The Night Librarian
It was very quiet in this area of the stacks, so quiet that if you listened carefully enough you could hear the books breathing. This portentous silence was broken by a rhythmic squeak as a trolley loaded with grimoires and magical texts was pushed firmly towards the dark corner wherein such resided.
“It’s no good you being like that,” a determined voice said. “It doesn’t hurt being shelved. It’s not as if any of you are chained. Although if some of you keep misbehaving…”
The rhythmic squeal stopped and the trolley rounded a corner, being pushed by a dumpy girl with a determined looking chin. As it neared the shelves where arcane and magical volumes were shelved the squeal started up again.
“Does somebody want to be shelved on 99b?”
The dumpy girl began shelving volumes with practiced efficiency. She handled the books with care and respect, but would brook no resistance nor any other tricks. One of the grimoires snapped its covers at her and she slapped it firmly.
“Start that with me and I’ll chain you.”
If it was possible for a book to look abashed it did so, coming quietly to hand to be slipped into its accustomed place.
Once the grimoires were tidily placed in their proper positions, the Night Librarian closed the steel doors around their stack and locked them with a hugely ornate key.
On her way back to the centre desk, she paused briefly at travel and pointed an imperious finger. There was a bit of scrabbling as the books reshelved themselves in their proper order, followed by an embarrassed silence.
“Papua New Guinea, since when have you lived between Jersey and Guernsey?”
A dog eared volume leapt from a shelf and scuttled off. The girl regarded the now tidy stack for a moment before permitting herself a small smile.
She turned on her heel pushing the now empty trolley to the store room where it would be filled by the day staff who were far too busy to ever shelve books.
As they saw it, that was her job and the business of shelving had already taken a goodly part of the night, but at least there was just one full trolley left. She looked at it with some disfavour before grasping the handles firmly. Immediately they turned warm, and furry and she could feel tiny tentacles caressing the thin skin inside her wrists.
“Stop that at once,” she frowned awfully and the trolley behaved as she pushed it past Young Adult, Alternative History, and Romance to its designated area: Erotica.
“Here we are,” she said brightly, “your stop”.
These stacks were somehow claustrophobic, and the air was thick and heavy with what could be felt as either threat or promise. The young librarian appeared to feel neither as she simply proceeded with her work.
“Lesbian romance,” she clapped her hands and a half dozen or so volumes jumped from the trolley and shelved themselves neatly among their peers. She carried on, briskly calling out names and categories and the books kept obeying, even if she did feel the occasional groping hand as they passed her by.
Finally there were just two books left glowering at her from the trolley. “Extreme punishment, am I to assume you are unwilling to shelve yourselves like sensible books?”
There was a sudden sullenness in the air and she sighed.
“You lot are more trouble than grimoires.”
Pushing the trolley further into an aisle, where the atmosphere was warm and redolent of body fluids and full of the sounds of moans and curses, she stopped in front of a shelf where her senses were assaulted by cries of pain and the whistle of the whiplash. She picked up the first book and slipped it into its allotted position with very little difficulty. The second snarled at her as she put out her hand. Nothing daunted, she slapped it on its stained cover. It retaliated, and she felt the phantom bite of a whip across her shoulders. She smiled thinly and picked the volume up by its spine.
“Somebody masturbate on you today?”
The book wriggled at the pleasurable memory and she pushed it into its vacant slot before exiting the erotica stack with as much dignity as she could muster.
Back at the central desk, she began the second part of her duties. She worked diligently inputting details of loaned volumes and returns, clicking her tongue at inaccuracies and omissions as she slowly reduced the pile of official dockets, dirty slips of paper, scented notes and IOUs. She had almost finished when she was interrupted by a polite cough.
“Yes,” she said without looking up.
“Please miss, there’s a something roaming the stacks and we is afraid.”
The librarian turned to look at at the speaker. She was surprised to see a whole deputation of small creatures looking at her hopefully. There were brownies, gnomes, elves, rabbits, squirrels, hobbits, borrowers and too many others to mention. Most of these species disliked and distrusted each other, so their banding together portended something of considerable dark power. She shrugged internally and bent her gaze on the spokesperson: a tiggywinkle.
“What sort of a something?”
The hedgehog dropped a nervous curtesy.
“We doesn’t know ma’am. But we hears it and we knows it is hungry.”
“Oh. One of those. You wait here then.”
