An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
On the surface, all seemed normal. Yvonne was one of many waiting for their orders in the crowded Starbucks. It was noon, and the place was filled with office workers on break, students with an hour or two free, and one parent with children still young enough to not be in school.
But the normality of the situation was betrayed in the tense lines of Yvonne’s shoulders, in her eyes shifting from person to person, in the white of her fingers where she clenched her phone tight. Every so often, she’d surreptitiously look out the window. So far there was nothing, maybe it’d been her imagination after all.
The barista called out her name and order, so she planted a smile on her face and collected her latte. Her nerves increased as she made her way to the door. She was pretty sure the people in here were safe, but outside…
Outside it was even busier. People walking in all directions, a line of cars obscuring her view of the other side of the road, cyclists weaving between them all. But then- there, movement behind a parked car. Someone ducked behind it to hide. Her heartrate skyrocketed. So it wasn’t her imagination after all. Someone was following her.
She clutched her coffee harder and set a past pace in the opposite direction. A quick look behind her proved her correct, the person was in pursuit. Breaking into a sprint, she weaved through the crowd and ducked into an alley. It was one with multiple exits, she chose one at random. The road she exited on was quieter, but not deserted. A place for slower businesses. Good, she didn’t want to know what would happen if she was caught alone.
She glanced behind her, the person could find her any moment. Taking a chance, she entered the nearest building, and was rewarded with sheer relief. It was the library, she would be safe here with all the nooks and crannies to hide in.
She set course for some place in the back, passing by the librarian at the counter who she sent a quick smile to—
Only to freeze, caught in his fathomless unblinking stare. She took a step back. Without breaking his stare, the librarian lifted his hand and rang the little bell on the counter. Immediately, other heads popped up from the shelves, three women and another man, all of them with that same unblinking stare. She felt caught in a trap, although she had no idea why.
From behind her came the light whoosh of the door opening. She turned, breath catching. She hadn’t gotten a good look before, but this had to be her, her stalker. Tall, heavy and with straight black hair slicked back from her face, she stood like a sentry before the door. “Yvonne,” she said, “you have fifteen years worth of library fines. Time to pay up.”
“What?” Yvonne said.
“Fines. You didn’t return your books.”
“Oh.” All fear and tension ebbed away, leaving her a bit empty. Yvonne shook her head, feeling off-balance. “That can’t be right, I just moved here three months ago.”
The woman’s expression didn’t change. “In three different cities.”
Well shit. Fifteen years of fines? She had no idea how much that was and had no intention of finding out.
The woman took a step towards her. “This needs to stop, Yvonne.”
Yvonne pressed her lips together and took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders. They might have caught her, but she could just move somewhere else. A different city, a whole different province if she had to. The woman stepped even closer, but Yvonne had had enough. “You’ll never stop me!” she yelled. With a flash of moment, she hurled her coffee at the woman. She went down screaming as the scalding liquid hit her, and Yvonne ducked around her and out the door. Without a coffee to hold and her pursuer temporarily disabled, she safely escaped into the crowd.
Haarlem – Two months later…
Moving was a hassle she wasn’t keen on repeating. She could only be glad she’d been renting her apartment and didn’t have to deal with selling the place on top of everything else. But now that was over and done with, and she was on her way to a promising job interview.
Right as she was about to enter the nondescript office her phone directed her to, she saw movement in the corner of her eye. She tensed, dread shooting through her. Slowly, hoping against hope it was a false alarm, she turned her head.
There she was, emerging from a shadowed alley like a beast from a horror movie, tall and impeccable, not a strand of hair out of place. Yvonne took a moment to mourn the life she might have had here, and then sprinted for the nearest bus-stop.
Rotterdam — Three months later…
A different city, a different province. She’d stayed away from libraries like they carried the plague, and even kept a wary eye on the nearby bookshops. With a city as high in population as this one, she wouldn’t be found.
Just as the thought entered her mind, a sultry voice came from behind her. “You can’t hide from me, Yvonne.”
She screeched. The fist she put in the librarian’s face was more a reaction to being startled than it was on purpose, but she didn’t regret it. She ran before the librarian could recover, and spitefully hoped she broke her nose.
Wilp — Eight months later…
After big cities proved ineffective, she turned her sights to villages. The tinier, the better. She moved six times in as many months, cutting down on her belongings each time to make the move easier. But now finally, she thought she might be able to settle down again. She was on the other side of the country, with her hair dyed and coloured contacts in, and yesterday her name-change had come through. As long as she stayed away from libraries, she was free.
Two months she spent there. She found a place to work at a clothing store, she made friends with a few women of the jogging club, she even took up gardening, she’d never had a garden before.
She should have known it was too good to be true.
“A new name won’t get rid of your fines, Fauntleroy,” said the newest addition to the jogging club in greeting. She hadn’t even recognised her without her hair in her usual slicked-back style.
When she burst out crying, the librarian patted her shoulder. “There there, don’t worry, I won’t badger you while I’m off duty.”
Yvonne sniffled and wiped her sleeve over her eyes. “You’re not working right now?”
The other joggers looked on confused. “You already know Faunty, Edna?” Jan asked.
The librarian’s—Edna’s—smile was tight. “We’ve met.”
She spent the rest of her jog in a haze. Edna kept her distance, but Yvonne was all too aware of her presence. At the end of it she went home without speaking another word to anyone.
The birds in her garden stared at her as she sat in the grass. Her garden was so nice, and now she’d have to move again. Tears burned in her eyes. She couldn’t do this again.
