fiction by Robert L. Penick

Beavis and Ninja Dude usually arrived just as the library opened. Wilson would be completing his early duties: Emptying the book drop, checking the bathrooms for dead bodies, and putting the morning paper and Wall Street Journal in their places on the periodical rack. These exercises would take him up to 8:55 in the morning and his quick trip back to the men’s room to unload the three cups of tea he had for breakfast. The two of them would be out there, beyond the locked double doors, checking their phones or kicking one another in the ass. Idiots. Delinquents. Skipping high school to spend five hours a day in a remote corner of the Crescent Hill branch, eating snacks and taking calls from other young fools. They reminded Wilson of himself, sixty years previous.

“Morning, gentlemen,” he would greet them after throwing the locks and latches on the front door. Usually they skulked by like he had insulted them, then disappeared into the stacks. Like clockwork he’d load his little book cart from the juggernaut cart that held so much knowledge and frivolity, then roll his way to work. Always he began in the children’s section, before the toddlers, waddlers, and screamers arrived. Deftly he sorted the thin non-fiction volumes into order and began his slow morning crawl across the carpet.

Giraffes! Giraffes!
The Dewey Decimal number stretched from the back cover across the spindly spine to the front. To find its home, he pulled a number of other volumes out to read their numbers. Finally he slid it into its proper place. Thirty-three more, then he could move on to the chapter books, stand up like a homo erectus and maybe even find a bit of interesting reading. Letting his chin fall to his chest, he cradled So You Want To Be An Astronaut and took the briefest of naps.  


Beavis and Ninja Dude settled into their headquarters, located in an alcove where adult fiction started. They had a wall of Abbey, Acker, and Agee protecting them from the rest of the world, and they cherished the seclusion. Ninja Dude collapsed into an overstuffed chair and again reviewed the texts on his phone while Beavis tore open a bag of jalapeno-flavored corn chips and conducted his daily survey of the shelves.  

“Who do you suppose reads all this stuff? Sholem Asch. Asch-hole. Heh. It would take your whole life to wade through all this...crap.” Crumbs escaped his mouth while he talked, and he ground them into the carpet with his sneaker.

“Inquiries are being made as to where we are,” Ninja Dude announced while scrolling. “Monty told Landers we transferred to a school for the abnormally gifted. He was not believed.”  

“Those jerks.” Beavis returned a volume to the shelf, upside-down.


“Wilson’s out again. Like a light.”

The grumpy old librarian turned to the less grumpy, young librarian. “You’d think he’d be in a nursing home or something. Someplace where he’s not in the way.”

“He doesn’t snore,” the young librarian pointed out. “And he’s continent. There’s a lot to be said for that. And he’s a kind sort.”

“He’s a senile old geezer, is what he is. That’s a job for a high school kid. No one past thirty can get down on the floor and shelve those Gerald and Piggy books.”

“He gets down there just fine. It’s the getting back up that’s difficult.”

“And he sleeps. Children play peek-a-boo with him and he doesn’t even know.”

“So it’s a win-win for everyone. Look. He’s awake.”


Some days Wilson’s four-hour shift moved faster than others. If he had his third cup of tea before leaving home, the morning rocked, punctuated only by the bathroom break after his trip to the book drop. He wrote his itinerary on the back of his hand: Children’s books, then DVDs and fiction downstairs, newspapers, non-fiction and biographies upstairs. Then back to children’s books if that area wasn’t besieged by adorable little shriekers. He tried to keep moving to keep the rigor mortis from setting in, the stiffness that overtakes the old when they rest. At half past noon, he would leave the library feeling as if he’d contributed something to the world.  

Days like this one weren’t so easy. Last night in bed his right hip gnawed at him like a hungry animal, and his body just didn’t want to lay on its left side. At two a.m. he got up long enough to take two pills. The Aleve helped, but the melatonin left him feeling groggy and hungover this morning. He would get through this shift, pop another Aleve, and sleep, sleep, sleep. He looked at the book in his hands, then at the dumb numbers on the shelf. He looked forward to shelving the picture books (alphabetically) the way an under-trained runner looks forward to the flat part of the course.  

The older, meaner librarian had formulated a plan to evict the two delinquents from the premises and ban them well into their adult
years. She had found detritus after their stays in the alcove,
evidence of snacking and general lollygaggery.

Ninja Dude got his moniker from the black scarf he used to conceal the cleft palate that had not been completely rectified by surgery. He was a brilliant student, advance placement, middle school science fair winner but, when his parents relocated to Louisville, he became a tenth grade pariah among the student body. Simply getting from one class to the next was a gauntlet of shoving and insults. When he began wearing the scarf, kids saw it as an affectation and screwed up the nomenclature of their abuse.  It was a pretty cool nickname. He hid behind it and the scarf, but it was not enough. He was still the circus boy.

