Deirdre M. Murphy
At first, it is just a soft rhythmic sound, like someone dropping three books on a table, one after another. Then it is repeated, three beats and a pause, three beats and a pause, a deliberate rhythm intruding on the quiet, continuing like an alien heartbeat, barely muffled by the aisles of books. The tired librarian looks up from the circle of numbers on the reference desk telephone, startled. She’s been answering urgent questions about fairies, and magic, and transformations all day, and has been wondering if the whole world has gone crazy.
Then another beat is added, this unmistakably a drum’s voice, a higher sound, unlike any that she has ever heard in the library. This beat is faster, staccato, calling feet to tap, to dance. Her feet hear the beat, start twitching. But this is a library—her library—and Marcia sets her feet to walking toward the disturbance instead. Her feet walk to the beat, safe, controlled steps, and she frowns, planning what to say.
Then another drum joins in, then a soft rustle, reminiscent of rain, and some kind of bell or cymbal. Marcia walks past dancing teenagers; their books forgotten on the tables. They do not notice her walking past, though on another day, the mere sight of her would have settled them down. Other patrons continue reading, but tap their feet or tap on the tables, adding to the noise. There is a feeling of exhilaration—of life—in the air.
Resolutely, Marcia smoothes her features, tries to compose what to say to stop this invasion of exuberant sound into her quiet halls. It is hard to think through the noise, hard not to feel as timid as she always feels everywhere else. But she concentrates, plans her words: This place is for reading, not dancing. This place is for quiet, not noise. This place is for books. Get out.
Marcia rounds a corner, and stops, her foot tapping to the beat, unheeded. Her planned speech is useless. She cannot tell these musicians to get out and leave the place to the books, for they are books. Nine improbably large books with impossible fold-out arms and legs—even the drums and cymbals seem to be a part of the books themselves, ready to fold neatly back inside when a page is turned. They have heads too, and they smile at her, and one winks, all the while keeping up the beat.
Marcia has a sense of surreality—as if this were a dream, though she knows it isn’t. Her dreams are quiet things, little adventures set in some book she has read, with herself cast as the dashing hero or, more rarely, being swept off her feet in the kind of romance she’d stopped hoping for in real life. She looks around—no movie cameras, and no team of actors to operate book-shaped muppets, either. So it isn’t some unsanctioned movie crew that has invaded her library, uninvited.
“Stop.” Her voice, pitched to carry over whispering and antics, is completely drowned out by the books’ drums. She takes a deep breath and mentally crosses a barrier she hadn’t even realized was there. “Stop!” she yells, breaking a taboo, being loud in a library for the first time in her life. She feels embarrassed, but also alive and powerful.
The books stop and look at her expectantly. The silence feels empty, which disorients Marcia. All her life, the silence in a library had felt full of dreams and stories, research and play. Now people are staring at her, and she gets stage fright, and forgets her lines. What should she say?
The silence stretches on; Marcia feels her face flush. Finally, Marcia takes a deep breath. “You—you have to stop.” She feels silly—they have stopped, and her voice is too loud. She lowers her voice to its usual quiet pitch. “I mean, you can’t start again.” Now, her voice is familiar, comforting, and she feels more confident. “This is a library. A place for people to read books.”
One of the books turns a page, and a soft voice like the sound of a turning page, says, “A place for people to experience books.” It is a quiet voice, a sound that would have fit comfortably in the library, before.
A book flips open on a table nearby, the pages opening out and unfolding both downward and upward into a tall presence with small drums. “We want you to experience us,” it says in a soft high voice, like the sound of pages being ruffled, and starts drumming.
“Wait!” Marcia protests.
A teenager in patched blue jeans and a papery-looking loose shirt walks up, nodding—his? her?—head in time to the music. Marcia looks at the outfit, which includes paper flowers in the long hair and embroidered flowers on the shirt and jeans, and decides it must be a girl. But the teen’s voice is low enough to re-establish uncertainty. “Let them play. Isn’t it beautiful?”
Marcia shakes her head firmly. “It isn’t proper. This is a library. Not a—a—” Two patrons are dancing in the aisles. “place for drummers,” she finishes lamely. What do you call a place where drummers go together to perform? She resolves that once she gets things settled, and gets back to her reference desk, she will look it up.
“But these are books.” The teen smiles at her.
“Excuse me. I have to make them stop.”
Why? The question echoes in Marcia’s head. She’s always been taught that library patrons should be quiet, silent if possible. But why? So people could concentrate? But she concentrates better with music, or a cat purring, or at least little everyday noises that reassure her she isn’t alone. But it is her job to enforce the rules, the standard of quiet in the library. “Because!”
