Contest #211 winner 🏆

Do Flamethrowers Belong In The Library?

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: Begin your story with a librarian searching for something.... view prompt

162 comments

Fiction Fantasy Horror

We lose people all the time. It’s just the nature of the job. What can you expect from a place full of nooks and crannies people intentionally go to get lost in?

I usually don’t worry when I don’t see someone for a while, but when it’s been days since someone’s checked out, it’s usually a sign that I need to step in.

I’m not doing this alone, thankfully. No Librarian is ever truly alone, are they?

I have help from the Watchers and Listeners of the shelves. Thanks to them, it usually doesn’t take long to get the scent, if you know what I mean. However, today is one of the rare, and unfortunate, exceptions when my search has exceeded more than an hour—and an hour is pushing it.

I’ve been searching and asking around for almost six hours, scouring shelves and listening for the telltale breathing.

The Watchers have their quadrants, so it’s much like playing hot and cold.

“Bad news.” One says, and my brain shivers in my skull, both from its existence and its statement. 

“They crossed the tape.” Says the Watcher, and I groan. “Are you sure?” My stomach still drops at the thought, even though I’ve been doing this a very long time (long enough that I remember every book on every shelf better than my own child’s face), but knowing a poor soul lost themselves beyond the tape… I grieve for them.  

The Watcher doesn’t speak, but generates an affirmative sensation. That means I have to backtrack to my desk for supplies. I thank them, asking that they send word ahead of my arrival.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to go past the tape, which means it’s been a while since I entered the broom closet. The helmet is dusty (it looks almost like it’s from one of those old-fashioned scuba diving suits. It’s not nearly so heavy, though.)

There’s a bright lamp affixed to the front just above the visor, but it’s as much of a hindrance as a help. While, most of the time, those beyond the tape know not to bother me, some still get bored enough to try—and the lamp acts like a beacon. I don’t blame them, it’s what prisoners do. Find the weakest among them and test their mettle.

I’ve got a sack full of non-perishables, tinctures, aspirin, and a compass (not like the kind you’re used to, but would take too long to explain—and time is of the essence, so I’ll let your imagination handle it from here.) 

I sling the sack across my body, and fasten my waist with a utility belt that would make a trust fund bat character with abandonment issues jealous. It’s got floss, lighters, matches, and a few more tools that don’t exist outside of The Library. 

The last thing I grab is the flamethrower.

This is where I should be very transparent with you. I’m not actually the Librarian. I’m the Librarian’s Assistant. I know, isn’t that just your luck, right?

Not to worry, I’m very good at using this thing, and it does the job nicely—whatever job I may deem necessary at any particular moment. But the Head Librarian doesn’t really need much of anything to ward off what lingers here.

I don’t know exactly where he is at the moment, nor do I want to know. If this were a real pickle I would summon him, but while a rare occasion, it’s not unusual in the scope of a thousand years. After all, no one comes here without the intention (whether it’s conscious or subconscious) to get lost. It’s the nature of this place.

But you know that, don’t you? 

It’s why you’re here, after all.

It doesn’t take me long to find the tape, which is fortuitous. Sometimes it moves around, but the Watchers and Listeners kept a beat on it this time so as to direct me.

Yes, it is really dark.

Yes, it’s literal tape. Hazard tape, but that’s almost like a beacon to the adventurous, isn’t it? I think The Library knows that. It’s greedy, but it’s also quite discerning in taste.

In some circles that means that I should extend congratulations to you… in others, I offer my sincerest sympathy.

I hear my name and ignore it as I crawl through the crisscross of reflective strips.

The tape moves not at random, by the way. It genuinely serves as a warning.

Whether it’s gatekeeping sections currently under construction, in repair, or missing. I try not to, but I think that last one has something to do with where the Head Librarian went.

Don’t worry about it, my name is not important. 

So ineffectual that I’ve forgotten.

I hear my name again as I begrudgingly turn on the lamp. Not a lot of help, just enough light to ensure I don’t trip over anything, or disturb the shelves. 

Many sleep here.

I send off a warning shot from the flamethrower. Showing I carry more light than just atop my appetizing head. The flash of flames sends things… slithering. But most of those this close to the tape have never been very convicted by nature, so I’m not concerned. 

There are more Listeners and less Watchers past the tape, for obvious reasons. Thankfully, they say I don’t have to go too far. I look down at the telling clicking sound to see rocks rolling. Some as big as my foot, and some as small as the tip of my thumb. The smaller ones move more easily, but all are rolling as if pulled toward a central point. I don’t even need the compass, but I glance down at it one more time before stuffing it back into the sack.

While I don’t have to go too far, things are… relative here. Ten steps may be ten thousand. And so even after only a few moments of exploring, I feel acute pressure jamming into my temples. My heart feels like it’s being squeezed, and my vision blurs. My fingers tingle by the time I’m able to shake the aspirin into my mouth.

