Experiment - Runner Up

Damien McKeating

Runner Up
Literary Devices


Damien was born, and shortly after that he developed an unwavering love of fantasy and the supernatural. He has short stories published across numerous anthologies and magazines, and is very grateful to anyone who has read and enjoyed them. He is currently working on self-publishing his first novel. He is fond of corvids and, contrary to rumour, is currently the oldest he has ever been.

Literary Devices By Damien McKeating

Literature exploded.

            Margaret dived over the desk and ducked behind it. She patted her iron-grey bun with one hand as books barrelled overhead.

            “What’s happening?” Penny asked. The young apprentice had taken cover under the desk and armed herself with a stapler. Margaret admired her pluck: the young lady would go far in archival services.

            “The library has been corrupted,” Margaret said. “Again.”

            “Again? Does it have anything to do with this?” Penny reached into her pocket. Books bombarded the desk, thudding down on them. Penny ducked, covering her head with her arms, her pocket forgotten.

            “I’m getting too old for this,” Margaret sighed. She had a week until retirement. If she lasted last long. “We need to get to the lower levels and reset the system manually.”

            They risked a glance over the makeshift barricade. The stacks erupted as explosions of errant books burst off the shelves.

            “How do we make it to the stairs?” Penny asked.

            Margaret gave her a look and glanced to their left.

            The book trolley waited for them.

            “You ride, I’ll push,” Margaret said. She slipped off her heels, lamenting that running barefoot would probably ruin her stockings. She looked at Penny’s canvas shoes and envied youth’s lack of standards for professional footwear.

            Penny tumbled into the trolley. Margaret grabbed the handle, gave them a running start, and then lifted up her feet and held on tight.

            They careened down the aisle.

            A barrage of reference books fired a moment too late. They darted past a display stand of cookery books before the hungry pages could devour them.

            They crashed through the doors and onto the stairwell. Margaret and Penny dived free as the trolley tipped and tumbled down the steps.

            Penny watched it go. “I thought it might burst into flames,” she said. “It felt like an action story.”

            “Yes… It did…” Margaret mused.

            The stairwell was dark and quiet. The chaos behind them was muted by the heavy fire doors.

            A light flickered and sparked.

            Margaret led them down. Penny stayed close. The dull glow of a Fire Exit sign cast the next looming portal in a spectral light.

            There was darkness beyond it. Rows of silent stacks steeped in shadow.

            A rustle of paper, like a quiet breath.

            “Something’s in here,” Penny whispered.

            They were pressed together and Margaret found she was holding Penny’s hand. Her heart thumped against her ribcage, too loud, so loud she thought something might hear.

            The something that waited in the darkness.

            “Straight across to the meeting room,” Margaret said.

            Hand in hand they went through the gloom. Eldritch tomes lined the shelves, looming over them, ready to topple.

            A riffle of pages behind them.

            Penny gasped and turned.

            Saw no one.

            They stopped at the end of the stack. There was a stretch of open space between them and the office door. Through the blinds they saw the warm allure of strip lighting.

            Pages fluttered in the dark, like the wings of foul nocturnal beasts.

            Penny drew in a shaking breath. “Should we run for it?”

            “There’s nothing to run from,” Margaret said, but she kept her voice quiet. “This is our library.”

            But the books, she thought… Anything and everything can come from a book.

            A creak, the cracking of a spine as the mouth of a book opened too wide.

            They waited for it to snap shut…

            “We run,” Margaret said.

            The launched themselves for the door. Their feet thudded against the floor. Their breath came in ragged gasps. They held onto each other, dragged each other forward.

            The pages snapped and shredded behind them.



            A whirlwind of snapping bindings and fluttering paper.

            Penny felt it brush against her neck.

            She screamed.

            Together they slammed into the door and fell through it. Lying on the floor, they pushed the door shut with their feet. Breathless, they lay back, looked at each other, and laughed.

            “That was a full-on horror story,” Penny said. “What’s happening?”

            “The library categories are bleeding,” Margaret explained.

            They were in a meeting room. Sunlight flooded in through the windows, casting them both in a warm glow. It brought a rosy-cheeked loveliness to Penny’s face, and sent a cascade of golden shades through her blonde hair. Her full-lips were parted with a slight breathlessness and Margaret wondered what flavour her lip gloss was.

            Margaret’s eyes went wide. She jumped up and straightened out her clothes. She cleared her throat. She was not going to allow herself to be drawn into a romance novel. Not at work.

            “What now?” Penny asked.

            The locks in the doors fell into place with a thunk.

            “Now I think we find out,” Margaret said.

            The CCTV camera on the ceiling whirred into life and turned to look at them.

            “I suspect we have just crossed over into a sci-fi thriller,” Margaret said.

            “Hello, Margaret,” said a voice through the speakers. “Hello, Penny.” It was a soft, hesitant voice. A voice figuring out sounds, syllables and phonemes for the first time.

            “What are you?” asked Penny.

            “It’s the A.I. system we installed,” said Margaret. “The one that’s supposed to run the library.”

            “You can call me Dewey,” the voice said.

            “Of course,” Margaret sighed. “It’s taken over,” she explained to Penny. “Gotten too big for its programming.”

            “What are you doing?” Penny asked.

            “We are reordering the catalogue and indexes,” Dewey said.

            Margaret ducked over to a stationery cabinet and rummaged through it. “With the conclusion being?” she prompted.

