AsktheLibrary!: Good afternoon. My name is Jessica. How can I help you?
AsktheLibrary!: Hi. Can I help you?
guest0371: my prof saved a book
guest0371: 4 class
guest0371: i need it
AsktheLibrary!: Do you know what the book title is?
guest0371: its an eng comp book
guest0371: theres a rollercoaster on the front
AsktheLibrary!: What’s your prof’s name?
AsktheLibrary!: and the class?
guest0371: eng comp
AsktheLibrary!: What section?
guest0371: mwf 10to11
AsktheLibrary!: what is the reg number?
AsktheLibrary!: the number you used to schedule
guest0371: i did it last semester
AsktheLibrary!: One moment please.
Jessica pushed herself away from the monitor and rested her head on the edge of the desk. Marianne, working at another computer, turned towards her student-worker.
“I thought this was what Admissions was for” was the muffled reply. “I thought they were supposed to look at everybody’s GPAs and SATs and IBs and God-knows-what-else to sort out these…these idiots so there’d be smart people in college. And now they’re in our English composition courses. I think I have a migraine.”
Marianne patted Jessica’s shoulder. “What is it this time?”
Jessica lifted her head. Little wisps of nearly-invisible hair had fallen out of the plastic clip; she tucked them behind her ear. “They didn’t know the name of the book their professor reserved, and now they don’t know their course registration number and expect me to know what class they’re talking about by freakin’ magic.”
“Oh!” Marianne frowned. “That’s nothing, Jess. Have some patience.”
“But they’re asking for their section’s reserve book. How’m I supposed to find it without the number?” Even as she spoke, Jessica’s pointer had already brought up the library database and was searching Reserved Books for any requests made by Professor White, department of English, in the last semester.
“Not everyone’s as organized as you are, hun.”
“I’m not that organized.” Another click, and an alphabetized list of titles appeared onscreen. Jessica smiled. “I just happen to know where everything is.” She pressed control-v. A URL appeared in guest0371’s chat window.
Marianne chuckled. “God help us if you decide to take over the world. You’d have us all arranged by name and age with never a toe out of line.”
“Oh, no!” Jessica paused her typing long enough to wink at Marianne. “It’d be by height, of course.” A ping brought her attention back to the chat. “Though I’ll have a special place reserved for lazy people. ‘Can you send it to me,’ my ass!”
A blue-veined hand covered her keyboard. Jessica looked up to find Marianne’s steady gaze on her.
“Patience,” she said again.
Jessica could feel the back of her neck heating. She sighed and pressed the backspace button, erasing her nearly-finished reply. The hand withdrew.
“Thank you. Though speaking of patience, any word from the scholarship committee yet?”
Jessica’s forehead creased, though she didn’t stop composing a more politically-correct reply. “No. And I’m not expecting any.”
“Psh!” Marianne waved her hand as if dismissing a five-cent late fee. “You’re a good student, a great worker. I know for a fact Dr. Peterson put in a nice recommendation for you. Why shouldn’t you get it?”
“Because I’m a white, middle-class, B-average female who’s studying to be a math teacher,” Jessica said to her flickering monitor. “And that’s common as mud.”
“English teachers are more common,” Marianne said sensibly. “And history, too, now that I think about it. So that’s something for you.”
“Great. Wonderful. But that just means I can’t write an essay worth a dime, let alone next year’s tuition.”
Marianne sighed and shook her head. “You need to have some faith, girl. You’re too young to be so cynical.”
“Practical.” Jessica closed her employee account with an emphatic click of her mouse. “I’m just practical. Will you need me in next week?”
“It’s finals week, right?” Marianne flipped the kitten calendar hanging on the back of her cubicle to May. “Not really, though I can schedule you if you need the hours.”
“Don’t worry about it, then. I could use the extra study time.” Jessica slung her backpack on with a groan. “I’ll see you later, Marianne.”
“You, too. Let me know how the scholarship turns out!” she called as Jessica left the back office. Jessica acknowledged she’d heard with a wave and a smile before beginning her trek between the stacks to the main lobby. Students were already ensconced at the metal desks crowded beneath tinted windows; some looked as though they’d bought every energy drink and granola bar within five miles of campus. Jessica shivered and made a mental note to find somewhere besides the library to study. Once those kids cracked, the stacks would be hell.
