Beyond the archives of the local library, there is a door with a No Entry sign stuck by invisible tape to its peeling brown paint. A librarian enters every hour, then exits somewhere between ten minutes to three days later, often with a fresh book in their hand dripping inky mucous from its pages. Inside, the din of machine and labored breaths fills the room completely. The sound sometimes leaks into the long cracks running throughout the whole of the building.
The library director showed Jordan the door to the room during training but told her that it would be three months before they’d be comfortable letting her see inside—before they would let her perform whatever function they performed in that room beyond the standard archives.
On the first Tuesday of her third month, a regular patron accosted Jordan at the circulation desk, asking her where the new Franklin Lando book could be located, then demanding that she go get it.
“Franklin Lando died last year when all those old authors were dying,” Jordan said. This did not satisfy the patron, who grew angrier and even more assertive. The patron had read all the Lando books at least three times and craved more—she craved new.
“There is always a new Lando book when I want one,” she said. “I don’t understand.”
Eric, the library’s director, stumbled out of the office behind Jordan, his perpetual migraine flaring behind his eyes.
He placed his hand on Jordan’s shoulder. “Let’s just get her a damn Lando book.” He told the patron to wait, then pulled Jordan with him through his office, into the musty archives until they stood in front of the peeling door with the No Entry sign.
Jordan pressed her hand against the wood. It felt warm.
Eric winced as he unlocked the door. “Lando takes only about ten, fifteen minutes to drip a new novel.”
“Franklin Lando is dead,” Jordan urged.
“Yeah,” Eric said. “But only just so.”
Eric pulled the door open. The din of machinery and lungs rushed over them. A chemical, hospital smell poured out with it, attaching to their clothes and stinging their eyes. It hit Eric harder than Jordan.
The upright bodies of authors, wired to monitors wired to pumps wired to more monitors, filled a room the size of the library itself. Each body was labeled as if on the shelf upstairs: FICTION BAUM, FICTION CLARK, FICTION GRAFTON, FICTION LANDO, FICTION PATTERSON, and so on.
“People don’t want to give up their favorite authors,” Eric said, weaving through the bodies that each watched him with the same dwindling eyes of an aged writer. He approached Franklin Lando, who had a chemical sheen to his pale skin but otherwise looked just like his author photos towards the end of his life—only naked. Eric entered a string of commands into the terminal at the writer’s feet. The pump attached to the writer’s chest accelerated while a stream of neon chemicals wove through a small tube embedded in his skull. Franklin Lando’s lips twitched to life. He mouthed syllables, then actual words. They dripped from him as black as ink from a pen. A substantial automated printer and press, one of several to which all the bodies of the writers eventually found their wired way, grinded and steamed. It shook the foundations of the library.
It produced. It printed words as they dripped heavy with drool from the writer’s mouth.
“Thanks to Swedish library scientists,” Eric said, “now they don’t have to.” He rubbed his palms against the migraine needles in his eyes. “This won’t take long. The man was prolific up until his ‘death.’”
Jordan wandered the bodies while Lando created. She stopped and stared into the vacant eyes of a naked James Patterson. His mouth moved. He dripped words at an alarming rate. The pump in his chest and the terminal at his feet had both been overclocked to increase cooling capacity.
“James Patterson isn’t dead, Eric,” Jordan said.
“Not that you knew,” Eric called. “Sometimes it’s better to lie—to string the name along just until the brain depreciates. Even with the Swedish library and publishing scientists’ chemicals running through it, the brain still slowly goes.” Eric had to sit down. The pain from his chemical migraine was just that bad.
A philosopher reached out to Jordan as she walked past. He grabbed her arm and clutched it tight.
“Kill me,” he whispered through the wet bristles of his gray moustache. Jordan pulled away, letting out a small yell.
Eric shrugged, aware of the judgment on Jordan’s face. He rolled his eyes. “Okay, yeah,” he said, “but he’s a philosopher so he might have said that even if he wasn’t strung up against his living will in these archives dripping textbooks.”
In the farthest, darkest corner of the room, lay a few shriveled husks wired to a small, sputtering pumps and dated terminals plugged into multiple ancient power strips plugged into one two-prong outlet. Jordan approached them. They had been half covered in a tarp at some point in the last two decades. She knelt down and wiped away some dust on one of the terminals. The tag read FICTION CLEMENS.
