A Brightness in the Void

by Banned Library in


A flash. A brightness in the void. All around the library came the sound of tinnitus. A constant whine as if an explosion had rocked the building. As if the glass should fall in, the plaster should crack on the walls, as if the dust should be shaken from the top of the shelves to dance in the afternoon sun.

    I was aware of myself again. I had a sense of me. A brief moment in time as the library adjusted, but building around me solidified. I was awoken by a sound no one else seemed to have heard.

    Save one.

    Brenda screamed. She had been at the circulation desk. Kiera had been talking to a parent about readers for her child to prepare for kindergarten. Chris had been at the reference desk upstairs helping an old man with his password. The Director had been in his office, reviewing the budget for the next month. All of them made their way to the reference desk as Brenda let out one giant scream followed by short breaths.

    The Director reached her first. He came to Brenda and put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?" he said.

    Brenda glanced at his hand. He removed it. She took a step back as Kiera walked from children's.

    "What happened?" Kiera said.

    "Something," The Director said.

    "Nothing," Brenda said. She wrung her hands and swallowed bile. "I'm okay."

    Chris walked down the steps. The patron he had been helping followed. Chris surveyed the scene. The Director nodded to him. Chris nodded back and turned around. "Let's go work on that password some more, Mr. Clark."

    "Are you okay?" The Director said to Brenda.

    "Just a start. My imagination," Brenda said.

    I felt her lie. I felt everything in the library affected by the flash. It centered around Brenda. A nuclear fallout glow around her radiating in a gentle wave. Inside her, where she grasped her shirt, was a hole that held flat dark.

    I checked The Director and Kiera. The Director maintained the steady hum of life I felt from everyone in the library. A steady thump of a heartbeat. The in and out wheeze of breath. Gurgling and sloshing and dividing and using energy life. In The Director it felt off, though. As if a single flute player in an orchestra had fallen off the beat just enough for a well trained ear to hear. I expected The Director's body, my body, to feel wrong, either by his nature or by my own assumptions. On his hand where he had touched Brenda's shoulder was a bit of the glow. A small shine on the palmed fingers he rubbed against his pant leg. An unconscious movement.

    "If you're sure," Kiera said. She glanced at The Director for confirmation.

    The Director said, "When Freddy arrives, why don't you go home for the day?"

    "I could do that," Brenda said.

    "Only if you feel like it."

    "That might be okay." Brenda's hand circled her chest around that blank spot. It was smaller now, filling in little by little. Right after the flash it had been the size of a baseball. Now it was golf ball sized. The glow was fading as well, the brightness of it a dull shine across the library. I heard Brenda thinking, "It's gone." Clear words, not intention or base emotion besides a deep sadness from her. Whatever had happened, it had started with something in Brenda she knew about.

    "What's gone?" I said and startled myself with my own words. My incorporeal form had become my default. I scanned the building and saw no reactions to my words.

    Then something said, "Me."

To Be Continued…




Lots of Packing

by Banned Library in


The Director opened the old crate. He removed the straw. Too much, maybe, but the monks were thorough. He pulled out the three books and lay them side by side on the table.

    The covers absorbed the fluorescent light. The leather felt warm. The Director could imagine the animal that provided the leather screaming as the hide had been removed. He wondered if it had a name. Did the monks give names to the creatures they cared for? Or did they take them from their mothers and age them until the time for binding came?

    An idle thought.

    Each book had a golden wax seal. One for the snake. One for the rabbit. One blank, the surface almost reflective.

    Brenda walked into the back room of the library. She held a stack of books in her arms. The Director wheeled a cart over to her. He saw her flinch away. No matter. He would not touch her until he had to. "Here. Let me help," he said. He took half the books from her. He arranged them on the cart, nonfiction on one side and fiction on the other.

    "Thanks," Brenda said. "New books?"

    "Yes. Some reference books," The Director said.

    "Want me to catalog them?"

    "No. But thank you. I'll take care of them myself."

    "Lots of packing. Kiera would say they overdid it. The environment, you know."

   "I assume so. But you can never be too careful. They are handmade volumes."

   "Genealogy?"

    The Director flinched at the word. "What?"

    "Are they for genealogy?"

    "No. Just reference."

    Brenda gazed at him, those big doe eyes studying. The Director thought he saw something else there. Not her watching, but listening. What was the dumpy circulation librarian listening to? What went on in her head besides echoes? Did she scream in there? The lack of thought must be deafening. He could stop all that. Later. Maybe he would make his own books.

    He said, "How is it out there?"

    "Fine. Kids are out of school. Freddy's running late, but I have it," she said.

    "Okay. We want to have a good day, right?" Keep her off balance and away from the books. He did not like the way she watched them, listening.

    "I have it," she said.

