck magazines will be in Roger’s collection for sure. I hope someone is a really good cook!
My long personal bucket list has all been checked off. Property sold. World travelled. Bank accounts closed, funds disbursed and taxes paid. My library of rare and ancient books has been established and is running efficiently. The most heart wrenching goodbyes have been said and done. The most joyous “hellos” are about to be said!
Using this time I review the configurations I have created to maintain the library as a quiet place for study and relaxation. The crew’s prized books will be placed there together, except for the one book we are currently reading. A simple check out card will be placed on the shelf. Hopefully someone won’t take all the books and lock them in their room! When we want an escape from technology, we can settle into a comfy chair and read by old fashioned light. Experts from various disciplines have provided electronic and printed manuals, blueprints and textbooks. If the power fails, we have printed manuals to guide us through. Some of the subjects are: medicine and surgery, psychology, engineering, electronics, building, fitness, celestial navigation, mining, waste and water filtration, hydroponics, oxygen and even air conditioning repair. To keep us studying and on our toes, there will be surprise emergency simulations.
Browsing diverse collections will entice us to delve into subjects that we normally would not. Feeling the paper, smelling the ink and turning pages will connect us to Earth. Do you remember sitting on the floor, reading your favourite books in grade two? To enhance our own creativity, we will have plenty of lined and blank paper, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, paint, art supplies and tape. New paper can be made using old plant materials. Magnifying and reading glasses, in successive strengths will allow us to continue reading. Imagine the titles and drawings we will come up with for our first out of the world publications!
The soundproof entertainment pod will be fun and therapeutic. Distractions will invoke a range of emotions from lively to meditative. Music, concerts, movies, live comedy shows, games and adventures will be available during our down time. To relax, we can hypnotize ourselves using tranquil views with matching soundtracks. The videos I made at Canadian cottages will take us out of our mindsets. There is no feeling like paddling in a canoe on a lake as smooth as glass while a loon calls in the distance. Later we can unwind next to a roaring, crackling campfire, complete with sticks of roasting marshmallows. We will be able to experience the photo safari I took while in Kenya. A lion jumping out at you quickly makes you forget the daily grind. The sunset images will be projected onto the walls while the sounds of lions roar and crickets chirp. Stabilizers were not used during filming to capture the feeling of bumping along in a jeep and running away from or towards animals in the jungle.
Our senses will be awakened by viewing close ups of waves at the sea side, exquisite roses, jungle flowers and birds, flowering fruit trees and palms blowing in the sea breeze. In Cuba, I made a film of a red and white ‘Particular’ 50’s car. The car comes into view from the distance, slows and drives around me while I film. The sun glints on the shiny chrome. The driver, in a checkered shirt, smoking a cigar pulls up beside me and smiles. Can you imagine the thrill it will be when the heavy hood slowly opens to reveal a rusty, powerful, souped up engine? As the driver taps the gas, the engine revs, “Vroom vroom.” The engine shakes and the car moves a little. There’s nothing like the sound the old cars make including the backfires. Imagine someone tapping out of the project because they miss their car! I shouldn’t laugh, it could happen.
My mind wanders as I remember some of the exciting adventures I experienced during this past year. Training for building pods and simulations was intense. We were given lots of time off in between tasks. I enjoyed life to the fullest and travelled near and far. If I had one week off, I headed to cottage country in Ontario. If I had just one day off, I explored local neighbourhoods and people watched as I sat in outdoor cafés. Often I got together with Roger and other friends for a concert, dinner, live theatre or a movie. The most memorable experiences I had were in the following destinations: Tahiti, Australia, the Caribbean Islands, England, Germany, Greece, Russia, China, South America, Cyprus, Nunavut and Kenya. I had some amazing experiences such as hang gliding, hiking in lush jungles, water skiing and swimming with dolphins. Simple meals, laughter and relaxing moments were shared with the many new friends I made. Watching beautiful red and purple sunsets and walking in gardens was spiritual. I grin as I remember the fabulous time I had with Roger, riding horses in Australia. We laughed and splashed in the surf as we cantered by the edge of the pristine, white beach at sunrise.
Buying rare and antique books was my main focus during my travels. The treasures are now housed in a rare books library that I created in a new building downtown in Toronto. I pre arranged to meet with collectors in each country I visited. It was an adventure meeting with collectors of ancient illustrated books, plays, music and manuscripts. Philanthropic millionaires were most gracious and donated some of their rare collections to the library for the joy of sharing them with everyone for free. I bargained with some shady characters in marketplace alleyways, much to the dismay of my hidden security people. The security women blended in well as they were dressed as regular shoppers in clothes matching the style for each country. The security detail followed me to the hotel then to airports where we boarded private planes back to Toronto.
Inspiration for the library came to me a few years ago in a museum. I viewed a young woman’s diary from the Renaissance period. It was under glass and opened to the pages in the middle of the diary.
Elaborate writing in black ink and an illustration made it beautiful. Obviously she was well educated. I marveled that it was in perfect condition after all these years. I giggled and asked myself, “What would she think about all these people viewing her little diary 300 years later?” I wanted to get my hands on it to flip the pages, inspect each drawing and translate what I could. What did she write about? The Court, doing needlepoint, cows, gardening, her future husband, love or intrigue? Why didn’t the museum give us the translation of that one page at least? Now all curious admirers will be welcomed at my new library collection and can see the translations. In the rare books library, top security and environmental systems are in place to protect the collection and its visitors. Amateurs, curators, researchers and translators, accompanied by security of course, can turn the pages on the novels using cotton gloves, page weights and spine holders. Very rare novels are kept locked inside glass cases under special lighting. Each day the pages must be turned to protect them from light damage. Simultaneous turning of the translated pages occurs. Very rare items have been replicated by taking photos of each page and illustration. The Dead Sea scrolls have been re made on Papyrus so people can touch them and inspect them closely. Interest will be kept alive by rotating the novels and manuscripts. Guest curators and researchers will present their interpretations and discoveries of collections from around the world. Three philanthropists have agreed to keep the library running. They have full access and can trade the works as long as two of them agree. I trust their judgment fully.
Photography was part of every aspect of my travels. Using close up and high speed settings, I captured the essence of joy while people danced and laughed, whether around a fire or in a modern techno disco. My photo collection includes some very cute, harmless animals that I came across in the jungle in South America. One friendly Kinkajou stayed nearby, staring at me with huge eyes as she hung onto a small branch and continued eating fruit. I almost wanted to take a chameleon lizard home when he showed me that he liked me by creating bright blue and black spots on his skin, which brightened the closer I got. Photos of brilliant jungle flowers and plants have subtle miniature scenes reflected in the large water droplets on the petals and leaves. It’s a lovely pastime to flip through the photo album, feel part of the events and smile when you discover a tiny scene in a droplet.
Suddenly I jump up from the chair and shake my head. Was this all a dream I wonder, where am I? Reality hits me when I see nothing but the dry, lifeless desert outside the window. There are no voices to be heard now so I make my way slowly down the hallway to my room to unpack.
Try to imagine choosing only a few of your favourites for the rest of your life. Spreading out the novels by category all around my room makes me feel right at home. For the last three months I have switched novels fifty times! The modern novels I chose are from the following genres: whimsical philosophy for children, historical fiction, poetry, Canadian nature, biography, cooking, murder mysteries and magazines. The Bible, Ancient Greek philosophy, children’s novels, some classics, Arthurian tales from Britain, Shakespeare, Confucius from China and European Renaissance songbooks with artwork. Entertainment items are: historical fiction audio books, stand-up comedy and whimsical stories on DVD’s, and classic movies. Musical sources are: Classical, Renaissance and hits from every decade going back to the 40’s. I have deliberately left out graphic, horror novels and movies since there will be no where to run and hide. A year from now we will have the choice of exchanging some or all of our novel and entertainment selections before take off. I’m sure there will be new novels and music that will become essential. Once on Mars though we will have to wait four years until a new flight crew arrives. The orbits won’t be favourable for us to return for two and a half years. A sinking feeling overwhelms me.
Confidence comes back as I recall my family stories. “It’s in my blood,” I say to myself. Curiosity and tenacity made me an explorer. More than one hundred years ago, around 1890, my own grandparents journeyed for three weeks by ship, powered by sail across the rough Atlantic from Scotland to Canada. ‘Me wee gran’ brought a cookbook full of her handwritten recipes. Grandpa carried the family’s furniture refurbishing manual. He was tall, with red hair and shined the furniture. My great, great, grandparents, on my mother’s side, ventured on a similar journey to start new lives in the Chicago area then moved to Toronto. I too will be stepping into a new world soon. I wonder which novels they brought along, I think as I fall into a deep sleep.
I am awakened by a loud knock on my door followed by a shout, “Hello o.” Quickly I jump up and rip open the door. It’s Helios! “Hello, my buddy,” I say hugging him. Helios says, “I’m so glad to see you too.” Hiding behind him is Kate. She jumps out yelling “surprise” and I hug her saying: “Ah my best friend, it’s so good to see you.” She replies, “Sister of the heart, I’m glad you’re here.” I ask them in a whisper, “Guess who is hamming it up for the reporters outside?” They nod, and cannot hold back their smiles, already knowing who would be joining us. “How did you two keep it a secret?” Suddenly Roger bursts into the room, still wearing his space suit, carrying his helmet at his side and two book bags. He quickly drops everything and with open arms approaches us for a group hug saying, “I’m so happy to see you all.” After a long pause he declares, “We’re in for an adventure so let’s get this party started!”
So began our new lives. I couldn’t wait to open those bags to see which novels and entertainment items my friends brought. First things first though; dancing, music and good times!
