Author's Notes: I started writing this story last summer, and gave up on it for a while until this summer. It's really just a summer story, I guess. In any case, as a result, I have a bit over 60 pages written as I'm posting this first chapter, and I'm still adding more, so I can promise earnestly that there will be updates forthcoming. There will also be a real title forthcoming (suggestions are welcome!) Complaints about the writing and plot are also welcome (I'm posting this under pressure, and I don't feel like I've combed through it properly yet), and really, any reviews at all are welcome. Enjoy!
I have a fear of librarians. I'm not sure why; it's not exactly what you'd call a rational fear, like of snakes or heights or even the dark. It's more like a vague uneasiness that's always been there, for no particular reason. I mean, I like libraries. I like books. I'm not a trouble-maker, and, although I can be fairly talkative, I'm not really the sort of person who tends to piss off librarians as a habit. It's just one of those instinctual things, I guess. I see a librarian and almost immediately I begin to feel guilty for the way my shoes are dirty and I need a haircut and my hands look rather silly just sitting there at my sides.
This is all, of course, irrelevant. The point I'm actually trying to make is that I, Luke Casten, complete with dirty shoes, hair in need of a trim, and annoyingly useless hands, was in a library. It was a nice library, I decided, after looking around while fastidiously avoiding eye contact with the two women sitting at the reference desk. Sunnier than the library back home, with pleasant skylights over in one section and wall-to-floor windows near the entrance. It was small—only one story, and I could see most of it from where I was standing—but not cramped. I immediately decided that, librarians or not, I would be coming here fairly often.
My reason for being here, this out-of-the-way town in the middle of nowhere, at all, was a bit of a long story. My dad, who works for a local newspaper, was sent by his job to Germany for some reason I've managed to forget. My mom decided that she was going to go with him. The problem was me—I would still be in school when he left, my parents didn't want me leaving for summer early, they didn't particularly want me flying there alone to meet them, and what was I going to do in Germany for 2 months, anyhow?
So, after several weeks of discussion, it was eventually decided that I would just stay with my neighbor during the first week and a half of my parents' trip, while I was still in school, after which I'd take a plane with my aunt and her two little daughters, who live an hour or so away, to the mostly-rural area where my grandmother lives. Aunt Becca would stay for a few days or so and then fly back, leaving me and my cousins to stay with Grandma (apparently Aunt Becca decided she needed to take a trip, too—convenient).
This all seemed fairly reasonable to me at first. Not as good as Europe, or even my own home, really, but not terrible. I tend to get along with Grandma well enough, and I remembered my two cousins as being loud but cute little girls. As for the town, I'd been there to visit a few times before, and it had always seemed pleasant, in an idyllic (read: dull) way. After all, I had summer homework to do, and it wasn't as if that would be fun anywhere. So how bad could it be?
Reality, of course, was much more difficult. Grandma was nice for talking to during meals and maybe even watching TV with at night, but being in her company for too many hours on end was a bit of a challenge, even for me. And then there were the girls: Allison, who was 7, and Annie, who was 5. They were cute, as I remembered, and friendly, and talkative, and for about 10 minutes they were great fun to be with. Then they were all over me, trying to get my attention and tell me stories and asking me what I was thinking about, and suddenly I realized that all of this had been a very, very bad idea.
Aunt Becca left the next day, to my extreme annoyance, leaving me to attempt to watch cartoons all morning with Allison and Annie while Grandma watered her plants. Two days later, I was desperate. Grandma, being the thoughtful woman she is, suggested that I go take a walk to "get some fresh air." Allison, at that very moment, had been attempting to convince me that I needed to participate in some sort of impromptu karaoke contest, so I took the advice with gratitude.
The problem was that there was really, honestly, nothing to do in this rather rural little town, and the only building other than the grocery store that was of any interest whatsoever was, sure enough, the library.
So that, in a nutshell, was how I came to be here, in this sunny building that was seeming more and more likeable by the second, particularly when compared to the all day marathons of "Sailor Moon," or what have you, that my cousins were probably watching back at Grandma's house.
In any case, I was so relieved to be free for a while that I actually felt inspired to get started on the English homework I had thought to bring with me in my backpack. I sat down at one of the tables provided for such things and brought out the worksheet detailing the assignment, staring blankly at it for a few moments before realizing that in addition to the book the assignment was on itself, I was going to need some other information. I quickly went to one of the computers for catalog searches and looked until I found a likely-looking book on the novel that claimed to be available.
"Eight hundreds…" I muttered to myself as I scanned down the slightly dimmer corner of the library, searching for the proper shelf. I turned down a likely-looking aisle, followed the numbers all the way from 697.3 to 802.9 until realizing that the number I was looking for was 813, on the next shelf over. I also realized that this information had been conveniently posted on the end of the shelf, making me scowl as I turned and headed down the next aisle.
There was a boy standing in this aisle, a boy about my age or maybe a bit younger, with light brown hair and glasses. Kind of cute, not that that was relevant to anything. I ignored him at first, but glanced back when I realized that he appeared to be cleaning the shelves with wet paper towels while rearranging the books. Must have been older than I thought, I figured—maybe this was his summer job. Either that or he was just a neat freak. I smirked to myself slightly at this thought and turned to the rows of books in front of me.
