Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are lucky enough to be written down for others to read and enjoy. Some of the stories that are written down are good enough (and lucky enough) to make it to the publishing houses. From there, the story has the potential to reach untold masses. It may even find its way to that great repository of masterpieces called The Public Library. That’s where I come in.
My name is Elwood Cox. I’m a Library Circulation Manager, and I have a story to tell.
It all started late one night as I was just finishing up another long day at the old dilapidated downtown branch where my office is located. I was literally exhausted. My eyes were tired from reviewing the end-of-month reports that had just been released. My ears were tired from listening to the endless barrage of customer complaints about overdue fees and the like. My throat was parched from dealing with the sporadic phone calls from our chief benefactors, including the irascible Ms. Spanyer, who wanted to know why the end-of-month reports showed another 17 items missing from our collection. To top it off, my nerves were shot from confronting all the less-than-sober ruffians and other colorful characters who frequently find their way into a downtown library on a daily basis. (Our 89-year-old security guard looks so peaceful when he’s napping in his chair that none of the staff has the heart to disturb him.)
It was well past closing time and well past dark when I locked up my office to leave for the night. Bernie, our nightwatchman, had not shown up yet, so I decided to make a quick sweep of the building to make sure all the doors were securely locked and lights were turned off before I left. It was then, as I passed the fiction department, that I noticed a strange blue aura illuminating from one of the aisles toward the back of the room.
Since I was sure that I was the only employee left in the building, I immediately surmised that it had to be one of the local street dwellers who had found himself a good hiding place in our library and decided to camp there for the night. I thought for a moment about going back to my office to retrieve my handgun and a swig of nerve from the flask in my desk before I made this last confrontation. But, I quickly dismissed the idea and simply puffed up my chest as I stormed over toward the blue aura, putting on as much of a show of force as I could muster.
To my surprise, there was no one there. The blue aura was coming from a single shelved book. I went over to examine the strangely glowing book. I pulled the book from the shelf and immediately noticed that there was no writing anywhere on the luminescent cover. I opened the book, only to discover that all the pages were blank! Suddenly, the mystic aura that enveloped the book began to envelop me! A sudden gust of wind rushed over me. My body began to experience a tingling sensation all over. I felt as if I were evaporating into thin air. At the same time, I felt a tugging sensation as if some invisible force was pulling me toward the pages of the open glowing book… INTO the pages of the book!
I was helpless to stop this invisible force as I became transported into the contents of the pages. My physical body felt outside of itself, as if floating on mist. My speed had to be at least a hundred miles per hour, yet I felt motionless. Just as quickly as this trip had begun, I dropped onto a cold, hard and unfamiliar surface. I found myself bruised and practically breathless, but I still tried to pull myself up. It was then I noticed a pair of polished black shoes nearly draped over by a lab coat that reeked of chemicals. A steady hand reached down to help me up.
“ I have been waiting for you, Elwood. My name is Dr. Ryan James.”
I dusted myself off, but took a step back when recognition set in.
“I know you. Dr. James. Dr. Ryan…Von James!”
Dr. James laughed. “You librarians do your research don’t you?”
“Yes, I know you. Famed chemist, later got bored with science and became a film critic.”
“And then?” Dr. James encouraged me to finish.
“And then you became disillusioned with your fellow movie reviewers when the film you called the greatest of all time, The Phantom Menace was panned by the other critics and you mysteriously disappeared.”
Dr. James became flushed. “Those other hacks know nothing. The people proved me right! The people loved Jar Jar Binks! How could those snobs not see that?”
“The people!” I huffed. “These are the same people that made the Twilight series best sellers and buy Danielle Steele books just for name recognition even though it’s the same story just repeated over and over and over.”
The doctor managed to calm down enough to crack a smile. “This is precisely why you are here. Please come with me.”
Dr. James led me into a damp room which stretched out to almost the size of a warehouse. It was lined with cage after cage. There were figures locked in each of them, all with a nameplate. I surveyed them. Rick Blaine, Charles Foster Kane, George Bailey, Norma Desmond, Scarlett O’Hara. “What in the name of all that is holy is going on here, doctor?”
“ Do you like my collection? I have been using quantum technology to leap from movie to movie to, how can I put it so a humanities major can understand, stealing their essence I guess you could say,” the doctor explained as he threw a chunk of raw meat into the cage marked Stanley Kowalski.
