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Sad Fiction

My name is Muggs, and I’m a librarian. I work in the Walnut Creek library, which is in downtown Walnut Creek, near Civic Park. It’s within walking distance of the Walnut Creek BART Station, and we get visitors from all over the East Bay. 


The library, which opened in July 2010, was funded through a public-private partnership and cost $34M. It’s a 42,00 square-foot building with a children’s wing and garden, a business and career center, a technology center, a 16-seat conference room, and a 150-seat meeting room named The Oak View. There are 94 public computers and 978,435 books. There is free WiFi. 


I remain at the bottom in the pecking order of librarians who work at the Walnut Creek library; I’ve never had a say in how our information is organized or directly impacted any programs or systems to improve users’ needs. Those responsibilities, the ones which I signed up for, have been kept out of my reach. 


I’m relegated to the main desk on the bottom floor of the library. Muggs is written on a long triangular nameplate that lives on the desk, which is situated at the intersection of the floor's three entrances. It’s also across from the water fountain and restrooms; it’s the most heavily trafficked area in the building and the least desirable work station for any employee. I spend my days guessing the height difference between the child and adult-sized water fountains; the flushing of toilets is constant. 


Work has had a negative impact on my attitude for at least 9months. As soon as I wake up in the morning, just when I open my eyes, my mind tells me the day will be a miserable one. Weed is the only thing that seems to keep me above water; without it, I feel like I’m drowning; it must be all my wasted years suffocating me. When I think like this, it embarrasses me because it's not an original description. I’m fairly certain I pulled it from Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. She wrote, 


“I don't want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can't even see it, something that's drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead." 


Indeed, I might as well.


More recently, a symptom of my depression has been irritability. After losing a video game, I threw a PS3 controller against my living room wall. It didn’t break the first, second, or third time, but I made sure it broke the fourth when I took it to the garage and smashed it with a hammer. It surprises me that this type of aggression is freeing in some capacity. It gives me power knowing that I can break something.


***


The library closes at 6 pm on Thursdays. It’s a little before then, and I feel rushed to get home. If I’m not at my house by 6:30 pm, I’ll miss the weed delivery I scheduled. I like that weed's legal in California because I can take advantage of the delivery service; it's much better than re-upping at a Safeway parking lot in San Ramon. 


Despite the law, library employees are forbidden to use weed, and so, l keep it a secret. Then again, no one ever asks me anything about myself, and I don’t offer information, so everything about me is a secret; the only thing that people know is that they don’t like me. 


Two teenagers have been harassing me all day; a black one and a white one. Their jeans sag off their asses as they stalk each floor of the library. Their existence has put my colleagues and me on edge because the teenagers have a threatening demeanor and have knocked books off shelves and dragged their backpacks on the floor, aisle after aisle. 


There are 39 pieces of public art in the library, and it’s two minutes before closing. I see the white kid pull a sharpie out of the front pocket of his JanSport and reach for a Christian Moeller portrait. He’ll probably try to mark it with a Hitler mustache or scribble an obscenity. The teens have been annoying me all day, like celery stuck in my molars, and I’ve had enough. Before the inky tip of the sharpie touches the canvas, I shout at the kid, “Don’t you dare.” 


I sound much more agitated than I would have liked. 


The kid turns to me. His sweatshirt hoodie casts a shadow over half his face so that he looks like Darth Sidious. Teenagers with baggy clothes are scary to younger kids, they’re scary to their peers, and they’re scary to adults too. The kid stuffs the sharpie into his front pocket and takes a couple of steps towards me. I feel like prey. 


The second and third-floor librarians are looking down at me and what is going on at the bottom. I look away and, out of habit, I glance at the clock on my phone. It’s now only one minute before 6 pm. I picture the weed man driving away from my house.


The white kid barks again, “What’d you say?” 


He has a speech impediment, but I can’t pick up exactly what it is; something with vowels. His black friend is sauntering from the opposite hallway like he’s walking to a boxing ring. It hits me that I’m being approached from both sides. The black one’s about six feet tall; he hasn’t grown into his body yet; he still has the smooth skin of a pre-pubescent boy. I look at his footwear and see his left shoelace is untied. His mom or dad probably bought him those shoes. 


The white kid is stopped about ten feet away. I can see his face too. He’s got acne and a dark wispy mustache that looks out of place on his upper lip. I can always tell the types of people who’ve been in fights before because I am the type that gets beat up. This white kid in front of me is one of the violent ones, I can tell. 


“What’d you say to me?” He repeats again, sounding like a man who just removed the pin from a grenade. 


“The library’s closed.” I say, avoiding eye contact, “You guys have to get out of here, thank you.” 


The white kid asks me, “Are you leaving?” 


The kids are side by side now, eye-balling me. They’re swimming in the XXL or XXXL sweatshirts they’re wearing, and I’m afraid.


“No, I’m not leaving right now,” I say.


The kids nod at each other, look at me, and then start walking to the exit. The white one stares me down and says, “I’ll be waiting for you outside, Muggs.” 


Those exact words have been said to me at least a half-dozen times; they’re as familiar as a cold wind. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. My habit kicks in, and I glance at my phone; somehow, the clock is showing 6:07 pm.


