Tales of the Unexpected
Have you ever wished for the power to rid yourself of all the annoying and rude people around you? Meet the librarian, who has a peculiar talent for helping people become more completely immersed in a book than they would have ever thought possible…
This is not a confession, though when found in a day or two, possibly a week from now, maybe a month or longer, that is how it will be taken. By that time, it won’t make a difference, for I will be long gone. You will search for me everywhere, spending time, money, and manpower in what will end up being a fruitless waste of it all.
You already think me insane, and once you have read this, I have no doubts that I shall be labeled as such until the end of time. Perhaps I am. If so, it is due to circumstances I made no effort to change. If you won’t be satisfied with anything less than a confession, one that will wrap everything up in a neat little package that you can use as closure, let it be what I am about to write.
I knew the inevitable outcome of my actions, yet I was able to convince myself that I was in control, that I was the one calling the shots. Ha. I have never been in control. My entire life has been the result of someone else controlling my every deed. Just this once, though, I thought the control would be mine. There is my confession. I thought this was a chance for me to take the reins of my own destiny, and I failed.
The voice whispering in my ear in the late evening shadows that filled the library, crawling over the shelves like millions of silent black spiders, made it all so tempting. People would hear of my “talent,” my ability to help them become more immersed in a book than they ever thought possible, and flock to me. I would become more than an obscure librarian in a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town. I knew there would be a price — there is always a price — but I thought I could enjoy the ride and, in the end, stick someone else with the check. I knew the moment I first used my talent that the price would be mine and mine alone. The first time was quite by accident, but when it happened… oh, my, it was like getting that first taste of a fine wine. I was addicted to the rush, the power, and I knew I would pay whatever was required of me.
An obnoxious lad entered the library with an overdue copy of Oliver Twist, one of the books on his assigned summer reading list. He thought to drop the book on my desk and then make a hasty retreat, but I stepped between him and the door.
“That shall be one dollar,” I told him, extending my hand. I shall not repeat his response, for even now, the language used by one so young turns my ears red.
“Perhaps I should speak with your mother,” I threatened.
“I walked,” he said, a lie. “My mother’s not here.” Another lie.
“I watched you get out of her car and come in,” I told him. Foul language and blatant dishonesty; someone needed to teach this child a lesson.
I held up the returned book in my hand and shook it at him. “Were it only possible that you could live the life of one of the guttersnipes in this book, then I have no doubt your manners would be greatly improved.”
I am far from the most athletic person, and young children tend to dart about like frightened fish; thus, before I knew what had happened, the brat had circumvented me and was making his escape… without paying the fine. I watched as he pushed his way through the first set of double doors and start towards the second. His mother was busy doing whatever she thought was more important at the time and was paying her son no mind.
I sighed and looked at the book. “If only…”
I carried the book back to its home on the shelf. I began to lift it up, when, for just the briefest of moments, it seemed to get heavier. I passed it off as tiredness on my part. When I returned to the desk, a young woman — I recognized her as the boy’s mother — was standing there.
“May I help you?”
“I’m looking for my son,” she said, a hint of worry on her face.
“Is he the boy who returned Oliver Twist?” I asked, innocently.
“Yes,” she said. “Is he still here?”
“I told him the book was overdue,” I said, leaving out his horrible manners. “He said he didn’t have the money to pay the fine and ran out.”
The woman looked upset, but her worry seemed to be growing. “I gave him a dollar to pay the fine before he got out of the car.”
“How odd,” I told her. “He indicated to me that he was alone, that he had walked here.”
The woman reached into her purse and produced another dollar. “Here, this is for the fine. I’m so sorry for what has happened.”
“Please, keep the dollar,” I said. “There is no reason for your child to cost you an extra dollar for his dishonesty.”
She asked if I was sure, and I assured her I was. Take your money, woman, and go, I thought to myself. I was eager to return to my books, or, rather, one book in particular.
