The librarian

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Set your story in a library, after hours.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Drama Suspense

I gripped the book with my sweaty hands and looked about the checkout desk. Organic cocoa butter hand cream greased my spotless palm which always used to be ink-stained, back in college. Without the late afternoon sun streaming through dirty glass panes, the library was eerily quiet and unusually dark. There were no pages rustling, no keyboard clicking away and no silent chatter wafting in from the hidden nooks and corners of shelves. Fidgeting, unsure of what to do with this strange energy crackling through me, I walked towards the first row of shelves.


Quantum physics. A bunch of variables which can only guess and never declare, one of them being time. I glanced at the book in my hand, The Time Machine by H.G.Wells. All those years ago, I had picked it up from the fiction section and it was still unreal to me. But what else could explain the fact that I was standing in a place that had shut down 2 years ago, with the musty smell that used to instantly cure my anxiety as an 18 year old.


A single crack can break down the largest of dams, with knowledge bursting through every feeble barrier and I had been both the dam and the flood. First working to gather proof against time travel and then for it. When did the switch happen?


One usually does not expect breakthroughs in places that are as ostentatious and flashy as Time Travel Inc. ---a run-of-the-mill space tech company with an R&D unit aboard the international space station. I definitely hadn't, or maybe there was a reason why I never returned my copy of the Time Machine, and carried it with myself like a promise. A promise that the sporadic summer rain of interesting tit-bits that my team and I would gather and process, would became a full fledged monsoon with a continuous onslaught of spectrometric data, radiation readings and unforeseen knowledge. Life as I knew would be changed forever, I would be among the first to see it and I do not even remember when exactly did it happen. I was too busy breaking banks to put signposts on my paths of flooding.


“Yes?”


The librarian. I turned around and saw a middle aged woman, about my height, with rimless glasses, standing at the checkout desk, one arm bent at right angles close to her chest, as if she was carrying imaginary books with it. Her face was difficult to make out in the evening light which was dimming out by the minute. Was this place always so poorly lit? Lucky then that my time at the college library was always before lunch.


“I would like to return a book I had borrowed long ago.” I waited for the rebuke but instead received silence. “I am not a student anymore,” I added, for god knows what reason. Maybe I hoped she would see something funny in the whole scenario. 


“Bring me the book. We’ll see what the return date is.” She opened a wooden door in the circular desk and went inside. I left the shelf and followed her as she flicked on a switch and sat down on a chair, lit by a faint, fluorescent light. It was difficult to make out her features but she was beginning to resemble the librarian who had checked out the book that I was holding in my hands. 


“How did you get clearance, without returning the book?”


I laughed and skittered to an abrupt stop, catching an almost scowling stare from the librarian. “Ma’am, it was 10 years ago, the catalogue system has been revamped two many times since. You will not find any record.” I used to like this woman, back in the day. Wasn’t she the nice one, who always guided students around, never allowing anyone to leave without the book they were searching? If it wasn’t borrowed, she would find it for you.


The woman sitting in front of me with stern lines hard set in stone was strikingly familiar yet startlingly different. I persevered, “I came back to gift a new copy to make up for the one that I took with me. Thank you for agreeing to meet me after the library closed.” I placed the book on the wooden desk and turned to go.


“The catalogue system has only been revamped once in the last ten years.” A cold voice called out. I turned to see the librarian coming out of her desk. She stood in took up the book I had placed there, fanning out the pages with her heavily ringed fingers. “Are you sure you are talking about the past ten years?"


I straightened up, my throat itching suddenly. "It's all right, Ma'am. I have talked to the office staff. They have already accepted the book, you don't have to bother." Why did I think any of this was going to be sentimental?


'I have invented time travel and used it to replace a library book, knowing that this place is going to become obsolete in a few years. So how is your family?' That conversation was never going to happen. Instead the awkward silence was growing between the two of us like an ugly dark ink blot.


"Time travel is illegal, isn't it?" The woman banged the book in the scratched wood before tucking it under her arm. A sickly smile started spreading her puffy face, bringing more and more of the vile features into prominence.


"Time-what?"


I found myself short of breath.


"I should be leaving. Thank you."


"You are not the one to remember old debts and their recovery. Nor the only one to use timetravel for petty things." Her harsh frozen voice was stealing up on me, making every inch of hair stand up on alert. I still did not turn back.


"You and I very similar. So comfortable with loneliness, so out of ease with company. The library is both our homes and our graveyard. You found your moment of reckoning with the greatest discovery of mankind. Today I find mine."


I had broken into a full fledged run, but somehow the door seemed more and more distant, the faster I ran. But here was the door knob coming within my reach, until it didn't. A heavy weight collided with the back of my head and my hand slipped on the metal. Damn hand creams.


Heels clacked on the floor and stopped beside my head.


"People were warped long before time ever was. Never underestimate a time traveling librarian with a good aim and a bloodthirsty record of making people return their books."


The ceiling swam with her words before dissolving to darkness.

April 30, 2021 13:29

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