Here we are again for another round of First Sunday Short Fiction. We have three other participants this month.
Suzanne F. Payne has succumbed to my bullying yet again, and joins us for the first time with The Stone House.
Dawn G. Sparrow is another first timer with a sci-fi short, Water in the Desert.
Stephanie Kayne continues her romance series with August.
And A.M. Supinger contributes a saucy angelic romance, Stupid Cupid.
And now, my contribution:
The Book of Randsay
I’d just clicked “shut down” on the Windows menu when I heard Corinna shout from the office at the other end of the library.
“Where is it? It’s loose!”
The computer stopped whirring and the light on the monitor went dark. The library was suddenly very quiet.
I wondered what “it” was. There were so many possibilities.
It could be something from The Booke of Thynges; every time it was opened, something came out. You’d think the book would eventually empty out, but so far not even close. A few weeks ago someone opened it and a flying llama escaped. That was a helluva mess to clean up; it took maintenance an hour to catch the llama so they could perform the spell to put him back.
Or it could be The Eating Book. If ever a book should be burned, it was that one. Carnivorous tomes were a big hassle, and it wasn’t like you could read the things. But oh no, we couldn’t get rid of it: it was, powerful, priceless, and out of print. Corinna said we were privileged to have it on the shelves. But it kept finding ways to break through the protective wards our security wizards placed around the restricted room. So far we’d managed to keep it from devouring any of the patrons, but we lost a volunteer once. Of course she couldn’t alphabetize to save her life, so maybe the book did us a favor. I kept hoping it would swallow my boss, but so far no luck.
And it might have been Mr. Robards. Mr. Robards was a patron who never listened to the staff members; last year he snuck into the history collection, read an ancient spell book, and managed to turn himself into a bullfrog. We kept him in a fish tank and bought him live bugs, but he was always finding a way to get out so he could hop around the stacks looking up the ladies’ skirts.
My thoughts were interrupted by a scream. I ran from behind the front desk, down the length of the library and into the back room.
Corinna lay on the floor with a bloody gash on her forehead. I grabbed the box of tissues from the nearest desk and dropped to my knees beside her. I held a wad of tissues to her forehead. After a second she moaned and stirred, and I helped her sit up.
She put her hand over the tissues; I let them go and sat back on my heels.
“I opened the new shipment. Whoever packed it put The Book of Randsay on top–and didn’t lock it.”
We’d been so proud when we scored The Book of Randsay from that Warlock’s estate auction. Never mind that it was one of the most dangerous books in existence. And now it was loose in the library. Shit shit.
“Stupid,” she muttered. “We weren’t supposed to open any of those boxes alone. But it just . . .”
I stood up. “It called to you. It’s what The Book of Randsay DOES. We should have locked the whole box up in the restricted section the minute it arrived. I’m calling Angelica.”
Angelica was our best security guard and wardskeeper. She answered on the third ring.
“What?” she growled. She couldn’t help it, she was a weretiger.
“We have a situation.”
“Not my problem.”
“It’s my day off.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
I called her back immediately but the phone went straight to voicemail. Shit shit shit.
I wanted to clutch my phone, chew on my lips, and worry, but I didn’t have time. A loud crash sounded from the vicinity of the front desk. I looked at Corinna, who was still clutching her head. Then I sighed, grabbed a huge, heavy book from the top of the box, and sprinted for the front desk. I could use the book for bludgeoning if nothing else.
As soon as I reached the children’s section I smelled hot plastic and burning paper. I ran faster.
I thought more carefully as I came within sight of the desk. Smoke rose from the computers, now expensive sculptures of melted glass, plastic, and metal. On the upside, the recently returned books wouldn’t need to be re-shelved; they were mostly piles of ash now. I saw motion behind the counter and ducked into the poetry section.
I quickly reviewed what I knew about The Book of Randsay in my mind. Randsay had been one of the most powerful wizards in the world the same year the Wizard Gutenberg went crazy with the inventing and revolutionized the literary world. And it was Gutenberg himself who figured out how to stop Randsay’s reign of terror and kill him.
