LIBER IMMENSUS

CAVEAT LECTOR

Gathering Dust

After receiving several inquiries as to the status of this blog, I felt it was necessary to announce that I am not dead. I have been working on ideas for a novel length story which I intend to write for nanowrimo this year. Liber Immensus has to be put on the back burner, but will return when my novel is (mostly) completed. Check back around December or January for new short stories and flash fiction.

The Bastards

Years passed and the house decayed. It served as a hotel for many years, but before that it belonged to a colonel in the civil war. Not much talk of the old man now, just some old paintings covered in grime and a few torn journal pages with no continuity. The town wanted to tear the place down but some folk kicked up dust about it, citing it as a historic landmark. Still, nobody wanted the burden of keeping the place in shape, so it rotted out more and more.

The house was almost forgotten by the time a man came to town looking to buy it. He wore a plain brown suit and had a dark complexion. He introduced himself as John Randall, but most people called him the stranger. He didn’t seem to mind.

The stranger went around town asking about the rotten old house, what use it had served, how long ago it was abandoned; not unusual but oddly persistent. Many travelers who passed through asked about the building, because it was right off the road from the south side of town and it had a curious architecture which fascinated even the most uneducated person. This suited man seemed different. His interest was far deeper than someone passing through. He knew a lot about history in the area, but claimed no knowledge of the old house. Some of the people in town refused to talk to the stranger at all. He had a curious air about him. Lights seemed a bit dimmer when he was around. The birds all went quiet when he walked through the park. The stranger acted pleasing enough, and he was always polite, but it didn’t take long for him to grow a dark reputation in the area. Even this didn’t seem to bother the stranger. Nothing concerned him, save for that rotted out old building to the south.

There was quite a fuss when the stranger put in a bid to buy the property. By this point superstition was high and rumors about the man numbered greater than anything known about him. A group of men threatened to burn the place to the ground if the stranger got a hold of it, but a quick visit from the local sheriff cooled them off fine. It was decided at a town meeting that there was no rational line of thinking that could prevent the man from buying the land, much to the dismay of many locals. The following day, residents watched in unwarranted horror as the man paid for the old house, and the fifty acres it sat on, in full.

Weeks went by and the stranger was not seen in town. He went straight to the old house—his house—after making the purchase and without saying a word to anybody. More baseless rumors began to circulate that the man had somehow died in the building. Occasionally screams were reported coming from the inside the house, but nobody in the town wanted to investigate. Truth was, the locals felt a little more at ease without the stranger around. Talk about John Randall died out almost completely, until high summer came and the pungent odor of rotting flesh began to seep from that strange building to the south. Clearly, this was the work of the stranger.

Something needed to be done now, that terrible old building could be ignored no longer. Like a mob in a witch hunt, the locals marched on the stranger’s land armed to the teeth with landscaping equipment and a few odd rifles. Suddenly the property was swarming with angry residents, shouting into the still- boarded windows. There was no response. No light came through the windows, but the stranger’s car was in the driveway. Local police tried to contain the more violent members of the mob, but they eventually lost control of the situation. A group of three men who had come directly from the bar made a makeshift battering ram to plow down the front door. The door came down.

Without a door to seal it in, that rotten odor poured out of the old house in force. Throughout the mob people became frantic to cover their faces. Those of weak stomach vomited. Inside it was dark and hazy from humidity. The men from the battering group peered inside, expecting the place to be filled with monsters from hell. Nothing moved in there.

The bravest man—an unwashed fellow named Stan Monroe—stepped forward, and with shouted curse he fell into a hole directly in front of the doorway. The rest of the mob seemed interested in what was down there, but he told them he couldn’t see a goddamned thing, and it was the truth. The house had been dark; this place was a catacomb. Stan howled for a flashlight. Someone tossed him a cheap plastic one, and he wasted no time in using it. The light was dim but good enough to make out details in the room. It looked like a wine cellar—or it had been at one time. It was emptied out now, and the place where the stairway had been was blocked off by old bricks. The wall looked chipped at, and recently. Not a lot of dust. Stan moved the light around the room.

