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Greetings all!

Greetings and Welcome to my very first blogsite on the web!  As you may have guessed, I am an accountant by trade.  It’s a fine job and a fine way to keep the bills paid, but analyzing all those numbers gets a little tiresome after a while and, eventually, the other side of my brain cries out for release.  (For some reason, they don’t approve of “creative accounting”.)

So…hopefully, this will be a fun way to help me exercise my creativity with lots of flash fiction, short stories, and other nonsensical bits submitted for your amusement.

Please note that all creative work submitted by the blogger on this site is copyright of Ryan K. James.  HOWEVER, you are free to copy and/or distribute this blogger’s work according to the terms outlined in Creative Commons license “by-nc-nd”.  Please contact me before using the work in any other way.

ALSO, please note that other parties who submit creative work to this blog retain all rights under copyright law.  Their work is NOT subject to the abovementioned Creative Commons license.  You should contact the respective creator for permission before using their work in any way.

Thanks for stopping by!






Episode III

Let’s face it. Life is full of conflict. People face conflict everyday, and there’s practically an infinite number of ways people can get themselves into trouble. Naturally, when people find themselves in trouble, they make decisions to deal with the trouble they get into and, since human logic is not perfect, the repercussions of these decisions inevitably lead to more conflict…which leads to more imperfect human decisions…which lead to more conflict and so on and so on. Fortunately for me, that means my job should be pretty secure for quite some time because, you see, conflict is at the center of every great story that’s ever been written down…such as those you’ll find at your local public library.

My name is Elwood Cox. I’m a library supervisor. And I have a story to tell….

After my friends and I returned from the world of literature where we had successfully thwarted the malicious intents of one Dr. Ryan Von James, things began to happen very fast. Tragically, I lost a couple of friends. Both Gwen and, eventually, the surly yet courageous Ms. Redmond were carted away to a “rest home” after suffering mental scars at the hands of the nefarious Von James. (He had paid dearly for that, thank goodness.) Yet, things were not all bad. My budding romance with Annalee was progressing nicely. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other. I told her all about my first library checkout as a young lad, my first book report in school, the first time I ever shushed somebody as a full-fledged librarian. I found out a lot about her, too. Not only was she remarkably talented at playing damsel in distress, she was also quite a technical wizard, much like our former library supervisor Ms. Redmond had once been. In fact, I found out that Annalee happened to be a graduate of MIT, with honors, and was very knowledgeable about all the new techno-gadgetry that Ms. Redmond had installed in our library. Needless to say, as the new library supervisor, I hired her on the spot to be our Chief Technical Officer.

It was a good thing, too, because just as I was getting the hang of things at Library 2.0, technology made another leap and once again, my beloved library was forced to undergo tremendous renovations. Based on what little I had been able to glean from Annalee’s technobabble presentations at our staff meetings, I had sort of expected this. But it happened a lot sooner than I’d expected.

It all started with a memo from Ms. Scarbrough, district manager for all the library branches within the city limits. The memo stated very succinctly and with impeccable grammar that it was time to embrace the future, and the future was “paperless”. Then, before I knew it, some men arrived in big trucks and hauled away all our books and bookshelves. Then more men in big trucks came, bringing with them dozens of big metal boxes covered with lots of flashing lights and futuristic controls. These were set up where all the books and bookshelves had once stood. Annalee informed me that these machines were called “servers”, much like the machines that supported our online catalog workstations.

After all these servers were set in place, one last wave of men in big trucks came and brought in a new giant supercomputer, one that left even Annalee in awe. They parked it right where they had disassembled and cleared away the checkout desk. Apparently, this metallic monstrosity was the master control unit because the men arranged things so that all the servers they’d brought in were wired to this new giant supercomputer.

The days and weeks that followed were very busy with our staff trying to learn how to become computer nerds as opposed to the bibliophiles they’d always been. In turn, we had to familiarize library patrons with the new concept of borrowing e-books by downloading them from the new library cloud to their electronic tablets. At first, they actually had to come into the library and physically connect their electronic tablets to the giant supercomputer in order to download an e-book. In time, the system was upgraded so that library patrons could download e-books to their tablets from a remote location using a wireless connection.

