A middle-grade short fantasy by Pamela Eason
It was finally book-fair day for Michael’s third-grade class who had been waiting two days for their turn. “First grade goes on Monday. Second grade goes on Tuesday. And we go on Wednesday,” explained Miss Queen, who always ended her directions with a tap of her star-tipped wand and who always left sprinkles of glitter behind her. No one knew then that this would be the day that the strange wind would blow.
Michael was one of the last students in Miss Queen’s class to enter Rocky Ridge School Library. “I hope there are some good books left,” Michael thought, and by that he meant books that would give him the plain facts about animals, Egypt, or anything on the earth.
His brown eyes scanned the room. Everything had been rearranged for the fair. The reading tables had been pushed to one side. Shiny new books on movable shelves circled a round table where new books were carefully stacked on a crisp, royal blue tablecloth.
About Ms. Vigil and the Antique Book Room
Ms. Vigil, Rocky Ridge School’s librarian, was presiding over the book fair like a stern and stately sentry overseeing her kingdom. Nothing about her had been rearranged. Her hair, as usual, was pinned tightly to her head and sealed with a think coat of hairspray. On normal days, her library, like her hair, was organized, secure, and shiny. Nothing moved without her permission, and even though Michael was a bit frightened of Ms. Vigil, he always felt safe in her presence.
Two tarnished metal keys with interesting shapes always hung on a metal ring around Ms. Vigil’s wrist like a charm bracelet. The biggest key unlocked the Antique Book Room door. The smaller key opened the antique book that sat alone, locked like a girl’s diary, on a very high shelf.
Michael noticed that Ms. Vigil had posted herself in front of the heavy carved wooden door that kept everyone from the Antique Book Room. The room was the size of a child’s closet, but it was as splendid as a throne room in a castle.
Rocky Ridge’s students were not allowed to go into the room without Ms. Vigil and her antique key ring, and, no one Michael knew had ever been brave enough to ask permission to go there. Even Miss Queen seemed a little afraid of Ms. Vigil. Once Michael heard her say, “Ms Vigil does not know what great power she can unlock.”
The Round Table
“The best books are probably over there,” Michael thought as he headed straight for the books on the royal-blue tablecloth. He saw a book with a picture of a silly looking pig, dressed like a spy and holding an umbrella, on its cover and another with flying saucers driven by nasty looking creatures. “Yuck,” Michael thought. “Those books are about as good as boiled cabbage.”
Michael was interested in the book about dogs, but then his eyes locked on the “All About Sharks” book. The bloodthirsty and vicious eyes of the shark on the cover stared straight at him. Michael liked things that were real even if they scared him, so he grabbed the book and felt for his ten-dollar bill. Thankful that his money was still nestled safely deep inside his pocket, he headed toward Mrs. Meek, who was helping the students with their purchases.
Mrs. Meek had been the library assistant ever since Michael’s mom had been a student at Rocky Ridge. Most everyone ignored her even when she muttered weird things that no one understood like, [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]The word has always been here,[/dropshadowbox]
or [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Fear only one. Knowledge will come.[/dropshadowbox]
Once when Michael was hurrying past the Fantasy section, she whispered, [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Open your eyes. See wonderful things.[/dropshadowbox]
When Michael had mentioned Mrs. Meek’s comments to his mom, she had said, “Mrs. Meek has always said strange things like that. Maybe she got her sayings from that odd antique book she used to read all the time – the one they keep locked up now.”
“Do they keep it locked up because its pages are trimmed in gold?” Michael had asked.
“Maybe? It is a very valuable antique. Probably the oldest book in the world. I remember there were a lot of copies of it, but nobody I knew really seemed interested in reading them.”
“What happened to the copies?”
“I think most of them were destroyed.”
“Why?” asked Michael.
“Some said wars were started because of the book. Others said it had unfair rules. Some said the whole book was a myth that prevented scientific progress. Eventually, people became convinced that the book was dangerous. I think most of the copies were destroyed, and the original was locked up.”