There he was. The stranger; dead in the corner of the room. The poor bastard must have fallen down in this hole right after buying the place. He didn’t seem so dark now. His skin was pale and sunken, already far along the process of decomposition. His eyes were glazed in that particular way, almost alive but still long gone. In his hand he clutched a worn journal. Immediately Stan could tell that it seemed out of place. He carefully but quickly grasped the journal from the dead man’s clutch to examine it further.

It was the missing journal of Colonel S. Madison. It must have been shut in this cellar at some point. Stan flipped through the journal. Most of the pages were very old and very worn, but everything was mostly intact. It was a bit too dark to read here. Stan flipped through till the last few pages, and noticed a change in ink. The writing here was new. This must have been something done by the late John Randall on the last few days before his death. Stan noticed an empty lantern next to the corpse. Must have used it all up writing, he thought. Stan focused the flashlight on the journal in front of him.

Day six and nobody’s come to check on me. I knew the people here were closed off, but I didn’t think they’d actually abandon me like this. I swear I heard people walking around outside, but when I screamed for help nobody came. They had to hear me.

Stan stood overwhelmed by pity. What the hell was he doing here with this mob? Decent folk had taken up arms against an outsider—for what? He continued on to the last page.

I know the last group heard me, they were talking right outside the front door. I’ll run out of water soon. What the hell is wrong with the people in this town? Bastards. They’ll get theirs. They’ll pay.

Relief

A woman is dead. We passed her face down on the road surrounded by cops, but there was nothing for them to do. She was long gone at that point, but they had not yet wrapped her up in plastic. She was just laying in the road, a spectacle for curious parties. I didn’t see how it happened, but I knew something was wrong before we got there—before seeing those flashing blue lights even. Bad omens, which I tried to push to the back of my head, were all around us. They were unavoidable, despite my best efforts.

It was dusk when we set out in my car. My friend needed a ride home, and after weeks of making myself into a hermit, I was more than willing to oblige. I remember looking toward the horizon and seeing huge, almost black clouds against the quickly fading daylight. I fancied seeing the shapes of primal beasts; creatures trying to claw their way out of space, seeking freedom to rape, rave and rampage through our world. I mentioned it to my friend, but he seemed either disinterested or too involved in his own sick fantasies to care.

We barely noticed the lightning at first. It came from the kind of midsummer storm that brings electricity without thunder or rain. Something way high up in the atmosphere that frightens and defies a layman’s logic. Once we acknowledged it, the sky lit up. Rivers of electric fire poured through charcoal clouds, illuminating more otherworldly creatures in the sky. Shapes of terrible things that I did not want to confront suddenly filled my vision. Demons dancing in the night, delighted by the perversions of men below.

I hoped that we could find a route around the storm, but it was all too clear that the dark clouds were right over our destination. A voice from my mouth kept saying, “bad omens,” in a tone that was both firm and soothing. I wasn’t totally in control of it, like a nervous tick. I was hoping deep down, I think, that the words would ward off evil and the harm that may come to us. Each time I repeated the phrase I glanced over at my friend. He occasionally jerked in unison with the flashing clouds—no more than a hiccup—but said very little in response. Nobody wants doom foretold, no matter how morbid they may seem. We pressed on in relative silence, peering into the future and wondering what may come.

Ahead on the road we spotted signs of an accident, and a major one at that. The blue lights were almost relieving. My mind eased for the first time since spotting the storm. Those demons in the sky took a prize, but it wasn’t me. What sickness do I suffer to think in such a way?

By the time we passed her she was already dead, and everybody at the scene knew it. My friend looked over and saw her first. He is more experienced with death than I, and took in the scene with callous humor. What he saw was a passing reality, but for me, it weighed heavily. Maybe I am too sensitive. Maybe I feel guilt, because the omen made me think only of myself and my loved ones. A woman is dead, but I never knew her, so in seeing her I felt relief. The heaviness I felt was not for her, but for myself. Selfish as always, and hardened with every passing day.

