~ a short story
Along rising walls of knowingness, dramatics of every flavor gripped the expanse of a world built just for them. At this worldly way station, their spines enclosed the many-faced and languid dreams of culture and their stacks rose near to the arching ceiling while not quite connecting with it. At their summit were view after view of the continuous and interceding chasms of words, words, words. Shelves of books within a library were a wondrous sight for lore eyes. ‘A word after a word after a word is power.’ Atwood said that. That means it is true.
Catalogued and organized, the tomes here stood the test of time. Deep time. The library had been around as long as populaces could conceive of a written word. And this time was not idle. Books were collected in its spaces, and had been doing so since the first set of conscious minds birthed into void. Through no small feat of a long dead but farseeing and sagacious magician, the words of the cosmos gathered here in the forms of stories bounded into books. Eternal and outfitted to last, the stories never stopped coming, even as intergalactic donations became the norm instead of these spellbound authorships. Donations from people, from anywhere and everywhere where things happened, or could be dreamt of. By every measure, there was more power here than anywhere else. The musk of these indelible pages, turned, harmed and especially old, carried with them the promise of continuity. In hands and below eyes, they held the hearts and minds of countless worlds willingly carried. Worlds waiting, pregnant with stories. Always waiting to be told, and told again.
“As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” Woolf.
These were the thoughts on this day of one Jacelyn Wowicki. Profession: librarian. A simple title befitting so much, a role humbled with responsibility. So little time for it all. Jacelyn rushed to and fro amongst the stacks, gathering tomes with a glance, knowing their color and their heft just as well as their titles and content. Climbing to the tip-top of the third level of one such sacred shelf lined with ahistorical fictions penned by inhabitants of the worlds still alive while the purported and distorted events occurred, she grasped the one denoted next on the list. The latest collection of requests received at the library on this day. She took them one day at a time. Memorized, she thumbed through the list of tragedies and comedies in her mind’s eye, marking Waakespeare’s Whamlet next. Instantly she put herself there in the play, a mix between all genres, exploiting and expounding upon their boundaries with the gusts of writer, actor and director in collaboration. She snapped back to her next task at hand. Across the way. Hurrying but with the grace of a woman her age, she descended the ladder sprawling the shelf step by step. ‘I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; but I lift my eyes and all is born again.’ She intoned the words with the grace afforded to them as she moved. Sylvia. She grasped Whamlet, again smiling in remembrance of its many wildly different and interpretive adaptions. After its wide spread and nearly universal appeal, due in no small part to her own humble institution’s dissemination, it had been adapted an infinitude of times by an incalculable number amongst the intergalactic community. True to the page, modernistic, post-modern, prehistoric, cyberpunkian. You name it, Whamlet had its flavor crafted amongst the xenosphere.
Oh, and the requestor was a young woman who claimed to have never read it or listened to it or watched it ever before. Jacelyn clutched the liveplay novel with vicarious anticipation. What a treat she is in for. And what an honor to be able to deliver the experience!
Jacelyn shook off her daydream. So much to do, so little time. There was always less time for the writing than she preferred. Less time for the reading. But alas, this was the job. Efficiency just as salient as effectiveness in her role.
A day of cosmic proportions. Out here, every day was. Her job was to curate this library. The library. There was no name for it other than this. It resided in a place known to no cartography, but to everyone worth their salt, intellectually or soulfully, in the whole of the universe. Its continuous care was her life’s work. Inside its four walls were many functions, none of them necessary and all of them important. Completed by one woman, alongside some trusted companions. There was no rest for the weary. Not that her spirit flagged. But her body did, from time to time. Despite this, she relished every responsible moment. For she knew full well what she was cultivating. She sang out the mantra of her workmanship with gusto, “Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose, a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.” Shelley.
Even with the rush to complete her day’s duties, Jacelyn stopped on the penultimate rung of her ladder. The sight through the window just beyond the top of the bookshelf caught her eye, drawing her attention away from her dawning responsibilities. Her backyard beckoned, in all its majesty. It appeared as specks of burning fires lifetimes away, interspersed with the boundless void, collating themselves into arrangements to inspire those first stories anyone had ever put to page, and inspiring her just the same. All those stories were preserved here and there in an unconscionable equivalency. She’d read them all, remembered them too. Though she didn’t like them all, the compulsion was there to finish them first to last. Those final stories would be here too, one day. Whether she was still at work, doing her little daily duties here among these hallowed halls of rich parchment, was up to fate. She would read as many as she could, until her last breath. Reading was her passion, her favorite thing to do. Nothing beat it. A good story was the highest high; creation the highest good; a library the highest public good.