After that system upgrade, traffic at the library slowed to a trickle. Eventually, the only ones that stopped by the library were little old ladies who hadn’t kept up with the times. It made me sad to see them walk away dejected and confused after I’d told them there were no more books and everything was electronic now. When traffic at the library ceased to exist, most of the library staff was let go. After that, it was basically just me and Annalee and a few security personnel babysitting this new giant supercomputer, which we affectionately dubbed Big Brother for reasons that will become clear soon enough.

There was plenty of new work to be done to keep Big Brother and his servers functioning properly. Annalee was constantly monitoring diagnostic reports on her electronic tablet, which she always had with her. Big Brother was very sensitive, so we had to be very careful to make sure the environment wasn’t too warm or too cold or too dry or too humid or too dusty or too sanitized for Big Brother’s liking. Annalee insisted that she be allowed to do most of the work to keep Big Brother happy, and I was more than happy to let her do it.

From then on, life for me became much less hectic. There were a few reports for me to review and sign from time to time, but mainly I spent most of my days in my office kicked back and curled up with a good book. Of course, the only real books left at the library now was my own personal collection of rare editions that I’d inherited from my late grandfather who, incidentally, I’d recently discovered, was not the librarian that I’d once revered but turned out to be nothing more than a time-traveling special agent for the CIA’s Imagination Defense Unit.

When I got tired of my grandfather’s books, I eventually tried to download an e-book or two from the library cloud, but it was hopeless. I just couldn’t abide those new-fangled electronic tablets. Fortunately, Annalee managed to smuggle in a printer and jailbreak the system for me so that I could at least print out hardcopies of e-books from the library cloud before reading them. I don’t know what I would’ve done without Annalee during those days. She was absolutely wonderful.

So that was pretty much it. After the arrival of Big Brother, the only really exciting thing that happened at the library was when Ms. Scarbrough dropped by for one of her surprise visits to check on things. Unfortunately, these were not the most pleasant of experiences. Much like The Irascible Ms. Spanyer, Ms. Scarbrough had a way of giving me these scrutinizing stares that instantly made me feel like I was one of those young hooligans who used to come into the library after school, the kind that spent too much time cutting up with his friends when he should have been studying. Thus, I was more than happy to oblige Annalee when she offered to be the one to provide the guided tour whenever Ms. Scarbrough dropped by.

It was on one of these days that our story really begins. We’d just barely gotten in the door that morning when Ms. Scarbrough called us from her smartphone to let us know that she would be arriving at the library in ten minutes. We quickly ran through a few systems checks. Then, with Annalee by my side, I braced myself and greeted Ms. Scarbrough in the front lobby with the best ‘thank-you-for-stopping-by’ smile I could muster. Much to my surprise, she didn’t want the ten-cent tour this time.

No, I really just came by to find out why you haven’t responded to my emails.”

Your emails…?”

My emails about why you are consistently late with sending your checkout logs to my office. You are currently three months behind. I would go in from my terminal and view the logs myself, but, for some reason, my access to your system seems to be blocked at present.”

Oh! Yeah…ummm…about that—“

Now, Mr. Cox, we’ve been through this before. I don’t want to hear another word about how we’re ‘violating our patrons’ privacy’ by turning over our checkout logs to the city. You know very well the city needs those records for their counter-terrorism efforts.”

Yeah, I know, but—“

And you also know that the city is providing a sizable chunk of taxpayer money to support the libraries in this city, and we couldn’t possibly survive without that money.”

Yeah, I know but—hey waitaminit, why do we need the taxpayers’ money to survive? What about other sources of revenue? I mean, don’t we have The Friends of the Library?”

Ms. Scarbrough straightened up and smirked.

Ah yes. The Friends of the Library. They have their bake sales. They raise about $800 for the library every year.”

$800! That doesn’t even cover a month’s worth of printing supplies!” I was going to have to have a little chat with The Irascible Ms. Spanyer.

And so you see,” Ms. Scarbrough said with a curt nod.

Yes, I see.”

