75 cents per day was the overdue book fee charged at Dalton College library until last month. The librarian considered it to be the ‘cardinal book borrower’s sin’ and took each case very seriously. While her zeal to punish late returns appeared a bit excessive for a seemingly unimportant oversight; it was still a paltry fee for most punctual people. Normally, late returns were quite rare but in the past few months, those returning their books on time were the exception and not the rule. Rapidly, the library treasury started to overflow from the epidemic of late book penalties. The startling reason for the chronic tardiness was not caused by a sudden lack of responsibility or absentmindedness though. It was caused by a far more sinister reason. One which I’ll tell you if you can keep a secret. Do you promise?
Marsha Jonson had been relocated from another Media Center after the previous librarian retired. She came highly recommended for her excellent clerical qualifications but almost immediately her odd personality clashed with the student body. On the surface she fit the typical stereotypes of being a bibliophile and maintaining absolute quietness at the library but she also had some very unusual interests. Those hidden passions would have shocked her peers to discover about her.
In her college days she dabbled in witchcraft, voodoo and alchemy from rare books she found at the university. Besides developing her future librarian skills, she also became quite talented in her three dark arts too.
To her increasing fury, there wasn’t a single day which went by without at least a dozen students asking her for change in her ‘quiet zone’. The reason for these ill-advised requests was because the change machine in the snack bar across the hall often ran out of coins. All the prohibited outbursts to her reading sanctuary infuriated her immensely.
The first thing she attempted to do to eliminate the continuous ‘quietness’ violations was to raise the late book fee from 50 to 75 cents. With the extra quarter apiece she intended to fill up the change machine so it would last all week. Unfortunately the few fines she collected initially failed to make a significant difference and the machine ran out after the first day.
In response to the lackluster improvement, she decided to drastically increase the amount of late books by performing a black magic incantation suited for the occasion. After the rituals and invocations were completed, she mixed sacrificial blood with the red ink of her library stamp pad to cause all the due dates to revert backward one full day!
“But Miss Jonson, I remember you telling me that my books were due back on the 15th!”; Said Becky; a 2nd year Psych student at the school.
“No, you must have misunderstood me. I said they needed to be back BEFORE the 15th; or they would be late. Look at the due date on the inside cover.”; she whispered in a hushing tone. A sinister smile appeared on her usually stern face. Plainly printed in red ink at the bottom of the return sheet was the previous date.
“I could have sworn that it was due back today!” Becky wanted to argue but there was no disputing the obvious proof before her. She reached in her purse and smugly paid the late penalty. Her bitter reluctance was more about her hurt pride than the meager fee.
The same perplexing situation confronted almost everyone who borrowed books from the Library. Even those who were always punctual became ‘tardy’ returning them. Some of the scam victims became irate but none could deny the ‘evidence in red’. Eventually, every book was a day overdue and the resulting proceeds went into the changer as planned.
In only a short time the mountain of collected fees filled up the machine in excess of Marsha’s greatest hopes; eliminating the grating disturbances to her ‘quiet zone’. The success of her sorcery pleased her to no end but all the fee protests caused by the devilish chicanery created nearly the same havoc that it was designed to eliminate! It was a bittersweet victory but Marsha didn’t mind at first. When the students protested too much she would just place one finger over her lips to stifle them and tap sternly on the due date.
One very sharp but eccentric student (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) frequently borrowed books and became suspicious after the third such incident. Each time he was careful to write down the due date in his appointment book. He simply refused to believe he could have copied it down incorrectly on three separate occasions. One time was understandable; twice was possible but all three seemed highly unlikely.
When the aggravated young man made it back to his dorm with the latest books he had borrowed, he decided to conduct a little experiment. After three bizarre mishaps he was starting to question his own sanity. He snapped a quick photo of the due date with a Polaroid camera for future reference. This time he had VISIBLE proof. If the due date somehow changed from August. 29th then he knew something sinister was going on.
On the 3rd day of the experiment he compared his picture to the actual book stamp. Strangely, the due date on the stamp appeared to be a little smudged while the photo remained completely clear. By the seventh day the stamp in the book was completely unreadable! Two days later it was still smeared but noticeably clearer than before. The whole experience seemed like a surreal fantasy but it was actually happening. The due date was changing slowly before his eyes! On the day before it was due, the stamp in the book had completely changed to read: “due August 28th.”
He held the Polaroid beside the book he had photographed and compared them one last time. As absurd as the whole thing seemed; there was sinister foul play afoot. All his library books showed the same (late) August 28th date now. The astounding implications were unbelievable. For reasons he couldn’t fathom, the new ‘quiet freak’ librarian was somehow causing all the library books to be late.
