Short Story Friday: Mrs. Henderson

Short Story Prompt: “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville.

The Library Director, Mrs. Wheeler, escorted the new acquisition librarian through the large stone building. Stopping at each of his colleague’s desk, she introduced Jason. They were friendly, each in his or her own way. One stood and shook hands. Another gave an enthusiastic hello. Still another shared her appreciation for the new hire. “You’re going to love it here. Our patrons are the most wonderful people. Very supportive.”

Then they moved on, the director pointing out different features of the hundred-year-old building. An arch here, some restoration work here, a special collection in this room. Along the walls were pictures of contributors and former directors of the library as well as paintings by local artists.

The two descended to the basement. After meeting several technical service workers, they came to a small office at the end of a hall. Shelves of books and papers lined the walls. Still more books and papers cluttered the small desk. Mrs. Wheeler led him around to the woman whose head was barely seen above the stacks of clutter. With her gray hair pinned into a bun, she wore a gray dress, not as gray as her hair but still gray.

“This is Mrs. Henderson,” the director said. ” She is our Inter Library Librarian. And she has been with the library the longest.” There was a bit of nervousness in her voice as she introduced the woman.

“Nice to meet you,” Jason said.

The woman continued her work, not acknowledging either the director or the new librarian.

Mrs. Wheeler then led him to his office. The shelves and his desk were empty as if they were waiting for his arrival. She introduced him to Sarah, his assistant, hard at work at her desk working her way through her in-box. She stood and shook Jason’s hand.

Over the next few days, Sarah helped him get situated and familiarized him with the different library processes. He came to appreciate her sunny disposition and the bright colors she wore. It seemed that she must have quite a collection of scarves. She never wore the same one twice. In the break room on the second floor, his colleagues were friendly, treating him like he was one of a large family. Even the director joined them from time to time. But he never saw Mrs. Henderson.

One day, he asked about her. “Nobody seems to know,” Case two tables over said. “She’s a loner. Never socializes. Never talks. Guess she likes her solitude.”

“We drop an ILL request in her inbox,” Margaret, a reference librarian, said. “Several days later it magically appears in our inbox.”

“She does her job. If she wants to be left alone, we leave her alone. But it’s sad to be so isolated. I would think.” Case finished peeling his orange.

“Seems nobody sees her come or go,” Margaret again. “She’s like some phantom who has made her home here.”

One Monday morning, Jason stopped at a florist on his way to work on a hunch. He bought a rose with a vase for it. He came to Mrs. Henderson’s office. It appeared that she wasn’t at her desk, then he saw her behind her desk hard at work. “Good morning, Mrs. Henderson.” He sat the vase and the rose on her desk. “I thought you would like a rose.” The older woman did not acknowledge his presence.

For several months, this became his ritual. On his way to work each morning, buy a flower, greet Mrs. Henderson, remove the previous day’s rose from the vase, put in a new one. Then one Monday she wasn’t at her desk. She wasn’t at her desk Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. At the end of the day Friday, there was a staff meeting.

“Mrs. Henderson is no longer with us,” the director announced. “Last night the police found her dead in her apartment.”

Over the weekend Jason searched for an obituary. It was missing from the local paper. On Monday, every was told that the library would closed the following Saturday. There would be a memorial service at St. Anne’s Catholic Church. Mrs. Henderson’s ashes had already been dispersed according to her wishes. But it was the least the staff could do to honor such a loyal employee.

At the service, many of the long-time staff spoke a few words. Mrs. Henderson had gotten a near impossible book to find. A patron wanted a special edition of another book. The woman had gotten it. Again and again, each of her colleagues spoke well of the mysterious woman. Then the service was over.

In the months after the service, the library hired a new Inter Library Loan librarian. The new woman, a recent Library Science graduate from a local university, was pleasant enough. Extremely efficient, as well. The shelves were cleared and her desk nice and neat. Occasionally Jason would stop by her office to say good morning. But it wasn’t the same as saying good morning to the gray-haired woman. He took to missing Mrs. Henderson. It was like having a piece missing from his life. Things just didn’t feel right. From time to time he thought he had seen Mrs. Henderson out of the corner of his eye as he passed her office. He would look, but she wasn’t there. Only the new woman.

Then one morning, a yellow rose in a vase was on his desk. “Where did this come from?” he asked Sarah.

“I don’t know. It was there when I came in. It’s such a lovely rose, isn’t it?”

Jason smelled the rose, then said, “Yes, it is.”

Next Friday’s Short Story Prompt: “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

So you think you have problems

Just so you know I am not a techie or a geek. Normally I boot my computer up and hope that the steam will take it to full throttle. Oh, you say, computers don’t run on steam. Mine does. Else what is that mist coming out of its sides?

