The Adventures of Marian, the slightly aggressive Librarian,
The first of those chapters that unfortunately do not take place inside the library at all; in which Marian discovers her predicament, and Hennrietta throws caution to the winds….for a minute or two.
“Oh, my God,” Marian groaned. It wasn’t often Marian had the occasion to wake up on a bathroom floor. At least not alone. And this bathroom floor was too small to be sleeping on. She was sort of curled around the toilet and it wasn’t easy to uncurl herself and stand up.
She hurt all over. Her head really hurt, but the rest of her hurt, too. She hoped, if she actually got to Australia, that Arthur appreciated what she was going through to get to him. “The plane ride from hell,” she muttered, as she squinted and tried to look in the mirror.
At least they seemed to have come through the storm all right. No turbulence now.
No engines either, Marian realized. It was pretty darn silent. She picked up all the stuff that had fallen out of her purse, stuffed it back in on top of Granny’s hip, and flipped the lock on the bathroom door. Stepped out and saw….nobody.
There were voices in the forward section of the plane, though. She grabbed her carry-on as she passed her seat, and went forward.
That was her first mistake. OK, maybe the second. The first one was getting on this stupid plane in the first place. OK, it could be the first mistake was connected with duct tape, but that was in the past. Let sleeping dogs lie. This was her first mistake.
In the cockpit the fellows who didn’t speak English were jabbering away at each other and pointing to this and that out the window. She peered over their heads. Lots of vehicles parked all around the plane. She shouldn’t have a problem getting a ride to the terminal. She just had to figure out how to get out.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was in the bathroom when everyone else left. Could you open the door?”
Silence. All the heads turned to look at her. One of the men had a big purple lump on the side of his head………
“You!” he said.
Aha, so he did speak English after all. “That’s right,” Marian said. “Me. Open the door please.”
“You! What kind of a woman are you? I should kill you!”
Marian took a deep breath, and let him have one of her best looks. “I’ve had a really bad day. You better let me off the plane.”
One of the men started to do that, she thought, but another grabbed him and scolded him in that other language. He looked chastened.
More chattering. Marian backed up, out of the little room, and tried to find the place where she thought the door ought to be while they talked about whatever they had to talk about. Spatial orientation wasn’t her strong suit, though, and she wasn’t immediately successful. When she did find it, she couldn’t get it open. The doohickey wouldn’t pull up and turn around.
The men filed out of the cockpit, and surrounded her. Marian was not afraid, she was made of stern Midwestern stuff, but it did make her feel a little strange.
The man with the purple lump said, “We need a hostage,” and held up a roll of gray duct tape……..
Henny was exhausted when she locked up the library that night. You might think that there’s nothing to do in the library except sit at the desk and check out books, but you’d be wrong. How do those books get on the shelves in the first place? Aha, didn’t think about that, did you? Somebody has to carry the boxes of books around and do stuff with them. That’s what Henny had been doing. Carrying boxes of books. Tomorrow she’d be carrying stacks of books instead of boxes, but they would be just as heavy.
Her feet hurt. Her back hurt. She was mad. The board thinks it’s all right to fire half of the library staff, with nary a thought about who would do that person’s half of the work. OK, quarter. Still, Henny had always had more than she could do when Marian was there. Now…….
She sighed. Looked at the computer screen. It was black. She wondered if Sid was resting. If he was done with his little project. She sat down in front of the monitor. Everything was on, but the screen was still black. Usually Sid could tell somehow when she was there; he often initiated their conversations as soon as she sat down.
No “Come and play” popped up on the screen. The screensaver wasn’t running. And where was her wallpaper? Where were the icons? The screen was stubbornly black with the cursor blinking.
sid? she typed.
are you finished with your virus?
Strange. She waited a moment.
are you in there?
Sort of a stupid thing to ask, maybe; where would he go? On the other hand, how had he gotten in there in the first place? If he got in, maybe he could get out.
Maybe he was just really busy. Or, maybe he just wanted her to leave him alone. Why the letters, though? H E . For Henrietta?
He might be angry with her, she supposed. She hadn’t “gone to see him” for quite a while. The last time, the things Sid wanted to do had been scarier than usual, and……she needed some time to recuperate. Maybe she wouldn’t ever want to “play” again, she wasn’t sure. Not for a while, anyway.
And it wasn’t like she didn’t have any other options, was it? She smiled.