Michael was thinking about what his mom had said when he noticed it was his turn to pay. Mrs. Meek gave the shark book a serious look over.
“Be courageous when you open this book,” she said. Someone strong will be with you today.” Michael thought he saw her body brighten and a tiny flash of light, like miniature lightning, escape from one of her bluish-gray eyes just before she smiled at him. “That will be $7.99,” she said
Michael felt less sure about his purchase, but he handed her his money, stuffed the change back in his pocket, and picked up his book.
The Reading Table and the Strange Wind
Michael wanted to enjoy his book without being bothered so he headed over to the table where Laura was sitting. Laura was the quietist girl in his class and, when she wasn’t reading books about imaginary places and creatures, she always seemed to be staring at something faraway that no one else could see.
He could tell by her dreamy eyes that she was already absorbed in the book she had bought. The title was, “The Merboys and Mergirls of Rodeo Reef.” On the cover was a picture of two merpeople dressed in fringed vests made of seaweed and western hats made of clamshells. They were riding seahorses and swinging lassos of braided sea grass over their heads.
Michael shrugged at Laura’s choice then wiggled as quietly as he could until he felt as comfortable as he could get in his plastic library chair. He opened his book. On the first page was a picture of a tiger shark. He read:
The tiger shark gets its name from the vertical stripes found on the younger sharks. Except for Great Whites, they attack more people than any other shark.
Michael was imagining himself alone in the ocean and thinking about how scared he would be if he met a tiger shark face to face when he noticed a strong, cool breeze tickling the skin on his cheeks and arms. It ruffled his hair, and rattled the pages in his book.
“That’s weird,” Michael mumbled to himself. “Maybe it’s just the air vent.” He looked up to check it out, but the air was not coming from the vent’s direction. He looked around and noticed that everyone’s hair was blowing and that everyone was looking around.
Even some of Ms. Vigil’s hair had escaped and was flapping like a bird’s wing across her eyes that were growing wide with excitement.
The Day Michael saw Ms. Vigil in the Antique Book Room
Michael had seen Ms. Vigil’s eyes open like that only once before. It was one afternoon a few weeks earlier at the end of the school day. He was building a spider robot at home for his science project. He wanted his robot to look real and had dashed into the library to get a book with spider pictures.
He had noticed that the Antique Book Room door was slightly open and had heard the faint jingle of Ms. Vigil’s keys coming from the room. Fear kept Michael quiet as he had stepped towards the door. Ms. Vigil was there, bent over the book with the gold-trimmed pages that lay open on the small, dark, oak reading table. She was staring at one of the pictures between its covers.
Michael had looked over her shoulder and saw that the picture was of a man sitting calmly in a cave surrounded by a group of hungry-eyed lions. She had turned a few pages in the book and he saw three men walking serenely through fire. She flipped to the front of the book and there was a brave man holding a stone tablet on the top of a mountain as lighting bolts came down around him. Then she turned a group of pages forward and he saw a fearless boy fighting a giant.
“How can those people be so brave and calm?” Michael had wondered. He had forgotten where he was until Ms. Vigil, who must have felt his presence, turned quickly with the same big excited eyes she had now and had asked, “How can I help you Michael?”
“I, I, I need to check out a science book,” Michael had stammered.
“Mrs. Meek will show you what you’re looking for,” Ms. Vigil had said as she pointed Michael towards Mrs. Meek [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Science reveals great power if you have eyes to see. Look closer before your heart grows dark,[/dropshadowbox]
Mrs. Meek had said as she had led the way to the Science section that day that now seemed so long ago.
Everything Seems Normal Again
The air in the library was still again. Ms. Vigil’s hair had returned to the usual place on her head, and her eyes were their normal size again. Everyone raised their eyebrows and shrugged their shoulders at each other as if to ask, “What just happened?” but, since it was the library, nobody said anything.
“Don’t come this way! Don’t come this way!” Michael repeated under his breath when he saw Gavin walking towards him. Gavin, the loudest boy in Michael’s class, took a seat in the chair beside Michael.