So I want to see those checkout logs coming to my office in a timelier manner. Is that clear?”

Yes, ma’am.”

By the way,” she continued. “What’s this about printing supplies? I thought it was understood that we were going totally paperless now.”

Well yeah, I know, but it’s just the daily reports. I—I just can’t get accustomed to reviewing all my reports on that electronic tablet thingy. And…well…I guess I do print out a couple of books to read from time to time.”

Ms. Scarbrough was obviously not pleased. “Well, just be sure that it doesn’t get excessive. The last thing we want is to have those smelly tree-hugging hippies back over here picketing in front of our library with their ‘Tree-Killer’ signs.”

Yes, ma’am.”

And you better not let publishers get wind of you printing out copies of their books. I realize it’s just one of your little… quirks, but they might think we’re trying to start some sort of counterfeit operation here and take legal action against us.”

Yes, ma’am.”

And another thing. I think you need to be more careful about who you’re hiring to run this operation. I came by for a surprise visit a couple of days ago while you and your assistant were out to lunch. All your security guards were napping, and your technician… well, your technician needs a lesson in manners.”

Um….our technician?” Annalee and I exchanged confused looks.

Yes, the funny-looking man in the white lab coat. He was monkeying with some of those servers over in the west wing of the library. He was very rude. When I tried to inquire about what it was he was doing, he told me to shut up and mind my own business. I think you need to have a talk with that man.”

Things were suddenly becoming much clearer. Annalee and I exchanged knowing looks.

I’ll get on it right away,” I said.

Good. And don’t forget those checkout logs.”

With that, Ms. Scarbrough turned and left. Annalee and I both let out a sigh of relief when she was gone.

I’ll go have a look at those servers in the west wing right away, Mr. Cox.”

Annalee started for the west wing, but I quickly jumped in front of her.

Uh, I think you better let me handle that, sweetie. Why don’t you, uh, go back to your office and finish running your morning diagnostics on your tablet, hm? I’ll go check out the west wing and report back. I don’t know much about those machines, but I’ve been around them enough to know when something doesn’t look right.”

Well…okay,” she said finally. Then she pulled me close for a soft kiss. “Be careful.”

Don’t worry. I will.” I flipped a lock of her hair and gave her my best roguish grin to reassure her. Then I turned and made my way to the west wing.

After strolling through the west wing of the library six or seven times with a couple of security guards by my side, I finally convinced myself that nothing was out of sorts. No lights flashing red when they should’ve been flashing green, no strange sounds other than the usual whirring and humming, no cables severed or dislodged from their connection. I thanked the guards for their assistance and then headed back to Annalee’s office to deliver my report.

As I turned down the hall that led to our offices, I suddenly got that tingling sensation that something wasn’t quite right. The doorway to Annalee’s office was open. I approached it slowly, but when I began to hear what sounded like soft plaintive cries, my adrenaline kicked into overdrive. I darted down the hall and rushed into her office… but there was no one there. The sound of plaintive cries was coming from her tablet which was lying on her desk. That was odd. Her tablet must’ve been playing a movie. Sure, she loved movies, and, yes, I was willing to look past that less redeeming quality of hers, but she never watched movies on her tablet. She was all business with the tablet. What’s more, she never went anywhere without her tablet.

I walked over to her desk, looked down at the tablet screen…and gasped at the face staring back at me.

Annalee! What are you doing? W-Where are you?”

She looked terrified. The background behind her was totally white. It didn’t look like any of the rooms in the library.

Elwood! Thank heavens! Y-you’ve got to help me!”

Annalee, what’s going on? Where are you? Is this some sort of joke?”

No, I—I don’t know where I am! Please, you’ve got to help me!”

I will. I will, but first I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”

She took a deep breath and seemed to calm down just a bit.

I—I was running diagnostics on my tablet like you said when I noticed this strange icon on the screen, one that I didn’t recognize. At first I tried to delete it. When that didn’t work, I tried to run a diagnostics scan on it to see if it was a corrupted program or something, and then–then the next thing I know I get this weightless feeling—you know like when you’re in an elevator that’s going too fast for your stomach to catch up with you–and then, it felt like—it felt like I was being pulled toward the tablet—INTO the tablet! Oh no, I’m not making any sense!”