Hmmm. She sat back and rubbed her feet. Thought about soaking them in the little foot bath she’d bought herself one Christmas. Turn the heat on and the bubbles, and find a magazine; till Sid was ready to talk.
H E L P.
Help. That didn’t make sense to Henny at first. It wasn’t a word one associated with Sid.
Oh no! She sat up. Oh no, oh no.
Everything she’d just been thinking about went right out the window. Sid needed help. She leaned forward and placed her temple against the crack in the case…..
It was dark. Sid didn’t care one way or the other, but he usually turned the lights on for Henny.
“Hello? Sid?” Her voice echoed. Sounded like she was in a big dark warehouse or something. It was going to be pretty hard to help anybody if she couldn’t see where she was going.
Her eyes got accustomed to the darkness, and she could make out a dim glow in the distance. (OK, her eyes didn’t really do anything, her eyes were shut, outside of the computer; and no, there couldn’t be much distance inside a home computer tower. We know that, this is just how it seemed to Henny, all right? Experientially, she’s a pretty simple straightforward person.)
A faint sigh next to her ear. “Henrietta……”
“Sid? Where are you?”
So faint. It worried her. She started walking toward the glow.
When she could see him, when she saw where he was and what had happened to him, she ran.
He was in the middle of a seething, pulsing mass of undulating tentacles, gray and flat and wrapped around his naked body like those malignant alien vines you see in old movies. Except there were no leaves or anything. They didn’t look like plants, really. Huge tapeworms, maybe. But all connected together like those tree roots in one of the Harry Potter movies. No, that was a plant, and they didn’t look like plants….They looked a little like duct tape, except without the strings, maybe just the glue part and the coating on the back……why on earth would they be duct tape?…..but……duct tape worms seemed reasonable to her at that moment…..
“What can I do?” She felt helpless. “What is it? Is it the virus?”
“Try--“ A tentacle covered his mouth before he could tell her what to do. If she’d been able to think calmly, she might have remembered Sid could talk no matter what his mouth was doing…..
Sid could pull knives and things out of the air. She wondered if she concentrated, maybe she could do that, too…..then she could cut him loose. She concentrated as hard as she could, she shut her eyes and thought KNIFE just as hard as she could, held her breath (yes, yes, same thing as with the eyes earlier, just don’t worry about it), made her hands into fists (same as with the breathing)……and it didn’t work.
The tentacles were squeezing harder, she knew that without seeing it, she opened her eyes in time to see Sid’s face change shape, he…..wavered. Like his signal was weakening. Or degrading. It was scary. Not to mention that the light became red and dark (don’t even ask about the dark light, she’s INSIDE A COMPUTER, just go with all of this).
Sid looked into her eyes, that long-lashed intense gaze just for her---no one and nothing else….just her. She was standing back away from the tentacles, but she felt as close and intimate in that moment as if they were face-to-face, body-to-body……and he said, “Who’s Mike?” in her ear.
“What? Never mind, we have to get you out of there!”
She gathered her courage, and stepped forward, reached for the gray strips around his arm. He was hers, dammit. Belonged to her. She hadn’t changed her whole life, become a flaky green-haired thief, just to let some duct-tapey-worm squeeze the life--or whatever--out of her guy……or whatever he was.
“What are you doing?” His mouth was still covered, but he was talking. Now she noticed that. “You should be frightened. Aren’t you worried about yourself?”
She yanked on the tentacle holding his arm, and it loosened. “I’m not leaving you here.” She yanked again, and again, and Sid pulled his arm free, and reached for her with it, put his hand on the nape of her neck, up into her hair, pulled her toward him.
She pulled the tentacle away from his face; it waved in the air before settling on her shoulder. She shuddered and pushed it away. A tentacle curled around her ankle. She concentrated on trying to loosen the big tapey strands across Sid’s smooth bare chest. They came away easier than you might expect, considering that Sid couldn’t seem to escape. She kept working, Sid leaned forward when he was able to, gave her a kiss that distracted her for a moment…or maybe it was what she saw when she pulled the duct tape worms away from his hips………but he was almost free…….
And then with a sudden surge of movement, the tentacles wrapped themselves around the pair of them, around and around, trapping them in a forced embrace…..her clothes melted, they were actually body-to-body but Henny was hard put to enjoy it, waiting as she was for the life (or whatever) to be squeezed out of them.