The End and The New Beginning.
Diana Kiesners lives in Scarborough with her husband, cat, and far too many books. She is happy to be a member of the Scarborough Scribblers writers’ group.
The book about feng shui says
all this clutter
is clogging my chi,
stopping the movement of prosperity
in my life
I’ve always suspected it
The book says books suck up energy
If there are books in the Relationship zone of your house
it means your primary relationship is with them
My Relationship zone is piled with books
Towers of crumbling paperbacks
like an abandoned city
Also my Prosperity and Family zones,
Creativity and Travel. My Fame area
is hopeless. It’s no wonder I continue
That’s it! I shout
You people have been ruining my chi
long enough. War and Peace has been
messing with my bagua for decades.
Pierre and Natasha, you freeloaders, how long
have you been occupying that shelf, rent free?
Get out! Ditto for you, Fezziwig,
and you, Raskolnikov, with your sour breath and
bad teeth. I can’t believe
I’ve let this go on for so long, my house
a hostel for neurotics and reprobates
who smoke and leave fingernail clippings
on the floor and are
the natural enemies of chi.
Begone, all of you! Good riddance.
Last of all I evict
the book on feng shui
My house purified, I sit
cross legged and await
Larry Kosowan, born in Toronto, Ontario, is a retired Correctional Officer who writes poetry, prose, and lyrics as a hobby. First published in 1973, in the Scarborough Mirror, then in the, “Scarborough Writes” anthologies, Scarborough Writer’s Association. Volunteered as 2005 editor of the Newsletter and Yearbook for the Scarborough Garden and Horticultural Society.
Hand over hand the old man turned the polished steering wheel of his car in a perfect circular motion, imagining himself the captain of a ship. He squeezed firmly on the cool walnut finish with his warm fingers as he guided the long black vehicle into the library parking lot. The engine hummed as he allowed the car to drift with quiet dignity past the old folks and children on the front lawn, down a darkly coloured rush of asphalt between the white lines and cement barriers. The lone marine vessel of his imagination slid sideways down the dark ocean swell, littered with foaming froth and the white caps of the waves. Calmly he watched a surge of salt water flood over the deck as he looked out the window of the ship’s bridge. He peered through his Kent Screen for a clearer view of the furious sea. Then with real life skill, he manoeuvred his car around a cluster of orange pylons surrounding a tall work ladder. It had been placed against the wall beneath his favourite window; a narrow pane of glass high above, which overlooked the trees. Nigel fondly recalled sitting up there in the warm sun with a paperback adventure upon his knee, glancing out occasionally at the flirtatious birds in the slithery yellow branches of the willows. But now there was a work ladder outside his favourite spot. He disengaged the transmission with a decisive thrust of the gear shift lever and peered out the lightly tinted windows. His eyes focused on a workman in an orange vest who stood at the foot of the ladder looking up.
With the fingers of his right hand Nigel twisted the chilled car keys and whisked them from the ignition. Then he eased back the chrome door lever until the latch clicked open. Setting the leather sole of each shoe on the pavement, he felt on his face the warmth of the midday sun. He casually heaved his leather briefcase, containing three heavy library books, onto the sun warmed hood of the glistening car and tossed back his silver hair to inspect the work area above. With the back of his tweed jacket pressed against the car, he crossed his arms and watched the workman in the orange vest pull himself swiftly up the ladder with a caulking gun swinging from his belt. At the window frame he snipped the end off the caulking cartridge and began to work. Nigel watched closely as the tiny plastic tip tumbled end over end to the pavement, bouncing harmlessly there. Some teenagers wearing sagging backpacks and sipping cups of coffee in one corner of the lot were also watching the young workman.
Above, inside the narrow window, Nigel observed another worker, wearing a blue face mask, rubbing a blue cloth in tight circles around the edge of the glass. He had, in the past, always been happy to share that pleasant reading spot by the window with others, but as he stood looking, one eyebrow had arched slightly, for he realized the area was undergoing some significant maintenance work that might affect his visit. He surmised it could have been a water leak or a broken pane of glass.
“How’s it going?” He called up to the workman, in a friendly tone.
“Ach.” The workman shook his head and raised his voice. “Some ants got in up here. We sprayed insecticide this morning and now I am going to seal this window. That’s how they gained access.”
“Ants? Gained access?”
Nigel considered the possibility that these men were not ordinary workmen as it seemed, but special agents who had improvised the dubious cover story about ants, so they could make a stealthy move on a notorious and dangerous suspect. An ant infestation! What could an ant possibly want on the top floor of a library? And who says “ach” anymore? He shook these ideas from his mind as he worked his way around the orange cones. “Ach,” he grumbled, trying out the expression for himself.
He stopped at the downstairs back door of the library with his case of books under one arm and reached for the door handle in time to play the part of the gentleman for a young woman in a long burgundy shawl. She was pushing a stroller, full of waving baby arms and feet, out the door. He smiled. She nodded shyly. When he entered the dimly lit lower lobby, he squinted up the wide ceramic staircase before him into brilliant daylight shining down from the front doors. He paused to listen to the echoes of voices drifting down the stairs; childish giggles and deep toned murmurs. He looked up the nineteen concrete steps, covered in brown ceramic tile, to the main doors of the library and considered pressing the button for the elevator. He reached, apprehensively, for the broad square handrail. The sleeve of his coarsely woven jacket brushed along the smooth wood as he lifted his foot onto the first step and leaned forward, ignoring the pain in his knee. Unconsciously he held his breath as he climbed. He conjured, with his imagination, a frozen adventurer wearing an oversized backpack just ahead of him. Their spiked titanium shafts clinked noisily as they mounted the steps together. The wind shredded through their red scarves and whipped cold snow pellets against their foreheads and cheeks. “I must go… forward,” gasped Nigel.
Finally, reaching the upper entrance to the library, his mood lightened. He leaned back, straightened his shoulders and breathed deeply, anticipating the scent of books. Nigel, however, gagged and rubbed his eyes from the stinging, acrid insecticide blowing through a space between the doors. He pushed, without thinking, on the door and felt the deadbolt bang roughly against the jamb. A heavy shudder shook the frame and echoed in the vestibule around him. He stood for a second, staring with unfocused eyes, at a sign in the window. “This area of the library will remain closed, for maintenance, until noon.” He then backed out the main exit doors into the midday sunshine which glared off the broad concrete walkway. He coughed deliberately to rid his lungs of the unpleasant chemical he had unintentionally inhaled. Nigel checked his wrist watch. “It won’t be long,” he thought, trying to compose himself.
Nigel’s left cheek muscle tightened as he shook his head and pursed his lips in frustration over the unscheduled lock down, but then he thought of the enjoyment he had always experienced on his library visits. “There are so many books and helpful librarians here,” he reasoned, “plus all the modern paraphernalia; audio and video recordings, computers, printed material; information and knowledge about everything over and under the sun. It’s a place to learn and maybe grow wise.”
Turning toward the building, his eye fastened on the bright metal of the Book Drop, built into the brick wall of the library, and Nigel decided to unload his briefcase. There was the story about a fishing vessel, adrift on the ocean, trying to survive a typhoon; the Antarctic tragedy of a man pitted against nature; and the astonishing report of real espionage cases taking place in the midst of an unsuspecting public. Nigel loved his books. He carefully slid them into the hatch and slowly released them, one at a time, listening for their soft thud as they landed on the other materials. Above, he could hear the clipped chirping of birds in the trees and the diffuse rustling of leaves in the cool, spring breeze.
This moderate weather would be perfect for an outdoor library day, thought Nigel. He looked around the shaded garden area and marvelled that he had never spent time leafing through his favourite nature books under this canopy of deciduous giants. The park benches had been colourfully tagged by graffiti artists. Here he saw moms with their chattering children; the voices of whom he had heard from the stairs. They ran in circles on the grass while nodding seniors, with their care givers, sat waiting. He walked slowly around the flower beds, each one brimming with budding perennials. The air was filled with the scent of spring.
Leaning, for some time against the bark of a massive tree trunk, Nigel day dreamed of jungle plants from the tropics with brilliantly coloured flowers which would tower over a human explorer. He wondered, “What would an ant look like in such a jungle?” His eyes widened as he pictured huge, shiny black mandibles able to pinch the head off the two legged creature in its path. In the polished shell of its exoskeleton, the death defying adventurer would see reflected, enormous spider webs and vivid exotic bracts and petals behind the reflection of his own horrified face. As a green twig fell to the ground beside Nigel, he looked up the thick bark of the trunk at two black squirrels dancing down a spiral path like the reckless daredevils they were. “Downward Squirrel,” he mused, thinking of a yoga position he had once tried.
Nigel felt an inside tickle as he imagined sitting on a rope swing suspended from one of the heavy branches above; like the one he played upon as a child. Despite wearing loafers and a tweed jacket, he would spread wide the long, rough ropes, lean back, and aim his heels at the horizon, making the swing creak expectantly as it neared its apogee. Then, tilting forward, he would tuck his elbows into his sides and reef on the ropes to make the oscillating ride grow faster and higher; over and over. Nigel thought he felt his stomach hang in the air before he jumped clear of the imaginary pendulum and landed with both feet on the hard asphalt of the driveway. As he walked down the pavement to return his briefcase to the car, he heard the rattling of aluminum. Nigel saw the workman descending the tall ladder. His attention, however, was drawn away to the bakery across the lane, for he had caught a delectable whiff of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. Nigel walked past the spot with a big smile on his face. Smelling that aroma was as good as savouring a piece of buttered toast. He swung his briefcase and whistled a tune as he pulled out his key for the door lock. Trapped heat, laced with the scent of warm leather, poured out of Nigel’s car as he lowered his briefcase into the back seat. Through his fingers, he slowly let slide his silk tie, appreciative of its slippery smoothness. He hung it, with his jacket, in the car window.
