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Head Librarian Windess stared over the row of flashing computers, eyes troubled. Walking over to one, she stared at the screen, lips moving soundlessly. On each screen read:
WARNING! YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED BY A VIRUS!
Clicking on the dialogue box, a list of the files affected came up. No one had been able to get online for the entire day, and someone even had an epileptic seizure. If it went on, the library could be losing a lot of patrons.
“It’s just like that Pineapple virus, remember?” Asked Deputy Librarian Morris, startling Windess. She looked up, jerking the mouse around.
“How could I forget?” She groaned. “We were down for weeks! We couldn’t catalogue anything! Then we had to get rid of most of the computers anyway, they were pieces of sh--“
Morris held a finger to his lips and nodded to the entrance. A young man, his hair soaked from the rain outside, was knocking on the glass door.
“'As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door…’” Muttered Morris.
“'Tapping at my chamber door - Only this, and nothing more.’” Added Windess. “Should we let him in?”
“We closed half an hour ago. I’ll just tell him to go away,” said Morris, walking over to the door and pulling it open. The sounds of the dripping and drumming of rain floated into the library.
“The library closed at five.” He said, sticking his head outside.
“I know,” said the man, grinning. “A friend told me you have a virus.” He pointed to the flashing computers.
Morris raised his eyebrows. “And you think you can fix it?”
The man shrugged and pulled a CD case out of his pocket.
“My computer had the same problem a few months ago. I’ve got the solution saved on here,” he said, holding up the case.
Morris sighed, and held the door open for the man. “You’d better come in.”
The man introduced himself as Evan. Windess stared at him for a moment and then said, almost under her breath,
“’I do desire we may be better strangers.’”
“’I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love-songs in their barks.’” finished Morris. Evan stared at them.
“Sorry,” said Morris, smiling. “We have a bad habit of finishing each other’s quotes.”
“As You Like It,” added Windess as a further explanation.
“All right then.” Said Evan, clapping his hands together. “Let’s take a look at these computers.”
He sat down at one of them and checked the status list. As he looked through the system, he spoke to himself under his breath, making “mm-hmm” and “right” noises. Finally, he swiveled around in the chair and looked at the two librarians.
“Well, folks, it looks like you’ve got the Pied Piper Virus,” Evan said, putting the tips of his fingers together. “And here’s how this works. I put my CD in the computers, clean up and fix the network, and you pay me.”
Windess and Morris looked at each other, and then back to Evan.
“Could we…have a moment to discuss this, please?” Windess asked, pulling Morris towards the back office.
“Of course,” said Evan, smiling.
“’One may smile, and smile, and be a villain’,” was the first thing Morris said after Windess had shut the office door behind them.
“I don’t think Shakespeare had to deal with computer viruses, Mr. Morris,” said Windess. “We can’t afford to pay him. Who knows how much he asks for! We can’t even pay for repairs on the roof.”
“That leak in the Geography section is getting bad,” said Morris with a sigh. “Well, what should we do?”
“We’ve just got to outsmart him, is all.” Said Windess, smacking a fist into her palm. Morris looked shocked.
“Librarian, I’m surprised at you! We can’t trick him, that would be dishonest.” He said. And illegal,” he added.
Windess smiled craftily. “It’s not illegal unless he signs a contract, right? Look, we’ll just say that we’ll pay him after he fixes it, so that we’re sure everything is working right. Then…we never do. We need to deal with the more immediate problem. We’re low on funding as it is, we can’t afford to close down while we get someone else to fix it.”
Morris let out a breath loudly. “All right. Let’s do it. I just want you to know that I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I,” said Windess, opening the office door.
“Have you agreed to accept my help?” Evan asked, still sitting in the same position. Windess nodded.
“Very good! I’ll get to work right away and have this problem cleared up in an hour.”
Morris and Windess went off to shelve books, leaving Evan alone to his work. As she wheeled the cart through the bookcases, Windess heard a thumping, like a bass track. She stopped in place, but the beat carried on, in time with her heart. She strained her ears, listening. Was that violin music she could hear? And flutes?
