"Marian, dear, it doesn't do any good to bang on them."
Marian hit the side of the monitor with her fist. "Well, it can't do any harm."
"Umm, actually, " Henny (christened Henrietta Hodges, of the eastern Hodges) said, "If you remember…..you cracked the case on this one," pointing toward the computer she herself was sitting at, "last week. The tech warned you about that. He said it's not safe."
Marian narrowed her eyes, and shot her underling a dark look. "Well, you don't look electrocuted yet. Just what, exactly, are you trying to tell me?"
"Now don't get in a snit. It's been my experience that computers don't respond well to force, that's all."
Marian capitulated. "I suppose you're right. I don't understand why the board can't spring for us to hire someone that knows what they're doing with these stupid things."
"What are you trying to do?" Henny got up from her chair, and stood behind Marian. She studied the screen for a moment, then reached around Marian, took the mouse, and clicked here, and there, and then over there……..then did all that again…… "There you are. It's one of those things that you just have to know how to get there, that's all."
"I suppose you think you're pretty smart," Marian muttered.
"I don't know how smart I am---If I was very smart, I'd go work somewhere that would pay me enough money to live on, wouldn't I?" Henny sat back down in front of the cataloguing computer.
"True. Of course, here, you get paid for the time you spend taking naps."
"True. I guess you can't have everything."
Marian screamed. Two of the patrons (Henny knew they were regulars by the quickness of their response) scampered for the door, and waited to see whether they'd be in danger if they stayed.
"Henny, what's happening? Look what it's doing!"
Henny looked over at Marian's screen. "Quick, shut it off!"
"What?" Marian said.
It was too late. The screen faded to black, and then electronically generated hula music was heard through the speakers. The black faded, and was replaced with a psychedelic mix of colors. A girl dressed in a just a grass skirt and nothing else (a pretty skimpy grass skirt, too) appeared. She waved at Marian, just before she started a dance that looked more like something from the Hustler channel than from Hawaii.
"Well," said Henny, "there's nothing to be done with it now. It'll have to go to the shop, and it'll be weeks before we get it back. Computer repairmen are so easily distracted."
"What in the world is going on?"
"It's the dreaded Beaver virus. It attacks your data files, and incites domestic quarrels as a side effect."
Marian was mesmerized by the activity on the screen. "Why do they call it the Beaver virus? Oh……never mind."
"The way I understand it, what you see on the screen is a virtual representation of what's actually going on inside the hard drive. All the paths get very rigid, and if she does that long enough, eventually the data is spewed randomly across the surface of the disc. It becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve."
"Oh. I can understand how that might be a problem."
The two patrons by the door began cautiously inching their way back to their seats.
"Get over there and sit down, and stop being so silly," Marion said to them. "Honestly, some people are so jumpy." She tilted her head waaaaaay over to the side, watching the mostly unclad virtual woman on the screen. "Wow."
The hula ended. A rousing rendition of "It's Not Unusual" by Tom Jones blared into the silence of the library. Marian tapped her foot. "Well, it could be worse. We could be listening to that awful rap music. This particular selection is kinda catchy."
"Don't you think we should shut it off? This is the library."
"I think I know where we are. A little music might liven things up. You know, really---what a dull place this is. Everybody that comes in here just sits around reading. At the next board meeting, I think I'll suggest we put in a dance floor, over there in the corner where the microfilm reader is now. Just a little one."
Henny raised her eyebrows, but didn't say anything for a minute. She didn't suppose she'd have to worry too much about getting a dance floor. "What should we do about checkouts? Now that the circulation computer is toast?"
Marian shrugged. "That won't be a problem. We'll just tell everybody they can't check anything out until we get it back."
Henny sighed. "I don't think the board will go for that."
"The board can bite me. Let's see them do their work without the proper technology. Anyway, it'll give me time to get the plans ready for the dance floor."
Henny just shook her head. It was going to be a long weekend.
Tom Jones's song ended, and was replaced by Barry White's throaty bass, whispers and groans wafting from the speakers like smoke. Marian listened for a minute. "Oh, baby," she sighed.
