Friday, June 08, 2018

Flash Fiction # 306: Book Goblin

Have you ever gotten a book from the library and enjoyed it enough that sometime later you reread it -- and found the book wasn't quite as you remembered it?  There is a reason, and it isn't your faulty memory.  Nearly every library has a book goblin who loves to work little magics to change stories.  I suspect that they're all frustrated writers.

In general, this wasn't a real problem.  Annoying and sometimes troubling to readers with excellent memories, but not a bad problem.  Most Book Goblins don't have much power, and at most, they might only change a line or two here and there, and only occasionally will they change a plot line so that someone notices.

However, I learned that there is another type of Book Goblin; a dangerous creature, indeed, but luckily very rare.

They only read nonfiction.

So, you ask?  Well, every time a book goblin changes even so much as a word of fiction, they are toying with reality.  With fiction, it doesn't amount to much.  With nonfiction, and especially history, the changes of even a single line can have more consequences than you might think.

The first I realized there was something odd going on was the day I walked to my job at the library and noted there were no cars at all on the roads.  Lots of bikes and people looking befuddled and confused, but they didn't seem to know why.

I had a stone in the pit of my stomach.  I feared I did know why.  I had been reading a book on the history of automobiles and just gotten to the chapter on the effect cars had on the environment, from roads pushing through everywhere to emissions --

The book still sat on the front desk.  I picked it up.  The cover was the same, but the title was not The History of the Automotive Industry.  Now it read How the Bicycle Outmaneuvered the Car.

I sat for a moment in silence.  Bikes were a lot quieter out there, but there would be more significant problems before long.  If cars were gone, were trucks as well?  How could we get supplies into town?  How far had this already spread?  If other Book Goblins thought it a good idea, it might spread across the world in a single day, and then we'd be stuck.  Look what happened with the coffee.

I knew what to do, though I'd never done it before.  I got the small, hand-bound copy of Book Goblins out of my purse where I was careful to keep it with me at all times.  I placed it on the counter and tapped it three times.


The local Book Goblin appeared on the counter, and she looked slightly startled, with her flyaway purple hair, large reddish-brown eyes, and green skin.  She stood only two feet high, and the book in her hand looked too large.  I took it away from her.

"I am Mary," I introduced myself. "And you are?"

"Cranne," she replied and then gave a start. "You tricked me!"

"Yes, I did," I said.  Having summoned the goblin, I had to work quickly to get her name before my power over her waned.  Now that I could name her, I had one link over Cranne that would help in the future. 

She sat down and reached toward the small book I'd used.  I took it up and put the book in my purse, closing it with a zipper.  Nice metal there.  I'd reinforced the inside with tinfoil and a covering of plastic.  Cranne wouldn't get the book back out, and I would not leave the purse in the library.

She sighed and sat down with a thump. I saw the look of annoyance in her eyes, but so far she had been reasonable.  I suspected we could come to an understanding.

"You have to bring the cars back," I said.

"This is better," she replied and sat up straighter.  "That's not the only book I've read, you know.  I did a careful study of this mode of transportation and the environmental impact made within a short one hundred years.  Humans are much better off without them."

"I appreciate that you care," I said and gave a bow of my head.  The book on the creatures had explained that the last thing you wanted to do was get in a shouting match with a goblin of any kind.  "But how are we going to survive?"

"You can still travel around on bikes.  Much better for you, you know --"

"What about supplies?  How are we going to eat?"

That stopped her for a moment.  She frowned.  "Well, you can still grow things and raise food on your own.  I probably need to get right back to work on that, shouldn't I?  I know I read about city gardens."

"Yes," I agreed.  But I had one last more chance to win her over.  "And I suppose it won't be so bad, not getting new books every week.  We're kind of overfull now.  There will be a few local, handwritten works, of course.  That should do."

Cranne stared at me, her eyes blinking more rapidly with every breath.

"No books," she whispered.

"There are plenty here to keep us busy, don't you think?"

She stared at me in shocked dismay.  Then she grabbed How the Bicycle Outmaneuvered the Car and began to frantically go through the pages, her blunt fingers running over phrases here and there, the words changing so quickly that I couldn't read what she'd done.  When she snapped the book closed I felt a jolt.  Outside cars rushed by, everything back to normal.

"I hope you're happy," she sighed.  "The nasty things are back."

"I think we'll both be happier."

She sighed and stood, looking me straight in the face.  "I'm not going to stop trying to make a better world."

I smiled, startling her.  "Little steps, Cranne," I said.  "We'll do it with little steps."

1 comment:

HN said...

If only Cranne'd just added to her bike revolution instead of undoing it... such a pity that librarian immediately frightened her into putting the cars back, instead of thinking about the opportunities. After all, Cranne had researched it thoroughly, she said!

Set up a real good public transit system (trains, trams, electric or natural gas powered buses, with good bike hiring and storage facilities at the station, and bike racks at rural bus stops) for long-distance people moving, and trains, barges and sea shipping for long-distance moving of goods, with some (electric or gas-powered) vans and small trucks to get from train hubs to local distribution centers, then electric-assist cargobikes for the last mile(s) distribution (and a few vans/trucks for really large and heavy industrial stuff), and with all the kinds of special bikes and trikes for the handicapped I can see here in the Netherlands.

Then we could've had a real nice environment, less air pollution, much less traffic deaths, less people seriously injured and handicapped by traffic accidents, much less global warming, less noise pollution in the cities, less obesity as kids and grownups can stay active by biking safely to school and work and shops and sports and friends (freeing up parents from kids-taxi-driving time), less suburban sprawl and big-box stores on the outskirts, which means more people-friendly town centers and walkable neighborhoods with local shops not priced out of existence by the big box stores people have to drive to.

If history had gone the train and transit way instead of allowing the private car to push everything else off the streets, life would be a lot better in some ways. All the troubles your librarian expects stem in part from a lack of experience and imagination - having never lived in a system without cars she can't imagine the alternative solutions. After all, there were books and widespread book distribution long before there were private cars.

Also, I think you missed a word here:
every time a book goblin changes even so much as a word of fiction, they are toying with reality. 
I think you mean non-fiction.