Love, death, and books
My walk with a Librarian
and Author Danielle E. Shipley
I was privileged (?) today to walk as myself: a tall, blonde, suburban Texan woman; a new author looking for opportunities. I don’t know what to make of the character who has received me, but her invitation was so kind, so enticing. She said she wanted to offer me exclusive rights to publish my new work-in-progress.
Look, you’re an author. You know how it is, to be up in the early morning burning some outline onto the computer screen before hitting the shower and going to a “paying job”. You know what it’s like to want that one contract that can change everything; the one that brings royalties in excess of $2.98 per quarter? Look, I see your face, but don’t judge me harshly! I am new on the market, and I fell victim to a monster.
Please, give me a moment, my stomach hurts me badly . . . All right, here is what happened.
I got this email . . . it was interesting, but strange. It said that a new startup publishing company was looking for talent just like me. It said – okay, “she” said that I would be famous. My work would top the charts. Everything: the New York Times Best Seller List, the Pulitzer awards, you name it. She liked me. Fine, so I was impulsive. I called her, and then I bought a plane ticket on credit I shouldn’t have used. Don’t look at me like that, you would have done the same! This is crazy, I know it is crazy but . . . I think I just walked with a dragon.
A moment, please. Let me breathe.
I called, we talked, and three plane hops later, I was at her place. She was gracious, receptive, and so cordial. She offered me my favorite: green tea with lots of cream. She offered me nuts and cheeses, somehow anticipating that I could not eat sweets – she knew me. And she gushed over my talents. Never mind that I only began my career as a storyteller in 2013. She greeted me kindly when she opened her door, but there was something about her eyes that unsettled me. The way she looked at me was disturbing. It pierced my skull. My first impression was that she saw too much.
Escorting me into the living room of her lovely old house, she told me she was a bibliophile, and that for her, any and every book was magic. She never even mentioned her name, calling herself only, “the Librarian.” There was an awkward silence, and those deep-seeing eyes bored into me. I tried to keep things lively. “How long have you lived in this place?” I asked her.
She smiled pleasantly as she poured the steaming tea from its pretty china pot into matching cups. “I’ve been here five years now, give or take a season. It is a nice old place, isn’t it? Tends to look a bit haunted from the outside, on gloomy days, and don’t get me started on the nuisance heavy rains make of themselves in my basement. But otherwise, I’m quite comfortable here in my home-sweet-home.”
I wasn’t convinced. To be honest, the house looked even more haunted on the inside. “I am flattered that you called,” I volunteered, bringing up business. I was beginning to feel a bit queasy. “May I ask, how did you find me?”“Happened upon you online, dear. As an independent publisher, I like to keep abreast of other small presses’ lists,” she winked, “to see if they’ve discovered any authors I would love to steal away. I took note of some of your titles – China Doll in the Shades and Shadows paranormal anthology, Jilted River in The Toll of Another Bell fantasy collection, Clockwork Carousel… You paint a fine word-picture, Ginger C. Mann. Really, I count myself fortunate that you were able to make it out here from Texas.”
“Well, I admit that your email excited me,” I said, sounding obsequious, even to my own ears. “I am blown away that you have this kind of interest in my work. So many writers struggle to be read by anybody at all. But I have to ask you something important.” She peered at me over her own teacup, those eyes stabbing me again. I took a deep breath. “There was something odd about what you said. I love your attention to my stories, but I don’t usually give out teasers of my works in progress. They are either in my writers’ notebooks, or squirreled away on my hard drive. How did you discover any?”
Her brows drifted upward. “Works in prog—? Ah, the novel.” She breathes a laugh, a birdlike twitter with a smoky undertone, and smiles demurely into her teacup. “I suppose that was a bit of a tongue-slip on my part, wasn’t it? Careless of me.”
“No, it wasn’t a slip.” I spoke too plainly, and I knew it when she glowered, but I couldn’t help myself. My gut was beginning to wrench, and I did not know why. “I thought maybe you had hacked me or stolen copies of my work.” I tried to sound more reassuring. “I wasn’t too upset, because as I said, I just want people to read me. But the novel you mention, Clockwork Carousel – that isn’t even outlined in my computer yet. In fact, I haven’t told anyone about it. How do you know it?”
She set her cup down onto its saucer, her gaze gone sober. “Shall I be honest with you, Ginger? The truth of it is, I dearly love your work. And yes, I do happen to be privy to a little more information than you might have supposed. There is an explanation behind it, and I fully intend to tell you all. But first, I would count it a great gift if you were to accompany me to my personal library and sign a little something for me – after you’ve finished your tea, of course. No hurry at all.”
I set my own cup back on its saucer. The green tea was delicious, but my tricky stomach wouldn’t take another drop. “Sure,” I said, vaguely remembering a horror movie where I screamed at the characters, “No, don’t go through that door!” To be honest, I was curious. I followed her like a lemming, to an old door that opened into her basement. Inside, down the stairs, through another door, and into paradise.