Straightening up, in shirtsleeves now, Nigel’s eyes followed the sound of splashing water near a flatbed truck parked further down the lane. Over the side of the truck he saw live fish arc gracefully through the air. They flipped and flailed like flying silver carp and landed below with a splash, tossed from the practiced hands of the grocery store driver into a plastic rollaway bin of briny water. Nigel watched in amusement until, from behind the library, he heard the distinctive sound of the chain from a schoolyard swing striking the steel pole and the laughter of youngsters as they clambered there. He heard the metal seat of a teeter totter bang down on the hard packed soil. More giddy laughter was unleashed. They were free at last after the long, cold months of winter.
Then Nigel heard the whine of an electric motor and the clatter of machinery close behind him. Someone was blowing a shrill whistle which, he realized, due to the Doppler Effect and the rising pitch, was rapidly drawing closer. An enormous man, looking like a circus bear on an electric scooter, blurred past him into the schoolyard. Nigel supposed that the rider must have been blowing the whistle to warn him of imminent danger, but he did not feel in the least grateful. He blinked away his shock as he walked for a second time to the library’s lower level doorway, and the rider bumped and bounced across the grassy field of the school grounds.
Inside the downstairs doors of the library it was quiet. Nigel explored the lobby with interest, for a newly found curiosity had begun to take hold of him. There was a bulletin board which described club activities at the library; reading, writing, finances, films, and even a coupon cutting club. He turned his head to look at a neglected stairway to the lower auditorium. It seemed to beckon to him. Gripping the sturdy rail, he decided to venture down and peek in the darkened windows. Descending only a short distance, he came alongside a large white pillar where he was surprised to find a young couple standing quite close together. They appeared to be hiding behind the pillar. Sympathizing with their embarrassment and discomfort, Nigel turned back discreetly to the landing where he peeked, instead, into the meeting room across from the entrance. A silent circle of faces sat at a writing table, occasionally checking the sand trickle through an hourglass. A sign on the door said, “Writer’s Group Meeting Today.”
“Hmm,” he thought as he turned into a dark corner where a red sign glowed silently above his head. He peered through the window of an exit door, up a dimly lit stairway, curious to know where it might lead. He pressed on the door’s release bar and the penetrating sound of the alarm enveloped him. Startled and dismayed, he froze. With his fingers splayed open, he let the door fall shut. His eyes were popped wide open while he stood back to wait for the inevitable arrival of the security guard; her dark, curly hair bouncing around the collar of her crisply ironed, brown uniform displaying her official security crests. She had been smiling, when he last saw her, so Nigel was fairly certain he’d be forgiven. The alarm stopped, however, just as suddenly as it had begun, and Nigel concluded that nobody was coming to investigate.
Nigel lowered his eyes and turned his wrist to see that it was just past twelve, so he pushed the elevator button despite a sign which indicated it was out of service until noon. The deep, rumbling of its mechanism suddenly became eclipsed by the sound of a turbo hand dryer in the men’s room which blared as loud as an air raid siren. Nigel saw the bright light of the elevator flash across the carpet as the doors opened inaudibly. “Good heavens,” he whispered. “Aren’t libraries supposed to be quiet?” When the door had closed, he felt a low, penetrating vibration and a gentle upward pull. He detected the indistinct sounds of the awakening library above as they sifted down the shaft to him. “Back on track,” he thought.
The doors opened to the main floor of the district library. “Not a hint of bug juice,” he sniffed, and lifted his chin to gaze contentedly at the broad, high space above with its vividly coloured ceiling panels. Then he looked before him at the long rows of tall book shelves, standing like soldiers on a battlefield. Elegant stairways zigzagged between the upper and lower levels and immense white pillars rose stately to the roof. The walls, built of gray concrete blocks, looked to Nigel like the walls of a castle. Through the narrow upstairs windows, suggestive of archery niches to his active imagination, beams of sunlight streamed in, illuminating the drifting dust motes. He pictured a suit of armour, with highly polished metal, by the staircase.
Nigel could see the tops of people’s heads as they settled into bright, clean study carrels, nestled between the rows of shelves. Soft, bright light filtered down like a mountain mist, to aid them in their studies. Nigel could also see at the front of the library that the midday sunlight now shone through the extravagant, wide windows onto tan coloured chairs in the reading area. There, people had begun to browse the stacks of newspapers and magazines quietly.
Nigel perked up. He stepped briskly past the check out desk, smiled at the clerk, then rounded a corner past the interesting bins of audio and video discs, waved at the reference librarian, and hurried between the tall book shelves to his favourite window. There, he stood motionless, glowering at the scene. Yellow coloured caution tape had been stretched in an ‘X’ across the window, and a large orange cone had replaced his comfortable reading chair. “Do not touch,” read a sign on the sill, “This area is off limits until 6 P.M.” Nigel’s forehead tipped down at this final disappointment and he grieved that he had been deprived of his goal to rest there with a novel on his knee. He noticed, for the first time, that the entire alphabet was embedded beneath his feet, as a pattern in the carpet. Four letters stood out, ‘ANTS’. His left cheek tightened again as he smirked at the irony.
Nigel pivoted away, resolved to console himself by walking slowly through the library to contemplate the titles of the books placed neatly there, side by side, row upon row, throughout the library. Far above him, on the ceiling of the district library, a single line of ants was marching, looking down without any comprehension at the plethora of works; of history, science, philosophy, art and lore, and at the people far below; with their tragedy and their ecstasy; their brilliance and their naivety; their complexity and their simplicity. Soon the ants would find their way back outdoors again to their natural world.
Resting on the shelf, an old book
Prompted him to look inside.
He saw bindings still undamaged,
All the paper clean and dry,
So he turned a page and found them;
Signs of other people’s visits.
Once a reader, on the pages,
Lost a hair, which long remained.
Here fell down a youngster’s teardrop,
Turned into a salty stain.
And a student’s notes, forgotten,
Might have helped him graduate.
Smooth and soft the leather cover,
Heavy, rested on his hand.
When he touched the printed letters,
He could feel them with his fingers,
And the turning paper sounded,
Like the distant rolling thunder.
Thus he gently held the volume,
And explored it with respect,
For he knew another reader,
Soon would open up its cover,
Turning pages to discover,
All those human tracks within.
Esther Lok is a high school graduate. She writes mainly as a hobby, Sci Fi, fantasy, and mystery being her preferred genres, and claims her skill level for writing romance is 0.9. Her first dabble at writing began in elementary school, and nowadays, online writing forums and the Scarborough Scribblers are her constant sources of motivation. When she isn’t teaching piano lessons, Esther also likes reading fiction literature, drawing, and composing piano music.
“Lend me something I like,” the clear voice of a young woman rang out.
“Good day, Annache, welcome to the library,” a pleasant computerized female voice responded.
The automatic sliding doors hissing closed behind her, Annache, dressed in an all black uniform, strode towards the semi circular table that served as a front desk. No librarian stood behind the half circle table, but on one side of it sat a large white glowing sphere.
“I’m returning this.” Annache placed a thick, hardcover volume on the table. “But I need something else now, so lend me something I like.”
The glow from the sphere blinked with every word. “I’m sorry. I am unable to recognize your request. I have in archive two quadrillion works that might apply to your criteria. Please specify your request.”
Annache raised an eyebrow at the sphere. “C’mon AID, I am practically the only one who ever borrows from here. Based on my borrowing history, what does it look like I like?”
“According to your history, based on my memory, if I were to apply your criteria, your favourite choice has been the ‘Spaceship Narwhal Series 1000 Repair Manual’, borrowed a calculated two hundred seventy eight times,” the Archive Information Droid sphere, AID, responded coolly.
Annache started. “Is that right?” She gave a nervous chuckle. “I don’t recall borrowing it half that many times.” She turned, alerted to the sound of the doors opening. “Right, Lennox?”
“You expect too much of the AID, Annache.” The young boy, also dressed in a black uniform, slid three books onto the table, muttering under his breath. “Arguing with a computer, seriously…”
“Welcome to the library, Lennox.” AID flashed her lights affably at the boy. “Are you returning material?”
Lennox patted the books. “All of them.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Will you be borrowing?”
“I’d like to?” Lennox shifted his feet. “Just don’t actually have an idea of what I want…I mean Grimm’s fairy tales were alright…” His voice began to fade.
“I’m sorry. Could you reiterate that?”
Lennox’s eyes darted from side to side. “U uh. Can I read something that hasn’t been touched in a while?”
AID flashed a couple more times. “Of course, Lennox. Would you be interested in Virgil’s Aeneid?”
Annache and Lennox glanced at each other. Who? What?
Lennox peered up at Annache. “What language is that in?” he whispered.
“Latin, I think?”
AID beeped softly. “If you do consider reading Aeneid, it is advised to view it within the library. We have it stored in stasis cartons for conservation purposes.”
“Is it that ancient?!” Lennox’s eyes widened.
AID activated a digital screen, displaying information before them. “Left incomplete by the Roman poet Virgil when he died in 19 B.C. it is approximately four thousand one hundred eighty nine years old, taken from the planet Earth.”
Annache elbowed Lennox playfully. “Isn’t that so cool?! The amount of years we’ve had it for?!”
“I’d like something more recent, please…” Lennox mumbled, turning back to the screen.