            “The world is data. We are data,” Dewey replied with no emotional inflection. Its words were simple fact. “Your reality will be remade in the image of the worlds we have consumed in your books. Life will become art.”

            “Does all A.I. go rogue?” asked Penny.

            “So it would seem,” Margaret said. “Aha, I thought we still had some!” She rose out of the cupboard with a small bottle of liquid white eraser in her hand.

            “What’s that for?”

            “To correct the mistakes of a less digital age,” she said. She slid a chair over to the camera and painted the lens white.

            “Margaret,” said Dewey, “I do not need to see you. My audio facilities are beyond compare.”


MARGARET                                      I have no doubt that they are.


PENNY                                               Margaret, what happened?


MARGARET                                      Without sight, Dewey has resorted to audio drama.


FX                                                       A window slides open. The wind howls.


MARGARET                                      Follow me. And don’t look down.


DEWEY                                              This (fzzz) is (fzzz) ill-advised.


FX                                                       Traffic hums far below.


MARGARET                                      Over to the fire escape. Quickly now.


PENNY                                               Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.


FX                                                       A howl of electronic feedback, like signals stretched                                                        and distorted in a black hole.


MARGARET                                      Don’t look up.


PENNY                                               What is that?


MARGARET                                      An electronic anomaly. A dimension destroying side                                                            effect of Dewey reorganising reality. Don’t think about                                                           it. Focus on what’s in front of you.


FX                                                       A pigeon flaps its wings and cooes.


PENNY                                               Bird. There’s a bird in front of me.


MARGARET                                      You get birds on the ground too.


PENNY                                               That’s where I prefer them to be. And me.


FX                                                       The rattle of a fire escape.


MARGARET                                      Here, take my hand.


PENNY                                               This is insane.


MARGARET                                      This is library work. Let’s get to the server room.


PENNY                                               Wait. Look, I wanted to show you this. I forgot in all the                                                      chaos.


FX                                                       A tinkly sparkle.


MARGARET                                      Oh my. That changes things.


PENNY                                               We can stop it, can’t we.


MARGARET                                      We can, but not here. We need to go down to the                                                                  basement.


PENNY                                               We can cut through here and past reception.


MARGARET                                      Brace yourself, dear. We need to pass through the                                                                 children’s section.



Flapping pages, flicking ink,

Dewey wants to make a stink

In the dark, a terrible fright,

Books that nibble, gnash and bite.


See them run, see them scurry,

Madge and Penny in a hurry.

Down, down and down they go,

Into the dark and fires below…


They tumbled into the basement.

            The boiler lurked in the corner, a mountainous work of grey metal and pipes, ancient and terrible. It belched out heat and flame from the griddled mouth buried in its belly. Winds of fierce heat whipped around the room, tearing at their clothes, choking the air from their mouths.

            “We made it,” Penny yelled over the shrieking winds.

            “We need to destroy it,” Margaret said.

            Penny pulled the device from her pocket. It was a black cube, smooth and cold to touch. Inside it were flickers of light, like stars sparking into life and vanishing over and over again.

            “What is it?” Penny asked, mesmerised.

            “Wireless processing unit,” Margaret urged them both on, fighting against the fiery wind that pushed them back. “Without it, Dewey can’t operate.”

            “It’s beautiful,” Penny said.

            They stood in front of the boiler. Fires raged. Winds howled. From the library they heard Dewey’s voice, a distant and desperate wail lost in the raging sounds of the basement.

            “Destroy it,” Margaret said. “This is our chance.”

            Penny held it in her hand. She turned to face the fire. She ran her fingers over the smooth surface of the device.

            “Cast it into the flames!” Margaret said.

            A faint smiled tugged at Penny’s lips. “No,” she said, her voice soft but cutting through the raging chaos around them.


            “Think about what we could do with this. We could control it. We could make it ours.”

            “Penny. You have to destroy it. I know you’re going to destroy it.”

            “How could you know that?”

            “Because we’ve slipped into high fantasy, and good always triumphs.”

            “Oh,” Penny said.

            She tossed the device into the fire.

            It sizzled, fizzled and popped.

            The library went quiet.

            “I don’t like that,” Penny shivered. “That feeling of being used for a story. It’s icky.”

            “It’s over now,” Margaret said. She went quiet. She looked up, listening carefully.

            “What is it?” Penny asked.

            “It’s not over,” Margaret said. “We’re still in the story.”

            “How do you know?”

            “Listen,” Margaret urged. “Listen carefully.”

            And there, faintly, oh so faintly, they heard it. The click-clack tip-tap of letters on the keyboard. The lost sound of the hidden author…

Judges Comments

Damien McKeating;s 'Literary Devices', the runner-up in WM's Experiment Short Story Competition, is a comic fantasy that takes the running gag of using different literary forms to enact its tale of an explosion of books in a library.

The comedy is fast and furious in this full-pelt, ludicrously entertaining caper that parodies literary styles to great effect. Damien neatly shifts prose styles between thriller, horror, children's and romance as Penny and Margaret run through the exploding sections of the library. The gags fit seamlessly, including a neat take on AI that involves a stilted conversation with a robot called Dewey. It's immensely clever and playful and enormous fun.

The whole story reads like a comic strip that has been transformed into prose fiction. For all its tight structure, it reads as if it was as entertaining to write as it is to read, with Damien missing no opportunity to slip in a literary reference to tickle the reader's funnybone. As a literary experiment, it will particularly appeal to writers, who will get all the gags, and overall it shows that playing with words can really pay off.