book club

A demon has summoned herself into a library. It took years of effort. Cups left on tables in just the right places, windows cracked at precise angles, trees grown outside and trimmed just so. She moved in whispers, haunting the patrons and twisting small desires of the staff. All to open the book she was trapped in and to have her name howled through these small contrivances. The years of near misses do not compare to the effort she needs to keep the library from erupting in flame.

Flames lick around the base of her hooves and singe the dingy blue carpet to a bristled black. Fibers stick to her hooves. She draws a breath, the first one drawn in a hundreds of years, and holds it to herself as she quiets her fire.

A small woman watches this with a sweater drawn tight against her chest. The librarian. She opened the window at the demon’s whisperings. She left the book out, turned to the proper page. She adjusts her glasses and asks “Can I help you?”

The demon splits her char black lips to reveal the rows of bleached fangs. Flame leaps around her tongue, and the demon holds a massive hand over her face to keep the fire from reaching the carpet.

“I am lost,” she says in a voice that rattles the window panes.

“We are in the Gig Harbor branch of the Pierce County Library system. I can help you find your way if that doesn’t mean anything to you,” says the librarian, because she is many things as a librarian, and chiefly she is helpful.

The demon bends down to the small woman, but it is not enough to match her height. The horns are too great, and the fires that edge her skin burn too brightly to be safe for this dry place. The demon came from a book. She does not wish to harm the others. So she twists her soul inward and wrings her body small. It is agony, compressing muscle and bone, shedding horn while her mouth grows too small for the teeth. Some crumble to ash which rains from her, dampening the fire that licks around her hooves. When she is finished, she stands as tall as the small woman before her. Her six eyes flick over the patient librarian’s face.

“I have been away from this realm for a long time.”

The woman extends her hand toward the chairs sitting around the battered table. “What would you like to know?”

The demon sits across from the librarian, and considers. It took so long to manifest even a ghost, and fifty years after to find corporeal form… the demon does not remember what she desired so long ago. “I’ve haunted this place for a long time, but I’ve only read what I can catch over shoulders.”

The librarian nods. “It must be frustrating to never be able to finish a book.”

A pang twists inside the demon’s chest. She nods. “You were reading something last week. You took it home. The Summer Book.”

The librarian smiles. She bids the demon to wait, and runs to where she keeps her bag behind the desk. The book is in her bag, ten pages left to read, but it was a good read and she doesn’t mind retreading. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

The demon’s eyes shift in confusion, the black lips curl over fangs. “A wizard in purple robes, a strong man wearing very little, a thin woman dressed in black, and then darkness when they sealed me away.”

The librarian smiles gently. “I mean in The Summer Book.”

“I remember the girl was learning to swim with her grandmother.”

The librarian flips to the chapter and slides the book across the table, but the demon shies away from it. Her clawed hands burn bright at the fingertips, and she scorches the table in long black streaks. “I am afraid to touch the books.”

The librarian turns the book back to herself and begins to read aloud. The demon relaxes at her side. Her body swells slightly, but it does so without her recognition. Her crown of horns gain another point, her teeth lengthen a little. But the shape she finds is different than the one summoned from whispers. It is comfortable in this place. And it is safe enough for libraries.