Mountlake Terrace Library Blog

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Steampunk Library Story for the Holidays...with apologies to Charles Dickens


Ebenezer Scrooge was in a bad mood as he headed to his office. He was always in a bad mood.

He encountered his nephew Fred.

Fred: Happy Holidays, Uncle! I’m off to the library!

Scrooge: Bah, Humbug! What right do you have to be happy? You’re poor enough. And what do you want with the library? What good is it to you?

Fred (laughing): And what right have you to be dismal, Uncle? You’re rich enough.

Scrooge: (grumbling) What else can I be, when I live in such a world of fools as this? Happy Holidays. What are the holidays but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?

Fred: All the more reason to go to the library, Uncle. When times are hard, the library is a good place to go. I am getting some DVDs which I can borrow for not a pence and I can use their computers to print out my holiday greetings. I am going out of town, so I am also going to check out some audio books to listen to on the plane. But join us for our holiday dinner. We are going to watch the Dr. Who Holiday Special on television. Good day, Uncle!

As Scrooge enters his business premises, two other people follow him in. They are portly gentlemen and stand with their hats off in Scrooge’s office.

Gentleman #1: Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe. Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge or Mr. Marley?

Scrooge: Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years. He died seven years ago this very night.

Gentleman #2: We are from the Friends of the Library and are asking for donations to fund our classes and programs. At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should have events and activities to benefit those in our community who are finding these economic times difficult and, who suffer greatly at the present time due to the bad economy. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries, hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts. Coming to the library is of great comfort to many.

Scrooge: Are there no prisons? And the workhouses? Are they still in operation?

Gentleman #1: (cautiously) Both very busy, sir.

Scrooge: Good. I was afraid from what you said that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.

Gentleman #2. But people would rather die than go there.

Scrooge: Then they should do it and decrease the surplus population.

Gentleman #1: (thinking Scrooge is joking): We choose this time of year because it is a time when Want is keenly felt. What shall we put you down for?”

Scrooge: Nothing

Gentleman #2: (hopefully) You wish to remain anonymous?

Scrooge: I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry during the holidays and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there. Who cares about libraries? Now leave my premises.

That evening, Scrooge takes his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern and reads all the newspapers, and beguiles the rest of the evening with his banker’s book and then goes home to bed. He lives in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. They are a gloomy suite of rooms that suit Scrooge’s personality.

As the candles flicker, Scrooge nods off to sleep --- only to be awakened by a clanking noise, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain. The door flies open and he beholds an apparition.

Scrooge: Who are you? What do you want with me?


Ghost: I am Marley’s ghost.


Scrooge: What? You’re not Jacob Marley.

Ghost: Jacob Marley? I thought they said Bob Marley.

Scrooge: Well my partner’s name was Jacob Marley.

Ghost: Whatever, mon. The message will be the same and here it is.

(reciting) It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen and travel far and wide and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. I wear the chain I forged in life. I never walked beyond our counting-house in life and never believed in the power of libraries. Seven years dead and travelling all the time. The whole time. No rest, no peace, incessant torture of remorse, because I spent all of that money on Netflix when I could have had 10 DVDs at a time for free or that I never learned how to use a computer because I didn’t know the library had free classes.

Scrooge: Huh?

Ghost: (shaking his head) Basically, mon, Marley didn’t live a very nice life, never helped anyone, lived only for himself and didn’t get it that libraries are life-changers and would have saved him all of that precious money he cared so much about. But you have a chance to change that. (getting back into character) Scrooge, you will be haunted by Three Spirits. Without their visits you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow when the bell tolls One.

And the spirit disappears. Scrooge feels a draft, shivers and closes the window. He examines the door by which the ghost had entered. It is double-locked and the bolts undisturbed.

Scrooge: Hum…

He stops after the first syllable, goes straight to bed and falls asleep upon the instant.
Suddenly, the curtains of his bed are drawn aside and Scrooge finds himself face to face with another ghost.





Scrooge: Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?



Ghost:
I am.



Scrooge: What and who are you?

Ghost: I am the Ghost of Years Past.

Scrooge: Long Past?

Ghost: Your past. Rise and walk with me.

All of a sudden in the blink of an eye, Scrooge and the spirit are standing outside looking up at a large brick building.




Scrooge: This was my boyhood library!

Ghost: You recollect the way?

Scrooge: Remember it, I could walk it blindfold.

They walk around the library, Scrooge recognizing his favorite childhood books.


Scrooge: The library is deserted.





Ghost: The library is not quite deserted. A solitary child, neglected by his family, is left there still.The Spirit touches Scrooge on the arm and points to his younger self intent upon his reading.



Suddenly they are surrounded by storybook characters: Curious George and The Wild Things from “Where the Wild Things Are.".




Scrooge: I had forgotten what a lonely boy I was and how the library was a place I went to escape that loneliness and the misery of my family. All of those lovely books. Without the library, I would have been miserable indeed. The library saved me.

A beautiful and glamorous librarian appears.

Librarian: Happy Holidays, Young Scrooge. Here is the latest book in the Hunger Games series. I saved it for you.

Scrooge: (his face lighting up) She was always so welcoming and wonderful to me. She smashed the librarian stereotype. She never wore a bun or practical shoes and never shushed me. All of the library staff were welcoming and friendly people. And the place was so alive, full of people using the computers, attending the classes and events, gathering with their neighbors…

Ghost: A small matter, to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.

Scrooge: Small?

