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Contemporary Fiction American

“What can I help you with?” Jack asked the middle-aged woman standing in front of him at the information desk. He was always happy to help. The woman’s wiry, grey streaked hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in days. Jack rubbed his hand over his bald as he looked down at the woman, glad for once that he didn’t have to worry about hair care.


“My book is missing the last page,” she said urgently, pushing a copy of The Help towards Jack as if it were diseased.

Jack frowned and put on his glasses. “Missing, you say?” he questioned as he picked up the book and flipped through the musty pages of the hardcover novel, stopping at where the last page was supposed to be.


“Yes, the last page I said! Who would do such a thing?” the woman demanded as she took a frizzed-curl strand of hair and twisted it around her finger. 


“I’m sure it was an accident,” Jack replied calmly, placing the book down and typing, The Help, into the computer in front of him. “It looks like we have two more copies available in the fiction section so you’re in luck,” he told her, pointing to the back of the library.


The woman appeared irritated as her eyes followed his fingers. “I know where the fiction section is,” she snapped, “But someone should really check these books when people return them to make sure they are in good condition. Whoever checked this book out before me should be charged a fee!”


“I understand your frustration, Ma’am, and we will take the steps necessary to make sure this is taken care of,” he forced a smile at her as she stormed off behind him towards the fiction section.


“Another one?” Fran asked from the computer behind him. Today, Fran was wearing overalls and a plaid shirt to work. Does she think this is a farm? Jack wondered to himself. Fran always had on a different, tacky, outfit every day while Jack wore the same khakis and blue polos as if they were his uniform.


“Uh huh,” Jack said, placing the book in a bin with the others.


“How many is that now?” Fran asked, turning her head towards Jack.


“Seven, as far as I know,” he said, scratching his bald head.


“And it’s always the last page?” she asked, swiveling her chair back and forth, an act that always bothered Jack. Everything she did bothered Jack.


“Uh huh,” he responded, getting up to take his lunch break.


“What kind of loser would waste their time ripping pages out of books?” she inquired as she spun her chair in a circle.


“I’ll be back in thirty,” he said, ignoring her last question and trying not to roll his eyes. He grabbed his lunch pouch from beneath his desk before walking to the employee room.


Fran got up and took over Jack’s seat for customer duty. “I’m timing you!” she said in her best whisper-voice as Jack walked across the room to have lunch. Not to disturb the patrons, Jack turned and gave her a thumbs up and then walked towards the employee lounge.


Jack stepped inside the empty, windowless, room and closed the door, letting out a deep breath. That had been a thrill; he had been wondering when someone would find that missing page. He’d ripped the page out of The Help almost a year ago and it had taken this long for someone to report it. The novel had even been checked out by two customers earlier that year who had brought it back in, with no mention to the library at all about the missing page. Either they hadn’t wanted to complain, or they hadn’t actually read it. It was a letdown both times for Jack.


Jack sat down and opened his lunch: egg salad on wheat toast, carrots, and grapes. He was on a new health kick. He needed to lose about fifty more pounds, his doctor told him a few months ago. He’d lost ten so far just by cutting out chips and soda. It wasn’t so hard to do something when you put your mind to it.


“Fatso,” the kids on the school bus in elementary school used to call him. But he didn’t mind. He buried his nose in his books and learned to drown out their remarks in his stories.


“Lazy,” he had overheard his dad telling his mom when he was about ten. But he ignored it. He just read books and escaped into the characters’ lives.


“Fatass,” the teens in high school murmured when he passed by them in the hallway. But he tuned them out and read.

Books were his friends. Books didn’t let him down. And now Jack and his friends were getting revenge on the world in the small means that they could. 


He took a bite of his sandwich as soggy egg salad dribbled down his chin. He scooped it off and wiped it under the table. He smiled to himself, thinking of the next employee who would have their lunch in this room wondering where the odor was coming from. He wondered how long it would be until someone found the egg mash under the table. Maybe days? Weeks?


He took a bite of his carrot and took out his phone, opening the library app to see what popular novels were available today. This was his ritual. Each time someone brought the vandalized book to the information desk, he chose a new novel to rip. He had to make sure not to pick one that was checked out all the time. A best seller from a few years back that people still took out once and a while. So far, he had ripped the last page of The Help, The Kite Runner, My Sisters Keeper, Bel Canto, Running with Scissors (how ironic was that for a name?), The Da Vinci Code, and The Girl Who Played with Fire. It usually took a few weeks for someone to bring the book to the information desk, but The Help had been his longest one yet. Jack had a dreadful time waiting.