The Reef

Mine was a humble fishing boat. Nothing fit for a crew of men, just large enough for myself and three freezers for storage. Heavy competition soured the local waters, and drove me further out to the sea, to a rocky island I heard stories about years ago. It was a place that only the wild called home. Vast stretches of reef-laden coastline, massive flocks of wildlife—a place never before abused by the frenzy of man. It was too far out to be well-known, and a cruel and unpredictable sea kept most from venturing to the area. Plenty of derelict vessels drifted from the area, and the missing persons stayed that way. Still—for me—with a headlong and desperate mind, the risk seemed well weighed.

The first day went well. The bounty of the sea was more than I needed, and by nightfall I had almost filled my storage. One more day here, and I could return home to live for a while on profit. Celebration was in order, so I went to my cabin and retrieved a large bottle of rum. I kept the stuff for easing my burdens, but tonight would be different. My troubles are past, I thought, looking down into the murky liquid. Checking once more on the anchor, I settled in with the bottle. I put on some music and sang out loud, and at one point, I could have sworn the reef below was singing along with me.

Day two was marked by disaster. It was well after noon by the time I woke, and the stench of death hung in the air. At first I thought it may be some washed up animal on the coast, but looking out I saw nothing. No, the smell was definitely coming from on board. I opened a cooler and saw the rotting carcasses of yesterday’s catch. The cooler failed somehow, and nothing remained frozen. And it was the same for the next box, and the next. If I was to turn a profit now, I would need to replace the entire supply. After a moment’s panic, I committed myself to do just that. The place was still as pure as yesterday, minus one boat full of fish. The job would be just as easy today.

I spent an hour in the same spot with no luck, so I moved up the coast. No luck there, either. None to be found anywhere. But how could it happen? Was yesterday’s bounty a fluke—some random school of fish passing through barren waters? Logic told me otherwise, the reef below should shelter many things of the ocean. I gazed into the water. It was pure and clear, with easy visibility all the way to the bottom. A curious red coral lined the ocean floor, beautiful yet strange. It was too vibrant for a place like this—too red. An uneasiness began to creep up my spine. Staring at the stuff left me with an awkward feeling, something akin to getting caught staring at another person. The feeling of watching, and being watched back.

The awful thought raised hair on my neck, and I wanted to just leave the rotten place. Cut my losses and go home, maybe move inland where—no. I had to stay. Bad fortune was no reason to succumb to a paranoid mania. I moved up the coast until I found a single school of fish, swimming directly above a particularly red patch of coral. I laid anchor and cast my net without looking down at the stuff. I would catch what I could, then make my way back to the mainland. Before dusk, I hoped.

When it came time to raise my nets, I was faced with a bizarre catch. There were hundreds of fish carcasses, covered in that hellish red coral. And the stuff was making a sound—like singing—in a complex and harmonious tone. I never heard anything even remotely similar. It was rich and vibrant, confined by neither standard nor exotic music theory. The coral was producing a true symphony, and it was drawing me in. The madness of the situation finally struck me, so I cut the rope with haste and let it crash back into the sea. Darting around the boat, I made preparations to leave as quickly as I could. But the anchor was stuck. I could see that horrible red crust clinging to it down in the water. And as desperately as I tried to remove it, the anchor stayed firmly placed. The muffled symphony continued to resonate through the boat itself, and as fearful as I was, I knew I was stuck.

So I drew myself back into the bottle of rum, and waited for the inevitable. The only food I had was rotted fish, and I wasn’t about to touch anything that had been in that water. Days passed under a harsh sun. I don’t know how long it was for sure, but the music of the reef never stopped. And after many days and strange nights, I knew that the only way to live on was through that red coral. Better to get it done while I still have rum. I walked backward toward the edge of the boat, and jumped in. I never felt more alive.

The Fires of Progress

I first noticed the smoke rising out of a dense wooded area over the hills. It was a muddy brown shade, toxic in appearance. Too controlled for a wild flame, with dark clouds that pushed steadily upward with plenty of fuel. No doubt this was the byproduct of some well hidden manufactory, but who would build such a thing in the middle of the woods?  No access roads ran that deep, and trails were scarce through the uneven terrain.

