Round and Round Part 25 ended with the bookseller awakening and recording a bizarre dream he’d had.
He felt wonderful. The sense of flying was still within him.
‘I hope I can return to that dream sometime. I felt so free,’ he thought.
He gathered what he needed to leave for work. He stepped outside and looked up the slope behind his home. He looked to the place where his evening had ended so strangely the night before.
He had ignored her recently. The bizarre events at the bookshop in recent times…
He put his stuff in the van and headed up the slope. The tree was about 75 yards up the mountain in a direct line from his driveway and the stone “throne” he had built many years before. He had designed it as a kind of dolmen seat. Seven stone steps lead up to it.
She had grown since he took down the dead or dying trees that had surrounded her and were threatening to cut off all her light some years ago.
As he approached, a bit of wind rose, and her leaves appeared to shiver. She was still quite verdant, while the rest of the forest was gold and red and brown.
The vast fernbrakes of Hay Scented ferns were yellowed and wilting. They were returning to the earth.
Life was moving underground for the winter ahead.
He stepped into her canopy and put his hand upon her. Her skin was silver gray and smooth.
“You look stunning. Queen of the Forest. Or is it Princess?”
He turned and looked back. The view down the mountain was beautiful. The fall colors were hitting their peak.
“Do you sleep in the winter?” he asked aloud. “Or do you go somewhere else?”
The breeze whispered through her boughs.
“Soon you will be golden and then dun for the cold months. Unlike almost all other trees, you hold your leaves til spring. Why?”
He started down the slope, stopped and turned.
“I will come visit this evening. I promise. One should not ignore old friends—even when they are so quiet. Perhaps we will sing some very old songs. You know I look up here often. What was that green flame I thought I saw here last evening?”
None of his questions were answered.
He stepped up onto the dolmen and then trod down the steps.
He climbed into the van and bumped down the rocky road to the valley.
The bookseller was getting accustomed to his new assistant Mathilda. That she was a feline limited her in some ways. But then, he didn’t have to pay her anything. She worked for the fun of it. And Genova canned tuna and milk.
“Mathilda, I’m waiting for the day when I get audited by the state about this mysterious employee named Mathilda. I hope you don’t feel I’m taking advantage. After all, it was you who moved in. I mean, it’s not like unimbursed servitude, is it? Ummmm…if you’d like any upgrade in your cat bed or other stuff, let me know, ok?”
She gave him a look somewhere between “are you nuts?” and “stupid human” before raising a hind leg and licking the back of her thigh.
“Do you hear from Althea, Mathilda? I’ve had no word. I…I miss her. Her work, that is. I mean, you’re doing great. Your research is spot on. And fast. You’re even answering phone calls.”
He had set up a touch screen with a menu of responses she could touch in reply to various generic inquiries. He had chosen a female Irish accent for the voice. Poor Mathilda had been propositioned on several occasions. She recorded all the calls, and one of them had been from a bookseller he knew.
The bookseller had called him and told him in no uncertain terms that: “Mathilda is not available!”
Returning to the present, the bookseller shook his head. “Well, I’m going to go out to the storage and look for some books to bring in. I’m trying to think of a way for you to do that. Althea seemed to enjoy schlepping boxes.”
He chuckled at the thought.
“She made me laugh so much. I think I laughed 5000 times. And now she is gone—just like that.”
Mathilda drew one paw across an eye and then the other. She let out a little sneeze. She then bent her head and rubbed one eye against her leg and then the other.
“It looks like you miss her too.” Then he mused: “I never thought I would have a cat in the bookstore…”
Mathilda gave a little growl as if replying she didn’t herself simply a “bookstore cat.”
“Well, I’m going out to the shed. Text me if you need me.”
With that, he exited the counter and headed to the front door. When he pushed it open, the bell above the door made a subdued little jingle.
He returned in about half an hour. He pushed the two-wheeled hand truck up onto the front porch and rolled it across to the front door. Inside, he stopped it at the counter in front of Mathilda.
“These will keep you busy for a while. Too bad you can’t unpack them!” He chuckled.