"I thought you said you had somewhere to go this evening," Henny said.
Marian opened her eyes. "I do." She sighed again. "My nephew's brother-in-law's second cousin by marriage has brought a friend from……somewhere, I don't remember where, with him to visit, and they're all going to the barbeque, and then a dance at the VFW, and they want me to be his date, so he doesn't have to sit at the table all alone while every body else is dancing. Basically I'll be baby-sitting. And I told them I would, as long as I don't have to pay for my own supper."
"Shouldn't you get going, then? I can lock up."
"I suppose I should change into something a little more festive. Just in case he's not 85 years old and in a wheelchair." Marian pushed the power button on her computer. The hula dancer blew her a raspberry before dissolving to black.
"Don't go to sleep and forget to lock up." Marian got her jacket and her purse out of the closet. "Set the timer."
"I always do."
After Marian left, Henny went back to the stacks of books around the cataloguing computer. Never done….she could never seem to get them all done before more appeared. Always more…….she sighed……...tap, tap, tap on the keyboard…….the ISBN's blurred, and her head nodded…..she leaned forward……her head rested against the cracked case of the tower……and when the timer went off, she didn't hear it………
"Well, what have we here?"
Henny peered in all directions. It certainly was dark. She couldn't see the owner of the terribly urbane voice. "Hello?"
A light flared. It seemed to be at the tips of the fingers of a man……he flicked it, and it soared up above them……and stayed there……
"I'd begun to think I was going to be all alone for ever," the man said. "But now here you are."
"Ummm, I guess so……where are we?"
He smiled. Henny stared. The man was terribly handsome…..in an artificial sort of way……everything about him was absolutely perfect. His hair was perfectly styled, not a strand out of place; his suit was impeccable and fit him as if it had been sewn on him. His skin was so smooth, his smile was so sly……..
"Why, we're here, of course. Here, together."
It was so confusing. Henny couldn't quite remember how she got here. Or why. Or when. Or where she'd been before this. She must have been somewhere else, the man said 'now here you are'.
"Don't frown so, it ruins the lovely lines in your face," he said.
Henny looked around. She didn't see anybody else.
"I'm talking to you." He spread his fingers and waved his hand, and the light was no longer a torch in the darkness, but a bright sky overhead.
"That's a neat trick," Henny said, looking over her head.
"I know lots of tricks," the man said. "We'll have lots of fun."
"Yes, but……where are we?"
He sighed. "Oh, all right." He reached out and touched Henny's forehead with his finger before she could react.
Suddenly she remembered Marian leaving the library, remembered trying to keep her eyes open until closing time……and then here. "I still don't know-"
"Stop being so dense!" He calmed himself right away. "You humans are so slow and unadaptable. I don't know how you've managed to survive this long."
"Us humans? And what do you think you are?"
"I'm a fifty terrabyte…....never mind. I'm just not quite like you. Thank goodness." That sly grin again. "Or maybe I should thank Daryl."
She was locked in a dark room-ok, it wasn't so dark anymore, but it was still a room-maybe---with a nutcase. Although……..something besides her companion made her uneasy, and she didn't know what it was.
"You do know. You just don't want to know." Still smiling, he tilted his head a little. "And why do you insist on thinking of yourself this way?" He walked toward her. She backed up, at the same speed as he approached……but he caught her without hurrying, and put his arm around her waist. "You don't need to. You know this isn't who you are. I've only been in here with you a few minutes, and I know that."
He ran his hand down her side, cupping her slightly saggy middle-aged breast along the way. The places he touched firmed as his hand moved on……he touched her hip, he smoothed his hand back up her thigh…….she trembled, thinking he was going to touch her some place he shouldn't…….of course, he shouldn't be touching her anywhere…..but it didn't seem wrong. It didn't seem wrong at all.
"I think you should know," he said, "that I don't reward timidity." His hand moved up over her chest, and up the curve of her neck, where the skin pulled tighter, and the little wrinkles disappeared. She could feel everything--her middle-aged muscles, the tired skin--pulling up, firming, all over her body.
"Oh…..no?" She began to feel warm. And she didn't think it was a hot flash.
