After Hours

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

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Fantasy

The clock struck 17:00 and Mike ushered the last of the visitors out of the library, closing the door behind them. In the scheme of things it had been quite a busy day for the library. There had been a steady stream of people to use the free computers and they had made several pounds in printing fees. They had the usual Friday meeting of the over 60s Literary Appreciation Society and the lunch time story time for toddlers.

The latter event was a busy one and the noise levels had caused Brenda one of her migraines and she had left to go home and sit in the dark. Probably with a large gin. If someone asked you to describe a Librarian, Brenda was it. She should have retired a few years ago but she took delight in telling people to be quiet, and putting the fear of god in people. She spent the rest of her time at work bemoaning electronic devices and the demise of the paperback.

Mike had always loved books, and the library had been his favourite place growing up. When he had seen the job advertised to run the library and the fact that it had come with an apartment on site, he had been at a low point. He didn’t think he would get the job as he did not have the qualifications but they had told him they would pay for him to learn whilst on the job. A free apartment, and a decently paid job had seemed to good to turn down. On quiet days he could use his time in the library working on his own book and really how hard could it be?

The first sign of trouble was when Madeline warned him about the restricted section. Mike had assumed it was going to be an adult only section but that was the other restricted section. Apparently, this restricted section contained the magical books. Mike had laughed when churchgoing Madeline had told him that the section was evil and against the bible. He was not entirely sure she had forgiven him yet.

However, it had not taken him long to realise that she was not kidding. It also did not take him long to find out why they had given this job to someone completely unqualified. After the doors of the library closed, and the sunset, the library came to life. The first night Mike had been in his apartment when he heard a noise and thinking he had maybe left the door unlocked he walked down to find Emma wandering round the library.

She was accompanied by Jane Fairfax and Mr. Elton, amongst others. Mike assumed that it was a literary group that he had not been told about so left them to it. The second night he was not so lucky. Finding Rosemary’s baby being reenacted in the horror section. He handed in his resignation the following morning but due to his tendency to not read through contracts he had not realised that he had signed a minimum twelve months.

He was now on to his third month and to be fair he looked forward to the after hours. Now that he had got used to it. Granted he would like to be able to control the books that came to life. Being hunted by serial killers was not his idea of a good night, nor was coming down to find the Red Wedding taking place. The mess after that one took a lot of explaining. 

What would tonight bring? Mike headed up to his room and climbed in to bed. A few hours sleep and then he would eat when he came down. Working all day and being up for a good part of the evening took it’s toll and he needed to sleep at some point.

The alarm went off at 11pm and Mike got out of bed and made a coffee. He really hoped for something fun tonight. No horror, no biography and no books on Tigers. That had been a very near miss and may explain what happened to the his predecessor who disappeared one night. All that was found was a bit of blood and some Tiger DNA. 

The main reason for a fun but hopefully quiet night was that Mike wanted to explore the restricted section. He had narrowed down the cause of the mystical library to one of five books. There was a book on Witchcraft which contained multiple spells. There were a few other books on the occult and finally there was a very ornate book which came with a lock. Mike could not quite make out the writing on the front. In movies it would definitely be this book that was the cause. This was where he would start.

As the clock struck midnight Mike went down the stairs. He was startled to see Brenda stood by the Romantic Fiction section yelling at an Angry Bo Peep for making too much noise calling for lost sheep. 

“Brenda, what are you doing here?”

“I left my glasses.”

‘So you came back at midnight?”

“Yes.” 

Mike looked at her suspiciously. Somehow, whilst she was angry at Bo Peep, she did not seem surprised to see her. This was not the only thing that seemed off. Mike looked round. Up on a Ladder an artist, that he could only assume was Michaelangelo, was painting the ceiling tiles. Over by the children’s book Sherlock Holmes was having a debate with Miss Marple. There was a battle between what appeared to be King Arthur and the Three musketeers and Ghengis Khan. 

