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The Apprentice

Written by Woodclaw :: [Friday, 31 March 2023 14:47] Last updated by :: [Monday, 17 April 2023 07:53]

Edited by Rjjt456 and WriterAngel

Many stories start with a ‘bang’... this one with a ‘crash’ that reverberated across the empty halls of the public library.

“Ouch… ouch… ouch…” Mallory complained as she crawled out from under the pile of books. It was almost 18:00 of a rather insignificant Thursday and she and her colleague Isabel were stuck putting the return books back on the shelves… or rather she was. As usual, Isabel had managed to slip away. Mallory believed it had something to do with camouflage. Between horned-rim glasses, a blouse perpetually buttoned to the top button and that, probably fake, British accent, Isabel looked like the stereotypical librarian, almost a younger copy of their boss, Ms. Diana. Meanwhile, Mallory rocked a floppy mohawk (with still a bit of pink on the tips), denim vest and a vast array of nerdy t-shirts.

“Izy!” she called, feeling blood trickle from her scalp. “Izy! I really need a hand here!”

No answer, only the echo of her voice across the hall.

“Crap! Where is she?”

Pulling herself together, Mallory headed to the employee bathroom. She was just a few steps away, when a door at the other end of the hallway clicked and squeaked. Out of habit, she dodged into the bathroom and peered through the crack of the door. There was Isabel, followed by two men with worker vests and duffle bags, one full and one empty. The first was pretty tall and a tad lanky, with a meticulously trimmed blonde beard; the second was shorter, with rough hands and nicotine streaks on his brown mustache.

Neither looked like a visitor or, despite the attire, maintenance staff.

“Which way?” asked ‘Shorty’.

“There. Two flights of stairs up,” Isabel answered, pointing at the door that led to the restricted section. “I’ll deal with the alarm.”

Mallory sucked in air from between clenched teeth. She had no idea what was going on, but as the trio passed, she saw the handle of an automatic pistol sticking out from Lanky’s pants. A lump of fear gripped her throat. For a second, she considered jumping out, grabbing the gun and running like hell, but her body didn’t answer as it was supposed to.

Her legs felt like lead.

Her fingers clutched the door handle like there was no tomorrow.

Her heart was beating like a million drums in her ears.

The men disappeared up the stairs, and Mallory finally took another breath.

Trembling, with sweat and blood dripping across her forehead, she bolted for a stall. She pulled out her cell phone, but… immediately fumbled it into the toilet.

“Shit! Fuck! Crap! Ass!”

Moments of panic felt like hours before the click-clack of Isabel’s shoes crossed the hallway and faded little by little. Peering out of the bathroom, Mallory muttered to herself. “There is the landline in the back office… No! Isabel would have thought of that. Who do I call? Ms Diana is at that conference in Oxford… The police would take forever to get here. Shit! Crap! What should I do? Those are professionals. No way they’re pulling something like this on a whim.”

Mallory bit her lip not to scream. She was here just to do a few hours of community service. She could have done everyw— No, that wasn’t true, she was here because it was a safe haven. As one of the few nerd/punks in the neighborhood, the library was the only place where nobody looked at her condescendingly for reading Robert Pirsing, Ursula Le Guin or Brandon Sanderson.

Thinking about what could happen two floors above, she felt… betrayed. She and Isabel weren’t friends, they barely knew each other, but Mallory always assumed they were both here because they loved the library, the smell of new books and old glue. She had read enough articles to know that way too many library thefts were inside jobs. The thought of this place being closed shut and being forced to stay back home with her relatives pointing and laughing was too much.

Filled with purpose, Mallory grabbed a fire extinguisher and rushed up the stairs.

“Izy, what the unholy fuck are you doing?” Mallory barged in, brandishing the nozzle of the extinguisher.

Wasting no time, Lanky pulled the gun and aimed, while Shorty lowered his angle grinder and glared at Isabel. He was livid: “Who the hell is this?”

“Just a collateral.”

“Why ar— How can you do this Izy? I thought you liked it here. You’re a motherflipping genius of library science!” Mallory went on, glancing at the cutting equipment on the ground.

“Glad you noticed.” Isabel smiled, tapping her glasses. “I am, in fact, a genius, which is why I know how valuable these documents actually are. Did you know that we have an original three volumes first edition of Pride and Prejudice? That alone is worth $180,000.”

“Oh… really…?”

“Yes. Now, if you are smart enough, you can walk away a few hundred dollars richer.”

Mallory closed her right fist: “No.”

Isabel arched an eyebrow.

“Sorry, my conscience is worth way more than that.”

“Of course, I should have expected as much from someone who reads all those insip— oof!!!”

There was no hint of movement.


One moment, Mallory was in one place.

In the briefest of moments, when the hand of the clock twitched between one second and the next, she covered the 6 meters that separated her from Isabel and punched her right in the guts.

The glasses tumbled under a bookshelf and the fire extinguisher clattered to the ground.

“S-Sho… Shoot her!” Isabel grunted, clutching her stomach.

A detonation rang across the hall. Mallory felt her stomach dropping. It was as if the space around her stretched like a toffee… then a metallic clang. She blinked, feeling no pain. There was no way Lanky would miss at such a close range… yet he had.

“That would be quite enough commotion.” interjected a low, authoritative voice. A tall, bespectacled woman emerged from behind the nearest bookshelf.

“Ms D…?” Mallory blurted between her teeth, while pushing her hands against her ringing ears.

