Thursday, February 6, 2014

Case Study No. 1222: Tom the Ninja Librarian

"Ninja Librarian" book trailer
Ninja Librarian, by Rebecca M. Douglas
Tags: ninja librarian
Added: 4 months ago
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A humorous set of tall tales set in the highly fictional gold-country town of Skunk Corners

It's the story of a dusty, tough, unfriendly town that gets a new outlook on life thanks to ...

The Ninja Librarian

A mild-mannered librarian who offers his wisdom with a little extra when folks don't listen ...



The Ninja Librarian (Volume 1)
By Rebecca M Douglass

Skunk Corners is a pretty miserable place when the Ninja Librarian moves in. It's just another dusty, tough town in the dusty, tough hills. Folks there aren't too friendly, and they don't see much need for high-falutin' nonsense like schools--or libraries.

But from the moment the unassuming, white-haired gentleman steps off the train and into these tall tales, the changes in Skunk Corners begin, in equal parts exciting and bewildering to Big Al. The Ninja Librarian uses wisdom, patience, book-learning. . . .and a few well-placed kicks and jabs. . . to change the town, and Al, forever.



The Ninja Librarian is a collection of stories told to us by Skunk Corners' unlikely school teacher, Big Al, who watches with fascination as an older gentleman comes to town one day. The stranger means to reopen the town library, which no one in town thinks they have a use for. But a funny thing happens when they try to scare him off: he calmly reaches into his pocket for something that isn't a black handkerchief after all...

Completely absurd in premise but wonderfully realized, these stories follow Al and the ninja librarian (Tom) as problems large and small pop up, and are solved, in Skunk Corners. The writing captures the feeling of tales told around a campfire, and I'd imagine would make for great out-loud reading to children. However there is a depth and flow here that makes The Ninja Librarian equally enjoyable for adults. Big Al is an excellent point of view character and has a "voice" that makes this volume very easy reading and hard to put down.

Check any preconceived notions or predisposition against the off-beat at the door and experience a book that does one of the best things good stories can: make the reader smile a lot.



Up to now, I have allowed young Alice to narrate events in our town of Skunk Corners, and for the most part she has done an admirable job. On deep reflection, however, I have determined to set straight the record on a few points.

Young Alice has an unfortunate tendency to depict me as both mysterious and, there is no other word for it, stuffy. I confess to the former, as both certain vows I took and long years of habit render me reticent about my personal life and history, and disinclined to explain myself. The charge of stuffiness, however, I most heartily deny. I am an educated man, of course, and inevitably I do speak as such. There is nothing wrong with that, and indeed I believe any attempt to speak and act otherwise would render me absurd. But to be formal is not to be stiff or stuffy.

That point settled, I wish to recount my experience of my arrival in Skunk Corners, as young Alice has very clearly expressed her own and the town's reaction to my arrival.

Skunk Corners did take me very much by surprise. Rather, on my arrival I saw much what I expected: a collection of ignorant people bent on demonstrating their ignorance. I responded as I had been taught, withholding judgment only from Alice, of whom I had been told something. I consider this forbearance to have been fortunate and highly rewarded.

For I did know something of the town before arriving. And I knew that the school teacher was a young woman who dressed and acted as a boy. I ought to have assumed her to be coarse and uneducated, and our first meeting certainly did little to change that idea.

And yet. She went out of her way to warn me of the welcome planned for me, and for that I would give her a chance, despite her coarse appearance and dreadful abuse of the language.

Young Alice herself has recorded the outcome of that decision, and you can conclude that in the end I found something different than the crude collection of cruder individuals I had anticipated. What Alice has not shared, simply because she does not know it, and I have been disinclined to tell her, is the manner of my passing my first night and morning in Skunk Corners.

I was all eyes and ears when I stepped off the train in this town that was to be my home for the next months. I have never told Alice, nor anyone else in Skunk Corners, but this was my first time out West. All my other assignments had been in the larger cities back East, as indeed are most Ninja Librarian assignments. It is in those cities, with their gangs on both sides of the law, that there is often the greatest need for a librarian who is both educated and skilled in the ways of the Ninja.

It had been some thirty years earlier that the heads of the Society had gotten the idea to build libraries in the new towns springing up out West. It was only now that they were realizing that some of those libraries needed to be staffed by the Society.

So there I was, after what seemed a lifetime riding trains of ever-shrinking dimensions, walking down the street of my first Western town.

It wasn't much to look at. Depot, church, Mercantile, teashop, bank, tavern, school, library, and a City Hall with a fine fa├žade hiding a shoddy pine shack.

I noticed everything that day. No one was expecting me, but a number of idle men hung about the depot, so I introduced myself.

"Good day, gentlemen. I have come to serve as your librarian. You may call me Tom." They didn't, of course, call me any such thing. Two nodded, which I took as a greeting, and one spat on the platform, which I did not. A fourth called me something else entirely which I will not repeat here or anywhere.

Somehow, by the time I had crossed the platform and stepped into the dust of what they called Main Street, word had spread through the settlement, and every porch and doorway bore a watcher, not one of whom deigned to offer a greeting. At the end of the street, the library and school glared at each other across the dusty thoroughfare, just as the school children gazed at me in open hostility.

Of their teacher I saw nothing at that juncture, nor did I much wish to.

When finally I entered the library and closed the door behind me, I sagged with relief. In other places I had been librarian, a small violent element prevented a peaceful majority from using the library as they wished. In this gods-forsaken town, it seemed every resident wished me gone.

Or dead.

The thought did not fill me with either joy or hope that I would make a difference, though I would fulfill my vows and make every effort.

The contemplation of the interior of my rooms did little to comfort me. If the Society had thought to include a stove in their design for the living quarters, there was no indication of such now. Only an open hearth greeted me as the means to heat both myself and my meals. A stale smell of untouched books and dead air pervaded every corner.

I am quite aware that many of my new neighbors had lived and possibly even thrived in such conditions all their lives, less the books, of course. But, as a city man, I had a problem.

I had always boarded until now. I knew nothing of cookery, and while I felt confident that I could boil water and prepare the kind of simple repast to which I was meant to limit myself, I had no idea how to go about doing so on an open fire.

Thus, when I met Young Alice in the back entry of the library that night, it was not only that I had heard her enter and meant to discover the meaning of the intrusion. I was also escaping the clouds of smoke I had generated, first by kindling the fire without opening the damper, and then by burning my toast beyond all recognition. The warning which Alice delivered meant less to me at that time than my fear that I must starve in this forsaken outpost beyond the fringes of civilization.

However, by dint of much effort, I managed to produce boiling water and make a cup of tea. I made no further attempt to toast my bread, but rendered it edible by dipping it in the tea, and so contrived to still the demands of my interior until morning, when I was forced to do it all again.

Thus, you see, I was in no mood to put up with ill treatment the next day when the townsfolk gathered to send me back where I came from, upright or in a box. Had I been better fed, I might have been less quick to respond aggressively.

That, I suspect, would have been a pity. Some towns do require a firm hand.



Skunk Corners is hard on librarians. Murderously hard on them, if you believe what Wild Harry Colson and Crazy Jake say. Even if they're stretching the truth a mite, it's true we haven't had a librarian stick it out here for more than a few weeks since the tough element took over some while back.

So when Tom - that was all the name he gave when he got off the train and saw us all staring - came to take over the Skunk Corners library, betting in town ran about fifty to one against him lasting two days. Hadn't the last librarian been more'n six feet tall, weighed 200 pounds, and still only made it ten days? This Tom character was not so tall, not so big, and edging on towards old. His only really impressive feature was his full head of white hair.

There was something about that hair, and the intensely blue eyes that met mine when I got closer, that struck me. That's why I matched those fifty bets. Everyone in town thought I was a chump for taking the bets, though no one said so, because no one here is dumb enough to call Big Al a fool. Of course, Tom only had to last forty-nine hours for me to collect on the bets, but once the bets were made, there were fifty men, women, and children in town bent on making sure they collected, so he faced more than the usual hostility. Since I didn't have the cash to pay up, I was equally bent on making him stay.

Tom hit Skunk Corners on the afternoon train, and disappeared straightaway into the library, the only brick building on Main Street. Which, Main being pretty much the only street in the Corners, made it the only brick building in town, period.

The library and the school occupied the far end of the street from the depot, so to get there he had to walk right past pretty much everyone in town. He glanced at the Mercantile, raised an eyebrow at the tavern and the bank sitting cheek-by-jowl, and nodded just a bit as he took in the imposing false front of our City Hall, which forms one side of our town square, a big name for a little patch of dirt. Then the librarian unlocked the door of the library and disappeared inside.

I watched him go, and then went back to work. But I made a point of sticking around the schoolhouse, casual-like, when the young 'uns got out, and eavesdropped on them bragging and boasting about how they'd run the new bookworm off. Funny, how they take against librarians, but mostly let their teacher alone. Not that they put much effort into their schooling, mind, but they don't run Teacher off, either. At least, no one's tried since I came to town.

When the kids had all scattered, I wandered down to Two-Timin' Tess's tavern for a while and listened to the guys making their boasts about how they'd clobber the fellow and dump him on the noon train. I had to give the youngsters credit for having more imagination than their elders. Finally I headed on down to Johnson's Mercantile, where the women were making their plans. Skunk Corners had it in for librarians, no question, and this Tom character had his work cut out for him, and that was just for surviving, let alone running a library.

I prowled around until dark, picking up a hint here and a notion there. Mostly folks seemed to figure on making a move when the library opened in the morning, so it occurred to me that if Tom just didn't open up, he'd be okay. It was with the intention of suggesting that he just lie low a while that I snuck in at the back door of the library.

I didn't knock, of course, just slipped my knife blade in at the bolt and popped it open, the way I've always done when I want a book. I couldn't go in the front door and let the whole town see Big Al checking out a book like just anyone. Not that much of anyone did check books out. A few took what they wanted, and brought them back if they felt like it, but most just went in to gawp at all the books they wouldn't know how to read, even if they wanted to. And they went in to make life miserable for the librarians, of course.

I stepped into the dark building - Tom hadn't seemed to feel the need for a light, or maybe he was too scared to show one - and stopped short. There he was, right in front of me. I mean, I never saw or heard him coming; he was just there.

For one moment, I felt a little scared, but then I had to laugh at myself. Me, Big Al, scared of little white-haired Tom-the-Librarian? It was just the surprise of seeing him there. If any of the previous librarians ever knew I'd snuck in, they'd hidden somewhere far from my path, because I never saw them. This one just stood still in front of me, moonlight through the windows lighting up the black silk handkerchief folded just so in his breast pocket.

"May I help you?"

Crazy as it sounds, that mild inquiry convinced me I'd made the right bet. I mean, if he was so eager to please, surely he'd listen to reason and just hole up here for a while. Maybe I could convince him the town's grudge would wear off if they didn't see him for two or three days. Just long enough for me to win my bet.

I laid it all out for him, not the bets, but the plans. The primer kids' plans to bring in a skunk. The ladies' ipecac casseroles. And the toughs at the tavern who'd most likely just pick a fight and flatten him. He listened in silence. Then he said, still in that polite, mild voice,

"Thank you. I do not anticipate any problems."

I goggled at him. Gaped. Stared, with my jaw down around my knees.

"Didn't you hear any a' what I was sayin', Mister? If the kids and the ladies don' worry you - but they oughta - you gotta know Wild Harry Colson and Crazy Jake and them will just chew you up and spit you out." I know how to talk almost like an educated soul, but he surprised me right into talking like a local.

Then he said the strangest thing, the thing I thought was a joke, or bravado, or just plain lunacy. He said,

"You need not worry about my safety. I am trained to kill."

About then, I decided to hightail it out of there. Craziness might be catching, and I didn't want any of that.

Well, I cleared out, and next morning the library opened at Ten O'clock sharp, just the way the sign out front had always said, though mostly it didn't. Open, I mean. Because there usually wasn't a librarian, or he'd be in the back, packing to leave town. Sometimes he'd be hiding under the bed.

I came in the usual way and kept watch through the wide crack in the door leading back into the librarian's quarters. I didn't figure it would do me any good to be seen around there, and someone might get it into his head that there was more than one way to get out of paying off that bet with me. So I kept out of sight and watched.

