Way, way back in the spring, the lovely Victoria Schwab challenged me with a short story prompt. She had just written a fairy tale for her blog, and I was intrigued with the concept. My resulting short story is here, and it actually inspired a whole book (that I am totally not plotting right now, no, I'm not).
After drinking entirely too many fruit teas from Bread and Company the other week (and they contain only fruit and tea, thank you), I mentioned how the best ideas always come as I'm falling asleep, and Victoria said hers come to mind in the shower. "Showers and Half Spaces," she said.
A little bit later, we were discussing how there were so many ideas we wanted to play with but didn't have outlets for, and it felt like forever until our books were coming out, and how people ask about our writing and we can't show them yet ...
So we're tag-teaming a short story series, and we're going to post once a week until we run out of ideas. Read Victoria's first story HERE. The stories are built around a very specific frame, and we'll reveal more about that next week (but if you can guess it I'll give you a prize. No, really. A real prize.). But for now, without further ado .......
Showers and Half Spaces - Installment One
I leaned over the counter, eyes wild, hands shaking, mouth dry, as if desperate for another drink.
But the woman behind the counter wasn’t a bartender. And I wasn’t old enough to buy cigarettes yet, much less liquor.
“You don’t understand. I have to have it.”
I could feel the sweat rolling down my back, and I tried to maintain a low, calm voice. I could do this. I had to do this.
I tried again. “Last Thursday, right before the place shut down, I put it right here.” I jabbed at the scarred wooden counter with my index finger. It didn’t have the effect I was hoping for, probably because of the lime green Scooby Doo bandage covering my latest paper cut. “If I’d taken it out the alarms would’ve gone off – it’s from the restricted area.”
“Did you put it in the slot?” This woman had lip pursing down to such a science she could teach a class.
“No.” Calm. Cool. “I put it on the desk because it's delicate. No one was here, my ride was waiting, and I put it on the desk.”
“Are you sure you didn’t take it with you?”
“Yes.” I said from between my teeth. “I put it there. Right. There.”
“Ms. Cooper, you can tell me as many times as you’d like where you put it but the fact remains that we don’t have it. “
You know how people always say that body language is important in a confrontation? Like, if you’re the confronter, you want to put the confrontee in an inferior position so you can tower over them in a superior way? Show 'em who's boss? It’s about the food chain. Survival of the fittest.
Well, the head librarian was sitting down and I was standing up, but it was becoming increasingly obvious from the way she was looking at me that I was the one-celled protozoan in the equation.
“But it’s urgent that I have it.” Desperation grabbed hold and I tried batting my lashes at her. It always worked with the male teaching assistants.
Her tightly pursed lips basically disappeared inside her mouth.
I blinked. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
If you Googled pond scum? My picture.
“Please?” I begged, thinking of the paper due in just over twelve hours that had no annotations whatsoever. “Please, can you check again?”
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
She adjusted her cardigan, huffed, and peered down at her computer screen. “Oh.”
“Oh?” I repeated hopefully.
“The volume is still checked out to you. This presents a problem. You’ll have to speak with The Director.” She pushed her chair away from the desk and stood. And she was short. “Don’t. Move.”
I expected a DUN DUN DUNNN sound effect to issue forth from the loud speakers that decorated the antique molded corners. But they were used once daily – and only once – to announce closing time. I doubted the library staff would even break protocol to warn of an impending zombie apocalypse.
The thunks came to a halt and a face peered out from behind the stacks. It was a nice face, even though it was unshaven. The eyes were hazel and the hair was blond and the body attached screamed either RUNNER or GAMER. I couldn’t tell with his clothes on.
Not that I wanted his clothes off.
Especially at the library.
“Get out while you can,” he said in what seemed to be a rather exaggerated whisper.
I laughed my husky laugh - the one that made the frat boys crazy - and ran my fingers through my hair. “Why?”
“If Maeve is going to get The Director, you’re about to be Taken Down.”
“Why does half of what you say sound like it would be written with capital letters?"
The boy just raised his eyebrows and went back to shelving.
I heard the sound of a throat clearing and looked over my shoulder.
Foreboding. That’s what I thought when the man came around the corner, the librarian following behind him, looking a little too gleeful. Broad, tall and dark with a surplus of facial hair, he wore a three-piece suit and a nametag that resembled a miniature solid gold brick.
It said: The Director.
“Sidney Cooper?” he asked, with an accent I couldn’t place.
“Cooper Sidney,” I answered faintly.
“My name is Coop – nevermind.” People always mixed up my first and last names. “Yes, I’m the person you’re looking – ”
He held up one hand, cutting me off. “Come with me.”