“He’s looking at us again.”
I glance up from the tiny square table, past the aisles of books, and there he stands, glasses perched on the end of his nose, unflinching gaze penetrating through me. He’s clearly glowering now, and he brings his finger to his lips when he sees me make eye contact. I divert my gaze back toward the table, where three books lay, props whose purpose was solely to keep attention away from the fact that I’d been sitting here all morning doing absolutely nothing useful. Gabe chuckles as he reads off one of the titles.
“Erotic Stories from the Late Middle Ages? Good choice.”
“Why don’t we do it somewhere else?” I ask the short, round man next to me, but I already know his answer. Gabe is a stickler for protocol.
“There’s a right way to do things, Mike. And a wrong way. Today’s the day, and this is the place. We can’t help it that someone built a library here.”
The man at the dark brownish-red counter clears his throat. I look up again, though I intended not to. His left hand taps a sign on the counter in a language that resembles the old ones. No the Phoenicians so much, but the much later Latin script.
“He’s saying something, Gabe. Something about that sign.”
“You didn’t study your English, Mike?”
“No, Gabe. I didn’t study my English. So what? Just tell me what it says.”
He turns his head away from me, and I marvel at his beauty - not for the first time. His black locks settle slowly around his shoulders, taking on a life of their own long after his movement stops. His corpulent shoulders shrug in that lazy way when he's relaxed, confident motion brings him back around to face me again. Gabe always chooses the most interesting bodies.
“Just to be quiet. Not sure what he’s going on about; we’re not being that loud.”
But we’re going to be loud. I look at Gabe, and his deep chestnut eyes look at me. We share a moment, thinking of our short futures, and I recollect the last time I wore flesh. It had been nearly a century since I’d needed to, and it was distracting. Was it a hundred years? It might have been a thousand. I remember wondering, in the chemical bath that a body brings, how it was possible that these creatures could inherit the Earth. I remember my heart racing when I saw the beauty of the garden and tilting my head in sway with the warm breezes that blew the clouds. I could have spent forever there, walking through the deserts with the burning sand between my toes—stupid humans.
Even now, in the sanitized space of the library, the pungent, earthy smell of the books pulled my attention from the task at hand. I don’t know why Gabe never seems to get distracted.
“Focus, Mike. Hand me the package.”
I reach toward the plastic chair beside me, where the trumpet concert hard case sat. The idea of plastic throws me for a moment, as I remember the animals and plants that died and melted down, compressed throughout millions of years, and refined to form plastic. Human ingenuity forever seemed ready to reign in the chaos and restore order. A shuffle from Gabe tells me I’ve been pondered the concept for too long. I retrieve the case fast enough to hopefully sate Gabe’s impatience and plop it down on the table with a thick thud, causing patrons at three other tables in the small library to look at us and prompting the man behind the counter to move toward the opening in the counter, and I know right away he’s going to talk to us.
I feel my heartbeat faster and push blood up into my face.
“You’re turning red, Mike.”
“I know. I can’t help it. It’s this body.”
“Ignore him. Open the case. You have to go first.”
“I know. Stop.”
There are three silver latches along the edge of the case. I flip the first one up as I see the man approaching. Now I can clearly see his furrowed eyebrows behind his glasses, a mixture of hostility and confusion. Behind that flicker the wounds of a lifetime of expressions. I’ve often wondered how they do that, live with all of those emotions bottled up in there. The shame I feel at having broken rules I never agreed to is crippling me. I open the next latch, but this time slower, and I make sure that I flip it more quietly this time, without even a click.
“Where are the rest?” I whisper the words to Gabe, aware that I want the man to go away. I want his scrutiny averted toward someone else. I glance fervently toward him. He’s almost to us now.
“I don’t know how you manage, Gabe.”
“I come down more than you. Don’t worry, it’ll pass. Take a deep breath and let me do the talking.”
The man pushes round, thick glasses up on his thin nose, but they slide right back down to where they were the moment before. Disheveled black hair pokes up in every direction at once from his head, and his cheeks are sallow and pale.
“Did you see my sign?”
“Yes, of course. We tried to be quiet - very sorry,” says Gabe, staring at the man.
“I’ve been watching the two of you. You opened those books when you first got here and haven’t touched them since - chatting it up. Can I help you find anything you’re looking for here?”
“No, we’re fine. These books have what we need. We’re just talking about our project.”