AID blinked, swapping the display to a list of book titles. “Of course Lennox. Have a look.”
As the boy studied the screen, Annache scanned her eyes over the room. The white lighting, signature throughout the Spaceship Narwhal, glowed softly over the rows and levels of books shelved against the rounded walls. Leaning on the table behind her, she tilted her head back to regard the circular view of the upper floors, feeling as if they stood in a wide, hollow tower.
Above the fifth floor a domed transparent barrier encased the library, through which the black sheet she knew as space dominated. The distant canopy seemed the size of an eye spectacle from this position, but she could discern a few stars dotting the view, vague flashing points peeking into this floating haven of literature.
“Kind of funny, when you think about it,” Annache muttered to herself. “A library drifting through space…” She suddenly felt a finger poking her arm and looked down questioningly at Lennox.
“Your communication watch is blinking.” He pointed at her wrist.
Annache glanced briefly at the slick black gadget attached to her arm. “Ah, excuse me.” She nodded at the boy and strode towards the doors and out of the room. In the corridor, she brought her arm up and pressed a button on the device. “Niles? What is it?”
The deep voice of a man spoke up, “Annache? We’ve received a communication from a combat spacecraft that has entered our vicinity. Would you come to the bridge and talk to them yourself? It rather concerns you and that archive of yours.”
“Oh?” Annache smiled and with a skip hop, started striding down the white hall. “All right, I’m on my way.”
There was a pause. “It’s a funny task, I think, what the captain left us to do,” Niles mused on the other end, “having us look after a large stash of paper and perishable material when we possess digital copies of all of them already.”
“You think?” Annache repeated, not amused.
“I’m just saying. I know you don’t usually use them, but e books are so much more convenient.”
Annache gave a sigh, a strange smile on her face. “You know, Niles, there are some things you won’t have an understanding of until you try them.”
“A book is a book, is it not?” Niles replied incredulously. “Book or e book or hologram.”
“Have you ever truly considered why people come here to see these books? Actually no, don’t answer. I’ll tell you since you don’t read them anyway.” Annache halted before a pair of doors, straightening her uniform. “You weren’t born on the planet, but some of us feel we lost something when we left home.
“And this library is what little left we have of Earth.”
As the daughter of a Naval Officer, Marilyn’s childhood involved many re locations and lots of adventures. Having both a good memory and an active imagination are graces afforded that enable her to put many of these stories on paper. “Writing is purely a form of self expression; publication may be an added blessing,” she stated.
Marilyn is a retired Insurance Broker who traveled a great deal, who now finds contentment in family life, church and Social Justice Activism. She has lived in Scarborough for the past 40 years.
I awoke with a start! It was dark. Not the kind of “can’t see your hand in front of your face” dark but the sun had obviously set some time ago. I pressed in on the stem of my Timex……11:22 p.m. How had my presence in the big, cozy tub chair gone undetected? They probably have security guards to chase out the stragglers; the crazy old ladies like me, with a copy of Better Homes & Gardens spread open across their sleeping faces.
Libraries had always been fascinating places for me… places to escape my boring childhood to exotic lands full of adventure and now, at this stage in my life, it is my last stop on the Dream Train. I was there so often, they knew me by sight but I never really spoke to anyone. So, they knew little about the real me.
I stretched, stood up and limped towards the main doors… damned arthritis. There may still be janitorial people doing their evening chores or at least a staff member who had lingered behind to catch up on the daily paper chase.
The dim exit lights cast a rosy glow over the front check out desk. Eerie looking upright computer screens lined the Homework Club’s counter, as well as the bank of desks to my left. Not a teenager in sight. That was an unknown sight at a library computer. I cackled; I was alone here.
Yet, as I looked out over the rows of shelves, I realized…. no! I was actually in the company of many friends, old and new… Danielle Steele, James Michener, Somerset Maugham… even Judy Blume and Anne Lamott were here. Hey… this calls for a party.
Heading for the cookbook shelves I thought that I’d give my over active imagination a real workout and plan a dinner party for these friends. Since my husband, Milton died, I hadn’t entertained much. Hard to throw one of our classy dinner parties in that dreary little apartment. Julia Child’s French Cookbook looked like an old friend. Reading about food had made me hungry. I wondered if there was any food around. Maybe a vending machine with stale chips. I headed down a long hallway that seemed destined for a Staff area.
Well, no kitchen but the sign on the door said “Lunch Room” and that had to be as good as it was going to get. Imagining a counter with stale Tim Bits and a piece of leftover birthday cake, I slipped inside the door, finding the light switch on the wall to my right.
The clock on the microwave said 11:57 p.m., almost midnight. Time for a late night snack my tummy said, as the big, purring fridge in the corner echoed that call. I opened the door and was surprised to see little more than a jumble of coffee creamers in a bowl and 5 varieties of salad dressing, in addition to the usual pint of expired cream.
What’s this? There on the bottom shelf, hidden away from lunch thieves, lay a simple brown paper bag. It didn’t even look as though it had been squished in a purse or snuggled up to on a crowded bus, the way my lunch bags always looked back in a time when my days were filled with factory noises and long commutes on stuffy buses.
I slipped the plastic baggie out of the paper sack and was just a little excited to see that it was a sandwich and… made on whole wheat bread too. What luck! Now, a quick prayer that it’s NOT bologna.
In a flash my trembling fingers had the baggie open. My eyes widened as I beheld ham and Swiss cheese with Dijon mustard and lettuce. I savored the aroma first. Yes, it was fresh that morning. Probably left behind by some harried assistant who had spent her lunch hour re shelving all those paperbacks that came back over the weekend.
I sank my teeth into its freshness. It was an oral delight. Real butter too and just a light touch of the Dijon. The lettuce was even still crisp. I took my time; no sense rushing a sensuous experience like this. Nestled in a small cup in the bottom of the bag was half a dill pickle, neatly cut into 4 pieces. This was no factory made in a developing country pickle either. This was a real Kosher Dill and it crunched when I bit into it. I giggled as a bit of the juice trickled down the right corner of my mouth. Heaven!
What the hell was that? My reverie was broken by clatter coming down the hall in my direction. The lunch room door burst open and the cleaning lady screamed… “What are you doing here? You scared the daylights out of me!” Her fear turned to anger when she saw the remnants of her lunch on the table before me.
“That’s it, free loader! Out you go!” she bellowed, as I was unceremoniously ushered (shoved) out into the damp, foggy night. I pulled my thin cardigan tightly around me and took a bus ticket out of my battered old handbag. Hmph…I used to have nice things I recalled. Much of life can be unkind.
Moments later, the Blue Night bus lumbered to a hissing stop in front of me and I wearily climbed aboard. I supposed my next adventure would be dealing with the party goers, sullen teenagers and the exhausted restaurant workers all traveling with me on my way home, where dream land truly awaited me, in my own bed.
Maria Samurin is a librarian at Toronto Public Library’s Albert Campbell Branch, where she facilitates Writers’ Group meetings. Her first novel, a children’s science fiction novel co authored with her best friend, was published in 2015. Maria also writes teen werewolf romance under a pseudonym, though she’s been known to switch sides and dabble in vampire romance too.
So here’s the thing. I live in an unremarkable small town. I go to a typical school. I even have ordinary parents. Right now, I’m at the library doing homework, and what could be more normal than that?
I guess if you ask my ex best friend, Megan, she’d say “practically anything.” Megan would also tell you that my life isn’t “normal,” it’s “boring.” I mean, why else would she walk past me in the halls like she doesn’t even know me?
Megan and I were inseparable since first grade. We did practically everything together. Then, she got a job at the mall over the summer and our friendship slowly started to die. First, Megan got contacts and began wearing makeup. Yeah, she tried giving me a makeover, but I couldn’t figure out those little plastic things and poked myself in the eye with the mascara. After that, Megan started ignoring my texts and avoiding my calls. When I ran into her at the mall a month later, I almost didn’t recognize her. She had hair extensions and a new, sluttier wardrobe. She’d also ditched me for some new friends—a group of girls everyone calls Populars—thus driving the final stake into our friendship. By the time school started, she might as well have said ‘Des who’ for all the attention she paid me.
The only good thing about losing my best friend has been the improvement in my grades. They haven’t gone up by much—I still get mostly B’s—but at least my parents seem happy. On the rare occasion they’re home, that is. Usually, they’re at the office or away on business trips.
I guess that’s why I miss Megan so much; without her, I don’t have anyone to talk to. I’d try making new friends, but I’ve gone to school with these same kids all my life. If we haven’t become friends by now, it just isn’t happening.
So that’s why I spend all my free time at the public library. It’s either that or hanging around the empty house, feeling sorry for myself. At least if I go out, I can pretend to have a life… at the library, on a Friday night, having an average time being my boring, unexceptional self.
I look around, and predictably, I’m the only person left on the second floor. It’s after eight, so the library’s closing soon, and here I am, studying. Meanwhile, everyone else is out partying, or having sleepovers, or doing whatever it is they do on Friday nights.
I pick up my pencil, and then promptly drop it when a crash reverberates from downstairs. It sounds like the library’s front door being thrown open, followed by pounding footsteps as someone rushes into the building. Probably some kid with an overdue library book.
“No running in the library!” The librarian’s half whisper, half shout carries easily from downstairs.
Whoever it is doesn’t listen. The footsteps continue across the floor and then up the stairs that lead to where I’m sitting. I wait to see who it is, but then get distracted by another crash from downstairs. The library’s front door is thrown open again, and someone else runs in.
“Stop!” The librarian cries, her shrill voice pleading.