After rearranging his chair several times with a loud series of scooting squeaks, he announced through his big grin, “I got another “Wonton Weasel” book. Have you read any of them? It’s about a crime-fighting weasel that eats wontons. He likes the fried ones best because he says they give him the strongest wonton power. What book did you get?”
Talking in the library made Michael nervous. He didn’t want Ms. Vigil’s stare to come his way, so he just raised his book cover for Gavin to see. “I saw a real live shark in the ocean once,” Gavin said. “Have you ever seen a live one?” Before Michael had to answer, Miss Queen tapped Gavin lightly on the shoulder with her wand and said, “Shhhhh!” Gavin brushed off a sprinkle of glitter and opened his book. Michael relaxed.
Pretty soon most of the kids in Miss Queen’s class were seated and slowly turning crisp new book pages. Some were reading. Others were just looking at pictures.
The Strange Wind Blows Again
Michael turned his page, but he was sure he felt the breeze blowing again. At first it was very slight, but quickly it turned into a gust strong enough to blow clothes, hair, and pages. Within seconds the gust became a tempest blowing so fiercely that books were flying off book-fair shelves. Ms. Vigil’s hair was moving so much that her head looked like a bird flapping in full flight. The royal blue tablecloth blew off the round table and draped across Mrs. Meek’s shoulders like a cape.
“Get under the reading tables!” Miss Queen, shouted to her students as she gave her wand a vigorous tap. Piles of new books were lying open on the library floor.
Suddenly, Michael saw a tiger shark. He was sure it was the same one that had been on the cover of his book only now it was life-sized. He rubbed his eyes and blinked, but it was still there, and it was swimming towards Michael.
“Giddy up Gladys,” a mergirl commanded her seahorse. “Shark, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Her lasso pulled tight in front of the shark’s dorsal fin just before his teeth were about to bite into Michael’s leg. She held the shark tight.
“Yippie ya yo! Yippie ti yi yay! That’s the way to rope today,” a merman sang as he quickly looped his rope around the shark’s mouth.
The mergirl tipped her hat and smiled. “Way to go partner.”
“Disaster never alone. More coming! Need wonton power!” Wonton Weasel squealed. He began stuffing fried wontons into his mouth as fast as he could.
“Wonton power!” Gavin shouted.
“You’re not supposed to eat in the library,” Michael thought.
Under a nearby table, Spy Pig was saying, “Great gadget goof-up. How do I turn this oinkrella (which Michael thought must be an umbrella for pigs) into a spear gun?”
The hair on the backs of some barking dogs near the round book-fair table stood on end. Suddenly the walls, chairs, and tables started shaking. The floor was moving under Michael’s legs. The library was growing taller and wider. It stretched until Michael thought it must be the size of the whole school campus.
Mrs. Meek’s royal blue tablecloth cape was flying behind her. She was trying hard to keep her balance on the moving floor, as she shouted, [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Salvation is nearer than you think![/dropshadowbox]
Tiny lightning bolts pelted from her eyes, and Michael was sure he heard faint claps of distant thunder.
He could see alien spaceships, hundreds of them, flying in the distance. They were knocking over the Sci-Fi shelves. Others had landed, and all kinds of creepy creatures were already crawling from them and rumbling wildly toward the children. A platoon of soldiers, hunkered down behind the fallen History shelves, grabbed their bayonets. Gray tanks rolled into formation. Plane propellers whirled into action. “Ready. Aim,” the sergeant said.
Just when Michael thought nothing stranger could happen, Miss Queen tapped her wand three times in the air and shouted, “Unseal your flasks!”
“Are those wings on Miss Queen’s back?” Michael asked to no one in particular. Suddenly hundreds of fairies were flying from the Fantasy section and a shower of glittery dust was covering everything.