“Oh, you poor thing, you’ve become trapped!”
“I’m not poor! I have a good job.”
But the books gather around, expressing sympathy and patting her on the back or shoulder. At least it isn’t as noisy as the drumming.
“Can you—” One of the smaller drummer books leans in to whisper to the teenager. “Can you free her, too?”
The teen smiles. “We can try.”
“Free me? What do you mean?”
“I think we should start with your clothes.”
Marcia looks down at her plain, blue dress, hose, and loafers. “These are my work clothes.”
“They tie you to your preconceptions. They limit you, just as much as Cinderella’s ash-stained rags.”
The teenager pulls a wand from her clothes somewhere, and waves it around her head, then toward Marcia. A sprinkling of sparkles, glints and stars and hearts and flowers, flow from it and down over Marcia. Her breath catches at the beauty, and she tries to gather some of it in her hand. It swirls around and becomes a bracelet of bright stones. There is weight around her neck—a matching necklace, with a peace-sign pendant. Several other necklaces, all bright-colored, bright enough to be called loud. Under them is a soft, flowing shirt the color of a summer sky, with bright butterflies embroidered on it. Below that is a long denim skirt, embroidered with hearts, peace-signs, and the words “make love not war”. And that is all she is wearing, no shoes, not even her underwear or support hose.
“How’s that?” The teenager smiles.
Marcia shakes her head, and realizes her hair is down, loose. “Where’s my clothes?”
“These are your clothes.”
“Change them back!”
“You can do that, if you really want to.”
“Perhaps I can explain.” The tall book points at the teenager. “This is the Ontological Fairy. Her magic can make you more you, but not less.”
The book with the big bass drum hits it enthusiastically. “He helps your outer self match your inner self, your dreams. If you have more than one aspect to your dreams, you can choose.” The book folds inward, swallowing the drum and becoming just a book on the table. Then it folds back out again. “I am a book, and I am a drummer. I can manifest as either, now.”
“Then you should go back to being a book.”
“But I wish to drum.” And it starts to drum, and the other books join in again.
Marcia’s foot starts to tap and she tries to yell over the noise, “Stop!”
The teenager leans toward her. “Is that what you really want?”
“Then change your clothes back.”
“Just wish for it. If your wish is true, it will happen.”
“So I could wish myself a millionaire?”
“Probably not. Money is—superficial. Impersonal.”
The teenager waves the wand, and glitter collects in Marcia’s hand. “Wish. Picture what you want, and wish. See what happens.”
Marcia closes her eyes and imagines her properly quiet library, her boring proper clothes, and a huge bank account, and wishes as hard as she can.
She opens them again. Not much has changed, she still wears the pretty, bright clothing, though now she has underwear. Then she looks again—her hair now reaches to her knees!
The teenager is waving her wand over a shelf of books. Most of them just sit there, but a few fold out, start to drum, or dance, or paint. Two stand there arguing passionately, unfolding charts and graphs. She? He?—The teenager looks up. “Interesting.”
“Are you a boy or a girl?” Marcia asks.
“I am potential.”
The word is like a key in Marcia’s brain, opening up possibilities. “You—you’re the reason for all the calls I got this morning.”
The teenager smiles and waves her wand sending sparkles to every corner of the library. “We are come to awaken the world. Once you are awake, it is up to you.”
And then the teenager vanishes.
Books crowd around Marcia. “Librarian, what do we do now?” one asks.
“I guess that’s up to each of us.” She realizes her foot is tapping, and she’s wanting to join in. She wishes for a drum and picks it up, finally admitting to herself that, for years, she’s wanted more out of life than a quiet library.
She looks around at the chaos and smiles. Under the circumstances, that’s a very good thing.
BIO: Deirdre Murphy is a writer, musician and artist who has spent most of her life squeezing her creative pursuits into whatever “free time” she could create. You can find more of her fiction, art, and poetry on her blog, Dandelyon’s Worlds. Recently, she has been awarded a Superior Scribbler Award for her blog, and won the artist category of the first Torn World Wiki Contest. She has been published in MZB’s Fantasy Magazine and has a story in the November issue of Crossed Genres. She also has poetry in the November issues of With Painted Words and Moon, an EMG-zine.
Deirdre’s flash fiction on her blog is listed here: http://wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com/64422.html and her ongoing serialized story, Fireborn, starts here: http://wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com/35869.html .
Deirdre lives in a Victorian house with purple trim, which presides over a garden hosting roses of many colors and a variety of herbs. She has three cats and an ever-changing number of tropical fish, and dabbles in taming feral kittens.