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Fantasy Suspense Adventure

Ordinarily, the smiling couples, small crowds of laughing families and touring strangers would have looked twice at James as he shuffled hurriedly down the broad sidewalk in an awkward half run. The partly sunny day had become completely overcast with threatening grey clouds so that everyone rationally assumed he had been trying to reach his destination before the incoming downpour. In reality, James was praying the rain would provide the distraction and cover that he needed desperately. He was currently being pursued by two of his old clients Hiram and Francis Arnold who he had owed a substantial debt. During a negotiation with another associate for whom he also owed, the two cornered him and demanded he pay. He responded with distracting vulgarities that gave him an opportunity to escape and initiate the current chase.


James thought himself a clever person however anyone who knew him would dismiss these claims as semi-delusional. Whether it was luck or some gifted ingenuity his family admitted James could always manage to convince anyone into loaning him anything with the aggravating caveat that he will never pay it back. The debts were outstanding and had reached a quivering limit among family, friends and neighbors with the volatility of a match to flame. He wasn’t sure how so much had gone wrong as he was certain he must have paid someone what he owed them! One moment he had it all under control but the next...


At this moment it was too late to worry about the details of why and how everything ended up in catastrophe. He just needed to find temporary refuge from his stalkers and to get out of town as soon as possible. James nervously glanced over his shoulder at the clearing street for any sight of either men following him or for a glimmer of their polished silver sportscar. Seeing no one he returned his gaze to the neon and sometimes misfit signs of the small shops, restaurants and vendors that lined the neighborhood shopping plaza. Most of the storefronts were closing due to the inclement weather. Their small town sat on a low hilltop overlooking an enormous gray lake and so storms often brought torrential rain and ghoulish winds.


 James came to the end of the block pausing in front of a playground, a tall black gate set between him and the recess area. His mind, flashing back to his days of piling woodchips on the jungle gym and playing, briefly entertained the idea of hiding in one of the coiling slides. He shook the desperate thought away and continued onward. The gate stood seven feet tall and stretched two hundred feet past an abandoned lot before meeting the side of a short brick building. He was greeted by an open sign jammed in the window and by the weak lights above the narrow entrance that burned ‘Ottomans Screen Repair.’


James entered hoping to have found his hiding spot at last but after surveying small accommodation he was forced to retreat. Growing more anxious he instead decided he’d try out his mojo on one of the closing restaurants. He wondered if he could convince one of the owners to allow him to seek refuge back of house in exchange for some phantom compensation.


Setting off alongside the gate he kept his eyes maniacally searching for a good candidate as he headed back towards the other stores in the plaza. As his eyes were swooping for an escape they fell upon the most grandiose and stunning structure he had ever seen. It stood proudly three stories high against the darkening skies confounding James for the striking stone was behind the black gate where an abandoned lot had been only a minute before.


It was a curious sight, an amalgamation of architecture across cultures and centuries with stoic towers, strange windows and stranger ornamentation. He may have stared transfixed studying the monument for all of eternity if it had not been for the cold wind picking up around him dangerously or, the icy cold pellets that began tapping at his scalp or, the haunting screeching of a silver sportscar braking behind him or, the gate throwing itself open embracingly that shattered the enchantment and encouraged him to race inside. He reached the oval walnut doors and gripped the handles giving them a firm push where they yielded and permitted him entry.


The heavy doors slammed shut behind him closing out the eerie whistling wind and the pattering of the now falling rain. Standing in the grand entrance he immediately understood that this phenomenal building with its great towers and turrets was a library. He imagined cathedral would have also been a common guess. From the wide windows above, ornamental fixtures and the marbled stairs gracefully wrapping the perimeter. It was astonishing. Although the library had indeed only risen three stories high, no matter how much he blinked or twirled in wonder across the black and white checkered floor, the interior design provided the impression that the stairwell and the ceilings ascended infinitely.