“It’s all really real!” Laura said. Michael noticed that her eyes looked clear and sure. Pointing around the library, she said, “Look. The fairy dust is strengthening the brave-hearted.” Michael looked confused. “That’s what goodness does,” she explained.
It was true. The soldiers were holding the aliens back. “I hope they are strong enough,” Michael said.
He noticed that some of the sharks he had not yet read about were circling the library. He didn’t see the merpeople, but, every now and then, he saw lassos whirling above a stack of books and heard a merman sing out, “Yippie yi yo! Yippie ti yi yay!”
“Maybe good will win after all,” Michael thought.
Things Get Worse
“I’ve had my snout to the ground on this operation for a while. Evil will not give up so easily.” Spy Pig said as he pointed his oinkrella, which now looked more like a spear gun, towards the Biology section.
Michael closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelieve. A giant squid, a long fat python, saber toothed tigers, white-fanged wolves, mammoths, and growling grizzly bears were sniffing out the children. Roars, snarls, and slithering sounds grew louder and louder. Michael’s heart beat faster.
Gavin yelled, “Wonton power!” as Wonton Weasel jumped from a reading table. After a few kicks and stomps the python’s slitted eyes closed and his forked tongue hung loose from his mouth.
“The target is in range,” Spy Pig said. He shot his spear between the squid’s eyes just before its curling tentacles reached a group of children under the reading table beside Michael’s.
There was no time for high fives. The tigers were really close now. “Saber-tooths are extinct,” Michael thought as he watched them crouch low to the ground, and wave their tails back and forth. They were so close that Michael could smell the stench of moldy raw meet between their small front teeth (which Michael knew were called incisors), and he could see glints of florescent light bouncing from their long canines. They were getting ready to pounce. The other animals were right behind them.
Michael was trying to remember a science fact that would help when he saw Ms. Vigil slide the big key into the lock of the Antique Book Room door. “What’s she doing?” he wondered as she pulled the large book off the shelf and quickly unlocked it. Suddenly a man, glowing like the sun, stepped from the room. Michael watched as he calmly climbed on top of the round table and said, [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Be still.[/dropshadowbox]
All at once, the aliens, sharks, and all the other ferocious animals stopped, frozen in place like statues. Wonton Weasel put one more wonton in his mouth and posed in a karate position. Spy Pig closed his oinkella, tapped the floor twice, pulled his hat closer to his eyes, and stood still. Tank engines stopped humming, and propellers stopped whirling. The army men saluted and stood in attention. Merpeople spun their lassos above their heads one last time as they waved good-bye and sang, “Ty-ya yippie yi yo. Yippie ti yi yay.Good-bye for now till we meet another day.”
The last note, along with a last bit of fairy dust, stayed suspended in the air just a moment longer.
Everyone stayed under the tables until the characters faded and the library returned to its normal size. Most of the students ventured out, but Michael and a few others didn’t move until Mrs. Meek said, [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Come out. Come out. Don’t be afraid. Just believe.[/dropshadowbox]
The students watched as the shinning man stepped off the table, and calmly walked back to the Antique Book Room. He must have disappeared into the ancient book, but somehow everyone could still feel his presence for a very long time.
After the Day that the Strange Wind Blew
After that day, the day that Miss Queen’s students refer to as “The Day the Strange Wind Blew,” Mrs. Meek didn’t seemed quite so invisible. Everyone listens to her a little more closely now. Laura is not quite as quiet as she was before and Gavin, who now eats fried wontons for lunch everyday, seems a little quieter. Michael, who has taken a strong interest in books from the Fantasy section, sometimes has a brave and faraway look in his eyes even when he is working on a science experiment.
The book with the gold-trimmed pages became quite popular. So, Ms. Vigil, who never pins her hair up anymore, keeps the big book and the Antique Book Room door unlocked during library hours. She is often seen pointing out paragraphs and pictures in the book to interested students.
The rumor at Rocky Ridge School is, that just before the library closes, Ms. Vigil gives her key ring to Mrs. Meek who has been seen, from time to time, at the school’s copy machine after dark.