(I write a short piece every month for my library’s internal newsletter. This is what happens when the end of the month comes and I realize I haven’t come up with anything yet.)
A Heartwarming Holiday Tale
Once upon a time, in the land of Hjjllrppgqr, there was a little boy named Gumpus McGee. Yes, it was a strange name, but par for the course when you lived in a country named without vowels. Gumpus, or Gum, as his friends called him (or would have called him, if he’d had friends) was not well-to-do. He was not, in fact, anything-to-do. Destitute and orphaned, he lived on the streets without a penny to his goofy name.
Winter was coming on in that part of the world, and it was sure to be a real whiggle-snaffer, which is how people around those parts referred to a particularly bad winter. The people of that land really weren’t good at naming much of anything. And as the weather got colder, Gumpus McGee walked about begging for alms. He wasn’t entirely sure what alms were, but had a sort of hopeful idea that you could eat them.
After one dismal day when he’d received nothing for his begging but little round metal things that weren’t good for anything, a middle-aged lady saw him shivering in the shelter of an alley. “Alms for the poor, marm?”
The lady, whose name was Jilquil Derwibblywob, took him by the hand and led him out of the alley. “I’ve got something much better to give you,” she said. She led him up the stairs of a large stone building and opened the doors, displaying rows upon rows of books. “The gift of imagination!”
“Oh,” he said, disappointed. He should have known this was going to be one of those fake presents grown-ups liked to give.
“Also, there’s a cot in the back room, so you can stay out of the cold.”
And so Gumpus McGee spent that winter inside the walls of the Hjjllrppgqr City Library, occasionally making small fires out of the paperbacks that Ms. Derwibblywob deemed unworthy. And when the warm weather returned, he continued to live there, and with the librarian’s assistance, he even learned how to read. And when he was big enough, he began to help her out with the maintenance of the library, putting books away on the shelves and keeping everything in order.
Things continued this way for many years, until Ms. Derwibblywob passed away suddenly from an infected papercut. In her will, she bequeathed to him her duties as head librarian–which doesn’t sound like something you can bequeath, I know, but inheritance law was a little funny in those parts.
So Gumpus McGee grew from a boy to a young man, then from a young man to a man-in-full, then from a man-in-full to a man-who’s-more-or-less-middle-aged-but-hasn’t-really-accepted-that-fact-yet. And one day, as winter began to creep back into the world, he saw a little girl begging from the shelter of an alley. Her name was Pwharff Berfrompom. Names had only gotten worse in the last few decades. “Alms for the poor, Mistah?” she asked.
“I’ve got something much better to give you,” he said, and then he said, “YEEOWWAHHOOHAAW!” as she stabbed him in the leg with a rusty spoon and stole his wallet before scampering off down the city streets.
The exchange hadn’t gone the way he’d planned, but he had a feeling things would work out in the end. After all, the only thing of value in his wallet was his library card, so she was bound to be back sooner or later. He decided to break out the old cot, as he had a feeling the Hjjllrppgqr City Library would have a new patron before long.