This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Last Lines First. Last week, the challenge was to write the last line of a story. Chuck picked 10 he liked, and gave us this challenge: choose one of those last lines, and make it the first line of your story.
I picked an entry by Marlanesque: “She closed the book and watched as it turned to dust.”
Here is my story:
Librarian of the Gods
She closed the book and watched as it turned to dust. The dust slipped through her hands and drifted to the library floor. She heard the shuffling sound in the distance again. A little closer this time? It was hard to tell. There was somebody else in the library with her, but the place was big enough they would probably not meet. Sheila moved on to another book at random.
This one was also empty when she opened it, one blank page after another. And when she closed it, it was dust. All the books were dust. The sound in the distance was definitely getting closer. She looked up, uneasy. Somebody was moving books about. Somebody was getting closer. The Librarian?
“Sheila, the Library is real, but so is the Librarian. If you insist on this, then you have got to be fast. In and out. There is no time to browse.” Her uncle had wheezed out a laugh at his library joke. “Are you sure this is even worth it? Your father was my brother, and I want to know who killed him before I die myself, but not like this.”
Her uncle had heard of the Library and its guardian, but he didn’t know the details. Nobody did.
She reached for another book. Another handful of dust. The noise had become a snuffling – was there an animal back there? Sheila nervously moved a few rows over. Tried another book. More dust. More snuffling, and now a sound of tapping, tapping hooves on marble, gently moving nearer.
“Find the book, the right book, and you’ll find your answer. All the answers, all the knowledge is there. But do you deserve it? Is it yours to find?” He fidgeted uneasily in his chair before the fire. He had shrunk with age and sickness, and seemed smaller than the wavering shadow he cast on the wall. “Only the worthy can expect to find what they are looking for.” He coughed wetly into a handkerchief.
She hadn’t believed him. It had been years since he had stirred from his own library. How did he know what was going on anyplace else? His life had been full of fantasies and strange adventures that the family had tolerated without understanding them. She was only here for the key. He had a key, and a map, and a bunch of old warnings she didn’t want to hear. Since her father had been murdered she had stopped listening to anybody. The police had been of no use, and hinted at suicide. Her family had been fatalistic, and accepted his death without much questioning. She had no use for any of them. She was going to solve this herself. Maybe once she knew the truth, she could finally be free of the grief and the rage and the nights of tears.
She lost what little patience she had. “Where is it? Where is the key and the map?” She yelled at him. He would dither all night if she let him. “Is it in here?” She started opening books and flipping through them. “You’ve been hiding this all these years! All this information the world could use, all of this knowledge, hidden! Who gave you the right to keep it all from us?” She angrily tossed a pile of books on a chair.
“Oh calm down, girl. Don’t pretend this is about anything besides yourself. You don’t care about the world. You loved your father, I’ll give you that, but what else have you ever cared about?” He paused and wiped his handkerchief across his mouth. “I was going to give you the key and the map anyway. They need a new keeper, and there isn’t anybody else. I’m not sure you’re the best choice. You’ll probably get killed.” He waved a shaking hand at a box on a shelf. “It’s over there.”
Sheila opened another book, and another handful of dust drifted to the ground. The snuffling sounds were louder now. The sound of hooves on the marble floor sounded closer, and angry, somehow. She started to run.
She ran from row to row, grabbing books, opening them, and letting them fall. All empty, all blank. There were no answers here. There had never been any answers. Tears ran through the dust on her cheeks. She had been wrong, again. She had rushed into this without thinking, like usual. What was she going to do with the information anyway? Nothing would bring her father back.
She rounded another corner, and skidded to a stop, almost falling. It was there, the Librarian was there, in the next aisle. She caught a glimpse of rough fur, heard the snorting of a bull, and felt the wind of a claw swipe and miss her. She turned and ran through the rows. Grabbing books and opening them as she passed. She heard pages rustle and fall, but they never hit the ground. The air was full of dust, and the pounding of hooves behind her. The hot breath of the Librarian was on her neck as she tripped and started to fall. His hand grabbed her shoulder and he pulled her towards him.
As she fell, her hand had landed on one last book, and her mind for a moment was clear, all the anger and hurt of years fading for a second. “It doesn’t even matter if I ever know what happened. I loved him so much. I hope he knew.” She dropped the book and turned to face the Librarian.
The book fell and opened and this one wasn’t dust, it was sunshine. Bright yellow sunshine spilled out into the Library, along with the smell of cut grass and the sounds of a summer day at home. The paw disappeared from her shoulder, and she fell into the book. The key and the map would be safe with her, and she had all the answers she had ever needed.