The Night Librarian took two things out of her capacious handbag, and two more things out of a drawer beside her left foot.
“Okay. You lot stay here. I will deal.”
She strode off along the silent shelves, noticing for the first time how afraid the books were and how they were all trying to make themselves small and insignificant. Reaching the section of the library given over to Dark Magicks, she checked to see that the grimoires were still locked in before taking a very large salt pot out of her pocket. She uncapped it and began to draw a complex pattern on the stained stones of the floor. When she was satisfied she put the salt pot away and brought out a spray bottle of water, which she uncapped before stabbing her thumb with the silver pin of the brooch she wore at the neck of her modest little blouse. She allowed a carefully counted number of drops of blood to mix with the water before briskly recapping the bottle. Walking around the salty pattern, she carefully sprayed a mist of the pink solution around the edges of the pentagram. She smiled thinly and stepped into the centre of the design. Placing the bottle on the floor between her feet she muttered an incantation. And waited.
At first nothing happened, but then a slithering sliding sort of noise, overlain by a toothache-inducing scrape became audible, and the girl in the pentagram felt a sense of resistance. She muttered a few more words and the slithering came closer. A reptilian head with glowing yellow eyes came around the corner, followed by a scaly winged body balanced on short front legs and longer legs at the rear. The creature boasted powerful hindquarters, and massively muscled shoulders decorated with dark leathery wings. As it drew near, the uncomfortable scraping sound could be traced to the creature’s talons fruitlessly digging the ground as it tried to resist the pull of the Librarian’s incantation.
It stopped at the edge of the pentagram, swishing a tail whose spiked end could disembowel a man. Peering shortsightedly into the centre of the salty lines it snarled at the unimpressive figure who had nonetheless managed to drag its unwilling carcass across the floor without breaking a sweat.
“I hunger. I thirst.” It hissed.
“I expect you do, but there is naught here for you.”
“You are here.”
“And I am protected within walls of power.”
The dragon, for dragon it was, sneered and swiped at the salty lines with one clawed forefoot. Nothing moved. It hissed again and tried harder.
“Even if you could disturb the pattern, that which is written on stone and sealed with holy water and blood cannot be removed until I release it.”
The dragon ground it’s teeth and hissed viciously, but the Librarian would not be intimidated. She narrowed her eyes and concentrated briefly.
“Stop that T’Drell. Instead of being stupid tell me how you got here and why you came here.”
The dragon shook its head.
“I do not know. I cannot tell. Asleep I was. Then found myself here. Wandering. Alone. Hungry. Angry.”
“Would you return to Dragonheart?”
“Very well. Be still.”
T’Drell laid his head on the stones and became absolutely motionless as the Librarian began her incantation. As he began to fade he lifted his eyes.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
The girl waited until every trace of reptilian hunger had left before stepping out of her area of protection and muttering a few words under her breath. The pentagram disappeared and she walked back to find the oddly assorted creatures still clustered in the pool of light around her desk.
“Back to your shelves now. The creature is gone.”
The tiggywinkle shook her spiny head. “Isn’t ma’am” she declared. “Is hiding. In Erotica.”
“Are you sure?”
“We is. And please ma’am you gots to banish it before sunrise or it will stay. It eats tiggywinkles.”
The Librarian patted her spikes then sighed. This wasn’t going to be some bewildered dragon pulled from its own reality, it was going to be darker and nastier, and stronger.
“You people stay here and keep very quiet please.”
They all nodded and the girl rooted in her handbag. She came up with one object that she shoved into the pocket of her neat, beige cardigan. Then she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and headed for Erotica.
Passing Romance she was surprised to be accosted by a gentle hand on her shoulder. The Heroine stood at her side, misty and insubstantial, But a vision of beauty and desirability nonetheless.
“Can I help?” the beauty asked humbly.
“It may be that you can, if you are brave.”
“I am the Heroine, of course I’m brave. Now if you were asking for clever…”
The Librarian huffed out a little laugh and muttered a word under her breath. The Heroine became real living flesh, became the entity known as Beauty. She smiled, and the ephemeral beauty and her prosaic earthbound sister shared a moment of purely female communication.
“Do you know what to do?” the Librarian asked.
“Oh yes. And I know what will happen to me.”
“I’m sorry for that.”
“You need not be. I am not really alive. Shall we?”
The Librarian swallowed a lump in her throat and nodded wordlessly.