The other day I had a bit of trouble with my internet. My comp wasn’t wifi-ing correctly. The dumaflachie that tells me it’s on had become the Invisible Man. So I called the It-that-shall-not-be-named Internet Provider I pay a small fortune to.

I related the problem to Mr. Low-level who took my call. Let’s just call him LL for short. Over the phone, I heard a smirk coming from this guy on the other side of the world. Some place in Canada, I believe. The smirker tried to cover it up. That is often the game they play. The “why you smirking at me” game. They go into complete denial when you call them on their smirking. Dumb fool that I am, expecting customer service. All I get is a: “Well, sir, it’s against our policy to smirk at a customer. However, if you wish, we can email you our new smirker app. At no cost to you, sir. It will smirk at all your friends.”

I knew he smirked. I just knew it. But, after 3 hours of being put on hold, then spending another three hours getting tossed from Department A to Department Z back to Department B, I didn’t have the energy to argue. Everybody thinks healthcare.gov is bad. I am here to tell you the-company-that-shall-not-be named is ten times worse. I just wanted the internet to work and the steam to go away.

LL directed me to unplug the whatchamacallit from the thingamajig, stick it up my butt for thirty seconds. I followed his directions. You know how cold and sticky that thingamajig is? Well, let’s just say it’s cold and sticky. I plugged it back into the computer. This did not solve the problem. I knew it wouldn’t. It never does.

The steam was pouring out of the computer, and I still couldn’t get on the internet, even if my life depended on it. In addition to that, my butt was hurting something fierce from the whatchamacallit I’d stuck up my rear end only a few minutes ago.

By this time, I was losing any kind of patience I had left. There was enough steam in my house to be able to run a locomotive from D. C. to L. A. and have some left over for a return trip. All I wanted to do was get on the internet and order a new computer. Sure I could’ve gone down to the local Computerama Store and picked one up the easy way. But no, I didn’t want to do that.

Amazon is my best friend. We have spent a lot of time bonding. It always shows me the love. I would have felt that I betrayed it. It might have been hurt and stopped all that free shipping I have received over the years.

LL said to me, “Sir, I am going to put you on hold. I have to consult one of my partners-in-crime here.” He put me on hold but I could hear him talking. About surfing of all things. He wasn’t trying to help me with my problem. He was worried about his big-assed surfboard. It was enough to make me want to fly up to Canada, walk into that call center and shove a surf board up his you-know-what. See how he felt.

Finally, after more waiting and more waiting, he said to me, “I think we have a solution to your problem, sir. What you need to do is—”

“Click,” I heard my cell phone say. “You are out of your monthly allotment of minutes. To add minutes, we will need three credit cards and your first born child.” I tried to explain to the darn thing that I didn’t have a first-born child. It was not listening.

Wasn’t that just fine and dandy? No computer. No internet. No phone.

Anyway to make a long story longer, I went down to Computerama and bought a brand spanking new computer. It has an antenna I placed on the roof so I can receive the internet. The way it works is that it contacts an alien spacecraft hovering over earth and bounces a wave back to me. I can now contact any website on the nine planets of our solar system. (And, yes, Pluto is a planet.) Oh, and my new service includes unlimited phone service.

All it is costing me is a monthly allotment of the plutonium in my head. But that’s okay. I have plenty to spare. So no more steam and no more whatchamacallits up my rump. There is only one problem. I am getting Dear John letters from Amazon. It doesn’t love me anymore. I sent it flowers. That didn’t work.

Any suggestions what I can do to get Amazon to love me again?

Kattwoman on the Prowl

Samantha preferred her Kattwoman identity to just plain jane Samantha Katt, tax attorney. As her red Ferrari zipped in and out of traffic, she spotted at least ten possible criminals passing her. She was late for work and she wasn’t about to let her night job interfere with her day work. Being a crime fighter might bring her a lot of highs but it wouldn’t pay the rent on that fancy new apartment she leased in downtown Gotham City.

A black Mercedes pulled out in front of her. It had a license plate of “Joker Dude” on its rump. Should she follow it or drive on into work? Her digital watch showed that her meeting with the people from Penguin Properties was over an hour away. She decided to follow the black car. This was so much more of a high than going through figures with a bunch of dirty old men, checking out her figure. That was why she wore dark conservative when she went into the meetings.

The Joker Dude turned left. She turned left, the adrenaline filling her crime-fighter brain. Batman said it wasn’t good to feel that way. He never did. 

Joker Dude turned off Bruce Wayne Thoroughfare and onto Riddler Blvd. He continued until he was almost out in the country. Then he zipped into a warehouse parking lot. She passed the warehouse, labelled Joker Stuff, and drove a half mile more, then pulled off the highway and onto a dirt road.