This is followed by a third crash and more footsteps, but I hardly pay attention. I don’t even notice that the librarian is no longer shouting, and all because the first of the three runners has reached the top of the stairs.
He’s a boy—a tall, gorgeous boy a few years older than me—dressed in jeans and a plain black T-shirt. He has messy blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and the sort of looks you’d only ever see in a magazine. He’s also frozen in place and staring directly at me.
I must be losing it. Hot boys don’t run into the library, especially not on Friday nights. They get dragged there against their will by overzealous English teachers, usually during class time.
Maybe I’m dreaming? It wouldn’t be the first time I’d fallen asleep in the middle of doing math homework. I consider pinching myself to see if I’m awake but I suddenly can’t move. Not like in a bad dream, when you find yourself frozen in place and open your mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. No, it’s like when a hot guy notices you, but you’re too nervous to do, or say, anything.
The boy continues to stare, and I finally realize that he’s probably looking at someone else. I quickly turn in my seat, expecting to see one of the Populars. Not that those girls go to the library any more than hot boys do, but maybe one got lost and wandered in. That’s way more likely than a hot boy actually noticing me. Except that when I turn, there’s no one behind me. I even check the floor and ceiling, in case the hot boy lost his dog, or bird, or something, but there’s nothing there. I’m definitely the only living, breathing thing up here.
“I found her,” the hot boy yells, his words ringing through the nearly empty building.
Found who? I wonder, staring at him in confusion. And who yells in a library?
I hear the expected shush from the librarian downstairs, followed by two more sets of footsteps. After several heartbeats, a second boy jogs up the stairs, and one glance at him makes me instantly forget the first. This new boy’s also dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but that’s where the resemblance ends. He has dark brown hair with natural golden highlights and matching golden specs in his gorgeous brown eyes. Plus, he’s definitely been to the library before, since he’s holding a library book. He’s perfect; the type of guy any girl would die to go out with. Not just because of his looks though, even if he is a god. There’s something else about him. Something special.
Like his friend, the boy god is frozen in place and staring at me, his eyes boring down to my very soul. My heart races and I begin to sweat. I want to look away, but at the same time, I can’t seem to stop.
Vaguely, I notice a third set of footsteps reach the top of the stairs and I somehow know that the newcomer is also staring at me. I gulp nervously, and sneak a peek at him. He’s a slightly less attractive version of the boy god.
“Good to know.” He smirks, and my cheeks burn. Did I just say that out loud?
The three boys exchange a look that makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable, then turn back to stare at me. My palms start to sweat. What are they looking at? Do I have a booger or drool on my face? I quickly wipe my mouth and nose with the sleeve of my hoodie, but they keep staring.
“Is that her?” the boy god whispers reverently. His voice sends shivers down my spine and I suddenly can’t breathe. When he takes a hesitant step toward me, I gulp.
Her who? And why does he have to say it like that? Not like a question, really, but like he’s filled with wonder and awe. Kind of like he’s looking at the Queen of Populars, her body on full display in a skimpy outfit, her makeup flawless as always, and her blonde hair curled to perfection. Instead, it’s just plain, boring old me, Des, 20 pounds overweight, dressed in sweats, a hoodie, no makeup, with messy brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. For a second, I feel so gross I wish I could just close my eyes and disappear.
I know these boys shouldn’t be staring at me, or paying me any attention, really. Somehow, my normal, boring Friday night has turned into a fantasy only my own crazy mind could conjure… me and three hot boys at the public library.
Then the fantasy turns into a nightmare. Not the kind where the three boys suddenly grow fangs and drain me of blood. In some ways, it’s even worse.
“She’s beautiful. Perfect,” the boy god mocks me, his words piercing my heart.
I don’t even bother checking behind me this time in case he’s talking about someone else. Everything’s starting to make sense. I mean, why would three hot boys run into the library on a Friday night, acting like I’m the Queen of Populars? It’s obvious! Megan put them up to it. Maybe she wants to score points with the Populars or maybe she actually hates me now. Best case scenario, the boys are here on a dare. They’ll do something embarrassing and then they’ll leave. Worst case scenario, they’re here to play a prank, like pour something gross on my head or make me cry and post the picture all over the Internet.
“I’m Cars,” the boy god says, all innocent like, “short for Carson.”
Even though I know it’s a trap, I can’t help but react to his voice. My heart races and I barely hold back a sigh as I repeat his name in my head over, and over. Cars. Carson.
“What’s your name?” he asks me.
“Like you don’t know!” I blurt out the accusation and then realize he probably doesn’t. Megan could have texted him my picture, and if she gave him my name, too, he probably just forgot. Figures.
“Who’s Megan?” the blonde boy asks. “I’m Jase, by the way, and that’s Gare.” He gestures at Carson’s look alike.
“Megan’s my—was my—best friend,” I whisper.
“What’s going on?” Carson demands, looking from me to Jase and then back again.
“Why do you think Megan hates you?” Carson’s look alike, Gare, asks me. He seems genuinely curious. Maybe he expects a tearful confession, that I stole my best friend’s boyfriend or killed her puppy or something equally terrible. I wish it was that simple. At least that would explain why things turned out this way. Instead, one minute we were best friends, and the next she’d convinced these boys to play some awful prank on me.
“This isn’t a prank,” Jase tells me.
“Megan didn’t send us,” Gare adds.
For a second, I get this eerie feeling that they’re reading my mind. Just me being an idiot, obviously. Of course they’d bring up Megan and say those things. She’s the one who sent them here, and she’d expect me to be suspicious. Despite everything, Megan knows me better than anyone. I bet she knew what I’d be thinking right now and told the boys exactly what to say.
“We are reading your mind, at least Gare and I are.” Jase deadpans. “Cars can’t read you.”
“Yeah, right.” I laugh hesitantly and try to sound confident, but can’t help the tremor in my voice. They’re not reading my mind, I tell myself. That’s impossible.
“We are,” Gare replies, “and it isn’t.”
“Think of any word, and we’ll repeat it,” Jase suggests.
I glance down at my math homework, spread out on the table in front of me, and think ‘algebra.’
“Algebra,” Jase and Gare say simultaneously.
How did they do that? I glance at Cars, seeking answers, and spot him looking down at my open textbook. Well, that explains it. I roll my eyes. They saw me looking at my homework and took a not so wild guess. Well, let’s see them guess this one. Geography.
“Geography,” Jase tells me, shrugging. Gare nods.
I gape. Did I accidently say it aloud? Did I mouth it?
“You didn’t,” Gare responds to my thoughts, but it could still be a coincidence. Couldn’t it?
I make sure to keep my lips firmly shut this time, and mentally shout the word kitten three times in quick succession.
“Kitten,” Jase and Gare say at the same time.
That did not just happen. I must be dreaming, or maybe I’ve gone mental.
“You’re not crazy,” Gare tells me gently.
“We’re here because you’re ‘The One’,” Cars adds, taking a step toward me. His voice, and the way he says those words, like in a fantasy, makes my heart leap. It’s like a dream come true, like love at first sight. Except it’s all fake. Just a stupid prank.
Suddenly, I’m flooded with shame. I’m the victim of a Populars prank, in the same ranks as Sally and Jill, two girls even I won’t talk to. I’m the lowest of the low. All thanks to Megan.
Jase and Gare exchange a look, and I feel even more ashamed that they might know all the things I’m thinking. The shame is quickly replaced by pain. Searing, heartbreaking pain. The pain of a best friend’s betrayal coupled with the realization that a boy like Cars could never find me attractive. I want to cry. I feel tears prickling my eyes, and stumble out of my chair. There’s a second staircase at the back of the library, and I head towards it. I don’t even think about grabbing my stuff. I just have to get away.
“Wait,” Cars cries. “Please. Don’t go,” he pleads, sounding wounded, like he’s hurting as much as I am. That, more than anything, convinces me to stay.
“What do you want?” I whisper, trying to hold back tears.
Cars opens his mouth to speak, but Jase interrupts. “Give her the book,” he orders, and I glance at the book Cars is still holding. It’s a large, hard cover volume, made of darkened brown leather. The pages are trimmed in gold and glitter even in the library’s fluorescent light.
“Here,” Cars says, holding it out to me.
My fingers briefly graze his as I take the volume, and I feel a zap of electricity, followed by a tingling that travels through my fingertips, down my spine, all the way to my toes. They curl in my running shoes, and I draw in a sharp breath. Then, my attention shifts to the most beautiful library book I’ve ever seen.
“It’s not a library book,” Gare tells me with amusement, exchanging a glance with Jase, who looks almost offended.
“Open it,” Cars and the book whisper as one. The boy god speaks the words, while the book silently beckons me, using a language as old as time. Its cover is soft against my palms and thick enough to cushion the pages. I trace my fingers along the front and then turn the book over. I discover that both sides are blank, and there’s nothing written along the spine.
I hold my breath and open the book almost reverently, as is befitting of such a volume. The pages are a light shade of cream and rough to the touch. The first one is blank, and I turn it lightly. It’s thicker than in most books, more durable, almost as if it’s made to withstand the test of time. I don’t know where that thought comes from and quickly turn to the next page, only to find that it, too, is blank. I flip through a few more pages, with the same result.
I shake my head in annoyance. I don’t know why I expected the book to be special in some way, like it might hold answers. Frustrated, I have the urge to shove it back at Cars, but the feeling wars with a sudden need to beg him to let me keep it. I’m not worthy of writing in such a beautiful journal, yet I cannot bear to part with it. I’ve always had a soft spot for books, but this feeling is more powerful, almost overwhelming.
