69: Breaking ranks

The Borrowers are confused. They cannot hear each other anymore. Where once there was a hive mind of infinite complexity and possibility, now there is only a loose collection of gripes about poor service and a lack of gratitude.

Borrower who Leaves Pictures Torn Out Of Porn Magazines Inside The Children's Books feels the need to continue his work in the Young Readers section. Borrower Who Rips Out The Barcodes and Then Denies It scuttles away to the next aisle to tear the barcode from British Fighters of World War II. Borrower Who Complains about Blasphemous Books wants to resume perusing the books in the art section for profane content. Borrower Who Winks For No Reason winks uncontrollably. Borrower Who Brings Quality Street In At Christmas lies where he fell, quietly drowning in his own blood. Borrower who Cries, Silently, in the Science Fiction Section yearns to see if the new volume of Star Trek: The Next Generation has been added to the library collection even though he last checked two hours ago. Borrower Who Eats Scotch Eggs at the Computer feels pangs of hunger bloom in his stomach.

Where these disparate individuals once came together and become something more than Borrowers they are now, as before, just Borrowers. One by one they slip away from the Staff Only Area, away from the shrieking and the violence and smell of burnt hair, into to the dark corners of the library which are rarely visited.

68: Return of the Mach

The roar escaping from John fills the air of the library like a buzzsaw with a loose bearing. The veins on his neck stick out like miniature sleeping policemen, or cord pulls; his good eye bulges almost out of his head. Blood weeps from cracks in the blackened side of his face.

The Borrowers pause. The sound John is making keeps them at bay, it interferes with their thinking, like that earlier noise.

The pink cardigan draped over his shoulders flutters, cape-like, for a moment.

Arms poised in mid-throw, the Borrowers jostle and quake, transfixed by the apparition in front of them.

John steps forward, still screaming, and smites the nearest Borrower with Google Search and Rescue for Dummies. The Borrower falls to the ground and does not move. The horde step back in as one.

Pulling his arm back, John stops roaring and draws breath.

The Borrowers press forward once more.

The lift chimes as the doors open.

"Get back on the other side of the pigging counter!" barks Bob, "This is a Staff Only area!"

Bob hurls a large print edition of the RHS Plant Finder like a shot put, taking out two more.

Rosalyn pushes the book trolley out of the lift uttering a high pitched ululation like a demonic smoke alarm.

John begins to roar once more, and smashes another Borrower to the ground, taking another out another one on the upswing.

The Roar and the Ululation combine into a intestine-trembling, kneecap-shaking, eardrum-rattling lightning ball of noise.

The Borrowers quake in terror. John smites and smashes with Google Search and Rescue for Dummies. Rosalyn rams the book trolley into Borrower shins. Bob grits his teeth and throws tomes into the the mob with straining muscles.

Garry and Katerina cover their ears.

The Borrowers begin to retreat.

67: Or Something Worse

Michael Frearson has written a follow-up to his last installment...

The Boss is humming to herself. Quite audibly. Sometimes the humming gives way to words, which gradually dismantle themselves and become humming once more.
‘Dancing Queen, young and free and the tambourine…dancing queen, you can da daa da hmm hmm hmmmm.’

‘Oh god,’ says Linda, ‘is she delirious?’

‘Deliriouuuussss’ sings The Boss. ‘616.8’ she says.

‘I don’t know,’ says Mike. ‘Part of her is certainly still functioning. Maybe a cup of tea will sharpen her up.’

‘I think she might need something a bit stiffer than that,’ says Linda.

‘Stiffer’ says The Boss. She sighs. ‘Belle comma Monica’

‘Oh my god that’s the Black Lace she’s on about. We need to hurry, Mike; she’s definitely not well.’

The commotion in the staff area below suddenly gains substance on the penultimate staircase. Linda and Mike look at each other in horror.

‘Oh no,’ he says.

‘We must have run out of customer feedback slips,’ says Linda.

‘Or something worse,’ says The Boss, still smiling. ‘Something Much Worse.’