She popped open the trunk. Before you could say “Batman and Robin” thrice, she was in her sleek black Kattwoman outfit with her tiny black boots and a mask to match. Out came her Kattcycle. She jumped on and headed back towards the warehouse with the motto painted on its side, “It’s easy to pull a joke out of your ass.” She was higher than a kite. This crime fighter stuff was so much better than the drugs her psychiatrist had prescribed.

Pulling up next to the warehouse, she parked, threw a line up to the roof and climbed quickly to the top. Landing onto the flat surface, she ran across the roof until she found a place to enter the warehouse without being seen. She lowered herself through the window and looked down on the Joker and his gang of thugs. In their midst a seven foot man stood, dressed in a moose outfit with antlers.

“So you want to help us, Mr. Bullwinkle,” she overheard the Joker saying.

“Rocky and I can kill Batman and Robin for you,” Antler Guy said.

“What makes you think I need your help?”

“You’d have killed them if you could’ve. My poisoned antlers will do the trick.”

The adrenalin of danger coursed through Kattwoman’s blood. She was so high now that she could hardly control herself. She had even wet her pants. The last time that happened she had saved Batman and Robin from Carcenoma Girl and her cancerous bite.

She had to warn Batman. But her watch was telling her that it was getting late. No time for Batman now. 

She slipped back out the window and over the roof and back to her hot little Kattcycle. Soon she was back in her civilian clothes and on Bruce Wayne Thoroughfare and pulling into her office parking. It was back to her boring day as Samantha Katt, tax attorney extraordinary, and the dull work of debits and credits. Saving the world would have to wait.

 

Short Story Friday: The Last Voyage of the Ark

Short Story Prompt: “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

It rains forty days and forty nights on Beelze. Then the folks there asks us to leave. Or, should I say, insists that we leave. Same as they always do. We get to a planet, my daddy does his preaching, they kick us off.

Me and the rest of the family complain about the lack of a home to my daddy, but he reminds us that we on a mission from God. To bring the Gospel to the heathen. If they don’t like it, so be it. It is his, and thus my family’s, calling to travel up and down the Nine Circles of the Inferno till we find a planet that takes us in for a bit. Gives us a home.

Seems in my short lifetime we have hit fifteen hundred worlds. I’m only counting the ones we been allowed to stay on more’n the obligatory seven days the Rules for Planetary Hospitality demand.

Back to Beelze. I’m glad to get off that place. It’s plenty hot, and its two suns never give you a night to sleep through. You aree lucky to get your forty winks, then you’re back up and at ’em. No wonder them folks stay half-pissed most of the time. Nothing, not even our Lord, is going to soft temper them people.

So my daddy gives them the finger and mutters, “Canaanites” the way he always does when the sinners do not accept his truth. Then me, my half-sister Ruth, my mama Joan, my daddy Noah and his second wife Hannah get back on the Ark and off we go wondering again. We’d lost my brothers Ham and Japheth in a gun battle on the Planet Infidel. My daddy sets the Ark’s autopilot and we settles into our prayers.”Lord, help us,” we pray like the true believers we are. And the Lord delivers. There, before us, a planet stares us down. It isn’t on any of our maps. But there it is anyway.

My father seldom smiles but this time my father smiles an hallelujah. Under his breath, he says to me, “This could be the one, Shem. Yes sir, this could be the one.”

It’s a smooth landing, the smoothest we’ve ever known. We step out onto a plain as green as green ever is. Nine monks in purple robes greet us. The nine smiled, each smiling a welcome. “We are glad you came.”

Then they lead my family through the forest at the edge of the plain. In a clearing there is a two-story wooden building. We enter the building and find ourselves among some of the friendliest people you ever want to meet. They feed us a scrumptious feast.

Over the following week, my daddy preaches sermon after sermon about the grace of our Lord to the monks. My daddy wears the collar but he is like no preacher they have met before. His eyes have a fire in them, what he calls the fire of the Holy Ghost.

“I may be a sinner. I may curse all to hell. I may be the kind of man who finds himself in darkness,” my daddy preaches up a sweat. “But I am here to tell you. I have grace. The Lord has given me His Light. And I want to give His Light to you.”

Soon those folks are saying Yes to everything my daddy says, and hallelujahing too.

Finally we have a home a place we can practice our faith in peace with others who follow the same Lord we do. As a celebration, my family and the nine monks return to our ship. There we perform a ceremony and set that Ark on fire and watch it turn the craft into ashes. There will be no leaving this planet. It is now our home.