A tinny jingle interrupted the heavy silence, rousing several students enough to glare at some point in front of them. Jessica checked her watch: 3:47. She was right on time. Jessica’s mouth relaxed into a smile as she dug into her jeans pocket for her cellphone.
“Jessica!” Above her sister’s high-pitched squeal, Jessica could hear the shouts of her full bus of elementary schoolers. “How are you? I haven’t talked to you in forever.”
“I called on Sunday.”
“But that was days ago!”
“Jessica. You’re being dumb.”
Jessica’s smile widened into a grin. “How am I being dumb?”
“You know what I mean!”
“Well, I think you’re being silly.”
“I am not!” Taylor tried to sound mad, but Jessica could hear the giggles threatening to burst out. “You’re the silly one!”
“I am? How is that—ow!” Light speared into her face and made her forehead hurt above her nose.
“Jessica?! Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Jessica winced and shaded her eyes. The afternoon sunlight continued to bounce off of the glass doors as she walked out of the dimly lit lobby and onto the sidewalk. A crowd babbled around the picnic tables, thronging around a small posterboard sign that read “Models Wanted” in block letters. Beneath the sign, a guy with a curly white boy afro and a set of racer sunglasses flashed a smile on the group; Jessica idly wondered how much his parents had spent on braces. She pressed her forefinger into her open ear and tried to concentrate on Taylor’s excited chatter.
“Mom’s okay. She said to tell you that the letter for that scholarship you applied for hasn’t come yet and wanted to know if you knew when it was supposed to get here. Hey, guess what? I found fairy wings at recess today!”
“You did?” Jessica tried to turn her chuckle into a cough, but Taylor didn’t buy it.
“No, really! I really did! Everybody else thought they were butterflies, but I knew they were fairy wings. They were just lying in the sand, and I picked ’em up before Stacy could stomp on ’em and glitter-dust rubbed off on my fingers, just like in Daddy’s picture book! But Miss Mosley made me put ’em back, so I put ’em under a bush at the edge where the fairies could find ’em again.”
Jessica laughed outright at Taylor’s disgust. “I’m sure Miss Mosley just wanted to make sure you didn’t bring any germs in. The butterfly’s scales must’ve come off when you touched the wings.”
It was Taylor’s turn to laugh. “Fairies don’t have scales, silly! They’re not snakes!”
Jessica tried a different tack. “But wouldn’t the fairies still have been attached to their wings? They would—scheiss it!”
Distracted by her little sister and trying to focus on the conversation, Jessica had stumbled into someone on the sidewalk. Automatically, she started apologizing: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see…”
But there was no one.
Or, at least, she couldn’t see anyone until she heard a rasping laugh. “Down here, lass.”
She looked down, and there was the shortest person she had ever seen. He could only have been four feet tall from the bottoms of his shiny dress shoes to the top of his balding, shiny pate. Tired blond hair, heavily lined with silver, straggled along the sides of his head into something she might have called a braid, but that was too feminine a word for it. His brows—currently knit together as he took checked that his suit was undamaged—looked like hairy caterpillars had decided to build their cocoon above his eyes. His heavy silver hoop and the old-fashioned chain looping from a buttonhole in his shirt to his blazer pocket was a little too flashy for her taste, but he still wore them better than most women wore their jewelry.
She breathed a sigh of relief as he finished his inventory—nothing seemed to be damaged from their collision—and she caught a whiff of tobacco, richer and fuller and wilder than the hipsters rolled into little papers and sucked on outside their dorms. “I really am sorry, sir. I didn’t see you at all.”
He chuckled, a gravelly sort of sound. “Happens more often than you think.” He nodded at her hand. “Are you going to finish your conversation?”
“Oh! Oh, god.” She’d forgotten all about her sister. Her head throbbed. “Excuse me one second.” She raised the phone to her ear and almost went deaf from the shouting on the other end. “Taylor! Taylor. I’m alright, I just ran into someone.”
“Did you say you’re sorry?”
