I’d heard stories about The Cumbernauld Flasher from friends but none of us really believed he existed. He was an urban legend, constantly shifting shape and location, a threat we didn’t actually take too seriously. And then one day I did. Nearly a decade ago while working in Abronhill Library, close to the school where Gregory’s Girl was filmed. I’d never liked Abronhill, having renamed it Abronhell out of sheer malice. In my little world, nearly everything gets a nickname. My co-worker was Beatrice. She was a hoot until she needed help with the Book Bingo, which always resulted in a total personality shift in the direction of outright hostility. All the sheets had to be cut perfectly, the signs positioned the proper way, which wasn’t always something I understood. Bea knew instinctively how something in her library had to look, and went to great lengths to make it all happen.
Bea had a habit of obsessively shopping on eBay. This meant she (as with the local area) gained a nickname… eBea. It made sense at the time and I thought it quite fitting. Really, I liked eBea a lot, even though she filled the back with the library with bric-a-brac she never needed. Weird ornaments that appeared during charity coffee morning, fitness equipment that ended up thrown into a shapeless tangle of plastic and metal, where it belonged. eBea once took on a thief who stole an out-of-date copy of the Yellow Pages, chasing the man down the street while shouting stop thief that man’s a thief until he sheepishly dropped it and headed in another direction, one far away from the library.
Every lunchtime, eBea would head through the back to have something to eat and I’d take charge of the desk, returning and issuing copies of Mills & Boon to the pensioners. One pensioner thought Bea’s name was Peaches. Where’s peaches, she’d growl. None of us knew what she was going on about until we suddenly did. Then we laughed.
Being left alone was never a big deal except for when I suddenly became fearful of The Cumbernauld Flasher coming for me. My sister inadvertently stoked this fear by warning me about The Flasher. Kick him in the baws if you see him, she said. Why he’d choose me, I don’t know, but paranoia and rationality sometimes hold hands. So there I was at the desk, trying to track down a rare book online, when he arrived with his bicycle into Abronhell Library. There’s a small booth by the entrance that I could see from over my shoulder. It connects the main door with the inner door, creating a small hallway. He was slightly dishevelled, dressed in black, with unkempt hair and a beard. I was all alone while eBea was having her lunch and reading Take A Break through the back. Suddenly, I had a terrifying feeling this man could be The Flasher. My sister’s warning was about to come true.
Hello, he said while laying what looked like a bent bike against the wall. I’ve got fines to pay.
Can I have your membership card? I asked, whilst reaching for the panic alarm or my can of homemade mace. Whatever my hand reached first. The man, who I’ll call Mr. Magic, found his membership card by rooting around in his pocket. I waited, completely unimpressed. Finding the card, I scanned it and brought his details up onscreen. While this was happening, Mr. Magic took the opportunity to lean across the desk and ask a question:
Would you like to see a magic trick?
No, I cried out. Actually, I thought he was going to make a comment about showing his ‘magic wand’ or something equally clichéd and horrible.
Mr. Magic ignored me and reached down into his pocket again…
I braced myself to kick his baws.
Then he pulled a lighter. His magic trick involved a lighter.
Sprinklers, I cried out, pointing upwards at her emergency fire system.
Oh, he said, looking completely crestfallen. I’ll never forget his disappointment. His face seemed to fold into his beard. He probably spent all his time racking up library fines, riding his bent bike, and performing magic tricks. Suddenly realising he was a harmless sort, I sorted out his overdue books and waited for him to leave. That’s when I noticed the rather large hole on the back of his trousers. He wasn’t The Flasher, but if he didn’t get that stitched up, he might end up giving people a flash anyway.
eBea returned from lunch and I told her all about my encounter with Mr. Magic.
Did he want to show you a magic trick?
Yes, I told her, but I could see she looked slightly dubious.
A few seconds later, she was online looking for bargains on eBay. I just sat at the desk waiting for the next customer, wondering how I’d react if someone in a long coat entered the building…