Today is my first Flash Friday! (Try saying that 5 times fast.) Let me explain the game: I take a writing prompt and whip out a short story off-the-cuff with little editing. (Do you have an idea for a writing prompt? Shoot me an email, and maybe I’ll use yours next time!) You’ll find raw, unfettered imagination here each Friday. Let’s see where we’re going today!
My prompt today comes from Eric J. Krause: One of the books in the library glows.
The library always closed before dark. The hours changed with the seasons of the year. In summer, when the days were longer and daylight savings kept children up way past their bedtime, the library had long hours with friendly librarian ladies welcoming children and their parents to their hallowed aisles. In winter, it was an entirely different scenario.
Fletch waited in the bushes outside the library entrance with Selena for night to fall. She was the prettiest girl in school with long legs and curves in all the right places. When she’d dared him to go with her tonight, he hadn’t hesitated to say yes. But now he questioned the wisdom of that decision.
“Can we go in yet?” He shivered. The snow had soaked through the knees of his jeans, and it felt as though he would never be warm again.
Even Selena’s scowl looked pretty on her pert little face, under the fashionable pink bob she sported these days. “I told you, it has to be full dark.”
“The librarians all left an hour ago. Nobody will catch us, now.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Fletch rolled his eyes and settled back on his haunches, wishing he’d listened to his mother and worn his bulky winter coat this morning.
“Get down,” Selena hissed, obeying her own command.
Fletch heard a scraping sound from the library entrance, and he quickly ducked lower, leaning into Selena. She smelled like oranges and honey. He began to repent of his earlier grumbling.
Through cracks in the branches of the bush, Fletch could make out movement at the library entrance, but with his obstructed view and the dark night, he couldn’t distinguish who, or what, was scrabbling at the door. Then he heard a whine and a short bark and decided it was a dog. He was just about to tell Selena this was stupid when the library door creaked open, emitting a soft glow.
It illuminated a dog, a big black one that could pass for a pony at a child’s amusement park. But the dog wasn’t alone. A person wearing a long cloak with a big hood, like that wizard in the Hobbit movies, stepped out of the library and patted the dog on the head. The light came from a book the person carried. Fletch leaned to the side to see more clearly. It seemed as though the book was covered in spirals and squiggles that moved. He blinked and decided hypothermia was settling in, and he was dreaming.
The person turned and closed the library door, locking it with a big, old fashioned-looking key. Then they came down the steps, one hand holding the strange glowing book, the other on the dog’s neck as the monstrous animal kept pace. Fletch’s heart jumped into his throat when the person stopped right next to their bush.
“You can come out now,” said a mellow voice.
Selena cursed, a word Fletch never would have expected to come from her mouth. He glanced at her for instructions, and she shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, We’ve been caught, we might as well give up. Slowly, she stood, and Fletch followed suit.
The voice sounded amused, but the glow of the book didn’t penetrate the shadow of the big hood. “I suppose you want the book, but you’re too late. I already checked it out.”
Selena cocked one hip and crossed her arms over her chest, studying the stranger. She was always so cocky, so sure of herself: a quality Fletch found attractive.
“What if I offered you an exchange?” Selena asked.
The stranger ran a hand along the spine of the book, causing the symbols to dance and wriggle faster. Yep. Definitely a dream.
“What could you possibly give me that would be more valuable than Merlin’s spellbook?” the stranger said with a chuckle.
Selena had a glint in her eye as she turned her gaze to Fletch. Puzzled, he quirked an eyebrow at her.
“What? You need money?” He reached for his wallet. He only had ten bucks, but maybe it would be enough to impress her.
“Not money,” Selena said with a gentle cluck of her tongue.
Her arm moved like a viper, striking out and catching him in the throat. He felt his breath leave his body, and he slumped over, eyes bulging as he gaped like a land-bound fish, dying for lack of air.
“He’s a healthy specimen,” Selena said, her tone matter-of-fact and colder than the snow covering the ground around them. “He should feed you for at least two weeks. By then, I’ll be finished with the book and you can have your turn.”
The stranger seemed to consider, while darkness crept in around the edges of Fletch’s vision. He found himself staring into the dog’s eyes. Its tongue lolled out as if laughing. Fletch agreed. He’d been a fool.
“It sounds like a good bargain, but you’ll forgive me if I insist we shake on it.” Still clutching the book, the stranger stretched out a free hand. It was an unnatural green color with long nails painted orange and decorated with little purple flowers. Fletch focused on the flowers, studying their tiny circle petals. They sparkled, as if caught in the sun. He felt himself slipping away, blackness closing in all around him and shutting out everything else.
Selena’s hand covered the stranger’s.
“Roxeanne!” the stranger shouted.
The dog leapt forward and plastered Fletch’s face with its slobbery tongue. Suddenly, he could breath. He sucked in great gasps of air and choked on dog breath as the dog continued to lick him, pressing its forelegs against Fletch’s shoulders and knocking him to the ground.
“Okay, okay!” Fletch pushed at the dog as soon as he had caught his breath enough to speak. The dog backed off.
Fletch looked up to see the stranger pulling back the edge of the hood. Selena was nowhere in sight, but there was a snowman where she had stood only moments before.
Then the hood fell back, and Fletch was staring up into a face that looked exactly like Selena’s, only the skin was a vibrant green color, the hair a stark orange.
“Somebody wake me up and send me home,” Fletch mumbled.
The green Selena smiled at him and stretched out her hand. He shied away from it.
“Don’t worry,” she laughed. “I won’t hurt you. But maybe you’d trust Roxeanne better.”
She nodded at the dog, and it came around and pushed Fletch in the back until he reluctantly climbed to his feet. He eyed the snowman warily.
“Where’s Selena?” he asked.
“Let’s just say she won’t bother you again.”
The library door opened, and another figure in a robe came down the steps, carrying an armload of glowing books with dancing squiggles on the covers. The person stopped suddenly and pushed back the robe’s hood, revealing the face of a young man no older than Fletch with large round glasses and red skin flecked with yellow sparkles.
“Is everything okay, Tabby?”
The girl smiled like the sun coming out from behind clouds. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I see you’ve changed your look again.”
“You like it?”
He shrugged. “Does it matter? You are what you eat.” He thrust his chin at Fletch. “Who’s your friend?”
“A new recruit.”
She held the book she carried out to Fletch. He stared at it. The dog nudged his forearm, and he gave it a glare.
“Go on,” the girl said. “Take it. All the answers are in there.”
Fletch took a step backward. “But this is all just a dream. I’ll wake up soon in the snow outside the library, or better yet in my bed back home.”
“Don’t bet on it, pal,” the boy said with a smirk.
“Selena chose you,” the girl said patiently, waving the book under his nose, “because you have the gift. She was trying to eliminate the competition. Here.” She thrust the book into his hands, so that he had to either grab it or let it drop into the snow. He took it.
A strange tingling sensation ran through his body, and he watched as his hands turned a bright sunshiny-yellow.
“Now,” Tabby said, patting his shoulder. He flinched, but nothing else happened. “Come into the library. You have a lot to learn tonight.”