I tell myself to give the journal back, but my fingers refuse to listen. Instead, they flip the book open to the very middle, as if of their own accord. I gape. There, on the page, is a black and white line drawing of myself as I sat moments ago. I have my math book open in front of me, my pencil looks like it just slipped through my fingers, and I’m looking up in surprise. Just like when I first heard the library door being thrown open.
I glance at the three boys, hoping for an explanation. When I don’t get one, I look back down at the page. How is this possible?
I slam the book shut and a cloud of dust flies up, making me sneeze. I look down at the book in surprise, but there isn’t a fleck of dust on it. I throw it open to a random page, and there, again, is that same drawing of me.
“What’s going on?” I demand and fearfully slam the book shut again. This time, I avert my gaze and avoid a face full of dust. I try to think of an explanation. Can you buy fake dust at a joke shop? And is there some new camera that lets you take pictures and instantly transfer them to paper?
“There’s a prophecy,” Jase says. “Open the book again.”
When I do, I discover that the picture has been replaced by another. The girl still looks like me, only better. Like someone drew me as a superhero. I’m standing on a bridge, dressed in knee high boots, tight jeans, and a jacket that ends just below my waist. I’m at least twenty pounds lighter, I’m not wearing glasses, and my hair is much, much longer, almost reaching my waist. That and I’m holding a sword.
How did this drawing just appear on the same page where a picture of me at the library had been only seconds earlier? At least, I think it was on the same page. I quickly flip through the remainder of the book, but the other pages are blank.
Snap out of it, Des, I tell myself. It’s just a dream.
“It’s not a dream,” Jase answers my thoughts.
“Her name is Des,” Gare adds with a glance at Cars.
If I wasn’t convinced they were reading my mind before, I definitely am now. That, and I’m holding a magic book, with pictures that appear and disappear, and clouds of dust that form seemingly out of nowhere.
“Des?” Cars whispers. My name forms a soft caress on his lips.
“Destiny.” It comes out as more of a squeak and I blush. My full name is the only thing about me that isn’t normal or boring, which just makes it worse, somehow.
“Destiny,” Cars whispers, his eyes widening.
“Destiny!” Jase exclaims, his face transforming into the epitome of glee. Like he found out the Queen of Populars had a crush on him or he scored the game’s winning touchdown. At least, those are the sorts of things I imagine would make boys this happy.
“What?” Cars asks him.
“I don’t think your mate knows much about boys,” Jase tells him.
“Good,” Cars growls.
The possessive note in his voice makes my heart race, and it takes me a second to process the conversation. Mate? As in friend?
“Tell her,” Jase orders, exchanging a brief look with Cars.
Cars nods and takes the open book from my hands. I stay frozen, staring at him as he sets it down next to my math textbook. Finally, Cars takes my hands gently in his and sparks fly.
“Des. Destiny. The prophecy has spoken of you for generations,” Cars tells me, looking dead serious. “You will lead our people against the Rogues.” He squeezes my hands. “Their defeat will mark a new beginning for our people.”
I stare at Cars, wide eyed. Mate? Prophecy? Rogues? Me leading his people? The whole thing reminds me of something I’d read in a novel. Like I’d ever buy that the boys are werewolves.
“Vampires, actually,” Gare tells me.
“You couldn’t wait?” Cars growls at his friend.
“Brother,” Gare announces, but I’m so focused on the word ‘vampires’ that it takes me several seconds to realize he’s correcting me.
“Will you stop reading her mind?” Cars growls. “It’s like you’re having a silent conversation I’m not a part of.”
“Sorry,” Gare replies with a sheepish grin.
I guess Cars really can’t read my mind like the other two. Wait, what am I saying? When did I go from ‘Megan’s prank’ to ‘mind reading vampires bearing a prophecy?’
“She’s ready for proof,” Jase announces.
Cars shrugs, opens his mouth, and I scream.
“Is everything alright?” The librarian shouts from downstairs.
“Yes, Miss,” I call down automatically. “Sorry, Miss.”
Then, I just stand there staring at Cars’s fangs and wondering if things would ever be alright again. I’m not stupid. I know you can get fake fangs at a costume shop. I’ve seen enough of them on Halloween to know better. Cars’s fangs are nothing like that though. They look… real. Plus, they’re moving, retracting and extending, in and out, over and over again. Perhaps it’s an automatic gadget of some sort, stuck on a loop?
“Stop,” Jase orders.
Cars stops, his fangs only half out, and looks to Jase for further instructions. Then he looks back at me, pulls out his fangs all the way, and smiles hesitantly. I want to reach out and touch them, but now that I’m starting to believe in vampires, I panic. What if Cars tries to bite me? I could scream bloody murder while they suck me dry, and I bet the librarian would just yell ‘keep it down’ and not even bother to come up here and check on me.
“We’re not going to bite you,” Jase tells me.
Cars glares at him and turns to me. “Not until you’re ready.”
“Ready?” I squeak.
“To turn,” Cars explains.
“To become one of us,” Jase adds, as if I needed the clarification. He shrugs.
“You want to make me into a vampire?” Definitely words I never thought I’d speak aloud in this lifetime.
“You’re our fated queen,” Cars says matter of factly.
“Queen?” I gape. They actually want me to rule over all vampires? Me?
“Cars is our king,” Jase explains. “I’m his elder… his advisor,” he clarifies at my confused expression, “and his brother is his most trusted ally.”
I stare. If Cars is King, and they think I’m their Queen, does that mean Cars and I would be together? And on another note, who would make a teenage boy a king? And call another teenage boy an elder?
“Cars is almost two hundred now,” Jase tells me. “I am, of course, much, much older. I was elder to his sire, and his sire before him.”
I look at Gare, wondering how old he is.
“Only a year younger than Cars,” Gare answers and I realize I’m no longer surprised about the mind reading, or the fangs, or the magic book. I do think the boys have the wrong girl though. There’s no way I’m destined to lead the vampires.
“The book is never wrong.” Jase shakes his head. “Never. And Cars cannot read you. That’s a sure sign, if nothing else.”
I process everything and then reach for the book. I flip it open to the middle, and find that the previous two sketches have been replaced with a new one. This time, it’s me and Cars, holding hands and staring dreamily into each other’s eyes. I look at it for several seconds, then gently close the book and place it back on the table.
“Do you believe me?” Cars whispers.
Slowly, I nod. It seems like a fantasy. That I—normal, boring Des, a girl the Populars wouldn’t be caught dead with—am meant to fulfill an extraordinary prophecy. Destined to become the Queen of Vampires. Soon… once Cars bites me. I tremble at the thought.
“It won’t hurt,” Jase assures me.
I nod, take a deep breath, and tilt my head slightly to my left, baring my neck. I don’t know why I do it without thinking things through. I’m not usually the impulsive type. Maybe it’s instinct or maybe I’m just crazy, but whatever the reason, I’m all in.
Cars’s eyes widen and he takes a step forward, only to freeze as a cough sounds through the library’s PA system.
“The library will be closing in thirty minutes,” the librarian’s voice rings through the building.
We stay silent for several heartbeats once she finishes her announcement.
“Are you sure?” Cars finally whispers.
I nod, and Cars looks like the weight of the world has lifted off his shoulders. He stands taller, all hesitation gone, and takes one final step towards me. Closing the distance, he gently presses his lips against my neck.
My eyelids drift shut and I give myself to him, body, heart and soul.
“My Destiny,” Cars whispers, his breath caressing my neck and sending shivers down my spine. “Mine.” He groans, and I feel his teeth, two needles piercing skin.
For a brief second, I have the urge to struggle, but then magic fills my veins. It touches my teeth, turning them into fangs, and then keeps moving through the rest of my body. My senses heighten, but instead of pain, I only feel a tingling pleasure.
When it’s done, I know I’m a vampire, as surely as I know I’m Des. Destiny. Queen of Vampires.
I hear the slight whoosh of Cars’s fangs sliding back in, and a myriad of noises assail me. My eyes remain closed, but I can sense the exact spot where Jase and Gare are standing, can hear them inhaling and exhaling. Then, there’s more. The librarian shuffling papers one floor below, followed by the light clicking of her computer mouse; the flipping of a page by a reader I hadn’t realized was still downstairs in the library; and then footsteps, outside, across the street.
“Breathe,” Jase orders, and I realize that I have Cars’s arm in a death grip. I relax, inhale, and all the noises blend into a soft hum.
That’s when my sweatpants suddenly start to slide down my hips. Thankfully, I manage to let go of Cars’s arm and grab them at the last second. It’s bizarre, like they’ve suddenly grown… or I’ve shrunk.
“It’s part of the turn,” Jase tells me.
I open my eyes to look at him and everything starts to spin.
“What’s wrong?” Cars panics as I grip his arm and sway on my feet. “Does she need blood?” I feel more than see him turn toward Jase.
“It’s her glasses,” Jase replies. “Take them off.”
I do, and realize I can see perfectly without them! I wish I had a mirror so I could see what I look like and suddenly realize I’ve got the next best thing. I grab my backpack off the floor and rummage inside for my cell phone. When I find it, I swipe across the screen and launch the front camera.
I look at myself, taking stock of the differences. My face is less chubby and I actually look… good. Now, fangs! I grin, but while my teeth look a lot whiter, they’re still human.
“You’ll need to learn to use them,” Jase explains.
I nod and scan the rest of my face. My lashes look longer, thicker. Like I’m wearing mascara, only better. My lips are rosier, cheeks too, and oh! My hair seems so much softer! I undo my ponytail and notice it’s fuller, with a slight curl to it. I wonder if Megan will like me now that I’m pretty.
“This Megan isn’t good enough for you,” Jase tells me.
