Contest winner: “Clash of the Books”
Every year we run a contest celebrating National Library Week, asking readers to talk about their love for libraries. This year I posed the challenge of explaining what “library” means, to someone like a Martian—and said that there would be extra points if the essay/poem/etc mentioned Kate Martinelli, whose 20th anniversary 2013 is.
I loved all your entries, which were without exception heartfelt, affectionate, appreciative expressions of Library Love. But I only had one prize—a set of all five Martinelli novels—and so I had to choose one. And here it is: Sabrina Flynn’s “Clash of the Books.”
Because it’s a nice and long, I’ve divided it into four episodes, which you can read today, tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday. After that, I’ll put a pdf of the entire story on the web site for a while, with Sabrina’s blessing.
Enjoy—and as you read, you can be planning your own entry into next year’s Library contest, when Mary Russell turns 20!
Clash of the Books
by Sabrina Flynn
With the editorial eye of Merrily the (presently retired) Librarian
A Presence drifted beside the moon, puzzling over the unknown. Its thoughts spiraled along the stars, plunging down a luminescent waterfall. Far below, the starlight pooled, gathering around a solid stone building. It seemed a cage.
The Presence seeped through the cracks in the stone. Its thoughts explored the prisoners who stood upright in dark holding cells. Their spines were straight, one pressing against the next in cold, multitiered prison blocks. The hush was tangible, a silence that could be heard, filled with a million minds whispering of their lives before imprisonment. This could not be endured. A Savior descended, bearing the key to their freedom. Liberation was nigh.
A curly-haired woman sat at her desk. She had remained after hours to work, but in actuality, she was reading, surrounded by a warm pool of light. The lapel of her stylish coat bore a tag, proclaiming her as Merrily the Librarian. She turned a page in her book, absorbed in a world of detectives and murder.
An irritating light niggled at the edges of her vision. The intrusion grew persistent, growing brighter until it blurred the pages. Merrily glanced up, severing the connection between mind and word.
A figure approached. Man or woman, she did not know, human or animal, she could not say. Its skin glowed like sun through parchment, its veins were elegant letters that swirled beneath the light, from runes to hieroglyphs, of every language ever spoken and those yet born.
Merrily’s mouth fell open. The book slipped from her numb fingertips, tumbling onto the floor. The being of light extended an arm, long fingers uncurled, revealing an inky cube in the palm of its ever changing hand. Letters drifted into the space between librarian and figure, shifting to form words, rearranging into comprehension.
I have come to free the prisoners. Do not interfere, Jailer, for I am their Savior.
Merrily recovered the use of her legs, but not her lips. She bolted to her feet, knocking a cart of books over, scattering their bindings across the floor.
The Savior placed the inky cube on the desk, and tapped its top with a long finger that ended with a dot. The cube cracked into a thousand splintering lines of molten gold.
Pages fluttered, shelves shook, the library shuddered. Letters rose from the pages of print with tornado like force. Merrily retreated from the alphabetic cyclone, tripped over the scattered books, and fell to the floor.
The churning letters took shape over the open book she had been reading. Two figures emerged from The Art of Detection. One was tall and lean and decidedly male. The other was short and athletic and most assuredly female.
“What the devil?” the first demanded. Undaunted by the winds, he swept a steely gaze over the cavernous stacks, and finally pinned the Savior with steadfast skepticism. Sherlock Holmes concluded that someone had introduced a hallucinatory element into his champagne at the dance hall.
Kate Martinelli spotted an immediate threat, placed herself between the terrified woman on the floor and the towering lunatic of light, and drew her gun.
“Inspector Martinelli, SFPD. Put your hands up!”
The figure did not move. Holmes glanced between policewoman and illusion, and calmly moved to assist the fallen librarian to her feet.
Wind battered the three. A raven flew from between the pages of another book, croaking, “Nevermore!” A herald of chaos followed by a mélange of fiction.
Out stepped the Red Death in all his glorious tatters. The armies of Agincourt washed over the main floor like a ferocious tide. Goblins swarmed, and hobbits scattered. A pillar of shadow and flame raged between the stacks, and a grey-bearded man in pointy hat skidded to a stop.
“Run, you fools!”
(Tomorrow: Part II, in which Mr Darcy is murdered and Inspector Kate Martinelli appreciates Miss Mary Russell.)