The Library by Brady Solomon ’18

[Author’s note: This story was originally written as my Advanced Comp. Imitation Essay, which was meant to be ~750 words. It’s meant to imitate the writing and humor of Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series of novels. I cannot recommend reading his books enough, especially if you enjoy this story or the fantasy genre at all.]

 

It was a dark and stormy night: the kind of night that had a tendency to herald the opening of a bad novel. At least, Daniel thought it was night; it was hard to tell, on account of the storminess. His foot splashed into a puddle as he hurried down the ruined street, soaking the hide wrap on his foot and adding a wet squelching noise to the sound of his footsteps. He cursed and lowered his head, scanning the ground for anything that might try to make his night worse than it already was. This unfortunately meant that, while he was able to avoid soaking his feet in any more puddles, he failed to see the library until it hit him.

Daniel did not, of course, know it was a library; anyone who could have informed him of such had likely died in the nuclear holocaust that had occurred several hundred years ago. What he did know was that it was a surprisingly intact building with a fully-functioning roof, which was all it needed to give him shelter from the storm. He walked around the building until he found a door, which seemed to be stuck shut. He pulled hard and managed to crack it open, causing a gust of air to blow out. As he stepped inside, he saw that the building had abundant fuel for a fire.

Daniel squelched down the aisles of books until he found an adequately open area further into the building. He stepped over to the nearest shelf, grabbing a handful of books and tossing them in a pile on the floor nearby before sitting down and opening his deerskin satchel. After a moment, he pulled out two fist-sized rocks and began striking them against each other over the pile. With the sound of rock-striking-rock echoing through the room, he failed to hear the door opening again, or the soft sound of footsteps creeping towards him.

Suddenly, Daniel felt something cold and sharp touch the back of his neck, threatening to sever bits of himself that he rather liked intact.

“Don’t move,” said a woman’s voice behind him. “Good. Now, very slowly, set down the rocks and put your hands above your head.”

Daniel hesitated for a moment and then, deciding that he looked better with his head

attached to the rest of his body, did as he was told.

The pressure on his neck eased up a little. “Smart move. Winston, grab the books, please.”

There was movement in the shelves across from Daniel, and a young boy, clothed in what looked to be some kind of white sheet with green edges, appeared in the darkness. He approached slowly and attempted to grab the entire pile of books at once. Hefting them in his arms, he hurried away, dropping several books as he retreated to the far shelves.

There was movement from behind Daniel as the sharp object was removed from his neck, and a figure strode out in front of him. He slowly looked up and found himself looking into the eyes of the woman who had just threatened him. Her age appeared to be on the younger side of completely indeterminate. She was wearing a sheet like Winston’s, except it was entirely a light green shade. She also had a very sharp-looking metal knife, which she was idly twirling in her hand with a worrying amount of skill.

“I could kill you for what you just tried to do, you know. I should, probably. But, considering the, um, evidence,” she said, glancing at his choice of wardrobe, which consisted solely of the skins of various animals, who had discovered too late how hard it is to outrun an arrow. “I’m starting to doubt that you know what you almost did.”

“Er, I was under the, er, impression that I was, er, starting a fire, I suppose. Er, can I ask who the he…” He paused for the briefest of moments as he glanced at Winston and back at the girl’s piercing gaze, “…eck you are?”
“My name is immaterial.”

“That’s a nice name.”

She ignored him. “I’m a Librarian. This is my library, in which you are trespassing with the intent of harming my books.”

“What’s so bad about that? I just wanted to dry myself off. Besides, I’d only be using a few for myself. There’s plenty for you to use for your own fires.”

For just a moment, he thought he saw an expression of rage cross her face, but it vanished so quickly he wasn’t certain it was ever there.

“You really don’t get it, do you? No, you don’t. Do you even know what books are?”

“Er–”

“Because they’re not just fuel, you know.”

“I really don–”

“Books are the key to our future. All of the technological advancements we’ve made are thanks to the words on these pages. Since we learned how to read, we’ve moved beyond cruder methods like stone tools and mud huts.”

“I happen to like my hut, as a matter of fact.”

“We have real houses, made of wood, and we’ve learned how to shape metal into tools more effective than anything made from stone. We have better clothes, better weapons, better crops!  We can bring about the greatest renaissance since before the Great War!!”

“Er, that sounds quite nice, I guess. Can’t wait. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be heading out. Places to be, and all that,” Daniel said, getting to his feet. “Er, terribly sorry about that bit with the books. I’ll do my best to avoid that in the future.”