As he moved further into the dark gallery arched doorways rose on either side of him guarding great halls that were lined with hundreds of bookstacks in the shadows, the rows also appearing to stretch infinitely into the darkness. Painted on the high walls between these doorways were bright murals of great birds soaring with their wings at full span; giant falcons, eagles, owls, phoenixes and otherworldly winged animals and beasts he did not recognize.


James crossed the Great Hall and entered a large chamber that yawned open behind the pair of stairwells that were set on the far ends of the wide hall. This room was lined with dozens of stacks filled with tall leather-bound books. The ceilings were pragmatically low and fortunately for James the lighting was poor, mostly relying on the occasional flash of the muffled storm to properly illuminate the area. There appeared to be doors on the far wall that presumably led to backrooms where he could hide or escape. He just needed to move stealthily without drawing attention. He crept toward the front desk that in the near darkness its sturdy rectangular position mimicked a blockade more than office furniture. He was half-expecting to be greeted and let out a relieving sigh to find it unattended.


Though as he approached the desk and got a closer look he found there was quite an odd thing about it. He didn’t know how he would have explained it but he knew that this odd thing was familiar. For it was the same odd thing that transfixed him about the high towers, the pillars, the archways, great ceiling and even the books themselves; a ghostly luminance and mystical radiance that was simultaneously alluring and un-nerving. He hesitated when a twinkling light caught his eye.


Several feet behind the superfluous desk was a glass display case hosting thirty of the most gorgeous books he had ever seen. The thick spines appeared ancient but were sparkling with diamonds, studded emeralds and lined with silver. He greedily began inspecting the case and realized that there were several more cases filled with dozens of similar volumes. In a curious desperation he thought of how much they must be worth and how these priceless books could be the peace offering to the Arnolds to forgive his debt.


While inspecting one of the exterior cases he was interrupted when a brilliant flash of lightning caught the reflection of a dark silhouette that had suddenly materialized behind him. With a startled yelp, James turned with his guard up expecting to defend himself from a violent ambush. The figure stepped out of the shadows – a tall Black woman wearing a long skirt, white shirt and cardigan. Her head was buzzed but she had a geometric pattern tattooed on the right side of her head. She immediately reminded James of the library itself as she stood with a confidence and presence that seemed to expand throughout the the room leaving James feeling suddenly claustrophobic and trapped. “How may I help you?” She said with an expression that he couldn’t decipher between amusement or intrigue. He relaxed his arms and pondered her for a second before inquiring, “What is this place? Where are we?”

“This is the Arfmisrot Demoniac Imperial Library,” she replied.

“I’ve never seen this library before in my life, it must be new right? I don’t come to this plaza often but I’ve never seen it. Though, it seems like it has been here for a long time.” he watched her carefully as she began to construct an answer.

           “It’s not new at all. Quite old. We are one of the Great Ancient libraries.” She turned and beckoned for him to follow her. She introduced herself as Cassandra the head librarian and explained to him more about the library as she guided them to the second floor.

“It’s really a shame we don’t get many visitors here.” She sighed. “Over decades people have become more easily distracted with devices, gadgets, screens...” They paused by a marvelous illustration as she proceeded to lecture.

He had experienced storms hundreds of times throughout his life, even with hearing the deep growl of warning in the rolling clouds in the skies above and even with raising a silent mental awareness to brace himself, he jumped violently and horrifically as a mighty bolt of lightning cracked directly above them. Though, it was not the startling crack of the sky nor the accompanying boom that quaked the building that made him shudder so horribly. The great flash from the heavens beamed a white light upon them revealing a frightening and sinister shape. The shadow cast on the wall was a demonic form that did not match that of the woman in an arrested monologue about this strange library.

           He tried to disguise his horror and instead fired off irrelevant excuses on how he had to leave. Cassandra nodded and led them back downstairs continuing her lesson. 

           “There is another reason for why many people do not find this library. The founders were not indiscriminate. One of the thousands of special attributes it possesses; it can only be seen by the most observant, curious and clever.” James had been mentally timing making a break for the front door when he found himself overwhelmed by curiosity again. 

“I noticed you were interested in our special exhibition.” They arrived back at the front desk and were surveying the display cases.