This was not normal. There were more fictional characters appearing every few seconds, there were also several historical figures. Seeing King Henry VIII and Queen Victoria arguing by the romantic fiction and Einstein talking to Isaac Newton would on any other night have been a thing to behold. However, seeing an alligator knocking in to a row of children’s books and causing it to fall over took precedence. 

“What have you done?” Asked Brenda.

“Me? Why is this my fault?”

“You’ve been in the restricted section, haven’t you?”

“Yes, but”

“What were you told about the restricted section?”

“To stay out but.”

“Why doesn’t anyone ever listen?”

“I went in to find out what is happening. This was already happening.”

Brenda sighed and pulled out her phone. Typing in a message that Mike could not see, she gave him that look that she gave to naughty children and noisy patrons. The over the glasses disapproving stare. 

Mike realised that he needed to start trying to calm things down. There were shelves everywhere and books scattered across the library. Mike ran to the store cupboard and grabbed the tranquilliser dart gun he had purchased for nights where he was faced with wild animals and serial killers. 

He watched in horror as the alligator ate Peppa Pig. He had no idea what would happen if a literary character did not climb back in to the book at three am. Would they cease to exist. Had he just caused pre-schoolers everywhere a trauma? Would they even remember? What if it created a new book, the one where Peppa gets eaten. God he hoped not. 

He shot the alligator and breathed deeply.One down, at least three hundred to go. Brenda appeared quite unfazed by the situation. She had somehow managed to get a pot of tea from somewhere and was sat behind the desk with Ghengis Khan and Sir Lancelot drinking tea and talking about the weather.

Mike reloaded and headed through a crowd of teenagers full of angst and hormones. He peered down the romance aisle and soon wished he hadn’t as he spied a lot of bare flesh that was more at home in the erotic fiction section. He smiled as he remembered his night of passion with Jane Ayre.

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear” 

Mike wasn’t quite sure where Madeline had appeared from but there she was. Staring at him with the worst kind of disappointed look. Mike looked at the floor, like a naughty school boy, being caught eating in the library.

“You’ve been in the restricted section. I told you not to go in to the restricted section. Librarians should never read the books in the restricted section.”

“Why?”

Madeline sighed and called Brenda.Together they ushered Mike to the Restricted section. Open on the table was the book Mike had pulled off the shelf to stand on so he could reach the book with the padlock. He had felt bad as it was clearly old but it was in a foreign language that he did not recognise and seemed to be harmless.

“There it is and it’s open.”

“That explains it.”

“Explains what?”

Madeline and Brenda both sighed together. This was going to take some explaining and a lot more fixing. They had told the powers that be at the council that they needed a trained librarian. It wasn’t just about loaning books. However, when the powers also don’t have the background it becomes tricky. 

“The time for explanations is later. Now we have to make sure everyone goes back where they belong.”

Mike wasn’t sure why it mattered, surely everyone would return to where they came from. After all these books were famous. The characters could just change. Could they. He did not have time to think about this for long as several brooding vampires entered the cage in and attacked. Mike started throwing punches but Vampires were immortal and deadly. Brenda leapt across the table and from out of nowhere she pulled a wooden stake. She stabbed the first vampire and he turned to dust. Mike grabbed the second one from behind giving Brenda the opening and she stabbed him too. The third one took a little more effort. She punched Mike and he fell back in to the restricted books knocking the shelf over. 

Madeline, reached behind the shelf and pulled out another wooden stake. Mike was impressed by the agility of the two pension aged librarians in front of him. As they fought off five more vampires and dispatched them all. 

Mike didn’t know exactly what he needed to do. Normally they would have a few hours of fun and then at three am everyone went away. However, he noticed that it was 03:05. The library was still full. They had 6 hours until opening and the library was a mess. He would usually only have a little to tidy but this was going to take a lot longer.

“Good evening Michael, you appear to have quite the conundrum on your hands. I suspect Moriarty may be involved.”

“Sorry Sherlock, I don’t have time for this tonight. Something has gone very wrong. I need to figure out how to get everyone back where they belong.”

“I shall see what I can do. Although I suspect that there is something more to this than meets the eye.”