“You’re sorry now, aren’t you? Sorry you didn’t just lift your head and go back to Mike and leave me here.”
“No……I couldn’t let this…thing hurt you if I can help it. And how do you know about Mike?”
“You’re telling me. We’re networked, remember? You kissed him, he wanted to come inside, you were going to let him in…..and then you remembered me…..and now I’m in your way. A problem.”
“If we’re networked, then you know I wasn’t thinking of that.”
“Only a matter of time.” His gaze was so grim, so fierce. She couldn’t look away even if she wanted to. “Maybe I don’t want to let you do that. Maybe this is the best thing that could have happened. I thought you might come to save me, then I found out about Mike…..and now I don’t understand. You don’t need me any more. You were frightened, I know you were, and you put yourself in danger. And what do you think will happen now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe you’ll be here with me forever.” As he said that, the tentacles tightened around them, pressing them even closer together. “Could you bear that, do you think?”
Henny wasn’t really listening, she was wondering fearfully what would happen to her outside-the-computer-self if the damn duct-tape-worms kept squeezing…..”Are there bears in here, too?” she asked in alarm.
Sid laughed at her. “Would you like bears? I can do bears. How about a bear with thick, soft fur and a long, thick—“
“---muzzle?” His smile faded. “I know what you’re thinking, what you’re wondering. Have you thought….what if we’re squeezed like this until we become meshed together, until there’s no separation between us, until we’re just one being……” He dipped his head, and a millimeter away from her mouth he breathed, “Just imagine that…..” And he kissed her, coaxed her mouth open and shared himself with her. His mouth moved to her ear, she would have shuddered (the good kind of shudders) if she could have moved……and then her eyes snapped open.
“Oh!” She couldn’t look down between them, but she didn’t have to look to know what was there. “How can you think about that at a time like this? We might be killed, we might be squeezed to death any minute!”
“All the more reason, don’t you think?” He didn’t look very concerned. He had the look in his eyes that always turned Henny into a puddle of raspberry jelly, that cool but intense ‘I’m going to have you now,’ look.
She gasped. Neither of them could move, they were wrapped so tightly together she couldn’t so much as twitch her toes, but something was definitely happening. And then……the first thrust caused her head to fall back and her eyes to close….and his mouth was covering hers, kissing her so deep…….They were as close as it was possible for two people to be, she thought…….or even a person and a something-else.
“You’re wrong,” she heard in her ear. “It could be better.”
She didn’t see how.
“We could be like this always.”
As usual, the logical, thinking part of her brain went to sleep right away; it always did when Sid made love to her. She was on auto-pilot pretty much immediately, so deep in pleasure that she almost couldn’t absorb the meaning of his words. “Never apart, never alone, like this--“ and he thrust hard, “—always. Morning and evening, 24/7, I could be here inside you, making you feel what you feel now……giving you this…..always…..” She felt it, she thought she could feel them melting together, skin between them dissolving, more pleasure from the sensation than she could ever have imagined…..
He moved away from her mouth, bit her ear. Hard. Drew blood.
She thought ‘ouch’, but it was a reflex, really; she didn’t really care. It was all one.
“I couldn’t resist. You’re so delicious,” he said.
She wasn’t. She knew she wasn’t, she was a weird middle-aged woman with a computer-phantom lover, and she knew sex wasn’t Sid’s favorite thing, he just did it to get her to do what he wanted, but……this, this, forever? Ohhh……..
“Every minute. You and me, together, like this, every minute, forever……”
She didn’t have to say what she wanted, he just knew. He just did it. In her mouth, he mimicked what he was doing somewhere else.
He was doing just exactly what she wanted; and promising to do it forever…..What was it he wanted her to do in return???
“What are you doing?” she thought, even as she attempted to open herself more, tried to push herself even closer than she was.
A wicked whisper. “I’m giving you something.” As soon as he said it, she felt it. Yes, there was something besides those parts of him (that weren’t really real, she knew they weren’t, it just didn’t matter) filling her, besides the ecstasy he was forcing on her; something else, trickling slowly, stealthily……..somewhere…….
She didn’t know what it meant. Not now, she couldn’t think now; no matter how she felt a second ago, right at this moment if she could have moved, she would have been trying to get away from him, it was suddenly too much, oh god, he was giving her too much, she was going to explode…….
“Yes.” She felt the amusement in the words in her ear. “Now.”