Update: Hell's Librarian started as a character sketch, a writing exercise to get a particular image of a particular character--Claire--out of my head. I posted this drabble on my blog long before I wrote the book, and now that it's written I thought it'd be neat to preserve a peek at the very early days of the idea.
In between working on my current novel, I've taken breaks by writing character sketches and scenes for other stories I want to explore one day. One of those is the idea of a librarian in the afterlife, charged with the care of all the creative works that never got written, painted, or otherwise created--the banished, unwritten works that never made it into the world. Hell's Librarian, if you will. This is her sketch.
If you enjoy Claire and would like to read more of her story--let me know! I'm always trying to decide what to write next.
The demon was dripping sulfur on the library’s antique rug.
The normally pleasant library smell of sleeping books and teakwood was marred with a hiss of rotten eggs, scalding Claire’s nose. It was an antique rug, peacock blue and intricately dreamed by a master artisan. Unwoven, of course, as was only fitting for Claire’s wing of the afterworld’s library. The Librarian frowned and peered over the rim of her reading glasses at the him, “A message?”
“Yes, ah…” The demon was a young one and he fidgeted uncomfortably in a suit a half size too large for his knobby frame. He twisted anxiously at one cuff and shook loose another bead of acidic sulfur which hit the rug with a dull hiss. Claire winced and the demon ducked his head.“For the Librarian of the Unwritt—eh, Restorations wing?”
Claire ignored the slip, instead opting to push her glasses up her nose, set down her scalpel and reluctantly close the book she was working on. It was proving to be an unruly one anyway. She leaned forward and pressed one elbow on it to keep it from creeping off. “You’ve found her. What’s his Grinchiness want now?”
The demon’s eyes widened and licked his lips nervously. “You can’t…you can’t call him that.” He was a lesser demon, naturally, but the boss never typically sent more than an imp messenger—when he bothered to communicate at all, which he didn’t. A lesser demon meant something important so Claire bore the smell of sulfur and disintegrating wool with silent annoyance. She raised one brow and waited for the messenger to continue. “His unholiness sent an assignment for Restorations. A book has gone missing and must be returned.”
Claire gave the demon a disgusted squint and turned back to her work, “You’ll want Collections, then, not Restorations. Follow the hallway widdershins until you reach the next wing, look for the non-euclidean gargoyle. Can’t miss it.” That problem solved, she dismissed the demon and turned back to the desk. She adjusted the desk light to a better angle and considered her work. The brown leather book was twitching. Claire tapped it thrice on the spin before it grudgingly flopped open again. She frowned at the squiggly text and again picked up her scalpel.
“No…” The demon gawked at the moving text and then warily shot his eyes around at the stacks of books and neatly loaded shelves surrounding them. He was obviously not a reader. Claire tracked this out of the corner of her eye and snorted under her breath: whoever sent him down had a cruel sense of humor. The Library was one of the quietest places in Hell, but it was also one of the most curious. And everyone knew the dangers of curious places. “The boss wants you to collect it. I’m supposed to tell you…it’s…ah, one of yours.”
Claire jerked her head up. “In what way?”
“The report says the book was unwritten. Early 21st century unauthor.”
That was still alarming, but Claire relaxed her shoulders a bit. At least it wasn’t one of hers in that way. She sighed and clamped her hand down on the swirling page so the book couldn’t close on her again. “Stolen or lost?”
The demon seemed relieved to have his message even partially accepted. He pawed around a volumnous inside pocket before withdrawing a small stack of computer paper sheets to squint at them. “Ah, lost. They suspect runaway, actually. No recent check-outs or invocation alarms.”
So not summoned or stolen, but an unwritten book on the lam in the universe. That did sound like trouble. Claire sighed, “I suppose this is an official assignment?” The demon bobbed his too-pointy chin nervously, sweating another puff of sulfur. Her poor carpet was going to be ruined at this rate. Claire rubbed the bridge of her nose briefly, shoving her thick braided hair back before shooting out her hand, “Give the report here. Any lead on the location?” She released her hold on the open book and it happily snapped shut, barely missing her fingertips.
The demon deposited the paperwork in her palm and hopped nervously out of reach as the book stacks on her desk murmered sleepy growls. Claire shushed them with a guttural noise but the demon raked a hand over his bald head nervously. “They think it went to find it’s author. Somewhere in America, Seattle.”
A groan escaped the librarian as she squinted at the paperwork. Nothing was stronger than an unwritten book’s fascination with it’s author. Problem was that relationship was not always friendly or healthy; for the author or the unwritten book. She flicked her eyes over the author bio and sighed, “Seattle. Americans and their atrocious coffee.”
Claire closed the folder and flicked a sour gaze to the demon. "Fine, I'll need transport for my intern and myself." She pushed herself back from the desk and rubbed the crick out of her neck before raising her voice to the shadowy corners of the towering towers of books around them. "BREVITY!"
photo credit: Flickr