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!
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:
IMPORTANT PRESS CONFERENCE AT 10AM IN THE AUDITORIUM DOWNSTAIRS. BE THERE!
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:
ALL LIBRARY PERSONNEL PLEASE REPORT TO THE AUDITORIUM AT THIS TIME.
I opened the next message, sent to all users at 9:58:
ALL LIBRARY PERSONNEL REPORT TO THE AUDITORIUM IMMEDIATELY!
I opened the third message:
EVERYONE REPORT TO THE AUDITORIUM NOW! THIS MEANS YOU, ELWOOD!!!
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….