I chew it, ignoring the sound of my name—my true name. The one only I can hear. You’ll hear your own as well, if you stay here long enough.

My vision clears, which just means the dark looks sharper, and I sweep another warning arc from the flame thrower for good measure. 

I do this as much because I love the sound as for protection. I also appreciate the warmth. It gets cold here. But in a strange way, which shouldn’t surprise you at this point. 

It’s cold like how the first signs of spring show in the early morning dew that’s only just melted. I can smell and taste the sweat on my upper lip. And it’s cold.

And then I hear it. 

A few or a thousand steps later. 

The breathing sound I’ve been listening for.

The pace of the rocks quickens, and my head is turned down so the helmet light prevents me from tripping over—or impeding—their journey.

A famous author once said “All things serve the beam”, and that’s as true in this world as it is in the others. Except this beam—this beacon—is attached to our lost visitor.

I can only hear the rocks, mumblings, and the breathing sound now. The smell is so musty and thick. Like the air is full of sweat and dust. Like I’ve stuck my head out the window during a heavily falling rain. If I think hard enough about it, soon I’ll be drenched. 

So, I don’t.

While the rocks are almost the perfect tell, and the Listeners’ too corroborates the evidence, you can never be too sure. Only light can be sure.

I take a match from the tiny box, snap it to life, and then blow it out. Tiny smoke tendrils curl and waft until they also follow the same flow as the rocks.

Excellent, we’ve not been led astray.

A few or a thousand more steps, and the rocks are gathering down an aisle where the breathing is more like wheezing—like the desperate struggle to take in.

Lo and behold, we found them!

Poor thing, judging by the state of her, she got lost early. She’s likely been here for most of the day. The book covers her face—consuming her head like a kid on a particularly large popsicle. The pages flutter gently against her too-white jaw. 

The papery quality of her skin, and the wanting muscle mass, show how little time was on our side—not a moment to waste.

I grab the book by the edges of both back and front covers, it’s got most of her head inside at this point, just her earlobes, hair, and edge of her jaw peak out from beneath the pages I now grip firmly. The wheezing turns into a moan that turns into a sob.

Now, now.” I say, and test the hold the book has on its victim. It’s snug, too snug to yank like a leech. I need to treat it like a tick, making sure to get the head out.

None of these are intended as puns, but it just happens after being surrounded by books and pros for so long.

I draw one of the tiny viles strapped in my utility belt and pull the cork out. It smells like nothing to me, but I see the reaction immediately. Our half-consumed explorer moves a bit, her fingers mostly, and I hear a second, tinier moan beneath that of the book’s. I pour a small amount of the substance into the palm of my hand, and I smooth it gently down the spine of the book. It wails again, and so does the girl, both full of sorrow and reluctance. 

I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, so I turn at the hip, cock the flamethrower, and send off a very intentionally long tail of flames. When the feeling subsides, I shrug the weapon back over my shoulder.

I use the backs of two knuckles to knock gently on the book cover, “It’s time to come back now. My apologies.” I say, and I mean it. The book and the girl moan again, more hollowly, and I can feel the seal—the bond—splitting like a seam. I grip the book again, because these two are stubborn, and have to pry them apart. The color and mass return beneath her skin, and though her eyes are open, they can’t see anything. She’ll be like that for a while, it’s normal. She’ll recover.

I pour the remaining contents of the bottle down the part of her frazzled blond hair. Tears fill the empty eyes and drip down her face. Her mouth presses into a thin white line and grimaces so intensely that the flesh folds in multiple layers at the corners of her mouth. Great pain.

Even after a thousand years I still can’t help but feel sorry, so I pull her burning head under my chin, and rub circles into her back. 

“I’m sorry, dear. I know you’ve been told otherwise, but this place is a prison, and that isn’t your story. Yours is still being written, and the one which made you pretty promises is lying and jealous. 

“One day you, if the world is cruel, may yet have a place here. But it’s not today. So let’s go have a cup of tea.” I tell her, as I’ve told many like her. I’ve gotten better at it over the years. I used to have to fight with them. Often I’d give up and just keep them safe until the Head Librarian got back to talk them down. 

She finally lets out a weak, wheezing breath. I take advantage of the broken seam of her lips and pour a tincture down her throat. I don’t even have to look anymore, I can just feel the specific melodies that make each tincture different. It helps that the one I need usually sings a bit louder as a courtesy, and it’ll purr like a cat when I’ve touched my fingers to it.

She chokes a bit, but her eyes start to clear.

Good enough for now. 

The back of my neck has another sudden influx of goosebumps. We’ve overstayed our welcome. It’s time to go. 

I put the book back on the shelf. I don’t scold it, just allow its ache and frustration flow through me. I apologize, but there’s no comfort I can give. My words and compassion are meaningless. I’ve noted the volume and will tell the Head Librarian, they might be able to soothe it back to sleep.