The stench rolled in next—something familiar from years of hunting—but exaggerated beyond imagination. Dead meat, gutted animals, and excrement. Signs of a slaughterhouse, but way out here in the wilderness? Not likely, but the smell couldn’t be dismissed.

Curiosity gripped me. Good judgment placed the source of smoke about four miles from my cabin, a distance I could cover in just a few hours. Still, it was better to be prepared, so I packed some food and water. Heavy rain plagued the area with landslides, and pathways through the hills could give way at any notice. I didn’t fear a night in the woods, but if the worst happened I would be ready.

I made my way through the forest, eyeing the smoke but following the smell. It was overwhelming at a point, and I found it better to block my face with a cloth. Nearing the source, the sounds of machinery could be heard, along with the bellows of workers. Smog lingered amongst the trees. I could hardly believe the reality of industry so far out here, miles from anywhere.

I came to a clearing and gazed out at what appeared to be an open field. There was no structure as I expected, but this was definitely the spot. The thick smoke bellowed out from the ground itself, seemingly from nowhere. Mechanical discord echoed from the smoke, buzzing and chiming with deep bassy undertones. I approached the smoke, and saw no solid ground but a great pit in the earth. I could see the shapes of men working down in the pit, toiling away and completely unaffected by the toxic plumes which burnt my eyes like mace.

The men worked with picks and ropes to widen the sides of the hole. A great support structure went down as far as the eye could see. What were they digging for, out here? I commited to get a better look. Pulling out a pair of binoculars, I focused in on one of the figures, but what I saw made me recoil in horror.

I scurried back to the cover of brush, hoping desperately I hadn’t been seen. Rain began to trickle down, and I ran home as quickly as my legs would take me. I could hear a chanting coming from that dreadful pit, which seemed to grow louder even as I ran miles away. My cabin seemed completely unfamiliar by the time I arrived back home. Inside, with the door locked and tightly shut, I looked at myself in the mirror. There I saw a pale man, aged beyond his years. The past few hours wore on me like decades of passing time.

I gazed upon horrors in that pit which my mind had not prepared for. Those workers were not men, but corpses—bodies of the restless dead—clawing their way out of the noxious underworld. I swore to myself never to return to that awful place, but looking out the window now, I know I won’t need to. The smoke rises steadily, and it’s growing every day.

The Razor Peaks

 

The mountains are treacherous, a terror to pass even for the most hardened of travelers. They shoot skyward like blades, with unforgiving slopes and jagged cliffs designed to ward off most sane people. The wind here never sleeps—you hear it howling, as it rushes between the sharp peaks. The erosion causes deep lesions in the rock; terrible scars that form disturbing faces in the moonlight. Rumors tell of dwellers in the mountains, living in caves and tunnels, taking prisoners of those foolish enough to seek shelter.

It’s true, that the best way to get through the mountains is all at once. No use in setting up a camp for the night or taking a break by the fire. The trick is to keep moving. The trip can be made in less than a day, and if things go well, you can make it out with almost everybody that you went in with. Somebody always manages to go missing, though. They stop for a rest or to gaze into one of those vile holes in the rock face—and then they’re gone. No sound or sign of struggle. No use looking for them either—you’d be apt to get the whole party killed that way—you just keep moving.

Sometimes, after nightfall, when your vision is a little dull, you start to see the shapes in the mountains. The shapes don’t really look like anything, but they have enough form to be noticed. They seem to emerge from the faces in the rock, and are maybe ten or fifteen feet tall. They move effortlessly between the stone peaks, sometimes disappearing and reappearing in a new location with a wisp of smoke. They stalk groups of travelers, sometimes for miles at a time. If you turn to look at them, they move, but only back to the periphery of your vision. They never follow behind. They need to be seen.

