Max Chenowith sits at his desk reading the Franklin Gazette with fire burning in his eyes. The Franklin County Public Library has a very strict rule about staying quiet during business hours. Max is a stickler for rules and he follows them to the letter. A Gold plaque with black bold letters sits near his desk that reads: “Please be quiet. Rules were made to be followed and without them the world would burn in chaos.” A good rule to follow, and one that Max wholeheartedly believes in.
So, it’s no surprise that for the past ten minutes the shrill voices of a male and female were breaking this golden rule. Whispers in the isolation of silence start to ripple the tranquility of this peaceful place. The sudden burst of laughter echoing through the chambers and reverberating off precious texts sent shockwaves through Max’s spine.
Max gently folds the Gazette and lays it down on his desk. He reaches up and pulls his thick black glasses down to the bridge of his elongated nose. Ever watchful - like a trained Doberman - he squints his hazel green eyes searching for the two culprits.
Light golden-brown desks are spread out along the main reading area surrounded by big black bookshelves. Each bookshelf is labeled by story genre and organized in alphabetical order. The origin of his aggravation is coming from the supernatural section between the letters D for damnation and E for egregious.
Erupting from his seat, Max marches towards the source of the chaos. His walnut oxford dress shoes made tapping sounds along the floor like a small hammer pounding on a hollow glass jar. Max pivots around the corner in the supernatural section and finds a disturbing scene. The source of his madness finally rears its ugly head in the form of two high school kids who can’t keep their hands to themselves.
“What are you two doing back here?” Max bellowed in a low baritone voice. “You need to be quiet!”
The boy is wearing a red football jersey with the number thirty-four etched on the front and back, and tight white pants. He quickly releases his grip from the girl’s breast and babbles, “Uh… My name is Henry.”
The girl pulls her pink shirt down across her black bra and quickly buttons up her dark blue jeans. She then reaches up and straightens out her curly blonde hair. “My name is Oliva. You're not going to call our parents, are you Mr. Chenowith?”
Henry interjects, “We're sorry Mr. Chenowith, but no one’s here and we didn’t think it would be a big deal. Please don’t call our parents, I’m already grounded!”
Snarling his teeth together Max replies, “Your parents are ignorant fools.” I remember when they used to come here.”
He points a crooked finger at Henry and snaps, “Your dad was a loser football player just like you are!”
Turning his attention to Oliva, “Your mom was a slut, so I see there’s not much room for improvement in your family tree!”
Oliva’s mouth fell open and she wrinkled her forehead, “You can’t talk to us that way!”
“Yeah, she’s right,” Henry insists. “We’re gonna tell my dad what you said, and have you fired!”
Max reaches up to his white hair and fixes his ponytail. He takes a deep breath and holds his head high to show his superiority.
How dare these two dimwits threaten me!!
After a moment of awkward silence Max declares, “What you fail to understand Henry, is that out there in your home, your dad may have the final say, but in here I’m the King of the castle!”
Oliva remembered her mom telling stories about how cruel Mr. Chenowith was. She never really believed her over the top tales until now. Staring at Mr. Chenowith’s fiery red face, Oliva could feel her knees tremble and her pulse rate quicken.
We need to get out of here fast, she thought.
Wanting to run away, Oliva speaks in a shaky voice, “Look, we’re really sorry. We’ll just leave now.”
“NO!” Max sneers.
Anger clouds Max’s mind, and he remembers a time when libraries were overflowing with eager students, wanting to read and study. With the internet in full swing, libraries across the country took a major hit. The Franklin Public Library was no exception. People don’t come here anymore for books they come for long secret make-out sessions, and to sell drugs away from prying eyes.
No one comes here anymore… Something must be done. An example must be made!
Max’s eyes dart back and forth between the teenagers, and darkness gives birth to evil intentions. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black stun gun. Max points the gun at Henry with a devilish grin. An evil plan has formed and there’s no going back now.