He had a pretty good idea of ‘how’ she managed to achieve the twisted feat because he also held an interest in the occult. The reason ‘why’ however; baffled him when he considered her potentially modest financial gain. Then he remembered how livid she became when anyone requested change. The whole idea seemed too ridiculous to be true but all of the evidence pointed to a single conclusion. She didn’t want the change machine in the break room to run out of coins! Realizing the bizarre truth, he started to plan out what he could do to defend his damaged reputation for punctuality. In a flash of brilliance it came to him!
Over the next few weeks, Marsha’s late library book collections went from a ‘steady stream’ down to a ‘trickling faucet’. “The spell must have lost it’s power.”, She decided in frustration. Unbeknownst to her, the bewitched stamp pad was just as potent as it had always been. It had just been switched (by the aforementioned anonymous student) with an ordinary one. The result of this clever subterfuge was a wave of books that made it back to the library on time.
All during the two week borrowing period (with the normal stamp pad in service), Marsha was forced to make change for dozens of ‘noisy’ students. After a suitable period of penalty revenue decline where her aggravation was most evident I, uh …. ‘HE’ knew it was time to put the original bewitched pad back on her checkout desk.
With perfect timing, she fell for the trap and redid her diabolic spell on the cursed pad. The result of bewitching an object that already has an existing spell is to dangerously overload it. That overload of sorcery was to be her undoing!
The next day Marsha stamped the outgoing books with renewed confidence. She believed the ‘revitalized pad’ would soon be reaping its rewards again. She also noted when the fees would start pouring in, so she could expect ‘peace and quiet’ in the library again.
She suspected nothing was amiss during the first thirteen days. There was an inactive period between when she re-cursed the stamp pad and when the first books would be late but she was a little perturbed on the fourteenth day when nothing happened either. She confirmed that it had been exactly two weeks since the reaffirmation; and yet it didn’t appear to have worked. Hoping a delayed reaction might be responsible; she elected to wait one more day before reattempting the dark spell again. Little did she know that because of her second polarizing spell, even the books that would have really been late were actually ‘on time’. The double ‘wammy’ on the original stamp pad was ADDING an extra day!
When two extra days passed and nothing happened, she felt she had no other choice but to try again. Two long weeks of making change while waiting impatiently for the incantation to manifest itself made her extremely agitated; almost to the point of a nervous breakdown. Marsha knew that even one more day of ‘interruptions’ in ‘her library’ would send her completely over the edge. She left early that afternoon to perform an ultra-high-powered, last chance ritual.
The following day, Marsha was not at the Media Center so ‘the student’ innocently asked the school’s substitute librarian where she was.
“She didn’t even call in this morning.”; Offered Heather. “Say what you want to about her difficult personality but it’s not like her to fail to telephone the Dean.”, she continued conspiratorially. “She did seem a little distracted by something yesterday.”
A full week went by without a sign of ‘Marsha the late fee, Librarian’. Once again the ‘concerned student’ asked about her whereabouts.
“I’m not really suppose to say anything because it’s a personal and confidential matter”; Heather confessed. “but they found her at home a few days ago with red ink all over her body and babbling incoherently! I was told that they took her to the country asylum for an indefinite stay”.
‘The student’ pretended to be shocked and saddened by Marsha’s dire turn; but in all honesty walked away with a grin on his face. He knew she had went home and performed the third ritual spell on the stamp pad. Since it already had two prior conflicting spells on it, the third acted as a sort of supernatural ‘nutcracker’ and literally blew up in her face.
Several months have went by and things are pretty much back to normal at the College. The new librarian actually welcomes making change for the students. Even though they usually only come in for change; they often end up leaving with a book they decided to borrow while there. She actually views the dollar change machine as a blessing in disguise because it encourages the students to come in and visit. She is much less strict than Marsha was and even allows talking at whisper level!
Meanwhile Marsha is still in the asylum and has a permanent reddish tint to her body. If someone was to look at her skin with a magnifying glass they would see millions of numbers and the words “date due back”. The concentration of red is so dense however that it appears to be a solid red covering.
Don’t feel sorry for her though; she has a great new job thanks to the asylum’s administrator. He just happens to be MY, er ‘the student’s’ father! Because of the shrinking Federal funding for mental institutions, some of the more intelligent patients are used as trustees to help run simple operations; in exchange for a few small privileges. Marsha was given full access to the asylum’s library; and all that she has to do is make change for the other inmates in the snack room from eight a.m. ‘til six p.m.
We all get what we deserve in the end….