Yes, you are! Keep going!”

Well…then there was this flash of white light that almost blinded me and then–then I’m running through this dark jungle and I’m being chased by these savages. But I’m not alone. Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark is running with me and—and another guy, some wiry, bearded guy who was dressed like he was on a safari. Boy, he was a crack shot with his rifle even while he was running!”

I don’t know who this Indiana Jones character is, but that other guy—that must be… Allan Quatermain?”

And then I see another flash of white light… and then I’m stuck on this makeshift raft with Tom Hanks in that movie, you know, where he talks to a volleyball all the time… and there’s this other guy wearing this strange get-up. It looked like something some amateur stitched together from animal hides. And he was carrying a silly-looking umbrella that looked like it was fashioned from the same hides by the same amateur!”

You’ve stumped me again with this Tom Hanks character. Never heard of him, but that other guy, that sounds like… Robinson Crusoe?”

And now I’m stuck in a large white room with no doors that I can see, and there’s some bald-headed guy here that looks like Robert Duvall—and another guy, some nervous-looking guy who calls himself Winston Smith!”

I have no idea who Robert Duvall is…. but Winston Smith! That’s from Orwell’s 1984! We covered that book in our last book club meeting. Don’t you remember? Big Brother?”

Oh… no. I don’t remember,” Annalee hung her head and blushed. “I guess I was too busy staring at you.”

Well, I couldn’t fault her for that. There were times when she made me lose my concentration as well.

Oh, please, Elwood, you must help me! You’re my only hope!”

But—But I don’t know how! I want to help but—”

Suddenly the screen went snowy, and then a new, more sinister face appeared. I gasped once again.


Von James cackled with glee. “You want to know how to save your precious girlfriend, Elwood?”

You monster! What’ve you done with her!”

All you have to do is tap that little icon that’s just now appearing on your screen.”

Just as Von James said, a small picture of a book with skull and crossbones on the cover suddenly appeared on the screen.

If you want to save your precious girlfriend, all you have to do is tap that little icon, and you will be transported into my world once again where your true love waits for her knight in shining armor. You’d better hurry, though. There’s no telling when she might be transported to one of those Shakespearean tragedies where everybody dies!”

Von James cackled again, obviously proud of himself.

So what’ll it be, librarian? Are you willing to risk your sanity and step into my world once again to save your girlfriend? Hmmm…?”


Chain Story: “The Fantastic Adventures of Elwood the Librarian: Version 2.0!”

Greetings all!  Thanks for stopping by!  Hope you had a great Independence Day celebration!

Got a new chain story for you.    Once again, I’m counting on all you creative types out there to post an entry and help keep this story going as long as possible until it reaches its natural conclusion.  You can make your entry as long or as short as you like, and feel free to take the story in any direction you wish, although try to keep it silly and try to keep it PG!

P.S.  This chain story is actually a sequel to a previous chain story that I started some time back.  The exciting finish to that story was posted by none other than Chris “Elwood” Cox himself.  If you missed this hilarious first adventure of Elwood the Librarian, you will want to check it out by clicking right here before you proceed further.

The Fantastic Adventures of Elwood the Librarian: Version 2.0!


I love books. I love everything about them. That soft, creaky sound the spine makes when you first open a book. That wonderful, unique aroma of ink printed on paper. The feel of the pages as I flip them through my fingertips one by one. The thrilling anticipation of reaching a story’s climax.  Naturally, I prefer fiction novels, but any book will do, so long as it’s a book. I simply love books.  So you can imagine my trepidation when Ms.Redmond, the library head honcho, announced that our library would be undergoing some major renovations. She wasn’t kidding.

My name is Elwood Cox. I’m a Library Circulation Manager.  And I have a story to tell.

