That Book is in the Back

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Start your story with someone being given a book recommendation.... view prompt


Adventure Fiction Suspense

"I take this task very seriously," Alice said. I was waiting for a punchline, but one didn't come. Alice, the boss librarian at my local branch, stood behind the counter wearing a smart, smocked dress and a serious look on her face. I'd been to this branch a dozen or so times and seen her hustling in the back but had never spoken to her before.

Until today.

"It can be a life or death decision," she said. Again, I waited for a punchline that never arrived.

"Ugh," I started, "well, I like adventure books. Preferably ones that don't personally put me in mortal danger."

"I see, I see."

"My favorite movie is 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' if that helps."

"It does," Alice said as she banged away on the keyboard. "Do you write? You have the look."

I looked away, a little embarrassed. I want to write...I have outlines and half-started novels and short stories, but I've never found the spark that gets me over the edge. "I dabble," I finally said.

Alice smiled. "I think I might have the perfect tome for you."

"Awesome," I said.

"Before I take you there, I have to ask if you're allergic to dust or anything like that?"

"Ugh, not that I'm aware of."

"What about spiders," Alice asked, "any fear of spiders?"

"Not really. Is this book in the basement or something?"

"Or something," Alice said with a smile that seemed to hide more of the story.

I glanced around the library to see if anyone else was around. The place was a ghost town at this hour. I didn't even notice another librarian stocking the shelves.

"You ready?" Alice asked.

"To walk to where you're keeping the book," I said, a bit puzzled, "sure."

"Follow me," Alice said as she tied her hair into a tight ponytail and headed towards the back corner of the building.

I did as I was told. Alice marched through the stacks with a purpose that I felt was a bit too intense for following the Dewey decimal system. She occasionally glanced back at me and grinned. I thought she might've been flirting with me at first, but that didn't feel right. I think she was checking to make sure I hadn't peeled off and run the other way.

What I didn't know was why would she be worried about that?

We got to the back wall, and it was just that. A wall. I was confused.

"Get turned around," I offered to Alice.

She spun on her heels and gave me a once-over. "Are you ready for an adventure?"


"Can you keep a secret?"

"Can I have my fines wiped out if I keep it?"

"I like you," she said with a grin. "I have a good feeling about you."

"Same," I said, not exactly knowing why.

"I'll see what I can do about the late fees," she said with a wink before she spun to face the wall.

I didn't know what was going to happen, and, truthfully, I was ready for whatever at this point. I needed a good story to read in between clients, and Alice knew about one. Now, she was going about finding this book in the weirdest way possible, but I was just going with the flow.

This book better be great, though.

Alice raised her hand and slapped the wall with her palm. Suddenly, there was a low rumble, and the floor beneath my feet started to move. I jumped back like a cat when it sees a snake and watched in awe as an ancient staircase revealed itself.

I turned to Alice, who was all grins. "Ready?" Before the words could escape my lungs, she was walking down the dark stairwell. I caught my breath and then followed her. Why not, I heard my inner voice say to my growing fear, and my feet snapped into action.

About ten steps down, Alice grabbed a spent torch from the wall and handed it to me. "Can you hold this a second?"

"Ugh, sure."

She pulled a zippo out of her pocket and snapped back the top with the patented zippo CLINK. She ran the ignition wheel across her leg, and the flame sprang to life. She lit my torch and slung it back into her dress pocket like she was Annie Oakley holstering her gun.

"It's about to get dark," she offered as she slammed her hand on the wall.

Behind us, there was a rumble, and I didn't even need to turn back to know the floor was reverting back to its normal state. We were trapped on the stairs now.

Alice took the torch from me and nodded thanks. I returned the nod. "It really is dark," I said, not knowing what else to say.

"Oh yeah. I was so glad when they finally gave us the torch."

"Who gave it to you?"

Alice either ignored my question or didn't hear it. She started down the steps into the black void below us. I followed behind her.

Our footsteps echoed all around us as we descended. I was trying to get a look at the walls, but the torchlight wasn't too strong, plus we were heading down at a decent clip.

"So," I said, "What...ugh...what is this?"

"The library," Alice said with a tone that made me feel like I asked the dumbest question known to man.

"Yeah, of course. But, like, where is this?"

"I feel like I've already answered this," she said.

"I mean, kinda, but not really."

That's when I sneezed. 

Alice stopped in her tracks. She snapped back toward me with a face that was as concerned as it was friendly minutes ago and said, "I thought you said the dust didn't bother you?"

"I didn't think it...." That's when I heard the hissing from above us.

"What the hell is that?" I asked, my heart starting to sound like Tito Puente was playing it.


"Who's Clyde?"

Alice held the torch above her head, and I craned my head up. At first, it looked like the ceiling was coming down on us. Then I saw a massive, hairy leg. Then another...then six more.

"Is that a giant spider?"

"Oh yeah," Alice said, "and he's not thrilled you woke him up. We gotta boogie because he bites."

