Round and Round Part 13
Round and Round Part 12 ended with Althea saying: “I would like to come in on the night of the next full moon.”
…which was only a few days away.
“I don’t know. Let me think about it,” the bookseller responded.
“I do not believe any harm could come to me. We cannot let these monthly vandalisms continue.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Well, think then. It is not far off.”
“I would come in to be with you,” the bookseller added.
“No. I would not like you to see me at that time, in those circumstances,” Althea replied in calm seriousness.
“Well! All this is very exciting, but we have a bookstore to run today and chatting in the office is not getting anything bought, sold, priced or stocked,” Sally interjected breaking the spell.
The bookseller half rose from his desk chair and leaned forward to pin the ring back upon the wall.
“What’s the plan today?” he asked brightly.
“‘Price and stock’! Your usual mantra. We’ll go out to the storage shed and bring some boxes in to be priced.”
Althea and Sally exited the office together. The bookseller remained and stared at the wall before him. The ring glowed a bit. It seemed to warm at his attention. He broke away and headed out into the bookstore.
The bell above the front door jingled brightly as Sally and Althea exited together.
The bookseller heard Sally say: “Althea, did I ever tell you about the time Dera started bringing books from the dollar carts back inside?”
He smiled at the memory although it had made him very unhappy at the time. He had returned from a couple days off tending to Priscilla to find about 53 crap books on the stocking shelves behind the counter.
He asked: “Dera, where did you find these? I told you I wanted to review anything you bought before it got priced and put out into stock.”
She’d replied: “I went foraging on the dollar carts on the porch while you were away. There’s some good material out there, and I think I can make you some money by bringing them in and raising their prices.”
He told her for the twenty-third time: “Dera, I’m very interested in your ideas. But you’ve only worked in books a couple months. If you want to make any changes, you gotta clear them with me. I am sure I’ll give you opportunities to experiment even if I’m dubious about their success. But I don’t like surprises. And everything that is done here reflects on me and the store…and Priscilla.”
“There’s no reason to put books outside that can be sold for more inside!” Dera was not engaging his eyes. She was staring above him. Her demeanor was of one talking down to someone who just doesn’t understand what is good for them.
“Dera, I put books out on the cart precisely because they haven’t sold—for a very long time. Or I find there are too many copies of them on the shelves. Just ask me, and I can explain stuff.”
He stepped over to stocking shelf and began pulling books off of it. Dera had peeled off the $1 price stickers and had repriced them all at $5 and up. He began carrying them back out to the porch. The bell above the door clinked dully when he pushed the door open.
Over his shoulder he asked Dera: “Would you bring the rest of those out and mark them back down to a dollar?”
As he was rising from putting the big stack of books on the porch floor, Dera fairly burst out the front. The bell made a panicked jangle. She had a pricing gun in one hand and about 5 books in the other. Her face was crimson red and her hair wild—as if she’d pulled out whatever hair ties had been holding it together.
She dropped to her knees and began stickering the books maniacally—banging the gun down upon the back of each book. Mumbled words—curses, he supposed—sputtered from her lips.
The bookseller stepped inside and behind the counter. He boxed the remaining cart books and carried them out to the porch. The soft jingle the bell above the door had conveyed a bit of a sigh. For the next hour, he heard carts banging against the exterior walls outside behind him.
Then the bookseller’s reverie of the now funny past was broken by the bright ringing of the bell above the door. Sally and Althea were each rolling in a handcart laden with 5 boxes full of books to be priced.
“Remember when we couldn’t get into the break room?” Sally asked the bookseller. But she was really just opening an opportunity to gossip a bit more about Dera.
The bookseller chuckled as the memory came back to him.
“Oh, my God! Dera! One day she went on a pricing binge. Of course, it was when I wasn’t here for a few days. She went out to the shed and brought all the boxes of sorted books on to the front porch. It must have been about 151 boxes. The boxes were the ones that are ready to price. They have their price points written on the side in magic marker. She began pricing box after box and carrying the books in and putting them on the floor in the aisles. She must have done about 53 the first day because the floors were a mess when I got back. She left for the day, and when she came the next morning to open, an elderly couple were rooting through the boxes she had left on the porch overnight. She went ballistic!