Our story begins on a typical Monday morning. You know the kind.  The alarm clock that’s much louder than usual. The shower that’s too quick to let the water get hotter than lukewarm.  Stale leftover pizza for breakfast. It was the kind of morning that needed a double shot of espresso followed by a little hair of the dog that bit me.  It was the kind of morning where you knew trouble was lurking just outside the door of your shabby two-story apartment building.  Nevertheless, I showered and shaved, slipped into something less comfortable, imbibed the necessary stimulants, grabbed my personal effects, and headed out the door to face the challenges ahead.

The morning bus ride to the library normally took about ten minutes.   Usually, I was so eager to be about my work I  couldn’t wait for those ten minutes to be over.  For the past two weeks, however, my daily morning commute to the library had been over way too fast.  Today was no different.  The bus arrived at the library right on time.

I stepped off the bus and paused for a moment to look up at the gloomy, overcast sky.  The air was already warm and thick with humidity.  I almost regretted bringing my trench coat with me, but I knew I would need it later.  Reluctantly, my eyes trailed down from the gray skies to the whitewashed building before me and the new signage plastered above the front entrance.  The leftover pizza churned in my stomach.


Public Library & Media Center,” I read aloud. “Hmph!”

I shook my head and grumbled a few choice words.  Nevertheless, I trudged forward, scattering a group of pigeons as I made my way up the front steps leading to the main entrance.  Reaching the top, I strode toward the automatic sliding doors and passed through.

Upon entering the library, I was immediately hit by a blast of cold air.  The sudden chill of the library’s new A/C unit felt refreshing after being outside in the warm, sticky humidity, but I knew that I would be a frozen icicle within a couple of hours, if not minutes.  I was now thankful I had brought my trusty trench coat.  I pressed onward.

As I cleared the new detection panels that were mounted just inside the main entrance to either side of me, I was startled by an upbeat “Morning!” to my left.  I looked over and saw one of our five new security guards standing at attention with his hands behind his back.  He gave me a quick salute and then resumed his position.  A shudder ran down my spine, but I managed a polite nod and a half-hearted wave before hurrying along to my destination.

It was true that a replacement for our white-haired, 90-year-old security guard had been well overdue, but something about these new young security guards made me nervous.  I’m not sure what it was, but somehow I had the feeling we’d hired a bunch of overzealous military wannabes, the kind who wouldn’t hesitate to order an immediate strip search of every grandmother who accidentally triggered the alarm on our new electronic security system. Thankfully, no such incident had occurred. To be honest, they all seemed like nice guys, and they did a good job keeping the riff-raff out.  So I couldn’t really complain.

The main lobby area leading up to the circulation desk was spacious, bright, and pristine. Everything looked sparkling clean and brand new. Even the air smelled like it had been purified and sanitized. I glanced to my right and left as I crossed the new glossy marble tile lobby floor. The entryway to the fiction department was to my right. To my left—my stomach churned again—we now had a room that housed collections of CDs, DVDs, and computer software. Elevators and staircases off to the side led upwards and down.  Reference materials and quiet study areas remained upstairs, but the creepy, poorly-lit downstairs area that had once housed our archive of special collections and rare items was now occupied by some small conference rooms and an auditorium that could accommodate an audience of about 400 people.

That wasn’t all that had changed. The old card catalogs with their delightful musty smell had been banished. They had all been replaced by spiffy new computer workstations providing fast, easy public access to our new “online catalog”. I was totally against that change, by the way, and protested loudly when I found out about it. I mean where’s the fun in finding a valuable resource if you don’t have to work a little to get it?  Besides, the people most likely to use a computerized online catalog to find a book are probably the very same people who never take the time to read books anyway, right?  So what’s the point?   I was told this kind of “progress” was sweeping the nation, but I was still certain that Melvil Dewey was rolling in his grave.

Four ladies, each one standing behind a sleek black monitor, greeted me cheerfully as I approached the main circulation desk. I gave them a curt nod and the best “Good Morning” smile I could muster before stepping behind the circulation desk and heading toward a door on the back wall.  The ladies returned to chatting with each other as they waited for the library to officially open.