I’ve missed a scheduled delivery before. They charge an extra $10, and if you get your weed that day - sometimes you don’t - it will be their last stop. One time, they came at 11:45 pm ( I usually go to bed at 10:30 pm). 


This purchase is a huge deal to me; I haven’t had weed in 24hrs, and life is much harder to bear without my medicine. If I’m not in my car, on the road in the next minute or two, everything will be ruined. 


I spring out from behind the main desk and run towards the teenagers. My fists are clenched so tight that it looks like the bone will tear through the skin. The kids hear me coming and turn around. They scream cuss words as I rush them, blindly punching in all directions with my eyes closed the entire time. 


The knuckles on my left hand scrape against something and burn. I’m expecting to get hit, but nothing’s being fired back; I keep swinging my fists until I hear a librarian shout, “They’re running away.” 


I open my eyes and witness the white kid pushing open the door to flee the building. He shouts, “You’re dead, old man!” 


My colleagues are shocked at what they just saw miserable Muggs do. I am too, but I don’t have time for this. I make my way back to the main desk to pick up my bag. It’s a shot in the dark, but I’m going to try to make the delivery window. My medicine will calm me down.


The librarians are walking to me so they can talk about the incident, but I’m already out from behind the desk with my things and jogging to the exit.


“Muggs,” One of them shouts, “We need to talk about what just happened. This isn’t appropriate behavior; we’re librarians!”


***


Like I usually do, I’m smoking weed in the living room. I try not to smoke in the bedroom, but sometimes it happens. Also, in the bathroom, sometimes that happens. It may seem like I’ll smoke anywhere in my house, but I won’t ever smoke in the kitchen; there’s a finicky smoke detector in there that’s too troublesome.


I can’t believe I made it back home in time, but in retrospect, like all things, it makes sense. The only person who was a factor in the equation at the library was me. I was worried that I would be late. I never factored in that the delivery service could be late, but, of course, they can. And good thing they were tonight, or I wouldn’t have gotten my weed. 


Ah, but weed can be two-headed, and with each puff, I find out I’m being pulled down the wrong road. The more I smoke, the more paranoid I become. I think I hear things outside like car doors shutting and the creak of my porch as if there’s weight on it. I wanted to smoke the joint so badly that I didn’t even take time to set the mood; the TV is off; there’s no music.


The doorbell rings. 


Its pitch spins me into a state of anxiety, which is made worse, or maybe entirely created by, the weed. The joint's gone, I’ve finished it; it’s just me, my paranoia, and whoever’s on the other side of the door. 


“Who is it?” I ask. 


“I didn’t know librarians could smoke weed, Muggs.” 


The speech impediment is unmistakable: it’s the white kid. 


“Get out of here! I’m just a just librarian.” 


“That’s why we’re here. Open up, old man!” 


“I’m forty-one!” I shout. 


I’m at the door now looking at both of them through the eyehole, the black kid and the white one, their baggy clothes and sweaty faces. 


“Open the freaking door!” The white kid shouts.


“What do you want?”


The black kid puts his phone screen next to the eye hole and asks, “Can you see this?” 


There’s a video playing on his phone. It’s of me smoking weed in my house. I’m shocked and amazed; when I was a teenager, I wasn’t blackmailing librarians. 


 I let the kids come into my house, which is a mistake. The white one whips out a knife with a blade about half the height of the distance between the children and adult-sized water fountains.


“Don’t do anything stupid.” He says, directing me to a corner of my kitchen. 


The whole room is hazy with weed smoke, and I’m stoned out of my mind. There’s so much adrenaline running through me that I feel like I’m on a much stronger hallucinogen. I’m seeing rainbows flashing on my white cupboards, and the thin wispy mustache hairs on the white kid’s face look like they can transform into a daddy longlegs spider and walk down his chin. My habit seizes me, and I look for my phone; I don’t know where it is.


The black kid is in the living room rifling through my wallet and recently purchased bag of weed. He finds $24 and complains about the amount. He’s much more chipper when he sees I have plenty of joints.


He takes one and lights up. 


“Where’s the secret stash, old man?” The white kid says. 

“There’s no secret stash. I’m a librarian.” 


“Bull ——! Librarians make eighty thousand dollars a year!” The white kid shouts, “Where is it?” 


I know the statistic he’s talking about; if you google, “how much do librarians make?” The top answer from ZipRecruiter says eighty thousand dollars a year. 


“I don’t make that!” I say, “It’s an internet of lies!” 


The black kid is coughing in the living room. These high schoolers can’t handle their weed but are man enough to rob me.


“Gimmie some of that.” The white kid says to the black one.


As soon as the words leave his mouth, I see what’s about to happen; the white kid’s going to smoke a joint in my kitchen. 


It takes the white kid two puffs to get the detector’s siren to blare. Its loud squeal could be used to disperse crowds; we all rush out of the kitchen to getaway. The black kid grabs me as I try to turn down the hallway and escape.


“Turn it off.” He shouts.


His hands are on my forearms, and they feel small. I remind myself he’s only a kid.