“A regular was in her car waiting for the store to open—she was 23 minutes late, by the way—Dera had left her store keys at home…for the 11th time, I think. The regular—Serafina, you both know her—said she ran onto the porch and pulled the books out of the couple’s hands and began screaming:
“‘These books are not ready yet! You can’t have them! Why were you going through these boxes?!’
“Serafina said she was actually jumping up and down with books in both hands.
“The husband apologized and said they were just looking for books while they were waiting for the store to open.
“‘I can’t help it the dog knocked my keys off the kitchen counter! I’ll have the store open in 17 minutes!’
“‘May we come in and look while…’
“Serafina said the wife starting crying, and they both hobbled off the porch and got in their car and left. They left a stack of 31 books they were going to buy on the porch floor behind. I think I know who they were too. Good customers—antique dealers—who would stop in once a year on their way to Florida. They’d buy boxes of pretty books—gilt publishers’ bindings. They didn’t care much about the subject or author. I haven’t seen them since.
“Anyway, Serafina waited til the store opened—now about 37 minutes late. She said while she shopped Dera began maniacally carrying the boxes into the store and putting them into a room behind the counter.
“I came back from the hospice a couple days later, and I couldn’t get into the break room to make coffee. Dera didn’t leave a note or anything.”
“You had to climb in through a window!” Sally laughed uproariously. “I wished I’d seen that!”
“It wasn’t funny at the time. The break room was filled with boxes. A stack had fallen over and blocked the door. The only way to get in was the window. I was NOT pleased. When I asked her, Dera said she had no problem getting into the break room. She thought it was a good idea to have the ‘books to be priced’ closer than that cold shed across the parking lot. I couldn’t fire her. There was no one else to get the place open and closed when I needed to be with Priscilla.”
Sally stifled a little sob. Althea had never seen such a thing before. Sally was always so tough.
“Let’s get back to work. We weren’t haunted last night so there’s nothing to clean up. I see Rollo is backing his pickup truck to the porch. I’ll go out and see what treasures he is bringing us today.”
“Treasures!?” Sally exclaimed returning to her strong facade. “Why you don’t tell that man to take his books and never come back I don’t know! Why I…”
“Swanny?” Althea interjected and giggled a bit.
The bookseller had never seen her giggle before. She had never broken that “fourth wall” in his presence before. Her laugh was like the distant ringing of an antique silver bell.
Their eyes met, and the irises of her dark eyes flashed Kelly green—the color of a dewy Irish hillside just after sunrise splashes light upon it.
“Do I know you?” was all the bookseller could think of for she was Althea but also someone else he had known.
Then it was Friday. The night of the full moon. Althea could sense the tension in the bookstore amongst herself, the bookseller, and Sally although none of them spoke of it. They went about the daily routines of buying and selling and stocking and culling books.
About 4:19 Althea came up to the sales counter. Sally was wrapping the last of the day’s web orders—a chore she disliked profoundly. The bookseller had a little stack of Loren Eiseley first editions.
“I am going home early today. There are some things I need to do there before I return here this night.”
“Eiseley is not read enough anymore. I wonder why?” the bookseller ruminated aloud. “Many people I respect found his writings to be life changing while at the same time being affirming. Ray Bradbury felt The Unexpected Universe was a landmark book. ‘Eiseley is every writer’s writer, and every human’s human.’ I feel bad putting such a low value on his first editions. Perhaps he is due for rediscovery, and I should price them ‘anticipatorily.'”
“I do not believe that is a word,” Althea cautioned.
“It is now. I just coined it. It means going higher than market value on books I feel are undervalued and which will appreciate. They may as well appreciate on my shelves rather than sacrificing them for 20 to 30 bucks and let them appreciate in some collector’s library.”
“Interesting concept,” Sally said. “What you are actually saying is that we will be looking at these books collecting dust on our shelves for a long time.”
“Althea, I’d like you to take this copy home. Let me know if you think it carries Thoreau and Darwin forward into modern times,” the bookseller paused and could divert the subject no longer. “You’re going home?”
