The Labyrinthine Library, Or...(File Under Ragebadgers And Damnation)

Where do librarians go when they die? I'll fucking tell you where they go, kid: they go to Hell's library. Or at least they do if they're like me: a petty sinner who's not bad enough to go to the bad parts of Hell, where the brimstone is deep and the punishments biblical, but not milktoast (apparently!) enough to move on up to Purgatory. Instead I'm doomed to die the death of a thousand irritated sighs, here in the Devil's library.

When I woke up after that ice cream truck took me out and I found myself standing in front of the Pearly Gates (or what passes for pearl in these ages of budget cuts and environmentally conscious spending decisions...it all looked like cheap plastic and a thin coat of Ace paint to me), I knew it was over. The fat lady had sung. Punxsutawney Phil's yearly prognostications were no longer relevant to my situation. I was dead, dead, dead. Six feet, a bunch of nails and a big old fork stuck in me.

St. Peter's stand-in—a pimply youth with a dime-store halo and a couldn't-care-less yawn—punched my card for me, gave me one look and a vaguely sympathetic shrug and then stamped my passport with a big red "denied." When I asked why, what busload of nuns I'd killed to get myself the sinner-stamp, he just yawned at me again and pointed the way back out. A couple of thugs with big feathery wings and fuck-you facial expressions politely escorted me to the edge of the cloud and gave me the big heave-ho. I took the fast way down. Elevators and escalators are for chumps when gravity gives you the freest and fastest path available.

I came to at the foot of the tallest mountain I've ever seen, a thundering column of fire and ash spewing out the top and everything else in sight shrouded in darkness. A scarred giant—a minotaur with a pitchfork and a leather-bound book chased in molten gold and copper the size of a small bus—read me my doom, crying tears of pure fire all the while. She didn't give me the details of my sins either, nor did the pair of fallen angels who dragged me off to my final destination shortly after the last echoes of her judgement died away. They had fuck-you facial expressions, as well. Being a servant of the afterlife must be much the same whether you're up or down in terms of elevation. The only difference was, these guys didn't high-five each other as they skipped off.

They threw me down a steep and rubble-strewn slope. As I tumbled, like the world's most passive-aggressive tumbleweed, I passed Sisyphus, who gave me the finger just before his boulder ran him back down the hill. I fell into a deep and black hole. Ages passed by as I fell and I came to on the lawn outside this very library. I stood there all of three seconds before the ragebadgers-what-barf-toxic-bees (that's a loose translation from their Infernal name, kid) chased me inside. And that's the last bit of free time I've had in a very long time.

I was set to work at the bottom of the totem pole. Ever since Dewey escaped and headed to frostier latitudes, the organization has been in a state of madness. I pushed my way around the thousands of miles of twisting hallways, shelving and reshelving books that had their own mind to wander. Sometimes I had to sprint leagues through the maze until they were exhausted enough to be subdued and put back in order.

Some of these tomes were imbued with dark magics and they would fight as you put them back, either because they didn't like their neighbors due to ancestral and ancient feuds between dark schools of thought, or simply because they were just ornery and inclined to bite out of sheer bad-naturedness.

I learned to wear thick gloves because some knowledge is poisonous. If volume Rz of the Encylopedia Infernium didn't want to go next to the two volumes dealing with The Church Of Scientology, you knew that it would latch onto your arm with all forty-thousand of its razor-sharp kitten-like teeth, slavering and clawing like a paper tornado. I've seen too many of my coworkers go down with book-scratch fever. Or worse yet, get infected with bibliothropy, subsequently turning into forbidden tomes at the stroke of midnight, their humanity long forgotten in their howling-yet-oddly-eloquent madness. I had no desire to fall to that dark fate.

Play safe, that's my motto. Procedure and properly-followed safety protocols never unfurled their thousand pages and stripped the flesh from your bones while educating you on insurance premiums and constitutional law. At least not in my department. I can't make any guarantees about the worst parts of Hell. Keep it simple, keep it safe. Follow some simple guidelines and books will practically shelve themselves, with a minimum of blood loss and face-eating.

I rose through the ranks because of my ability to subdue errant books. I was instrumental in computerizing the file-stacks, taming the roving flocks of gibbering index cards and scanning them all, finally, into the database. While it is true that the usual budget cuts did not let me use the most popular and convenient library cataloging software available, I'd like to think that my home-grown database system using a combination of Microsoft Access, Excel and Lotus Notes version 4.0 fits the bill just fine. And the terminals only drip blood and sing that bit from Carmina Burana every once in a while.

Mostly they direct you to the proper sub-level, narrow your search down to the nearest hectare and then they settle down, humming their electronic hums and gently shining their greenish light with the occasional blue-screen and shower of sparks to counterpoint the tranquility. The only lies given are the usual ones of omission: how the sub-levels tend to wander around, reconfigure themselves at random, or they fail to tell you that the ragebadgers roam free on Tuesday nights or the elevators are in a chewing and grinding mood.

And I'll never know why I'm here, what sins led me to my dark and lonely fate. The only thing I know is that life isn't so bad being the Devil's librarian. It's certainly better than being one of the doomed patrons here. I just saw a graduate student get swarmed by three shelves worth of the MLA Directory Of Periodicals. Would you pass me that flamethrower and chainsaw? I'll need to get to work flogging them back into their proper places.

2 comments:

  1. Like it! Wonder what sin DID put him there...

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  2. I figure it's something really awful or just that Heaven really hates jaywalkers. :-)

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