The Magical Librarian of Madison
A short story posted on Reedsy Blog. Link below for full story.
Jacob Sullivan huddled up against the shelves, the dark metal digging into his backbone as he rested his head and exhaled for the first time in the past hour. He only dared to close his eyes as the familiar smell of old pages sent the message to his brain that he was safe, concealed amongst the fiction section in Madison Public Library. The ceiling tiles, he noticed, were a strange and pockmarked pasty color; not quite white, not quite gray, and several badly in need of repair. If he wanted, he could use the marks to count the minutes until it was safe for him to leave. Stupid Kevyn Stewart was lurking around outside again, waiting for Jacob to come out of the library so he could hurtle insults at him as he walked home. He had done this every day after school for the past year and would likely continue to do it for every year that Jacob was alive. Jacob didn’t understand what he had done to earn so much of Kevyn’s attention but whatever it was, he was certain he had already paid the price and then some. It wasn’t a long walk from the library to home but a necessary one. No one would be at his house for another hour and his mother didn’t want him to be alone, so the library seemed a safe option to her. Since his dad had left, she’d become overly concerned with his safety. If only she could understand that being alone at home was far better than being in Kevyn’s company. Why did he have to be so awful? Likely because his parents had shoved an unnecessary ‘y’ into his name, thereby submitting him to a lifetime of explaining how his name was spelled. I’d be pissed off too, Jacob thought to himself. To make matters worse, their last names shared the same initial and would therefore be linked for the remainder of school, unless one of them died or moved away, neither of which seemed likely. But a boy can hope.
His head rested against the books while his mind stirred uneasily. He couldn’t focus on anything he was meant to. Like his book report due in a week, his math study guide he had failed twice, or the impending dance at school which everyone pretended wasn’t a big deal but secretly was either dreading or eagerly awaiting. Dreading, in his case. Jacob could think of few greater ways to insult oneself than to publicly thrash around in front of your peers who already thought you were a goof. His thumbnail absently flipped a piece of torn fabric on his jeans as he mentally cursed himself for even considering going to the dance. You needed to have either a date or a group of friends and Jacob had neither. Not that he was completely friendless, but this month was rough. His best friend had moved to another district, and his other friends were more terrified of stepping foot into a social function than he was. There was no chance he was going, so he should just put it out of his mind altogether. But somehow, he couldn’t quite. All of the nagging irritants in his life, his daunting schoolwork, the insults from Kevyn, and the dance he would never see, circled in his head as if they were twirling to the tune of his brain self-destructing. And so, he would sit there hiding and waiting for his watch to buzz telling him to go home. If he was lucky, Kevyn would grow tired of lurking and leave for home as well.
“You planning on reading any of these or just using them as pillows?” a voice sounded from his left, breaking the silence and making him jump.
“Huh? Oh no, sorry,” he said as he left his shelf-pillow and stood.
The woman who had snuck up on him was wearing typical librarian garb; a long blue skirt with a small floral pattern, comfortable sandals which she unapologetically wore with socks, and a fuzzy cardigan which had a sparkly brooch attached on the chest. Her face was kind but stern and she clearly did not approve of children loitering amongst her books. She was not old by any means, perhaps only in her thirties, but her face held a no-nonsense wisdom and he doubted anyone had ever countered her and gotten away with it.
“Are you looking for something in particular? I’d be happy to help,” she offered kindly.
Jacob didn’t know how to ask for what he really needed which was for his mother to get her old job back so she could be home after school and he wouldn’t have to endure hiding in this library every day or for Kevyn’s ridiculous insults to stop; they’d gotten pretty terrible lately as the boy was running out of things to say. Last week he had likened Jacob’s mom to a banana, but the jab didn’t land having made no sense whatsoever. Poor kid was really reaching.
Not knowing what to say he simply said, “No,” and made to leave the previously empty row of books.
“Hold on a minute, I do not believe you cannot think of a single thing you would like to read about. Do you know where you are standing right now?”
Jacob looked around and shook his head, all the book spines seemed the same to him.
