At the Library
rating: +36+x

Note: This is part one in a multi-part story based around the events leading up to the containment of SCP-2982

Harold Maine sat at the reading desk and leafed through the medical dictionary. The words meant nothing to him - just fancy, nonesuch educated bullshit - but his eyes lingered over the black and white pictures, trying in vain to imagine their lurid, gruesome color.

"Did you even hear me? I've paid you what I can".

He looked up, suddenly remembering the woman and child standing before him, and regarded them intently.

"How did you get here today, Helen?"

The woman looked confused. "The bus," she answered. "We came by bus."

"Then you can still pay more," Maine said. "Next time, you'll have to walk."

"But I - "

Maine raised his hand to silence her. His finger traced a word in the medical book as he spoke it. "Hy-per-tri-cho-sis would be bad for her right now, don't you think?" He gestured towards the child. "Werewolf syndrome.  Very hairy.  Life changing, but not life endangering. Yet."

The child clung to her mother's leg. "Mommy?"

"Don't worry Angela," Helen said. "I won't let anything happen to you."

Maine snorted and turned his attention towards the child. "If this wasn't a public library I'd show you just how fucking incapable of protecting you your mommy is. Or will be, if she doesn't pay me every week."

He let the threat linger whilst the child sank further behind her mother's legs. The library was empty, and for a moment the world around them forgot to exist. There were just the three of them in the whole of the universe; two scared rabbits and a salivating, greedy fox.

And then the world breathed again.

"How am I supposed to pay you?" Helen asked, "When I'm like this?"  She looked down at what used to be her arms. She had been elegant, beautiful, athletic. Her limbs lithe and long, her body in perfect symmetrical proportion. A ballet dancer's poise and grace.

And then Harold Maine had come along. She remembered the day well; mid-afternoon, heavy rain after days of sweltering, unseasonal heat. The pregnant mother of all thunderstorms was gathering directly above San Antonio, and its waters were breaking. She drove down Fulton Avenue, late for a doctor's appointment, the road surface slick with water and accumulated oil from drought-dry days. The lights turned red, she stopped. The car behind her didn't, the tyres unable to grip against the frictionless highway. A middle-aged man, balding and greasy, emerged from the stricken vehicle, his arms and legs scrabbling like a hermit crab clambering out of its shell. Although the downpour punished them both equally, instantly soaking them to the skin, he already looked more a creature of the sea bed than of the normal, waking world. The precipitation was incidental, she realised instinctively; even in the most sun-parched of places there could not be a single part of him, or his life, that was not damp and sweating and moulding to the core.

Against her better judgement they exchanged names, license plates, phone numbers. He told her it was for the insurance.

And then days later the texts started, and then the misplaced romantic slime, and then the graphic, grotesque sexts. She tolerated it up to a point, but after five weeks she told him exactly what she thought. Told him in no uncertain terms that she was not, nor ever would be, interested in him, in any way. Harold Maine was not to contact her or approach her again, ever. The unwanted attention immediately stopped. And that was an end to it. She put her child to bed, brushed her teeth, watched a DVD with a glass of wine, and retired for the night.

She woke up at 04:27 the next morning to find her arms and her elegant slender fingers gone. Replaced with these. The desire to cry brought her back to the here and now, but she fought it; she had to be strong for Angela.

"Yeah sorry about those," Maine said, looking at what used to be her fingers. "Didn't even know what 'thalidomide-impaired' meant at the time.  Who woulda thunk it? No hard feelings." His face brightened. "Hey," he said, with mock enthusiasm, "maybe if you do wonderful things for me, like pay me what I tell you, when I tell you, I'll put you back to normal.  Maybe make you rich too. Would you like that?"

Helen could not speak; the words were caught in her throat.

"I'll take that as a yes," Maine said. He became immediately disinterested. "I could just change you again anyway," he shrugged. The chair creaked as he relaxed back into it. "Make you obedient to me." He looked down to the little girl and waved her away. "Go play somewhere else, stupid little fuck."

"Y'know," he continued, addressing the woman, "I could make you my willing slave. You know I could." He studied her eyes, saw the tears welling up and overflowing. His gaze drifted downwards again. "Wow," he laughed softly. "They're not even hands, are they? What would you call 'em? Claws? Pincers? Holy fuck."

Helen shuddered. She tried to hide it, but could not. Harold Maine saw it, and smiled again. "But no," he said. "This way is better for the soul."

"My soul is fine," she answered. "Just fine." The defiance in her voice was unconvincing, but she knew by now that he liked her to have a certain 'resistance'. Too much and it angered him and he got cruel; too little and it bored him, and he got cruel.

"Maybe it is," Maine said. "Maybe it isn't.  Hey what if I overtype your star sign with damned for all eternity?"



"You said overtype - "

Maine became angered instantly. "Forget I said that," he said. "Just forget it or I'll fix that stupid daughter of yours so she eats through her ass and shits through her mouth. You think I wouldn't?"

"I'm sorry," Helen said. "I promise. I'm sorry."

"Because I could do that.  Easily."

"Yes, Mr Maine."  She used the formal term now; he would accept that. "I just - I'm sorry." But for the first time in weeks she felt hope. He had let something important slip. She had a clue now, a hint, no matter how vague, as to how he worked his horrific, twisted miracles. He changed - he overwrote - something, and the changes came true. What though? A book? A diary?

Maine leant back in the chair and closed the medical dictionary.  The noise echoed around the empty library and was lost. Maine finally looked up at her again. "I loved you," he confessed. "Still do. I could make you so happy. If only you let me."  He took the eighty six dollars from the desk and stuffed them into his wallet. "You can keep the small change," he offered. Again his eyes settled on her deformed limbs. "Oh you can't, can you?"

Helen's daughter ran up, spaded the coins into her hands, and ran off again. "Goodbye for now, Future Mrs Maine," he said, and the woman turned and left; her head bowed in defeat.  Within ten steps, her head was held high again for her daughter, and within another thirty she was gone.

"Future Mrs Maine,"  he pronounced quietly. She would have a long walk home. And then an image came to him, unbidden and out of the blue, and he laughed out loud at his own genius, and the sound reverberated around the library, cold and stark and totally without humour. "Can't even thumb a ride," he said.

Harold Maine reopened the dictionary. "Who's next - Aidan Brown? Fucking shit-heel stinks of fish but money is money."  

He was still smiling to himself when the shambling, groaning half-man-half-lobster advanced towards him from the entrance. Ignored and invisible - to everyone else but Harold Maine at least - the monster pulled its bulk slowly towards the reading desk where Harold Maine sat. Once there, it wheezed and gasped and shifted position, desperate for comfort in a form where none could be found, and waited to be addressed.

After counting up to five in his head, Maine looked up. "Ah," he said, looking into the ruined face, the corrupted body, the ribs fused with shell, the one remaining lung exposed, folded over, and grinding against itself as it struggled to breathe. "Aidan Brown. What have you got for me today?"


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