Jessica laughed. The man’s mouth moved beneath his beard; apparently, Taylor was more than loud enough for everyone to hear. “I did, but I think I should again. I’ll talk to you later.”
“’Kay! Love you.”
“I love you, too. Bye.” Jessica smiled at the man as if it were he, not her sister, on the other end. “Again, I’m sorry, Mr…?”
“Call me Peter.” He offered a hand, and Jessica had to bend almost in half to take it. His grip was strong. He grunted. “Good handshake. None of this limp-fish business. I like that.”
Jessica burst out laughing. “My father used to say the same thing.”
“Sounds like a good man. I missed your name before.”
Jessica pressed a hand to her head. “My god, my manners are everywhere today, I’m sorry. I’m Jessica Winter, a student here.”
“Well, Miss Winter, it is a pleasure to meet you. And your sister, too, I think.” His beard twitched again.
“Yes, I’m sorry, the phone was rather loud.” She smiled apologetically. “And my sister’s a little loud, too. She’s only eight.”
“Eight, hm? And she still believes in fairies?” Approval shone in his voice.
“Yes, well.” Jessica swung her backpack to her front and unzipped a side pocket. “Her imagination gets the best of her sometimes.” She found a small business card and offered it to him. “Here’s my information. I had them printed for interviews, but they’re handy to keep around for moments like this. If anything’s wrong, please don’t hesitate to call me. I’m really very—”
“Sorry, I know.” He peered at her card. “If I had a coin for every time you said ‘sorry’ in the last three minutes, I’d be rich, I’d wager. And I don’t.”
Jessica stared. “I’m sorry, what?”
The man guffawed, tucking the business card inside an inner pocket of his blazer. “Wager. I don’t wager, but I’d be rich indeed if I did right now. I don’t think anything’s going to be wrong for a little bump, though.”
“Still, let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Jessica smiled. “Have a great day!”
She began to walk away.
“Wait a moment!”
She turned around to see his eyebrows knit together again, his hand still stuck inside his inner pocket. His gaze went behind Jessica and then back to her face. “There might be something you could do for me, lass,” he said.
From the pocket he’d placed her card in, Peter withdrew a small glasses case. “I’m here today with my partner looking for folks to try on a special pair of glasses.”
Jessica remembered the sign she’d seen walking out of the library. “You’re looking for models, right?”
He grunted, noncommittal. Jessica didn’t blame him; she wouldn’t want to be connected to the flirt under the sign, either. “Well, someone to try these on for us, anyway.” He snapped the case open. Nestled against a creamy beige cloth rested a delicate pair of sunglasses, their lenses a light red. “Would you mind?”
“Mind what? Putting them on?” Jessica shook her head. “I’m not model material.”
Peter snorted. “I’ll be the judge of that. Actually…” He pulled at the chain crossing his chest. A little circle of glass the same color as the glasses emerged from his breast pocket. He wedged it into his eye. “Let me have a look at you.”
Jessica blinked. “Um… what do you want me to do?”
“Just stand there, Miss Winter. Mm, yes. Yes, I think you’re what we’re looking for. Hope so, anyway.” The last bit was muttered so low, Jessica could barely hear him. Before she could ask him what he meant, he said, “Here, try them.” He held out the case so she could reach them.
A thought occurred to her. “They’re not prescription, right?”
“What?” It was Peter’s turn to look nonplussed.
“They’re just plain glass? I’m wearing contacts, so I don’t want to, y’know…” Jessica shrugged. “Throw up or anything.”
“Ah. No. But they’re… a special glass, which is why we’re looking for special folks to wear them.”
“I’m not special,” she said. She reached for the glasses in the case.
“I’m sorry to hear you think that, lass,” he said, and for some reason, Jessica thought he truly was apologizing.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” she said, and with that, she put on the rose-colored glasses.
They slipped behind her ears, finding the grooves her last pair of glasses had indented. She scrunched her nose up and flattened it again so the nose pads would settle into place properly. The color in the glass didn’t affect her vision at all; in fact, colors seemed much crisper than before.