I tap the metal bauble around my neck, and we’re back at my desk.

I drape the girl onto a nearby loveseat that’s seen better days, starting the kettle before heading to the broom closet to stash the emergency kit.

She’ll be fine. People like her (and you) always are.

This place was made to help the wanderers and recklessly imaginative. Those who can’t wrap their heads around the world the way it is, and can see the truth of magic between heartbeats and heartbreaks

And people like me, and the Head Librarian (when they so choose to grace us with their presence), keep the place orderly and open for you… and we’re here to help guide you back on track if you lose inspiration for your own story.

It’s the nature of the job—The Library itself. 

What else can you expect from a place full of nooks and crannies that people choose to get lost in?

August 17, 2023 00:37

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162 comments

_Spilled Ink_
19:52 Aug 26, 2023

Man I wish there was a whole universe with this magical Library at the center. I'd love to read more about what exactly the Head Librarian and his assistants' jobs entail! Truly great work!

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Kenz Ross
20:39 Aug 26, 2023

OH! It's funny you mention that... because I've been PLANNING something. XD Thank you so much for reading this story and taking time to leave your kind thoughts. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! <3

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Erin Van Kal
00:13 Aug 31, 2023

Really?? Best of luck with whatever it is you are planning!! It's gonna be great :))

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Kenz Ross
13:07 Sep 04, 2023

Thank you! I'll need it XD! PS (this is NO pressure whatsoever), but I posted a link to a newsletter signup in my Reedsy bio for anyone who might want to follow along with this universe. It's still very under construction, but it's there for anyone who wants to learn more about the library ^_^)

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Kay Smith
18:40 Aug 26, 2023

I am so glad I read the story! This is fantastic writing!! "All things serve the beam," 🐢 A well deserved win! Congratulations!

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Kenz Ross
13:09 Sep 04, 2023

YAY! I'm so glad you caught it!!!!!❤️🐢 Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and I'm so grateful you took time to leave me a kind comment. I'm so honored and appreciative of your time. :.)

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Kylen Hervey
23:40 Jan 12, 2024

hey

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Suma Jayachandar
15:14 Aug 26, 2023

' I can feel the seal—the bond—splitting like a seam. I grip the book again, because these two are stubborn, and have to pry them apart.' - I'm sure every ardent reader can relate to some part of it. To serve up a fantasy that feels so real is no mean task. Brilliant work. Congratulations!

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Kenz Ross
17:22 Aug 26, 2023

Thank you so much! I'm so glad the story was enjoyable! I'm so humbled and grateful that you read my story and took time to leave me a nice comment. Thank you so much!

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Benja Catton
23:40 Aug 30, 2023

Wow! This was as engrossing and transporting as Piranesi - just much shorter. Impressive and so fun!

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Kenz Ross
13:10 Sep 04, 2023

Oh my gosh what a complement! You're so kind and I am so happy that you enjoyed my story. Thank you so much for reading, and for leaving such kind words :,)

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Erin Van Kal
03:29 Aug 29, 2023

Oh My Goshhhhh!!! This is so good!!! I really really love your idea, I would 100% read this if it were made into a full novel! WOWWWW you are so good at writing!!! :) I love how you turned the simple setting of a library into a whimsical and mysterious place made to represent life and everyone's individual story and how sometimes we can become so absorbed in the search for meaning within our own lives that we become lost. It reminds me of the pixar movie soul, in which the "lost souls" represent the ways people become consumed by their own m...

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Kenz Ross
14:44 Aug 29, 2023

OMG I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. Your kind words are so inspiring and humbling. It means so much that my story was something you could connect with. Thank you so much for reading, and taking time to leave such incredibly kind words. It means so much! :,)

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Erin Van Kal
00:09 Aug 31, 2023

^^

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Jonathan Shiller
16:50 Aug 30, 2023

Nice work! I am so devoted to realistic fiction I have not explored the world of fantasy. Love the descriptions, the rocks, the girl buried in the book...Congrats!

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Kenz Ross
23:03 Aug 30, 2023

OMG thank you so much for reading my story and I'm so glad you spent time in the library and found things to enjoy ^_^. Also thank you for taking time to leave such kind words, it is so appreciated. :,)

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Jessie Laverton
17:03 Aug 29, 2023

Fantastic. Only problem is I overcooked my cauliflower reading it 🤨 Think I got a bit lost!

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Kenz Ross
18:13 Aug 29, 2023

OMG thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and greatly appreciate you taking time to leave a kind word! :,) (TBH, the cauliflower might be the Watchers... they like it a bit overdone, sorry about that!) >_>

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Jessie Laverton
19:32 Aug 29, 2023

🤣☺️

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16:43 Sep 14, 2023

L bro

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Cool Boy
14:27 Oct 07, 2023

Hello, I hope you are well. I have a question that I would be grateful if you could answer. Do you allow me and may I use your stories on my YouTube channel?

