Holly Jahangiri, who is a real person, twice won the right to have her name in a story. She has since become one of my go-to characters, and I’ve formed a tradition of writing Holly stories on the Sundays of StoryADay May.
The Holly stories are set in the universe of FORCE OF HABIT, currently (as of 5/03/2015) out of print. FORCE OF HABIT is a humorous science fiction police procedural set mostly on the planet Llannonn, where people are clearly identified by their occupations and where courtesy is not just a good idea – it’s the law.
Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Librarian)
by Marian Allen
“A boat is no place for a book,” said Head Librarian Devra Langsam.
“I know,” said Assistant Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri, fiddling with the ends of her signature purple feather boa and wishing she could wrap it around a certain politician’s neck and pull rather vigorously. “But you know how Councilor Bella Yozgat is: once she gets an idea fixed in her head, shifting it is like pulling a pratty out of a sinkhole.”
Head Librarian Devra Langsam snickered. She so enjoyed her junior librarian’s rustic humor.
“Well, I know nothing about boats, nor about rivers, nor about Vernal Paddledays. That’s more your bailiwick, so I’m assigning you to escort her and see if you can keep that book out of trouble.”
Assistant Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri wondered, as she descended the staircase and traversed the hall to the male books’ dormitory, if her boa was long enough to encompass two necks at once, or if she would (if she were truly homicidally inclined) need to take the councilor and the head librarian by turns.
Holly worked in a Living Library, where the “books” were people who had memorized texts – in Holly’s library, the texts of older books from the exotic and distant planet of Earth.
Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) was one of those books. He was one of those books, written in first person, who chose to dress like the narrative character. He was, Holly judged, one of those books who was born to be the text he had memorized.
Councilor Bella Yozgat was more animated and pleasant than Holly had ever seen her. Since the councilor generally looked like somebody who had expected a sweet-round but had bitten into a tart-globe, this wasn’t saying much.
“Vernal Paddleday has always been my favorite festival,” she said, as Three Men In A Boat handed her into the skiff he had hired for the occasion.
“Mine, too,” said Holly, seating herself beside the councilor and watching dubiously as Three Men In A Boat untied the bow rope and took his place at the oars. “It looks like it’s a great many people’s favorite.” Not for the first time, she wondered why the head of the Llannonn For The Llannonninn Movement would want to go anywhere in any sort of conveyance with a book from Earth. It seemed whimsical. If there was one thing this elegant old xenophone next to her was not, it was whimsical. And, of all possible Earth books that featured messing about in boats, why had she specifically requested this one?
“And no wonder it’s your favorite,” said Three Men In A Boat, “charming as you both are in your boating costumes.”
The councilor preened a bit, and Holly had to admit that the councilor’s tunic, studded all over with crocheted flowers, was the height of fashion and good taste. Her own, with its modest giant lizard print, was simple but striking. Three Men In A Boat wore white trousers, a red blazer, and a straw hat with a green ribbon around it. He claimed it suited him.
Meandering River, which ran just north of Council City, was a riot of color and noise, as everyone who possibly could was out in a boat for a picnic or a bit of a paddle.
“Just up to the bend and back,” said Councilor Bella Yozgat, “and then lunch at the library. We should make good time, since we have Three Men rowing us.”
Holly and Three Men In A Boat laughed dutifully, just as if they hadn’t heard variations of this joke many, many, many times before.
“Off we go, then!” Three Men In A Boat stuck his oars in, pulled, lifted, and dumped a liter of heavily used water into each lady’s lap.
Holly gasped – for even a librarian may be taken by surprise – and Councilor Bella Yozgat shrieked as if the water had been molten lead.
“Sorry,” Three Men In A Boat stammered. “I’ll endeavor to be more careful.”
Holly had her doubts, and she was not surprised by the next load of water, this one bearing a five-pound fish.
Three Men In A Boat laughed nervously. “Well, there’s lunch,” he said.
Councilor Bella Yozgat screamed, “A fish! A fish! You’ve brought a fish into the boat! It’s biting us!”
“Oh, I say, surely not,” said the book. “At any rate, turnabout is fair play, what?”
“Take us back! Take us back!”
The book bowed in acquiescence, running the boat – rather gently, really – into another while his gaze was lowered.
“Sorry,” he said.
The councilor, stiff with fury, locked eyes with the man steering the boat they had bumped. “It’s an Earth book,” she said.
“Ah,” he said. He called to his companions, loudly enough for people five boats away to hear, “It’s an Earth book that’s ruining Vernal Paddleday for our councilor.”
So that’s it! The old devil! She had done this deliberately, just to have something to blame on the Earthlings!
Rising, as one would hope, to the occasion, Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) stood, removed his hat, laid it upon the seat, and leaped into the (really quite extensively used) water.
Holly raised her voice to a pitch that could call for – and achieve – dead silence in a crowd of full-throated auctioneers. “He jumped! He’s thrown himself overboard in remorse! Oh, forgive him! Forgive him, e’er he drowns!”
The eyes of all conveniently situated pleasure-boaters fixed themselves on the councilor. If she forgave him, the incident was closed. If she didn’t, at least one bystander was sure to bring her up before a judge on a charge of Discourtesy Overcompensation, a serious charge, indeed.
Through clenched teeth, the councilor said, “Come back. All is forgiven.”
The spectators cheered, and helped Three Men back into the boat, completing the ruin of the ladies’ shoes.
Councilor Bella Yozgat squelched her way home, not staying for her promised lunch.
The fish was delicious.
My GOD, those things are fun to write!
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Invent a festival or holiday.