Harold glanced around the library, satisfied at seeing no one, giggled before sliding his precious book into the perfect eye level spot. He slithered from the fiction section to the cushioned chair ten paces away, peeking from behind a large potted plant for his stakeout. Sitting in his grungy trench coat while clutching a magazine, some glossy thing about motorcycles, Harold waited with breathless anticipation.
His novel’s dark binding contrasted the bright handwritten red letters reading ‘The Time of Our Lives.’ Goose pimples popped on Harold’s neck each time he read the title. “The Time of Our Lives,” Harold whispered, licking his slimy lips with a pudgy tongue. He read the rest of the spine, ‘H. Raggald.’ Harold bounced in the chair when he fantasized signing ‘H. Raggald’ for flocks of fans of the new book. The fantasies played out a hundred times already, but he relished each one. Oh, how he couldn’t wait for the lines of readers at the signings. He’d smile, fidget with his glasses, try not to wipe his nose, and read a portion to their eager ears. They’d covet him and the wondrous creation made with his mind, the perfect manipulation of the English language.
A tall woman rounded the bookshelf, halting his daydream. Harold tensed the closer she moved to the book. Yes! She was only one shelf away. She stooped for the bottom shelf and a whimper escaped Harold. Over her shoulder, the woman scrutinized him wiggling in the chair and peeking over the upside down magazine that poorly covered his face. The woman strode away with a sneer while clutching her purse. Harold’s excitement died and he dropped the magazine. Patience was the key. After all, he only placed the book minutes ago. Someone would find it and eventually read it. After all it was destiny. The pocket of his coat held the ashes of all the burned rejection slips. Like a phoenix, ‘The Time of Our Lives’ would rise from those ashes and envelop the literary world with its fiery wings.
Sweat shone on his pimply forehead while Harold stared at the book for two hours. Three people stepped within arm’s reach, but none even glanced at the book. Shadows grew in the library as the sun sunk and he wondered what to do. At last, a whistling bald man stepped around the shelf. Harold’s hopes lifted because he could spot a true reader. The man stopped however, reading the dust jacket of another book. A cold hand touched Harold’s hand and he jumped. The wrinkled librarian shrank away, stuttering, “We close in fifteen minutes, sir.”
“Ahh, yes. Ok,” said Harold. “Thank you. You just scared me was all.” He looked from the old woman, seeing his book still on the shelf, the man not moving.
“Sorry dear,” said the librarian between titters. “Usually at my age I can’t sneak up on anyone.”
“Yes, yes,” Harold mumbled as the man returned the book and moved closer to ‘The Time of Our Lives’.
“I remember once my husband gave me such a fright I slapped him across the face afterwards,” the librarian said, even though Harold ignored her. In fact, he nearly climbed the back of the chair when the man stopped before ‘The Time of Our Lives.’ The man’s hand moved forward. Harold’s eyes bulged, feet scrambling onto the chair. The man had a dark book in his hand, but his body blocked Harold’s view. Was it ‘The Time of Our Lives?’ Did he have the book? Was he going to read it?
“He was awfully upset,” continued the librarian. “I mean, I’d never slapped him before.” She laughed, looking to the ceiling at her memory.
Harold leaned over the thick arm of the chair to get a better look. The man had it open! Harold leapt from the chair. The startled librarian stopped in mid reminiscence, gawking at Harold.
“I hear it’s a fantastic book!” yelled Harold, moving to the man’s side. His triumph fell and shattered as he saw ‘The Time of Our Lives’ still on the shelf.
“What?” asked the man, looking sideways at him with mild irritation.
“Uh, I hear ‘The Time of Our Lives’ is a great book,” said Harold, yellow-toothed grin spread wide. He slid his prize from the shelf, thrusting it at the man.
“Never heard of it,” the man shrugged.
Harold’s eyes quivered behind the murky lenses. He hugged the book with no idea what to say. The man frowned and returned his attention to the book he held before walking away.
“Sir, we close in fifteen minutes,” said another library staff person. Harold burst from the shelves and strode through the front door in tears.
Smoke lingered over Harold’s typewriter, but there were no words tonight. He stared at the machine that created his masterpiece that no one yet knew about and envisioned the machine in a prominent spot at the Smithsonian. Harold smiled, sucking in another breath of nicotine. Tomorrow was another day. He’d go back and someone would read it. It was the damn marketing though. All that stuff Harold knew nothing about. He’d have to attract attention to his work. Draw people in so they knew what excellence lurked beneath the covers. Harold ducked into the bedroom and returned with a ream of paper. Yes, some attention was needed.