Unfortunately, Gutenberg’s ego got the better of him, and he just had to show off by imprisoning Randsay’s malevolent spirit in a freshly printed book. A book that murmured and lured and seduced people to open it, then downed them with a blast of magic and ran amok until someone could subdue it. Every time the book escaped, it got harder to capture.
Speaking of books, I wondered about the one I’d grabbed on my way out of the office. I looked down to read the cover: Illusions for Dummies.
That wasn’t going to help.
The sound of flapping pages brought my attention back to the desk. The Book of Randsay fluttered into view from behind the front desk and headed for the reference desk. Soon there wouldn’t be a working computer in the library, not to mention all the books we’d have to replace. I was going to have to do something. I thought about rushing the book and just using brute force to overwhelm it. Maybe the people who’d taken it on before had been too focused on magic to consider using plain old physical force. I wasn’t that strong–I worked in a library fercrissakes–but I was willing to bet I could bench press more than a book. Even a huge book with a brass lock.
Before I could act, however, I heard the plop-ribbit of Mr. Robards. He was loose too? What next? I saw his lumpy little body hop into view.
The Book of Randsay flapped its covers, and Mr. Robards went up in a puff of smoke and frog entrails.
Okay, brute force was definitely out.
I clutched Illusions for Dummies to my chest and tried to think as the computer at the reference desk melted. I was pretty sure I heard dry, papery laughter coming from The Book of Randsay. At least someone was enjoying himself.
Shit, shit, shit and shit. It was Corinna, shouting across the library from the back room. And The Book of Randsay heard her–it started flapping itself across the worn carpet toward the ramp that went to the fiction section. I needed to do something before it finished her off, but I didn’t want to get blown up like Mr. Robards.
I opened Illusions for Dummies to the first spell–a voice throwing spell. Perfect. It was so easy even I could manage it. I quickly recited the chant and did the visualization, then shouted “Over here you creepy book!”
The spell worked; my voice resounded through the library from the doorway of the restricted room. Peering around the shelves, I saw The Book of Randsay change course.
This plan of mine had about as much chance of working as a river had of flowing to the moon. But hey, in 1996 a small river in Missouri had flowed to the moon. Sure it was a case of magic gone awry, but so was this. And no one else was around to come up with a brilliant suggestion.
I snuck out from behind the stacks and moved as quietly as I could.
“IN HERE!” I shouted, and my voice came from the restricted room again. I was going to have to remember this spell; I could think of all kinds of applications for it.
The Book of Randsay stopped at the warded door of the restricted room. I held my breath. Another flap of pages, and the door exploded. I saw the sparkles in the air that indicated the wards dissolving.
Every book in the restricted room woke up at the same time, and pandemonium broke out. I hastily reset the wards. My wards weren’t the best, but I was hoping the chaos inside would keep the books occupied long enough that I would have a little time to figure out what to do next.
The Booke of Thynges started spitting out creatures, furniture, toys, and jars of marmalade at an astounding rate, and all of them flew toward The Book of Randsay.
I held up my cell phone and took a video for 30 seconds–long enough to capture The Eating Book devouring a purple platypus and an elaborate, gold trimmed tea set while The Book of Randsay blasted a flying squirrel with some kind of lightning bolt and set fire to an expensive-looking Persian rug.
Then I emailed it to all members of library security.
Three of them materialized within thirty seconds, but just as they appeared at my side, The Eating Book swallowed The Book of Randsay whole.
The Eating Book swelled to the size of a Shetland pony and burst into purple and green flames. Within thirty seconds it was a pile of sparkling ash in the middle of the still-smoldering rug.
The three security wizards all looked at each other over my head, then looked down at me with wide eyes. I shrugged.
I cleaned out my desk the next day. Sure, I had saved the library from being burned down and smashed to the ground. The city was even giving me an award, though they said a raise was not in the budget. But I’d decided to join the police force. Working at the library was entirely too dangerous.
copyright Michelle Simkins, 2011.
Artwork: “Librarians R Tough” by Tracy N. Jorgensen. Tracy is a writer and artist who provides a mythbusters for writers service at her blog Belief Suspenders. She and her husband also run a small business at Past Primitive.