Ghost: (Looking at Scrooge sincerely) People spend but a few pounds of mortal money for library service. Is that so much that they deserve this praise?

Scrooge: It isn’t that…The happiness and help they give is quite as great as if it cost a fortune. Books and the teen gaming days at the library helped me through some sad and lonely times. And where else can you go to find information on all sides of a subject and not be judged? The library protects our rights to information and is the backbone of what makes this country great.
But somehow I lost my way. Spirit…show me no more. Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?

The spirit disappears under the door in a burst of light. Scrooge is overcome by drowsiness and barely has time to reel to bed before he sinks into a heavy sleep.

Scrooge jolts awake from a prodigious snore. A strange voice calls him by name. A light shines from an adjoining room. A woman who bids him enter.


Ghost:
I am the Ghost of the Present.




She is clothed in a green robe and jewels, but her nametag clearly indicates she is a librarian.

Ghost: You have never seen the like of me before.

Scrooge: No, actually I recognized you as a librarian right away. I am used to glamorous librarians.

Ghost: Touch my robe.

As Scrooge does so the room disappears and they stand in the threshold of Bob Cratchit’s dwelling. Bob Cratchit is Scrooge’s employee. Mrs. Cratchit is there dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown but brave in ribbons.



She is laying the table with her daughter and two smaller Cratchits are also there. Bob Cratchit appears with Little Tiny Tarquin on his shoulder. Bob is sad and Little Tiny Tarquin is crying.





Scrooge: Spirit, tell me what is wrong with Little Tiny Tarquin?

Ghost: You cut Bob Crachit’s hours and he was no longer able to keep up his car payments. They no longer have a car to get to the library and they can’t afford bus fare either because of the meager wages Bob receives. Little Tiny Tarquin worries that he will not do well in school if he doesn’t get to attend the Ready Reader story times at the library. He doesn’t want to start kindergarten without the same skills that other children will have. I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will not succeed in kindergarten or in life.

Scrooge: No, no. Oh, no, Spirit, say he will be spared.

Ghost: Let him go to the prisons and the workhouses and decrease the surplus population.

Scrooge hangs his head when hearing his own words quoted by the Spirit.

Suddenly the bells toll and as the last stroke ceases to vibrate, Scrooge remembers the prediction of Bob Marley and lifting up his eyes, beholds a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground towards him. It is shrouded in a dark garment, which conceals its head, its form and leaves nothing of it visible save its nose and one outstretched paw…er, hand.




Scrooge: Am I in the presence of the Ghost of What is Yet To Come? You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us. Is that so, Spirit? Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any specter I have seen. Will you not speak to me?

The Ghost remains silent and leads Scrooge through the darkened town. The Spirit stops beside one little knot of business men.

Man: No, I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know all of the libraries have been closed.

Man 2: When did they close? What happened? I thought they would be there forever.

Man: So did I. But no one supported them and they disappeared.

The spirit leads Scrooge to a dark building. The Phantom’s claw points to a sign.

Scrooge: Before I draw nearer to that sign to which you point, answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that WILL be or are they shadows of things that MAY be?

Scrooge creeps towards the sign, trembling as he goes; and following the pointing claw reads upon the sign

LIBRARY CLOSED.

Scrooge: Oh, no, Spirit, no. Spirit, hear me. I am not the man I was. Why show me this, if I am past all hope? I will honor libraries in my heart and support them all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on that sign.

Holding up his hands, Scrooge sees an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrinks, collapses and dwindles down into his bedpost.

Scrooge: They are not closed. They are here—I am here—the shadows of the things that would have been may be dispelled. They will be, I know they will.

Scrooge dresses and sets out to town. He has not gone far when coming on towards him he beholds the portly gentlemen from the Friends of the Library who had walked into his counting house the day before.

Scrooge: My dear sirs. How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. If you please, accept this donation to the Friends of the Library. And I would love to support my library in any way possible.

Gentleman: I don’t know what to say about such munificence.

Scrooge: Don’t say anything please. Come and see me. I would like to be active in your group.

Scrooge then heads to his nephew, Fred's, home.

Scrooge: (knocking on Fred's door) Fred, Fred, let me in. I've come to watch the Dr. Who Holiday Special with you!

The next day, Scrooge is early to his office. If he could only be here first and catch Bob Cratchit coming late. That was the thing he had set his heart upon. And Bob was late.


Scrooge:
(growling but hiding a grin) What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?

Bob: I am very sorry, sir. I am behind my time. It’s only once a year, sir. It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.

Scrooge: Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend. I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer…and therefore I am about to raise your salary! I will raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family. I want to take Little Tiny Tarquin to the library. They have family story times that would be fun for all of us to go to. And we can take him to the Ready Reader story times so he can get ready for kindergarten. We want him to succeed, don’t we, Bob. And I want you to improve your computer skills. They have free classes.

Scrooge couldn’t stop talking about the library and he was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more.

He became a library story teller and ambassador.

He shared his enthusiasm with everyone he encountered. And he became a donor to the Library Foundation which supports a book for every baby born, citizenship classes and other events. And to Little Tiny Tarquin he was a second father. He enjoyed attending the Ready Reader story times with him. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them: for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

Scrooge had no further visits from Spirits but lived upon the principle that libraries mattered ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep the holidays well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

And so, as Little Tiny Tarquin observed,





“Arf, Arf, Arf, Arf, Arf Arf!”

Happy Holidays everyone!