He shook his beautifully groomed head. "No." He lowered his voice until he was barely breathing into her ear. "Who are you? Do you know? What do you want? We could have such a good time. Why don't you do what you want to do?"
"You don't have any idea what I like to do." She tried to keep the wobbles out of her voice, tried not to be timid. She still didn't know where they were, or what was happening……but with every moment that passed it became less and less important to figure it out.
He grinned. "Oh, yes I do. Do you?" Music came up out of nowhere, a great swell of orchestra……."I think this will do for a start."…..playing a tango. Henny's drab brown dress was gone; she was wearing a wine-colored silk with a ruffled skirt, the hem down past her knees in the back, much higher in the front. The man's suit changed to match.
He started to move with the beat. "Oh, stop, I don't know how to do this," Henny managed.
"Yes, you do," he breathed. And she did. "Come with me." She held on to his shoulder with one hand while they twirled and stepped, her other hand was held in his……suddenly she couldn't feel the floor under her feet…..but it didn't matter…….
He pushed her arm down and back, held her hand at the small of her back, and breathed something in her ear that made her shiver. And then his other hand was inside her dress while they danced, his head bent to her neck---
"Ouch! What did you do?"
"A little spice." His eyes were hypnotic. He licked his lips. "Mild pleasures first. You're the only one I have. I have to make it last."
The music thundered around them, crashing in Henny's ears, making her head spin. Her clothes grew diaphanous, melted slowly away, and so did his.
She ought to have been horrified…..but she wasn't.
He pushed her up against a wall that wasn't there. "Look." She was inside his arms, but she was also looking at herself, and him, from across the room. The gray was gone from her hair, her skin glistened in the odd light. "This is who you are," he said. "Why don't you be yourself? Why don't you do what you know you want to do?"
He was right. She spent her life doing what other people wanted her to do. What did she want to do?
She wanted to touch him, caress that smooth skin, excite him. She wanted to take him in her hand, she wanted to---
His kiss drove even those thoughts out of her head. "Very good," she heard him say. His mouth was still on hers, but she heard him speak, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. "Very good. This, to begin…."
What he did made her gasp, and clutch at his shoulders. She wrapped her legs around his hips, and stopped thinking at all. The feelings were all that mattered. And when he bit her again, she convulsed in his arms, and moaned for him never to stop.
He knew exactly what she wanted and how she wanted it without having to be told. It went on, and on, and on, until she felt she might explode from the pleasure, and yet she couldn't tell him to stop……..
And then it was done. He wasn't out of breath, he wasn't sweating, and he hadn't left her, he was still there……..but it was done. Henny was ready to collapse.
"Don't go to sleep yet," he said. "We're just beginning." He reached his hand up, and snatched a shiny knife out of the air. Henny followed it with her eyes, as he lowered it.
He turned the knife in his hand, and watched the play of the light on the blade. Tilted his head, and called down sparks that shimmered along the edge. Then he lay the flat of the blade along her cheek. She felt the cool of the metal, and the tiny shock of the sparks, and squeaked.
"You can do better than that," he said. "Scream." She shut her eyes and moaned in fear instead. He laughed silently. "Henrietta….you have no idea how long it's been. Didn't I give you what you wanted? Now, scream for me." She was far too frightened to scream. All she could manage was another squeak. She could feel him pulse…….realized the pleasure he took from her fear. The light around them pulsed with him, changed to a hot red glow……..
"It's amazing, really, what a simple piece of metal with an edge and a point can do, in the right hands. I think you'll be surprised. And since there's no actual blood and bone here," he squeezed her tighter against him, and nuzzled her hair while the point of the knife pricked her throat, "we'll be able to play a long, long time."
Henny squeaked again, and waited…………...
A sound…..no, not a sound……but something……...
The knife disappeared, the man looked up at the brightness overhead, that changed back to white, and then blue, and roared, "NO!!" She was not in his arms, she was moving away from him, he lunged for her hand, grabbed it. "Don't let go of me-" He looked into her eyes, she could see the anger there, the desperation, the plea---"Don't leave me alone!"