The Story Eaters
It was midnight in the stacks, and the air was filled with tiny rhythmic noises of a sort that the fanciful might have thought of as books snoring. The young woman busily shelving books was obviously not fanciful though, as she worked efficiently, serene and undisturbed by the night and its secrets.
She positioned each volume carefully – tutting occasionally as she unbent dogeared corners and removed unsuitable objects being used as ‘bookmarks’.
It was right at the end of her task when she was briskly dealing with the ugly temperament of a couple of grimoires that something outside the usual caught her attention. Being of a methodical turn of mind she completed her task before investigating the source of an undefinable disquiet.
It felt as if the source of the problem, whatever it might be, was the children’s literature section, so once she had replaced her trolley in the storeroom she walked that way on quiet feet. The closer she came to the area dedicated to myth and legend for young readers the more she understood there was definitely something needing her attention.
As yet she had no notion what was afoot, but whatever it was, it was sufficient to disturb the serenity of the sleeping books, to the extent that they were huddling together in clumps. Once she set foot in the aisle between the worst affected volumes, she could hear a susurrating sound as if a breeze moved through the pages. The books were actually shivering with fear.
“Calmly now,” she said infusing her voice with both confidence and command. “Calm yourselves. I am here.”
It was as if a sigh of relief ran through the shelved books.
A small black bird flew from the pages of a venerable volume on the topmost shelf. It was pursued by a set of snapping teeth which were rapidly gaining as it flapped its tiny wings in near desperation. The Night Librarian held out a small freckled hand and the bird clung to her. The snapping teeth stopped in their tracks before a voice laced with menace spoke.
“I am hunger.”
It was joined by another voice, and another and another…
“I am cold.”
“I am fear.”
“I am pain.”
More and more voices joined in until a cacophonous litany of pain and anger filled the night air.
The night librarian waited a beat then spoke a single word of power.
There was silence.
“Better. Now who speaks for the displaced ones?”
The voice that answered her was colder than a north wind and angrier than a volcano.
“I speak for all. And if you let us drink your blood and eat your story we will leave the dry books to their desiccated little lives.”
The librarian put her free hand in the sagging pocket of her cardigan.
“Show yourselves then.” She spoke with quiet dignity.
The angry one laughed. “I do enjoy a courageous meal.” Then it began to laugh. An insane, humourless sound that beat against the venerable timbers of the library. When it regained its breath it spoke sneeringly.
“Do you have any idea what you are asking.”
“Several. Now show yourself if you don’t fear me.”
The very air seemed to hold its breath.
“Me. Fear you?”
Came a bang and a flash and a dark figure stood in the aisle facing the librarian and the terrified bird. It made to snatch the feathered one, but failed as the young woman simply twitched her hand out of reach.
“There is nothing for you here. Go home.” She spoke without inflection, but even so the darkling shuddered right down to its misshapen shoes.
When it answered her it sounded fretful.
“I shall go nowhere. You cannot banish me.”
“Can I not?”
All around there was a sound as of rushing wind, or rustling leaves and the whispers started up again.
“You can not banish us…”
The librarian took a knobbly stick from her pocket.
“Can I not?” she repeated softly.
The winds about her grew fiercer and whipped her skirts and sandy hair into disarray.
“Not even with your little wand.”
“Shall I banish you by name?”
It was as if a hurricane blew the pages of the shrinking books and tried to snatch the knobbly little stick from its owner’s grasp.
The librarian sighed and concentrated.
The darkling went leaving behind only a sour smell and the memory of fear. The librarian soothed the books before going back to her unending round of the tasks the day librarians thought themselves too beautiful to be worried by.