I live and work in The Library, which you shouldn’t confuse with a neighborhood library because it isn’t—far from it. The library I live and work in is dedicated to preserving all the stories ever told, which is hard to imagine, so think of it as being similar to a butcher’s shop. I know some people are squeamish about eating meat because they don’t like to think about where meat comes from, but the truth is that stories and meat have a lot in common. Stories, like meat, come out of death.
I’m not sure why this shocks people so much. It seems pretty obvious when you think about it. Most stories are written in the past tense and most of them have an ending– like people when they die. There are exceptions, I know. But that’s just a writer trying to be fancy, and mostly, those stories aren’t very satisfying.
Another surprise: people think writers come up with stories on their own, but they don’t. Writers are imaginative people, it’s true, but they don’t create anything new. They take the recipes that make up people’s lives and make them more interesting, more appealing, but they don’t come up with the recipe itself—that’s the difference. Which leads me to what I do here.
Just as a person is about to die, I assign him a Scribe. Scribes don’t do anything with the images and memories they record. They just document the information and give it to The Library for filing and cataloguing. The Scribe’s job might sound boring, but then again, they get to travel all over the world, and sometimes, if a person dies in an exciting way, their Scribe gets to go along for the trip without the whole death part. Think about it: as a Scribe, you get all the fun of going too fast in a car or being in a firefight without any of the drawbacks. Sometimes I get jealous, but I’m not bitter. I have my purpose, I guess. At least that’s what my boss tells me.
The easiest way to describe what I do is to say that I am a writer’s liaison. It sounds fancy, but it isn’t. I have a lot of screens on my desk where I watch writers sleeping—that’s the first phase. I try not to bother the ones who are busy on projects. They usually sleep ok, and they don’t need me. I know this because they’re dreaming; when a writer doesn’t dream, that’s when you know they’re in need of some help, not that they ask me for it. Writers, like everyone knows, are pretty arrogant and they don’t ever want to admit it when they need help. They’re like men on road trips—at least that’s what a lot of the stories about men on road trips say—except that the female writers are that way, too. Go figure.
So I don’t wait for an invite. I hear about some writer in Korea or the US or Uruguay wherever who is stuck, and then I do some research on the kinds of stories they like to tell, and then, a couple clicks and some information entered and presto-pesto, the data transfer starts and they start dreaming again, except they really aren’t dreams, but rather just the story of some dead person who might’ve died yesterday or a thousand years ago. Then the writer wakes up, and he finds he’s not stuck anymore.
This is how it’s supposed to work, and it is how things have worked at least until Mrs. Buncle came a long.
Until her, everybody—I mean everyone in history—agreed to give up their story free of charge before passing on. It’s true that we in the library have people at a slight disadvantage. The whole death process can be overwhelming, and the last thing anyone wants to do is to make the process even more tiresome than it already is. But Mrs. Buncle, failed writer herself, knew she was going to die, and being a lazy writer who still managed to be ambitious somehow, decided that she was going to get paid one way or another for a story before she passed from this life.
Our lawyers have tried to talk Mrs. Buncle out of that position, but she stubbornly holds that her story is worth something and shouldn’t be given away. I don’t see it, personally. When she was alive, I never thought she was worthy of help because there are only so many stories and you can’t just give them away to everyone who calls themselves a writer. Needless to say, if it were up to me, I’d just forego the pleasure of cataloguing her story. My boss, a complete by-the-books- kind of guy (no pun intended) doesn’t agree with me. As a result, he has to twist the system all around to make sure that Mrs. Buncle gets what she wants. I still don’t know how exactly he’s going to pay her. How do you pay a dead person, anyway? Do you pay them in money or something else? I have no idea, but those kinds of decisions are above me.
As for why Mrs. Buncle, I’ve come up with a theory about why she’s being such a pain. I don’t think it’s really about the money for her even though she says it is. I think she’s being difficult because when you get right down to it, what is a successful person if not a pain in the butt? People who matter, matter a lot. This woman who no one ever heard of spent her life writing stories that no one ever read. She spent her life not mattering. And now in death, she has a chance to get some attention.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think it’d be better for her to accept her fate and donate her story like everyone else. In death, just like in life, you don’t want to make waves. That’s what I think, at least. But what do I know? I’m just a librarian.