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Kenz Ross
15:29 Oct 16, 2023

Hi there! I am SO incredibly honored that you would want to feature my work on your YouTube channel. That really humbles me and I am so grateful. However, I am actually working on something specific with this universe, and I have to keep things under wraps, under certain control for now! So I'm not currently allowing any publication of this work by anyone but myself. Again, I have no doubt you would do something incredible, and I am so honored that you would even consider wanting to share my story. I just have to keep things "internal" rig...

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Jonathan Page
08:06 Aug 31, 2023

Wow!! Really well done!

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Kenz Ross
13:09 Sep 04, 2023

Thank you so so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and appreciate you leaving a kind word. It's so encouraging and humbling :,)

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Kristi Gott
22:59 Aug 30, 2023

I love this sooo much. What incredible writing and an incredible story by a gifted author. Wow. I am in awe. Enjoyed this soo much. So funny, witty and clever. Amazing!!!!

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Kenz Ross
23:05 Aug 30, 2023

Gosh you're making me tear up, haha! As someone who was TERRIFIED to ever share my work with anyone, I'm so honored, humbled, and happy that you enjoyed the story and my writing. Thank you so much for reading my story and leaving such kind words. :,)

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J. S. Bailey
20:29 Aug 29, 2023

Nice work and congrats on the win. I feel there was an overuse of italics, especially at the beginning-before we had even gotten to know the characters voice, which I found to be jarring. Incredibly interesting setting and tone.

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Kenz Ross
20:36 Aug 29, 2023

Thank you so much for reading my story and for sharing your encouragement and thoughts! I greatly appreciate your time and feedback!!! :D

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Donna Moren
14:33 Aug 29, 2023

I love this! I teach a high school creative writing course, and I would love to use this as an exemplar of the genres you have here. Let me know if that would be acceptable! Dmoren@hamiltoncentral.org

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Kenz Ross
14:37 Aug 29, 2023

Oh my gosh, I'm so honored. It would be wonderful if my writing could be used in such a helpful way—especially for young writers :,D Thank you so much for your kind words, reading my story, and using your skills to teach. You're a hero! <3 I will email you!

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Yupp Erdoodle
14:26 Feb 13, 2024

Good story, my pea sized brain is confused though.

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Kenz Ross
20:13 Feb 28, 2024

Thank you so much! And you definitely DO NOT have a pea-sized brain, my friend. The Library takes... an intense (and rude) enjoyment in confusing EVERYONE who pays a visit >_> Thank you so much for reading and for taking time to comment. It means so much!!! ^_^

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清谷 黄
09:38 Jan 08, 2024

Hi author, i like your story very much, gives me a sense of mystery, but since i'm a new english learner, is's a little hard for me to process it deeply, would you please tell me the background, summary, and theme of the story so i can totally understand the story Thanks Ross

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Kenz Ross
20:42 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story and leave such kind words. I wrote this to be very much "up to reader interpretation." I really want people to let their imagination take the lead. :)

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Terry Jaster
03:40 Jan 04, 2024

I see you won. Congratulations to you

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Kenz Ross
20:40 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you!!!

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Angela W
19:40 Dec 30, 2023

You and this story are incredible!!!

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Kenz Ross
20:40 Jan 16, 2024

OMG that's so nice! :,D Thank you for reading, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it!!! Your kind words are inspiring. Thank you so much!

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Terry Jaster
11:16 Dec 09, 2023

Thought I commented on this story. Huh

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Terry Jaster
08:55 Dec 09, 2023

When I started to read this story I'm sorry but I didn't expect much. Thank you for surprising me and for taking me back to my days and hours spent in the library. The reference to The Gunslinger was a very nice addition. Because after all All Things Serve The Beam. Even us. I look forward to more please.

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Kenz Ross
21:59 Dec 21, 2023

Thank you so much for reading, especially when you weren't sure if you were gonna be into it at the start. That was so cool of you to give my story a chance. :,) I'm so SO gad you ended up enjoying your time in The Library, and it was able to bring you back to such special times in your life. AND YES! Thank you so much for noticing the call out. I'm so glad and excited when I meet fellow DT fans who get the reference :D Thank you so much for taking time to read my story and leave such a nice comment. It really means a lot. Hopefully my ...

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Aiden Brady
12:25 Nov 19, 2023

A very engrossing story to say the least. The magic library concept kept reminding me of “Apocrypha” from the elder scrolls, but maybe not as hopeless and demonic. Fantastic read, great work.

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V Mayes
05:55 Nov 19, 2023

This was absolutely incredible! Reminds me a lot of The Wanderer's Library, if you've ever heard of that.

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