Beauty walked quietly, some ten paces ahead of the little Librarian, and her allure was such that it completely hid her quiet sister beneath trailing clouds of glory. They had almost reached Erotica when a male voice accosted them.
The bearer of beauty stopped but made no reply.
“Who walks?” The voice grew angry, but Beauty merely chuckled. It was a sound that appealed to the needs of all creatures, and the Librarian could feel the breeze that ran through the stacks as each book took an indrawn breath.
Then there came the sound of footfalls, big heavy footfalls, and a man stepped out from between the shelves of erotic literature. He was a distillation of everything that genre demands in a male. He was as beautiful as an Arctic snowstorm, with a body that looked as if it had been chiselled from marble then animated by demonic forces, and the face of a fallen angel. He looked as if to be the object of his desires would be both agony and fulfilment. And every female in every book in the library wanted him.
He walked towards the beauty with a twisted smile on his perfect lips.
“What have we here?” he sneered, although his nakedness left very little doubt of his interest.
The beauty smiled, and deepened the dimple at the corner of her rose pink lips.
“What would you have me be?” she asked softly but her voice flowed around the library like molten honey, it soothed and it cheered and it stirred deep longings all without effort or stress.
The man shook his noble head as if the voice hurt something buried deep within him, but he kept coming, stepping with slow deliberate grace. Beauty seemed to be welcoming him, but the Librarian noticed that she was backing away, backing without moving a hand or a foot. This meant the girl had to creep backwards too, so as to remain within the aura of loveliness and sexual availability that kept her hidden from the eyes of whatever was inside the man’s skin. As they moved away from the Erotica stacks, the simulacrum weakened, and there began to be flashes of that which hid beneath the masculine glory that was stalking its prey with a sneer on his perfectly sculpted lips and a cruel look in his eyes.
At first it was just a flicker, a glimpse of grey scales beneath the golden skin, a flash of a horned head, a suggestion of a barbed penis. But as they inched away from the place where the illusion had been formed the creature’s grip on itself grew weaker. Normally one such as this would have noticed the slippage in its garment of falsehood, but Beauty drew it so far into her toils that it had no eyes or ears for anything but pink skin, golden curls, and a song to put the sirens to shame. As his eyes grew less and less human and more and more fixated on the tender flesh before it, the Librarian crept closer and closer, until she was right behind the beauty, so close she almost thought she could feel the texture of that perfect skin.
She brushed such thoughts aside and concentrated on the oncoming creature. He was almost within touching distance now, and she would have but one chance. Dropping the illusion of humanity altogether, the creature that stood before Beauty with saliva dripping from its fangs was like nothing anyone could imagine whilst taking cues from each child’s fear of the dark and every adult’s worst nightmare. It reached out a clawed and cicatrised hand to grasp Beauty by the rounded flesh of her upper arm. The smell of burning flesh was choking but Beauty neither flinched nor uttered a sound. The Librarian reached a hand into the pocket of her neat little cardigan and closed her fist around the object hiding in the beige wool. The monster bent his head, and breathed in the faint scent of crushed roses that came from Beauty’s very skin. As his demonic countenance came closer, even Beauty shrank a little, but her courage kept her in place. Just as the pointed metallic teeth were about to fasten themselves in her shoulder, the Librarian’s small freckled hand came over that shoulder. She held what looked like a small knobbly stick with which she tapped the monster on its beak of a nose. It looked at her and she placed the end of the stick right between its hircine eyes. There was no dramatic invocation, and nor did she mutter any arcane words beneath her breath. She just sighed and said.
For an instant, the creature resisted her, then there was a bang and an overwhelming stench of rotten eggs as it disappeared, leaving a sense of hunger and reluctance behind it.
Beauty stood with her head bowed, there was a black, burned mark about her arm, where a six-fingered hand had grasped her and she rubbed it reflexively.
“I hope,” she said with a brave attempt at humour, “that he didn’t bring his brother.”
The Librarian smiled her rare smile.
“No. It came alone. Fortunately. And the gateway is now closed.”
“Good.” Beauty briefly rested her cheek against that of her plain sister before seeming to dissolve like ice in a warm bath. In the end nothing was left but a voice. A voice that whispered,“farewell…”
Then even that was gone, leaving the stacks empty and echoing with small movements as the books dared to breathe again.
The Librarian put her wand back in her pocket and went to reassure the small ones that their place of sanctuary was now safe.