For the next two days, I am going to be posting two library themed fiction stories; in some ways these are where Quiet, Please was first started; much of the fiction that follows is made up of truth. Read that last sentence again, and notice the word "fiction"...I'm not as creepy as the guy in the story below!
The story below is a urban legend; every library has one...feel free to comment below about your own library urban legend!
And Feel free to email the stories, rewrite the stories, or add your own twist to the stories; it's the digital age and it's all fair game! All I ask is that if you do anything to the stories, you cite where they came from.
At the heart of every librarian is a desire to know more about their patrons. Not the patrons who come in with their children and want to know where the books on Native Americans are; or the ones who have read every Sandra Brown book 14 times; or even the ones who come in everyday to research companies and stock on the reference computers. These are all normal people taking advantage of the free resources that libraries offer.
The patrons that every librarian has a desire, sometimes secretly, to know more about are the ones who make their days more interesting. The guy who mumbles Alf is plotting an assignation attempt on Snoopy. Or the man who wears a suit and expensive cologne and comes into the library to pick up books on marketing and business theory, but also lives in the beat up van that never leaves the parking lot. Or the woman who comes in everyday, counts the number of computers in the library, and then leaves without saying a word to anyone. These are all people who have stories that have to be deeper than their curious behaviors. They’re crazy, yes, but they still have stories that librarians would like to believe are more interesting than their own, and that somehow these stories explain their abnormal behaviors.
But of all people—of all these people with stories more complex than my own—there is one who comes that I had always wanted to know the story of more then the others. I don’t know where my curious interest for the man stems from, and if this says something about myself, but whatever reason I was drawn to know more about him.
His name, that is the name that librarians adopted for him, is the Short-Short Man.
I first came to know of him by the urban legend that spreads like gossip through libraries in the staff lounge. I had been working for the library for two months, and found myself engaged in conversation with a colleague now retired about encounters with patrons that were mentally unstable.
I had just finished telling my story about an encounter I had had with a mentally disabled woman who had tried to take off my shoe with her mouth while I was showing another woman where books on cancer were.
The librarian laughed, but surprising to me then, acted like this bizarre act was no big deal in a library. Then, while studying the palm of his hand, he said, “I suppose by now you've heard of the Short-Short Man?”
I frowned, “The Short-Short Man?”
The librarian smiled and looked up. “I've only seen the back side of him myself, but others—let’s just say others have seen more.”
My eyes pleaded for him to continue.
“There are many stories about him. Everyone who sees him has a story of their own that’s contradictory of another. Some say his face is badly burned; others say it looks gentle. But they all say there’s something in his eyes. Something mysterious and thrilling and awkward all at the same time.”
“Why the name?”
“Well this is the best part. And by best I mean of course most frightening.”
The librarian sipped his tea, and then continued, “He’s not a regular to the library. There’s really no pattern to his nature. He’ll come three times in a week then will not return for a month. Or he’ll come every other week for months at different times and different days. It’s sporadic. One thing is always the same.” He paused and deeply looked into my eyes. “The shorts.”
“The shorts?” I said amused.
He nodded. “Daisy dukes that show almost every inch of his pale shaved white legs.”
“And there’s one other thing.”
I waited impatiently for him to continue.
“He’s a nature boy. Doesn't believe men should have to wear tighty whities—likes to feel the soft breeze that comes inside his daisy dukes.”
I shook my head disgusted and puzzled.
The librarian laughed. “He comes into the library in jeans, and then sits at the table to hunt for old ladies. At some point he finds the old lady he likes most, removes his pants, leaving only the daisy dukes. Then he drops something in front of the woman, bends over, and lets it all hang out! Then as the woman tries to compose herself, he leaves the library completely expressionless.”
I believed the story, but found nothing in it at first that made this man anymore strange than any other patron that walked through the double doors of the library babbling his insanity to anyone who listened. As time went on, I heard several different versions of it from others, but my fascination of the man didn’t truly begin until the day that I saw him with my own eyes and immediately began to create in my mind my own story to tell bored librarians on slow days.
I was halfway through my daily rotation at the reference desk. I was on my knees organizing the bottom shelve of the reference collection when I sensed two eyes looking down at me. I saw him as I looked up, though I did not know it was him until later. He was twenty feet away, but looking down at me—curiously analyzing me, watching me, reasoning in his own mind the kind of librarian I was. And when I stared back, he did not turn away as most people would when they realize that they are caught staring at another. No. No, he continued to stare. And as I approached him to question his stare, he still would not turn away. His eyes were fixed on me.
It was a haunting fixation that I will not long soon forget. I felt in his endless stare that he had violated a part of me and he just kept holding onto it—refusing to let go. And as haunting as it was, and still is, I have always been, though I do not know why, impressed by it.
“Is there something you need help with?” I asked him.
He continued to stare, and answered softly, “No. I was just thinking about something.” His voice did not fit him. It was too soft—to gentle and caring. It made me believe for just a second that he was sincerely sane.
I nodded and backed away from the man. He continued to stare. I went behind a low bookcase, bent down and pretended to look through a book. The eyes were still there when I stood back up.