Alice took off down the stairs without me. I glanced up and saw the torchlight fading in the eight eyes of Clyde as he hissed. I didn't hesitate and went down as fast as I could down the polished stone stairs.

Before I knew it, I was panting like a dog stuck in a car at the bottom of the stairs. Alice was standing there, perfectly calm and hardly even sweating. I doubled over at the waist and tried to catch my breath.

"You should straighten up if you want to start breathing normally again."

"That...that was a giant spider."

"I mean, I've seen larger...."

"No, you haven't!" I yelled. "Impossible! I still don't believe Clyde is real!"

"He is, and I have. Are you okay?"

"I've been better."

"I thought you said you like adventures?"

"Reading them, yes."

"You ready to move?"

"I dunno. Is there a giant scorpion waiting to sting us up ahead?"

Alice laughed. "Oh goodness no," she said, "Joey died years ago. Come on, let's go."

She snuffed out the torch into a nearby puddle. I was about to object, as we were now in total darkness, but then Alice pulled aside a curtain, and a bright light shone through, illuminating our way.

"What in the world?" I mumbled to myself.

"Are you coming or what?"

I stood back up and headed towards Alice. When I got close, I realized she wasn't holding a curtain. It was a massive leaf from some exotic jungle tree. In the distance, I heard monkeys calling out to each other.

"A jungle," I said.

"Big one too," Alice said with a smirk, "but we're not going out exploring it today."

"No, that wouldn't make any sense."

"Right. We've got to get to the temple before they know we're here."


Alice walked to the trunk of a nearby tree. There was a human-sized hole in the trunk that was as dark as the stairs we had just walked down. Alice reached into the yawning maw and pulled out two machetes. She handed one to me.

"Use these to cut back the jungle."

"Just the plants?"

"Mostly the plants. But in a pinch," she trailed off. I didn't want to imagine what that meant.

Alice pointed the blade of her sword to the east, and we hacked through the underbrush towards some unseen temple. I was getting chewed up by mosquitoes. I couldn't help but wonder where I'd be had I decided to go grocery shopping first instead of the library.

After fifteen sweaty minutes of impromptu gardening, Alice stopped. "There it is. The Mi'buk Temple."

At first, I strained to see what she was pointing to. All you could see was the green of the jungle. But, like a puzzle you're struggling to finish, the gray of the stone started to peek through.

"Oh my," I said, my jaw finding the jungle floor.

The temple had probably been a fantastic sight in its heyday, but we were years past that date. Mother nature plays for keeps, and she was clawing the temple back, but hints of its beauty still shone through.

The stepped pyramid had a small opening in the front, and that's where Alice went. She hacked away the vines that would've slowed their entrance and nodded towards the newly widened opening.

"After you," she said. 

I dutifully walked through and was immediately surprised to see how well lit up the room was. It seemed small cracks in the design allowed natural light to flood the interiors and polished brass mirrors spread it all over. The walls were decorated in a language I did not know. The artwork, however, was clear to anyone with eyes.

A lot of human sacrifices in the murals. In the center of a, well, a ring of dead bodies sat what looked like a book. My stomach gurgled, and in those noises, my brain clued in. 

That was the book we were after. 

"It's easy from here," Alice said. "Down the hallway, to the right, is the book depository. The tome you need is on the pedestal. Take it, run out, and we'll get that check out for you."

"You aren't coming?"

"Nope. Not my book to get."

"Isn't that like your whole job?"

Alice shrugged. "Some books find their people, and some people find their books."

I felt like there was probably some deeper meaning in her comment, but I was too terrified to suss it out. I tightened my grip on the handle of the machete. My knuckles turned white.

But, deep down in my lizard brain, I knew she was right. This was something I had to do alone. I nodded at her and headed down the tunnel.

There was a standing puddle of water all down the hallway. I gathered this jungle got a lot of rain. It dawned on me that maybe a leaky tomb wasn't the best place to store a book.

I got to the doorway of the book depository and stuck my head in. The room was huge but empty. The stone from the doorway to the pedestal was a red brick that clearly drew a line to the book. 

There was nothing too interesting about the outside of the book from where I stood. Despite being the centerpiece of a hidden temple bathed in a natural spotlight, it looked rather plain. 

I looked down in the puddle at my feet. My face stared up at me. I looked scared, but there was something else there. Something I hadn't seen in a long time. Determination. Grit. Drive. That was MY book in there, damnit!

I walked into the room.

About six steps in, the walls of the temple started to shake. The rumble was loud, and bits and pieces of the smooth stones fell to the ground with a splash. My legs kept wobbling after the shaking stopped.

Suddenly, there was a blinding blue light behind the book and a puff of smoke that filled the room. I waved away the smoke and coughed, but I couldn't see two feet in front of me.

That's when I heard the booming voice cut through the smog. My legs responded accordingly and reverted back to their impression of jello. 

"Who dares to enter the temple of Mi'buk?"