She gave him a Sphinx-like gaze and then inclined her head down the aisle behind. He turned and his breath caught in his throat.
He saw a little round man sitting on a stool. He his head was egg-shaped. Wide at the top, narrow at the neck. His torso was egg-shaped. Wide at the bottom, narrow at the neck.
He was bald as a baby’s belly. He had large round rose-tinted lenses in his glasses.
One didn’t notice his appendages right away. They seemed so disproportionately small.
The man swiveled toward him on the rolling stool. “Good morning! I have been awaiting your return. There are some fine books here in your Egyptian history section. Did you know the Giza pyramids are aligned in a Pythagorean right-angle triangle and that their proportion is 3:4:5?”
“It’s been many years since I visited, but I didn’t notice that when I was there.”
“It is all very simple. 3+4+5=12. 3x4x5=60. 12×60=720. That is a magic number!”
“I’m afraid my math skills slipped when calculators were invented.”
The man tilted his head slightly from one side to the other. That seemed to set it in motion, and it continued wobbling fro and to less and less until it stopped—as if it had settled back into a notch or something.
That sight caused Mathilda to rise and move the edge of the counter extending her head as if for a closer look.
“Well, the pyramids are also in exact alignment with constellation Orion, and that means—mathematically…”
“If you say so,” the bookseller interrupted.
“No matter. All will be made clear when THEY come. It will not be long. But I am here for an entirely different purpose. My Mast…my employer has some quite rare books with which he is considering parting. I have brought a list.”
With that, he rose from the stool. His legs were quite short. His thighs and calves were slightly ovoid—shaped something like eggplants. His feet were shod in yellow boots, which were also long and rounded like halved eggplants. On the stool where he had been sitting there was a two-inch thick sheaf of paper. He had been sitting on it! He retrieved the papers and moved toward the counter. It was as if his extremities were composed of six parts loosely held together. Two thighs, calves and feet. Two upper arms, lower arms and hands. His extremities were in no way extreme; they were quite truncated. He got to the counter and raised the sheaf of paper above his head and slid the papers onto the counter. After he set the papers down, all the parts of his arms and legs continued moving as if held together by single strings. Their movement gradually slowed and finally his body was no longer in motion.
Mathilda and the bookseller both looked down at him. He was no more than three feet tall.
‘He looks like he is from Oz,’ the bookseller thought.
Mathilda mewed as if in agreement.
The bookseller gave the cat a concerned glance.
“I am from back east,” the man stated as if reading their minds.
“But we are in the east. The Chesapeake Bay is only about forty miles—as the crow flies.”
“Which crow?” the man inquired. “Never mind. Matters not. I am from farther east. MUCH farther.”
The bookseller looked down at the stack of paper.
‘I hate lists,’ he thought. ‘Too time-consuming, and the descriptions are never right.’
The man reached up and tapped the top of the pile. The three main parts on his arm wobbled as he did so. “You will find my Mast…my employer is quite meticulous about such things.”
When the man let his arm drop to his side, the hand, forearm and upper arm continued in slightly erratic motion until they slowed and finally settled back into place.
“Ummmm…can you read my…”
Mathilda mewed before he could finish the ridiculous notion. She put both paws onto the papers and bent her head as if to study the first page. Then she quickly raised her head and purred loudly, catching the bookseller’s eye. With that, she nodded at him. She reached out one paw and extended the first claw on her left foot upon an entry about one third of the way down the page.
The bookseller bent to see what she was pointing at.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Where are these books?”
“EAST!” the man replied. “I can leave the list with you for an hour. When I return, I would like your opinion.”
“Nobody else can take this many books,” the bookseller said.
“I have many alternatives,” the man said. “This is not the only bookstore in the east. Nor are you the only bookseller!”
With that, he turned and wobbled and weebled his was toward the door. With each step he took, his various parts seemed to move more and more this way and that, more and more rapidly.
He put both hands on the door and pushed it open, leaning hard into the feat. The bell above the door rang in a rather disjointed way. It continued ringing awkwardly more and more slowly until it eventually stopped.
“Well, Mathilda, that was decidedly odd. It was as if he could read my thoughts.”