When she left at last, I fairly ran to the shelf where I had put Oliver Twist. I jerked the book from the shelf, harsher than I intended, and began flipping through the pages. I don’t know why, but I began scanning the illustrations. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be horrified when I saw the picture of the children in the workhouse, starving as young Oliver made his way forward to beg for more food. There, seated on a bench, his face forever frozen in the anguish of an empty belly, was the obnoxious brat who thought the use of foul language and untruths was the best way to avoid responsibility. I didn’t know how he got there, nor did I know if he would ever leave. All that mattered was the fact that I had put him there with my gift.
He was only the first.
Another time, a woman entered the library with complete disregard for our policy of silence. She was a loud, horrid woman with multiple chins, beady eyes, and the inflated ego of one who thought she was more important than she really was.
“I need you over here,” she bellowed, drawing the glares of those seeking to read in peace.
“I shall be there momentarily,” I informed her. “And please lower your voice. You are disturbing the others.”
She looked around at the others with obvious disdain. “They are just reading.”
“Still, they prefer to read in silence,” I told her.
She laughed. “If they are unable to read because of a little noise, perhaps they should go back to coloring instead.”
One by one, the insulted patrons gathered their belongings and left. I tried to apologize to each one, all the while trying to block out the woman’s demands.
“I need these copied. Move faster, you idiot. You need to be a team player.”
After the final person left, I turned my attention to the annoying woman whom I wanted nothing more than to strangle with my bare hands. If the truth were told, I had serious doubts that my hands would fit around her porcine neck.
“Now, ma’am,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“Do you not listen?” she complained. “Are you mentally challenged? Is that why you work in a library, because you are too stupid for a real job?”
I’d had enough. “Ma’am, do you read?”
The question caught her off guard. “What?”
“I asked if you read,” I told her. “I have the perfect book for you.”
“What are you babbling about?” She was completely out of her element. For once in her miserable, self-absorbed life, she wasn’t in complete control.
“I have the perfect book for you,” I said. “I can guarantee that you will find yourself lost in the pages.”
“I did not come here for a stupid book,” she snapped, trying to retake the reins of our conversation.
“Wait right here,” I urged her. “I shall only be gone for a moment. I know exactly where it is.”
I rushed off and then returned a moment later. With a smile, I reached the book toward her, which she accepted tentatively. I felt a rush of pure elation when she read the title.
“Dante’s Inferno? What makes you think I would want to read something like this?” she asked.
I turned away and waited for the right moment. Seconds passed, and then I heard the book hit the floor. I turned back to find myself alone.
I knelt to pick up the book; it was a bit heavier than when I first brought it to her. I was not surprised. Placing it on the desk, I opened it and began to search through the illustrations. I was anxious to see where she had found herself.
No face escaped my scrutiny. I finally found her writhing in the dark, murky waters of the fifth circle of Hell, reserved for the wrathful. The clawed hands of her fellow damned souls seemed to be tearing through the flesh of her arms, while the teeth of another ripped at her throat. Her screams, though without sound, were a sweet melody to my ears.
There were many others. A twenty-year-old hoodlum in a wife-beater T-shirt who found himself on the surgeon’s table in Red Badge of Courage. An annoying salesman who was last seen sinking beneath the muck of African quicksand in one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan novels. All told, my victims, as the news media has come to call them, now reside in dozens of the books that wait to be checked out of my library.
As I said earlier, though, this power came with a price, and now is the time to pay it. That voice from the shadows calls me even now. I would pray that my fate is a peaceful one, but I fear those prayers would go unheard due to my unrepentant heart. I walk through the library, feeling the draw of my destiny. I stop, and a chill runs down my spine. I glance up and read the genre section that has drawn me.
I cannot help but tremble as my arm extends with a life of its own. I close my eyes, not wanting to see my punishment until the last moment. When I do open them, a gasp escapes my throat as I read the author’s name.
Then I know the source of the voice. It was Cthulhu. The price of my talent shall be paid in eternal nightmare.