I paused at the door in front of me and reached into my pocket to fish out the new key I had been given.  I pulled a white plastic card out of my pocket and swiped the magnetic strip through the new card reader that had been installed on the wall beside the door.  After a second or two, it responded with what sounded like a satisfied beep.  Next, I punched in a 4-digit code on a number keypad that had been installed above the card reader.  I waited for another satisfied beep and then opened the door and walked inside. I flipped on the lights, closed the door, and breathed a sigh of relief.

I took off my fedora and hung it on the standing wooden coat rack beside the door.  I did the same with my trench coat and then paused for a moment to take in my surroundings.  Aside from the newly painted white walls and the new khaki-colored carpeting, my office remained largely unchanged.   I was allowed to keep my old wooden coat rack, my old cherry wood executive desk, and my old worn out Oriental rug.  They even let me keep the old card catalog drawers that they were going to throw out although, much to my dismay, some nitwit had already thrown out all the reference cards that belonged in them.  I often entertained notions of reconstructing the card catalog, but I knew I’d never get around to it.   Still, I was determined to hang on to those card catalog drawers, if only for the sake of posterity.

I allowed myself a little smile as my eyes glazed over the rest of the office.  Various framed accolades hung on the walls, including my college degrees in library science, my Librarian of the Month awards, and even a certificate of recognition from the American Library Association.  Along the walls, there were several small bookcases that contained my own personal library.  I’d placed various odds and ends on top of the bookcases for display.  These included small trophies for my many outstanding achievements as librarian, as well as souvenirs I’d picked up on my travels to librarian conferences across the nation and even a marble bust of Johannes Gutenberg.

Then my eyes fell on the large desk that was the centerpiece of the room, and I groaned.  On the desk top, where there used to be a mess of papers haphazardly strewn about, there now sat the worst upgrade to this library of all. Yes, I too had been assimilated into the computerized network.  No longer could I rest in the knowledge that my work assignments would have to work their way through the slow process of being typed up on paper, checked and approved, misplaced, re-typed, re-checked and re-approved, thrown away, re-typed, re-checked, and re-approved again before they finally reached my desk. Now all they had to do was send an e-mail to my new computer terminal and, voila, instant work assignments. They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. If that’s true, why did I miss the old library building with its poor lighting, its broken down A/C, and its complete lack of anything resembling a computer terminal?

I walked over to the desk, side-stepping the empty card catalog drawers that were piled on the floor beside it.  I set down my briefcase, took a seat in front of the computer terminal and reluctantly switched it on.  It proceeded to make a soft whirring noise followed by an annoying tick-tick-ticking sound, which let me know that it was waking up.

While I waited for the computer to come to life, I started to reach for the desk drawer that contained a small flask which I kept around to help keep me warm.  Instead, I picked up a small, framed picture that was sitting propped up on the desk beside the computer. It was a weathered, old sepia-tone photograph of a distinguished-looking gentleman wearing spectacles and a sharp tweed suit. My grandfather, Dewey Cox, one of the greatest librarians to ever wield a DUE DATE stamp. My grandfather had been a librarian just like his father before him and just like his father’s father before him.  Six generations of the Cox family had been part of the library profession.  Regrettably, my own father turned out to be the black sheep of the family when he became a film projectionist at a local movie house.  Lucky for him, I came along and redeemed the family name. But for how long, I wondered.  How long would my beloved library last before this “media center” took complete control?  I felt a tear well up in my eye as I gazed at the portrait of my grandfather.

“The old guard is dying off,” I mumbled softly, my voice cracking just a bit.

A loud beep brought me out of my momentary reflection.  I drew a heavy sigh, set down the portrait of my grandfather, and turned my attention back to the computer screen.   I typed in my user ID and password as requested.  The screen went black for a few moments, but that annoying tick-tick-ticking noise let me know it was still awake and thinking things over.  After a few more seconds of black screen, a list of programs appeared.  As I had been instructed, I clicked a button on the mouse and brought up the e-mail program first to check for incoming work assignments.  An e-mail from Ms. Redmond, the head library honcho herself, was the first message to pop up. The email had been sent to “all users” and was typed in all caps:


I looked up at the clock on the wall.  It was almost nine, only one hour until the press conference.  That wasn’t much time to get started on any of the projects that were on my to-do list for the day.  I thought about propping my feet up on the desk and catching a few Zs, but instead I swiveled my chair around to a small wooden shelf nailed to the wall behind me.  A small collection of rare first-edition novels sat on the shelf.  I ran my thumb slowly across the spine of each one.  I’d inherited these treasures from my grandfather when he died.  I pulled out one of the books, propped my feet up on the desk, opened the book to the first page and began reading:  “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since….”

The next thing I remember was darkness.  And a loud beep.  More darkness.  Then another loud beep.  Still more darkness and then a loud beep that jolted me awake with a start.   My eyes popped open.  I had dozed off!   I looked up at the clock.  It was 10:05!  I straightened myself up in my chair and looked down at the computer screen.  The e-mail program was still open.  There were 3 new messages—all from Ms. Redmond.  I opened the first message.  It was sent to all users at 9:55:


I opened the next message, sent to all users at 9:58:


I opened the third message:


I hopped up out of my desk chair and rushed out of the office, not bothering to close or lock the door.  I dashed across the lobby, nearly knocking over a patrolling security guard on my way to the stairway. I darted down the stairs taking them two at a time until I reached the bottom floor where I came to a sudden halt.  There, I paused for a moment to catch my breath.  I straightened up, composed myself, and then strode casually up to the large auditorium doors before me.

I reached for the door handle and slowly pulled the heavy door open just a bit and peeked in.  The room was already dark, but I could hear the bustle of the crowd, which let me know that the show hadn’t started yet.  Good, I thought.  I pulled the door open just enough for me to slip inside the auditorium and then held it steady so that it closed slowly with a soft click.  I then paused for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the darkness.

I was standing at the back of the auditorium.  There were two long columns of seats in front of me that led up to the stage with an aisle separating the two columns.  I could make out the silhouettes of heads above the seats moving this way and that, as the lively buzz of conversation continued.  It seemed the room was packed to capacity, and there was a tone of excitement in the air.  The stage beyond was lit up.  There was a large object on the stage that had the shape of a car, but a covering was draped over it so I couldn’t be exactly sure what it was.  A huge projection screen hung suspended from the ceiling directly above the stage.  A lady, presumably Ms. Redmond, stood onstage beside the concealed car-shaped object. She appeared to be looking down at something in her hand.

When I was sure my eyes had adjusted to the darkness and I had my bearings, I stepped forward… and stumbled right into a big burly figure directly in front of me.  The figure emitted a loud “oof!”  I gasped, expecting to hear the sound of a body hitting the floor, but it seemed to recover its balance quickly enough and straightened up.  I breathed a sigh of relief but then panicked when the figure turned on me.

“Oh!  Excuse me,” I began quickly.  “I didn’t see—“

“Mr. Cox?  Is that you?” a deep, gruff voice said.

I instantly recognized the voice.  It belonged to another one of our security guards.  He flipped on a flashlight and shined the beam directly into my eyes.

“Gaaah!” I winced and raised my arm to cover my eyes.

“Oh, good,” the guard said, sounding relieved. “Follow me, Mr. Cox.  Library personnel get a front row seat!”

So much for being discreet.  I drew a heavy sigh and reluctantly followed the security guard’s flashlight beam down the middle aisle toward the stage.  I was still a bit disoriented by the sudden flash of light in my eyes, which were now trying to adjust back to darkness again.  Thankfully, there were little floor lights along the sides of the aisle, which helped keep me centered.  As we got closer to the stage, I could tell that it was indeed Ms. Redmond onstage, and she appeared to be fiddling with her hand-held texting device thingy.  I still couldn’t make out what the large covered object next to her was.

We finally reached the front row.  I could see better now with the light coming from the stage.  The Friends of The Library, that is to say, our chief benefactors were seated on the front row to my left.  I caught the eye of The Irascible Ms. Spanyer who was seated at the end of the row.  Somehow, she always managed to give me a perturbed look that instantly made me feel ashamed of myself. I quickly turned away and hurried along to my destination.  The guard motioned to the row of seats to my right.  I spotted an empty seat and started toward it.