Back in the library the next morning, ‘The Time of Our Lives’ already planted, Harold waited. He’d have to be more patient this time. After all, the signs were up. Every wall of the library held them, white sheets of paper with his scrawled black-markered letters announcing:
THE WORK OF THE CENTURY, AVAILABLE HERE!!
Brilliant work the signs were. Yes, the people would come in droves.
“Excuse me sir,” said the old librarian, remaining a few paces away this time.
“Did you put these up?” she held forth one of his signs between wrinkled fingers.
“Uh yes. It’s a great book,” he said.
“Well sir, I’m afraid we don’t allow these. After you get them authorized, you may post these in the lobby with the other community announcements.”
“I see,” said Harold. He pouted to the lobby where he found a corkboard covered with overlapping flyers and announcements. He spotted the librarian in the corner, removing three more signs.
“She’s going to take them all down,” Harold whined. He ripped all the community announcements off and fixed his sign in the center. Whisking the papers away to the bathroom, he shoved them all in the trashcan. He wormed to the chair, when he spotted a blond man approaching the checkout, ‘The Time of Our Lives’ in hand. Harold charged and furiously shook the man’s empty hand.
“It’s a fantastic piece of fiction,” Harold gasped. The man jerked away. “Oh, sorry,” Harold said, beaming. “I get so excited when I see someone with exquisite taste. You’ll love the book, I promise.”
“Do you want it?” the man asked.
“Oh no,” Harold said, breathing once again. “I uh, well let’s just say I’m a big fan. It’s the best book I’ve ever read.”
“Cool,” said the man, handing the book to the library page. “I have items on hold.” The page nodded, disappeared behind the hold racks and returned with four large books. Harold’s mouth dried and he moved to the man’s side.
“You’re checking all those out too?” Harold asked.
The man stepped away and his face tensed. “Hey, watch my space ok?”
“Oh,” laughed Harold, “Sorry.” He stepped back. “I get carried away sometimes.”
The page took the man’s card and Harold leaned forward for a better look. He read ‘Brad Jackson’ before the page moved the card from sight. Brad strolled from the building with Harold stalking close by. Harold lost control of his exuberance and once again crowded the man at the car door.
“I do believe you’ll like that book,” said Harold.
“Dude,” said the man, nudging Harold away with an outstretched arm. “I don’t know who you are but stay back, ok?”
“I’m sorry,” said Harold. “It’s just that I can’t contain myself. It’s a fantastic book.”
“Fine,” Brad said and got into his car. Harold watched him pull from the parking stall and out of the lot.
“TR5-XLV9,” said Harold, reading the licenses plate. “You’ll love it.”
Harold moved through the bushes. The branches poked him and he stifled a yelp. He slid into the small space between the building and the bushes, careful not to make noise. Lights from the windows splashed onto the dark grass. Harold climbed atop the gas meter. Balancing on his toes, he peeked beneath the blinds. An empty recliner sat under a bright lamp. An open book rested on the table beside the chair. Harold pinched his leg to squelch the squeal of delight. A toilet flushed and Brad entered the room. He sat, placed a beer on the table, and lifted the book. Harold held his breath, but disappointment prevailed when he saw it wasn’t ‘The Time of Our Lives.’ He spied the man reading for a few minutes, but cramps invaded his feet. He plotted what to do. A distraction. Yes, he’d get Brad busy, steal the other books, and he’d have no choice but to read it. Perfect!
Harold stepped off the gas meter and braved the bushes once again. At last free, he scurried to the car and hopped inside. He removed the cell phone from the glove box and unfolded a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. It read: ‘Brad Jackson, 5224 Pepper Lane Apt. B-6, 345-0999’. Harold beeped in the number and giggled when it rang.
“Yes, is this Mr. Jackson?” asked Harold in his deepest voice imaginable.
“Yes,” said Brad.
“I’m calling from Bruno’s Pizza over on Broadway.”
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you.”
“Well,” said Harold, “We’re delighted to announce that you’ve won a free pizza.”
“Yes, your name was entered in our monthly free pizza drawing. All you have to do is tell me what kind you want and we’ll have it ready to pick up in fifteen minutes,” Harold lied.
“I already ate,” said the man.
“Oh, well this special is only good for tonight. Have leftovers tomorrow.”
“Ok then. Can I get pepperoni and sausage?” Brad asked.