Before me was a wonderland. Stacks and stacks of books rose from floor to ceiling, arching over a crackling fireplace, covering the ample space of her old basement room. She beamed over them, fawning. Her eyes misted as she caressed the spines, one row at a time. “My beautiful books,” she purred. “We spend hours here, just them and me.”
My jaw dropped at the shelves, and a small detail caught my eye. “Your books are astonishing. But tell me, why are some of the spines marked with silver, and others with gold?”
“A quirk of the collection, dear,” she said, running a reverent finger down the spine of a book on the fireplace mantel. “A mark of the magic.”
Magic? My heart pounded.
She pulled a book down, the firelight glinting off the future date embossed in curlicues of gold, along with its title – Clockwork Carousel by Ginger C. Mann. She turned, handing the book over, her eyes depthless and all but aglow. Holding it in my hand, I turned, wandering the rows of shelves. I stopped, looked up, and gasped.
There, in front of my eyes, I saw my name on an entire shelf of books. Every title was embossed in silver. “But,” I gaped like a hooked fish, “these are not published either. In fact, I had forgotten them.” This time it was my eyes gone misty. There was a book of songs, and next to it a book of poems. Symphony compositions, essays, stories, a novel only half sketched a decade ago. Articles and adventures in fiction I neither finished nor submitted, for lack of nerve. My eyes locked with the Librarian’s, my breath came harder. My gut churned.
“You have entered a sacred place, Ms. Mann,” she intoned, “and have been granted a matchless privilege. As we have agreed it is the time for honesty, know me for what I truly am: not a publisher of books, but the keeper of books unwritten, such as the treasure in your hands. Take your time with it, Ginger. Read the whole book through, if you wish. Revel in it, for it will never be yours to read again. But before you start . . .” She reached for the mantel again, this time drawing forth a piece of parchment-like paper and a quilled pen. “Promise me you will never finish Clockwork Carousel. Swear it in ink.”
My heart would explode soon, I felt it. My stomach was inside out already. I felt my pulse in my ears, like an animal trapped in a lure. “You mean I have to sign my name, and promise not to finish my book? Why?”
The bookkeeper’s face hardened. “Only then will you live. To write the book after holding the story complete is death.” As I stared at her, trembling, she affected an expression of concern. “And I would really rather that not have to happen, wouldn’t you? So please, do the sensible thing, Ginger. Choose life.”
Fright addled my brain, but I tried to be clever. “Wait, what if I sign, but break my word? How will you stop me?” I turned around, blocking those eyes from my view, just for a minute. While I considered my options, I could have sworn . . . something hot, like a draft of stinging air, hit my back.I wheeled, and the Librarian laughed again – a deeper chuckle; the fire behind the smoky rasp more evident. I thought I saw a giant, dripping fang. Admittedly, I was out of sorts, but it was as real as you are, sitting here at this bus stop with me. “I?” she said. “I won’t have to do a thing, dear. The magic will take care of you. The Library and I look after our own. Live or die as you see fit, but you will, not, take, my, books, from, ME!” The room’s air fairly trembled with her ascending roar.
Fright finally overtaking me, I blithered like a mad woman. “You are not human!” I stammered at her. “No human does this. What kind of creature are you?”
The Librarian’s smile returned, cold-blooded and scorching. Her eyes gleamed hellish red in the fire’s glow as her nails dug like talons into my unfinished novel’s cover. Her teeth flashed, fang-sharp. In the shadows between the flickering flames, a pair of scaly wings seemed to rise dark above her. “Would you die to find out?” she hissed.
That was it for me. I bolted – took the stairs three at a time and ran out of that house, and I did not stop until I got here. Now, I’m telling my tale to you, Dr. Young – Elizabeth, did you say your name is? Wait, give me a minute. I honestly think I am dying. My hands are ice, and I cannot feel my gut anymore. Let me just lean on you for a moment. Will you tell the others about her? Please, I know you are a writer. I know you can get the word out. Authors need to know that kind of thing is guarding their unfinished work. Can you help them?
A drink of water, yes, thank you, that’s what I need. From your flask? I don’t care, Dr. Young, but you are so kind . . . . Perhaps you are both author and healer. I think I feel a little better now.
This walk was co-authored with Danielle E. Shipley
Danielle E. Shipley’s first novelettes told the everyday misadventures of wacky kids like herself. . . . Or so she thought. Unbeknownst to them all, half of her characters were actually closeted elves, dwarves, fairies, or some combination thereof. When it all came to light, Danielle did the sensible thing: packed up and moved to Fantasy Land, where daily rent is the low, low price of her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, firstborn child, sanity, and words; lots of them. She’s also been known to spend short bursts of time in the real-life Chicago area with the parents who home schooled her and the two little sisters who keep her humble. Website| Blog| Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads