FFC: Choose Your Setting: A library on an alien world

Doctor Garret Wenz made his way cautiously up the side of a broken snowdrift, clutching a piece of equipment to his chest, protecting it from the blowing snow. He glanced over his shoulder, licking his chapped lips, pausing to allow his wife, Anna, to catch up with him. She ascended as quickly as she could, but kept stumbling. Snow packed her boots with every step; she was covered head to toe with the powdery stuff. She reached up a gloved hand and wiped perspiration from her forehead, only succeeding in pushing snow into her hair and under her hood.
“How much further?” Breath permeated her face-mask and drifted away in tendrils.
“I think we’re here.” Garret looked at the global positioning device clutched to his chest, nodded and declared, “Yup, welcome to Yellowstone National Park.”
***
Bear was the eldest of his generation. He was the first child born in a place his elders called ‘Montana.’ His parents, and the rest of the community he lived in, were a conflux of old and new. His elders clung to the old traditions of The People and his generation embraced new ideas. He was a child of two civilizations – two worlds. He spoke the ancient language of The People and the language of their new home.
Bear snapped awake from another nightmare. He lay on his mattress, peering at the darkness through his window. A wan and somehow menacing light emanated from the east. Sunrise was still an hour away and he tried to persuade himself to wait until the sun was up, but his reoccurring dream was so clear. His purpose was just as clear: he had to leave immediately.
***
Anna fervently rolled up her thermal bag and started loading her pack. They were up before the sun was. She expected the events of today would be long and arduous. They ate breakfast silently. When they were ready to depart, Garret simply looked at her. Her eyes locked on his and she winked. Garret smiled, turned and made his way north. Dawn was almost here and they were already moving.
***
Bear stood in a glade of trees at the northern border of Gardiner, Montana. The town was completely deserted. He wanted to explore the town in the morning. Tonight he climbed one of the trees, curiously leaning south, and immediately fell asleep.
***
After a long and grueling trek through the park, Anna and Garret lay on their thermal bags in their tent.
“Ready to turn in? A lot to do tomorrow.”
“I feel useless on this expedition…” Anna’s voice faded to a whisper.
Garret moved quickly to her side and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Not useless at all. I need you. I couldn’t do this without you.”
He stroked her cheek and kissed her again. She pulled him closer, wrapping her arms around him. When his hand wandered under her shirt and slipped up her midriff to cup her breast she squeezed him tighter. When they broke apart he looked into her eyes, eager, but questioning. She nodded and lowered his hand to her waistband. Disrobing was quick and efficient. They were tired from the long day, but passion overrode exhaustion. Moments later he was positioned above her, forearms framing her head. She took him in hand to guide him in.
***
Bear woke, but kept his eyes closed. He listened to the sounds around him. No birds greeted him this morning. The sun was already up, casting welcome warmth upon his face. His eyes fluttered open, revealing a sun higher in the sky than he expected. It was likely ten in the morning – he hadn’t slept this late in years. He descended from the tree and started towards Gardiner. As he trudged on, he wondered what events he had missed this morning.
***
The trek north was proceeding rapidly. Highway Eighty-Nine was a straight run from Yellowstone National Park to Gardiner, Montana. Garret was walking so quickly, Anna fell behind repeatedly needing to run to catch up. Other then that, it was boring – left foot, right foot. She kept putting one foot in front of the other and watched the miles melt away.
***
Bear made quick work covering the distance from the grove of trees to the the town proper. He looked for major landmarks, wondering what his next destination would be. He followed streets until he came to a building. Compelled forward, he loped up the ramp and pushed on the doors until they gave way. The walls and floor were covered with books – thousands of books. He had found the Gardiner Public Library.
He picked up random books and looked within. The books were in English, but all the letters looked weird. If he concentrated on the letters he could read, but it was a slow process. He read book after book, absorbing information rapidly. These books told of a history different to that he had learned in school. Most of the dates were correct, but like the letters, the details of those events were slightly off. It made no sense that these books were so different from what he knew, but he was determined to read. He read until he grew weary and promptly fell asleep slouched in his chair. The book he was reading fell to the floor with a thump. Bear didn’t react to the sound – he was already deeply asleep.
***
Anna and Garret headed northwest as Highway Eighty-Nine turned to avoid the Yellowstone River. When the highway crooked dead east, just after Roosevelt Arch, Garret grabbed her shoulder and pointed. “There’s a library, let’s see if we can stay there tonight.”
Garret opened the doors to the Gardiner Public Library and peered into the darkness. The moonlight shining through the upper windows illuminated areas of the library in diagonal columns of light. Like a spotlight, one of those light columns illuminated a figure slouched in a chair. A stack of books on a table obscured the face. A slight snore echoed throughout the library.
Anna whispered to Garret, “What do we do now?”
“No one should be here…”
Garret left Anna in the archway and maneuvered around tables to get a better look. “Holy Shit!” he shouted out, staggering backwards and knocking a pile of books off a table.
The sound of books hitting the wooden floor combined with Garret’s exclamation woke Bear from his slumber. Bear’s eyes snapped open. Seeing Garret, he jumped to his feet sending the wooden chair skittering into the table behind him.
Garret, unable to speak, furiously scanned the face staring at him. The odd accent this newcomer spoke with wasn’t what frightened him. The man before him had skin the color of khaki. His eyes were slightly larger than a human’s and were absent of color. His head, devoid of hair, gleamed in the moonlight.
Anna maneuvered into Bear’s field of vision and spoke slowly, her voice wavering in a combination of awe, fear and curiosity.
“Who are you?”
***
Bear scrutinized the female addressing him. She obviously wasn’t of The People, but she resembled photos of females he had seen in books consumed only hours before. Textbooks from his village were oddly missing any images of the native population. The elders had censored these images, hiding the undeniable fact: The People were not of this world.
***
Anna waited patiently for a response from the alien. Garret chose that moment to speak, “An alien! An honest to God alien!”
***
Bear regarded Anna with what he hoped was humor, “I’ve been alive for twenty years. Thisbtown has been abandoned much longer.”
He drew himself to his full height and continued, “The People have lived in Montana for almost a century. You madam,” he gestured a four-fingered hand towards Garret, “and your companion are the aliens here.”
***
He’s preening! Anna couldn’t help but smile. Men are the same regardless of species. She did her best to keep the amusement out of her voice, “I think the three of us have a lot to talk about.”
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About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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