Now every evening he called two classmates and got the homework assignments in Calculus and Spanish II. At night he sat in his parent’s garage and read The Penguin History of the World. At some point he would be discovered and could get his GED with no trouble. There were manuals for the SAT exam in this library somewhere, but he didn’t want to look at them with Beavis around.  

Beavis didn’t have a plan, a future, or even a little bit of common sense. Eighteen years old, he was still in the tenth grade and didn’t even need to be cutting class. He could simply walk away, into the unskilled labor market, to toss baskets of french fries or haul hods of wet cement up scaffolding to waiting bricklayers. The thought had never occurred to him. His grandmother called him “Baby Boy” and rolled her own cigarettes while watching television. His mother had been gone so long it was as if she’d been a character from some random show.  


The older, meaner librarian had formulated a plan to evict the two delinquents from the premises and ban them well into their adult years. She had found detritus after their stays in the alcove, evidence of snacking and general lollygaggery. What incensed her the most was that the only library amenity 
they ever seemed to make use of was the furniture, slouching down into chairs like they’d fallen into sinkholes. They could do that anywhere. Home, for instance. Or in the back row of their classrooms at school. And what happened to truant officers? She occasionally thought of googling the phone list for the county school system, but a patron or ringing phone always interrupted her train of thought. This time she had a plan.  


Ninja Dude was the first of the two to notice her glaring at them like she was Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz. Beavis was busy making fart noises and playing his stomach like a bongo drum. Ninja had caught the negative waves from her before, so he raised his eyebrows in a “Can I help you?” expression and waited. The old guy was trundling his book cart up the aisle behind her and it made him wonder if anyone normal ever worked at the library.  

“This is it, gentlemen,” she announced. “You have now crossed the final boundary. Since you’re not accessing any library resources, you are banned from this facility for…” she shopped in her head for the longest sentence she could justify: “six months.”  

“Six months?” Beavis abruptly stopped drumming. What’d we do?”

“Your latest infraction is repeatedly eating in the library. You’ve been warned previously, and the evidence is on the floor.”

“Oh, hey. I meant to get back here for that.”

Startled, the librarian jumped, then turned her glare on Wilson.  

“I had some crackers for breakfast. And that Monster Energy stuff, a little bag of…” He studied an orange smudge on the carpet. “Cheetos. All mine.  I’ll clean it up in a jiff.”  

He tottered back up the aisle.

“No,” she pronounced. “It was you two.”

“He said he did it,” Beavis countered. You’ve got a confession, lady.”

Ninja wasn’t comfortable taking the blame, so it was good to let Beavis make the case, even though Beavis made the mess to begin with.  

Wilson was back, again startling the librarian.  

“Cleaned up in no time. Raise your feet, guys.”

He swept efficiently and, in thirty seconds, there was no evidence of any crime.

Later, Wilson sat in the librarian’s office and received his write-up for eating in the stacks.  

“This is your second this year,” she warned him. “One more and you’re gone.”

“Well, Ma’am,” he told her with a weary smile, “I was looking for a job when I found this one.”


“Pretty nice of the old dude to cover for us,” Ninja Dude told Beavis, who was staging a war between his sneakered feet while hunched over in his chair. “I thought he was one of the jerks, but I guess not.”

“Stand-up guy,” Beavis hissed between clenched teeth. His left foot was getting pummeled by the right, and he was trying to organize a counterattack. “He didn’t crack. Could’ve given us up when they put the screws to him. But he didn’t. Maybe he’s been in the joint. Maybe he’s got a past no one knows about.”  

“He definitely doesn’t give a shit. An admirable quality.”

“I miss my Cheetos.” Left foot forced a pin of right foot. Match over.  

“Going to the bathroom. Hold my calls.” Ninja headed off. Five minutes later, he was back.  

“Hey. Our compatriot is again unconscious over by the biographies, and he’s got a full cart of books. Come along and keep a lookout.”

Beavis hoisted himself up and complained.  

“You’re always getting ideas.”


Wilson woke up not knowing whether he’d slept for a moment or an hour, or even if it was well past the end of his shift. A frantic look at his Timex indicated that fourteen minutes had elapsed.  

“That’ll be my federally mandated break,” he thought.

Rising from the step stool, he found the book cart empty. 

“I’m getting better and better at this,” he finally decided.

Pushing the cart around the corner, he nodded at the two boys.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted.  

Robert L. Penick is a life-long resident of Kentucky. His first full-length collection of poems, The Art of Mercy, is now available from Hohm Press, and represents over thirty years of writing. His work has appeared in well over 100 literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, Plainsongs, and Oxford Magazine. 

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