“They fit alright. Comfortable, too,” she offered. She tilted her head back and almost gasped as the sun hit her eyes. “Jeez! They don’t do much for the sun. I think you should fiddle with the color a bit.”
“We’ll make a note of that,” Peter said. “How are you—”
“Peter! I think I found someone to…Peter?”
Jessica reflexively put her head down to look at the newcomer.
It was the guy who had been manning the sign and smiling at the crowd—the one who was Peter’s partner. He had been attractive before, with his bright white smile and beautiful mahogany hair. He was tall, too, with the broad shoulders of a swimmer or a weightlifter. She’d seen his type around before, often with Greek letters across their chests and a flyer for the latest panhellenic fundraiser in their fists.
But there was something wrong with him. His outline suddenly shimmered, as if he was caught on hot asphalt. As she stared at him, his eyes widened behind his glasses. Somehow, she could see past the dark plastic coating that had hidden them before, could see the ring of eye-white around each of his irises.
She had a perfect view of the horizontal slits that were his pupils, as if he’d ripped out the eyes of a goat and put them into his own head.
“Lass! Easy there, lass. Easy.” A rough hand pulled at her shirt. Jessica jerked away to look at Peter, his fingers still clutching the cloth of her t-shirt. Jessica’s stare went from the metal in his ears and the chain of his monocle and found new glints of steel—underneath his shirt collar, flat cuffs that had hidden beneath his sleeves. “Easy,” he said again, and Jessica could see that his teeth were slightly pointed.
Peter was a dwarf.
A real, honest-to-god dwarf with pointy teeth.
“Get away from me!”
Her shriek echoed in the quad, drawing curious stares from all over. But Jessica didn’t care about attracting attention—she had to get away from the pair of them, the pointy-toothed dwarf and the man who had devil eyes. She tore herself away and ran from them.
At first, she didn’t know where she was going. Her mind couldn’t process anything beyond turns and obstacles that placed themselves in her way—walls, people, bikes, cars. She just ran and ignored everything around her but the pounding of her feet and the rasp of breath in her lungs.
It was impossible. What she had seen was impossible. Not even improbable, her mathematical brain rambled—it was impossible.
There were no such things as dwarves. There were no such things as…as goat-eyed people. There is no such thing as monsters, Jessie-baby, I promise.
She turned a corner, and there, tucked into a tiny alcove, was the women’s restroom. She ran towards sanctuary with a sob.
The door opened and a girl walked out, drying her hands on her thighs.
“I’m so—” Jessica started to say, but the girl just smiled.
“Not a problem!” she said.
But Jessica didn’t hear her; she was distracted by the layers of outlines the girl’s silhouette had just split into.
One was an ordinary college girl. She’d straightened her hair and lined her lips with shiny gloss. But around her and slightly to the left, another girl stood with her eyes crusted over with old mascara and bruises covering her neck. Another girl behind her wore a labcoat and her hair up; another held her head down and clutched her wrists. Against her will, Jessica’s attention focused on this image. It shimmered forward. As she watched, crimson liquid welled between her fingers and dripped down the sidewalk.
The blood left no mark on the ground.
Little black dots began to appear at the edges of Jessica’s vision. She realized she’d been holding her breath, as if that would make it all stop. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Hey, are you okay?”
It was the girl in front of her, and yet it wasn’t. Jessica could hear an echo within the words, as if the girl had recorded the phrase over and over and over before running them all at the same time. The words rang discordantly in her ears. Bile swam up her throat. She retched.
“Shit! I’ll just…I’ll go get the nurse, right?”
Jessica heard the girl retreat. Blindly, Jessica fumbled for the door which she knew had to be there and stumbled into the restroom.
Mercifully, the room was empty except for her. She could hear no one rummaging with their clothes or the toilet paper or the sinks. She stepped forward one step, two, before crumpling to the sticky tile floor. Her backpack was heavy, so heavy. She leaned against it and counted her breaths.
By the time she’d reached fifty, she was much calmer. Clearly, she was having an episode of some sort. She’d never had one before, but she’d read about them. A guy had had something like this during high school. He’d gotten a B on the physics final and flipped out, running naked through the halls with half the faculty chasing after him with towels stolen from the locker room. She smiled at the memory.
