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. Recently, Evan was visited by old flame and reporter Ashley Weathers about having an anniversary party for her grandparents at the library. Do Ashley and Evan have unfinished business? Will Ashley’s other old boyfriend and cameraman Bradley Francis factor in? And what will Evan do with the black box that is sitting in the library’s bookmobile now that he dug it up?
I drove the bookmobile out to the family land this morning. The Banned family may have helped to create the town of Bannville and lived in the city limits, but we invested. The last of those investments is 80 acres of land only good for growing trees, and those had been cut down twenty years ago to keep the library running.
The grass grew six feet, over my head as I guided the cumbersome bookmobile down a path I knew by heart. My dad loved it out at this land, grew up in a small farm house just off the road where he lived until his grandparents died and the family shifted to the house in town. Dad would take me here, walk me through the woods and teach me the names of the trees and birds. Sometimes we would camp deep in the land; sometimes we would sleep in the farmhouse. The farm house had burned in an electrical fire years ago and only a concrete slab and a shed full of equipment remain. And goats.
The goats came from the forest as I unlatched the gate. They expected to be fed, even after months of surviving on their own. My father’s pets, Mom called them. Twenty of them, various mixes of black and brown and white, surrounded the bookmobile as I drove it through the gate and closed it before they could escape.
I dug a shallow grave in the sandy soil. As I dug, the goats came close, bleated at me, but when I opened the bookmobile and dumped out the black box out they ran. I watched them scatter and marveled at the instincts of animals.
Once the box was covered, I scattered the dogwood leaves and pine straw to hide the spot. Then I turned the bookmobile around and left with the sun setting as I reached town.
The van for Channel 3 News sat outside the library. A man sat on the front steps smoking a cigarette. He stood as I drove to the back of the building.
“Where the hell you been?” he asked as I got out and opened the back door. His nose was red and raw and he blew into a handkerchief and put it in the back pocket of his jeans. I noticed a little snot still stuck on the handlebar mustache, more on the jeans and checkered jacket where he wiped it. The man dressed like a cowboy and tried to act the part, but the disgusting won out.
I did not respond, just found the proper key and let myself in.
Bradley Francis tried to follow me in the door but I stopped him.
“Step in this building and I get to shoot you, Bradley” I said.
“Frank. Bradley was a long time ago, Banned. And I don’t listen to librarians anymore,” he took out a cigarette and a brass lighter but did not light it.
“I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure mom got that restraining order for the library and the family.”
“What, cause I kicked your ass? Besides, ain’t this for the public?” he said with a smile.
I stepped back into the dark interior of the loading dock area. He walked in the building and I hit him. His nose spurted blood and he fell back, the cigarette and the lighter falling to the floor with a metallic clack.
“This is my private place, actually,” I said, “And I said you weren't welcome. Ashley, on the other hand...”
He jumped up and hit me low with his shoulder. We fell back into the dark library, through the double doors and into the main room. I brought my hands together and down on his back and he grunted. He drove his fists into my ribs and kidneys and into the tender area where weeks ago Bob Simmons had hit me with buckshot. I screamed and went down and he fell on top of me. He hit me over and over in the face, my head cracking against the wood floor. When he stopped and stood up, he kicked me in the ribs.
“Always a jerk,” he said, “Could never stand me taking your girl.”
“Not the girl. You’re a fucking thief and a shit, Bradley,” I said.
He kicked me again, the cowboy boot digging between my ribs, “It’s Frank now. Dammit. I just wanted to see where to set up for the party. Ass. Broke my nose. Got a damn cold, too.” He put a finger on his nose and blew out. Mucus and blood splattered down his face and onto the floor.
I rolled over and spit blood on to the library floor and said, “Get the hell outta my library.”
He walked around the room and picked up a book from the table, “Native Americans of Mississippi. This worth something?” He did not wait for me to answer, but took the book and several others, “Get something from them off eBay, I guess. You ain’t gonna tell nobody, right?”
I lifted myself up to one knee. He walked over to me, “Nope,” and kicked me again. I fell to my side and lay there.
He walked around the room then, piling up books on the desk beside me. I sat and held my breath, holding the pain in. Every breath flared and my kidneys were killing me. I watched him gather items up, walking back and getting his cigarette and that damn brass lighter. He clicked it open and lit the cigarette.
“What’s upstairs, huh?” he said, kicking me again and flicking ash down on me. I almost passed out but held on.
I heard his books stomp up the stairs and I started moving. I crawled around the circulation desk and tried to get into the chair, but it rolled away from me as I tried to balance on it. I found what I walk looking for, though.
When Brad came downstairs with my grandfather’s gold watch in his hand, I pulled the slide on the shotgun, ejecting a shell and getting his attention.
“Shit, Evan. What did Ashley ever see in you? Look, I ain’t gonna take your books or nothing. Not today,” He put the watch onto the stack, “Otherwise you got nothing left in this shit hole. But remember what just happened, okay? Remember how you tried to be a badass and didn’t have nobody to back you up this time, okay? Cause next time I won’t be so nice and leave you alone so long.”
He left me alone in the dark library.
“Idiot,” I said to the darkness.
I thought about calling the police, but did not see the point. They would take my statement and there might even be an arrest, but it was my word against his. Also, Detective Gerald Parker hates me and would let the entire thing go even if I could prove I did not attack the guy first, which I totally did.
I took my time and used the shotgun as a cane to get to the library’s back room and the ice maker and retrieved the bottle of whiskey there. I pressed the cold bottle to my face after taking a drink and sat on the floor, without turning on a light. At some point I fell asleep.