Superstition calls them ghosts; the tortured souls of travelers lost in the mountains. Rational thinkers pass them off as illusions of the mind, nothing more than the play between light and shadow. Having seen them myself, I can say this much. They are definitely akin to shadows, but not so simply. When I say the shapes stalk travelers, I mean they have intention. I never saw the point in debating what they are past that. I wouldn’t dare stop to find out.

 

Thoughtform

Thirty days and those things are still hunting us. Nobody’s been caught by them yet, but it’s only a matter of time. They’re persistent—I’ll give them that—but they aren’t as good at fooling us as they seem to think. They can make themselves look almost human, but their mannerisms aren’t right. They mostly crawl around on their hands and feet, with their limbs spread unnaturally outward on either side. When they manage to stand, they do so with a telltale uneasiness. Not to mention their goddamned voices. They mimic bits of speech heard around the camp, chaining together unrelated words and phrases in a feeble attempt to gain our trust. It’s worst at night, when you can see their figures moving through the trees no more than one hundred yards away. There really seems to be more of them at night; and there sure are a hell of a lot of them.

If it wasn’t for the fires, I’m sure we would have been overrun by now. The things have a strong aversion to all forms of heat, I think, as it’s rare to see them in direct sunlight. We keep the fires burning non-stop; there is plenty of wood. When we venture out into the wild, we bring torches. So far, nobody has been in a conflict with the creatures, but we will not let our guard down. If the damned things aren’t dangerous, why do they beckon us with hunger in their eyes? Why do they swarm the perimeter of our camp each night, calling out to us in a mocking tone?

Last week one of the things got through the fence somehow, unnoticed. We were eating by the fire, when a female-looking figure with charred skin lunged out of the darkness screaming, “I am sentience!” Several of us grabbed torches and chased the thing toward the gate, opening it and allowing the beast to escape. We did not wish to capture it—or worse—and provoke retaliation. The camp was alive with discussion that night, and the thing’s words stuck out to us. It was probably just more random babbling, but our human brains were beginning to see patterns in the chaos. The things were getting smarter, that much was obvious, but how? How could they be learning so rapidly? First words, now syntax, and in just a few weeks. Someone mentioned the possibility of some psychic connection with the beasts. The idea was too macabre, and was dropped from discussion.

Since that night I’ve been tormented by dreams of the damned things. It begins deep in the woods, where it is cold and dark, and the air is stale because no wind can cut through the trees. I feel my face with my hands, and I am myself. In the distance I can see a faint orange light, I know it to be the bonfire. I approach it, but a strange thing happens. I fall to the ground. Unable to walk, I begin to crawl. I am horrified; I am crawling like them. I continue to the camp, determined to escape this fate. I manage to stand on two legs again, but I cannot maintain balance. The ground seems to twist and shake underneath me. The fence is just ahead, and I see the great raging fire. My skin begins to dry and peel off in layers; I scream.

The third night I was  awakened by  this grotesquely familiar scream. I jumped from bed and ran out of the cabin, looking toward the fence for the origin of the sound. I knew what I’d find there, but I had to see it for myself. By the time I got close enough to examine the figure, he was already retreating to the wild. There was no mistaking though; I was staring at the image of myself, limping into those black woods. It must have noticed me, too, because it stopped just before going out of view. It turned and smiled at me in a crooked way, and said“I am sentience.”

The others in the camp think I’ve cracked. I spend all night staring into the woods, and I refuse to sleep until dawn. I know the truth of the situation now, and it’s something they’ll all figure out soon enough. Thirty days and those things are still hunting, but they’ll never touch us. They need us. We created them, after all. Right now they’re still more mind than matter, but that could change. We give them form through our thoughts, and strength through our fear. And there’s a hell of a lot of them now, and a hell of a lot of fear, too.

Return to the Bloody Hunting Ground

It’s difficult to determine if my trip back to New England had a central theme or lesson. Several witnesses of wildly differing backgrounds told me that I would need a vacation from this vacation, and while that may be true, the devil is in the details. I tried to make an odyssey out of a week’s time, and in doing so I forced myself into some kind of deranged kamikaze exercise. Looking back on it, from the familiar setting of my desk at home, it is hard to believe everything happened so quickly.