Cassandra explained, “These are journals – tomes that belonged to the most powerful sorcerers, Gods, demi-gods, devils, genies and beings of great power or blood to ever exist. These tomes host their most treasured secrets and insights to their power and kingdoms.”

She paused. “You make check out one. Only one. When you leave here you will have all the power of the deity or sorcerer of your choosing and all the knowledge, wisdom and instruction on how to wield their special sorcery in these donated first edition texts.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No, catch. Only terms.” She explained quickly that making any copies of the tome or its pages was forbidden. All copies would be destroyed at the expense of the borrower. She also shared that there were essentially zero consequences for all effects reset, all powers would be returned when the tome was returned.

           “Absolutely must be returned on time! Only two extensions, no exceptions! Otherwise, there will be a fee.”

He was struck and knew he didn’t have much time to think it over. He didn’t know if she was telling the truth. He could leave with godly powers or this is some crude prank. If anything those books were still valuable and she wanted to hand one over willingly. He was intrigued by the extraordinary nature of this situation and worried that perhaps he wouldn’t be able to find it again if it vanished. This was a gamble he wasn’t willing to take.

“Yes. Agreed.” he said. Each display case suddenly conjured glass doors and sprang open with his consent.

 “Seeing that we are closing soon. Please make your selection quickly.”

           Four weeks later James found himself panting excitedly as he marched across the storefront plaza carrying a large object under one arm. Passersby didn’t have time to think twice about the peculiar luggage because they were too busy following the events that were trending. Mariah Kennings, famous for her wide collection of rare artifacts and antiques that she claimed possessed supernatural power was found tragically at a loss. A freak storm completely demolished her estate after being struck by lightning thirty-one times. She thankfully survived but was certain that her curation was not so lucky.

James held the dazzling tome in front of Cassandra and begged her for an extension despite already being four days overdue. He did not confess to Cassandra that at first, he had been disappointed because he didn’t exhibit any otherworldly powers upon exiting the library. Inspired by the storm that was howling during his last visit he selected a tome for a God of Thunder. Feeling silly failing to conjure lightning against Hiram and Francis Arnold he instead cursed and auctioned the tome, clearing every single one of his debts with the earnings. Shortly, thereafter he did discover that he had all the powers and invulnerabilities of a God of Thunder. Without a manual to guide him however reaching the maximum potential and ambition was unlikely. It didn’t take too much research to discover where the tome had ended up after auction. He instead offered Cassandra a half truth that he didn’t take her gift seriously and wanted more time to study and truly take advantage. He was granted the first extension.

Another four weeks passes and James approached the front desk of the Arfmisrot Demoniac Imperial Library two days after he was due back with the tome. Cassandra visibly impatient impresses upon him the importance of following through and returning the tome on time. His final date being October 20th, no exceptions. Over the passing weeks he conquered the skies and held command of the divine and elemental. Possessing divine gifts meant grander promises and greater expectations for costs, benefits and rewards.

Debts gathered once more and although no one dared challenge him directly he knew that his immunity was ephemeral. This provided excuse to begin covert operations to bargain with copies of pages from the tome to eliminate or lower the credits. Studying and practicing feverishly he was determined to become the God of Thunder but after Cassandra granted him the second extension, he thought himself perhaps the cleverest too. What are library rules and mortal debts to someone who shares great power with a deity? He resolved that he would not return after flying away since there had been no real consequence previously any further tax would be inconsequential as he continues to study the craft of the Gods.

October 21st, 3:30 am. A distant boom. James jerked awake violently his blood pressuring. The sky roared angrily, dark black clouds billowing and spinning, lightning raining from their depths down upon the earth mercilessly. The ceilings and walls of his home exploded as his spells were being violently undone around him. Dry cracks lighting the skies and omnipresent screams of terror marked a world descending into chaos. Cyclones raged across the nation smiting every false page that mimicked the tome of the God of Thunder. There were so many cyclones targeting false tomes each individual storm converged creating a singular cataclysmic electrical storm.

