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

165 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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165 comments

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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Bernardo Paz
05:28 Nov 13, 2023

Damn. All the smart observations have already been said in this comments section, but I just wanted to add to the praise. I said God Damn!

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Kenz Ross
15:55 Nov 14, 2023

Oh my gosh ty so much! I'm so honored you enjoyed visiting the Library and you had fun reading X,D Thank you so much for stopping by, and leaving such kind feedback. <3 I say it constantly in all of my replies, but I literally tear up when I see that my work was able to make people happy and was fun! :D

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Kenz Ross
15:55 Nov 14, 2023

Oh my gosh ty so much! I'm so honored you enjoyed visiting the Library and you had fun reading X,D Thank you so much for stopping by, and leaving such kind feedback. <3 I say it constantly in all of my replies, but I literally tear up when I see that my work was able to make people happy and was fun! :D

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Ashton Turner
18:13 Nov 01, 2023

This text was very well worded and the way the writer delivered the sentences was amazing. For example in the first paragraph when it was explaining the library it said “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?” That first sentence was so good that it was all it took to get me hooked before the story even really started. By the time I got to the fourth paragraph I didn't want to stop reading because of how good it was. I f...

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Sidney Luk
06:28 Oct 27, 2023

Loved it! Can't wait for more!

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Kenz Ross
16:37 Nov 01, 2023

Thank you so so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate your comment! No pressure of course, but if you WOULD like to follow updates on The Library project I'm working on, there's a link in my Reedsy bio where you can sign up for the little newsletter. Again, no pressure at all, but whatever updates I make will be there FIRST lol, so I figured I'd mention it. >,< Thanks again so much!

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05:09 Oct 24, 2023

Excellent setting, character, and voice. Has some Library of the Unwritten vibes. Very cool. Loved the humor.

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Kenz Ross
15:03 Oct 26, 2023

Thank you so so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed your time in The Library! ^_^ Thank you for your kind words.

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Julie Squires
19:23 Oct 23, 2023

Wonderfully creative!

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Kenz Ross
15:04 Oct 26, 2023

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the story and appreciate you leaving a kind comment. ^_^

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Jeana Budnick
17:11 Oct 20, 2023

I will never look at a library the same again!

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Kenz Ross
15:04 Oct 26, 2023

They'll never look at YOU the same way again, either ;) Thank you so much for reading and for leaving a kind comment ^_^

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Harley Roxburgh
02:10 Oct 16, 2023

love it

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Kenz Ross
15:29 Oct 16, 2023

Thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed the story and took time to leave such kind words! ^_^

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Harley Roxburgh
02:09 Oct 16, 2023

great job

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Kenz Ross
15:30 Oct 16, 2023

Thank you so so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed the story!!!! ^_^

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Spencer Peaker
21:21 Oct 15, 2023

I wish there was a whole universe with this magical Library at the center to please make it a reality.

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Kenz Ross
15:32 Oct 16, 2023

Awwww thank you so much. What an incredibly humbling and kind thing to say. I'm so glad you had so much fun in The Library. The good news is, I AM actually putting some stuff together, so if you'd LIKE to stay updated/involved, you can just subscribe to the Newsletter here: https://mikenziross.wixsite.com/the-rambling-library ... and that's where I'm keeping everyone updated ^_^ Again thank you so much for reading my story, and leaving such kind words. I am so overwhelmed by all of the encouragement and joy that I've experienced here. I...

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Aliah Turner
00:24 Oct 05, 2023

This is for my Jrotc class! Donate today or buy popcorn! Please and thank you. https://instaraise.com/tahlequahjrotc/popcorn/aliahturner?a=17

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Cavin Cunningham
08:59 Oct 04, 2023

This story drew me in like a library. The writing is original and evocative.

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Ja'Zaria Walker
12:35 Oct 03, 2023

This story trapped me. The way you made the library alive was outstanding! It was an amazing, wonderful read!!

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Kenz Ross
18:31 Oct 03, 2023

OMG thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed your time in The Library! Thank you so much for reading my story and leaving kind words. :)

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Katrina Quick
19:28 Oct 02, 2023

I was so doubtful at first but as I got into the story I was hooked - the feeling of which you captured here perfectly. A stunning story and well deserved win :D

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Kenz Ross
18:34 Oct 03, 2023

Thank you so so much for giving my story a chance and for taking the time to leave kind words. It means a lot that you could find some fun here, and I really appreciate your reading it. :)

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Dan C
11:21 Sep 30, 2023

Wow, this gave me dark The Magicians vibes, then a little Alien with the confidence of Constantine... what a brilliant crossover. I love that you've opened a new world to me. I would absolutely read these books. Tell me there will be books?

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Kenz Ross
18:33 Oct 03, 2023

Firstly, thank you so much for reading my story and leaving such a wonderful comment. Truly, thank you so much! Secondly: Oh, I've definitely got something planned... and it's starting to grow a bit beyond my initial ideas (but that's the nature of The Library, after all.) If you WOULD like to follow along, you can sign up to the little newsletter I created where you can stay up-to-date on The Library. ^_^ https://mikenziross.wixsite.com/the-rambling-library

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Hannah Abrams
20:47 Sep 26, 2023

This is really cool and confusing. I love it

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Kenz Ross
13:03 Sep 27, 2023

Hahaha! Thank you! Yes, the place is quite... "complex", but The Assistant Librarian is doing her best to keep things orderly, it can be tough when shelves... and books... and... shadows have a mind of their own >_> Thank you SO MUCH for reading and taking the time to share your kind words. I appreciate it so much :,)

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Katt Crazy
22:26 Sep 21, 2023

I couldn't stop reading if I wanted to!

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Kenz Ross
18:41 Sep 22, 2023

I'm so glad you enjoyed it :,) Thank you so so much for spending time with this story and leaving kinds words <3

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Mohammed Sharaby
15:58 Sep 21, 2023

I don't usually read, but this story was incredible. I was so hooked on it and wanted to know the ending. This truly deserves the award! Keep up the amazing work!!!

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Kenz Ross
18:42 Sep 22, 2023

Oh wow, thank you so much. I'm humbled and so grateful that you enjoyed the story and left such kind comments. I'm so glad I could create something that made you happy for a while! ^_^ Thank you so much!

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Alex Storm
21:31 Sep 18, 2023

i really loved the story, can i use your story on my youtube channel and add more deep, like images and ambient sounds?

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