“Yes. The moonrise is not until 11:13 although technically it is full just after 5. There are some things I want to do in the garden on this day. And I wish to bring Mathilda with me when I return here after dark.”
Althea’s home was a little cottage at the end of a tree-lined lane. It had a white picket fence about it. Its style was a bit gingerbread—almost evoking Hansel and Gretel, but there was no witch or large oven for the baking of errant children.
She unlatched the gate and trod the flagstone path to her little front porch. Cottage gardens overflowed all around her little plot. It was mid October, the 13th. The night of the Hunter’s Moon. The plants were giving their last hurrahs before the freezes would come. When she stepped inside the front door, Mathilda leapt softly from the 5th step of the stairway and landed softly at her feet. The cat walked figure eights around and between her leg rubbing up against her friend in welcome and affection. Althea bent and scratched behind Mathilda’s ears.
“We will have a bit of an adventure tonight, Mathilda. Before that I need to tend some of the planting that should be done on an evening such as this. There are so many volunteer seedlings that should be transplanted so they can have space to thrive. Plus we will need to harvest a bit of Solomon’s Seal for tonight. I can transplant those rhizomes as well. The plants will be twice as useful!”
Mathilda looked up and made an inquisitive “Meow?”
“You know very well that we will need that. I have explained to you what I believe is happening at the bookstore.”
Mathilda sighed a soft meow.
Althea slipped off her shoes and slipped into her gardening boots. She took her gardening apron off its peg and stepped back onto the porch. Mathilda followed and hopped to the porch railing. Althea’s cottage was in the woods so most what she could grow were woodland plants. Her gardens were very green. Woodlands are not known for big bright colorful floral displays but the subtle shapes and green tones of plants that thrive without a great deal of direct sunlight.
Mathilda hopped to the ground and led the way. The cat seemed to know which garden bed was to be worked on this evening.
When she got to the chosen green garden, Althea assessed its contents. There were numerous seedlings beneath the low canopy of the mature plants. Hellebore, wild begonia, hosta, lungwort, bleeding heart and fern. There were some trillium and jack in the pulpit as well. The volunteer plants would never survive beneath their parents’ shade and squeezed amongst the larger plants and other seedlings.
“I know just the spot where we can start a ‘nursery bed’ for these, Mathilda.”
Althea’s “nursery beds” were small patches of well-worked soil and loam. Small seedlings could flourish and mature there. They could be transplanted when they were big and strong enough.
Althea slipped the small gardening adze from a loop in her apron. She chopped down around the specimens she wanted so as not to disturb the roots as much as possible. She set tiny plant after tiny plant into a wooden flat she had brought from the porch.
“Why look, Mathilda! It is a tiny Redbud seedling! Where did you come from I wonder? I know just the spot for you up in a corner of the fern brake bed in back. In a couple years you will be as tall as I am. I am so sorry you are accursed, but your burden is a beautiful one. Do you long to be the mighty tree you once were or are you happy to have become a jewel of the forest?”
In another bed, blackberry lily seedlings rose like little green spears everywhere. They were such a joy. As adults they were a triple delight. Elegant dagger-like fronds. Dainty orange and magenta flowers like a glowing orchid, and the seedpod opened to appear like a very, very large blackberry. She lifted one after the other with the adze edge and placed them in the wooden tray.
She stepped to the bank of variegated Solomon’s Seal and snipped off 17 stems. That would be a good number. She chopped into the soft earth and lifted the rhizomes beneath them. She cut them into 5 or 7 inch lengths—however long it was so that they had a couple “eyes” which would sprout new fronds. She found an empty length of space along a limestone boulder which appeared to be like a slumbering maiden. She laid the rhizomes in soft soil before it.
“There! This will be a screen for you so you may sleep in peace until all the chimes in the universe ring, and you will awaken.”
She went to the herb garden next. She harvested some rosemary for remembrance of this day. She snipped various branches or leaves as she saw fit. Some she tied in bundles. Others would be hung to dry.
When all the various seedlings had been transplanted, she found the ancient galvanized watering can—it must have been over a century old.