“This is the fantasy section. This is the section where dreams become reality, where boring young kids turn into wizards, monsters rule the earth, and unknown realms battle one another for rights to possess the amulets of fallen kings. This is where your dreams take hold of you and soar.”
Her face was intensely overjoyed by her own description, and he stared at her in wonder, wishing he possessed even an ounce of her passion for anything in his life. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he wasn’t a very good reader, so he just shrugged.
She smiled, refusing to be deterred. “What interests you most? Dragons? Magic? Kingdoms battling? Talking animals?”
Jacob couldn’t pick a favorite because he’d never read anything related to any of those topics.
She twisted her mouth up quizzically and crouched down so she was at eye level with him. Her eyes patrolled the shelves as she seemed to be mentally forcing a book to come forward and present itself.
“I know,” she said. “Let’s try this. What sounds more interesting, a young knight who must travel the lands of a far-off realm in order to rescue his family’s long-lost heir? Or a young boy who gets bullied at school but discovers he has the ability to use magic to change his fate?”
He’d known his eyes had lit up at the sound of that one. Oh, how he wished he could have magical powers to make Kevyn Stewart disappear. Perhaps he could banish him to that far off realm she had mentioned where he would have to battle dragons in order to survive.
An excerpt from the Prequel to The Samantha Sharp Chronicles.
It was nearly 8:35 and her orders had clearly stated to be at combat training room C at 8:30. Ally checked her watch for the third time in the past 60 seconds. They were late.
The room was large and had the same smell as a high school gym, something about the floor mats and weights must produce that sweet vinyl and sweat fragrance. One length of the wall was covered in mirrors so they could watch their form as they trained in martial arts or other hand to hand combat. This was only one of many rooms on The Farm and Ally could hear the activity from next door as someone was slammed into the mats with the full force of their bodyweight; the expected groan followed shortly. Ally smiled to herself, she had never been so happy. She was doing it, actually following her dreams. It was day four of her training and everything still felt fresh and new. Even the anticipation of what was sure to be a painful hour of sparing with her new partner, couldn’t put a damper on her sunny outlook. She was going to be a CIA agent, dammit. She’d gone against the wishes of her parents, the urging of her professors, and all the warnings from her friends who now thought she was completely crazy. But she didn’t need friends and she certainly didn’t need anyone’s approval. She was doing this, and she was going to be the best.
The heavy doors finally swung open, and she turned to size up the person her trainer had chosen as her combat partner for the remainder of her time at The Farm. He was more than Ally had been expecting, a lot more. She’d of course seen him amongst the other new recruits, he was hard not to see, but they hadn’t been introduced yet. He stood over six feet and had a wide upper body he clearly worked on every day. His face was set in the same scowl she’d seen him wearing the past four days. He took himself seriously, didn’t have to throw his weight around because he was obviously the strongest man in most rooms, and he was handsome so most people would forgive his surly nature and off-putting glare. His dark hair was cut short in military style, and he stood so straight it was no secret where he’d been recruited from.
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The Pinnacle of Tomorrow
A short story posted on Reedsy Blog. Link below for full story.
She scanned her blue screen once more as the elevator continued its descent to the lowest level of Tower II. Her recruit for the day should be easy. He had no family left, no prospects, and a recent accident at work had claimed most of his left hand. Something to do with an automated lift droid malfunction. His profile read as a perfect candidate for relocation. But Mazie knew not everyone made it easy. Sometimes they needed convincing to help them let go of their former lives. While she was prepared for such a candidate, she could never understand them. Why someone would want to stay on such a miserable planet was beyond her comprehension. The relocation program offered new opportunities, a chance to be a hero, and a place on the newest discovered planets being explored by LifeScape.
She felt a sense of pride as she thought of all they had accomplished and how lucky she was to be a part of it. LifeScape had saved humanity over a thousand years ago and now continued to expand the reach of mankind’s capabilities by discovering new inhabitable planets, and yet they were still met with resistance by many of the Earth-born. Not all, but many continued to cling to an ancient ideology, a bygone notion that the planet could be saved. It was dying. It had taken thousands of years, abuse, and several defeating meteor showers, but the planet was crumbling around them. Just as they knew it always would.