Mike watched as Sherlock Holmes strode across the library and started rounding up people. There were various grumblings as people started to make their way back to their books but they didn’t disappear. 

“You will have to kill them.”

“What?”

Brenda sighed. You will need to kill them. If they die in this reality they go back to being a memory in a book. 

“Will they be able to come back?”

“Of course. They are not real, although if you get hurt by one, it will be very real. We can explain all but first we need to send everyone back”

“What happens if they don’t go back?”

“Then imagination dies.”

There was not time to discuss any further. A battle had broken out between some World War 1 soldiers and several Klingons and lasers and bullets were going everywhere. Mike watched in horror as Miss Marple was hit by a disrupter blast and disappeared. 

There was something quite satisfying watching Tinky Winky get murdered by Hannibal Lecter. Brenda and Madeline had acquired guns and handed Mike a Gun of his own. He never quite realised how satisfying Murder could be but he did hope that no one remembered. If they did come back, he would be mortified if Queen Victoria was upset that he had shot her. 

The Queen of Hearts was definitely annoyed, when she was shot and as for Nurse Ratched well, Mike never wanted to see her again. It took some time to kill most of the characters and Mike could not bring himself to shoot children or animals or old people. So before long the only ones left in the library were the nice ones. Luckily, they were quite happy to return to the pages of their stories.

Seemingly Dora the Explorer didn’t like exploring the library and was quite happy to return home. Mike was exhausted. The Library was a mess, although, considering he had only had a few hours Michaelangelo had done a magnificent job of the ceiling. 

Brenda and Madeline called Mike over to the main desk and poured everyone some tea. They printed off some signs to say the library would be closed due to a leaky pipe and some water damage and placed this out side the doors. 

‘The reason that Librarians need a relevant degree, is because there is so much magic in the pages of books that when it is all stored together it is only natural that it will escape. Over the centuries, Librarians have learned to control the magic. The books in the restricted section hold the tools but if they are not put back in the correct place they cannot perform and this happens.” Brenda explained.

“Yes” continued Madeline. “This is why it is important to ensure everything is indexed and in the correct place. It brings order. There is still too much magic and there will always be some books coming to life overnight. They are fed by imagination. Children have the most of it, but authors, other creative people also have it in abundance.Libraries are about channelling this. The more we move away from libraries the hard it is getting to control the magic. Having someone without the qualifications is like putting an imbecile in charge of the country.”

Mike smiled, they did know who was running the country. He was beginning to understand, although it made little sense to him. The last few months had been magical. He had met some of his heroes. He didn’t want to lose this. He would study. The council had said they would pay for it.

“You said if a character is killed they go straight back to their book. What if a real person is killed, what happens then?”

“You saw the book with the padlock?”

“Yes.”

“That is the book of the dead librarian. They find their way in to the book and become a story on there own. Except they are not forgotten by those who knew them. They have never been allowed out as no one knows what will happen as they are not a written version of themselves unlike the biography versions you see. They are the real person. The bodies need to be disposed of so are usually fed to a fictional animal”

“Have you ever wondered why there must be silence in the library.”

“Because people are studying.”

“No because too much discussion and imagination just causes the mystical energy to build up too quickly. There is no book of dead library visitors. Can you imagine?”

Mike scowled. There were so many illogical points here. Could a fictional tiger actually eat a real person? Was there a reason library’s the world over had people who looked just like Brenda and Madeline? Brenda finished her tea and stated that everything could wait until tomorrow. Madeline agreed it was time to leave for the evening.

As they left Mike spotted Brenda’s glasses on the counter. He picked them up and ran after them but as he left the library there was no sign of either. He went back in and locked the doors. There were more questions than answers.

However, he was tired and his head hurt still from being punched by a beautiful vampire. It was Saturday so they had a couple of days to sort the library out, and there was plenty of time to talk this through. Tomorrow night he would stay in bed. He needed to start studying. He did not want to be a name in the book of the dead librarian. 

April 26, 2021 23:19

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