James stood his ground but was unable to use any magic or his power to fight the barrage of rain, violent winds and bolts of lightning. It wasn’t truly his power to command because it was borrowed and now managing the unrelenting typhoon was beyond his range of ability. He needed to return the book before it was too late. In the dead of the night, James conjured as many winds as he could to carry him across the city the electrical storm at his heels annihilating everything in its path below. Arriving at the black gate with the heavy tome in his arms he was horrorstricken to find the lot empty.


Drenched in freezing rain and shivering in the darkness James begged the plot of land. He could barely hear himself screaming over the thunderous cracks, booms and shrieking wind. As the electrical storm drew closer he could feel its energy and heat racing toward him. He sank to his knees pleading with the winds whipping at him. He did not remember what he said but he gave a maddening babbling confession. He promised to pay all of his fees, he promised to pay off his debts. He promised to stop borrowing things that he cannot return.


Satisfied with his pleas the curious library began to construct itself magnificently around him completing its resurrection at the moment the storm bore down upon him sealing him inside safely. Only the sounds of his sobbing echoed for the thick walls quietened the noisy gales on the other side. He gathered himself off the wet floor hugging the tome close. He wiped away the tears, snot and water from his face with the back of his hand, he marched on. 

Shivering he handed Cassandra the book and did not ask for an extension. As she extended a hand and retrieved it he noticed that the lightning flashing erratically illumined the interior and cast her figure against the wall. This time the shadow of a gentle librarian.


 “You’re late. Though I think for once…we can waive the fee. After all, it appears that the storm is already passing…” She grinned at him as he dashed across the black and white checkered tile out to the dry empty plaza. He sprinted away anxiously glancing over his shoulder at that lot between Ottomans Screen Repair and the gated playground where proud and embellished the Arfmisrot Demoniac Imperial Library stood fully in sight.



May 01, 2021 03:50

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11 comments

Beth Connor
18:41 May 25, 2021

What a brilliant tale! I felt swept along in the evocative descriptions and prose.

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Jay Howard
13:29 May 26, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Kristin Neubauer
10:31 May 04, 2021

What a story! There was so much action, twists and turns - it felt like an action-adventure feature film. Vivid descriptions and good pacing. Great job!

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Jay Howard
15:22 May 04, 2021

Thank you! I really worked hard with the pacing, I like to write being mindful of giving a sense of changing sounds without mentioning them directly.

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Shea West
19:29 May 25, 2021

This was so vivid and captivating. This line here I especially loved:"He may have stared transfixed studying the monument for all of eternity if it had not been for the cold wind picking up around him dangerously or, the icy cold pellets that began tapping at his scalp or, the haunting screeching of a silver sportscar braking behind him or, the gate throwing itself open embracingly that shattered the enchantment and encouraged him to race inside." I got such a good feeling for what your main character was feeling. The pace of the sentence ...

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Jay Howard
13:34 May 26, 2021

Thank you so much for reading! That was my favorite line too! I really was hoping that I could capture the feeling of being spellbound and then coming back to awareness. :)

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Shea West
14:23 May 26, 2021

You did!

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X Y
19:17 May 25, 2021

I love this!

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Jay Howard
13:34 May 26, 2021

Thank you for reading!

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18:43 May 01, 2021

This was a lovely piece! Very good vivid description and engaging characterization. Love the pacing! Watch your commas. Sometimes just rephrase for clarity: Although James himself was a clever person, anyone who knew him would dismiss these claims as semi-delusional. Watch introductory elements: Satisfied with his pleas, the curious library began to construct itself magnificently around him, completing its resurrection at the moment the storm bore down upon him sealing him inside safely.

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Jay Howard
07:58 May 03, 2021

Thank you so much! This was my very first short story I've ever shared publicly! I also rarely share anything I write at all. I am so shy with my writing! This was a huge step for me. I appreciate the feedback! Yes!! Commas have been my nemesis for as long as I can remember! I don't think I am familiar with this concept/term "introductory elements." Thank you for adding this! Now I'll learn something new :)

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