The elevator silently whooshed to a stop and Mazie jerked her attention to the hallway in front of her. Through the doors she could see a dreary walkway, in need of repairs. Lights flickered in desperation, trying to keep up with the over-crowded tower, casting a medieval glow along the walls. It had reached maximum capacity ten years ago, overrun by noncompliant residents, intent on defying the procreation laws. If they had accepted their fate and lived within the law, they’d have light and enough food and clean water. But again, some couldn’t release antiquated ideals about freedom. The smell of an overcrowded population was a slap in the face as she stepped through the doors. The lower towers relied on their underground shelter for warmth, which often lead to ventilation issues. Thus, the stink. A baby cried from somewhere within one of the pods, a bleak sound echoing its defeated existence.
She closed her recruit book, the blue screen disappearing as she pocketed the device. She set a gloved finger on the buzzer and waited. The moments that passed before he opened the door, she would later be able to recall with laser focus and detail. She had a tickle on the back of her neck where her uniform rubbed her skin. The lights flickered seven times then held for a moment. Someone dropped something on the floor several doors down and cussed about the mess. Then the pod door lifted open and Tallyn stood in front of her, a scowl beset upon his face. It was the face of a laborer, hardened and unafraid. Having seen the worst life had to offer he no longer had anything to fear. It was a common look, she saw it on nearly all her recruits, but none had ever been so stunning. None had ever made her breathe in sharply and forget her purpose for standing in front of their door.
“Don’t tell me. I’ve been recruited,” he said gruffly.
She held her stance and exhaled, maintaining her calm exterior as her training mantra repeated in her mind. An officer of the Recruitment Center must exhibit excellence at all times.
“Congratulations, Tallyn H. You have been selected to participate in the world’s most advantageous opportunity. To board the Pinnacle on its next accent to the Eighth Station in Sector Corona. I am your Recruiting Officer, Mazie K. and I look forward to guiding you through this process. May I come in?” She stumbled over the beginning but pulled it all together in the end. The delivery was of utmost importance in order to put the recruit at ease.
He stared at her, hard. “If I refuse to let you in, you will call your office. Is that right?” he asked annoyed.
“Yes, that is correct.”
“And if you call your office, three assistants will arrive and detain me. Is that right?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Well then I suppose you should come in and discuss this amazing opportunity.” He stepped aside and motioned begrudgingly for her to come in.
He sized her up once more, knowing he could easily overpower her and run, even with one bad hand. But there could be no escape, not really. Not as long as he had his ID chip implanted. They were mandatory for the health and safety of all law-abiding citizens. Only the worst of society’s cast-offs ever dared to remove them. A life without a chip meant a short and sad life unable to be assigned. No job, no home, no credits to live on. In that regard the chip was both life and death, depending on how one chose to look at it.
She was younger than him and had a lightness about her that only an officer carries. An existence without fear means no wrinkles. She was impressive and he would have bet everyone who ever met her felt the same. He knew she was well-trained, LifeScape doesn’t allow for freeloaders, but it was also the way she carried herself and stood with total confidence. It must be nice, never having to doubt your future.
Mazie took two steps forward then stopped, looking up at Tallyn expectantly. He was a solid foot taller than she was and he was doing his best to be difficult. She sighed internally realizing he wasn’t going to make her day as simple as she’d hoped. She stood toe to toe with him waiting patiently then cleared her throat in annoyance as he still refused to meet her gaze.
“Tallyn, if you could please look at me. I need ID confirmation.”
He grinned and finally looked up from the floor to meet her eyes. They were blue and light enough he could see her implant flash as it read his own. A tiny gold fleck, nearly imperceptible unless you were really looking for it.
Mazie’s pocket chirped and a polite voice said, “Confirmation. Recruit Tallyn H.”