    "Good. Thank you, Brenda. You do such a good job." Sometimes all people needed to be pacified was to be told they were doing a good job.

    She smiled a tight little smile, said thanks, and went back through the door. The Director watched her go. He gathered the three new editions to the library. Walking down the back stairs, he used his key to enter the library basement. He flicked the switch on the wall and the lights came on with a slight hum.

    In one corner, a small cage glowed. The computer servers sat humming in there. Wires ran from the cage and up into the ceiling and walls. A long electrical box was fixed to the wall next to the cage. Along the walls of the large room, half the size of the library, lived the books in storage. Extra copies of best sellers, valuable books of local authors, and others forgotten and covered in dust.

    The Director passed the equipment and the bags of salt and sand bags. He walked the three new books to the back corner. There he lay them on the floor at each point of a large triangle painted in red. The paint glowed under the stark fluorescent lights.

    Three cages sat along the back wall. In one lay a snake, curled and watching. In another was a rabbit, huddled far away from the snake in a corner. He fed them and cleaned their cages. Once the third cage was occupied and the time was right, he could begin. He had not named these animals. Once he began, names would not matter. Hell would fall.

To Be Continued…




A Silver Sheen

by Banned Library in


Chris sat at the reference desk and read the synopsis of his favorite show. The Yellow Tiger had gone up against some pretty bad dudes last night. Chris did not watch the show. He had gone right to sleep.

    In his mind, he thought over Amy's proposal. More money for the library. New computers for the lab or some of those reference books The Director wanted. The Friends of the Library might go along with his suggests. The Director had some ideas, he said. No, not quite. The Director had said, I'll tell you, my boy, I have big ideas for the reference collection.

    When the Director said that… Only one person had ever called Chris "my boy," and it was not the Director. The Director. When had Chris started thinking of Elliot Harker as the Director? An okay librarian, got the job because his mom was librarian back in the day, that's what people said. The last library director had been garbage, though, and at least the Director listened to you even if he did not always…

    There it was again. The Director.

    Chris shook his head. He wiped his hands on his face. Did all the motions of what people did in movies when they were thinking too hard. The Yellow Tiger could wait. HE lcosed the browser and stood up. Stretched. Noon at the library and the sleepy town had not yet woken up to come do research. The second floor was empty. Chris did a slow spin, bouncing his eyes over the genealogy room where he had killed his father. Out of mind, the past is dead. He took a walk. Around the stacks, hands in pockets. Back straight. Nobody on the second floor to help. He took the stairs down, the front stairs to the circulation and children's area. To the computer lab. He had not taken the back stairs, the emergency stairs that also lead to the work room since… Best not think about it.

    Brenda stood at the window. A few people flipped through magazines. All dozen computers were full, people clicking and hunting and pecking. A mother with a stroller sat at the small table in children's. Kiera was gone, either to the park or on outreach. Chris stood by Brenda at the window and looked out at the bright Mississippi day, already seventy degrees despite the cold wind blowing leaves.

    Brenda said, "I saw Amy yesterday. What did y'all talk about?"

    "Funding. Her company wants to donate to the library. To the Friends," Chris said.

    "That all?"

    "Yeah."

    "She talked to Elliot about that at lunch a while back. The Director has been dealing with it some, I hear."

    "He mentioned reference books."

    "Would they get used?"

    Chris said, "Depends. Always need more updated tax and legal stuff. Medical. Some tech books."

    "That's what he wants?"

    "We didn't talk about it much."

    Brenda faced him. Chris found her eyes haunted with dark circles.The lines on her face stood out and her hair, always a tangle of frizzy brown, seemed more like a nest. She said, "I might have you order me something."

    "What kind of something?"

    "Dragons."

    His mind slipped into reference mode. Open questions, let her talk. "What kind of dragons?"

    "Like, how you let one out." Brenda was biting her lip, the skin turning white.

    "What do you need it for?"

    "Let out a dragon in me."

    "We speaking in metaphors?"

    Brenda went back to the sunny day with no answer.

    "Are you okay?" he said.

    "I just think something bad's coming. And there's something in me that can help."

    "A dragon." When she did not answer, he said, "Maybe I can look up someone to talk to. A professional. The state insurance is-"

    She spun and with force stepped close. Her normal brown eyes took on a silver sheen. Wild and fierce. A trick of the sun, Chris thought.

    "I don't need help. This whole world needs help and in me I can give it. Brenda broke away, stamping back to the circulation desk. Chris and the magazine readers and the mother in children's watched her go.

    The computer lab people kept on clicking.

To Be Continued…




Here to Help

by Banned Library in


"I need books on nuclear power," the lady said. She wore a garbage bag around her waist like a skirt over jeans. On her head was a grocery bag, a paper one cut out like a medieval helmet with the face exposed. The old Winn-Dixie logo with the red check mark was a faded pink. Brenda had not seen that logo in years.