I could recount a tale of debauchery and irresponsible behavior. There was plenty of it going around, but I don’t think it would make a very interesting story from an outside perspective. Neither will I tell you a heartwarming recollection of family and friends long removed. While these things were meaningful to me, I chalk them up to be about as interesting as photographs of other people’s children and food.

The only thing worth sharing, in my mind at least, is what happened to me internally. I feel weighty reflecting on the past week. I acted recklessly through the entire week, but that was easy to shrug off. I’m used to running myself ragged. Something else was grinding on me, and it took a variety of social encounters to hone in on it.

It is important to say, I think, that people in the northeast have a generally negative view of southerners. Particularly younger people, and especially those who cannot easily point out Kentucky on a map. When telling somebody that I actually live in Louisville, I often receive incendiary replies such as “I’m sorry,” and “Why?” The occasional gullible sort can be convinced that I hunt alligators through some carboniferous swampland, accompanied only by my thoughts and a horse proudly wearing the confederate flag.

Maybe I wasn’t explaining myself well enough. Could the population here really retain so much prejudice? The pretentious attitude seemed to prevail everywhere I went, and even in places like Manchester, New Hampshire, home of the country’s longest dead-end street. I see it as absolute hypocrisy, considering I have never once heard one of my neighbors in Louisville harbor any northern resentment. We’re all pretty much over the civil war here, folks.

Unable to shake the frustration, I found some solace in a visit with my Grandfather. He is a well-respected individual, someone who has traveled the world over, and a life-long resident of New England. I don’t have much contact with the paternal side of my family, but he has never allowed me to be cast from the flock completely. When I speak of Kentucky, he listens with a curious joy. For the first time since I arrived, I didn’t need to defend how much I enjoy my new home. I told him of the pleasantries which define southern culture. “It used to be like that here,” he said. “But not anymore, you just don’t see it.” Putting aside a reminiscent attitude, he was giving me a view which reached into the better part of a century.

It is no revelation that people become jaded when they forget to enjoy themselves. They may actually forget how to enjoy the pleasures of life, if they stray too far from the path. And I think it happens more in the northeast because the people tend to work themselves to death. I know that living up there taught me about things like work ethic and the brutal grind. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that once I moved out here, I finally learned to relax. Nobody taught that skill to me; I earned it.

 

Continuum

The cavernous halls of the Louisville airport whistled softly with an artificial breeze. These were the very small hours of the morning, a time when travelers are scarce, and without the traditional flood of dazed human bodies of which I was accustomed, my view was drastically more clear. I viewed this as an opportunity to survey my surroundings.

I felt that very few people actually noticed the details of this place. Past the odd-looking carpet, cyclopian windows, and bazaar of overpriced commonalities, there were undertones of things more sinister. The place was a mess of smells as well as attempts to mask said smells. Much of the place seemed worn out, bitterly clinging to some decades-past renovation. What worried me, however, was a series of deep, dark stains which littered the floor. Was it blood? Was it human?

Quickly putting the grim thoughts to the back of my head, I paced toward my gate. I sunk into my chair, and watched the slowly growing crowd. Men, women, and children entered the area, all exhibiting the same manner of nervous confusion. It amazes me, how quickly people can be thrown from their functional intellectual patterns. Take them into a place where they are stripped and watched as criminals, and they melt into a paranoid mess. Stanford looked into this, but the airport is a good place to see the theorem in action. All this in the name of safety.

My reason for subjecting myself to this abuse was not for some sociopolitical examination, however. I was enroute to the northeastern reaches of this land, a place that until a few years ago, I had called home. I had just a few members of my bloodline whom I held dear, and I was long overdo for a relaxing, slightly irresponsible trip. I had made an effort not to let Kentucky change me, but I wondered- What kind of culture would I be returning with? I was a radically strong-willed version of my younger self, much more able to express myself and unwilling to bend to the will of others. My guarded cautiousness learned from New England had bred with the extroverted drunkenness of Louisville. This would be a social experiment of some kind, using all of my skills to navigate in a now unfamiliar environment.