Henry’s heart pounds like thunder and he jumps into the air towards Max - perhaps to tackle him - he is blasted with electricity and crashes to the floor in front of Max. With eyes wide open, Oliva screams in terror and turns to run, but Max fires his second cartridge into her back. The electric current pulsates through her body causing uncontrollable spasms. Oliva falls with a thud to the ground and lies there twitching like a live wire.
Max closes his eyes and wipes away the slobber from his mouth. He takes a deep breath, opens his eyes, and looks down at his handiwork. Bursting with pride he can no longer contain his excitement. He places his hands on his hips and starts dancing a jig around their prone bodies - laughing hysterically in his madness.
With adrenaline pumping through his veins, Max stops dancing and grabs Henry’s feet. He pulls hard and drags him to the basement door. He picks up Henry with all his might and throws him down the stairs. He quickly does the same with Oliva, but before he throws her down, he grabs a handful of her hair and sniffs it. Vanilla raspberry tingles his senses, electrifying his mind. He closes his eyes lost in delight and throws her down.
Moments later, Henry opens his eyes and finds Oliva lying on top of him. He rolls her over onto the gray carpeted floor and shakes her uncontrollably in the hopes of waking her up. After a few seconds, she opens her eyes and screams like a child waking up from a nightmare. Their eyes meet, and they remember what had happened. They hear a sputtering burst of laughter coming from the top of the stairs. They look up to see Mr. Chenowith staring at them like a God would stare at ants.
“What are you doing!” Henry gasps. “You can’t get away with this!”
Looking down upon them from the top of the stairs, a light reflects from Max’s eyes turning them red. “If I were you two I wouldn’t make too much noise down there. Remember to be Quiet!”
Max takes a step back and slams the door shut. Henry and Oliva hear metal keys clanging together and the door locks with a loud click. Oliva runs up the stairs in a frantic rage and tries her best to open the door. She pounds and kicks the door, but it won’t budge. She walks back down and throws her arms around Henry and cries on his shoulder. Henry squeezes her tightly and rubs her back.
“What are we gonna do?” groans Henry.
Oliva breaks free from Henry’s embrace and exclaims, “There must be a window down here somewhere. If there is, we might be able to get out!”
They turn in unison to inspect the dimly lit room. They see dusty bookshelves with old books and stacks of newspapers cluttered all about. The bookshelves are set up in a strange way that resembles a maze. The white cinder block walls have beads of condensation that roll down and dampen the gray carpet. The air is thick and musty, and the strong odor of mildew engulfs the entire area.
Across from the stairs stands a light brown bookcase filled to the brim with small drawers. This caught Henry’s eye, and like a curious child he decides to open one of them. The drawers are filled with little white index cards and he decides to pull one out.
“Hey, this is the Dewey Decimal Classification System. I learned about this in class!” he declares.
He holds the card up to the light and a bunch of silver colored bugs fall off to the floor.
Henry’s skin starts to crawl and a chill shoots through his bones. He starts stomping his foot down on them and stutters, “What the hell are these things?”
Oliva bends down to get a closer look and knows instantly what they are. “They’re just silverfish!”
Henry raises his eyebrows, “Silverfish? What the hell are silverfish?”
Oliva stands up with a smirk on her face, “They’re little silver colored pests with scales. They eat paper and protein-rich items like grains, vegetables, fibers, sugar, and fabrics.” She pats Henry on the back and continues, “Damp basements and attics are the perfect living environments for these bugs, especially if there is a good supply of books or old paper lying around.”
“Well, I don’t like them!” Henry mumbles in a flustered voice. “Let’s just find a way out of here!”
Oliva nods her head and just then, a strange clicking sound echoes through the room.
The hairs on the back of Oliva’s neck stand up and Henry’s arms fill with goosebumps.
Oliva blurts out, “What the hell was that!”
Scanning the area for what made the sound Henry demands, “Shhh! Be quiet and let's find a way out of here.”
They grab each other's hands and start tiptoeing through the maze of bookshelves. The claustrophobic atmosphere crushes their spirits, and the mildew smell overpowers their senses. With each step they take, their eyes search the walls for any signs of outside light.
We gotta get outa here.
We gotta get outa here!
Just one window is all we need for salvation, Oliva gasps to herself.