I pointed him out to another librarian. He watched me do so. He watched and continued to watch. His watching made me feel threatened, and only as I realized this did his staring seem more satisfied.
I tried to ignore him, passing him off as someone who forgot to take his medication. I helped other patrons find books, knowing that even as I helped them his stare followed me. I could feel him following me.
Then after twenty minutes of this staring. Twenty minutes of being driven to my own insanity. I sighed, turned, and saw for the first time that the man was gone.
I looked around for him. I knew he was there—somewhere—hiding and staring. I walked twice around the library looking for him. Halfway through my third time around, an old woman came to me pale and frightened.
“That man!” She said disgusted pointing at a man walking smoothly out the library doors, “That man revealed himself to me.”
“That man?” I pointed. Only then did I realize everything all at once. The man walking out the door was wearing short-shorts, and he was the same man with the wicked stare.
I ran towards him. There was nothing I could do about the stare, but revealing himself to an old woman was a crime. I ran after him, but as I left the library, he was already gone. I checked inside every car in the parking lot, but I never could find him. And as I realized that he was gone I sat on the curb and thought about him. I made a mental image of him—of his pale skin, his smooth legs, and the manner of his eyes as he stared. I was certain he was wearing pants and not shorts when he was staring at me and while his staring was disturbing, the caring voice assured me he was harmless—or so I thought. But it was true what the librarian had said to me when I first heard of the man; there was something in his eyes. They were careful, and indeed mysterious, and made you feel victimized.
For the next several days, I thought I saw him several times, but it was not until several weeks later that I was certain. It was not the library that my next encounter came. It was at the grocery store near my house that I had stopped at on my way home from work. I was looking at the magazine rack, when I heard behind me a man softly asking an employee where they had green olives. I knew the voice immediately as his, and I turned. He was dressed casual with no short-shorts, but I was sure it was him. This time it was I who stared. When he caught me in my own stare, he weakly smiled and turned away.
I watched him from a distance. I did not play his game and make my stare obvious. I was better than that. I watched him without him knowing. I watched him pick out his cereal, his beverage, his lunch meat, and lastly his frozen groceries. I watched all of his behaviors from a distance. I watched to see if he paid with cash or charge; if he asked for paper or plastic, and if he used any coupons. I wanted to know every detailed about the man. It was okay, I reasoned with myself to justify my spying, because it was my responsibility to observe him so I could understand the nature of his character. I needed to watch him to prove his insanity. I wanted to watch him and I had every reason to watch him.
When he left the store, I left with him. I watched him get into his small red Honda. I followed him in my own car as he left the parking lot. It was my civic duty to follow. I followed him as he passed the bank where I did my checking and the mailbox where I put my letters. When he turned on a small residential street, only a half mile from where my own house was I followed him there too.
When he parked in front of a small corner lot, I also parked (though at a safe distance). There were kids playing in the front yard and they hugged him as he made his way to the front door.
I could not push myself to move. The man fascinated and disturbed me. I stayed along the curbed watching the house even when the man went inside, and the kids soon followed. I made up stories in my mind as to why the man did what he did. I made up several stories. As the stories I made in my mind became more elaborate, I began to have respect for the man.
An hour later, after the sun had gone down, the door opened and the man stepped out.
He had changed clothes. He wore a hat, darker pants, and a white uniform shirt. Even in the near pitch black I knew it was him. His eyes lit the way.
I followed him again as he got back into his car, and drove away.
This time I had to follow him longer. I followed him out of the suburban city, and into the metro. I worried that my car would not have enough gas to follow him to wherever the final destination was, but I was determined to follow him as far as my gas would take me. And when I followed him so far that I knew my gas would only take me five or ten miles further, he stopped.
It was at a business complex. He went into the only lighted building and shook hands with a man inside. He waited as the man turned off the lights, and locked up the building, and then walked with him to his car where he watched him drive off. When the car left, he lit a cigarette, then pulled the flashlight that was attached to his belt, and walked around the complex. It was then that I knew he was nothing more then a night security worker for the complex, but I continued to watch him for an hour. I wanted him to discover me in my car. I wanted him to tap on car window with his flashlight and ask what I was doing, and then I would tell him what I knew.
I wanted him so badly to be more than a security guard. I wanted him to break into the building. Or to slit the throat of the man whose hand he shook, or at the very least expose himself to someone, somewhere. But he didn't. I finally left the complex depressed.
He came to the library again later in the year. Again I didn't recognize him right away. He used a computer and did not stare at anyone, though I have since resolved that he had to have been staring at me through the glare in the computer screen. I only associated him as the man who used the computer later in the afternoon. The man wore glasses and his face seemed different, but they were the same eyes. I only saw the eyes briefly, but I knew that it was him.
After an hour on the computer he disappeared. Minutes later the alarm on the backdoor went off. I and another librarian left the desk to investigate and reset the alarm. While we stood confused trying to figure why the alarm had sounded, an older woman came up to me disgusted and frightened, and I knew by her stare what she would say. I turned, and I saw him. He had the same slow, casual walk, and was wearing the same daisy dukes.
I apologized to the woman and curiously watched him leave the library. I didn't chase him this time. I instead smiled to myself as I watched him, and thought, there goes the short-short man.