“You have to wait,” I say. 


“Dammit!” The white kid shouts and then takes another hit of my weed. 


We all stand in the living room with our ears covered for at least another minute. Even after the smoke detector shuts off, there’s a painful ringing in my ear. 


I can’t take it anymore and fall to the sofa.


“Get up!” The white kid shouts.


“I can’t,” I concede, “I give up.” I adjust my position, so I can lie down on the sofa.


The black kid asks the white one, “What the hell is wrong with this guy?” 


I’m staring up at my ceiling through the smoke of the joint that’s being passed around, acutely aware that I’m being held hostage by teenagers.


“Alright, old man.” The white kid starts, “You’re going to give us all the money you have,”


“I already gave you all I have.” 


“Bull ——!” The white kid says, “All old people have money lying around the house.” 


“I told you, I’m forty-one.” 


“That’s freaking old!”


The black kid speaks next, “Do you have Venmo?” 


“Yea,” I say.


“Venmo us.” He demands. 


“You want me to Venmo you the money?” 


The glances they exchange as this situation unfolds makes it clear to me that they’ve never done this before. In an indica induced fog, I close my eyes as the kids shout words that I ignore. I think of the library and of Margaret Atwood.


“I’m a sluggish wave.” I say.


“We’re not messing around,” The white kid says, “If you don’t Venmo us one thousand dollars, we’re going to show these pictures to your boss.” 


“That’s fine; it's my own fault,” I say. 


“What?” 


“I told you something’s wrong with this guy.” The black kid says. 


“You want to lose your job over a thousand dollars?” The white kid asks me.


I open my eyes and look at him, “No, I don’t. Show them the pictures. I’ll keep the thousand dollars.” 


“I will,” the white kid shouts, “ I’ll really do it!” 


“That’s fine. Maybe you’re my hammer, here to smash my life to pieces.” I say.


The black kid looks around the room like it’s changing into prison before his very eyes.


“Let's get the hell outta here.” He says.


“I’m not leaving without something!” Says the white one.


The black kid grabs for the bag of weed on the coffee table, but I see it coming and snatch it before he can. 


“I’m keeping this,” I say, “I need it.”


He turns around, looking for something else. They’re both in a panic now. They’re searching the house for anything to take.


“I’m inadequate and stupid,” I say to them. 


Atwood's words frighten the children, and they no longer know what to make of old man Muggs, who they picked on at the library. I doubt they’re going to blackmail me, but if they do, I’d be okay with it. All I want now is my medicine and some quiet.


Finally, they find something; the white kid takes my PS3. They hurry to the door, and just before it shuts, I hear the black kid say, “But it's only got one controller.” 



April 30, 2021 18:46

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9 comments

Marissa Flores
16:10 May 03, 2021

This is a nice, tight story. I really like the aggression with the PS3 controller - it’s fantastic foreshadowing and something I think other people suffering from mental illness will relate to. Once I destroyed my printer alone in my apartment for the same reason! “Their jeans sag off their asses” great line. “There are 39 pieces of public art in the library, and it’s two minutes before closing.” this line struck me as a little nonconsecutive. The length of Margaret Atwood quote struck me as slightly intrusive, especially because your p...

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Scott Skinner
21:56 May 04, 2021

Thanks for commenting, Marisa! I'm glad the humor in the story resonated with you. I hear you about the nonconsecutive line + the length of the Atwood quote. I'll take a closer look at these to see what I might be able to do. lol @ you destroying a printer once - I'm sure many people have done sth similar.

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Marissa Flores
06:59 May 05, 2021

Honestly those are closer to stylistic preferences than critique. I always look forward to reading your stories - Cheers!

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Cathryn V
19:59 May 01, 2021

Hi Scott, Good story with great tension. there are several parts I particularly like: More recently, a symptom of my depression has been irritability. After losing a video game, I threw a PS3 controller against my living room wall. It didn’t break the first, second, or third time, but I made sure it broke the fourth when I took it to the garage and smashed it with a hammer. It surprises me that this type of aggression is freeing in some capacity. It gives me power knowing that I can break something. "the only thing that people know is t...

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Scott Skinner
13:49 May 02, 2021

Thank you for reading and for the feedback - That paragraph is gone!

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Shea West
15:03 May 01, 2021

Poor Lungs, he is quite the character. You portrayed the teens so well, with the audacity to rob a man but under the pretense that think he's loaded financially. Misguided youth, and a sad, stuck old guy.

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Ryan Lm Colli
12:43 May 07, 2021

Great story Pls JOin This: https://www.guilded.gg/i/wEwWwYmE

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Angel {Readsy}
17:39 May 04, 2021

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15:01 May 01, 2021

Oh my goodness. This was amazing! I read the story out loud. The depressed voice that you portrayed in Muggs conveyed his forlorn look on life and sadness for things that he wants but can't achieve. I also found myself pausing, constantly thinking that something bad was going to happen. A million thoughts scrambled in my head. Things like: Is Muggs going to die? Are the teenagers going to kill him with the knife? Will Muggs kill them? The suspense was masterful. I also noticed that while I was reading this...

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