Even so, in some primal part of her heart, of her soul of souls, nothing ever really matched this sight.
A cascading twinkle of starlight drew her out of that reverie of dreamy deep time, and back to the everlasting now.
This sight of the big dark outside. An untold sadness swept over her. It apparated out of the mind’s eye and into the reality of her position as a being within the cosmos, her place dropped down onto her shoulders with arresting and dreadful gratitude. She clutched the book in her hands like a cornerstone, bringing it flush with her heaving chest. Her exhalation steadied her. Never fully prepared to take it all in in one go, she needed the passive awe of a steady look. Jace whispered the truth to the suddenly stagnant air of the indoors, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” What was a more untold story than the universe’s? Maya was right as rain.
She imagined it moving about her, even right now, before her present eyes. The stars shifting, their small lights trailing with the dust of infinity, rotating about her little library and its manifold winding chasms hidden away amongst the annals, at the tip of its expanding tail.
Always moving, never at rest. The great beyond, always writing its next tale.
Moving… Like you should be, missy! Jacelyn scolded herself and quickly descended the rest of the steps. As of yet remaining careful of each foothold, painfully remembering so many of the falls, each more costly than the last. Can’t afford those anymore.
At the base of the stairwell, she was greeted by the smiling and wagging figures of Ana and Barry, a pair of lovely retrievers. In their mouths, they held their time-honored gifts. The day’s target for transcribing and for exchange. They stared up expectantly at their big friend, their two tasks tolled pleasantly.
“Thank you, pretty girl. Thank you, handsome,” said Jacelyn, placing the requested tome beneath the crook of her arm and retrieving each of the additional books into her other arm. Turning to her side to keep balance, she leveled the three books with her left while she reached back into her apron’s back pocket to locate the day’s bone. She’d just received a new shipment from an anonymous, doggy-loving donor. Flavored and salted, these were deluxe. Two small ones lay within her pocket, where she’d placed the night before. Ana and Barry’s wagging grew louder as they dusted the floor near their patient seats. No doubt, the wafting smell drew them to her.
“Good girl, good boy!” Jacelyn tossed the bones to the carpet of the common area, the central locus of the library’s radial shelving, where a fire crackled and her seat and bookmarked story awaited her. Long day ahead, long day. Ana and Barry’s daily responsibility was finished, and so their daily reward was given over.
The Sapphire Sage. Atomic Shadows: Gaea’s Eleventh Hour. Jacelyn eyed the titles in her hands. The first was for transcribing. Its cover was worn, the title marred and the author’s name nearly blotted into illegibility. She headed over to the station now, her shoes clamoring against the creaking wood of the stairwell up. Hoping the interior words were well-preserved, unlike its cover, Jace made her way through the winding hallways of the upstairs, where the bulk of the library’s grand collection lay. Those multitudes were closely and uniformly garnered upon their shelves. Efficiently and efficaciously utilizing the limited space, every inch of it sparked the joy necessary to providence their presence. As for The Sapphire Sage, Jace had never heard of it herself. Of course, she’d never heard of any of these. If it had come here with the ensign for transcription that meant it was a rare edition. Sometimes, even a one-off. An unpublished novella, an earlier draft of a classic, or a journal of an unknown man preserved by his community for their own singular posterity. The candidates for transcription were raised to the hall of her art and always, always fascinating to her in their own small ways.
The natural cosmic glow along her walk made it pleasant, her body welcome to the energized movement of her rush. Behind schedule, she hurried toward the machine. Over the wooden rails, days and days away from their previous dusting, Jace glanced down to the dogs. They lay in comfort, chewing away upon their bones, warming themselves at that ever-burning fire. Not her ‘pets’ persay, but definitely her friends. The dogs, along with all the other animals making this space their home, had been here long before her stay. Just as she imagined they’d be here long after her. They didn’t abide by the same rules as the animals from her stories, or from her long ago days on her home planet. They acted and existed as no other beings in this universe could. Created or championed by the originating magi, they were of another world, one as of yet unseen. They were also the library’s constant companions and fellow caretakers. Eternally so. They were the benevolent little cells to its grand organismic life as the lone and ever-functioning locus of knowledge in this cold void. Jacelyn smiled while readjusting the trio of heavy books within her wield, her dress sashaying over the hand-carved panels of flooring. Every library needs its animals. It was true thus far of every one she’d ever worked in. This one though, this strange and impossible one at the edge of forever, took this maxim to heart more than any of the others.
