A Library Fine Comes Due
Lucas M. Buford was exhausted. His automaton work had hit a technological stand-still and his investors were becoming impatient. His employees had some ideas, but he was lacking something fundamentally new to excite the stockholders, or at least hold their existing investments a while longer. Desperate for inspiration, Lucas came to the Gearford Science and Technology Library.
Walking past the main circulation desk, Lucas heard a man clear his throat. When he turned his head he saw the assistant librarian looking at him expectantly.
“Ahem, Mr. Buford? If you may, I’d have a word with you.”
“Yes…” said Lucas a bit shortly “What is it? You’re Beem right?”
“Why yes, that I am, Mr. Buford. I am Theodore Emel-”
“Yes, of course. Mr. Beem, I hate to be rude, but I really do require some respite from social interaction. I'm truly in need of some divine-level inspiration. Whatever you need, can it please wait?”
Theodore, looked at Lucas—not at all annoyed at being interrupted—with a bemused expression.
“Actually, Mr. Buford, We have waited,” said Beem with a patient smile. “Three months ago, we waited. Then two months ago… Then two weeks ago. Still, you have a number of overdue books and owe quite a large fine.”
Yes, Yes… I understand… If you wouldn't mind, though, I'm working with a bit of a deadline.”
“Aww a ‘dead-line.’ Surely it cannot be all that bad,” chuckled Beem.
“Trust me, it is!” snapped Lucas. “Can we please do this another time.”
Lucas was generally a good-natured fellow, but his overwhelming fatigue combined with the overly-friendly, persistent nature of this librarian was wearing on him.
“Well, if you could just take a moment, I’d like to show you your library record,” said Beem.
“No, I cannot right now” said Lucas with a grimace, “I'll be glad to deal with whatever is the matter, but LATER!”
“Ssshhhhhh. Be quiet,” hissed an elderly man at the next table.
“Very well, Mr. Buford,” said Beem. “We will get what we need from you later.”
Lucas turned abruptly from the circulations desk and quickly walked over to the special collections. He retrieved a pair of books and brought them to a nearby table. This ridiculous librarian had no appreciation of the stress he was under. People’s jobs were at stake. Lucas looked towards the circulation desk, and saw the librarian, Beem, smiling eerily at him.
Frustrated, Lucas shook his head and opened the book with his mechanical hand. He needed to focus.
Unfortunately, two hours later, Lucas was no closer to a solution. He could have sworn he had once read about someone who had resolved a similar problem. He yawned and rubbed his eyes.
Lucas didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but he opened his eyes to find a puddle of spittle on the table. He felt a cramp in his good arm. No doubt because he slept in an odd position.
Lucas blinked and tried stretching his left arm… He tried stretching his arm… He looked at his arm.
“Oh my God!” he screamed.
His left arm was gone and only a bloody stump, tied off with a tourniquet remained. There was a pool of blood at his feet.
What had happened? Standing up, his body swayed. He felt delirious, no doubt because of the blood loss. He looked up to see the librarian who had walked over to his table.
“Thank you for paying your fine, Mr. Buford,” said Beem with a smile. “I told you, we would get what we needed from you.”
Staring at Beem, Lucas wanted to scream, but instead felt his eyes cross, and the world grew dim. The floor swirled and then rose.
Suddenly, Lucas felt his head hit the ground with a thud.
Lucas woke with a start.
He raised his head and shuddered. He rubbed his eyes with his good hand. His hand! It was still there! Flexing his fingers, Lucas realized he had a nightmare. Taking a breath, he tried reading again, but was hopelessly unsettled. He needed to leave the library immediately.
Lucas got up and walked to the librarian.
Beem was operating a large guillotine-like paper cutter. He slammed down the paper cutter, slicing a ream of paper in half.
Lucas wanted to swallow, but there was no saliva in his mouth.
“Ah, Mr. Buford, may I help you?” asked Beem. “Would you care for a flyer? We’re having a special speaker next week. A Doctor Scythe from the university will be sharing how, thousands of years ago, Antiford was populated by cannibals! Can you believe that?”
“Um,” said Lucas shaking his head and stumbling over his words, “No—I mean—I would like to pay my fine.”
Lucas placed a fifty ciam bill on the counter and began to walk out the door.
“But...but Mr. Buford, You have change,” yelled the librarian.
But Lucas was already gone. The last thing he heard leaving the library was the sound the paper cutter, slicing through another ream of paper.