She gave each seedling a sip so it would have a good start in its new place; its new home to set down roots and live…forever…or as long as “perennial” is.
She then gathered the 17 stems of Solomon’s Seal and laid them like a bride’s bouquet of long-stemmed flowers in the wooden flat.
“Mathilda! Let us go and get prepared. Tonight will be an evening like you have never seen. It will be a night like I have not experienced for…such a very long time.”
She trod a careful narrow way amongst the hay-scented fern brake. Mathilda followed a few paces behind. Every once in a while, the cat would bound up to her and brush her cheek and neck against Althea’s boot.
Inside she first took the narrow stairs down into her cool stone basement. She lifted the granite lid off her old carved granite cistern and decanted some water from within it. She carried it upstairs and set it on the porch. Then she headed upstairs with Mathilda close behind.
Once in her bedroom, she stood before her wardrobe.
“What shall I wear? One must put a lot of thought into one’s attire. Especially on an evening like this.”
She withdrew one item of clothing after another. Linen, cotton, wool.
She chose a bone-white linen chemise. A skirt of roughly woven green-black wool. Its hem was ragged. About her neck and beneath her arms wound a shawl. It was embroidered cotton. Celtic knots wove an endless pattern. Where its code ended at one end, the code continued at the other.
“There! I shall feel at comfort and prepared for whatever we may find from the other place in the bookstore tonight.”
She stepped out into the early evening. It was bright. Although the moon had not risen, its light made the night day—a day whose light is a bit distorted by having no direct warm living sunlight but only the cold white reflected light from the moon’s mirror. Every object so illumined had its colors dampened, grayed. The lines of everything—natural and man-made were present but also a bit indistinct.
She left her gardens, crossed through the gate in the picket fence and got into her little car. Most people could not recognize its make. It was an ancient Opel Kadett. It baffled everyone how well it ran. Indeed, when it needed new oil or tires the tiny old Scotsman who called himself Northcraft Motors always commented:
“She’s a marvel!”
Mathilda hopped onto her lap and then made a little leap to the passenger seat where she curled into a furry ball.
When Althea pulled into the bookstore’s parking lot, her headlights splashed light upon the porch. A large creature was seated there upon its haunches. Its eyes reflected the yellow of golden coins. It was a wolf. Large and gray with a massive fur coat. Its ears were flattened against its head. The fur on its shoulders rose high and straight making it look even larger.
Althea stopped the car a row away from the porch-front parking. She stepped out and faced the creature.
The creature relaxed its defensive posture upon seeing her. Its ears pricked up, and its head cocked in curiosity.
“The Hunter’s Moon is rising. This is not a good night for you to be out and about. I will be all right. Go find some deep woods. It would not do for you to be discovered in an area with so many people. Make your way along the mountain ridges just to the west. Head north where there is still space for you and yours. Beware of some of the dark hollows along the Catoctins. There are some evil trees which take their only joy in mischief.”
The animal rose to its all fours and shook itself. It turned and trotted off to one of the side entries to the porch and hopped onto the ground and then loped toward the back of the building.
Althea bent into the back of the car and withdrew the shallow wooden flat and a tied bundle woven of yarn.
As she walked toward the front porch, the moon began to rise over the bare meadowed hill behind the bookstore. The wolf appeared crossing the meadow. It was silhouetted against the pale white orb which rules the night. It paused when it got to the center of the moon. It sat, pointed its muzzle into the air and howled balefully.
Althea stepped onto the porch.
(Unbeknownst to her, she was being observed. The bookseller had parked his SUV across the street, backing into shadows amongst some trees.)
She stepped to the front door with Mathilda walking close to her ankle. A porch light burned softly on either side of it. She unlocked and pulled it open. The silver bell above the door tinkled in a soft somewhat surprised tone. She stepped behind the counter and set the wooden flat and her yarn bundle atop it. Mathilda leapt up upon it and began licking her paws. She switched on the lights above the sales counter. The rest of the bookstore was spread out in long dark rows before her. She turned and looked into the dark office. The bookseller’s ring glowed warm and bright in the dark upon the wall as if lit from within.
She untied the yarn bundle and spread seven old small leather-bound books upon the counter.