The girl had the expression of a predator whose lunch had just gotten up and left after apologizing for wasting its time. “Hey, what––you can’t––where do––what?” she said, deflating a bit as Daniel walked off between the shelves.

She turned to Winston, who was still standing back with the pile of books. “Well, don’t just stand there. Grab some books and help me put them ba––”

“Hey, sorry. Forgot my firestarter,” said Daniel, appearing from behind a shelf. He grabbed the rocks from the ground where he had dropped them. “It’s been nice getting to know you, but I really should be off this time.”

She waited until she heard the door close before speaking. “Oh, dear. I may have gotten a bit carried away back there. You don’t think I sounded too, um, fanatical, do you?”

• • •

The storm had downshifted to a light sprinkle by the time Daniel got outside. Well, that was something, he thought as he made his way back towards his village. That girl had sounded absolutely fanatical! Nobody sane uses multiple exclamation points. And all those things she’d said…. It had been enlightening, though. Perhaps he should look into those book things; as great as his mud hut was, it tended to get a bit, well, muddy in this weather. And metal… if he could learn how to shape metal, maybe the others in the village would finally treat him as an equal.

It was still dark when Daniel reached his village. It was quiet; everybody must already be asleep. He snuck towards his hut, trying not to wake anyone––

“Ah, Daniel,” said a deep voice from behind him. Oh, no. Not Big Chief. “You were out late again, I see. Would you care to explain why?”

Daniel turned to face Big Chief. “Er, it’s a long, er, story. I’d rather not, er, bother you right now. We’ll talk about it in the, er, morning.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Daniel, but don’t worry about it; I’ve got plenty of time. Why don’t you tell me your story?”

Daniel told him.

There was a pause as Big Chief processed what Daniel had said. “So, these ‘books’ have shown the girl and whoever she is with how to shape metal into deadlier weapons.”

“And how to build with wood and farm better crops.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Where did you say this happened?”

“She called it the ‘library’. It was a big building a few miles in the direction of the rising sun.”

“Very well. Thank you for your time. You should get some rest now; it looks like you need it.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

Once Big Chief had left, Daniel retired to his mud hut to think. He didn’t do this much; it was generally discouraged in his village. People who thought too much tended to experience unfortunate health issues, like disappearing in the middle of the night without a trace or having their heads fall off when they went out alone. Nevertheless, he reviewed the events of the night. Big Chief had seemed… worried. Nothing worried Big Chief––so this must be bigger than he’d thought. Why? What was so dangerous about some paper and writing that even Big Chief was worried about them? Maybe he should just let it go….

No. If those books can improve the lives of the people in my village, I have to understand them. I need to learn to read. He sat up and began packing his satchel.

By the time the rest of the village woke up, Daniel was long gone.

• • •

The rain had ended by the morning, leaving a faint rainbow in the clear blue sky. Winston was sitting on the roof of a ruined house and reading a confusing novel about a flat, magical planet when he heard the library doors open across the street. Uh-oh. Emily’s gonna be mad again. He climbed down from the roof of the ruined house he’d been reading on and went inside. The girl was sleeping on a moldy couch that she’d draped a sheet over. He nudged her gently on the shoulder. She went from sleeping to standing faster than a man who’s just woken up and realized it’s 10 AM on a weekday.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

“Someone’s in the library again.”

“Godsda–” she caught herself, “–angit! Did you see who it was?”

“Nah. I was reading my book.”

“I told you to pay more attention after last time.” She gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, well. Let’s go, then.”

Daniel was leaning against the end of a shelf near the front door when they came in, trying to read the first book he’d seen.

“Don’t move. Good. Now, very slowly––oh, it’s you.”

“Hey! So, I’ve been thinking, and I’d like to give this reading thing a shot. Your, er, speech yesterday really inspired me to try and make a change.”

“Uh, what? Are you asking me to teach you to read?”

“Yep.”

“…”

“Oh! My name’s Daniel, by the way.”

“I’m, um, Emily. This is Winston.”

“I thought you said it was Immaterial yesterday.”

“What? No! That was serious?”

“Er, yeah. What were you saying, then?”

“‘Immaterial’ means ‘irrelevant.’”

“Is that supposed to make more sense?”

“Really? They both mean, essentially, ‘it doesn’t matter’. They’re synonyms.”

“What’s ‘essentially’ and ‘synonyms’, then?”

