Midnight in the Stacks
She had been misshelved.
If the student had placed her closer to the Rick Yancey books, it wouldn’t have been a problem, because she and Alfred had an easy friendship and liked to exchange exploits with each other. To her horror, she had been flung carelessly next to the Paul Zindel books. Right next to them, without the buffer of E.L. Young’s S.T.O.R.M. books, which had in the past cleverly used their gadgets to keep the bloody horrors of Reef of Death and Raptor at a distance, or at least The Pigman, which the horror books wouldn’t touch.
Hippolyta was afraid.
She was right next to Rats. Perhaps it was her imagination, but the cover felt… furry next to her own. She could smell the fetid stink of the garbage dump and sense an agitated trembling from the pages. The last time that Rats has been placed on her shelf it had savaged Briar Rose. Bits of paper still littered the shelf behind the row of books. Briar Rose had been a paperback and Rats had removed the cover and gnawed at the pages until nothing was left but the borrower’s card, which had fluttered helplessly to the floor, only to be found the next day by the puzzled librarian.
Hippolyta checked to see who was beside her and was relieved to see that Atalanta had been misshelved as well. There was hope. Were both Odysseus and Jason on the other side? She hoped the next line of defense was not The Girl in the Cage. She would be useless. And what lay on the other side of Rats? If it were Raptor, all might be lost.
“Atalanta.” Hippolyta hissed. “Do you have your bow handy?”
There was a brief rustling as Atalanta awoke and flipped through her pages. With a sigh, she replied. “Yes. Where have the students flung us now?”
“Right next to Rats. And I have a bad feeling that Raptor might be right beside us. Or more likely Reef of Death. There’s a whisper of salt in the air.” Hippolyta paused for a moment, feeling a distinct nudge at her side, accompanied by a sharp pinch. The shelf trembled, and she could feel the cold metal of the book end slide underneath the edge of her bottom. She knew.
They would have to sacrifice someone, or be destroyed.
She had heard the stories that other books had told; there was the close call when Townley’s The Great Good Thing almost fell to Tolkein’s Smaug but was saved when the transparent fish moved the book to the end of the shelf, and the premature but understandable demise of Shaw’s Flavor of the Week when it was misplaced in the middle of Shan’s Demonata series. Cyril, no matter how big he was, was no match for demons.
She looked around. Were there any paperbacks they could feed to the slavering jaws of Rats? No. Paperbacks, while good companions, never lasted long, so were the first line of defense. The librarian had recently weeded books that didn’t pull their weight—all of the books like to rest on the shelf, but it wasn’t fair to the others if they didn’t circulate from time to time. There was no dead weight to use as bait in this section of shelving.
“Atalanta, can you see what’s on the next shelf over? We need someone dispensable.” Hippolyta felt the pressure at her side decrease; Rats edged ominously forward. She felt a slight dampness as a trickle of radioactive water seeped onto the shelf. “Now! We need someone now!”
In a blur of yellowed pages and musty cardboard, a book was hurled between Hippolyta and Rats. There was a deafening crinkling of mylar, a crunch of brittle paper, and the horrible, dead thud of the dismantled tome hitting the floor.
Hippolyta peered over the shelf. The only marking she could see was “F Wys”. With a startled gasp, she began to sob.
“Not The Swiss Family Robinson! They’ve been here forever!” she cried.
“It was their time,” replied Atalanta cold heartedly, as she straightened her cover. “Besides, it was a lousy translation."
Thank you for your indulgence. Testing this week; it makes us all crazy.