Not much happened at first. A few youngsters filtered in, ones I recognized as trouble. Then a couple of the ladies came with their covered dishes, all warm and friendly and welcoming. I knew better, of course. If Tom ate that stuff, he'd spend the rest of the day in the outhouse out back, at least until the big kids came and tipped it over on him.

Tom greeted the boys and pointed them to the children's books, a half dozen or so ragged volumes in one corner. I could have told him they couldn't read.

I should know, being their teacher, but I wasn't giving up my hiding place to share that old news.

When the ladies came, Tom accepted the hot dishes with thanks and put them on the windowsill, to be ready for lunch, he said. Then he sat down at the desk and began trying to make sense of the lender cards he'd found in some drawer or other. They must have made for bewildering reading, because I know for a fact no one has filled out a card in years. Not since Skunk Corners decided they had no use for librarians, nor for libraries, either, and that was back before my time.

Things stayed pretty quiet for the first hour or so. The kids in the corner did a lot of snickering, and I figured they were rigging some kind of booby-trap, or maybe just waiting for their cohorts to arrive with the town's namesake animal. The ladies wandered off, some picking up a book or two on their way, but making no move to sign them out. Tom just watched, and didn't try to interfere, and I figured he'd seen the way things were, after all.

Just before noon, Crazy Jake and Wild Harry Colson came in, and I braced myself for the inevitable. Nothing happened right off. They had to wait to catch Tom's attention, and he didn't seem to be terribly interested in them.

When a half dozen more boys came in carrying a box, Harry seemed to take it as a signal. Maybe he figured he'd better get on with it before the skunk cut loose. He let fly with a gob of tobacco spit onto the floor just in front of where Tom had stepped over to examine a bookshelf. Tom looked up and said, as though to a not-too-bright child,

"The spittoon is in the corner. Please make use of it in the future, sir."

Harry and Jake took the cue. They spat on the floor again and swaggered up to the diminutive librarian.

"Wha'd you say, bookworm?"

"I requested that you expectorate in the appropriate receptacle," came the incomprehensible response. The two toughs exchanged bewildered glances, before deciding how to take that.

"Ain't nobody talks to me that way," Harry snarled, and went into action.

The boys in the corner took his move as their signal, too, opening the box to release the dazed and unhappy black-and-white animal they'd somehow managed to trap without getting sprayed. Wild Harry Colson and Crazy Jake took another step toward the cornered librarian, and I looked away from the crack in the door, just for a moment. I couldn't help it. I hated to see the man go down. He'd made a brave stand, after all.

I jammed my eye back to that crack in time to see Tom, a black mask across his face, drop Harry and Jake with a pair of matched blows to the back of the head - opposite sides, one with each hand - then whirl and smack the skunk, just in the process of raising its tail, with a neat kick under its middle. He booted it gently out the door.

It was too bad for the townsfolk, crowded around the entrance to see the fun, that the skunk got all systems together and started spraying just as it cleared the doorway. I don't think it missed a one of them, and Johnson's Mercantile sold out of tinned tomato juice after the first five customers.

I pulled my attention back to the interior, and watched Tom catch Wild Harry Colson as he fell, somehow keeping him in motion to pitch him straight out the window, sweeping it clear of hot dishes on his way through. Crazy Jake went down like a ton of bricks; even the Ninja Librarian, as I now knew him to be, wasn't fast enough to catch both those former toughs on the way down. He never looked my way, but addressed the air.

"Come on out and lend a hand with this debris, Alice." Maybe it was the surprise of him knowing my real name, when some folks in town still didn't even know I was a girl, but I did as I was told.

When we'd deposited Jake at the bottom of the steps, the librarian brushed his hands off on his trousers, pulled the mask off and tucked it neatly into his breast pocket, where it once again resembled the black silk handkerchief I'd taken it for last night. Reentering the library, we looked around the now-empty room.

Tom cleared his throat with a deprecating "ahem," and finally looked at me as he spoke.

"Does that completely answer your question?"

I had no idea what he meant, but I learned.

1 comment:

  1. Alessandro, thanks for posting this! I didn't make that video, and don't know who did, but it's not bad, and I'm glad your post got caught in my alerts so I found out about it. Thanks for some exposure.
    Rebecca M. Douglass