He scrolled through the available books and came upon a winner, Life of Pi: a best seller from 2006, yet no one was joining any waiting list to read it. He smirked at his decision and finished his lunch in a hurry, too excited for his next venture to enjoy the meal. He checked the time; he had about ten minutes left until it was Fran’s turn for lunch. He threw his trash in the bin and casually walked out of the employee lounge, looking left and then right. His stomach was beginning to twist, eager nerves ready for his mission.


“Excuse me sir, do you work here?” an elderly lady asked, approaching Jack as he walked across the library. He looked down at the lady, peeved that she approached him instead of going to the information desk. This was his lunch break.

He sighed, “Yes, I do. What can I help you with?”


“I wanted to get a book on gardening. Can you tell me where I can find one?” she asked, her innocent eyes gleaming up at Jack.

Jack turned around and pointed behind him. “Over there in the nonfiction section. Look under g for gardening. There should be several over there,” he said as he started to walk towards the fiction section before she could ask him anymore questions.


“Oh, thank you, son,” she said as she began to walk in the opposite direction as him.


Jack approached the M’s in the fiction section, scanning for Martel. He found two copies available and looked both ways before picking one up and carefully placing it in his lunch pouch. He ran his hand over his head and quickly scurried towards the men’s room, holding the lunchbox protectively over his chest, like a bomb about to go off.


As he passed by the customer service desk, he heard Fran call out, “Five minutes, Jack,” and he nodded his head towards her in recognition and then pushed himself quickly into the bathroom, locking the deadbolt behind him. With shaky hands, he took the book out of his lunch box, smoothing his hand over the cover, the tiger staring at him fearlessly. He opened to the back of the book and glanced over the last page, scanning what the reader would miss out on. He smiled to himself, surreptitiously. This was his favorite part. He slowly ripped the page, closing his eyes so that he could enjoy the sound of the paper tearing. He folded the page and placed it in his lunch box to take home after work. He would add it to his collection at home. Placing the book under his arm, he exited the bathroom, waving to Fran as he passed her.


“Be right there,” he said as he walked back to the bookshelf and placed the novel back in its place. As he walked back to relieve Fran for her lunch, he couldn’t help but wonder who the next target would be. A wealthy woman looking to bring a beach read with her on her boat? A teenage girl wanted to read a best seller? A book club member adding it to their list? Most of his readers were women; women who read the entire novel and then were cheated out of the end. Just like Jack had been cheated out of his life. He relished in the fact that they could get a little taste of what his life felt like for once. 


“Have a nice lunch,” Jack said as he approached Fran, smiling to himself at the vision of Fran entering the employee lounge, filled with the stench of egg salad.


“Thanks,” Fran said as she picked up her lunch and walked towards the lounge.


It’s the little things in life that keep me going, Jack thought to himself with a proud smile as he looked around the library. The little things. He smiled as a customer walked up to the desk, probably needing help finding a book.


“What can I help you with?” he asked with a grin. He was always happy to help. 

April 19, 2022 18:02

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34 comments

18:23 Apr 19, 2022

Woah- I definitely wasn't expecting that. This is an interesting take on the prompt. I like it, especially what you chose for the title. I assumed it'd be about the infamous killer, but nope- just a librarian named Jack who has an interesting habit. Wonderful writing once more Kathleen!

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Kathleen Fine
19:41 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks B.E.E!

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22:44 Apr 23, 2022

Of course! : D

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Cindy Strube
16:42 Apr 29, 2022

First- Love the title! What an unexpected pastime for a library employee. This is cringy and highly entertaining.

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Kathleen Fine
22:55 May 22, 2022

Thanks Cindy!

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Red Jasper
14:25 Apr 29, 2022

A very interesting story, and so close to being the most liked submission for this prompt, too.. Amazing job!

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Kathleen Fine
22:55 May 22, 2022

Thank you Red!

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Niveditha S
06:04 Apr 28, 2022

The story is beautiful and emphasises on the fact that some people find pleasure in things that other people don't. It also gives the whole story a mystery element! Keep writing!! Looking forward to take a look at more of your writing!!

