Monday, July 1, 2024

“How to Return an Overdue Book to the Summer Library” • by Carol Scheina

GPS couldn’t get you to the Summer Library.

Only someone who was lost could find it, and Beno was lost, indeed, as he stumbled through the woods. The story of his life: he had no direction at all.

But that was what the Summer Library was for.

When he spotted the Library in the clearing, Beno felt tension drift away like wispy clouds. Books snuggled into hollow openings in trees, and weaves of vines formed nets that gently rocked other tomes.

A woman approached, twigs in her graying hair, her dress swishing with green leaves. “Back again, Beno? Let me get your book.”

The Librarian always picked out the book, which was helpful, as they all looked identical, with rough covers like a tree’s wrinkled bark.

Handing over the book, she reminded him, as always, “Don’t forget to return it on the last day of summer.”

“I won’t.” His hands caressed the rough cover, then peeled it open. The brown script, curling like vines, read: “Beno followed the moon and found the trail. He went right at the fork.”

How delightful it was to have directions again. Beno walked toward the waxing moon, then turned right.


Beno had been lost the first time he found the Library, some ten years past. He had just wanted to go somewhere in life, but even this hike sent him in circles. He didn’t expect to stumble into a library in the middle of the forest.

“My goodness, you’re quite lost,” the Librarian had said. She handed him a book.

“What’s this?”

“Something to help you find your way.”


Ever since, the books had been his own personal building instructions on how all the pieces of his life fit. He just had to keep reading and his life would assemble properly.

With this latest book, Beno read as far as he could, until the script faded. That part hadn’t grown in yet. But he now knew to mail his bills on time. He made the deadline at work for the first time that year, much to his boss’ astonishment. As a major bonus, he got to exchange smiles with Justin in Accounting, who always made Beno’s heart do a little happy dance.

Over the next few weeks, the pages grew more of his future. Beno devoured each swirling curl.

As September inched closer, Beno felt restless. He’d always returned the book at summer’s end, but then, he was left the whole winter lost. He’d forget to buy groceries, pay bills, turn in paperwork on time at work. Stuck in circles of endless failure.

What if he kept the book a bit longer this time? Just a week or two, Beno decided, to see what grew in.

How quickly the pages turned crinkly and stiff. By September’s end, they were shades of red and yellow, crumbling into pieces.

Beno slipped the fragile book into a plastic baggie and set out for the forest. The moon’s silvery slice barely lit his way. His feet found branches to stumble over, and the wind found gaps in his jacket.

“Hello! I’m a bit overdue!” Beno shouted when he spotted the clearing.

No books rested in the hollows. The vines swung empty.

The Librarian walked up, her leaf-dress shades of red and brown, rake in hand. “The Summer Library’s closed.”

“Can I still return this?” Beno held up the baggie.

She shook her head. “We’re clearing things for the Winter Library.”

“What’s the Winter Library?”

“Stories of what’s past and done.”

His past was full of mistakes—he didn’t want that. “I just want something to guide me forward.”

“We’ll need a replacement for your overdue book.”

Beno started to pull out his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

“No money necessary. I need you to write your future in this.” The Librarian pressed a book into Beno's hand, brown bark cover and empty pages.

Write his future?

The Librarian continued. “Fill the book, and come summer, return it. Then you can check out another.”

Well, he could imagine a future, right? Beno took the book.

At home, he wrote the first line: “Beno got a big promotion at work.” He snorted. Then, “Beno learned to make soufflés.”

He almost didn’t think about his next words: “Beno asked out Justin in Accounting.” If only he could, but … how?

Justin had never appeared in a Summer Library book before, though they’d exchanged smiles for years. In fact, the book never brought other people into his life. Probably they just complicated things.

Still, Beno wondered about Justin. After two weeks, he went back and re-read his scribbles. Justin’s name popped up 151 times. With each word, the story seemed more real, like he’d already done it.

Sitting at his work desk, Beno wrote his 152nd sentence about Justin, imagining the words were in brown script just like in his real book from the Summer Library. Like instructions he was meant to follow. Almost without realizing it, he walked into Accounting right up to Justin, the words he had written springing from his tongue like a new-grown leaf.

Justin’s nod and smile made Beno feel his story was overflowing with life.


When summer’s heat arrived, Beno found himself wandering off trails holding a leafy book filled with messy scribbles. He’d crossed out some stuff. Some of what he’d written had never come true. Some stuff, amazingly, had actually happened. The writing felt lived in.

He found the clearing, but no Library. He tried getting lost again, but no books. No Librarian. He placed his story on the ground and called out, “Sorry about the overdue book.” A bird twittered in reply.

He had to go. Justin was waiting in the parking lot. Beno didn’t look back.

The Librarian smiled as she admired the newest addition to the Summer Library. Not all books had words on the cover, but this one grew a dark script that read, “My Life, By Beno.”


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative author whose stories have appeared in publications such as Flash Fiction Online, Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots, Stupefying Stories, and others. Her writing has been recognized on the Wigleaf Top 50 Short Fiction Longlist, and she has become a fan favorite for her finely crafted flash fiction pieces on the Stupefying Stories website. You can find more of her work at

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to read “True Love is Found in the Bone Sea,” here on SHOWCASE, or “The Burning Skies Bring His Soul,” in STUPEFYING STORIES 24. Or at the very least, read “The Disappearing Cat Trick,” in The Odin Chronicles, Season 1. 

This link will take you to a unorganized list of Carol’s previous stories on this site. I’m particularly fond of “The View from the Old Ship.” You should read it. You should also take a look at “The Burning Skies Bring His Soul,” which you’ll find in SS#24, which is now FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.