Welcome to Bannville, MS, home of the Banned Library and set right in the middle of the dark piney woods where drugs, violence and dark forces are as abundant as the humidity. Our narrator on this journey is Evan Banned, one time director and current owner of the library now trying to bring it back after it burned to the ground and then, right after it reopened, was closed due to funding. Currently, cultists attempted to seize control of Evan’s Uncle Ted’s cruise ship the Dark Water Crescent and raise something from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Have the cultists been defeated? What are the black boxes? Where do the damn bodies keep going? Will Uncle Ted fund the library when they get back to New Orleans?
She came at me in the water. A lady in blue silks flowing around her, light as air in the liquid and causing interesting contours to her body. She writhed and shook and twisted in interesting ways that made her body do interesting things.
The Man in Red stood stone still and watched the lady dance. He could not reach her.
I watched them, he on land and she in the sea. They matched, both vast and terrible.
When I woke, I lay on a gurney. The medicine smell of disinfectant filled my nose. A woman in the uniform of the cruise ship passed me.
“Oh, hey,” she said, stopping, “You’re finally up. Stay down and I’ll get you some water, okay?”
“Where’s my uncle? Ted Banned.”
“He’s around. I’ll put out the call and get you that water, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, and she closed a curtain around me.
My head felt heavy and hard, like one of those boulders in New Mexico balanced for centuries just waiting for some redneck to come along and push it over. I drank the water when she brought it, the small bottle a teardrop shape. It was good.
“Dear god, boy. I thought you were gonna sleep forever,” Uncle Ted said, pushing aside the curtain.
“Hey,” I said, sitting up, “What happened?”
“What happened? Good question. I got up with the security team and found you out like a glass jaw surrounded by those goofy mercenary guys and that damn box. Your turn.”
“Hired assholes. They said the same. Girl double crossed green suit and shot him. Then they start talking about a blue mist and bringing the deep up and other bullshit. What’d you see?”
“I saw her vanish. The same way I saw Ben Tobias vanish back in the library. What’s going on, Ted? What the hell are those boxes?”
“I weighed the damn thing down and tossed it overboard and when you get home you should do the same. I don’t know, boy,” he said behind a heavy sigh, “There’s things about our family, old stories… Legends, I thought. I may have to look into somethings deeper.”
I leaned up further and my head swam, “What things? What is this crazy shit?”
“I don’t know, Evan,” he said. His big hand on my chest forced me down, “I’ll look into it, boy. Right now you go home. I was a fool to get you out here, hire you on. Your place is in that library and I’m going to help you, okay?”
“So you don’t want me to work on the boat library?” I said, smiling.
“Ha!” his laugh boomed around the small room, “I ever tell you how much I like you? How much do you think it’ll take to get that library back on its feet?”
I shrugged, “I dunno. But does it have to be a library?”
He looked at me odd, “What do you mean?”
“I was thinking maybe a bookstore,” I said, “Rare books, that kinda thing. Maybe a small coffee shop and bar besides.”
“You want to turn Geraldine Godson Banned’s beloved library into a bar?” Uncle Ted said.
“And a bookstore coffee shop thing,” I said.
He laughed and clapped me on the back, “You've got my money, boy. I’m all for it.”
After a few hours I felt better and went to the lido deck for a drink. Jeff was not behind the bar. I got a whiskey and dragged a deck chair over to the railing and watched the sun set while the last party of the trip started up behind me. Men and women danced and kissed and held each other as the ship rolled on for the last night at sea.
As I stared at the sunset and sipped my drink, a steward walked over to me.
“Mr. Banned?” he said, “there’s a call for you.”
“A call?” I said, looking at the phone he held out to me.
He smiled, “Yes, sir.”
I took the handset and he walked away. I looked at the cordless phone and shrugged.
“Hello? This is Evan.”
“Evan Banned. What have you been doing?” a female voice said.
“Ashley Weathers,” I said, on my guard, “Or is it Wallace again? What can I do for you?”
“It’s all Weathers. And you can get in front of my camera, for one. I hear you’ve been up to all kinds of things.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
“You think you can keep secrets in this small town?” she said, “When can we do an interview, get your side of the story?”
“What story?” I said.
“Pick one. Shootings in the library. Out of towners disappearing. I even hear something happened out on your uncle’s cruise ship. Talk to me, handsome. We can do wonders for each other.”
“I’m not very interested, Ash,” I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“I think I can change your mind, Evan.”
“No, you can’t,” I said. I looked at the handset and found the button with the red symbol. I pressed it and made sure I hung up on the reporter properly. Otherwise I would throw the damn phone into the ocean.