The cat did not look up. She was on the third page already. With certain entries, she would press her claw into the paper, creating a tiny hole.
“Pricking off the victims like Brutus in Julius Caesar?”
She gave him an odd look, cocking her head.
He picked up the first two pages, which she had slipped to the side. He studied the entries she had punched tiny holes next to.
“Say…do you really think he has these?!”
He let Mathilda continue reviewing the voluminous book list while he unpacked the boxes of books onto the counter. She had become so adept at cataloging that he chose some pretty advanced books from storage for her to research.
After all, she had limitations—she couldn’t unpack boxes, pencil price books for open stock, nor could she shelve books.
He hadn’t had Sally in since Mathilda’s arrival. She had an aversion to cats.
‘Ailuraphobia…?’ he thought.
But he needed help. Since Althea left, he hadn’t been able to make any house calls. Nor could he keep up with many other aspects of running a bookstore solo. At some point, he would have to attempt to persuade Sally that Mathilda was not an ordinary cat. Her feline etiquette was impeccable. He was certain they could work using acceptable social distancing. He had even started drafting his strategy on a yellow legal pad. It was headed “Kitty Kompromise.”
He had drawn a line down the center of the page. “Pros” on one side. “Cons” on the other.
He loathed confrontation. He loathed making anyone he liked unhappy.
As he stacked the books atop the far end of the counter—away from Mathilda and the stack of papers—he wondered: “I wonder what his name is. He is such an odd little man. So many moving parts.”
The hour passed quickly. The door opened, and the little bell above rang unsteadily. The little man made his way to the counter, weebling and wobbling all the while. He stopped before Mathilda and looked up. The bookseller was about ten feet further down the counter.
“My name is Athelbert,” he said, turning his head to address the bookseller. It rolled and lolled and moved seemingly of its own accord. “I wasn’t always this way. He cast a spe…umm, I had an accident which loosened all my joints. I hope someday things will tighten up. And, yes, aversion to felines is indeed ailurophobia.”
At that, Mathilda gave a soft “Mee-yowl?”, rose and looked over at the bookseller inquiringly.
“Ummm…we’ll talk about it later,” the bookseller told her.
“What do you think?” Athelbert addressed Mathilda, his little hand swaying back and forth above the pile of papers.
The bookseller slid over. “We…she…uh…only got through the first 30 pages or so of your list. I estimate there are 200 pages here.”
“211. But 31 should be enough.”
“Enough for what?”
“To come see my Mast…my employer. There you can inspect and bid on them.”
“I’ve…lost my only employee, I’m afraid.”
“Lost as in misplaced? Did you put her somewhere and forget?”
“No. She left on a kind of mission.”
“Oh, yes! The endangered species adventure. I have heard about that.”
“Heard? No one knows…”
“My Mast…my employer keeps up with very unusual occurrences.”
“Well, I lost my assistant. I’m unable to travel far from the bookshop at this time. Just how far away is this collection?”
“Depends on apogee and perigee,” the little man said. “But surely you and Mathilda could come out some evening soon. He has been putting this off for ages. You should visit while he is in the mood to part with any treasures.”
“Kind of like a dragon atop its hoard…” The bookseller chuckled.
“How do you know about THAT?!!”
“Ummm… In this bookshop, we try to keep up with unusual occurrences.”
The little man’s head started wobbling so much the bookseller was concerned he would hurt his neck. If, indeed, he had a neck somewhere between his head and torso.
“No one, not ANYONE knows about the dragon!” the little man huffed and puffed. “You must not let anyone else know!”
“Our lips are sealed.”
“Now, about the house call. I can give you a shortcut that would cut your travel time greatly. But it only works when the moon is gibbous.”
“Waxing or waning.”
“Doesn’t matter. Either or both. It wanes tonight. I would suggest you take advantage of that. The books might not still be there when it next waxes.”
“I don’t think…”
Mathilda strode across the counter. She stretched up and stood at her full length. She put her two front paws on the bookseller’s chest and looked into his eyes. The golden eyes flashed turquoise for a moment.
“You’re saying we should go?” he asked her softly.
She nodded her head.