Saturday, November 06, 2010

Short Fiction Friday: From "The Librarians"

Today has been a day of revelry, and since Fridays were supposed to be for short fiction anyway, I'm taking the opportunity to include a snippet of a science-fiction universe I was batting around a few years ago. I'm not quite sure where it's going, and I'm hoping that trotting it out in public will bring in fresh ideas. Here, make of it what you will.

Sukey was tired. Her eyes were scratchy and her head swam, and the knot in her shoulder throbbed every time she handed a book-case over the huge library desk. At the end of her shift there would be a cup of hot tea and music on the radio and Beau would work out the kinks in her muscles with his deft white hands, but the end of her shift was still three hours away. There were books to be pulled and signed out yet, books upon books, so many that the shelves groaned with the weight of them. Sukey heard and groaned too. 

The shelf-room stretched away behind the desk, vast and gloomy and high-ceilinged. It was always dim in the library, so dim that she could not see where the rows of shelves stopped. Sukey had never been to the back of it; it was someone else's job to cart the books back and forth, yet another someone's job to arrange them on the shelves. Sukey was a recorder, and what she did was this: when the carts of requested books came up to the desk, she recorded the date and the time and the title of each one before sending them away with the runners. When the carts of books whose use was no longer required came back to the desk, she signed each of them back in with the precise date and time, then sorted them all by number and date and location onto the carts for the shelvers to take. The work was tedious and the brown leather cases that held the books made heavy lifting and there were still carts and carts of them tonight.

The books were beautiful, Beau said so, and although Sukey was not allowed to open the cases she believed him. He could tell, he said, by the way they felt, the way they smelled. The pages were soft and fine and the frontispieces were buttery scraped vellum and the covers were supple and tooled in intricate patterns. Sometimes he liked to press his cheek against them and breathe in the musk of leather, the spice of old paper. The librarians, if they saw, did not chastise him. Perhaps they would do the same, if they could.

Sukey was in awe of Beau, of his fingertips and the skin over his eyes, milky and translucent as rice paper. Beau was a turner, and like all turners, he was blind. His optic nerve was cut and rerouted, wired to transmit by means of a cunning device; only the librarians could see through his eyes now. Every day he took the elevator to the reading-room at the very top of the library, took his seat at the desk and put on his wireless transmitter and waited. They were whisper-quiet as they took their seats behind him, and he didn’t always know they were there until the first book was laid on the desk top and the great hot reading-lamp above him clicked on.

“Turn the page,” they would say when they were ready to begin, and, with great care not to fold or tear the onionskin paper, Beau would. They would read through him the words he himself was unworthy to know, and when they had finished they would say “Again,” and he would turn the next one. It went on and on, book after book and page after page, until the edges of them had worn Beau’s fingerprints away like sandpaper. The librarians spoke among themselves, sometimes, low sighs that Beau could not understand. He would strain to catch the soft inflections in them, wonder or consternation or surprise, and tried to guess what they looked like. Their shapes must be very strange—they could not read the books themselves, or they would not need his weak eyes. And Beau would feel the prickle of the transmitter across his scalp and marvel at his fortune to be their conduit.


Beau turned the page.


Beau turned the page.


Posted by Silent Five @ 12:35 AM

Word of the Week

gymnosophy [jim-NAH-so-fee]

n. Philosophical, amusing, or nonsensical insights realized when naked, as in the shower or in bed. (recent coinage: att. S. Galasso, 2010)

Victoria and Albert enjoyed a spot of postprandial concupiscence culminating in a night of gymnosophy and coffee and crumpets at dawn.

The Silent Top Five: Bacon-Flavored Desserts

1) Bacon cheesecake.
2) Bacon gumballs.
3) Bacon ice cream.
4) Bacon-orange bars.
5) Bacon apple pie.

Standard Disclaimer

This is all in no way meant to incur copyright-infringement-related wrath. I'm harmless. I promise. Oh, and if you're offended by anything I may post herein, I guarantee I didn't mean to do so (unless, of course, you are a humorless prig. In which case, go right on and be offended, with my blessings.)