Thursday March 30th, 2017

The exercise:

Write about: burning the midnight oil.

Bakery was oddly slow today. Was left with a lot of loaves for the freezer. As in, more than I care to remember (I tallied the various types but did not make a mental note as to the grand total). And the weather was quite reasonable outside, so that wasn't the problem.

I guess we shall see how things go tomorrow.

Tomorrow, aka my wife's birthday!


The Head Librarian strode across the study hall, taking in the bent backs and hunched shoulders of the late night students toiling away at their homework and exam preparations by the light of a hundred torches in sconces attached to the walls and columns above their desks. A faint smile played across his lips as he remembered his days in their shoes.

Oh, the stress he thought he was under back then. As if he even knew what the word meant.

He knew now though. He fully understood the meaning of the word stress all too well. It seemed to haunt his every step, as though it had shoved aside his shadow and taken its place.

Last month's budget meetings had not gone well, as far as the library was concerned. Cutbacks to supplies and staff. Insistence that worn and fading books continue to be used instead of being replaced with newer versions. Even the out of date texts were to remain in circulation.

Which was all well and good, he had decided, as long as both the students and their professors were working with the same misinformation. It wasn't like the outside world would ever test their knowledge in those areas.

He reached the eastern edge of the library and turned left, making his way past bookshelves bursting with books in dire need of a good dusting. No staff for that, though. Not anymore.

Would his job be the next to go? Would the men and women writing the cheques decide that the library would continue to run just fine, thank you very much, in his absence?

If so, he thought as that ghostly smile appeared once more, they would find themselves very much mistaken.

At the end of the row he glanced behind him to verify that no one had followed him before triggering the hidden switch he'd had installed beneath a painting of two dragons sleeping in a forest glade. A door swung open and he stepped inside, quickly closing the entrance behind him.

He paused for a few moments, allowing his vision to adjust to the darkness. Once he could see well enough to navigate without bumping into any of the barrels (or tripping over the hoses attached to them) filling the room, he made his way to the far wall. He examined the control panel there, confirming that all readings were in the acceptable range, then checked the time.

Satisfied that all was as it should be, he turned the large black dial in the middle of the panel, moving its arrow from pointing toward a twinkling sun to aim instead toward a shimmering moon.

It was time to burn the midnight oil.


Greg said...

I am behind on comments, though hopefully I'm catching up most of the way with this one, so I've seen that you now have a theory about the slowness of the bakery sales this week -- I hope you're right! I suspect sales are also a little bit random as well, since you've told us about the lady who bought 13 loaves of bread -- which is the kind of number I'd accuse you of lying about if I didn't know you well :)
Hmm, I remember serving on the University Library committee for a while, and this piece does seem to capture the kinds of issues that they had to address all the time quite well -- I think you must have inside knowledge! You're exactly right about stress, by the way. Still, the scene setting here is beautiful, so much so that the ending is a little disturbing: I really don't want the library set on fire! Great writing, therefore :)

Burning the midnight oil
Hermione pointed her wand at the door to the Chamber of Secrets and declaimed "Allosailor!". Her wand glowed brightly pink and a bolt of light shot from the end of it and slammed into the ancient wood. There was a sound like a woodpecker on speed, and then the door to the Chamber of Secrets swung outwards. On the other side were three elderly ladies, each with a tight perm, a yellow cardigan pulled around narrow shoulders, and fussy little leather boots.
"Demented!" shouted Ronnie Weasel, hiding behind the slack-jawed, drooling Harry.
"Want a sweetie, dearie?" said the nearest, opening a wrinkled hand with twig-like fingers to reveal a gumdrop-sized sparkling void-drop, a magical trap that sucked anything touching it inside and held it in stasis for six-hundred years.
"Expectorate patronym!" said Hermione, her voice steady and her attack-witch posture so perfect it could have been used to create text-book illustrations. There was a moment of silence and then the Demented backed away, coughing and spitting as though they'd eaten chili-peppers unexpectedly.
"Wow," said Harry, dully. Ronnie looked at him, and then at Hermione.
"He's going to need more than a bit of unmushing," he said. "I think his brain's actually dribbling out of his ears."
"I'm hoping it's earwax," said Hermione, "but you might be right. Come on, we need to get in before the spell wears off."
They hurried Harry past the Demented and into the graduate library, the Chamber of Secrets. Herminone looked up at the signs, reading them all before pointing in one direction. "That way," she said. "Follow the signs that say Burning the midnight oil."
"Because the midnight oil is a reference to Nox Unguent and I already know that that's the only way to unmush a brain. What I don't know is what burning means here, and I don't want to just pour it into Harry's ears and set fire to it."
"Nice of you," muttered Ronnie. "Wonder if you'd be so considerate of anyone else?

Marc said...

Greg - tsk, tsk! Behind on comments! How terribly terrible of you...


Anyway. Thanks for the kind words on mine. And my intention with the ending was not to set the library on fire, merely to switch the oil that was being used in all those torches to the 'midnight' version. Which is different from the day oil, in a way I don't think I ever decided upon :)

And thank you for keeping up with all of these continuations you've got going way back here in March. Though I have almost made it to April!

Anyway. You handle Hermione and Ron so effortlessly now that it's easy to forget that they are portrayed rather differently in the books :D