The trio hears the growl in unison as they descend the final staircase; it sounds a bit like a man. A man being strangled. They press on in trepidation.
The disheveled silhouette of John is gradually revealed with each downward step. He is holding aloft something large and yellow. Beyond him The Borrowers are swarming towards them like angry daytime TV chefs, but John barely seems to be aware of them.
The growl becomes a roar.

The lift chimes as the doors open.

66: The Lingering Smell Of Sellotape

This chapter was submitted by Michael Frearson. Good work, Michael.

Rosalyn has a plan. She abandoned Garry up there, up there alone to fight their battle. Alone with Bob and Katerina and John. But Rosalyn knows what it’s like to be abandoned, rejected, left behind. She knows how that feels, and it feels like trying to play table tennis with only one player. And Rosalyn won’t do that to Garry. She’s going to be his hero, just as Garry is hers.

The basement holds no sanctuary anymore. Under the cold fluorescent strip lights everything looks plastic and lifeless. It used to be a living, breathing world, with green hair ribbons and red leather gloves. Now it’s just a poorly ventilated storage room with broken glass all over the floor.

Rosalyn shunts a wasted monitor off a wheeled computer desk and pulls it out from the wall. She drags it over to the book maze. The walls of the book maze are over six feet high. There must be enough ammunition down here to hold out for an entire weekend – perhaps even a bank holiday. There are some really flimsy volumes at the top, like individual Shakespeare plays, but down at the foundation lie the behemoths like The Complete Works, the original 1606 King James Bible and The Complete Illustrated Lord of the Rings. Rosalyn topples the wall and begins to load the desk.

She doesn’t hear the lift chime. She doesn’t hear the whine of the doors as they slide open. She doesn’t hear Bob’s tentative footstep on the concrete floor.

She hears Bob say ‘Rosalyn?’ in a long forgotten sort of way and she pauses mid-stack. ‘Rosalyn, I –’

She resumes her task. Heroes remain calm under pressure. Heroes maintain focus.
‘Rosalyn, I – will you stop what you’re doing and listen to me?’ Bob reaches out for her shoulders, but Rosalyn shrugs him off with a grunt. The computer desk is almost full.

‘Rosalyn, please, I…I came down here to apologise…I mean I should have done it years ago, I know, I just…I’m not very good at this…’

Rosalyn looks up and grips the edge of the computer desk. She begins to wheel it towards Bob, who takes a couple of steps back. Then a couple more.

‘Rosalyn, what on earth are you doing? Don’t you understand, I’m trying to…I’m trying to –’ Bob takes another step back and is in the lift, with its unfamiliar hum and mysterious lingering odour of sellotape. Rosalyn continues wheeling the book-laden computer desk into the lift, forcing Bob against the back wall.

‘Bob,’ she says, ‘that’s ancient history. Forget about that now, and help me win this war.’

‘Right,’ says Bob, as the lift doors shudder closed. Then, ‘That’s pigging right, m’lady,’ he says, tipping an imaginary hat.

A faint growl begins to sound just before the lift doors open. Bob springs astride the computer trolley, gripping onto the edge with his left hand and brandishing The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Second Edition in his right. Rosalyn is poised behind, ready to charge.

The lift chimes as the doors open.

The growl becomes a roar.

65: Search And Rescue

Katerina huddles behind the upturned desk, cradling John's charred head to her bosom, wishing that everyone would just Go Away and Leave Them In Peace. John sobs into her breasts, clutching at her with an unnervingly strong grip.

"There, there", she says, patting his back. "Everything will be alright."

Katerina listens to the platitudes escaping her lips with increasing incredulity. Her panicked brain, cowering with fear in the base of her skull, is amazed: it is as if the soothing, mannered tones are being uttered by someone else. Maybe I should have been a nurse, she thinks, or a bomb disposal person, someone who needs to stay calm in desperate situations. Maybe you need to measure yourself against the crazy stick, shouts another, more cynical, part of her mind.

John's wails grow louder, the smell of singed hair and burnt skin rising from his ruined face.

There's always Google, thinks Katerina. That may save us yet.