“Indeed sir. We’ll have that ready in fifteen minutes. Thanks for eating at Bruno’s.”
“But I’ve never eaten there.”
“Goodbye,” said Harold, hanging up.
Looking at his watch every few seconds, Harold fidgeted ten agonizing minutes until Brad exited the building. He hopped into his car and drove off. Harold ran inside to B-6, trying the knob. It was locked. Harold cursed and ran back to the bushes. He forced his way through, yelping at the spiny edges, and clambered up the gas meter. He removed his long coat, held it against the glass, and punched through. The window shattered. Harold loafed inside and fell onto the shard covered floor. The blinds, snagged by his flailing legs, spilled onto him. He groaned and pulled a small piece of glass from his forearm. Blood trickled onto the carpet and Harold crawled to the recliner. He gathered up the stack of library books, placed ‘The Time of Our Lives’ on the table, and burst from the front door. Diving in his car, he fumbled with the keys, and sped from the lot giggling.
Harold hadn’t slept. He tapped the steering wheel as the sun’s rays loomed over the horizon. He looked to his watch, 6:24. Brad Jackson would be awake, reading Harold’s words. Yes, Brad would get no sleep because he’d be unable to put the book down. He’d be engorged in the major literary work of the era and sleep would be unimportant. Harold drove the three blocks to Brad Jackson’s apartments, parked his car, and whistled as he walked into the building. He strolled before B-6 and pounded. No answer, so he pounded again. Finally, the door clicked open and Brad stood in the door wearing only boxers, in the middle of prying his eyes open.
“Fantastic, isn’t it?”
“What?” asked Brad. He squinted and recognized Harold. “What are you doing here? How do you know where I live?”
“That’s not important,” Harold said. “What’s important is you’re reading it.”
“Ha ha smart guy,” said Harold. “You almost got me.” He play-punched Brad in the stomach. Brad snatched Harold’s bloodstained hand and shoved the sleeve up to his elbow, exposing the bloody forearm.
“You broke into my apartment,” Brad said.
“Uh, well… you see…” Harold started, but Brad pulled him inside the kitchen.
“What the hell is your problem?”
“Calm down,” Harold said, scuffling backwards into the dining room. “I didn’t mean any harm. Honest. This isn’t about me. It’s about the book. I noticed you weren’t reading it.”
“What?” Brad asked. “You were watching me too? What kind of weirdo are you?”
“I’m no… no not a weirdo, just a concerned author wanting his work acknowledged, that’s all.”
“Wait a minute,” Brad said, pointing a finger at Harold’s nose. “You said in the library you were a huge fan. Now you’re telling me you wrote it? I can’t believe this. You’re crazy. Get out!”
Harold strode from the dining room and into the living room. A small piece of plywood already covered the window and Harold laughed when he saw ‘The Time of Our Lives’ open on the table next to the recliner.
“You’re reading it.”
“You’re crazy,” Brad said. He held a cordless phone in his hand and dialed three numbers. “I’m calling the cops.”
“How do you like it? What page are you on?” He snatched the book and asked, “Only page three? Have you read it at all?”
“Yes operator, my apartment was broken into last night and the guy that did it is here. Yes, he’s right here in front of me. What? Uh, no I don’t think he’s dangerous.”
“Only page three?” asked Harold, clutching the book.
Brad removed the receiver from his ear. “Yeah, the thing is gibberish. I can’t make anything out.”
Tears filled Harold’s eyes and he sank to the floor. He hugged the book and rocked on his rear end. He didn’t notice the police arrive ten minutes later. He whimpered when they cuffed him and sobbed when they tore the book from his hands.
“Hello Harold,” said the attorney in the cheap suit. “I’m your court appointed attorney. I see you’ve been charged with breaking and entering…” He trailed off as he read through a file.
Harold hardly listened. Instead he fidgeted with a piece of paper a guard gave him during the night. Every inch of space was covered with words and letters. Harold waited for the attorney to finish speaking.
“So, I think you should plead guilty,” said the attorney. “After all you were caught in the apartment by the occupant. I mean we really have nothing to go on here.”
Harold slid the piece of paper onto the open file. “Would you like to read the greatest short story ever written?”
*Christopher A. Clark live in Olympia, Washington with his lovely wife and two energetic boys. He has an affliction called writing that he can’t seem to stop. He loves when people read his work and just might be a small inspiration to the story. Christopher has published a handful of stories in small markets, including Creative Colloquy’s online issue.