"Eight hundred four… Eight hundred four point two…" I muttered, glancing across the rows quickly. Aha. "Eight hundred ten… eleven… twelve point one…" I was vaguely aware that I was speaking out loud, but I was afraid I would lose count if I didn't. Or forget what I was looking for in the first place, which was much more likely, considering that the numbers were right in front of me. "Point nine… Thirteen," I said with some satisfaction, kneeling to examine the books more closely.
The book I was looking for wasn't there. "What?" I said aloud, peering more closely at the titles. Stupid computer. I thought for a moment, trying to reason this out. Maybe someone had just picked it up? But what were the chances of that? Maybe… it was just misplaced? Well, yeah, but that wasn't going to help me. I sighed. "Dammit," I muttered to myself. So much for actually doing something ahead of time, for once.
I stood up to get back to my stuff, but then was met by a new wave of resolve. The book should have been there. I knelt down again, reaching back behind the shelves to make sure. "Why wouldn't it be here?" I asked myself out loud, vaguely annoyed at the fact that out of all the books here, the one I needed was missing. I checked a third time, sighing loudly when the book didn't appear. "The world's out to get me, I swear," I muttered.
"Looking for something?"
I looked up. Apparently the boy cleaning shelves had spoken, although I couldn't have proven it if I had been testifying in court. He was looking straight ahead, perhaps at the books he was moving, and he showed no sign of having spoken. At least not to me. I looked around, wondering if maybe he had been talking to someone else, but there was no one.
"…Yeah," I responded, feeling a bit confused. "Stupid book's not here, but the computer said it was."
"What book?" he asked, eyes still glued to the shelves as he moved another handful of books. Well, at least I knew for sure that he was talking to me, now…
"This," I said, holding out the scrap of paper on which I had written the title and call number. "It's about Catch-22."
He finished setting the books onto their shelf, then turned and glanced down at the paper. "Oh," he said, nonplussed. "I took that down to be withdrawn. It should be in that box." He gestured toward an overflowing box of books on the floor.
"…Oh," I responded intelligently. "Thanks." Then I blinked. "What's wrong with it?" I asked accusingly, still slightly annoyed that I had been looking for a book that wasn't there. Also vaguely because I loved Catch-22, and felt somehow personally injured that a book about it had been deemed unworthy of staying at the library.
He looked at me passively, then turned back to the shelf. "It hadn't been checked out since 1983," he replied, reaching down for another stack of books.
"…Oh," I repeated. I didn't dare comment further this time, so I began to go through the box until I found it, a dusty book with a green cloth cover. I took it back to the desk I had camped at and resolutely opened to the first chapter. I made it all the way until the middle of the second chapter until I finally gave up and turned it over, checking the label adhered to the back cover. The last date stamped was July 8th, 1983. I stared for a moment, then wordlessly turned it back over. No comment, I thought to myself, annoyed for reasons I couldn't quite place.
It turned out, of course, that I got next to no work done at the library that day, but I felt vaguely pleased with myself just for trying. And for escaping from the house that seemed to be getting smaller for every day I woke up with my cousins jumping on my bed and singing Disney songs. Moral of the week? Thank God for being an only child. In any case, the more I was away from the house, the more I was harassed by the girls when I was there, as I quickly discovered. I knew distantly that this was quickly becoming a vicious cycle, but was too distraught to avoid it. I needed to get out.
So it was that I found myself sneaking past the librarians and dropping my backpack on one of the tables again the next day, hoping that the somewhat disconcerting boy from the day before would be gone, and that maybe I'd actually accomplish something today. I took out my copy of the assignment—it was an essay, frustratingly—and the book itself, and then made my way back to the shelf I had been at the day before. Having no library card, I had put the green-covered book back in its place on the shelf the day before. As I considered this on my way back to the shelf, I realized that it might be gone by now. The boy had said that he had been trying to get it withdrawn, after all. I sighed and turned down the aisle.
He was there again. Damn. He had worked his way across the aisle to the opposite row of shelves, but he appeared to be doing the same job—cleaning shelves and moving books. I ignored him and knelt back down at the site of my previous annoyance. To my surprise, the book was still there. I reached for it, but did a double take as I pulled it away from the shelf. "I swear those books weren't there yesterday," I whispered to myself, staring at the two books on either side of the newly formed gap. They were both on the same topic as the one I had been holding, and they most certainly had not been there the last time I looked. Don't be stupid; they were probably just checked out, I told myself, but I was already busy estimating the probability that this was true and finding that it was a low, low number. Just as I was about to get mildly creeped out, I heard the brown-haired boy speaking behind me.
"I put those back for you," he explained calmly. "I was going to have them withdrawn, too, but I thought you might need them."
Alright, so in retrospect, it was a really nice thing for him to do, especially since he had no idea that I would be back again today. But I couldn't help it—it creeped me out.
"Oh… Um, thanks," I muttered, not quite sure what to say.
He didn't reply, so I picked the books up and carried all three back to my little table. I tried to read, but I still felt a bit weird about that guy. He annoyed me, and I didn't know why. Just a little too passive… A bit condescending… He reminded me of a stuffy teacher I'd had in third grade, or—I laughed out loud, shortly, despite myself. A librarian. Maybe that was it. He acted like a librarian, even though he couldn't have been older than 17. Librarian-in-training, perhaps; that was why I didn't like him. That settled, I went back to my books, and only felt slightly guilty when I realized that they were actually quite helpful.
More Author's Notes: All the Dewey decimal system numbers are more or less accurate because I'm a little obsessive. This chapter turned out to be kind of short, but the next piece should be longer. Please review, and more will be posted soon.