From across the street, the bookseller was able to observe some of her movement as a shadowy silhouette at first backlit by the moon and then occasionally as she passed a window or the glazed front door.
What he saw next was unnerving. The porch light to the left of the door flickered and then went out. Then the light to the right of the door did the same.
There were seven book carts on the porch. They were left outside unless very bad weather was predicted because the porch was deep and wide and low-roofed. They held the “Dollar Books” which the old bookstore was trying to liquidate. When asked why he left them out overnight, the bookseller always replied:
“I’d rather have them stolen than have to recycle them. No one, no charity…nobody wants our discards.”
The front porch was now in deep shadows. A bit of diffuse light filtered out from within the store and moonlight tried to find its way onto the well-covered porch as well.
A cart on the porch began to move! The bookseller grasped the steering wheel with both hands and pulled himself forward closer toward the windshield. He could see no one pushing it. Soon the 37 inch 7-shelf 5-wheel metal Brodart stopped in front of the right side steps up onto the porch. Another rolled up slowly next to it and blocked the access from that. Two more carts blocked the left side. The three remaining carts seemingly made their own way to block the wider front entrance steps.
The bookseller started his engine but resisted putting the vehicle into gear. Althea had insisted she wanted to be alone in the store that evening. In the distance to the north and west, the bookseller heard a wolf howl and moan.
Inside the store, Althea walked the perimeter of the store. But for the front door, she laid a stem of Solomon’s Seal before each window and door. The lights remained off but cold white moonlight filtered in wherever it could. She then returned to the counter and spread the seven books before her.
It was then the front door began to slowly open. The bell above the door made a soft muffled clunk.
Mathilda rose to her full height stiff legged on her outstretched paws and faced the door. The hackles on her back rose upright. All the fur on her tail stood on end and made it appear like an erect thick bristled pipe brush. She arched her neck down while raising her face up.
She voiced a long loud open-mouthed “Hisssssssss!”
The door opened most of the way and then shut itself slowly.
Althea stood quite still. She felt the air chill starting on her right and then passing her to the left. The time it took was like a slow walking pace. Mathilda followed the progression on her tiptoes as if watching something walking past. When the chill had passed beyond her, Althea walked around the counter. She laid two stems of Solomon’s Seal on the floor before the front door. They stretched from door jamb to door jamb.
She heard a commotion back in the stacks and headed out toward it. She looked up aisle after aisle. Then she found it! Books were moving through the air two at a time. They were rising up into the air and settling sideways on the top shelf. It was in the Art section and the books were mostly very large. They were flying up one after another stacking themselves higher and higher. There was five feet of clearance between the top of the bookcases and the ceiling. That space was rapidly filling with a rather precarious stack of heavy folio art books.
Althea cleared her throat making a soft cough. The books continued flying upward unabated. Mathilda stood between Althea’s legs, arched her back, raised her tail and raised her voice in a loud long caterwaul.
The books continued to fly unabated.
Althea whispered: “Dera?”
The flight of books continued. A third 5-foot stack from bookcase top to the ceiling was begun.
The books’ flight continued unabated.
Meanwhile outside, the bookseller had observed the carts’ movements and the front door opening and closing seemingly of its own accord. He started the truck and drove to the porch. He got out and walked up the steps. He pushed on a cart, and it would not move. It was as if it was bolted to the wooden floor. He clambered over it and onto the porch beyond. He rushed to the front door and found it locked. He fumbled with his keys and unlocked it. When he pulled it open, the bell above the door clanged like an alarm. He rushed inside brushing aside the stems of the plants Althea had laid down. He heard the commotion in the stacks and rushed to see in which aisle the trouble was. He got to the aisle where the Art section was and about 43 feet away he saw Althea looking so small approaching a whirlwind of large books flying upward and stacking themselves on top of the bookcases.
Althea had decided to intervene physically. When she was close, she reached out and tried to grasp a book. It was a large Abrams catalog raisonne of Hieronymus Bosch. It swung in the air and struck her across her forehead. She spun and crumpled to the floor.
“Dera! Stop this!” the bookseller spoke sternly having heard Althea’s earlier shout.