In the tiny office, Morris looked up from an old book he was rebinding. What was that noise? It was like horns, and drums….
He stuck his head out of the office and squinted at Evan. A small CD player was on the floor. The strange, barely audible music floated out of it. Evan’s head was nodding in time to it. The computers seem to flash to the music as well. Morris whistled softly under his breath and returned to his work.
Forty-five minutes later, as Windess was re-shelving books in Children’s Literature amid the sound of dripping (the Geography section was only a room away), Evan came up to her. The sounds of his footsteps were muffled on the carpeted floor.
“You’re done already?” The head librarian asked, surprised.
“Yep. And I’m out of here,” said Evan, putting on his coat. “Here’s my card.” He handed her a business card. On it read:
“Thanks,” said Windess casually. “Well, we know who to call if we have any more problems.”
“Or if you want to pay me.” Evan said. He was smiling, but his eyes were cold. “If you don’t, it will go badly with you.”
Windess swallowed. Somehow, the library seemed as cold as a winter night. She nodded, and the heat scurried back in as Evan dropped his gaze.
“I’ll just let myself out, shall I?” He nodded to her and left. Windess shivered and waited for the thud of the heavy glass door closing to echo throughout the library. Then she hurried over to the computers.
The scene was peaceful, every single screen once flashing now showing the regular blue background. Windess sighed and slumped down. Well, that was one problem solved. She would put off the money problem for another day.
Retrieving her raincoat, she called in the direction of the Mystery shelves,
“I’m going home! Finish up in Children’s, would you?”
“Sure!” called back Morris.
Three days later, Windess arrived at the library only a minute before opening.
“You’re late,” commented Morris as she entered, keys jangling.
“Sorry,” she panted, having jogged across the parking lot. “Traffic was terrible.” She pulled off her coat and hung it up behind the office door. “Where is everyone? There’s usually a line outside.”
“I know, it’s strange,” said Morris, fiddling with the lanyard he kept his Deputy Librarian badge on. “It’s a Saturday, too.”
“I guess we’ll just have to open same as usual. At least we got that virus problem fixed.” Said Windess, staring at the door.
“Or did we?”
Windess slowly turned around to stare at Morris.
“Now why did you say that?”
“What was the virus called? The Pied Piper?”
Windess shook her head. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
Morris spread his arms, indicating the obvious lack of people.
“We get a virus. A mysterious man comes in to fix it. We don’t pay it. Next thing we know, we’ve got no patrons.”
Windess shivered. “It’s…spooky. Just like him.”
You know we’re creeped out, thought Windess, when we’re not quoting anything.
The clock in the town square boomed out eight o’clock AM. Windess came out from behind the counter, holding her keys.
“I’m going to open up anyway. Maybe the unexpected sunshine is just keeping people outside.”
“I doubt it,” muttered Morris darkly and went to hide in his office with the broken books.
An hour went by. Then two. By eleven o’clock, Windess was very worried. She had finished all the shelving, painfully did the bills, and when she ran out of things to do, began to wash the windows.
The clock struck eleven thirty. Morris came out of the office for the first time that morning, smelling of glue. He looked around.
“Still no one?”
Morris leaned against the counter, brushing dust off his hands. “There’s something supernatural going on here.”
“I wouldn’t say supernatural, just…” Windess froze. “What’s that noise?”
A drum beat was thudding in time with their hearts. It got louder, and louder, until it was all they could hear, a pulse drumming in their ears. It was joined by a mad piping, elusive and fae.
Windess, hands clapped to her ears, yelled, “Morris!” and staggered for the main door. Throwing it open, she waited until the sound died away and all she could hear were the cars on the road. Breathing heavily and leaning against the glass, she was about to close the door again and go inside—do something—when she heard a cackle of laughter, bubbling up from somewhere above her.
“All right, we’ll pay you!” She shouted.
Too late, the wind sighed. Too late….
The door slammed shut, and closed it has remained to all patrons since that day. The library was cursed by a Piper. He stole away their people, and left them with only memories…memories and the drumming.