She pokes her head above her barricade. Garry looks back at her from his position at the defences, his eyes wild and, with his grey shirt partially untucked and red tie loosened, looking somewhat heroic in her mind. Garry’s gaze flicks momentarily to John, and back to her.

“Get out of here! I’ll hold them off for as long as I can, go downstairs, anywhere!”

The Borrowers form an advancing wall beyond the barricade, a duffel-coated, cagoule-wearing, semi-washed horde topped with shapeless grey faces. They chant in unison, waving books in the air like burning torches, shuffling and stomping their feet. They look… relentless, like no Suggestions Box in the world would be big enough to hold all of their complaints.

“Get up, John. We’ve got to go!”

Extracting herself from John’s wiry embrace, she struggles to her feet, and half-carries, half-drags him towards the lift. Falling to the floor, John grips her ankle, his wails becoming more piercing. Katerina drags him onwards, reaching out for the lift call button, stretching her fingers toward the ‘DOWN’ button, reaching, grasping. A book crashes into the lift doors, just missing her head. Another strikes her back, knocking the breath from her lungs; she slaps the lift call button as she falls to the floor, winded. The books rain down on and around them, and Katerina covers her head, curling into a ball, sharp jabs of pain coming from the corners of books as they strike her back.

John crawls forward, seemingly unaffected by the barrage, until a book strikes him square on the back of his head, knocking him down.

Peering through her fingers, Katerina watches as the book slides slowly off his head, the cartoonish yellow cover depicting a man holding his finger aloft in inspiration. The thick book flops to the ground, landing cover-upwards beneath John’s good eye.

Katerina reads the title.

She covers her eyes, and wraps her arms tightly around her head.

John reads the title of the book.

Google Search & Rescue For Dummies.

His wailing transmutes into a growl.

He picks up the book with white-knuckled hands and gets to his feet. Thrown books bounce off him. He adjusts the cardigan draped over his shoulders.

The growl becomes a roar.

The lift chimes as the doors open.

64: The Thin Grey Line

“Bob! Bob, get back here!”

Garry’s yells echo back to him from the closing lift doors, and Bob’s apologetic face disappears from view just as volume four of the Encyclopedia Britannica bounces against the metal, leaving a nasty dent.


Garry rips open another linguaphone set, flinging the CDs at the approaching tide of Borrowers. One disc finds its mark, dropping the Borrower to the floor, but the others defend themselves by using books as shields.

“Shit”, Garry curses through clenched teeth, “they’re learning.”

He ducks as volume five of the Encyclopedia Britannica tumbles end over end, like an ungainly tomahawk, through the space where his head had just been. The chanting grows louder; filling his ears and rattling his ribs, urging his buckling knees to carry him to a place far away from here. Garry wishes he had enough Clingfilm to cover all the borrowers, to seal them up and contain them, to prevent them spreading their anger and violence and germs any further.

Garry picks up the Encyclopedia and hurls it back at the mob, taking out two Borrowers, falling like skittles.


Katerina’s blond head peeks over her barricade, her eyes wide with fear. John’s singed head is just visible, still buried between Katerina’s breasts. Garry looks at John’s trembling head and thinks: at least someone is in a good place right now.

“Get out of here! I’ll hold them off for as long as I can, go downstairs, anywhere!” Garry hurls a selection of hardback Asterix books at the advancing horde to little effect. Katerina nods, and begins to drag John towards the lift, heavy reference books crashing around them like literary cannonballs.

Garry turns back towards the Borrowers to see them push his barricade out of the way, their ink-stained, germ-riddled hands reaching out towards him. Snatching up a returns trolley, he pushes them back with it, feeling a satisfying crunch as the corner of the trolley connects with a knee. Then they are all around him and the smell of Scotch eggs fills his nostrils as everything goes dark.

New Appointment

Things have been a bit quiet at SH of late. We thought we'd give everyone a chance to catch up.

Now, a while back, we advertised for the post of Library Assistant. This post was to cover Jenn, who is going on secondment for a few months. We are pleased to announce the successful applicant was
Duncan Cheshire , already a part-time volunteer at SH. Welcome to the team, Duncan!