After a long cry in the grass, clarity returned to her. She wouldn’t sell her house, no matter if Edna now knew where she lived, but she did need a bit of distance, to think and to plan. So she packed her bags, jumped on a train, and scrolled her phone for cheap hotels.
Groningen — two weeks later…
When Edna stepped through the door of the bar Yvonne was sulking in, she lost it. It might have been the alcohol, or maybe the pressure of a year long hide-and-seek game was enough on its own. Whatever the cause, the carnage was the same. Yelling, hitting, hair-pulling and possibly crying. Tables were overturned, drinks spilled and glasses shattered. An hour later they both sat cuffed in the back of a police car, trashed bar vanishing into the distance.
“This is all your fault,” Yvonne muttered, voice thick with tears. “Following me all over the country for some stupid library books, and for what?”
“You’re the one who hasn’t paid her fines,” Edna said mildly. She appeared frustratingly unruffled, it made Yvonne’s blood boil.
The officer hushed her before Edna could respond, but she looked unimpressed. They spent the rest of the ride in silence.
“You’re currently registered as Fauntleroy, but according to our fingerprint database, you’re also Yvonne.” Yvonne nodded. “Are you aware of the missing persons case regarding your old name?”
Yvonne blinked. “No?”
“It appears your family is unaware of your whereabouts. I’ll mark the case solved, but you’ll have to contact your family if you want to.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks.”
She stared at the phone he’d handed her for a long time, deep in thought. She wasn’t going to call them, she knew that much, but she wondered what it meant that they looked for her. When she looked up, Edna was staring at her.
“What?” she snapped.
“You’re not in contact with your family?”
“I don’t much care for them.”
Edna smiled wryly. “I guess that made moving a bit easier.”
“Yeah, well… I’d rather not move again.”
Edna didn’t respond.
She got her wish, at least for a while. She didn’t exactly have the time to move house while doing community service for trashing a bar. Luckily, she didn’t have to worry about Edna going all wrathful librarian on her, because she was in the same boat.
“Do you prefer Faunty, or Yvonne?” Edna asked during their lunch break.
“Either. I like Faunty, but I didn’t change my name because I disliked being Yvonne. ‘Still tend to think of myself as Yvonne anyway.”
Edna nodded. “Why’d you choose Fauntleroy?”
Yvonne examined her face, slightly wary of judgement. Why she was worried about the mad librarian’s opinion of her, she didn’t quite want to examine at the moment. Seeing only honest curiosity, she shrugged. “It’s the coolest name I could come up with. I like how it sounds, you know? Rolls right off the tongue.”
“Fauntleroy.” Edna said it slowly, like she was testing it, feeling the shape of it in her mouth. For some reason, Yvonne’s mouth went dry. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”
When it was time for jogging club, Yvonne found herself jogging next to Edna. Like they were friends. She wasn’t sure what to think of that.
Halfway through, Edna looked like she was going to say something before abruptly swallowing her words. From the serious intense expression she wore right before, Yvonne had an idea what those words were. She rolled her eyes. “You can say it, it’s fine.”
“But I promised-”
“Look, I know I panicked last time—”
“More like every time.”
“—but you look like you’re hurting yourself by not saying anything.”
Edna’s lips twitched. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not,” she said, struggling to keep her face neutral, “completely serious business, this. You’ll pull a cheek muscle or something if you keep this up.”
Edna laughed. “Okay, okay.” She took a calming breath, face going neutral, eyes intense. It was like she pulled on a mask that Yvonne hadn’t even realised she’d taken off. Suddenly, instead of Edna, there was only the librarian. “You should really pay your fines.” As fast as it came, it vanished again as Edna broke into a fit of giggles. “No, but seriously, why don’t you just pay them?”
Yvonne shoved her lightly in the shoulder. “Are you crazy? Fifteen— no, sixteen years of fines? I’m better off buying a library for myself.”
“You know,” said Edna, “if you really don’t want to pay, you can always work them off instead.” Her eyes were doing that intense thing again, but otherwise her face remained relaxed.
“And do what? Scour the country for other scoundrels who haven’t paid their fines?”
“No way.” Yvonne laughed incredulously. “Is that what this is? You’ve been a fellow library criminal this whole time?”
Edna shook her head frantically. “No, no no! I’m not working off any fines, this is my actual job. I’d never!”
Yvonne couldn’t contain a grin. “I don’t believe you. You’re just as bad as I am.”
Yvonne hummed, ignoring Edna’s pitiful lies. “Maybe I will. Could be fun.”
As the weeks went by, Yvonne found herself liking Edna more and more. As their community service came to an end, Yvonne realised she didn’t want to stop spending all that time together.
Very subtly and with much grace, she broached the subject. “Do you—” She definitely didn’t stumble all over her words. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Edna gave her an amused look. “I’m gay.”
“Oh.” Holy shit. She wiped her palms of her pants, trying to look casual. “So… a girlfriend then?”
She forgot how to breathe for a moment. “Okay.” She nodded. “Um, then- do you want to grab a coffee later?”
Edna’s smile was radiant. “As long as you don’t throw it at me.”
And that’s how the legendary Yvonne—also known as Fauntleroy or Faunty, alleged missing person, and retired library criminal—fell in love with the mythical Edna, librarian of the sixth order, and rumoured spy. When they joined forces and went on missions as a team, there was no one who could hide from them for long.
Inspired by this tumblr post by vampireapologist:.