Winner – ‘The Librarian’ by James Blower
I used to love books until the school librarian put me off them. I know, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.
He used to come immaculately dressed in the same grey jumper-shirt combination, caressing the returned titles lovingly into their special place on the shelves before school like the sort of possessive maniac who talks to their car while they wash it.
But the chiming of the morning bell brought out his inner evil. He sat unnervingly still, like some kind of taxidermy grinch, at the entrance to his fiction-filled fortress. He peered over his specs, shushing us with a single, spindly finger placed over his thin lips as we filed past him into his lair. Even without moving a muscle, he had an omnipresent gaze. A sixth sense for the well-being of his beloved books.
Despite his seemingly clumsy lankiness, he had a remarkable ability to glide soundlessly, appearing suddenly over your shoulder with his protruding neck, ready to scold. Cracked the spine did you boy? he’d say, his face contorted like he had just smelt something rancid. If you’d committed this cardinal sin, you were in trouble. Apoplectic, flecks of his spittle would rain down on your face as he hissed about how books were the keys to the inner workings of minds far superior to our own and should therefore be treated with the utmost respect. The hushed tones of these outbursts and the proximity at which he would speak into your ear only made them more traumatic.
Such was the fear that he instilled about even handling books that I haven’t been able to touch one for years. When I see them lying around all dog-eared, I think of the librarian and a shiver runs through me.
My life, tainted by one man’s selfish love of literature.
‘An Illusionist’ by Joseph Gardiner
After the meal, there was an illusionist. I watched him closely, and he was entertaining enough, albeit predictable. When he was finished, he stood in silence, a finger to his lips, and an unbecoming wryness in his eyes and over-elaborate moustache. ‘A digestif,’ he said, blowing a handful of dust into the room. It was golden, this dust, and possessed a kind of entrancing luminescence. Still, it did nothing – bronze filings and fish scales, most likely. Then he disappeared.
I’d felt lethargic, drowsy, shouldering my arms into my overcoat. But now, in the night air, I feel supple, my mind dexterous and inventive. As though it might pluck funny lines and wild anecdotes directly from the ether. If only I’d felt this way earlier, I wouldn’t have had to endure fat Pyotr’s self-aggrandising stories. And his obnoxious jokes. And all because he was made Head Clerk, that intolerable ass.
Mind you, Pyotr isn’t entirely intolerable.
And he’s not so fat.
And, actually, the illusionist did have a nice moustache. Besides, I’m feeling more generous now. And lighter, too. Full of vigour, in fact.
Maybe it was the coffee, the modern ‘espresso’.
Either way, there’s something remarkably pleasant about striding through the square at this hour. My shadow is stretching out in front of me, scaling the municipal buildings like Peter Pan; and the sound of my shoes on the cobbles is just like a happy horse. Clip-clop. Clip-clop. Yes, I can feel my blood quickening – sometimes life is such an adventure, don’t you think?
The square agrees with me. I can tell. Why else would it have come alive like this, the buildings all dancing and smiling and singing? I must remember to tell the illusionist, ‘Forget your cheap trinkets, my friend. Reality is the greatest trick’.