Sleep has always been my bane. That sounds dramatic, but it is true. I hated to sleep. Until I was four or five I slept in my parents bed and my mom would tell me stories about men looking for their golden arms and such.
Then, when I learned to read, I graduated to reading by night light and flashlight. I guess my mom understood and allowed it. Dad would make me turn out the light if he saw, and I am not sure if he ever got it.
As I went on, my insomnia and deepening need for stories grew to the point where my brain would not shut down without one. Sometimes it would bring them forward as I slept, taunt me. A story of my grandfather’s, the Tailypo, always horrified and hated me in my sleep. The stalking beast appeared at the end of my bed and told how it would skin and eat me.
As high school came to a close, the dreams and the stories and the insomnia all melded as one with doses of caffeine and alcohol. I ran like a machine on fluids of pitch black and amber honey. And I ran from my own thoughts.
I went south to Florida on that running madness. A lot happened there, friends were left behind and I came back to the library.
That’s when the Man in Red began to make visits. He tormented me, the hellishness of him appearing to rip apart things I do not have. In one dream, he killed my pregnant wife. In another he stole my child. In others he has simply taken me high in the air and dropped me, letting gravity do his work.
He appears infrequently and without warning and nothing stops me from shaking after he has gone. I am always alone with him and he tears me apart.
Last night was no different.
The library burst at the seams with people. I walked from the back office, my office, the office of the director. She stood in front of me, blond hair just hitting her shoulders. She stood with one foot up, a red shoe balanced on the toe as she talks to patrons. Her hip cocked to the side and swayed on one leg as she checked out patrons and talked. Her laugh at a little girl sitting on the desk brightened the library.
I stepped up to the second station and asked if anyone needed help. The computer took time booting up, flashing to the old green and black screen of a dead system before the colorful windows appear. I smiled at the little girl sitting on the desk and look at the woman next to me. Both the child and the woman, my lover, smiled at me and the day was better.
Then he stepped up. The Man in Red is bald and his facial hair is sparse and blond. He smiled and I saw the black tongue behind yellow teeth. He also laughed and things died in response, the world turned blacker and wrong.
From inside his jacket he pulled a paper, a yellow scroll bound in scarlet ribbon and sealed with an amber wax. The seal was fat and thick and in the shape of an eye. The Man in Red held the paper out to me and his lips curved and I saw his Adam’s apple bob but no sound came out.
She reached for the scroll before I could stop her. The child reached, too. He laughed as they reach for the scroll and it burns before them and turns to ash. He laughed and pointed and I looked.
Their feet, the dangling feet of the little girl and the shoe dangling from my lover’s foot, the feet began to dissolve. They dissolved and faded away, dropping like sandcastles to a wave. He laughed and blew out and they explode in mists of red.
I screamed and the people around me screamed. But not the Man in Red. He laughed.
Another girl, college age and bold with a tattoo of fire on her arm walked up and dropped a book onto the desk. She paid the Man in Red no mind, standing in front of him and handing me a card. Another man walked up to the other station with a toy, a small yellow Native American doll and set it down.
The Man in Red stood behind them, put his arms on their shoulders and opened his mouth to laugh once again. When he does, the sound of bells and a guitar echo…
The guitar continues as I wake. My cell rings, AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” blaring in my ear. I fumble with it and find the right button.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling around for my glasses.
“Too early, cuz?” a girl says in my ear, “You know what grandma used to say about folks that slept in.”
“Imp?” I said, finding my glasses. I have been sleeping on them and they skew on my face.
“Who else?” my cousin, Ilene “Imp” Banned said, “and don’t call me that, Enthusiastic.”
I sat up on the couch and looked around the library office. I was cold, having forgotten a blanket the night before. I kicked at the bottle at my feet and tried to stand. My foot was asleep and I fell forward, catching myself on the desk. Half blind and lame, the librarian was.
“Didn’t expect you to call on a Monday,” I said.
“Told you on Friday I would,” she said, “You done with all that police business?”
“Yeah, after a fashion,” I said.
“So, you still looking for some money?” she said, “Aunt Louise told my mom you might be looking for some help.”
“You gonna help out at the library? Doesn’t seem like you, Imp.”
“It’s Ilene, cuz. And no. But I have someone you might like to meet.”
“Okay, what’s this all about? Another pyramid scheme guy? Or just a biker wanna be I have to scare away from my cousin from another mother?”
“Look, I can’t really talk right now, but I’ll be in town tomorrow. Okay?”
“Okay. I’ll be at the library most of the day. If I’m not here, try the Tonk.”
“You still go to that dive bar?”
“You used to not be so picky.”
“See you tomorrow,” she said and hung up.
I found my shoes, one of which was on the circulation desk next to the aspirin and a note. I did not recognize the handwriting, but it appeared someone had a good time the night before. I threw the note away and chewed one of the aspirins. I put on my shoes and walked up the stairs.
Money would help, I thought as I looked around at the partial construction and the empty pail of nails. In just the short weekend, I had the basic frame of a door to close off the second floor to the rest of the library. Rather than living just outside the city limits in my parents old house, I would live here, in the library.
As for the library itself? I had plans. Possibly a coffee shop/bookstore/bar hybrid thing. The city had dropped all funding and I owned the building. Might as well do what I wanted with it.
I thought about Imp. Ilene Banned might not be the black sheep of the Banned Family, but she cast a big shadow in her wake. But if she had a money source, I could not say no.
I walked down the stairs and out the door, locking up behind me. I needed coffee and nails to start the day.