I stared up at them, wondering what to do. I reached over and found Natalie’s hand. Her skin was cold and clammy but alive. I felt her wrist and found a strong pulse beating under the skin. At least there was that. We were both alive.
“What do you want?” I asked.
They continued to stare down at me. Nine of them all standing in blood red robes. I assumed they were standing just far away enough so the shadows hid their faces. Only one hood was back, her face exposed. By her own admission they were the Board of Directors of the very library we were helpless in. People I had known my entire life.
“What do you want?” I asked again.
Carol Anne Kinney stood over me, her mouth twisted in a snarl of victory. She held in her hand the Little Banned Library. A perfect replica of the Banned Library itself, it once stood outside like a small post office box. It was meant to hold discarded library books in a take-one/leave-one system, but had been stolen back in the summer. It had been Mrs. Kinney’s pet project, she had been the one to call for its construction during the fad of the little libraries across the country. Her little art shop had been the one to do make the thing, I think. The details were fuzzy, but I remember clearly the stink Carol Anne had raised when the thing had been taken.
Now she was standing in front of me holding the damn thing.
I let go of Natalie’s hand and stood up. Kinney stepped back a few feet and her enforcers moved in front of her. I made no move for her.
The knife had fallen from my hand when I had been hit. I had my pocket knife and my keys still, but they were in my pockets and I had a feeling these burly fellows would be on me before I could bring them out. Without a weapon, I am an average fighter at best. Years of smoking and drinking had worn me down. I could take Darling while I held a chef’s knife, but these two big boys would wipe the floor with me.
I tried to figure out which members was whom. I could make out the shapes around me in the half moon pattern from the light in the darkness. The robes hid their shapes well, but I had known most of these people my entire life. I saw John Baker with his slight, frail frame. Next to him was a small, portly Betsy Farmer. By the way the next man leaned to his right, I could tell it was Chase Carpenter. The bean pole next to him had to be Melinda Miller. The blank space was for one of the lumps in front of me.
The rest were more difficult to decide, being all large people, but I had them narrowed down. If they were arranged in the staggered man-woman order, I guessed Gwen Smith or Cindy Archer rounding out the last with either Jack Mason or Daryl Barber filling in the empty spaces. If that sounds confusing, try doing it after being beaten and dragged into a circle.
I looked over them again but did not see the last of the group, Roman Fletcher. He was a difficult man to miss, tall and gangly and made of elbows and knees all sticking out everywhere. I wondered where he was, so I asked.
“The Board seems to be missing a member,” I said, “Sure you can meet without him.”
Kinney stepped forward. I had never thought her a strong woman, but the veins on her hands and arms bulged as she gripped the small structure.
She looked up at me, my eyes meeting the dark black of hers. I began to get afraid. Carold Anne Kinney was a problem patron despite being the president of the board. When i dealt with her on any other occasion, on every other occasion, her eyes had been wild and frantic and mean, small beads scanning wildly for every insurrection and issue to call forth hell and tell everyone in earshot what had been done wrong..
Now, this time, she was calm. Deadly calm. Cold. When she smiled it felt like someone running a cold finger up my spine. I straightened more and felt the adrenaline in me. Natalie and I were in real danger.
“Mr. Fletcher had to excuse himself from tonights proceeding,” she said, “There must be only nine to greet the new year. There must be nine to call her forth.”
“Mr. Banned,” Kinney said, “This is a board meeting. You are not a board member, but as a member of the library staff and the public are welcome to stay provided you only speak when addressed. Now, let’s-”
I spoke before I thought. I was done with this crazy shit.
“Fuck that,” I said, “I’m not just sitting here and-”
She hit me with the Little Banned Library. She took it by the post that had once been in the ground and that little old woman swung for the fences. And did I fly. I heard my ribs crack as it made contact and then I flew back, off my feet and down to the ground. I saw Kinney over me, the sharp end of the post raised over me.
This crazy bitch had just knocked me three feet back and was going to impale me and all that would go through my head was long lost arguments as to why we should fix the roof instead of build the little damn library.
One of the larger men took her by the shoulder and she stopped before she plunged the giant stake into my chest. She did not give her improptu baseball bat away, though. No, she held it with one hand and leaned down to stare me in the face.
“We are stronger now, closer to the new year, Banned. Stronger than your family. She fills us with strength and there is nothing you can do about it. You will die tonight, you and your little whore, the staff broken against the rock to free the goddess of knowledge from her tomb.”
As she talked, spit flew from her mouth like venom. Some of it landed on my glasses and cheek. I reached up to wipe it off, but she slapped my hand away with her free hand before driving it into my stomach. Her calm demeanor returned.
“But,” she said, “We still must conduct this like any board meeting. There must be order. So lay here and stay quiet until it is your turn to die, librarian.”