Two large tomes paused in midair but soon resumed in even a more frantic pace. The top of the bookcases were rapidly being filled further and further down the row.
The bookseller stepped forward and reached for a book in midair. He was able to grasp it, and a violent tug of war began. He then wrested it away and went sprawling to the floor on his back. A tall folio of a medieval bestiary facsimile was held in his two hands above his chest.
Then began a wail, a keening from where one book hung suspended in the air.
Althea began to push herself up. She got to her knees and then slowly rose.
“Dera. It is time to rest,” she spoke calmly and evenly. She then reached into her skirt and produced a handful of rock salt. She threw it at the suspended book. The crystals bounced off clear air about the airborne book and bounced to the floor.
The wailing and keening increased in volume and became more distressed. It was a tortured sound.
The bookseller now stood. “Dera! Why are you putting books on the top shelf?!”
The book in the air rose and laid itself atop the last one put up there. Two more books flew from the shelves and rose upward.
Althea reached into her skirt again. From a different pocket she produced a handful of ash and dried dull leaves. She approached the flying books and cast them at the air. It was sage she had gathered from her garden and then burned the leaftips.
The screams increased! But still books flew upward.
“Dera! We don’t put books on the top shelves that way. It is not safe!” the bookseller said sternly.
The books flew. The screams continued.
Althea produced a glass phial. She slipped a cork out of it and swung it so the contents splashed at the flying books.
Two heavy books dropped to the floor with loud slaps. The faint figure of a woman appeared on the floor. The bookseller spoke:
The woman’s head raised and met the bookseller’s. Her hair was like a hurricane. Her eyes were wide in panic. The bookseller could see through the woman. He could see the faint outlines of books on the shelves behind her.
The woman whispered: “I was making space on the shelves. So I could stock more art books.”
Just then 31 five-foot stacks of art books toppled from the top shelves and came crashing to floor. Dera was engulfed in them and her screams began again. Althea had been struck as well and hundreds of books were piled atop her legs.
Dera screamed a loud “NO!”
She rose from beneath books and streaked toward the front of the store. A large pool of blood was spreading from where she’d been crushed.
Althea struggled to her feet and hobbled after her.
“We cannot let her leave!”
The bookseller raced after them both.
At the front door, Mathilda, with her paws, was drawing the fronds of Solomon’s Seal back to block the threshold.
Dera sprung at the door and then fell to the floor. She sat there stunned. She could not cross the Solomon’s Seal barrier. Althea quickly made a circle of Solomon Seals around her laying stem after stem on the floor.
Dera began to wail—no longer in anger and madness but in sadness and resignation.
Althea retrieved the 7 small books and approached Dera. With one after another, she reached across the circle of long green and gold stems upon the floor and pressed the books against her forehead.
After she had been touched by all 7, Dera calmed and looked up at the bookseller and Althea standing above.
“I love books,” she said. “I wanted to help.”
“What happened, Dera?” Althea asked. “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to help in a bookstore or library. I got hurt.”
“Where are you, Dera?”
“I found an old book barn in Connecticut. It was all overgrown. I found a way in through a couple loose pieces of wood siding.”
“What happened?” the bookseller asked.
“It was full of abandoned books. Books on shelves. Piled on the floor. I couldn’t walk without stepping on books. It was horrid. They were all so dusty and dirty. I felt so bad for them. I began picking them up and shelving them. Then I saw some beautiful publishers’ bindings in the barn loft above me. The gilt was so bright. A ray of the sunset glowed through a chink in the wooden barn boards. It struck the books, and they shone like a pirate’s treasure. I climbed the ladder to get up to them and everything fell down on me.”
“When did this happen?” Althea asked.
“It’s been a long time. I can’t keep track.”
“She went missing in February,” Althea said in an aside to the bookseller.
“I cannot rest,” Dera moaned. “I would just like to sleep. I haven’t slept for so long.”
“Dera. We will find you,” Althea said.
She picked up the Solomon’s Seal from the floor before the door. Dera rose and dashed through the door. Her body became more and more invisible with each step.
The bookseller and Althea watched her flee and disappear simultaneously.
