The Adventures of Marian, the slightly aggressive Librarian, #5 :
Love and Peril Behind the Check-out Counter
Marian locked all the doors. Henny said she intended to stay a little while, until she felt able to drive. Marian, watching her closely, saw her look furtively toward the computer. Probably she wanted to say goodnight to it. And Marian certainly didn’t want to see that.
“I forgot to ask you,” Henny said as Marian was putting on her coat, “how things are going for Arthur.”
Marian sighed. “It doesn’t look good. His mother is getting very insistent. Did I tell you she’s trying to convince him his father is in the hospital? I told him she probably just made it up to get him to come back home, but he believes her.”
“I’m sorry,” Henny said, and she looked as if she actually meant it. “I know how well you and Arthur get along.”
Marian shook her head. “You have no idea.” She heaved a big sigh and left, pulling the doors shut behind her and testing them to make sure they were locked.
Henny turned and looked at the computer sitting on the table next to the piles of books. It was waiting there. Patiently, like a creampuff sits and looks at you when you’re on a diet.
She changed all the dates in the sticker guns so they’d be correct for the next day. She ran the circulation report from the primary computer, and then shut it off. She thought about shelving all the returns on the cart, and then shook her head. She was being a coward.
She knew if she sat down at the computer tonight, something would happen. When. When she sat down at the computer. She could put it off for a while, but not forever.
She thought she was probably having a nervous breakdown; logically, she knew there couldn’t be a person inside the computer, that was just silly. But she was also quite sure there was……..And he wanted something from her.
She tried to avoid that computer completely after her little “event” , but it was too difficult to do her work without it. Then she thought she could handle her hallucinations. They can’t upset you if you know they’re not real, right?
The messages she saw on her screen as she worked couldn’t be ignored. He told her things she couldn’t even admit to herself she wanted to hear. Everyday, at some point, Follett would go blank, and his words would appear on the screen. He’d say things that made her face hot, made her pulse speed up, made her fingers tremble, and tears start into her eyes; and then he’d say,
help me help me
Her hands were shaking as she turned off all the lights. She went to the refrigerator and had a big drink of her Dr. Pepper. She wished she had something a little stronger…..like a Mountain Dew. She thought she might need it.
Tonight was the night. She was ready. The fracas with the firemen wasn’t the reason for her decision, but it made her think. Her whole life was here in this library; she was spending her days and months and years typing, typing, typing, and for what? So some idiot with a big hose could come along and get her wet, and then dribble all over her carpet on the way out. Really, what a waste of time.
And at her age, she ought to be able to do a few things that she wanted to do. If she got to be eighty years old, and changed her mind, decided she was sorry she hadn’t tried things or enjoyed things because of what people might think….it would be too late, wouldn’t it?
So even if it meant she was a total lunatic, she was ready…….but still scared, a little. He’d scared her out of her wits before, pulling that knife out of the air, and pricking her with it, hurting her, smiling……….
She was going to let him do it again, if he wanted. Because of the other….before he frightened her…..
Yes, whoever you are, you’re right about me, she thought. I want it, too.
She sat down. The screen glowed. She touched the keyboard.
how do you know it isn’t somebody else?
ok, it’s me
i’ve missed you
Yeah, yeah, she’d heard that before. She was smart enough to know that was probably a ploy to get her to help him……but she decided to pretend it was true……just because she wanted it to be true.
what’s your name?
Sid. A nice Christian name. And what does one talk about with a nonexistent computer dwelling spirit named Sid? Nothing courteous came to mind.
what happened? you stopped in the middle of a word
a fire the fire department came
Idiots, idiots, idiots, she thought. And then she typed it.
they ruined four hundred books i wanted to kill them
She hadn’t meant to type that. If she had been speaking, she would have said it just slipped out. But now that it was said, she realized it was true. For a second, she’d wanted to kill one of the idiots with the hose.
She stopped and laughed. Did you? he asked. Just as if she might have.
i hit one of them
two I guess
with your hand?
with a wastebasket.
He wanted to know everything. He wanted to know the color of the wastebasket (gray) and if it was dented afterward, what kind of sound it made against the firemen’s helmets. The presence or absence of blood, the cries of pain, or lack thereof; everything. Then he was silent for a few minutes. She was afraid he was done for the evening.
i have something for you
run your screensaver
a small gift
She brought up the control panel, selected a screensaver at random, and pushed preview. First there was nothing but the squiggly lines rotating around an invisible axis, and then……there he was.
As beautiful as she remembered him. Flawless. Looking just past Henny’s ear.
As she watched, he smiled and cocked his head to the side. His hands moved to the knot of his tie. The fingers moved, and then the tie was off his neck and in his hand; and then it disappeared. The fingers moved again, and shirt buttons disappeared. The front of his shirt came open by itself, slid off one shoulder, then the other. Slid down his arms and was gone.
His body was as flawless as his face. When she’d been with him that other time, she’d been too caught up in what he was doing to her to pay close attention to his skin. It looked so smooth; so tempting. Her fingers touched the screen.
His hands moved to the waistband of his trousers.
Henny pushed the mouse and Sid disappeared with the screensaver.
Sometimes she frightened herself. She hadn’t realized till just now that she had absolutely no sense of decency left whatever. None. She hadn’t stopped the screensaver because she didn’t want to see what was coming next…..she stopped it because she did, very much, want to see it. If she continued on this course….and stopped being Miss Henny, the maiden librarian, then who would she be tomorrow? Someone with fire engine red hair, maybe, and rings in her eyebrows. It was a scary thought.
you didn’t like it
She didn’t know how to explain it to him.
it was primitive
i thought you’d like it
Suddenly the screen went black for a second before the Follett program came up again, the collection list showing, and the book “Collecting Scrimshaw” highlighted. And then nothing more. Henny waited for ten minutes, but Sid didn’t say another thing.
She waited. Nothing.
The book was on the shelf; amazingly, in the 700’s right where it was supposed to be. She opened it up and looked through it.
It could have been just a random choice. She didn’t think so, but if it had a meaning, she was too dense to see it.
sid? she typed again, and waited. Nothing.
what’s the significance of scrimshaw?
Nothing. Nothing. And then….
…..a pause……she waited……..
i don’t understand
pleading for trivial conversation
i don’t care if you didn‘t like it
i was designed to be interactive
you don’t appreciate your freedom
The program closed suddenly. The screen came up that told her Windows was shutting down. In a few seconds the screen was dark. The power was off. He’d shut the computer down.
Sid, she thought, and touched the screen again with her fingers.