Elizabeth Parris had only been working at the Anton LeVay Memorial Library for about 300 years and she knew there was a lot she needed to learn but still, any volume of The Book of Sins should have been easy to find. There was a whole damn floor dedicated to the series. Every day, part of her job was to pick one out and she’d never seen them out of order. This was the one area of the library that was meticulously organized. The books were always where the Library of Congress Classification system said they should be. Elizabeth looked down at the oily scrap of paper in her hand, looked up at the three-inch gap on the shelf, and bit her bottom lip.
83,429 was missing.
83,428 was there. 83,430 was there. But 83,429 was mysteriously gone. She looked all over. Above and below the shelf. She looked behind the other books just in case it got pushed to the back on accident. Mr. Holmes had passed by on his way to stock the Romance section and she asked if he’d seen it. He just shook his head and moved on. She sighed and her shoulders dipped. The stupid thing was nowhere to be found.
Mr. Morningstar was going to be pissed.
Elizabeth finally gave up. She left the aisle and started back down the spiral staircase to the lobby. The stairs were a little tricky because they were just four inches deep and so narrow that only one person could comfortably use them at a time. It was annoying but, all things considered, it totally made sense. Mr. Duvalier was on his way up with four dozen copies of the newest edition of Elevator World. It was the only magazine available for checkout. They had to awkwardly shimmy by each other and she asked if there was anything good in the issue. His eyes lit up as he told her about the newest button review.
She got to the bottom of the stairs and she could already tell Mr. Morningstar was in a mood. She could hear his voice booming across the lobby as he chastised Ms. Bathory about everything he deemed as unnecessarily pleasant.
“The tone is all wrong. I said 80 decibels and 5,000 hertz. This,” Mr. Morningstar pointed to the speaker above his head. “This is clearly 65 decibels and 3,500 hertz. Fix it.”
“Yes Mr. Morningstar.” Bathory said.
Mr. Morningstar picked up a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged and waved it in her face. “And I’m seeing more and more books where the pages aren’t sticky enough. How many times to I need to say it. Every page needs to be sticky.”
“Yes Mr. Morningstar.”
“Are people still getting paper cuts?”
“Yes Sir. Every time they turn a page just like you asked.”
“Good. And no more endings right? The last 40 pages are ripped out of every single book?”
“We kept some of the bad endings Sir.”
“No. I want them all gone. There should be no resolutions of any kind.”
Mr. Morningstar was such a perfectionist.
Elizabeth swallowed hard. It was time to get this over with. She approached the front desk and Mr. Morningstar’s face darkened even more when he noticed she didn’t have the book with her.
“Liz, what the heaven? Where’s today’s volume?” He asked.
“It’s not there Sir. Yesterday’s volume was back and tomorrow’s sins are right where they should be. In fact, everything else was in place. All the sins from the past and all the ones coming up. It’s just today’s book that is missing.”
“I don’t have time for this Liz. The Soul Exchange opens in a half hour. You know how short the collection window is.”
“I’m sorry Sir, I looked everywhere.”
“Did you check the security footage?”
“Not yet Sir.”
Mr. Morningstar sighed a dramatic sigh and started toward the security room just off the lobby. “I have to do everything around here.” He mumbled. Elizabeth and Ms. Bathory followed a few steps behind.
“What happens if we can’t find it?” Bathory whispered.
“We’ll lose a whole days worth of souls.” Elizabeth replied. “If he can’t provide the serial numbers to the Exchange Masters, they push the unclaimed souls back into the ether at the end of the window. They can’t let souls pile up for more than a day.”
“I wonder why they didn’t make Limbo bigger.”
“Who knows. I think that was another one of God’s dumb ideas.”
Mr. Morningstar entered the security room and the women followed. He sat down at a tiny desk with Coleco Adam on top. The keyboard was filthy and, even from a distance, Elizabeth could see crumbs filling the spaces between the keys. Mr. Morningstar logged in, entered a few commands and a grainy blue-green image of the aisle with the missing tome appeared on the screen. He rewound the footage. After a few moments, a man pushing a cart appeared on the screen and Mr. Morningstar slowed the video. The man stopped, looked around, took 83,429 off the shelf, and continued down the aisle. Mr. Morningstar rewound the footage, watched it again, and then turned to the women.
“Who is that guy?” He asked.
“That’s David Torbjörn. He works in Fan Fiction. Not sure why he would be looking through The Book of Sins section.” Elizabeth said.
“Well, why don’t we go find out.” Mr. Morningstar said.
They left the security office and started toward the stairs. Fan Fiction was on the 13th floor and was, by far, the largest section of the library. They found David Torbjörn stocking the Harry Potter section with new releases. Mr. Morningstar tapped him on the shoulder and Torbjörn’s eyes widened.
“Where is 83,429?” Mr. Morningstar asked. “We know you took it and I don’t have time for this shit.”
Torbjörn looked down and mumbled something at his feet.
“Speak up son.”
“I burned it Sir.”
“What?!” Mr. Morningstar exclaimed. “How?”
Torbjörn gave Mr. Morning a confused look and cocked his head to the side.
“Right…” Morningstar said. “Nevermind. Why? Why would you burn it?”
“Today is the day my wife was going to The Exchange Sir. I didn’t want to see her here.”
“If she had a serial number, she deserves to be here.”
“It was just one mistake. I know it was a big one, but that was the only thing she ever did wrong and she sought treatment right after. It was decades ago. She really was a good person.”
“One mistake, one hundred mistakes, one thousand mistakes. It doesn’t matter. If she had a serial number she is supposed to be here. We can’t start making exceptions. Can you imagine the paperwork if every One Mistaker wanted to appeal?” Mr. Morningstar rubbed the bridge of his nose.” So the book is completely gone?”
“Well…fuck.” Mr. Morningstar shook his head. “You know I can’t let this slide.”
“I know Sir.”
“Right. Well, it’s off to the Pop Country level for you.”
Ms. Bathory leaned into Elizabeth. “Is that bad?”
“It’s worse than you can image.”
“Poor guy. It’s going to be a long eternity.”
Torbjörn hung his head as he started to march down the aisle.
“Why are you here anyway?” Mr. Morningstar asked.
“I used to not flush public toilets on purpose Sir. I thought it would be funny.” Torbjörn gave Mr. Morningstar a weak smile.
“Ugh..you people are the worst.” Mr. Morningstar turned to Elizabeth. “Liz, can you finish stocking these shelves. I’m going to escort David downstairs.”
“Yes Sir.” Elizabeth replied.
“We will get back to normal tomorrow.”
Mr. Morningstar led David down the aisle, past the Star Wars and Tolkien sections, and disappeared into the dark. Elizabeth turned and started stocking the shelves.