In her perpetual hurry, Jacelyn plunged into the trancribing room. The oscillating spheres of its never-ending motion were already at work. Mortimer, Martin, Matthias, Marny, Mina, Meedy, and Maximillian were already in their positions. Every day, mice showed they were smarter than Jacelyn could imagine. They could tell time as well as the dogs! Their time to shine today was coming on. Freudensprunging jumps of joy helplessly excited the librarian in tow.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen, I am coming in hot!” Beginning to lose her balance from the pulling weight of the trio of books carried their long distance, she hopped the last few paces to get into position. Delicately slamming down The Sapphire Sage upon the central pedestal at the heart of the machine, Jaceyln exhaled. Now came the hard part. Matthias squeaked at her as she walked past, to the dispensary of papers. She booped the little mouse, whom waited patiently in his designated station. Uncaged and there with distinct purpose, the mice stood in uniform readiness. Stacks and stacks of pre-bound and empty-papered tomes lay in the corner, atop the sturdy oaken surface of the desk. Their overflow spilled onto the ground nearby. Always in ready supply, she grabbed one of the ‘Larges,’ matching its approximate size to the Sage she’d carried in.
All the while, in her short walk to and from the transcribing machine, Jacelyn pondered the title and the cover. Her little ritual here was to consider the title of the candidate book, and its cover art, if it had any, and try to guess its content, its plot, its purpose as a piece of language now reaching her shores. She would speak it aloud to the mice, the true Transcribers, as her witness to her novel judgments. And then, once the process was complete and the book was copied over into its new pages for placement within this library, the mice having done their exquisite job, she could read the book and confirm the veracity of her guess. Always were her guesses wildly inaccurate, laughably so. All part of the fun. Save for once, Jacelyn thought sheepishly, when she’d accurately guessed the basic plot of a book titled The Definitive History of Elephants. But that was the point, to judge a book by its cover, and then face up with the humbling complexity of language and mind and all the myriad ways that one cannot know what one cannot yet know.
“The Sapphire Sage … The Sapphire Sage,” Jacelyn repeated aloud, nearly ready to place the copy tome into its receptacle right next to the principal. “This one is about …” she began, letting her eyes wander throughout the room and to each of the stations where the seven mice stood on their back legs and listened for her cue. “… a wizard … No! A witch, who wields majestic yet mysterious sapphire blue eyes. She harbors great magicks and a dark secret and she comes into a strange new land with the power to save it … or destroy it. In the end, she chooses … to leave it all behind with the friends she made along the way!” Jacelyn finished with a smile and dropped the book next to The Sapphire Sage, kickstarting the process. “A bit too specific there at the end, about the end, maybe huh?” she admitted the mice. They’d already begun their sprints and their jumps and their various mousy activities which fired the great machine. The golden wheels encircling the pedestal where both the books lay spun with increasing speed. Though Jacelyn had never performed any kind of serious analysis or deconstructive maintenance upon this machine she’d come to calling simply ’the transcribing machine’, she understood it to be harness some kind of energy exponential to the small creatures’ movements upon their own little wheels and treads. Their tiny sprints at each of the key stations at the edges of the oscillating spheres throughout the room charged the pedestal’s unseen and no doubt complex inner workings, where the copying took place. Already the process was at its end. Jacelyn waited a pleasant minute before going to the pedestal again, thinking of her day’s remainder. The outside coffee fountain and its wafting smell of hot and rejuvenating bean water was calling her name. First, to finish her business here.
Jacelyn retrieved both the original and the transcribed copy of The Sapphire Sage and continued on her day through the library. She left the transcribing room but not before leaving her seven tiny friends a sliver of a wheel of holy cheese. They gathered upon the pedestal in a ring, sharing and squeaking their happy little song, their days completed. Jacelyn wondered if they were contented to be of service to the grand process of knowledge, crafting taking place within these halls. To her eyes and ears they certainly did. She left them to their delights. Jace got a cup of coffee, took a short seat.
Jacelyn carried the three books to the pods. The requested, the exchanged, and the transcribed candidate. Each would be traveling on, out into the voids of the outside. On their pods, they would carry the thrust of their individual pods out of the library and on to their new homes. Two known, and one unknown. Never to return. There was always a hint of melancholy in the good-bye. One she hadn’t known long, of course. The Sage. But it must be returned to its originator, per the terms of the transcribing arrangements the library held with its cosmic patrons. Even so, as long as she could help it, Jacelyn did not wish to see any books depart from the library. When she did, as any good librarian should, she ensured the send-off was respectful.
Just before reaching to the far end of the library’s furthest tail, the library’s stern as she called it, Jacelyn handed off the freshly transcribed, fast-drying tome to her resident stower. A title Jacelyn garnered to Yor, the grandly winged and especially intelligent owl. A lone ranger, like herself, Yor held a memory for the library’s chronology and classification nearly as sophisticated as her own. With a few simple words of command and commentary, Yor would take the newly transcribed piece to its designated place within the library’s shelving. Never in all her seasons here had Jacelyn seen a copy out of its place.