The girl looked defeated. “Never mind. Forget I said that. My name’s Emily, okay?”

“Emily. Got it.”

“Good.”

“Not Immaterial.”

“No.”

“Okay.”

“Good.”

There was a long pause. Then, at the same time:

“So, why do you––”

“Anyways, how do I––”

“Sorry, you were talking.”

“No, I interrupted you.”

Another pause.

“So, why do you want to learn to read all of a sudden?”

“Well, I told Big Chief––”

“Sorry, hang on. You’ve got a guy named Big Chief?”

“Yeah, he’s the head of the village.”

“That must be hard. Don’t people laugh at his name?”

“Less than you’d think. Laughing at Big Chief tends to be a terminal condition.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Anyway, I told Big Chief about how you could build proper houses and shape metal, which seemed to upset him. Big Chief never gets upset, so I figured this stuff must be pretty important.”

“Hmm. That’s a good enough reason, I suppose. Winston,” she said, looking around at him, “Could you go look for some alphabet and spelling books for our friend? Thank you.”

After Winston had left, Daniel said, “So what’s Winston’s deal? Why does he follow you everywhere?”

“His family was killed by outsiders when he was a child. I was lucky enough to come across him before it was too late. I took him back to my town and have helped raise him since.”

“Oh. Sorry to hear that. It was good of you to help him, though.”

“It was, wasn’t it.”

Silence.

“Sorry about my, um, rant yesterday. I got a bit carried away.”

“A bit.” Multiple exclamation points, Daniel thought.

“To be fair, you were trying to burn my books. Anyways, it’s not often that I meet outsiders–– especially ones dressed like, um, roadkill.”

“Hey! It took, like, three months to kill this many deer. By the way, I wanted to ask about your outfit. It’s just a sheet! That’s not proper clothing!”

“It’s a toga, and it’s a lot more civilized than your deerskins. Everyone in my town wears one. We even color them based on job and status.”

“Really? What’s green, then?”

“Green means I’m a Librarian. I mentioned that yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah. After you told me your name was Immaterial. What’s a Librarian, anyway?”

“As a Librarian, it’s my duty to safeguard these books, and find which ones contain the most knowledge for my town. Winston’s toga has a green fringe to show that he’s a Librarian’s apprentice.”

“So, you’re guards.”

“If you want to put it so crudely.”

There was another pause, then Emily spoke again. “This is taking too long.”

“Yeah, it was only supposed to be like 700 words.”

“Excuse me?”

“Wait, what were you talking about?”

“Winston. He should be back by now. I’m going to look for him.”

“Oh. Let me come with. I can help.”

Emily looked as if she was going to say something, then changed her mind. “Fine. But stay close, alright? It’s easy to get lost in here if you don’t know the way.”

They set off between the dusty shelves.

• • •

Winston had never been so afraid. He’d been lucky to see the strange men with the fire through the grimy window before they’d seen him, but it was only a matter of time now before they came inside and one of them stumbled across his hiding spot under a shelf that had fallen partway down before getting stopped by another one. He tried to be as still as he could, but he couldn’t stop shaking. Suddenly there were voices calling his name, coming closer….

“Winston! Where are you?”

“Where are those books you told him to get? He could still be near them.”

“Good thinking. This way. Winston!”

“Quiet! What was that?”

“What was what?”

“Are there anymore entrances to the library nearby?”

“Yeah, there’s a door right over––”

“You hear it? Someone’s trying to get in.”

Winston heard the familiar sound of metal on metal as Emily pulled her six-inch blade out of its sheath. “How quiet can you be?”

“Too quiet for a dozen deer in six months.”

“Fair enough. Are you armed?”

“Er, I have an extra sharp rock. Does that count?”

“It’ll have to do. I need you to find out who’s trying to get in. I’ll find Winston, don’t worry.”

Winston heard the footsteps split up. One went in the direction of the men he’d seen, the other drew nearer to him. Soon, he saw a sandalled foot step in front of him. He reached out and grabbed it with one hand.

“Gods, you scared me!” hissed Emily. “Get out of there. What’s wrong?”

Winston was visibly shaking. When he spoke, his voice quavered. “The bad men are here, Emily!”

“Who are the bad men, Winston?”

“The bad men with the fire! They want to get me again!”

Fire! Oh, no. They’ll destroy the––wait…. “Winston, what do you mean, ‘again’?

“They tried to get me before! Before you rescued me!”

Emily froze. “These are the men who killed your family?”

