**Inspired by a Facebook post of a tweet from Twitter**
Jake rolled up to the gas pump, and dropped the kickstand before throwing his leg over his bike. He took his helmet off and gasped at a woman standing deep in his personal space who had not been there literally a second ago.
“Jacob Alexander Knightly.”
What the hell? He took two steps back, looking around for cameras or his mom or something. “Yes.” It hadn’t been a question anyway, but he found himself confirming his identity. “But it’s Jake.”
She looked him up and down. “Well, it certainly isn’t Mr. Knightley, is it, Mr. Knightly?” She laughed then and he thought he might have enjoyed it if they were at a bar, and she had let him buy her a drink. But she had literally appeared out of nowhere and knew his full name like some creepy census taker or something. “I do not think Emma or Jane would approve,” she continued, taking in his leather and boots.
A truck with rusty patches pulled up on the opposite side of his pump. A tradesman from the look of him, God bless them all, got out, noted his bike, and gave him a nod. “Nice bike.”
“Thanks,” Jake said reflexively.
“It is a lovely form of conveyance,” the woman said, “which is part of why I am here, Jacob Alexander Knightly.”
“Could you not do that please?” he said firmly. “Who are you anyway?”
“Not do what?” she asked innocently. She was wearing pearls. Like, old lady Queen of England pearls, with the 1990s soccer mom cardigan to match it but it was lime green. And her pants and shoes were weird. Like mother of pearl but fabric. The guy who had complimented his bike was looking at him funny.
“Not do what, man?”
“No, I was talking to her, bro,” Jake said, throwing his gloved thumb toward pearls. But the guy in the reflective vest looked where he was pointing then back at him like he was weird.
“Okay,” he said and then turned sideways and looked toward the street, like to get away from Jake but still pump his gas.
“He doesn’t see me, Jacob Alexander Knightly.” She crossed her arms impatiently. “So, you may want to choose your responses to me more carefully to not continue upsetting the social norms of your primitive time and customs.”
“Primitive time and… seriously, who are you and how do you know my name?”
Jake looked back at vest guy, but he had already pulled the nozzle out of his truck, spilling some gas in the process. He rehung the handle, that click that anyone knows who doesn’t drive a Tesla, and got back in his truck muttering “Nope. Not today. Nope.”
“This isn’t funny,” Jake said, about to get back on his bike and get anywhere but here but he wouldn’t go far unless he got gas. Apparently, he was not one of those cool guys who could go along with the jokes like, oh that’s totally what this was. Some weird new version of Impractical Jokers.
“It is not meant to be funny, Jacob Alexander Knightly. It is very serious or I would not be here.”
“Well, what’s your name?” he asked, going for casual, trying not to keep scanning for the cameras and sound poles. Were they hidden in the flat roof above them? The laser digital ones like from a spy movie?
“You may call me Miriam.”
“I will answer to that as well.”
She was purposefully being obtuse. He was sure of it. Was that part of the schtick? “No, what’s your last name? And are you about to ask me to ride my bike or tell me a story and try to get me to agree with you or something? Let’s go then, I have places to be.”
She frowned at him. “That is all unnecessary, irrelevant even. I am here because you owe a total of,” she looked at her palm then back at him, “Six hundred thirty two dollars and forty six cents in past due library fines in four states,” she checked her palm again. “Across nine cities and fourteen counties and failed to return one of only five surviving copies of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.”
This was messed up. So messed up. The joke was starting to not be funny and the spilled gas on the concrete beside him was really starting to account for some of this crazy. “First off, I have never read that book or seen the movies, and—”
She looked at her palm again. “You were in a vampire reading phase and followed the Twilight series with works by Anne Rice, The Vampire Academy Series of books, and—”
“You can’t possibly know that.” This wasn’t funny anymore. Not even a little. “Who the hell are you, and what’s on your hand?” He wanted to grab it and see himself, but he was also afraid to touch her, afraid this was some full on Twilight Zone situation and he’d been training for the wrong freaking apocalypse.
“I am from the Society for the Recovery and Preservation of Ancient Literature and Libraries.”
“That’s not a thing,” Jake said, still trying to replay what she’d just said to be sure.
“It is very much a thing, Mr. Knightly,” she laughed again. “Forgive me, the irony in your surname delights me.”
“That’s not a thing,” he said again, trying to convince himself and really thinking it was time to get on the bike and get the fruit loops out of here and just see how far down the road he could get before stalling out.
“It is, Mr. Knightly, and me and my fellow bounty hunters are—”
“I’m sorry, what? Bounty hunters? You’re not a bounty hunter.”
“I am,” she said, nonplussed.
“There’s no bounty on me,” he said. “No warrants, not an unpaid parking ticket, just some library fines that I may have, and this is no admission of guilt here, but may have moved away from rather than pay.”
She looked at him over the tops of her tortoise shell glasses which he hated himself for even thinking it but that made her look very sexy. In addition to being completely impossible, which this whole situation was completely impossible. It had to be someone who knew him and knew what he’d read which made for a short list. How much were they paying her? Was he about to go viral?
“Your unpaid fines are the bounty, Mr. Knightly.” Wait, she was pissed now? She’d spawned from nothing in his personal space like a video game and kept calling him by his full name and she was the one acting put out? “Late fees go toward the purchase of more materials and to maintain book and material collections. I am here to collect them, and if I have to explain anything else beyond that task to you, you will have to move somewhere less public.”
“Less public, right,” he scoffed. None of his organs were ending up on the black market.“Hard pass, lady. You have a good one.” He made to put his helmet back on and felt her touch his sleeve. He was instantly cold, like being dipped in ice water cold, and then fine again as he lowered his helmet. Except they were in a library now, not the gas station, and he didn’t know whether to scream, run, stand there, or what.
But as he looked at pearls watching him intently, two things were very, very clear.
He should have gone to church more. And he really should have paid those library fines.