by W. Arthur
When the American Library Association came out in total opposition to any attempt by the government to block pornographic Internet sites at public libraries, Ida Tarrington paid little attention. A strong, austere woman and the oldest daughter of a Baptist preacher, Miss Tarrington (as she preferred to be called) viewed herself as the last guardian of purity in Ashford County. Now over fifty and never married, she was the stereotypical small town librarian, complete with flowing dresses and reading glasses. She even wore her long dark hair in a bun.
Immediately after being appointed librarian in 1988, the self-appointed crusader banned from the library shelves any book or magazine she deemed to be prurient; she declared that neither she nor the county would in any way subsidize lewd or sinful behavior. In a few weeks, gone was Playboy and Penthouse, along with such classics of literature as Moll Flanders, Fanny Hill, and Lady Chatterley's Lover.
But in this rural county of some forty or so thousand people, having computers with Internet access in the library was something she simply couldn't stop, even though she herself saw the technology as the work of Satan. Still, she had to admit that access to the World Wide Web did speed up research and exposed many of her patrons to new and valuable possibilities - crop reports, stock market analyses, the latest information on feed and fertilizer. She felt good and fulfilled when a veteran farmer was able to sell his crop for a higher price or increase his yield just with a few mouse clicks.
But god help any young man (or woman) she caught using the Internet for any purpose that didn't fall within her very narrow range of what she considered appropriate. She didn't post a set of rules anywhere in the library - she didn't really need to; almost everyone knew what the rules were, since they hadn't really changed for two generations.
Occasionally, someone would get it in his head to test those rules or forget that Miss Ida Tarrington was a woman with more than a little power in this small county. Perhaps this is how it started for Cloy Bigelow on a crisp snowy evening in early December.
Cloy, the son of the only barber in the county seat, was in the nearly deserted library supposedly to finish up a paper he was writing for the English class he was taking at Compton Creek Community College in nearby Mitchell County. He was writing an essay comparing farm life at the turn of the twentieth century to what it was today. He was using the Internet to access photographs and written diaries from different county historical societies. As he was nearing completion of his research and had printed out several old photos, he suddenly remembered a web site he had seen while visiting the home of one of his classmates, Burton Sinclair. He had only seen the pictures for a few minutes and they weren't really that good.
However, for Cloy, who had spent his entire nineteen years in a small town and was shy around women, the quick glimpse into the world of erotica was more than enough to make him realize what he was missing. And like most healthy young men of his generation (and before), he wanted more now that he had the taste.
On this Tuesday evening with the clock approaching nine, he leaned back in the office chair and scanned the library. There was only one patron, and Miss Tarrington was nowhere to be seen. A little voice inside his head told him to get up and go home, that what he was thinking about doing was both wrong and dangerous. However, another voice - this one stronger, as though it had been marinated in testosterone - shouted for him to do it, that it would be all right, especially if it was only just for a few minutes. Cloy Bigelow listened to the second voice.
After one more quick scan of his surroundings, he typed in a search command and he was immediately rewarded by menus and hundreds of links to free pictures of naked women. It was almost more than he could handle. His fingers and mind became one, urging him on to behave as a child left alone in a candy store after closing time. Both time and place lost their meaning for him as he was transported from bedroom to bedroom. He had had no idea that there were that many beautiful women in the world willing to take off their clothes and pose with their legs so provocatively spread.
Then, just as he was virtually drooling over a set of photographs of a dark haired beauty from Russia, he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. For an instant he froze as reality began to intrude itself into his muddled and over-stimulated brain. Finally, it was the voice that penetrated completely. "Closing time, Cloy," Miss Tarrington said.
Perhaps if he had moved the cursor to 'Home' and left-clicked, he might have been able to conceal what he had been doing. Perhaps. But he didn't move the cursor. Instead, he became so flustered that his right hand slipped off the mouse and banged against the table. He dared a glance over his shoulder and saw that her sharp blue eyes, aided by the windows of the reading glasses, were staring directly at the screen. Her face was flushed and her full lips parted slightly. When he came to his senses, he tried to put his hand back on the mouse, but she stopped him.
"I think you better come with me," she said in a voice that was remarkably calm.
In a near panic, Cloy looked around the library, hoping to god that he was not alone, that there was still at least one patron left. But God was not available to him on this particular evening. It was only him and the librarian.
"Uh... uh... I... was just doing some research, Miss Tarrington," he stammered stupidly. "I was just... uh... finishing up... I will shut down the computer and leave."