“Thank you, Tallyn.” She stared for one second more, trying her best to do her own assessment of this recruit. Would he be easy? Was he already longing for the relief of space from this tiny prison? He looked like he wanted to run. He wasn’t afraid but he clearly wanted her gone. Likely hates change, she told herself as she walked into his one-room pod.
“I’m sure you have a larger set up than this,” he said. “You’re in one of those elite cube Towers they put the Officers in, aren’t you?” His tone was unimpressed.
“Yes. With a view of the farms. They’re quite beautiful in the…” she stopped herself. She wasn’t supposed to reveal personal information. It had just slipped out, as if she were some first-time officer in training. “So,” she said, recovering quickly. “What are some of your strengths? We need to make sure we have you correctly assigned to your new post.”
He smiled and furrowed his brow as if he were confused. “What does it matter? An assignment to the sky is a death sentence for someone like me. I only have one good hand and I’m not valuable enough for them to fix it. I’ll get put on monitoring or explore and report. Either way, I won’t last more than a few months. Does anyone?”
“We have many recruits who are living happily in their new stations. Fulfilling their dreams of exploring the outer reaches of the galaxies.”
“You don’t truly believe that. Do you?” he taunted.
Mazie opened her mouth to protest but her experience told her he wasn’t the type to change his mind. He wouldn’t be drinking any of the space juice she was selling today. Better to meet him on his level and gain his confidence.
“I understand. Yes, many recruits have died in the pursuit of knowledge. But they died heroes rather than sad, useless has-beens in need of repair.” She motioned to his left hand. “How is it? Have you regained any control?”
Tallyn looked at the floor, “I can do most things just fine. As long as—”
“I read you can no longer hold more than five pounds in your left hand due to the nature of your accident. Looks like most of the bones were pulverized.” She let that sink in, even though he knew better than anyone what happened to his hand and what it meant. “We can fix it for you. LifeScape has the ability to give you your hand back. You could even get an upgrade if you like. It takes one week, and you’ll be able to lift 200 pounds over your head when it’s done. How does that sound?”
He scowled again and shook his head. “You and I both know that will never happen. I won’t last long enough to get the procedure.”
“Tallyn? I would like to be honest with you. You have nothing left here. This planet is dying, it is done with you. You have been recruited and after you complete your training you will board the Pinnacle shuttle to the Eighth Station in the Corona Sector. You will do this regardless of your will to do so. I find the recruits who do best are the ones who accept their missions with pride and put forth the effort to impress their new employers at LifeScape.”
“They aren’t new. I’ve always been employed by LifeScape. They own everything.”
“That is correct. So, I’ll ask again. What are some of your strengths?”
She smiled, the way you might to a child with whom you are losing patience. “I’m glad you have a sense of humor. You’ll adjust better.”
“I’m pretty well adjusted here.”
“Tallyn? Strengths. Or you’ll end up cleaning the water closet evacuation bins.”
He nodded and finally sat down in defeat. He gestured for her to take a chair opposite him. “I used to repair the AI drones.”
“Good. That’s very helpful. Anything else?”
“I can operate any pilot sequence.”
Her brow furrowed in confusion. She didn’t like surprises. “I didn’t see in your file you used to be a pilot.”
“I wasn’t, not officially anyway. But I can fly almost anything.”
“That would mean that you received education and training outside of your designated assignment. Or else it would be in your ID. How did that happen?”
He shrugged. “Someone took the time to show me. I was interested when I was a kid.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me who gave you this priceless and unauthorized education?”
“So you can penalize them? No, I will not.”
Mazie squinted in annoyance. He was turning out to be more trouble than she had planned on. She selected a few options on her blue screen. “Fine. Anything else?”
“I really did used to juggle.”
She typed something else then pointedly pushed a button on her screen. “I will be sure to include that in your personality assessment. Perhaps it could help soften you.”
“It couldn’t hurt.”
“Agreed. Now, on to weaknesses. Anything we need to know that is imperative to your success as a trainee?”
“If I say a fear of heights can I stay?”