Sorry I’m so late. I’ve been trying to write in the hotel at this convention. First, the breakfast room was filled with a fabulous and highly entertaining baseball team. Then, my co-attendees came down to keep me company. Then, when I retreated to the room to get some quiet, my co-attendees followed me.
So, if words are missing or transposed, or the syntax is garbled, BLAME OTHER PEOPLE.
Holly Takes the Chair
Assistant Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri entered her office, expecting the usual day of riding herd on the library’s resident Living Books. These were citizens of her planet, Llannonn, who had become so enamoured of writings from the alien planet Earth–specifically those written or translated into the Earth language of English, they had memorized an entire book.
On this morning, however, something was different. Specifically, everything personal had been removed. Her holograms of home and family, the decorative tangle of scentflower vines that sat at the front of her desk, the stuffed pratty given to her by a certain Chief District Investigator with the Council City Policing Force–all were gone.
As she stood, stunned, in the doorway, she sensed a presence behind her. The eloquent, haughty sniff of the presence revealed it as Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia.
“I wasn’t finished,” the Parlourmaid said, accusingly. “You might as well come along to Head Librarian Devra Langsam’s office.”
The Parlourmaid bobbed the slightest of all possible curtsies, something she had never done to Holly before.
The Head Librarian’s office was now bedecked with Holly’s personal effects, with all of its accustomed accoutrements removed.
Devra Langsam stepped aside from her desk and said, “We’ve often talked about my retirement. I believe you’re ready to take my place.”
Holly bowed her head, but eyed the garden view through the corner office’s windows. “I hope
to prove worthy,” she said, not even trying to keep the glee out of her voice.
Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia sniffed appreciatively, and Former Head Librarian Devra Langsam smiled a bit grimly.
“Before we call this done,” the retiring Librarian said, “I need to pass the torch.”
Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia scurried out of the office, her footsteps pattering up the hall stairs and down the upper hall until a slammed door and clicked lock from the room overhead marked her having taken an unprecedented refuge.
Devra said, “She doesn’t know what I’m about to reveal to you. She only knows it’s for Head Librarians only.” In a sepulchral voice, she said, “Come.”
Holly followed her former superior down the stairs, past the parlour, past the elaborate basement rooms where the Living Books played table tennis and shuffleboard, into the sub-basement, where Cook kept her fermented vegetables. In a dark corner, Devra pressed the center of a pimpernickle flower carved into the wainscotting, and a rack of shelving swung aside, revealing a metal door.
The retiree drew a large key from a pocket of her tunic and, with a solomn look at her replacement, unlocked the door and swung it wide on silent hinges.
She reached inside and lifted a sort of club from a wall-fixed holder. She scraped the red tip of it against the rough wall beyond the door, and the tip of the club burst into flame.
“Follow me,” she said. “And close the door as you come.”
Holly’s flesh crept as the trailed the flickering light down the corridor and around a corner. There, Devra stopped before another metal door, this one with a covered grating at eye level.
Devra knocked, listened, opened the grating and peered through. She motioned to Holly and stepped aside so Holly could look through.
The room appeared to be a cozily appointed residence, with a brightly patterened spread on the bed, floral wallpaper, and a comfy-looking armchair. The largest, oldest man Holly had ever seen sat in the chair, blue eyes staring vacantly.
“Good morning, Humor,” Devra called.
The man focused on Holly’s peering face, smiled sweetly, and said, “Gotta match? I do–my butt and your face.”
Holly gasped and retreated to the far side of the corridor, blood draining from her face and strength leaving her legs.
“What did he say?”
Devra nodded. Again, she called, “How are you this morning, Humor?”
The deep, soft voice beyond the door said, “Your mama is so fat, when she suns herself on the beach, Greenpeace rolls her back into the water.”
Holly whispered, “What does that even mean?”
“Nobody knows,” said Devra. She closed the grating. “You’ve just met the Secret of the Library. Nobody knows his real name. All we know is that he somehow got hold of and memorized one of the earliest Earth texts ever to come to Llannonn: The Big Book of Insult Humor.”
“Insult humor? That sounds as if it treated discourtesy as a joke!”
“Exactly. The entire book was one of discourteous remarks, apparently considered amusing by the people of Earth.”
Holly shook her head. “No wonder it took so long to establish diplomatic relations with them.”
“They are an alien culture,” Devra agreed. “At any rate, Humor hung out at Jok’rel’s Traveler’s Rest Inn, where Earth visitors were confined while our Diplomatic Corps struggled to educate them in the ways of civilization, reciting himself to Earthlings for free drinks. Then he tried reciting himself to a Llannonninn prattyball team, and was found unconscious in the alley three blocks away. The Policing Force investigated, and determined he had nobody to blame but himself. The prattyball team considered themselves satisfied, so he was going to be released with a strong warning, but, when he woke, he could say nothing but to repeat bits of his text.”
“Insults? In public?” Holly grasped the ends of her trademark purple feather boa as if they were ropes that could pull her to safety.
“Exactly. This library was nothing but a dream of our founder, Imogene Phad. She accepted custody of him, and he’s been in that room in this basement since the original library was nothing but the back left bedroom in First Librarian Phad’s townhouse. His existence is only known by the Chief District Investigator of Council City and his or her superiors on the force and the Head Librarian. Not even the Grand Council is aware of him. My predecessor passed responsibility for him to me.” She handed the flaming club to Holly. “And now I pass the torch to you.”
Holly and her former superior returned to Holly’s new office, where they banged on the ceiling with umbrellas until Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia came down and was dispatched to tell Cook to bake a farewell cake and brew some celebratory tea.
Chief District Investigator Pel Darzin, having been alerted to the occasion by (Then) Head Librarian Devra Langsam, joined the party. An enthusiastic young Library patron, studying to become The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but currently known by her civilian name of Genesis Selinsky, proposed toasts to Devra’s happy retirement and to Holly’s successful tenure.
Holly and Darzin affected to be light-hearted, but their eyes occassionally met, and the understanding passed between them that Holly had shouldered a heavier burden than she had expected.
It’s true, Holly said to herself. With great books comes great responsibility.
This is part of Story A Day May.
MY PROMPT TODAY: Holly Jahangiri, a book well guarded