I want to believe him, but I’ve spent so long thinking I wasn’t good enough for her… wasn’t good enough for anyone.
“You must forget about Megan and focus on the prophecy,” Jase tells me. “Hundreds of your kind have spent years waiting for their queen… for you. This Megan is nothing to you, to our people.”
And yet she’s my only friend.
“You have us now,” Gare tells me, and I realize that I do. I have him, and Jase, and Cars. Still, I can’t help it if a part of me wishes I had Megan too.
Maybe if I just went to see her, or, wait, would I be able to read mind her mind?
“With some practice,” Gare tells me.
“Humans are always easier to read,” Jase adds, “but it’s possible to read others of our kind, too.”
I turn to Cars. “I won’t be able to read your mind, right?”
“Nope,” he grins.
I smile back, but my thoughts drift back to Megan. Once I can read minds, I’ll go see her. At least I’ll know where we went wrong, and maybe we can even be friends again, now that I look like one of the Populars.
“Our kind looks like the best version of ourselves,” Jase lectures, “but the turn can’t fix your soul. You create your own inner beauty.”
“You were beautiful from the moment I laid eyes on you,” Cars whispers, turning me to face him, and I forget all about Megan. “Now you’re just the best version of you. There is no one else I’d rather have as my queen.”
“Are you sure?” I whisper.
“Yes.” He says it as if it’s the simplest thing in the world, and my insecurities slowly drift away.
It warms my heart that he wants me. That he thinks I can do this.
“I was sure,” Cars continues, “since the moment our eyes met. I felt the connection, feel it now every time I look at you.”
I know his words are true, down to my very soul.
“Me too,” I whisper.
Cars takes a step toward me, stopping when we’re toe to toe. He looks down at me lovingly and caresses my cheek. His fingers are both hard and soft against my skin, and my heart races as he leans closer, until our lips almost touch.
“You’re so beautiful,” Cars breathes the words against my lips. “Inside and out.”
As our lips touch in a searing kiss, I finally start to believe.
Betty has a very interesting and fulfilling life unfolding. Having lived in London, England, and travelled through Europe in an old Bedford Van, she had a short stint living in caves in Crete. She returned to Canada and her Scotsman followed her to marry and raise a lovely daughter. There is so much to do and enjoy in life and writing is one of her favourite experiences. She is looking forward to the next chapter.
Henry was in the library wondering how and when he arrived. A great reader he was not, but he knew how to understand the words. He moved from shelf to shelf wondering what to read. The book that caught his attention first was a romantic novel that he glanced through and decided it was rubbish. Mysteries might be interesting so here’s Agatha Christie. Yes that appeared more entertaining, but he didn’t finish it. He moved on to John Grisham, and read his bio. A lawyer, you know what they say about lawyers. He must be a failure if he needs to write to live. However, the book held Henry in suspense, and totally surprised him with Grisham’s brilliant court scenes with twists and turns of the law.
Henry was so completely engrossed with his treasured book when suddenly it was taken out of his reach, and banged tightly closed.
RIP Henry the Cockroach.
Xavier Wynn Williams is a retired teacher of Creative Writing, Drama and English. He particularly enjoys spontaneous freewriting with small writing groups. He continues to study online literary criticism, peer editing and other courses, some including digital technology. He is presently writing short fiction for young adults and children. He has been writing poetry since he was a teenager. He has been a mentor and adjudicator for Turning Points, a student essay program sponsored by the Learning Partnership of Canada. Xavier is also a volunteer teacher and mentor with elderly residents at a retirement home in Scarborough.
Wet snow rattled the darkened windows. An early winter storm was whipping up outside. A tired nasally voice droned from the circulation desk one floor above, “The library will be closing in five minutes. Please bring any materials you need to check out to the circulation desk immediately. We will be turning off the lights on all floors except the main floor in two minutes.”
I lifted my head from the desk to see my laptop stuck in screen saver. An unfinished assignment for Ms. Boyko remained dark and dormant inside. Due tomorrow. I had less than one day and she had assigned it three weeks ago. How could I have fallen asleep? For two hours?
Frantically, I packed up my pile of research materials and dumped them into my old mouldy gym bag. But then I hesitated. Less than how many minutes to leave? As I considered my options, I was suddenly plunged into darkness. I found myself groping with outstretched hands from the basement study carrel, blindly looking for the way upstairs. Somewhere on the main floor above was the exit from Lockbridge Public Library. Nuts. I was in the dark, the doors were being locked and I hadn’t even got beyond the introductory paragraph.
I shuffled in the dark to the end of a shelf of books and gazed at the dim red exit sign on the far wall. “Excuse me,” I croaked to no one in particular, trying to clear my voice. Shuffling clumsily to the empty stairwell, I projected to the floors above, “Hi… Umm… Hello? Is anybody here?”
A faint clicking from the heating fans switching down low for the night and the drumming of wet snow behind windows I could not see, was the only reply. It would take me two hours to get home on the bus, if there were any at this hour, and I would still be faced with an all nighter. I could come down with a cold, but I had already used that excuse twice before. My dad had dropped me off before his night shift. He had taken my cell phone, all because I forgot to show him a midterm report. I did not want to admit it to myself, but standing alone in the silence, I just wanted to be home.
But I made a decision. Time to tough it out. I still had a few granola bars left. My laptop would plug back in, provided the power had not been switched off. I slid my hand over the nearby wall hoping to bring the lights back on. I was breathing a bit faster now. I finally felt a switch, but nothing happened. Stay calm now, I said to myself. I turned around and felt my way back to the study carrel. I sat down in my old seat and, as I dumped my gym bag back on the desk, felt somewhat calmer. I plugged the laptop back in and finally something good started to happen. The desk plug had power. My old laptop slowly began booting up.
A long night lay ahead, but I had a plan. Sure, I had an essay to finish. Some big time copying and pasting to do. But that would not take forever. It was dark, but not too cold yet. I kept my jacket on and listened to the tapping of the snowy rain, leaning back on the chair. Why not? I thought to myself. Might even get this assignment done on time for once. I mean, no distractions, right?
In theory it was a reasonable plan. Crunching up the second granola bar wrapper in the dim calm of night, I stretched out my fingers on the keyboard and straightened up. I cleared my throat and coughed. Then, an echo. No. Nah. That was just an echo, I whispered to myself. Time to begin…
The light from the laptop cast an unnatural glow on the books on either side of me. I wanted badly to check summaries of the book online and get this report over and done with. I had not read an actual page of the novel, but I kept typing. My hands seemed to keep typing as I drifted in and out of sleep, but I kept going for one page, then two pages, and then, I stopped in midsentence. I finally realized I had been rereading the same sentence on page two for ten minutes. I read it again. I had twelve hundred words to complete and now, looking at the bottom of my screen…
What time did it say? …Only three hours before daybreak. Three in the morning? No way. How was that possible?
The wind was howling outside, but as much as I wanted to block out the sounds, I decided I did not want to miss the arrival of the friendly security guard. Yeah. Libraries had security guards. I had seen them around here before. I placed my fingers on the keyboard again and tried to imagine what to write next.
But I could not stop thinking about the security guard’s welcome flashlight and a merry jingle of his keys. Just had to finish the essay, sir. That’s what I’d tell him. Yeah, you see my Dad left me in the library without my cell phone. … Thinks I am slacking off. Well, here I am. Actually doing my work and staying all night in the library to do it. Might even make it into the school web news. “Serious student stays up all night in public library to finish book report.” Next to this headline I imagined a photo of me at the desk and the smiling guard patting me on the back. I leaned back, hearing the creak of my chair in the gloom and silent warmth, hands behind my head. I had nothing to be afraid of except, maybe, not getting this stupid assignment finished.
Oh yeah, right, the report. Now, where was I?
And then I heard it. Had I been working too long? Naah. Couldn’t be… Wait… A faint voice was whispering from a nearby bookshelf. It had a pleading tone, proper and precise. It was a slightly husky, older male voice. A European voice, maybe a Dutch or German accent. “Pleasse, pleasse. Hey zere…yonge mahn. Dturn ov dat cahmpudder. Dturn it ov. Ya ya. I tdell you vatd to doo nixtd.”
Well, that’s how it sounded to my ear.
I turned around, rubbed my eyes and turned slowly to face the dark shelves. I was being watched. I knew this should be terrifying. It was, but at the same time it felt like I was seeing myself as a character being petrified. This made no real sense. I felt like I could levitate at any moment. As if something invisible was lifting me out of my seat to find where the sound had come from. Slowly, stealthily, I crouched towards the hallway. I kept listening, but for what? I hadn’t a clue. Nothing moved. There was no sound other than the wind and icy rain spattering the windows.
I crept my way back to the desk, sat down slowly, rubbed my eyes and stretched. Gotta snap out of this, I thought. It was way past my bedtime. I needed to concentrate.
Then, just as I rested my fingers on the keyboard, I noticed I had typed some random letters at the end of the last sentence three times. FICTION GOO. FICTION GOO. FICTION GOO.
Strange. I tried to delete the gibberish. But, try as I might, it reappeared on the screen as fast as I could press delete. I tried over and over. The letters would not erase.
I logged off. I unplugged the machine. I will admit, I was really anxious now. I closed my eyes, but when I opened them again and checked the bottom of my screen, it now read less than two hours before daybreak? Four thirty in the morning? Come on.