“Holy shit it’s Mark Twain,” Jordan said, poring over the husk. It was barely recognizable as human, much less as Samuel Clemens. She would love to read a new piece from him, she thought. Who wouldn’t? She tapped the old terminal at the husk’s jerky feet. It took a minute, but the screen flashed retro green asking for a command. She started copying Eric’s strings from earlier as best she could remember.
“Not all of them work,” Eric said. He zoned out, adrift in the pain of his skull. “But we figure maybe they will someday, so we keep them going just in case.” The substantial printer beeped. The new Franklin Lando novel, a simple spy story called Vagrant Nights in Honolulu, was ready. It sat, dripping fresh mucous in an empty book cart at the end of the printer’s tray. Franklin Lando’s body tensed hard, then relaxed. He breathed out.
“Jordan,” Eric said, clutching his head now. “Get that for me? This air is always killing me. I hate this job, Jordan. I want to be an artist strung up in the Louvre or something, man.” He passed out. He’d done this for too long.
Jordan executed her command lines on the terminal. It sparked. The husk of Samuel Clemens tensed. What was once Mark Twain’s acerbic mouth cracked as it dripped words. The terminal sparked again, dimming power to the room and lighting the husk of Samuel Clemens on fire. Jordan put it out with the old tarp quick enough, but she did inhale some of the pungent smoke from the husk by accident.
Words poured from all the bodies’ mouths, unstrung and incoherent.
The printer beeped. An inky glob of pages, writhing and alive, fell out of it into the book cart. It consumed Franklin Lando’s new novel. As it did, the body of Lando screamed and struggled in his wires.
The burnt and withered husk of Samuel Clemens convulsed in the smoke and mist. It let out a long, Southern drawl then laid forever still.
Jordan dared not approach the glob of pages. It fell from the book cart, splattering on the ground then reforming itself. It approached Eric, whose migraine had wormed its way through his nervous system. He lay on the floor, paralyzed by the pain, as the glob of pages—words roving in sticky tendrils across its mass–consumed him. He didn’t struggle, but he did lock eyes with Jordan as we went limp and his breathing labored under the weight of the thing. She huddled close to the jerky husk of Samuel Clemens as she watched Eric disappear into the thin, his skin hueing black from the tip of his flailing tongue.
After consuming Eric, the glob twitched. New tendrils of words sprouted from its core. They strung together each page of Eric’s life, parsed into sentences and plot and action and story. He grew up three minutes away from the library, spending his childhood days reading on these floors. Though he left for college, the draw of home pulled him back. His migraine began in his mid-30s, nearly a decade after he started working here. As the glob turned to partake of Franklin Lando, Jordan read what she took to be the ending of Eric on its back: “After an age, his migraine subsided.” He was finally at peace in this freakish creature—this living library, driven to be connected with all things.
As each author succumbed to the glob, the thing grew in size and complexity. Ink words lingered in the trails it left around the room, sticking to the walls and getting sucked into the vents. It went for the prolific writers first, sometimes skipping the dripping body of an excellent writer only to swing back around and devour them with a rabid hunger. It browsed through the bodies with the whims of a regular patron. Having come to recognize the pattern, Jordan said a brief goodbye to jerky Samuel Clemens then slinked her way towards the door. She immediately tripped hard on a stray cord, drawing the attention of the mass. It managed to catch her by the leg, but was only strong enough to consume her shoe, which bore it no words or worth. It screamed; it thrashed; it consumed jerky Samuel Clemens as someone might a small frog then erupted with the ink of truth and possibility, words climbing the dusty walls as Jordan escaped.
She found a job at an animal shelter two towns over.
The mass continued to browse through and consume the author bodies in residence until it grew too large for the room. It browsed the library’s living patrons until it grew too large for the building. The townspeople until it grew too large for the town and Jordan could see it down the road from her new job one morning, moving towards her, its black ink swallowing the sun. She rubbed a budding pressure away from her eyes, then began adoption paperwork for a couple who wanted to take home a thin orange tabby.
Nick Perilli is a writer and library person living in Philadelphia with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. More work of his can be found in XRAY, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Maudlin House, Short Edition machines worldwide, and elsewhere. He tweets @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his cheap website: nickperilli.com.