THE FANTASTIC ADVENTURES
ELWOOD THE LIBRARIAN
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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…?”