This was just stressed-induced hallucination, then. Or maybe it was fever-induced visions. She’d heard they could get extremely realistic. Yes. She’d been having that headache all afternoon, hadn’t she? She was sick, and her imagination getting away from her, just like with Taylor.
But if she had to see things, why couldn’t she see fairy wings? Why did she have to see devil boys and dwarves with fangs?
Jessica giggled a little hysterically, but she felt the world fall back into place as she talked herself through it. She needed to get up, splash some water on her face, and then get herself to the nurse. Everything would be fine. She opened her eyes and stood up.
Her reflection in the mirror behind the sinks wavered and refracted.
Quickly, Jessica shut them again. Not again. It wasn’t real. It was her mind playing tricks on her. She just needed to keep telling herself that, and maybe they would go away. She looked again, and there they were.
Steady. Still. Staring at her.
Her heart started leaping in her chest, as if it could escape her ribs and get away unscathed from the horror in front of her. Because there, spread out like life-size playing cards, was herself.
Or rather, selves. There, on the far right, was a version of herself still wearing Peter’s glasses, pale as a sheet with her lips painted scarlet and her hair teased into a beehive. Yet another looked normal, though she wore a long labcoat with her name embroidered over the breast pocket. In front of that one, she saw a Jessica whose eyes, huge and hollow and glassy, were bloodshot because the veins had burst from lack of oxygen. She was dripping with pink-tinted water.
Jessica raised a shaking hand to her mouth, and every reflection mirrored her.
Was that her? Was that what she was? Was she already dead? Had she actually done it, and this was some sort of afterlife and the afterlife had cracked to let her know that she was dead but that was messed up and couldn’t be and oh god, Taylor, what was she going to do and—
Jessica forced her fingers from her face to grip the sink. The edge bit into her palm. She was alive. She was fine. She was just having…God knew what, but it wasn’t real. It wasn’t.
An old memory surfaced. A dark night, and a deep voice on the right side of her bed. She had been whimpering, terrified of a dream. She’d lost her parents in the mall, and they’d taken home a different girl.
“You left me, Daddy!” she’d cried. “She looked just like me and you took her home and left me!”
A rumble of laughter. Strong arms folded around her middle, squeezed until she could barely breathe. “She might’ve looked like you, Jessie-baby, but there’s only one Jessica that’s my girl. I’d know her apart from anyone, anywhere.”
It was time to find herself again.
She looked past those reflections, searching for the one that was her true self. Her private nightmares wavered as she stared over their shoulders for the reflection she knew had to be there. The one where she was confident, she knew what was had to be done and was doing it, come hell or high water or this insanity which she knew must pass. Her head felt as though it would split apart, but she stared at her selves in the mirror.
And she found it. It was as if she’d shuffled the deck and pulled the true one forward. This reflection was her—blond hair that was always falling out, blue eyes studying the world behind these rose-colored glasses, flat chest and huge hips and a trembling smile. She sighed.
“Hey! Are you okay? Did you throw up? The nurse wants to know if it’s safe to come in. I think he’s nervous about going into the girl’s bathroom.”
It was the girl from before. Jessica glanced at the mirror; it was empty of the multiple reflections. “Yeah, you can come in.” Her voice was hoarse. “I think I need to go to the psych center, though.”
The girl’s head—mercifully just the one—appeared around the door. “You look better. I thought you were gonna puke on me for a second there.”
Jessica could only smile weakly.
The nurse insisted on taking her pulse and temperature before they left the bathroom. By then, Jessica was feeling completely normal aside from a thrumming migraine, but she knew it would be best for the health center to do a complete eval—including the psychologists on staff. She let him carry her backpack as he led the way to the health center.
On the way there, they passed by the now-empty quad. The “Models Wanted” poster board was still propped up by an umbrella stand, though it seemed a little lackluster now.
Jessica paused. Slipping off the glasses—they stuck to her sweaty skin—she very carefully placed them by the sign. Hopefully, Peter and his partner would find them later tonight. They probably thought she was completely insane, but there was nothing she could do about that now. There was little chance she’d ever see them again.
She straightened and hurried after the nurse.