“Your project on baskets of the late nineteenth-century art, tardigrades, and let’s see…”
He tilts his head to read the title from another book, and I involuntarily flinch, knowing already what it is.
“Eroticism in the Middle Ages? What kind of project are you working on, exactly?”
We’re going to get kicked out. The idea spawns in my too-human mind and refuses to dislodge. Centuries of planning, and we’re going to get kicked out of the only place on the entire surface of the Earth that we can start the ceremony.
“It’s science fiction,” I blurt out so quickly that I forget to hide my accident. The words almost come out in Aramaic, but I thankfully steered them into English, even if imperfectly so. This causes the man in the glasses to direct his attention toward me and earns me a glare from Gabe.
“What,” he starts, “are you planning on doing with that?”
My hand rests on the last latch, and I fiddle with it nervously.
“It’s art,” says Gabe. He nods to me to open the latch, so I flick it open with my fingers. Then he pulls the lid up to show the man what’s inside.
I suck in my breath when I see what’s in the case. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the horn, long and sleek and perfect as it is. The brass surface reflects the man’s image, inverted and squashed and wrapped around it. The entire horn is about the length of my forearm.
He doesn’t believe anything we told him, but I couldn’t tell what it is that he does believe. The man bends in close enough so that I can smell him, a mixture of dying leaves and burning tobacco.
“Gentlemen, you’re disturbing others who actually are working on projects here. I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you’re obviously lying. If you’re here to meet people, then I suggest you call them and tell them to meet you somewhere else.”
“We can’t leave,” I again forget to filter, only this time the desperation skipped the English translation in my brain. Hence, the words fall meaningless on the man’s ears. Sweat beads on my forehead as I look around the room, and I see that he’s right. All work has stopped in the shared room now, and all eyes are directly focused on the three of us.
“We may have to,” Gabe tells me, also shifting to Aramaic. “It’s okay, Mike. There will be other alignments.”
“It’s the apocalypse, Gabe. All of this will be in ruins by the time it's over anyway. I say we just blow the horn anyway.”
“It’s against the rules, and you know it. This whole thing was a mess from the start. Who built a library here, anyway?”
The sound of the man’s throat-clearing caught my attention. I look at him again, and something seems a bit off like his eyes don’t match his body. Then I understand. They are shifting colors, away from the dark blue that they’d begun and toward a strange purple tint.
“I did, Gabriel,” the man responds in perfect Aramaic.
“Wait, who are you?” Gabriel says. We’ve all shifted to Aramaic at this point. I squint my eyes, but it’s tough to identify others when they’re in a human body.
“Luke,” I say, convinced of it. He’s the only one who would want to stop us. “Lucifer, stop interfering.”
“You can’t blow that thing in here, not when you have to observe human customs. I know the rules as well as you do.”
“I’ll tell,” Gabe retorts. “They won’t let you keep this library here.”
“Maybe. But it’s here now, and I’ll have a thousand years to figure out the next roadblock.”
“We’ll be watching.”
I shut the horn back into its case with slow, trembling hands, closing each latch in turn. Past Lucifer, I see that the other five have finally arrived.
I shake my head at them, communicating that we won’t be doing it today. I can feel the disappointment wash over them together. We get so few official duties these days. Most of them have been to Earth less frequently than I have. They approached the table where we sat.
“Judgment day is off,” Gabe informs the lot. “Luke is interfering again.” He indicates toward the man, who they wouldn’t have recognized either but for Gabe pointing him out. Now knowing who he is, they glare at him in unison.
“Relax, guys,” he says in Aramaic. “You’ve come all this way. Why don’t you pick out something to read to pass the time?”
He motions with a thin arm toward the rows and rows of books, all useless to me. But he’s right, I’m here now, I’ve got time, and the smell of the worn pages and temptation of centuries of knowledge and story-telling draw me in.
Not quite the apocalypse, but at least I won’t be bored.
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This story was great I enjoyed the chill vibes even though there is a bigger story to this. I personally loved how it was a quick and easy read and it was entertaining. I could relate to feeling in trouble when making too much noise or any noise at all in the library. Not only that but the fact that they are demons (I'm assuming) makes it even more fun to read. I enjoyed the story it was something calm to read not too much drama but just enough to keep me reading.
Hi Kate-lynn! I'm glad you enjoyed the story! When I read the prompt, the story popped into my head and I actually laughed out loud so I had to write it! And thanks for the feedback. Usually, I write a lot darker than this, so it was a change for me. Maybe this is a fun direction to explore further!