One fine night, the finest night we have had since we arrived, they ask us to follow them to a special place. There they will take their final vows to commit themselves to our Lord. In this place, others are to join us and my daddy can preach his message to the people there. The monks are sure these others will commit themselves to our Lord as well.

Into a large dome, one of the monks lead us. We are surrounded by hundreds of others much like my famiily. They seem to be frozen standing. “Now you can preach your message to all these people. And they can preach their message to you.” Then the monk leaves the transparent dome and seals it.

“What?” my daddy wants to know and he wants to know bad.

From ourside the dome, the monk once again speaks. Softly this time. He speaks like the words are a chant, and they are a chant. “Each of you came to our world with a different god, a different faith. The one you say is the true religion they say it is not. They say the nonbelievers of their faith worship false gods. And you make war on one another. Under this dome, you have a choice. Your gods either learn to live in peace with one another, or all your gods die.”

“Lord, smite these people,” my daddy calls out to the sky.

“There’ll be no smiting. It’s one of the Five Rules. No smiting, biting or scratching.”

Then the monk flips a switch on the outside of the dome. In flashing neon lights, “Welcome to Hel” flashes across the side of the dome. He releases the others inside with us from their frozen stances. They starts screaming out their lords to us and we screams our lord back at them.

The monks turn and walked away. In silence.

Next Friday’s Short Story Prompt: “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville

How much fun were the Middle Ages?

Depends on who you ask. The lords and knights had to walk around in all that metal. One wonders what happened when the knight had to go toilet. Couldn’t toilet on the armor. That would cause rust. Think of all the blisters on their assets, and the metal poisoning too. Then there’s the draft. In those days it wasn’t the serfs who went off to war. It was the knights. And there’s the castle upkeep. It was hard to get a decent moat. What is a castle without a decent moat?

Of course, these knights would fight over anything. My castle is bigger than your castle.You have a moat and I don’t.  I killed more infidels in the Crusade than you did.. You name it and they would fight over it. They spent thirty years fighting over whose rose was prettier in England.

If there had been an SPCA in those days, the knights would have been fined for mistreatment of the horses they rode. The horses had to carry around the weight. No wonder they had bent backs.

If you were a lady, you were required to wear el chastity belt. Man, that thing is heavy. Besides what do you do if you have to go take a pee and your hubby is off at the crusades. Who is going to have the key? Lady Godiva really wasn’t in her all-togethers. She still had on her c.b. But she’d always wanted to go into showbiz. Riding through the town in her purt-nears was as close to Vegas as a girl got in merry old England.

The serfs were a little better off. They only worked two seasons of the year, Spring and The Rest of the Year. They didn’t get drafted because they had to stay home and keep the old homestead going. The crops went to the lord and lady of the manor, who were living high off the hog. All the serfs ate was gruel, except at Harvest Time. Harvest Time was a regular party after they brought in the crops. There was real food and booze too. The nice thing about serfing was they didn’t have to wear underwear, so during the summers they’d go skinny-dipping.

Often the castle was downwind of the serf. From time to time on a particularly windy day in winter time, the lord and lady of the manor complained about the smell. The serfs only took baths in the summer. The rest of the year it was the old pee yew.

In fact, nobody worried about taking a bath. That’s why they had pilgrimages and why England had a town named Bath. Once a year everybody took off and went on a pilgrimage to a town that had baths.

Then there was the Plague, or should I say Plagues. The Black Death. The Blue Death. The Red Death. Here a death, there a death, everywhere a death death death. That’s what they get for living with all those rats. A few cats could have gotten rid of all that disease. Why my Buster Buzztail can take down as many rats as he sees in one day. You think we have rats here at our house. No way, José.

Now, if you were Pope, you could really party hardy. All the booze and women you wanted. You could come up with an indulgence to keep you out of hell. If you were bored you could start a Crusade. As you can see, being Pope was the bees knees and more.

The people who had the most fun were the Bards. They got the best booze and the women loved them. You see, in those days, there was no such thing as You Tube or CNN or Fox. So the Bards were the news anchors of their times. If you wanted to know what Uncle Waldo did at the Battle of Agincourt, just ask the Bard. If you wanted to know why the king down the road turned chickenshit and ran away from Saluddin, ask your Bard. If you wanted to know what great granddaddy Groucho was during the First Crusade, ask the Bard. He’d tell you and he’d make it rhyme too.

To paraphrase one of the great bards of our age, Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the bard.” Bards didn’t have to wear armor or a chastity belt. Bards didn’t need a moat. Bards got to take baths. And the clothes, man. If you wanted to know what the latest men’s fashions were, check in with a bard. He’d be wearing them, and he’d have photos of the latest fashion show in Paris. As you can see, it was a pretty good life. For a Bard.