“Ah, there you are, Elwood Cox!”  Ms. Redmond exclaimed as I was just about sit down.  “So nice of you to join us.  Would you kindly step up here and assist me, please?”

I turned and looked up at Ms. Redmond with a sheepish grin.

“Me?” I pointed at myself, glancing around, hoping she was referring to a different Elwood Cox.

“Yes, you!  Get up here!”

I looked around again, hoping for some way out.  Finding none, I drew a heavy sigh and plodded up the steps to the stage.  I walked over toward Ms. Redmond and awaited instructions.  She was busy texting on her hand-held texting device thingy again, so I took the time to survey my surroundings while I waited.

From this vantage point, with the help of light from the stage, I could easily make out some of the faces in the audience.   My fellow co-workers were seated to my left.  The Friends of The Library, including The Irascible Ms. Spanyer, were seated to my right.  I also recognized some of our city officials seated a few rows behind the Friends of the Library.  At one point, I thought I saw a familiar face wearing a white lab coat, but when I did a double take, it was gone.

My attention was pulled away from the audience when I heard Ms. Redmond clearing her throat.  She had put away her hand-held texting device thingy and was now fiddling with the remote microphone attached to her lapel.  A loud thoomp issued from the auditorium speakers, and the noise from the crowd began to die down.  Ms. Redmond stepped forward, flashed a million-dollar smile, and began to speak, her voice booming over the auditorium speakers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!  Members of the press!  Friends of The Library!  Welcome, one and all!” she announced.  “I know you’re all eager to find out what we have in store for you today, so without further ado, let me introduce you to the latest, the greatest, the ultimate in state-of-the-art library multimedia technology!”

With that, Ms. Redmond turned and whisked the covering off the large car-shaped object with great fanfare.  There were a hundred gasps of astonishment as dozens of cameras flashed throughout the audience.

“The all new totally computerized Public Access Library!  Featuring options for playing movies, listening to music, surfing the Internet, and of course, reading e-books!  All with the help of a 9000 gigahertz processor!  We call it the PAL-9000!”

There were a hundred “ooohs” and “aaahs”, followed by thunderous applause, and more camera flashes.  Ms. Redmond still wore that million-dollar smile as she looked out at the crowd.  I looked down at the newly revealed contraption before me.  I was flabbergasted.  This was what we had been brought down here to see?

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” Ms. Redmond continued.  “My assistant, Elwood Cox will demonstrate how this marvelous invention works!”

“What!” I exclaimed.

Completely stunned, I wheeled around to face Ms. Redmond. She was still smiling at the audience, but she motioned for me to keep my voice down.

“But I’ve never used this thing before,” I said, keeping my voice low but stern.  “I didn’t even know about it until just now!”

“Don’t worry,” Ms. Redmond replied through gritted teeth, still smiling at the audience.  “It’s like switching to that auto insurance company.  It’s so easy even a caveman could do it!”

“Thanks a lot!”  I muttered.  I looked down at the metallic beast again and scowled.  It sort of reminded me of an outlandish modified DeLorean I had seen years ago in some awful movie about time travel, except this hideous thing had no wheels to speak of.

“Look,” I said.  “Can’t you find somebody else to do this for you?  Anyway, how’s the audience supposed to see what I’m doing in there?”

Ms. Redmond switched off her microphone and turned to face me.

“First of all,” she said.  “I specifically chose you because I wanted somebody who was totally computer illiterate.  I want to show the audience how easy it is to operate the PAL-9000.”

“Gee, thanks,” I replied.

“And secondly,” she continued, unfazed.  “There’s a camera and microphone mounted inside the PAL-9000.  Everything that you see and hear will come through on the projection screen and the auditorium speakers.”

“And if I refuse?”

Ms. Redmond looked me straight in the eye and put on a wicked smile.  “I could always confiscate those old card catalog drawers in your office and take them to the dumpster where they belong!”

I looked down at the PAL-9000 and frowned.  I couldn’t deny it.  She’d won.

I drew a heavy sigh, resigned myself to my fate, and stepped inside the PAL-9000….



Chain Story: “The Fantastic Adventures of Elwood the Librarian!”

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!