“Uh, Ted?”

Theodore Crumb, Hopewell District Library circulation supervisor and sworn enemy to delinquent patrons and overdue books everywhere, walked over, his silvery hair spilling over his customary tweed blazer. “Yes, Mr. Burwell?” he said, his unusual, precise diction and habit of calling even his closest friends by their last names in full evidence.

“Well, someone returned a book with a HDN card in it, but it doesn’t have a barcode or a catalog record. Bound in some kind of strange leather, really old looking, with the cancelled stamp of a Massachusetts university.”

Ted pursed his lips. “Well, who was the volume in question checked out to?”

“Koening, Willy. Willy Koening.”

“Ah, Mr. Koening. I am surprised he was able to check it out at all, considering his propensity for taking our rarest publicly accessible volumes and holding onto them until we practically have to beat his door down to confiscate them back. Did the student at the desk ask him what he meant by returning a book we do not own? Was it intended to be some manner of atonement on Mr. Koening’s part?”

“Well, ah, it was Calvert,” said Burwell, his voice crackling with nervousness.

“And did Mr. Calvert share anything with you?”

“He, ah, said that the person who returned it wasn’t Koening.”

“Then who was it, Mr. Burwell?”

Burwell squirmed. “Calvert said that it was a hunchbacked, skeletal figure in a tattered yellow robe wearing a featureless pallid mask. When he asked for its library card, it removed the mask and Calvert said that beneath it was ‘uncountable, otherworldly, eyes surrounded by writhing tentacles like screaming maggots, and that its voice was as the sound of distant children screaming in fear.” He paused. “Calvert’s taking a mental health day.”

Ted raised an eyebrow, unfazed. “And what does Calvert claim that this patron said in such a voice?”

“That Koening wouldn’t have need of the book, or any book, or his library card any longer, as he had been placed on permanent reserve by the Great Old Readers.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!