The sound comes again, but closer this time. Henry and Oliva look at each other with terror in their eyes. They grip each other’s hands tighter, and trudge forward. With a sense of urgency, they quicken the pace. Rounding about another wall of bookshelves they notice the floor squish beneath their shoes. The mildew smell is stronger here. Their eyes start to burn, and inflammation takes their noses hostage. Suddenly like a thunderbolt, the sound comes louder.
The sound was right above their heads. Henry and Oliva slowly lift their eyes to the white stained ceiling. They see an enormous life-sized silverfish creature twisting its antennae like two coiled snakes wrapping around a tree. The creature twists its head a full 180 degrees and looks down upon them.
Henry and Oliva’s hearts start beating like big bass drums, and their entire bodies start trembling. Oliva opens her mouth to scream, but Henry quickly covers it with his callused hands, so she wouldn’t be able to utter a sound. He raises a finger to his petrified lips motioning to be quiet. Oliva blinks rapidly and nods her head in agreement.
They duck down low to the floor and start moving away from the creature. They turn the corner - eyes fixated on the gigantic silverfish - and slowly but surely create some distance between them. Oliva peaks across the next set of bookshelves and catches a glimpse of light in the distance.
It’s a window! A few more feet and we just might be able to get out of here alive!
She motions to Henry about the window, and they start inching their way towards it. Hearing the carpet squishing underneath their shoes, they start sweating and wonder if the creature can hear them. They look back towards the ceiling and the silverfish hasn’t moved. It taps each leg along its body like an impatient child awaiting a sweet piece of candy.
Henry and Oliva continue their journey towards the window. They keep their eyes glued on the silverfish and watch for any sign of impending doom. Only inches away now, they see their way out. A table with a stack of dusty books sits just beneath the window.
Henry gently climbs up on the table and unlocks the latch on the window. He lifts with effort, and the window slowly creeks open. Fresh air pummels his face and instantly lifts his spirits. He reaches down for Oliva’s hand and in a desperate panic, she jumps up on the table. Thick dust tickles her nose hairs and she sneezes.
The silverfish storms along the ceiling towards them like a raging bull. Henry quickly pushes Oliva through the window, and like a newborn baby she is born into the world anew. She quickly turns around and stretches her hand back through the window grasping for Henry’s hand. He grabs it tightly and jumps through like an Olympic long jumper.
They quickly turn around and slam the window shut. The silverfish’s antennae crash through the window, sending Henry and Oliva into a mad dash for their lives. Exhilaration fills their hearts, making them run even faster away from the library.
Hearing the window shatter, Max Chenowith runs back to the basement door and quickly unlocks it. He runs down the stairs expecting to see Henry and Oliva’s mutilated corpses, but instead comes face to face with the silverfish. The creature curls its body down from the ceiling and drops down right in front of Max.
Max can’t help himself, he screams in horror and pee runs down his legs. The silverfish quickly rises from the floor and wraps its antennae around his scrawny body - pulling him in. The silverfish uses its legs to rip his body in half allowing his blood to soak into the carpet. It consumes the rest of Max in one big swallow. Thousands of little silverfish emerge from the darkness and start eating the blood-soaked carpet.
One month later…
The police perform an extensive investigation into the disappearance of Max Chenowith, but his body is never found. The police take Henry and Oliva’s statements, but their stories are hard to believe. The life-sized silverfish remains a mystery and is never seen again. Word spreads quickly in a small town like Franklin and the truth is twisted into another tall tale. The mere mention of Henry and Oliva's story draws quirky jokes and uncontrollable laughter.
In the end, people believe whatever they want, but Henry and Oliva share a sacred bond of truth and a promise to remain forever faithful to each other.
The Franklin County Public Library now enjoys a resurgence due to the incredible story. Hundreds of people young and old flock to the library to read countless numbers of books and newspapers.
Even Max would be proud of the renewed interest.
With the new changes - one thing remains the same. Max’s Gold plaque is hung near the main entrance to remind everyone about the golden rule:
“Please be quiet. Rules were made to be followed and without them the world would burn in chaos.”
Daniel R. Hayes