“Fuck it! I’m out of here.” shouted Shorty, making a beeline for the door. He was maybe halfway through when reality twisted and turned like a wet rag. Shorty started running upward into thin air until he was hanging upside down.

Ms Diana tapped a long black-painted nail on her leather belt and picked up Isabel’s glasses. “I’m sorry, but I do not think that is either appropriate nor feasible. Albeit you gentlemen did not technically break in here, you came with malicious intent, made quite enough noise and, above all, were… exceptionally rude to my staff.”

Lanky’s gun interjected, spitting seven rounds toward the tall head-librarian. Reality flexed and ballooned. The parallel lines between the floor tiles converged toward an impossible horizon that didn’t exist a moment before. Not even one round made contact with Ms Diana’s imposing figure, nor even managed to ruin her severe, ivory-colored shirt. All stopped mid-air about thirty centimeters from her. They spun in place for several seconds, advancing perhaps a thousandth of a micrometer, before unceremoniously dropping to the ground.

A raspy “how” from Isabel was all that the flabbergasted audience could muster.

“Why, I believe it is quite natural. These little projectiles had to cross almost the entire length of the Mediterranean Sea. To my knowledge there is no weapon, in reality or fiction, able to do that.”

Ms Diana, took two steps forward, elegantly stepping over the spent bullets, and the ‘bubble’ of unreality parted in front of her. “I, on the other hand, have no such difficulty.”

Tapping Isabel’s glasses in the palm of her hand, Ms Diana continued: “I am thoroughly disappointed in you, Isabel. I had very high expectations and was more than willing to train you in the finer points of my chosen profession.”

Clutching her stomach, Isabel sneered a retort, but Ms Diana extended a single finger upward and no sound came out of her mouth.

“Silence, please. Now, I believe you are familiar with the Commedia and with the punishment reserved to those who betray a benefactor.” Ms Diana concluded, clapping her hands twice. 

Isabel’s eyes went wide as a number of books floated off the shelves and started orbiting the head-librarian.

“1830 edition with illustrations by William Blake… not my favorite, but it will do.”

The contours of Isabel became fuzzy and uncertain. The would-be thief tried to scream, but instead of sound, a stream of letters flew out of her mouth and into the book. Like a sock flipped inside out, her body slowly collapsed in on itself and disappeared, while a few new verses appeared in the book.

“As for the two of you…” Ms Diana snapped her fingers, and Lanky and Shorty disappeared.

Mallory was frozen in place, transfixed, her fist still balled up, legs trembling like reeds. When Ms Diana took two steps in her direction, she stumbled in an uncertain boxing guard and mummered: “W-wh-wha-t t-the unholy fuck was that? Where are they?”

“There is no need to worry and even less to shout. I simply sent them to the closet downstairs, the one with the faulty lock. I’m more concerned about you, my dear. You seem to be in dire need of a cordial.” Ms Diana flicked her hand in a circular motion and the entire library spun. In the blink of an eye, they were both sitting under the porch of a Victorian style house next to a perfectly manicured English-style garden. “And I hope you will find this place of your liking. Sadly, I am unfamiliar with the more modern writers of your choice.”

Mallory’s gaze darted left and right. The sense of familiar and unfamiliar clashed violently in her mind. She knew this place, but she was also sure she had never been here. “Where?” Mallory croaked.

“This is Longbourn Estate in Hertfordshire.”

“Longb… Wait! Are we in Pride and Prejudice?”

“Of course not, we are still in the library. I… redecorated. It is extremely uncomplicated once you understand the basics, a simple equation. Knowledge = Power = Ener—”

“Energy / Time = (Mass x Distance) / Time… I’ve read Pratchett.”

“Of course. That is a leak that would probably never be fixed. Still, that equation is essentially correct. A sufficient amount of concentrated knowledge has the potential to bend time and space. Of course, in the same way, a tree has the potential to become a chair. It requires focus and intention from someone that understands the true importance of a place like a library.” Tapping her nails on a small garden table, Ms Diana conjured two wrought iron chairs, a cup of tea and a small shot of liquor.

Seconds went by while Mallory tried to put the events in perspective. Like an accelerated representation of evolution, an idea crawled out of the depths of her mind and slowly gained legs to run.

“Like a head librarian?”

“So I thought… but sometimes it’s interesting being wrong. You have intention, my dear, now all you need is focus and practice.”  Ms Diana took a sip of tea before offering Isabel’s glasses to Mallory.  “On Monday we begin your training.”

“There is no way I’m wearing these. I have my corrective surgery scheduled for next month.” Picking them up, Mallory peered first through one lens, then the other. “Besides, they aren’t even prescription. They’re just some kind of prop!”

Ms Diana's shoulders slumped a few millimeters and she sighed: “Yes, I fear that Isabel was more concerned with looking the part than actually growing into it.”

Mallory had never seen her boss looking so… so vulnerable. On a whim, she looked at her glass. If she had managed to bend reality once, why not do it again? Even just to show Ms Diana that there was something to look forward to.

Picking it up, she turned it between her fingers, trying to turn it into a tall mug of unfiltered beer. To her amazement, the glass started twisting and inflating.

First one side.

Then… pop!

The deformed container disappeared, splashing Mallory with some alcoholic liquid, too thick to be whiskey and too thin to be beer. 

An awkward smile blossomed on her lips: “Maybe, I really need to learn how to focus.”

“Indeed. I look forward to teaching you how.” With an affectionate smile, Ms Diana patted her pupil on the hand. Perhaps, there was hope for her new charge, after all.

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