“ You’re mad.” I said as I continued to look down the line. Travis Bickle, Michael Corleone, Little Ralphie Parker, Barbarella, Alvy Singer….Alvy Singer? Weren’t you the one critic who didn’t like Annie Hall?”
Dr. James raged. “And I was right. I am always RIGHT!” He caught himself and smiled as he straightened my collar.
“Let us move on to the business at hand.”
“Which is?” I said impatiently.
“There are certain characters; John Galt, Holden Caufield, Dean Moriarty, Binx Bolling, Anse Bundren and others who have never been converted into celluloid. They are beyond the grasp of even as brilliant a mind as mine. I can only get to them with the help of a…”
“With the help of a librarian.” I finished his sentence for him.
“Precisely, Elwood.” Dr. James said before letting out a diabolical laugh.
I saw myself looking through my favorite childhood book The World’s Best Fairy Tales. I was happy as I leafed through the pages…but they were blank and solid black. Those darkened pages were the last thing I remembered before passing out.
When I awoke, I found my hands strapped to a silver chair. There was a metal contraption of some kind attached to my skull. Beakers bubbled, lights were flashing, and computers were processing. I didn’t understand it all, but like the doctor said I was just a humanities major.
It was then I noticed an identical silver chair next to me. To my astonishment, there was no person attached to it, just a copy of a small paperback book. I squinted to see if I could read the print underneath the straps. The red cover, the gold lettering was instantly recognizable.
“Catcher in the Rye!” I shouted.
“Glad you have rejoined us sleepyhead.” Dr. James had come back into view.
I struggled with the straps. “What are you trying to do you…you madman!”
Dr. James sighed. “I guess it is up to me to supply the exposition at this point. Oh, well. As I have tried to explain to you, I need a conduit to the fiction world for works that have never been put to film. The ones converted to film are easy. The more thinly drawn the better. But the ones never filmed, you, the librarian are my conduit. You see I’ve never had much use for the real world, but the world of the make believe, that is not only preferable, but it is a world that I can rule!”
“This is insane. You are a crazy…”
I felt a sharp pain as Dr. James backhanded me across the face.
“I’ve had enough or your lip, librarian!”
Dr. James pulled a switch and I remembered seeing the flashing lights. I had to hold on. I must keep control. I thought of them, The Moviegoer…Invisible Man…Atlas Shrugged…On the Road…It kept the experiment from working momentarily, but I couldn’t hold on much longer. Then I thought of Faulkner. Yes, Faulkner. You can’t convert Faulkner to film. I thought of his works…over and over. God only knows if it will work.
Dr. James lifted up my head after he released the switch. “Well, speak.”
I stared at him blankly. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
The evil scientist pumped his fist in the air in triumph. “Yes, yes I have done it!”
He unstrapped my hands and loosened the binding of Catcher in the Rye as well.
I rubbed my hands as I stood up. The doctor by this time had turned his back on me in victory. I tapped him on the shoulder causing him to turn around.
“One more thing, Dr. James. This is for making that movie out of The Sound and the Fury starring Yul Brynner.” I slugged him across the jaw, which sent him reeling. I took another step to him. And this is for Bonfire of the Vanities. I hit him again and he crashed into his Bunsen burners causing the chemicals within to mix and begin bubbling. “Damn! I didn’t get to give him one for Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”
The chemical reactions within the laboratory continued to increase. I had little time left. Luckily the book I entered this hell in was lying across the floor. Robert’s Rules of Order. “Let’s see them make a movie out of that!” I thought as I ran to it. I hesitated before entering. I ran back to the silver chair. I was ducking flying flames at this point as I grabbed Catcher in the Rye before sprinting back to Robert’s Rules and going in. I heard one last giant explosion before diving through the pages.
I emerged feet first in the Reference department with my now battered copy of Catcher in tow. The irascible Ms. Spanyer looked perturbed.
“What are you doing up here? You should be downstairs checking out books. That is your job, isn’t it?’ she said while tapping her foot.
“Yes ma’am” I said before heading downstairs.
I almost tripped over the sleeping security guard on my way to the checkout desk. The familiarity of where I belong made me laugh.
I walked to the checkout desk triumphant and happily greeted the next customer.
The man spoke deliberately as he walked up to the counter. “I’m sorry I seem to have lost my library card somewhere. I wanted to checkout this book called Different Roads by Joyce Scarbrough. From what I hear, one day it will make a great… movie.”
Ryan James laughed as he handed the book to me.