   Brenda said, "I can do a little search for you. See what we have. If you need more research, you might want to talk to our reference librarian upstairs."

    "Can't do stairs. They fail too much," the woman said.

    "We have an elevator."

    The woman made a face and waved her hand. "Too many bugs in those. Get in the gears."

    "Let's do that search." Brenda typed 'nuclear power' into the library's website and got thirty-seven hits. She spun the screen to face the woman.

    The lady took a step back, her garbage bag skirt rustling. She turned the Winn-Dixie Helmet around. On the back, a window had been cut out and covered with cellophane. Words above the woman's eyes read "Be Gone Electrons."

    Brenda swallowed. "We've got a few books on nuclear energy. Science books. Some in the political section talk about law and such. What kind of information do you need?"

    "Where are they?" the woman said, her voice vibrating the cellophane of her Winn-Dixie helmet. Brenda named her Dixie.

    "Upstairs."

    "Bugs."

    "I can get them for you."

   Dixie leaned in close and said, "Then you would have the bugs."

    "I can take the stairs."

    "Can't risk it."

    "There's some in the children's section."

    "Show me."

    Brenda walked Dixie over to the juvenile nonfiction. The patron turned her bag around to show the helmet style again as she looked over the books. She picked one titled "Ernie and the Reactor" about a prairie dog learning about how nuclear energy works to power cities. By the end, Ernie the prairie dog seemed satisfied.

    "He's not dying," Dixie said.

    "Children's books tend not to," Brenda said. She kept a few steps away, both so she could see the circulation desk and to stay away from the lady. She saw Amy come down the stairs and waved. Amy stopped for a second, gave a small shake of her hand, and hurried out. Dixie said that book would do.

    "Okay," Brenda said. She checked Dixie out, her real name Cecilia Banks. Ms. Banks had a clean record, no overdues or fines, and kept a distance from the desk as Brenda scanned the book.

    "I'll return it clean," Ms. Banks said and left.

    "What a nut," the silver dragon in Brenda's heart said, but Brenda scolded it not to judge the more addled mortals around them.

    She was here to help.




Smoking By the Dumpster

by Banned Library in


Dottie walked in the library about two in the afternoon and headed straight for the circulation desk. She still wore the light blue cafe uniform. She held a dishtowel, wringing it tight. Brenda saw her coming and put on a smile. Dottie had the best gossip.

    "Hey, Dottie. How's the salmon running?"

    "Hey, Brenda. Is that boy here?"

    "Which boy?"

    "The redhead who works here."

    "Freddy? Nah. He comes after school."

    "Well he weren't in school today he weren't. You need to have a talk with that boy," Dottie said.

    Brenda cast a glance around. The library was quiet. All this with Dottie was wrong. The two of them often talked about people in town, sure, but also Brenda's momma or Amy. They had a joke about the specials, with the salmon running. That was Brenda's favorite. Normal, safe things at the circulation desk. Now all this about Freddy. This wasn't how this relationship went.

    "Now, I'm sure you saw something, but it wasn't our Freddy. He's on the baseball team. Say, you got any fresh salmon this week?"

    Dottie shook her head. "I tell you it was him. I had just served the Howell twins their usual, double bacon sliders with cajun fries and cokes. I set them right, you know how Jill likes her ketchup."

    Brenda nodded. "That's how you tell them apart."

    "I decided to take out the trash. I told Ray and got the bags together, then looked out the door for the racoons."

    Dottie paused, twisting the washcloth tighter, and Brenda felt better. All this direct talk of Freddy having problems. That would not work. A story about raccoons in a dumpster though, well, Brenda could handle that right to the ground.

    "I looked out and saw Freddy smoking by the dumpster."

    Well shit, Brenda thought.

    Dottie kept talking. "I thought for a moment that it wasn't. He's so nice when I come for my Barbara Michaels. But it was. He had it cupped in his hand, like, well… You know."

    Brenda did know. She had smoked for years, back when she was in Europe on tour. Those years had been a wile waste of time, playing music for exotic men and smoking all she could, laughing with the boys on the beach until Anthony. Anthony told her about her inner dragon and shown her the way.

    "And I went out after he left and it was not tobacco. You need to talk to him. Smoking marijuana and littering. Just left it right there on the pavement, right by the dumpster where anyone could get it."

    "Or a racoon," Brenda said.

    "I mean, I could have gone to his momma, but I didn't know where he lived."

    "He don't talk about them much. Don't you worry. I'll see what I can do."

    Dottie frowned, dropping the washcloth to her side. "You said that. I guess we'll see."

    Dottie left the building, not even getting a book. Brenda felt unsettled as something inside her moved and stirred.

To Be Continued...