So it surprised the shit out of me when one of the books leaped from my hands and went running down the aisles on its own. The shelving thing above is only supposed to make the new kids concentrate on accuracy and sound a little new-agey zen, not be true. But there I was, after years of shelving, watching my first book find its own way home.
The book, a copy of Shirley Jackson’s short stories, walked open, wobbling back and forth and pivoting on the spine. The tome skittered around the “I-Ka” section and disappeared from sight.
I looked around. No one but me was on the second floor. The reference desk sat empty. The usual coughs and foot shuffling were absent from the stacks.
I thought about calling down, hell, going downstairs if only to tell the staff that their director’s mind had finally snapped. They would buy that, especially after the recent budget cuts. I could take the day off.
But I had never seen a walking book before now, and who was I to tell the new folks to let the books lead them if I didn’t follow one myself.
When I turned the corner, I gasped. All the books on the last third of both sides of the stacks were gone. The shelves were bare, even of the dust that usually outlined the collection when you removed all the books from the shelves. The Shirley Jackson book sat in the middle of the aisle, closed.
A cold wind came from behind me. The Jackson book opened and the pages started to flutter, never settling on one page. The wind grew stronger, chilling me to the bone. The book’s pages fluttered faster and faster. The howl and flutter mixed louder and louder until it sounded like a projector feeding film in a gale. I closed my eyes, put my hands over my ears and bent down to huddle as ice began to form and a small snow flurry whirled around me.
Then everything stopped.
“Mr. Banned? Get up,” I felt a warm hand on my shoulder, “Evan, it's all right, get up.”
The voice was... impossible. She was dead. But when I opened my eyes and looked up, Brenda the Viking Librarian stood before me.
“Brenda?” I asked.
She nodded. Her face was just as I remembered it, but more. A homely woman in life, death had granted her color and vigor. Color radiated on her cheeks and almost lit the mane of blond hair. A great smile played on her face. That smile was hearth and home, warmth and mirth, but a little dangerous.
A striking bronze plate covered her broad and expansive chest. A wolf fir draped over her shoulders like a cardigan sweater. The leather skirt was pleated, stretching down to the tops of fir-lined, stylish heels. At her waist was a broad leather belt studded with runes, a small hammer hung.
She knelt down to me, “Mr. Evan Banned, I have been granted leave from The Fields to give you a message and a gift. Listen now. A great evil is coming threefold. One will arrive behind you, one from within, and one will save you. Take this to help you.”
She took the hammer off her belt and handed it to me. I looked at it. It was a stamp. A small, stone bookstamp with the letters “Banned” carved into it and leather wrapped around the handle.
“This is the Stamp of Mimir, the knowledge guardian,” she said, “It is used to banish forbidden and useless knowledge from this world. The Stamp must not be used lightly and only by the worthy. Hear me, Evan Banned, one will be behind, one within, and one will save. This is all I can tell you.”
Brenda stood. I stood.
“So, um, what’s it like?” I asked.
“Death? Cold and warm. Free,” she laughed, “I remember you on your first day, all gangly, smelling of those cigarettes and with a fresh MLIS. When your mom asked us to give you a job, I was almost sick... But you did good, boy. I was lucky, I died doing what I loved, where I was happy. That counts for something on the other side. Remember that.”
A sound of clapping came from downstairs, and I turned to face it. The under-10 storytime had just ended. The children’s librarians voice rose over the crowd as everyone began shuffling around.
“That job’s cursed, broken. She’ll cause trouble, just you see.”
I turned to ask what she meant, but Brenda the Viking Librarian was gone. Everything was back in its place, books on the shelves with no hint of water from the snow. The Shirley Jackson book was in my hand. The small hammer was in the other.