Heaving the three big books down upon the sidelong table before the pods, Jacelyn stopped to take a breath. The coordinates. One of the things she did not memorize. Too complicated, no system to it. She found herself punching navigation strings into the pods like 7–46 21.99 3 44 22.81 in order to return a transcribee. Or similarly chaotic sets of numbers, utterly randomized from a list of inhabited exoplanets to send her exchangee. Jacelyn opened the inner covers of the tomes, where she’d previously stuck the notes of their home sites. She loaded The Sapphire Sage first, its presence in these halls only coming by the grace of a faraway patron. It would be the first to be returned. The pods were about the size of a bathtub. Their bright and clean sheen resembled porcelain. The books would also be secure, like the bather, and unharmed upon their intergalactic voyages. Next came the requested book, Whamlet. Jacelyn stowed it with care and entered the young person’s coordinates. Jacelyn left a small note in the front cover, bearing a smile and her favorite lyric from the play, out of context and written with calligraphic flair.
“In the wake of a dream, what life may dawn!”
Finally, came Atomic Shadows: Gaea’s Eleventh Hour. The freely exchanged book from the library’s hallowed horde. Saving the worst for last. Jacelyn hated this part, despite understanding full well its necessity. Even here, there was limited space. Even here, entropy ate away the time and space of her parched children. Between the donations and the daily transcribed candidates, and the care afforded every tome under its wing, there was a net surplus, consistently so. Without the exchanged, the library would become full. And in the overflow, the integrity of the whole mission would become marred. Some of the books would suffer. Some had to be given up. Never without purpose though. Always with a universal translator in tow, tucked away within the pod right alongside the paged traveler, so that the recipient, regardless of their language and terms of sensing the world, might experience the story or account or words the way they could. ‘Exchanged’ was not truly a misleading name for this gifted action. They were sent to a random civ, with a short note explaining the reason for its arrival upon their planet, as well as a return address. The recipients were invited to experience a xeno-story, outside of the confines of the culture of any of their own. They were also invited unto patronage to the library, with the ends of further exchanges, requests, and donations in mind. The time-honored mission of the library was hers to uphold: To become the pages of the universe’s tale. Everyone was invited into such a tale, necessarily so.
Jacelyn sent the trio of books off into the void, hurtling like arrows in three separate directions, to their old and new homes. With grim melancholy and renewed purpose, she reflected on the content of the exchanged on this day. Selected at random, yet somehow often presciently apt for the equally random planet set to take them on. Well, the process was not entirely random, Jacelyn must admit. The books and the planets were both selected by Otto, from his tank full of waterproof catalogs and starmaps. Otto, the octopus. Jacelyn shook her head, maybe he did have some strange power. She understood their immense intellecting capabilities. Like us, but different. One day, she was going to have to pay up on that bet she and Yor had made about Otto and his alleged telepathy…
Jacelyn had read up on it and learned the planet that ended up being designated for exchange, the one getting Atomic Shadows was new to modernia, newly conscious in their own right. And new to all the chaos of all the rest that came with that fact. And Shadows was an old tome, aged with purposeful and existential dread within its sentences. Non-fiction. It carried a grim but compelling account of one of Earth’s first colonies. The infamous one pet-named as ‘Gaea.’ Jacelyn only had to read it once. Long story short, the unfortunate Gaeans carried too much of the state of mind and the greedy, prejudiced and ultimately pathological aspects of their dying homeland with them onto their lush new planet. It ended in hellfire, but the true death of their people was long and hard. A dark read, but a necessary one. Doubly so, for new peoples carrying the possibility of creation and destruction within their hearts.
The pods faded away into the black. Jacelyn flicked herself into a heel turn, empty-handed and free to pursue her next passion. Light on her feet even now, she skipped away. Well done, Otto. No story, no matter to horrors of extinction or the infinite suffering of a mass of murdered potential, must remain untold. Remember the mission, J.
What was it Ursula had said?
