Julie of Story A Day suggests we start a story at the end and flash back to the story. That movie, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? started with a young man shooting a young woman he appears to be deep friends with in the head, then flashes back to why.
Sundays of May are Holly and the Living Books day on my blog, so this is one of theirs. This year, I’ve been working on scenes to insert into my currently out-of-print science fiction cop farce, FORCE OF HABIT; this exercise won’t end up in the book, not in this specific form, at least.
Holly’s Miscreant Book
by Marian Allen
And that was when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn punched Moby Dick in the belly.
The trouble had started a couple of years before. Well, the basis for the trouble started earlier than that, but Huck struck the blow for us all.
I’m The Life of Pi, Pi for short. I had another name, of course, before I became a Living Book, but it doesn’t matter. I worked as a bellboy at Jok’rel’s Travelers’ Rest Inn in Council City, a favorite for Earth tourists to Llannonn. One of them left behind an actual paper copy of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. By the time I had read it three times, I realized I didn’t need to read it again: I had memorized it.
It charmed me utterly, but my co-workers mocked me when I wanted to recite chunks of it on break or at lunch.
“You sound like one of those Living Books!” one of them said, only half playfully tossing a mikka nut across the table at me.
“Yeah,” said another. “Why don’t you just join a Living Library?”
So I did. The main branch, under the directorship of Head Librarian Devra Langsam and Assistant Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri. We were all English language (one of the many tongues spoken on that very alien planet, Earth), of mixed times and cultures.
That’s when I met Moby Dick. He was a large man, which seemed appropriate, given the size of his book, and excessively proud. Considering the length and complexity of his text, we respected his pride and either avoided him or showed him due deference.
Then Genesis Selinsky, who had been a library patron since she toddled into the cool dimness of the building one hot day, grubby and unsupervised, joined us. She had become a voracious reader, sometimes checking out and returning three books a day (usually manipulating each of us into buying her mintmint and joba biscuits). She had actually learned to read English, which few Llannonninn did unless they had to work with Earthlings, so she could read books no one had memorized yet.
Before we knew it, she was of legal age to sign contracts and had become one of us, her name now being The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
She didn’t hesitate to square off with Moby Dick. “So you’re long and complicated,” she would say to him. “There’s a book in one of the branch libraries called Ulysses. He’s long and complicated, too, but you never see him throwing his weight around. I wish he was here; he’d take you down a peg!”
So I was a bit surprised when the librarians permitted both Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be checked out by the same patron at the same time. He also chose me, The African Queen, and Kon-Tiki, appropriate books to take on a cruise.
The voyage out was uneventful; the patron chose to listen to Moby Dick first, so the rest of us had nothing to do but crew the ship. But, once the patron reached a beautiful tropical island, he decided to stay and send us back with the ship. Although he offered to buy out our contracts if wanted to stay, it wasn’t in any of us, and we all chose to go home.
As Huck said, “Lucky for him, none of us is Lord of the Flies.”
Once on the sea, though, we were taken with the adventure. When Huck (while Moby Dick was asleep) suggested we all take unpaid leave and go off to be pirates for a week or two, it actually seemed like a good idea.
And who was on the first ship we captured? Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri and the Chief District Investigator of Council City. We should have sent word of our plan; no librarian would allow her books to go missing without moving heaven and Llannonn to find them.
We were ready and willing to chuck the adventure and go back to the library when we were taken by real pirates.
One night, the pirate king took us all to a grog shop, where the proprietress gave him free drinks in exchange for letting us recite excerpts. Holly — or it might have been one of our fellow captives, whom everyone called Heroine Bel Schuster — had arranged our escape.
We were just on the verge of freedom when Moby Dick suddenly said, “No! No! Back to dry land? Back to the small encompassment of streets, houses, shops? To dust and pavement, where the wind brings only the scents of other people’s harried, desiccated lives? Where you stand flat and low, nothing pitching underfoot, never swarming high over the tossing deck to cling to rope and spar, scanning the — ”
“Yes,” said Holly. “Yes. That.”
“No!” said Moby Dick. He turned his head toward the front of the building, where the pirate king waited for us in vain. He drew breath, as if to cry out, bringing the king’s wrath down on us all.
Huck punched him in the belly.
All the air went out of him and he doubled over. There is surprising power in that little Book.
“Do we bring him with us?” asked Kon-Tiki.
Holly said, “No.” She bent over and laid a hand on his shoulder. “No Book should serve unwillingly. If you want to stay, stay. You can be the first volume of a branch library here.”
Still breathless, Moby Dick reached out a trembling hand and hooked thumbs with Holly in agreement.
So we escaped, and none of us looked back.