For those who don’t know, years and years ago, I wrote a novel (currently out of print) set on Llannonn, a planet where courtesy is literally the law. When I went on a blog book tour for the novel, I ran a contest for naming a character in a short story set in the same world. Fellow writer Holly Jahangiri (the real one) was such a determined contestant, I named a character after her, too. That character commandeered the story, and I’ve been writing about her ever since.
I write a Holly story on the Sundays of Story A Day May.
Holly Jahangiri (the fictional one) becomes, is, and retires as a Librarian at a library for living books. It seems that somebody on Llannonn read Fahrenheit 451 and decided a library of people who recite books they’ve memorized was a great idea. Typically for Llannonn, they officialized it. Becoming a living book is now a respectable career, provided you can get a gig in a library.
And now I give you:
The Luck of the Squammish
Even librarians were children once, and so it was with Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri.
When she was a barefoot girl, she spent many happy Hot Season hours on her family’s farm, hoeing the garbleroots, collecting shell-encased embryos from the featherdragons, and bringing the pratties in from the fields.
She also did a fair amount of goofing off, but that was expected from dewy-eyed youth, and drew neither disapprobation nor censure.
One day, she was wandering the fields and woods, keeping a half-watch out for edible bits and bobs to take back to the farmhouse as an threadbare excuse. She stopped, stunned and wary, having come upon a stump in a small clearing at the border between woods and field, once which had never been there before.
The stump was surrounded by a lush bank of three-leaf clovers. Holly had spent hours searching through fields of clover, looking for one — just one — with three leaves. Like most children, she had picked ordinary four-leaf clover and pulled one off, pretending she had found a lucky three-leaf, but never a real one had she found. And now, this!
Her blood ran cold, for she was not a hardened librarian yet, but only a child.
Her mam’s mam had told her of them: Creatures so unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, you can’t quite even see them because your brain can’t interpret the signals your eyes send it. In the old days, folk thought they were fantasy creatures, but the squammish didn’t stop appearing when folk stopped believing in them. Still, no one had ever caught one for study or found one dead, so nothing was known of them, save that they were real. Probably. In a way.
Either squammish sightings were rare, or most people who saw one kept it to themselves, but cryptobiologists (as most children are, at some point) knew that they lived in small clearings filled with some sort of habitation and some sort of vegetation, and that the clearings moved. This glen, for example, wouldn’t be here tomorrow. It might disappear from this spot at any second.
Holly hardly dared blink.
She knew she saw the squammish when something that made her eyes water and her mind say, No. Nope. Uh-uh. Nothing there, boss. I don’t see a thing., came over the edge of the stump and paused on the top, as if it were looking back at her.
She heard a small voice in her mind, like a tickle in her throat:
“I’m perishing for a fungus. Why I didn’t tell the landscaper I wanted fungi, I’ll never know. We live and learn, right?”
“Absolutely,” said Holly.
“Give me one,” said the voice, “and I’ll tell your future.”
Holly wasn’t altogether certain she wanted to know. She had learned a lot about people’s futures by listening to their complaints about their present, and reckoned she’d worry about the future when it was past. Plus, if this creature could tell the future, why hadn’t it told the landscaper it would want fungi?
She certainly wasn’t going to say any of that out loud to something no one knew anything much about, though.
She reached into the pocket of her purple pinafore and drew forth a browncap cluster, gingerly placing it atop the stump, as far from the squammish as she could.
The unseeable creature pounced on the cluster, sending a jolt of delight through Holly’s mind.
“Spores!” it cried. “I can plant my own! Some to eat and some to plant! Some to eat and some to plant!”
Holly took a slow step backward.
“Wait!” the voice commanded. “I haven’t paid you yet.” The voice became a sharp snarl and it set a small fire in her brain. “Are you trying to put me in your debt?”
“No, indeed,” she said, freezing in place.
“Well, then,” said the creature. “Tell me what you love most in the world, other than your family.”
“Stories,” said Holly, without hesitation.
“People who like stories.”
“Telling people who like stories what to do.”
“Well, then,” said the voice in her brain, “I know your future. You will be a librarian.”
“A what?” for libraries were unknown in the provinces. Wandering storytellers, yes, but libraries, no.
“A library,” said the squammish, forever sealing Holly’s fate, “is like a house full of storytellers with nothing to do all day but tell their stories to anybody who wants to hear them.”
Although Holly was well acquainted with such a place — it was called “our house when the old folks come to visit” — she knew the squammish meant something very different. The concept thrilled her to her core.
“Thank you,” she breathed, as if the squammish had granted her dearest wish, rather than simply predicting her life’s inevitable course.
The next micro-instant, the glen was gone, leaving Holly a browncap cluster the poorer but with a passionate longing for a career she hadn’t, before now, known existed.
Would she tell anyone of this encounter? No. Nobody would believe her. She hardly believed it, herself.
Just as she turned away, she happened to glance down. She picked up what she found there.
No, she wouldn’t tell anybody about this. The future the squammish had predicted seemed too wonderful to be true. But she would always keep this token of their meeting: a single perfect three-leaf clover.
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: A good luck charm.