I boarded the cramped metal tube, compressed myself like human produce, and awaited takeoff. I was ready to return to the homeland.

(Continued on June the 2nd, 2014)

Violent Traditions for Developing Minds

Ignore the green-faced goblin in the children’s section.

I was visiting a local library when the creature abruptly entered, cawing and grunting heavily in the otherwise quiet building. She had an unassuming appearance, but the presence of a chupacabra. Her manner was completely distasteful, but you were given the impression that she was at least attempting to suppress her natural instincts. I had no doubt that she could, if provoked, leap across the room with incredible speed and ferocity. Somehow, I had been expecting this moment for some time.

My day had been spent enduring a particularly bad vibration, the kind that leaves you with a looming sense of dread. At the time, I had not been certain of the source, but as the goblin loomed closer I was drawn deeply into the pit of my stomach. Despite my growing paranoia, I managed to act in a completely inconspicuous way. Any loud or eccentric reactions may have been met with extreme hostility, I knew that better than most.

The goblin was accompanied by two spawn, potentially looted from the nearest orphanage. She seemed like the type to steal children from their beds at night or lure them into an edible house. After observing them for a moment, however, I was left with the distinct impression that they all belonged together. Not that this was a comforting thought, as the children seemed of a regular stock. I shuddered to think about the type of person who would mate with a green monster, possibly a desperate or morbidly curious individual determined to spread their genetics at any cost.

I immediately gained a deep empathy for the smallest of the spawn, as he came bumbling into the building. He was at the age where motor functions are still very sloppy, and interactions with the environment are somewhat heavy handed. The goblin growled scornfully at the youth fairly consistently. It was not immediately apparent to me, a fully formed and reasonably knowledgeable adult, what she was concerned about. I have always felt that a library is a relatively safe place to bring a child, as it is not an environment which easily harbors destruction.

If the woman was concerned about volume, she should clearly know that her own vocalizations were far more disruptive than the small burbling noises of her offspring. For about five minutes, she scolded her spawn on a variety of topics from running, touching, talking, breathing, and of course asking too many questions. It was clear that the stifled youth was unable to take a single action without a slap on the wrist. How can a developing mind learn the weight of his transgressions through this process?

For a moment, things were finally quiet. Then the sickening slap of a boney hand hitting skin shattered the silence. Though I did not see it, I knew immediately what had happened, and the volume of it sent a cold shock through my spine. The goblin’s voice now cackled through air in the building. “Where did you get those?” The child had apparently picked out too many books, from what I pieced together. It was hard to really tell what was going on; all eyes were on the situation now. I could have thrown a chair across the room and gone unnoticed.

An old war horse, who had been reading a paper, stood up and congratulated the woman. He was thrilled by the situation, probably disappointed that there wasn’t any bloodshed. He rewarded the woman in the style of an army drill sergeant. “That’ll teach the miserable little bastard, he won’t go trying to rent any extra books from the library anymore. I was beaten senseless as a child and I for one am proud to see somebody continue the cycle of abuse. Puts hair on your chest.” Judging by the look on the kid’s face, he thought this strange man was going to start beating him with a belt.

“It’s healthy,” explained the mother. “We have to keep him from reading too much fiction. Rots your brain with imaginary thinking. I learned that when I was a kid and I turned out half OK.”

The old man was called on by one of the librarians. His computer lesson was ready. Here he was, a fossil of thought processes, trying to cling to old habits in a new world. Excited, he turned his attention to the new voice and walked into a spacious room with a single beige computer. He probably had no idea how long that kid would remember what happened here. Hell, he had already forgotten.

I couldn’t help but be haunted by the goblin’s parting words. Her entire ideology was as disgusting as it was common. Raise ’em half OK, worked for me. No lessons from one’s experience, no emphasis put on empathy. Forget about adapt and evolve. Evolution is for the nuts, anyway.

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