Paul Emmets wasn’t what you would call dedicated, but he was reliably on time, which was sufficient to secure employment as a receptionist at the Menendez Library’s Rare Book Room through the end of the semester, which was the longest planning horizon Paul cared to contemplate.
At 1 PM sharp he bumped fists with Lexi, who covered the morning shift, sat down at the desk, plugged in his phone, and donned his headphones.
The beauty of rare books, as Paul saw it, was that almost nobody knew they existed. This gave him time to do his homework or play games on his phone and burn up his socials.
The log showed one patron, Dr. Forestall, an as-yet-untenured professor. A burnout case waiting to happen, in Paul’s opinion. Most likely, she’d be in there until five, and he’d have to chase her out like it was closing time at the bar.
Paul logged on, put his feet up, and started scrolling.
Not fifteen minutes later, Dr. Forestall was standing in front of him, breathing hard, looking upset, and holding what must have been a rare book. A small brown snail sat on the front cover at the end of a short, faintly glittering slime trail.
Paul slipped off the headphones and set his phone on the desk. “It’s kinda cute,” he said.
Dr. Forestall was not amused. “Is that all you have to say? This book is priceless. And this snail should not be here.”
Paul considered the situation. It’s not like he’d been sneaking snails into the library. If a snail got in, that was on the guys in Facilities.
“I’m waiting,” Doctor Forestall said.
“I’ll put it on the log,” Paul said, “let my boss know.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say about snails in the library?”
Paul shrugged. “In the 4th century CE, early Christians at the Basilica of Aquileia in northern Italy fed psychedelic mushrooms to snails then ate the snails, thus communing directly with God without experiencing the nausea caused by eating Amanita mushrooms directly.”
“That’s hardly an explanation.”
Paul shrugged again. “You ask me, magic mushrooms are a pretty good explanation for talking snakes and burning bushes, but I’ll listen to other ideas.”
“I meant an explanation for this snail.”
Paul brushed his dark curls away from his forehead. The unruly mop sprang back into place. “I’ve got no idea about this snail. Like I said, I’ll log it.”
Doctor Helen Forestall took a long, deep breath. “Paul, you’re not eating hallucinogenic snails in the rare book room, are you?”
“Of course not. I’m vegan.”
Doctor Forestall took another long breath. Her face was turning red. The book in her hands started to shake. Paul’s Aunt Flo had done the same thing right before her stroke.
“Are you okay, Doctor Forestall? Why don’t you sit down.”
The young professor sat in the chair facing Paul’s reception desk. The book in her hand steadied slightly.
Paul said, “Would you like an Uncle Eddie’s?”
Paul smiled. “A cookie. Oatmeal chocolate chip. Super good. Mostly organic.” He rummaged in his backpack. “I’ve got a fresh bag.” He opened the bag and held it out.
Doctor Forestall set the book on the reception desk and took a cookie.
Paul said, “Would you like a coffee?”
“You have coffee?” She bit into the cookie. “Wow. This is good.”
Paul smiled. “I’ll get coffee from the Student Union.
“But, what about the snail — ”
Paul was already out of his chair. He glanced at the book on his desk. “Oh, don’t worry about the snail. He’s not going anywhere fast.”
Prompted by @h.r._parker (book, snail, library).
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.
Image via Wikipedia, public domain.
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