Winston nodded, too agitated to speak.

“Okay. Winston, I need you to do something for me now. This is very important. You need to go out the other doors and run back to town. Don’t stop until you get there. Can you do that?” A nod. “Good. Go now. Hurry!”

Winston scampered off, leaving Emily alone.

A moment later, she heard the door break open, twirling her knife as she moved towards the sound.

• • •

Daniel saw the door break open from around the corner, and he saw the men rush in. Some of them had torches, some had clubs. It would have been quite intimidating if the first man hadn’t tripped on a piece of broken door and brought two others down with him. As they tried to sort themselves out without burning each other, Daniel caught a glimpse of their faces. They looked, somehow, familiar––despite the fact that he didn’t think anybody he knew was the type of person to storm into a library in an angry mob (and he really hoped he didn’t know anyone stupid enough to fail such a simple task). There was a commotion as the men continued to storm––or rather, walk single-file to avoid any more accidents––through the doorway, until there were about fifteen men inside.

“Hey.” The voice by his ear made Daniel jump. “Gods, Emily, don’t do that! You scared me!”

“Ah, there you are, Daniel!” came a deep voice from somewhere in the crowd. They froze. “We were terribly worried when we couldn’t find you this morning. So worried, in fact, that I gathered my strongest men to come search for you.” A man separated from the crowd. He was well-built and muscular. He had a smile that suggested things were about to go very well for him, while also being terribly unfortunate for Daniel. “And here you are. Why don’t you come out and introduce your new friend?”

Daniel risked a glance at Emily. She was seething. “Yes, Daniel, why don’t you introduce me?” She stepped out in front of the mob. Daniel reluctantly followed.

“Er, this is Emily. Emily, this is Big Chief.”

Much to Daniel’s shock and dread, Emily laughed. “Ha! You’re Big Chief? You can’t be more than five feet tall!”

Oh, no. Bad move, Emily. Big Chief’s rictus remained unchanged, but Daniel noticed the handle of his club start to splinter and crack in his hand.

“How charming. You must be the woman Daniel told me all about. Managed to sneak up on him and everything, eh? I must say, I’m impressed. It’s a shame you’ll burn with your books. Oh, don’t look at Daniel like that. He’s a smart kid, if a bit foolish. He knew I’d have him killed if he tried to hold information from me. Don’t blame him for this. But tell you what; to make you feel better, I can burn him with you.” He turned to his lackeys. “Burn it all. I want them to see the flames all the way back at her––”

Daniel hadn’t thought it possible for Big Chief to die. Even if he did, he’d expected it to be atop a pile of his enemies; not like this. He simply stood there, and then slowly, like a very small tree, collapsed face-forward to the ground.

Emily’s knife was buried to the hilt in the back of Big Chief’s head.

Time seemed to freeze. Daniel looked at Emily. She hadn’t moved from the spot where she’d thrown the blade. He looked at the mob. They stared at Big Chief’s corpse. Then, one by one, the men looked up at his killer.

Then, at some silent agreement, the men turned and fled.

Daniel turned to Emily. “Wow. You just killed Big Ch––”

“You idiot!” Daniel was taken aback by the sudden burst of anger. “You led them here! I could’ve been killed, or worse, they could have burned my books! What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Hey! I didn’t tell them to come burn the library! Big Chief himself said I had nothing to do with this!”

She sighed. “You’re right, sorry. I just get a bit, er, agitated when people try to burn my library. Especially when I’m in it.”

“Yeah, I can see how that might set someone off.”

“There is one thing, though. Has anyone from your village ever killed an outsider?”

“Er, Big Chief, probably. Once or twice a month. Otherwise, not that I know of. Why?”

“Winston said the men who came were the ones who killed his family.”

“Oh. That sounds like Big Chief, alright. He doesn’t––er, didn’t––take too kindly to outsiders. Winston’s lucky. Big Chief must not have seen him.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, he’s still breathing, for one thing.”

“Ah.”

There was another pause for a moment.

“Anyway, where were we?”

“I believe I was going to teach you to read.”

“Oh! Yes, that was it. Wait here, I’ll grab those books.”

She returned a moment later with a small stack of books. The books were bigger than the ones Daniel had seen in other parts of the library.

“Let’s get––”

“Oh! Before we begin, I was wondering… would your, er, town be willing to let me stay for a while? I’d go back to my village, but, er, I think they all want me dead now, so….”

“I’m sure I can work something out, don’t worry. Now then, let’s get started….”