I opened my eyes and took a step back. A djinn, as large as a Volkswagon, hovered above the book. His face never looked the same minute to minute. It would shift at a moment's notice, but each face shared one common denominator: they were pissed.

I was going to respond. I was going to turn tail and run out of the temple. I was going to fall to the ground and pee myself. All of these options crossed my mind. But I did the one thing I never thought I'd do.

I ran towards the djinn.

They were surprised and didn't respond at first. Even after my fingers wrapped around the book's binding and I snatched it off the pedestal, it still stood there, stunned. I was running out of the room before the djinn finally snapped back to reality. 

But I wasn't getting caught. No way, no how. I came bursting out of the hallway and screamed at Alice to run. She dropped the fish she had speered and came running after.

As soon as our shoes hit the mud, the djinn burst out of the temple. It sent us flying end over end into the underbrush. I crashed against a tree and felt my brain scramble, but I was okay. I still had the book.

I staggered to my feet and saw Alice waving me towards a small cave. I was woozy, but I couldn't stop now. I stuttered forward.

"This is a shortcut," Alice said. I didn't argue. As soon as we ducked into the cave, the djinn let out a yell that would haunt my dreams. It rattles in my brain to this day.

Alice walked with her hand sliding down the wall. It was obvious she was looking for something. After a few seconds of frantic searching – the djinn's screaming making even the most simple task difficult, she found what she was looking for. 

She slammed her hand against the wall, and there was a loud ding. Suddenly, elevator doors opened. Alice held the door and yelled for me to hurry. I shambled over and threw myself into the elevator. She hopped in, and the door closed, shutting out the djinn's screams.

We rode in silence. Well, almost silence as the elevator played a muzak version of "My Humps." Alice softly hummed along. I couldn't help it. I joined in. By the end of the ride, she was full bore singing the Fergie parts.

The elevator stopped, and the doors dinged again. Alice went from Fergie to stoic in the blink of an eye. She glanced back at me and nodded. "Let's check that out for you."

We walked off the elevator and were in the same area where the stairs had been. None of this made sense, but I didn't care at this point. I was glad to be back among the stacks. The elevator doors faded back into the wall, and the library returned to a semblance of normalcy. 

"Follow me," Alice said, nodding towards the reference desk. When she got there, I handed her the book I had been clutching the entire time. I actually had a hard time handing it over at first – I felt like the book, and I had bonded through our journey. But, after some gentle prodding from Alice, I relinquished my hold on the book.

Alice tried to scan it, but the computer did not recognize it. She reran it. Again. And again. Still, the book wasn't coming up in the system. At this point, I wanted to have this book. In fact, I needed it. We had gone through too much together.

"I think I know what the problem is," Alice finally said, "this isn't our book."


"Yeah, this isn't one of ours."

"So I can't check it out?" I said, feeling the anger rise in me. "After running past a car-sized spider, traveling through some wormhole to a secret jungle, and nearly being crushed by a djinn, you're telling me I can't check this out?"

"Well, yeah," Alice said flatly. I was going to snap, but she spoke up. "You can't check it out, but you can have it."

"What are you talking about?"

"You earned it," she said, handing me the book. "It's all yours."

I didn't know what to say. I smiled at Alice and, I hate to admit this, I hugged the book in front of her. I flipped it open, and my joy crashed.

All of the pages were blank.

"What is this?" I asked, confused.

"It's your book," she replied.

"It's blank."

"For now, but after today's adventure, I think you'll be able to fill it out, don't you agree?"

Again, she was right. I felt it in my body before my brain clued in. I was going to write my book. I was going to write THIS book. 

I looked up at Alice and smiled. "Thank you," I said, "you've inspired me."

"A good story will do that," she said. "Just make sure you finish this one, huh? I'd hate to think our time together was wasted."

I nodded at her and left, my brain on fire with ideas. As I walked through the front door, I heard Alice tell someone else, "I think I might have the perfect tome for you."

April 21, 2022 12:47

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Shea West
03:15 Apr 27, 2022

Kris! This was most excellent. I loved how it read as either a middle grade type of story or for an adult, like it was easily relatable to either age group. The pacing of the dialogue was crisp and so great! I love Alice's spunky speed in which she probably runs these guided book runs on a regular basis. This line was great: "Some books find their people, and some people find their books." What a great read!


Kris Simonian
10:07 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you!


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Michał Przywara
20:40 Apr 26, 2022

Fantastic! A fun, well paced adventure with lots of humour, and the ending fits perfectly. Inspiring but not cheesy. I really like the dialogue too. It's strong, consistent, and frequently funny. Both characters shine through it. Thanks for the fun story!


Kris Simonian
00:16 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks so much!


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Michelle Konde
04:43 Apr 26, 2022

Loved it! I was guessing the ending all the way through and didn't expect it. What a great concept!


Kris Simonian
12:15 Apr 26, 2022

Thank you!


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Chris Rohe
17:29 Apr 28, 2022

A fun read and entertaining. Thank you for the inspiration.


Kris Simonian
17:45 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you!


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