The first Holly Jahangiri story I ever wrote, “By the Book”, is out of print, but I’m fixing that. This week, I took it to the Southern Indiana Writers critique group and submitted it for our upcoming anthology, HERDING CATS AND OTHER ALIEN CREATURES. They accepted it, conditional upon my making the suggested improvements, so I’m making ’em.
Some time ago, I offered naming rights in a story based on my out of print sf/cop/farce, FORCE OF HABIT. Karen Overturf, wife of Jim Overturf, author of the Kurt Maxxon racing mysteries, actually won. But another fellow writer named Holly Jahangiri waxed so enthusiastic about the prize, I included — nay, ended up featuring — her.
Holly (at the time of this story, Assistant Head Librarian) works in a Living Library. Natives of the planet Llannonn (who look just like humans) memorize Terran (Earth) texts and recite them on request. Some identify so strongly with their narrative voices they dress like their main characters and take on some of their personality attributes.
In this story, one of the books has been late, but has now turned up, a bit the worse for wear.
Get That Hat!
excerpt from “By the Book”
by Marian Allen
originally published electronically by Echelon Press
Repairs, in a living library, was a combination infirmary, costumery and media center. It was where books went if they were ill or injured (up until now, always by accident), when they needed their period native Terran costumes altered, mended or replaced, and to refresh their memories on their texts.
Devra explained this to Maxxon and Darzin, while Holly provided what comfort she could to the distraught parlormaid by the traditional Llannonninn method of patting her on the shoulder and murmuring, “There, there.”
The physician/costumer/media specialist, a tall, slim competent genius with a blue mohawk. She went by the professional name Saradeeh. No one knew what her birth name was. She was mysterious without being creepy.
The book sitting on the exam table before her was a young man of dark coloring and a somewhat vacant look.
Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia sobbed when she saw him and pattered across the room to leap onto the table and into his arms.
“Damage report,” said the head librarian. “I’m speaking to you, Repairperson Saradeeh, since Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) appears to be occupied.”
Tambar Miznalia tore herself away only long enough to turn her head and sniff. And she meant it to sting.
Repairperson Saradeeh huffed and tossed her sewing kit aside. “Nothing serious. He’s been in a bit of a scuffle. Lost a button, which I was going to sew back on, but it appears I’ll have to do an emergency parlormaidectomy before that happens. Also seems to have lost his hat, a straw boater with a red hatband, imported regardless of cost from the Susquehana Hat Company.”
“Chap knocked it off,” said Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).
“Oh,” said Head Librarian Devra Langsam, with the industrial-strength sarcasm available only by prescription for librarians, “did you notice there are other people in the room?”
“I say,” said the injured book.
One doesn’t become Head Librarian by missing one’s chances. Before the book’s attention could be reclaimed by his beloved, Devra drove to the heart of the matter. “What happened to you?”
“I was on my way to the client. On foot, you know. It isn’t far, and I fancy walking is good for me. Not too much walking, naturally. I knew a chap once, cousin of a friend of mine, who hurt himself quite badly walking too–”
“You were on your way to the client,” said Devra, with a firmness of purpose that was not to be denied.
“Yes. And these two chaps stepped out of an alley and flanked me. Next thing I knew, I was jolly well in the alley, you know, and one of the chaps had knocked my hat off. ‘I say!’ I said. That had no effect on them, though. It was as if I hadn’t spoken. I wonder if they were deaf? No, no, they weren’t, and I’ll tell you how I know: One of them said, ‘Get that hat,’ and the other one bent down to get it.”
And so on.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: If you were a Living Book, who (or what) would you want to be?