The last chapter ended with the bookseller, Althea and Tim entering the old room. Tim had torn out the old paneling that was covering the walls and ceiling. What he found on the walls behind the paneling brought him to the front of the building. He told Althea and the bookseller they should come back and see what he had found behind the paneling.
The three trod to the back of the store and entered the room. It was a little cloudy from the dust that was in the air.
Off to one side was a four-foot stack of the thin old solid wood paneling.
They walked to the center of the room. They each turned 360˚ in silence.
“Well, I have never…” Althea trailed off. It was one of the rare times she was at a loss for words.
“Hexzeichen,” the bookseller said.
“What’s that?” Tim asked.
“Hex signs, Mr. Tim,” Althea said. “Old German folk art. They come in many styles. Their symbolisms are full of meaning: happiness, bountiful harvest, good fortune, fertility or…”
“Luck in love…?” the bookseller broke in.
Althea silenced him with a glare.
She turned and faced each wall and then looked up at the ceiling.
“Amazing,” she said with awe.
There was an ancient six-foot hex sign painted wooden discs and affixed to all four whitewashed stone walls and the ceiling.
“These are all seven sided. Heptagrams. I am not familiar with these,” Althea spoke to herself in awe. “Most Hex signs have 4 or 6 or 8 points.”
The bookseller walked to one wall and leaned in close to study the sign.
“These are really old,” he said. “They’re hung with these metal clips drilled into the stone. They’re old too. Forged metal!”
“They are beautiful,” Althea whispered. “I wonder what the seven points mean?”
“These are worth lots of money!” the bookseller exclaimed. “I can sell these! They’re folk art!”
“Why would you think such a thing?!” Althea stepped forward and fixed the bookseller in his place with her gaze.
…and she stamped her foot for emphasis.
Tim cleared his throat. “Ahem. Am I done here? This room creeps me out.”
“Sure Tim. Leave the paneling. We might come up with a use for it,” the bookseller replied. “Or maybe I can sell it!”
“Very humorous,” Althea spoke levelly, making it plain that she was NOT amused.
Tim bent and picked up his Bible up from the floor. As he was leaving, he spoke over his shoulder. “Look up at the top of each wall. That is REALLY creepy!”
Althea and the bookseller with tilted their heads.
Suspended at the very top of each wall, flush up against the ceiling, was a broom! Very old and clearly handmade brooms!
“Well, I’ll be…” the bookseller started and then broke off dumbfounded.
“I need to try to reach Barbara,” Althea said firmly.
The bookseller had stepped to a wall and was trying to pry back one of the metal clamps attaching the old hex sign to the wall.
Suddenly the room filled with a keening cry. A wet red spot started spreading from nowhere across the floor. The dusty air in the room became an icy fog. Cold wet drops fell from the ceiling like tears.
“Leave that sign alone!” Althea shouted.
They both exited as fast as they could.
The bookseller pushed the door closed and the latch bolt engaged with a metallic “click.”
“The doorknob is like ice!” the bookseller said, shuddering breathlessly.
The screams from the room increased in volume. The keening switched to wailing then to moaning then agonized cries.
They both covered their ears with their hands and hurried to the front.
The whole building was now shaking with the sounds emanating from the back.
“I’m going to close the store!” the bookseller said.
He moved the front door just as a customer was reaching to pull it open. The bookseller opened it a crack and hissed:
“Sorry! We’re closed! Plumbing issues!”
“What’s that sound?” the customer asked.
“Pipes! Bad pipes. We’ll get it fixed and open as soon as possible.”
“Do you need any…”
“Thank you, no.”
And with that, he pulled the door closed and turned the deadbolt with his thumb and forefinger.
Then he turned and went to his office. He reached to the window and flipped the open sign to closed.
Althea said: “I will make a sign to put on the van. You should move it to block the entrance. We do not want some nosy customer peering in the windows. They might think someone is hurt in here and call the authorities.”
The bookseller peeked out the front door and seeing no one slipped out to move the van. Althea locked the door behind him. She pulled some tissue from the paperboard dispenser and balled up two bits and pushed one into each ear. She went to the supply closet and pulled the largest backing board she could find—poster size. She took it to the counter and wrote in broad strokes with a marker:
“TEMPORARILY CLOSED FOR REPAIRS
WILL REOPEN SOON
SORRY FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE”
She slipped it in to the appropriate sized bag and carried it out across the parking lot.
The bookseller had parked the shop van across the entrance from the street. He was just exiting the driver’s door when Althea came up and showed him her sign.
“This should do it until things quiet down.”
Althea pressed the sign against the side of the van facing the street. She’d handed him the packing tape dispenser. He pulled off a long strip of the 3-inch wide clear tape to affix the sign.
When that was done, they stood on the leeward side of the vehicle to catch their breath. The sounds emanating from bookstores some 75 yards away was a low dull rising and falling siren sound.
“What’s next?” the bookseller asked.
“I do not know. I will try to contact Barbara. I will search my library for information which might help us figure out what is happening in there.”
“What should I do? It’s my store.”
“I would not reenter while there is all that commotion.””
“What about the books? And my…things…?”
“Things may settle down like before. I believe we stirred things up with Tim doing the demolition. But it was when you started to remove one of the hex signs that the room started going mad.”
“I guessed I screwed up. The usual. Maybe I’ll sleep in the van tonight. That way I’ll know if anything changes or in case anyone comes by.”
“In this truck?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time. There were plenty of buying trips in the early days when I couldn’t afford to stay anywhere else.”
She gave him a quizzical look.
“I mean I wasn’t always the book mogul you seem to think I am now.”
Althea actually chuckled at this. The tension flowed away from them for just a moment. Her laugh was like soft wind chimes made of silver in the shape of angel wings.
“I will be back tomorrow,” she said.
With that, she leaned forward and raised herself on her tiptoes and kissed him on his cheek.
She turned and headed across the parking lot toward her ancient Opel Kadett near the front porch of the bookstore.
He got in the van, and as she approached, backed up so she could depart. As she passed, she blew a kiss at him.
He moved the van back across the entrance. He sat in silence for…he couldn’t remember how long.
He then felt compelled to go to the store and retrieve the ring from his office.
He crossed the parking lot and walked up the steps and across the porch. He unlocked the door and stepped in. The bell above the door gave a muffled worried chime.
There was now a dull rumbling from the back of the building. The sound ebbed and peaked. As much as anything, it sounded like the snoring of an enormous cat. An uneasy unhappy purring. Perhaps even a bit of lion’s snore tossed in.
He stepped to his office and went in. The ring glowed dully upon the wall above his desk. He took it down and wrapped the fingers of his left hand around it.
He turned and quietly left store and climbed back in to the van.
Thankfully, he always had a pile of old quilts in it for protecting fragile items acquired on house calls. He made a little nest of them and climbed atop it. He held the ring before his face and studied it intently.
The next morning he awoke to tapping on the van’s window. He rose and exited the van’s sliding side door.
Althea and Barbara were standing there.
To be continued…