“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”
Jacelyn pulled down the next scroll. Unraveling it with rapture and reading the words, re-reading them and taking them into her being, her wheels ignited into the turning. “How may we help out a lost soul today?” she said to her neighbor, Felix. The grey-dappled cat of illimitable stature sat upon the oak, grooming and silently mewing. The librarian now stood at the prow, overlooking the living room below where the dogs milled about and the fire burst its homely warmth onto the crimson carpet. And her chair. She glanced at it fondly, untread so far on this cosmic ‘day.’ Not yet. One last job for the day. The most important, in her mind. From her heart, she anticipated her latest curation. From these anonymous musings, inquisitive, heartbroken or in need of an expression worthy of their yearn, spirited to her faraway doorstep at the edge of nowhere and in the heart of an everywhere of dreams, Jace began to cook with the ingredients given to her. One lone patron of humanity, or a descendant, or one of alien xenomanity, they were out there, in this struggle that we call existence, awaiting a dream that might further actualize them.
They sent her their troubles and toils and struggles in the form of poems, stories of their own, sometimes only a single sentence. And with that, Jacelyn curated for them a book of some kind. Simple but powerful work was performed here.
Jace paced while she curated, stewing over the expressions of the one in need of their story. Reciprocation was the name of the game. Where might she find it? The term implied a literary mate as individual as the struggle of the struggler. There was a one and only, she believed, a destined selection just for them in their singular time and place. It was up to her to find it. She was the only one who could. A librarian with a memory untold, an illimitable pathos held away only by temporary temporality and mortal mortality, and an imagination equal to the sum total story of the universe’s continuous winding, Jacelyn would deliver. Floyd watched her from her favorite perch atop the stacks of paperback thrillers. The white devil. She leaned forward expectantly, as if Jacelyn might curate for her a mystery she might learn to read and solve over the rest of her seemingly immortal span. Noc padded into the fray, prowling along the prow. His obsidian fur voided him against the richly wooden backdrop of the walkway. A shimmering trail of strange energy, nearly visible at the edges of his lithe form, followed this black cat everywhere he went. A magic cat, no doubt. But Jacelyn never saw him as bad luck. Witches were powerful for a reason. Just as their chosen companions were.
She wondered at the sight of the three cats, crowding around her, for attention, for love, for nourishment. It did not matter, no matter to its underlying cause. Their experiences however, their forms and their own special void filled with the possibilities and the limitations in their little cat hearts and minds, it did matter. To them. And to the one with enough concern and concentrated empathy to imagine it for them. It certainly mattered to her. Jacelyn stroked them each, crossing her fingers over their soft fur of their arch. Even they dreamed and struggled. Just like Sora, Aria and Mia. Just like Felix long before her, the namesake of this cat. The first librarian. She wondered if it held his spirit. Its hazel eyes matched the renderings … Just like her. She breathed and ended her pace, snagged upon an idea alighting the infinity of the library’s selection. Back at the prow’s balcony, her wrinkled hands lay upon the varnished oak, clutching it like a cornerstone.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”
That was it. Shirley. That was the book!
“Thanks Felix. Merci Floyd. Gracias Noc.”
She wrote the name down and returned the scroll with her recommendation. The request could be fulfilled as soon as the next day, if the one seeking the curation so chose it. Thus far, she hadn’t had any turn her recs down. This one would answer the call too. Jacelyn had faith. Not necessarily in herself, but in the power of the stories she advocated.
She motioned to Yor, on standby, to pinpoint her book. She returned downstairs, ready for the endgame.
Jacelyn sat in the chair at her desk. Watching the distant stars fade through the starboard matrix of the library’s lenses. Amongst her sleepy companions, she toiled from time to time, away from this view and down upon her pages, upon her growing creations. First on this day’s twilight, she penned a chapter of her memoir. Then, came a pair of pages within her epic. There’d be time enough at last to finish both in their due time. She struggled as much as anyone in this seat, ever uncomfortable, never forging itself to her stubborn bottom. She created so she could earn the time to read, her truer passion. But to her, it was important that she learn to do some originating herself, so as to appreciate the other triply so. Either way, with responsibility spent and the day’s pages penned, Jacelyn galloped her bare feet across the crimson fuzz of the carpet, in between her dog-dazed friends, to the recliner. To her chair.
She plopped herself down with a satisfying sigh. Anxiety and expectation washed away at the stead of the day’s reward. In her chair, at home and before its promised hearth, she gathered up the book beside it. She began to read. A myth, a shadow, a dream, a story. All and everything. Between pages, Jacelyn flashed glances to the rows of the towering shelves on every side of her, rising and strong like the walls of a castle, endless and inviting like the Redwoods of ancient Earth. She’d beckon them all one day, progress unto infinity. Progress into an impossible dream deprived of any real fruition. Progress nonetheless. Part of the process unto the unreal omniscience afforded to all Librarians. Jacelyn grinned and giggled, diving into the next chapter.
“Cogito ergo sum legi Deus,” she whispered to no one in particular.
I read, therefore I am God.
Jacelyn Wowicki. ~