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Kathleen Fine
22:55 May 22, 2022

Thanks Niveditha!

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Mike Panasitti
20:08 Apr 27, 2022

Devilishly entertaining read, Kathleen. But a very human and relatable devil in the form of Jack the Ripper. This one should have a follow up.

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Kathleen Fine
22:50 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks Mike!

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Rebecca Wonsang
23:45 Apr 26, 2022

Oh the horror!! LOL my poor mind is cringing at the desecration of those poor books. But seriously, what a great take on a "not so normal" librarian.

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Kathleen Fine
22:51 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks Rebecca!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:35 Apr 26, 2022

Glorious mayhem. Worst villainy ever! Thanks for the great read. Not a wasted line. The characterization was on point -- loved loved loved it.

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Mike Panasitti
20:11 Apr 27, 2022

I can think of much worse villainies. I believe even the most avid of book lovers should have a go at ripping one that is insufferable, but only if it has been paid for. Cathartic!

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Kathleen Fine
22:51 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you Diedra!

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Tommy Goround
06:58 Apr 26, 2022

So... I was expecting this 2 paragraphs in.... But you entranced me. Please change title because your work is gorgeous and deserves it. Character development was lovely. We need a twist. Jack deserves a twist. I am grateful to have read this.

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Kathleen Fine
22:51 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you Brian!

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Laura Eliz
14:05 Apr 25, 2022

I really enjoyed reading this. Your character feels so real, like someone I would want to be friends with.

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Kathleen Fine
22:52 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks Laura! You'll just want to hide your books if you befriend him :)

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Vera Kurt
03:48 Apr 25, 2022

I feel sad for Jack. I think he does what he does because he is seeking for attention. But I like the story, very nice interpretation and a good title

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Kathleen Fine
22:52 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks Vera!

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Frank Lester
02:54 Apr 25, 2022

Nice twist at the end of the story. I wonder how many pages he had on the wall at home. The next time I go to the library, I'll be sure and look for the back page. Fortunately, I read everything on my Kindle. Nice work. The ending took me by surprise. Well done. Thanks for sharing your story. Stay well.

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you, Frank! I am a kindle reader as well although there is something nice about holding an actual book once and awhile! :)

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Lavonne H.
17:47 Apr 24, 2022

Hi Kathleen, I. Was. Horrified. A librarian ripping pages out of a book?!!!!! NO way. Never, nadda, ne me dit pas! And just like Jack the Ripper, I fear he will continue his serial murdering of precious tomes until he is caught or disappears (in a stench of runny egg salad, I would guess.) Actually, it was a fun story to read and enjoy. Fav lines: "He opened to the back of the book and glanced over the last page, scanning what the reader would miss out on. He smiled to himself, surreptitiously. This was his favorite part. He slowly ripped t...

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you, Lavonne! lol

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Thomas Graham
03:58 Apr 23, 2022

Very fun read! You shape your characters very effectively with few words - e.g., I wanted to see/hear more of Fran as soon as you introduced her. Tiger, not lion, on cover of Life of Pi?

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Kathleen Fine
19:41 Apr 23, 2022

Ohhh thanks for that catch!!

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Michał Przywara
21:04 Apr 22, 2022

Given the prompt, your title made me uneasy and you definitely delivered! What an irritating act of aggression! I love this idea. I could feel the woman's indignation at being robbed of the last page. It's such a tiny inconvenience and yet such a huge letdown. Truly diabolical. Despite his heinous behaviour, I can see where Jack is coming from. He lashes out at a world that turned its back on him. I like the sense of secrecy his work has, as he really doesn't come across as a book mangler. He's probably a grade A internet troll too :)

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Kathleen Fine
19:41 Apr 23, 2022

Thank you Michal!

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L.M. Lydon
15:27 Apr 22, 2022

I love this idea! This is such a fun character. And so malevolent to take the last page... I like the narrator's generally cattiness (comments about whether his co-worker dresses like she's working on a farm, the library patron's mussed hair). You breathe life into the motivation behind his petty revenge tactics. Just a note: if not fully approved yet, there appears to be a word missing ("his bald").

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Kathleen Fine
19:42 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks for the catch LM!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
07:21 Apr 20, 2022

Great title! And a really interesting take on the prompt.

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Kathleen Fine
19:42 Apr 23, 2022

Thank you Jay!

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