Miss Tarrington scowled deeply and increased the pressure of her hand on his shoulder. She was surprisingly strong for a woman her age.
"I'm not blind, Cloy Bigelow," she said. "I can see perfectly well what you're looking at... and I don't think it's research... not unless you're looking for different ways to get into Hell."
Now he fully understood that he was in deep trouble. "Please, Miss Tarrington... I was... well, I was..." But he paused. His tongue suddenly felt as though it was stuck to the roof of his mouth.
She folded her arms across her chest and glowered at him. "You were just what?" she taunted.
He cast his eyes to the floor. "I was... I was just... curious... that's all," he managed to say.
Her lips curled into a tight little smile that had absolutely no humor in it. "I will not have this sort of thing in my library," she said in a thundering voice.
He gathered his breath in a desperate attempt to calm himself. "Of course, Miss Tarrington," he said meekly. "I understand completely and I'm sorry. It will never happen again, I swear." He thought he sounded convincing and gazed at her hopefully.
But Miss Ida Tarrington was apparently unmoved by his appeal. "I think you better come with me," she said, her right hand forming a vice around his ear. "Unless of course you would prefer that I call your mother and tell her what I found you researching."
The young man groaned loudly and swallowed hard. Ida Tarrington and his mother both sang in the choir at the Morristown Baptist Church and were in the same Bible study class. He knew his mother would be devastated if she knew her only son had been looking at pornography on the Internet. Thus, with the image of his mother on her knees praying for forgiveness firmly in his mind, he slid his chair back and stood up. Besides, his ear felt like it was being twisted off.
"Please... please, Miss Tarrington - don't call my mother... please."
The librarian flashed an evil, self-satisfied smile. "You know, Cloy, your father made the same plea when I caught him with a copy of that filthy magazine, Playboy. I guess that was what... twenty-two or twenty-three years ago... a couple of years before he married your mother. Maybe the old saying, like father like son, is true."
For an instant, Cloy couldn't believe what he was hearing. He couldn't imagine his father doing anything but cut hair, work around the house, listen patiently to his wife, and go to church on Sunday.
"You... you caught my father... with Playboy?" he echoed.
She twisted his ear and he grimaced with the intensity of the pain. "Yes, Cloy," she said. "He was on a one-way path to Hell... but I put him back on the straight and narrow path to the holy gates."
Cloy was close enough that he could see the evangelical fire in her eyes. On occasion, he had seen the same fire in his mother's eyes.
"How... did you do that?" he heard himself ask.
"That, young man, is what I intend to show you," she answered boldly. She twisted his ear one more time and directed him toward the main desk. It was now very clear that they were all alone in the library.
An awkward and painful moment later, Cloy Bigelow found himself in a large workroom behind the main desk. Miss Tarrington closed the door behind them and locked it. Then she released his ear with a flourish that brought him to his knees. While he was recovering, she walked over to a desk and opened one of the drawers.
"My father had many ways to keep us kids on the straight and narrow," she said. "But one was more effective than all the others."
Cloy was curious but he said nothing, didn't dare ask the question.
While he watched her, she pulled her hand from the drawer. Gripped tightly in her fingers was a thick black leather strap. It appeared to be well-worn. She held it out proudly.
"This is it, Cloy," she said. "God's holy instrument. My father blessed this himself, sprinkled holy water on it."
His eyes widened as he gazed at the strap. It appeared to be anything but blessed. All of a sudden, he was possessed with a nearly uncontrollable urge to run. He was younger and stronger than she was; he could make it to the door and beyond before she could stop him. Of course, what good would that do him? He knew he would only have to face the wrath of his mother when he eventually made it home - and he would have to go home.
"Drop your pants and bend over the table, Cloy Bigelow," she commanded. "Just like your father did; just like so many of you foolish, sinful young men have done. I will not let you go to Hell... not if I can stop it."
He was gripped with indecision. He couldn't believe that simply looking at a few pictures of naked women on the Internet would condemn him to an eternity in Hell. One thing he did understand, however, was that he would face Hell on Earth if his mother found out what he had been doing. It all seemed so innocent, he thought to himself. Of course, maybe that's the way all serious sinners start out.
Miss Tarrington lifted the strap and pointed it at him. "We're wasting time, Cloy," she said. "Now, get over that table right now or get out of here and let your mother and father deal with you."
Once again, the image of his distraught mother danced in his head. Going home to face her was definitely not an option.
Not to be reposted, reproduced or distributed, in part or whole.