Gothic Tales of the Returns Desk
We guarantee you've never returned books in conditions as horrible (or as terrifying) as these. Settle in for these horror stories about book returns. But beware, these tales are not for the faint of heart.
The book was black—a toxic, stygian blackness that, serpent-like, invited to be touched while at the same time made the very thought repellant. The librarian gripped her hands together below the desk, as she did not trust them not to resist the book’s onyx charms.
“You are returning this book?” The librarian’s voice was steady; above all else, she was a professional.
“Yessssss.” The word slithered out the woman’s shiny black lips. She stroked the dark cover of the book with her gleaming black nails. The book quivered in response. “Anne of Green Gables. I’m afraid I’ve kept it quite a long time. It is a book that is very dear to me. It has left its mark on me, you might say. And I suppose that I, in turn, have left my mark on it.”
“There will be fine.” The librarian noticed the wood beneath the book slowly darkening.
“Of course.” The woman smiled, her teeth the exact same bleached white as her skin. “There is always a cost. Please say you’ll accept it back. I won’t leave until you do.”
“As long as the fine is paid…” Against her better judgement, the librarian picked up the book. It was heavier than it should be. It was weighty like depression, or an instantly regretted choice. The librarian could feel an oily substance working its way under her fingernails.
“The bargain is struck,” the woman said, as her grin grew wider…
“I can’t accept this, it’s damaged.” The librarian placed the book the man had brought on the desk. To call it a “book” was generous. At best, it was half of one. It looked like it was torn in two, and the torn edge was all…wet.
“Wut?” The man’s face was almost entirely beard, and he scratched at it irritably.
“Where is the rest of the book?” The librarian tapped the wet portions of the book with a Bic pen.
“Rest?” The deep-set eyes within the beard looked confused. Then the man let his head drop back in laughter, revealing not one, not two, but three sharp sets of teeth. He patted his beard-obscured belly happily. “In me tum-tum!”
“I…I cannot accept this.” The librarian withdrew her Bic pen. The wet material from the book had begun to dissolve plastic.
The bearded man shrugged, picked up what remained of the book, shoved into his many-toothed maw, and began to chew…
“That is not a book,” the librarian said. “Please take it outside.”
“I assure you it is. It is a book, it is. And it belongs here, it does.” The man held up the moss-covered tome against his cheek. “It wants to come back? Can’t you hear it? Can’t you hear its screams?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to go…” the librarian began, but the man fixed her with such a stare that she lost all words.
“Books are living things, don’t you know? The life that exists within these pages is stronger than any writer or printer dared dream. But they’re trapped, you see. Trapped, as we are.” The man licked his lips with a mossy green tongue. “We’ve strayed to far from our origins, rooted in the earth. But the books, the books they are our dreams, dreams given form by plants. We turn trees into dreams, you see. And now through our dreams we can become trees.”
“I don’t think—” the librarian couldn’t finish her thought, as yellow mist of spores rose from the mossy tome. She coughed and her vision began to blur. Something was wrong with the skin on her hands. Yellow splotches began to form, quickly turning green.
“No, don’t think. Only dream.” The mans voice was slow and muddled. There was something in the librarian’s ears, something soft. Something making it’s way inside her head. “Dream of the world to come, the world we left.”
The librarian could no longer move her arms; they were fused to the wood of the desk. Moss spread from her fingers and wrists, and mushrooms slowly poked out from the knitting of her cardigan. She opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue had sprouted rooty tendrils of its own, making it impossible to speak.
“We want to be trees again,” the man said, holding the mossy book to his chest. “Why else would we have tattooed our dreams upon their hearts?”
Jadzia Axelrod is an author, an illustrator, and a world changer. Throughout her eventful life she has also been a circus performer, a puppeteer, a graphic designer, a sculptor, a costume designer, a podcaster and quite a few other things that she’s lost track of but will no doubt remember when the situation calls for it.She is the writer and producer of “The Voice Of Free Planet X” podcast, were she interviews stranded time-travelers, low-rent superheroes, unrepentant monsters and other such creature of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as the podcasts “Aliens You Will Meet” and “Fables Of The Flying City.” The story started in “Fables Of The Flying City” is concluded in The Battle Of Blood & Ink, a graphic novel published by Tor.She is not domestic, she is a luxury, and in that sense, necessary.