The bookseller looked down and there was blood running down Althea’s calf. But when it reached the floor it disappeared.
He said nothing about that.
“We should go clean up as much as we can in the Art section. Sally would be horrified to find it that way tomorrow morning.”
As the walked back, the bookseller asked: “What were those books you touched her with?”
“I call them exterminator Books. Poltergeist exterminator books. Unless you know what you are dealing with, you do not know which to use. So, I used one from each continent. There is a Rituale Romanum for Europe. From Asia an old manuscript from a fangxiangshi, a Chinese ritual exorcist. The others are similar but, of course, relate to each continent’s culture.”
The bookseller laughed: “What about Antarctica?”
“Why they Aurora Australis,” Althea answered. “The first book ever written, printed, illustrated and bound in the Antarctic.”
The bookseller said: “But why?
“The first book from anyplace has special properties,” she replied curiously as if wondering why the bookseller would ask such a question.
When they got to the Art section, the sprawling pool of blood had disappeared. But the huge mound of books remained.
There was a small puddle of water where Dera had first fallen.
“What was in the bottle that you splashed on her there?” the bookseller asked.
“I sometimes gather ware from the Grotto of Lourdes up on the mountains. It has been sacred for thousands of years. I always have some in a stone tub at home. It is salubrious for many things.”
“This will be quite a task picking these all up,” the bookseller replied.
“I am so very tired,” Althea said. “I may be late tomorrow. I predict 51 minutes late.”
“Take the day off.”
“No. I should help finish this sad task.”
Together they walked outside. Mathilda fairly pranced between them.
Once off the porch, they looked up at the Hunter’s Moon above them. It shone down and cast three shadows upon the pavement behind them.
Two of the shadows were not opaque. They were indistinct translucent shadows if such a thing is possible.
Well, of course it is possible because it all happened exactly as written here.
The bookseller reached out to colleagues about abandoned book barns in Connecticut. So many book barns had gone out of business in the early 2000s as the World Wide Web and internet bookselling closed so many bookstores everywhere.
He received reports of three possibilities. He and Althea didn’t feel they could call the police and ask them to go searching. How would they explain their motive?
Instead they soon took a buying trip to New England. All three possibilities, of course, were for sale. Their contents were certainly not for sale. All the owners said the books were all “free for the taking.”
They knew they had found the right one when they entered a sad decrepit barn and saw a huge pile of brightly gilded books on the floor beneath the rotted and cracked joists of the loft above.
A mummified hand protruded from one side of the pile. In its grasp was a gorgeous Paradise Lost. On the cover in brilliant gold and other colors Adam and Eve were being cast from Eden by a heavenly hand with a forefinger pointing the way. In the background a batlike Satan was falling from the sky.
The bookseller had never seen this edition. When he opened the cover to see the title page, he saw the frontispiece was an original drawing. It was of Satan fleeing the Earth.
The caption read: “Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell.”
“It is William Blake, is it not?” Althea asked.
“Yes. An image I’ve never seen before.”
He flipped through the pages. There was no text. It was dozens of drawings, originals in pen and ink, bound in a vintage custom buckram binding.
They called the State Police and waited for their arrival.
Weeks later, the police report estimated the young woman had been dead for 7 months. The cause of death was that she had slowly bled to death after being crushed by thousands of books and floorboards.
The bookseller bought the barn and its contents for the back taxes. It had been abandoned by a crusty old Yankee peddler 19 years before. That bookseller had died without heirs.
Althea wrote a poem for Dera’s funeral. She did not show it to anyone:
And there she exsanguinated
Bleeding to death alone amongst that avalanche of books
She thought it hilarious watching her blood spread
and pool between the fallen tomes.
I can hear her maniacal laugh
I will perhaps hear that in nightmares
til this time ends
She wanted to be found
So she haunted the only happy place she’d known
She loved it deeply
With all her cold bitter angry heart
But she would not go to peace without a fight
She burned the poem at home and slipped into the graveyard on the night of the next full moon.
She crumbled the ashes between her palms and let them fall onto Dera’s plot.
“Ashes to ashes. We are but words upon paper.”