Another Friday, another flash fiction piece! As mentioned previously, I’m in a Facebook group called Friday Flash Fics. We’re given a photo as a writing prompt, with our flash fiction responses (500 words or less) to the photo posted every Friday.
This one’s a little tamer than most—which may be a good thing. Facebook actually flagged me for the one that went with “Santa Baby.” Prudes. Hopefully this one won’t raise anyone’s ire:
I’m sure we can all relate to the sentiment expressed on his shirt a little bit. Also, I like it when people are not what they appear. We make so many assumptions based on appearance that are usually wrong.
“Can I help you?”
Of course the special collections librarian was a mountain of a man. Bearded and square jawed, he towered over Avery and was maybe twice as wide as him, all of it muscle. The sleeves of his collared shirt were rolled partway up his forearms, revealing dense tattoo sleeves that Avery couldn’t quite decipher. Why wouldn’t the library’s most ancient texts be guarded by someone who looked like they could take on an army of orcs?
Because, Avery reminded himself, this was the public library of a midsized city that probably didn’t even know what they had stored on some dusty shelves in a forgotten corner.
God, Avery hoped they didn’t. Or if they did, he hoped the bouncer in front of him was one of the good guys.
“Um,” Avery forced his stammer down, “I need to see a volume in the antiquities section.”
Avery pulled a slip of paper from his jacket pocket. “If I could. Please.”
He added a smile and hoped it looked endearing, or at least sincere. He felt nauseated. It didn’t help that the Special Collections desk was housed in a tiny vestibule of a room that wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet. There was the door Avery had entered through and a narrow counter, behind which was another door. No windows. And between the counter and the door, the librarian, who looked like he could probably snap Avery’s arm without even breaking a sweat. Or blinking.
Blinking was exactly what the librarian was not doing at the moment, as he looked at the slip and then fixed Avery with a long, appraising stare. That, as it happened, was enough to make Avery break out in a sweat. He resisted the urge to swipe a hand across his forehead.
“Wait right here,” the librarian rumbled—to Avery, it was like listening to the voice of a boulder. Turning from the counter, the man opened the door behind him and exited, shutting the door before Avery could get a glimpse of whatever might lay behind it.
Avery sighed and leaned against the counter to steady himself.
“Had a bad day, kitten?”
Avery yelped and spun around. Dorothy stood behind him, arms crossed, smirking, wand gripped in one hand. He hadn’t heard the door open because of course she hadn’t waltzed in the old-fashioned way. And there was no way he’d be able to get his own wand out of his satchel to defend himself before she struck.
Well, sort of his own wand.
“How did you find me?” he asked.
Dorothy laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. “You think a little mundane like you can cover his tracks against someone like me? Please.” She uncrossed her arms but still didn’t point her wand at him. Avery edged away from the desk and they circled one another for a moment.
“At least you don’t have it yet,” Avery said.
“He’ll never give it to you.”
“Mister mountain man librarian?” She sneered. “Who do you think he’s more likely to give it to, you? Or me?”
In an instant her expression changed, the angles of her face softened, her eyes looking wider and innocent. Just a glamour, but more than enough to hide her real nature. She flicked her wand, just the barest motion, but it was enough to slam Avery into the outer door and send him sprawling on the floor.
“Besides, if I get you out of the way before he comes back, there’s no reason I can’t just pretend to be you, is there?”
Avery squeezed his eyes shut and braced for the next spell. A crackling sound like electricity split the air, but there was no blaze of pain, only a thud and then a heavy weight dropping on top of him. He opened his eyes.
Dorothy lay sprawled across his midsection, face down, a blackened circle scorching the back of her blouse. He rolled her off him and staggered to his feet. Behind the desk, the librarian held the book in one hand, a small pointer in the other, a wisp of smoke trailing from its tip. He lowered it.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Avery nodded. “That’s not a wand, is it?”
“No, stun baton calibrated to work effectively on wizards. That’s what she is, isn’t she?”
“Among other things, but yeah.”
The librarian flicked the baton toward Avery’s wand. “You’re not, though, are you?”
Avery shook his head. “My name’s Avery.”
“Don. That still doesn’t tell me who you are, though.”
“I’m research assistant to Reginald Smith.”
“The Reginald Smith?”
Tensing, Avery shook his head, trying to clear the image of the study at Reg’s house, the shattered windows, the broken body. “The late Reginald Smith.”
“I’m sorry.” The librarian lowered the baton. “This is bad.”
“Reg—Director Smith’s last order to me was to make sure Dorothy didn’t get her hands on that volume.” He looked behind him at Dorothy’s inert body. “Is she dead?”
“Just very incapacitated.” The librarian considered. “Should I kill her?”
“What? No.” She wouldn’t have hesitated to kill both of them, but even so, Avery couldn’t do it… though he had a feeling the librarian could, easily. “We should call the police. The real police,” he added when the librarian gave him a quizzical look.
“Already did, when you came in and asked for this.” Don held up the volume. “Will anyone else besides her be coming after it?”
“Then we should probably get it out of here, if its location has been compromised that badly.” He turned and opened the door behind the counter, pausing before he walked through and looking back at Avery. “You coming?”
“Where are we going?”
“Are you—” Avery paused, his mind racing. This man couldn’t just be a man, could he? “Are you a demon of some kind?”
His stony expression broke into a grin and he laughed. “What gave you that idea?”
“It’s just that,” Avery waved a hand at the man, “and…” then behind him at the unconscious Dorothy. “I figured you had to be something.”
“I am something. I’m a librarian.”