A Book for Christmas

(Note: Christmas exists in the Netherworld as a completely secular holiday.)

Peppermint T. Spearmint, snow sprite and librarian at the Peyroux Public Phantasmal Library, checked in Two Weeks to Learn Fey: The Language of Sprites, Fairies and Pixies. Saturday. The second Saturday since it was taken out, like clockwork, according to the circulation card.

Smiling to herself, Peppermint traced the letters on the book’s cover, thinking about Scarecrow, a local harvest witch. Two Weeks to Learn Fey would sit on the shelf for exactly seven days, then Scarecrow would be back to check it out again.

Peppermint hugged the book tightly to her chest and closed her eyes as she did every time the book came home to the library. Though long faded, Peppermint imagined she could still detect the smells of straw, of burning candles and flame-warmed jack-o-lanterns. She opened her eyes and looked through the window, watching the snow begin to fall. A winter owl hooted in delight, swooping down from its perch, breaking the spell holding Peppermint’s attention.

“Christmas! Of course!”

Scarecrow came into the library a bit ahead of schedule. It was Christmas Eve-eve, the last day the library would be open until the new year. At the door, in the wet-room (the one to melt off snow from boots, cloaks, and coats, not the aquatically structured wet-room for water monster patrons), she shook herself free of winter’s icing. Shly, she caught Peppermint’s gaze, just briefly, before ducking behind a bookshelf and pretending to browse. Absentmindedly, she reached for Two Weeks, comfortable in the assumption it would be there. But it wasn’t. It… it wasn’t? There?!

Panic seized Scarecrow’s heart.

Could it be somewhere else where can it be it is always here how can it not be here did someone else take it why would anyone else take it is it is always here IT IS ALWAYS HERE if it isn’t here WHERE IS IT?! Why isn’t it here when it is always here where could it be Where? Was? It?!

Scarecrow held her breath for several heartbeats as Peppermint finished checking out books for other patrons. Clearing her suddenly very dry throat, “Hi-hi.” Scarecrow stumbled, her face glowing a faint red, as she approached the circulation desk. “Is, um, Two Weeks to Learn Fey: The Language of Sprites, Fairies and Pixies available?” the harvest witch asked the snow sprite.

“Is it not on the shelf?” Peppermint asked in surprise, a hand over her heart. Her gossamer wings flapped slowly, sadly. “I had a feeling you would be in today to pick it up.”

“No-no,” Scarecrow mumbled. “I-I usually come f-for it–”

“–on Saturday,” Peppermint replied, a bit more breathy than she intended. Scarecrow’s blush deepend. She ducked a bit behind the counter, using it as a shield, as Peppermint bent down and started rummaging in the returns bin and the library holds sections behind the counter.

“No, I’m sorry, it is not here.”

Scarecrow’s heart sank.

“But there is something here for you,” Peppermint finished, bringing out a rectangle neatly wrapped in thin paper patterned with goblins, trees, and holiday sprites and lights.

Scarecrow blinked several times as she accepted the unexpected gift. “Oh! Oh my, th-thank you!”

“Please open it now.”

Too meek to say no or even meet the librarian’s gaze, Scarecrow complied — then shouted — Two Weeks to Learn Fey! Then ducked to avoid the voluminous storm of her own voice. They were in a library after all. “Two Weeks to Learn Fey!” she whisper-shouted forcibly. Not only Two Weeks, but the very book she had been reserving and checking out time after time.

“I bought it for you,” Peppermint said with the warmth of a holiday fireplace. “And I wanted you to have this particular copy, you always pick out the same volume each time you come in. Merry Christmas.”

Then, softer.

“Are you okay?”

Scarecrow looked up into Peppermint’s eyes, a thousand thoughts demanding immediate attention. “I-I love it, oh I love it, oh th-thank you! B-but… but…” she held her breath. Peppermint patiently waited as Scarecrow paused to gather her thoughts into a sensible order. “But I also…ch-check it out t-to come s-see you… see you too…”

And this time, Peppermint blushed a winter rose. “Oh!” Red and beaming, she offered, “The library closes in about an hour. Maybe we could meet after I lock up? For some hot chocolate? We could get to know each other a bit better, watch the snow fall.”

The witch squeaked, “I would love that!” in Fey. The words were jumbled but the intent was clear.

Scarecrow held the book tightly to her chest, to Peppermint’s silent amusement. “I w-will wait here,” Scarecrow said with exploding, nervous joy. “If that is okay?” “Please do.”

Scarecrow sat on the bench to one side of the circulation desk. “And read my new book,” she said to herself, grinning, tucking her hair behind her ears before tracing the raised letters, Two Weeks to Learn Fey, with her fingertips.

Peppermint pursed her lips with silent joy and returned to her duties, suddenly impatient for the library to close. A few moments later, she caught Scarecrow’s eye for a moment and the two shared an excited grin before returning to their respective tasks.

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