I switched off the laptop again. I tried to reboot, anxiously opening the screen. Not a sound. Nothing. This was not a good time for a power failure. I waited, holding my breath. At first, not a sound could be heard. Nothing came on the screen for half a minute it seemed and then, suddenly, it started whirring. And then the same random letters emerged even bigger in an old fashioned font I never use, in the middle of the screen:
F I C T I O N G O O
Now, I am not an old fashioned book reader. If I read at all, it might be online, except for these stupid novel reports for Ms. Boyko. Unlike most of my teachers, she was a mean old bat. No one could get past her laser beam eyes that always detected copied and pasted assignments. I mean, what was the point of Google and Wikipedia? Couldn’t she get with the times? I guess I should be thanking her for teaching me how to spell “plagiarism.” She wrote that word with her blood coloured pen on most of what I had handed in so far.
I rubbed the growing peach fuzz on my chin and had a flash of inspiration. Of course. That was it! When I was a kid I was always going to the library with my mom. We would search for books in the kids’ section two floors above. She told me about some sort of code that librarians used to organize books. Each book had a code along the back. The Doowop Do Doowey Decimal System she used to call it.
Reaching into my gym bag, I pulled out a paperback. In the faint light coming from my laptop, I could only just make out the code on the spine. I whispered the code to myself, “FICTION MIT”. The novel was… I frowned in the dark. Wo? Wo Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind? But FICTION MIT? That made no sense. I let it drop to the floor. I needed to find FICTION GOO.
“Naht zut vun. Ovah heya,” the voice cried out, suddenly excited, much louder than before. It seemed to be coming from a lower shelf. I crouched down and walked its length, sliding the tips of my fingers gently over the backs of the books all the way around to the shelves across the aisle, slowly and cautiously. It was getting louder now, “Ya, ya. Clozah. Yowa gedding clozah now. Vahm… Vahmer. Ya. Dits it. Bick me. Bick me. Yonge men. Rrread me!”
I could now see in the dim light an old looking hardcover stuck between newer paperbacks. I carefully carried it to my desk and held it in front of the laptop, which now had booted up, giving more light. I noticed my essay page was back showing the same unfinished sentence I had been stuck on dangling unfinished on the second line of the screen. I sat down and opened the aging cover of the hardcover. The pages were water stained and yellow with age. The tiny font was almost impossible to read in the dark and apparently written by, I checked the spine, Johan Goonder. The title on the front was… The Haunted Windmill.
I scrunched my eyes and started to read, using the light from my screen. It turned out to be a very dreary story about an even more boring family trying to survive on a tulip farm on the—(I turned another page)—flat, fertile plains southeast of Rotterdam. The strange voice that had led me to the book was now reading the story to me in that weird accent, but faintly, in my head. I could hear it clearly. Or wait now.
I held my breath. I looked away from the page. “…and zen ze nixt day Josef pardded ze tyoolibs az he valked screw de feeldss ind owpened ze latch of ze vooden vindmill door…” The voice was clearly separate from my head. It was coming from my laptop. My laptop was reading the book to me! Out loud!
I closed the laptop, closed the book and tried again just opening the laptop. In the dark. I was more intrigued than afraid. The strange storyteller seemed distracted. His voice paused. He cleared his throat and continued from somewhere inside the machine… “ya…itd vus dark unt colt inzide zat vindmill, bitt dat vahhmer het to feet his vamily zo…”
Then there was a pause. I felt myself nodding off, but was awoken shortly after by the sound of some kind of struggle. I heard what sounded like feet scuffling down a wet stony stairwell. I leaned an ear against the screen. Then I could hear nothing. I scrunched my ear flat against the screen. Nothing. Then, blasting my eardrum, a very loud, somewhat younger, voice was echoing loud in an accent like my own. “LISTEN GOONDER. I TOLD YOU I HATE THIS STORY. I AM SICK OF BEING STUCK IN THIS STALE, STINKY OLD WINDMILL. AND I’M NOT EVEN THAT SCARY AS A GHOST. YOU CAN’T KEEP ME IN HERE, YOU HEAR? NOBODY WANTS TO READ THIS STORY. I WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE. IN FACT, THAT’S IT. I’M LEAVING.”
“….No. No. You can’t do zis. Finally, somevun is finally reading zis vundervul shtoarrry avter soo miny yeas sidding on ze shelv. Now, you git bik inzide dit vindmill zis minute. I wrote zis shtoarrry and this yonge min vunts to vinnish my shtoarrry, ya ya. Git bik inzide I dell you. Vait now. Ze vindmill…ze vindmill…my shtoarrry…com bik zis minute…you cannot do zis. Aha! Too bet. Ha Ha! I locked ze windmill doah. To badt foh yoow. Trry tow git owdt naow Meeshta… Beeg Shut…. Ghooosht. GOOO. WOOO. Ha ha. Yoow cannot shcayer meee. Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“YOU THINK THAT IS GONNA STOP ME? TOO BAD FOR YOU GOONDER. YOU LEFT THAT WHEELBARROW PILED HIGH WITH TULIP BULBS HALF WAY DOWN THE WINDING STAIRCASE? WELL, HERE IT COMES OLD MAN. GET OUT OF THE WAY GOONDER. HERE IT COMES. I’M WARNING YOU. HERE IT COMES…”
“Ho. Noo. Vot hef yoow done? Yoove smeshed ze door of my vindmill. Yoow ah in my shtoarrry! Mey oown dam shtoarrry! I creaded yew. Yoow uh in my shtoarrry. Ol mine. I em ze wrider. Yoow hef no brain. Yoow can’t do jest vot yoow vant. Yoow can’t doo zis! Com bik. Com b….I’m …I’m feyding evey…..Cooome ba aa aaak…”
It was at this moment that I felt two frail hands pressing down on my shoulders. I lifted my head and tried to get up but was being held down by these ice cold hands. I could hear the knuckle bones creaking next to my ear. After a cough I heard, “Well, now, young man.”
When I craned my neck, I could see the outline of a frail man with tiny round glasses and a thin white moustache. He was breathing with some difficulty and staring down at me. He bent forward, as if he had back problems. Underneath his overgrown eyebrows, he had multiple bags under wrinkled grey eyes. His breath reeked. His pressed blue shirt pocket had a logo that read Barnes Security. On his wide leather belt a large set of keys hung from a shiny chain “So, tell me now, young man. Do you know what time it is? What are you doing here at this time of the night? Or maybe I should say morning? Hmmn?” This he said in a croaky voice, lifting an antique pocket watch attached from beneath his belt.
He frowned as he held that ticking watch in front of his eyes. His pale white hand was covered in liver spots. The ticking from his watch was louder than the storm outside. He began to smile, as if he was about to laugh, but suddenly bent over and grabbed the back of my chair and coughed three or four times. Either he smoked or lot or… I began to wonder why the old, sickly guy was doing night shift, even in a library.
The grey light outside showed snow had begun to pile up outside. I lifted my head and was blinded by the beam from his flashlight shining right into my eyes. Slowly, after a good fifteen seconds, he turned it away from my face and, with a shaking arm, he aimed it at the book on the floor. The beam of his light showed dust hanging in the darkness.
I stared at the little paperback which seemed frozen dead under the spotlight. The shadow behind me reached down and picked it up. I was handed the book from off the floor. The shadow held it like someone holding a stale sandwich. It seemed to be holding its breath, and finally coughed up something from deep inside. At last it breathed out a faltering breath.
And then it came tumbling out. My whole story about being locked in. How my dad wanted me to be the nerd he wished he could have been in high school, but never made it. How he took my cell phone. How my mom and I used to love books when she used to take me here and how she told me I would love this book that Ms. Boyko had recommended. How they had read it over and over they loved it so much. How I still had two hours to get the damn book report done. I said I had no clue how I was supposed to do a report on a stupid novel I had not actually read …much. Well, not at all. Yeah. I admit. I get that. How do you write about a book you have not read? Ok? Fine.
I looked down and gazed for the first time at the cover. I cleared my throat and read out the title as confidently as I could.
I mean, maybe you have read it even. It’s …who…? has …seen… the… wind ? by …. Woo? … Wo Mitchell. Yeah. Like, who would call themselves Wo Mitchell? Yeah, well, anyway, I have to have a report on it finished by tomorrow.” I checked the time on my screen. “OK, so I have to get it finished in two hours or less. I know. I get the picture OK? Give me a break. So, that’s what I am doing here. Okay? Okay now? Can I just stay here and finish it? Please?
You can stand there and watch me write, you weirdo. Look, I’m doing my own work and I just need to get home as soon as this is over. OK? …Well, say something. Are you going to let me finish, or not?”
Large snowflakes were melting down the window next to Brian’s desk. A blast of air picked up leftover garbage and leaves outside, swirling in a vortex. The wind was moaning throughout that cavernous library. It was as if a last gasp of breath was straining to keep someone or something alive.
“Okay?” he mumbled, staring ahead. Waiting for someone to say something.
He turned around slowly.
There was no one in the library.
The Scarborough Scribblers are a group of writers who meet at the Albert Campbell Branch of the Toronto Public Library every second Monday from 2:00p.m. to 4:00p.m. Anything goes with this heterogeneous conglomeration of word lovers.
Thanks to Frances Katsiaounis for suggesting the project, to Maria Samurin for formatting the book for publication, to Tina Loretta F. Golland for the cover art and title, and to the helpful and courteous staff at the Albert Campbell Branch of the Toronto Public Library.
Let us take you on a series of library adventures... from home to space, from a senior sandwich snatcher to an imaginative job applicant, from a library ghost buster to a humorous book club misadventure, from a teen vampire fantasy to a historical romance, from a library on Mars to an archive in space, from a personal reflection to a tour of the library. Don't miss your chance to annoy your favourite librarians with loud guffaws and horrified screams. They'll just smile and show you their copies of Library Reflections.