Round and Round Part 43

Round and Round 43 Opening Image Beach

There have been about 40 Round and Round stories over the last four or five years. I’ve lost track. 

This is the “last” one. 

Much of this story came to me as—well, it felt like a vision. I was in what felt like a haunted hotel in Parma, Italy. I fell asleep and then awoke feeling like I was falling.

Maybe it was just a dream. Or a nightmare.

Whatever it was, I wrote a lot of things down until it was all out of me and I was able to be at peace. 

You’ll need some background for this. The first Round and Round stories took place many years ago. It was when the bookseller was first opening the little used bookshop. A young woman, Priscilla, came to his aid. They eventually got married and lived a happy bookselling life. 

Then she died. The bookseller lived on. As did the bookshop. 

There were many adventures. 

Many odd customers.

Some odd employees. (Some were not human!)

Anyway, there were so many stories, and it has been so long that I can’t remember all that happened.

Maybe if they were printed out in order, I could reread them and make sense of it. 

Who has the time?

Though this is the last story, it doesn’t mean it is the final one. There are five or so Round and Round stories I’ve begun but haven’t been inspired to finish. 

Maybe someday… 

Thanks for your patience.

And indulgence.

Here is the last Round and Round story.

“It’s not like that at all,” the bookseller said.

He was seated at his desk, his elbows propped upon its clutter. 

He was staring at the ring that hung from a pin pushed into the cork board before and above him.

It was the band of gold he addressed. Silent. Sphinx-like. Inanimate, but he knew it lived… somehow.

“You could answer all the questions, but you won’t, will you? You raise more each time I give in to you.”


But perhaps it gave off a flicker of light. Or was that some arcane reflection of the sun going down, sinking through the window behind him. 

For now there was a jewel embedded in the gold. A tiny diamond had appeared when some time ago he found himself holding it between his right thumb and forefinger, surprised and confused; seated at his desk wondering how he had gotten there and where he had been. 

For that one time he had no memory of having been anywhere else. Except he was tired. Tired to his bones. Tired to his soul. It was as if he had fought an epic battle and all that he retained was a battered body. Aching bones. Weakened limbs.

The bookseller had been brooding for many months. Part of him became possessed. That part was consumed by thoughts about life, death, the universe, the afterlife… and everything. Working helped keep the impossible questions away.

For a while.

But then they would sweep over him and, again, he would be swept away.

One day, as it became clear that autumn was ending and winter would take its place, he made a decision.

He looked about at what he had built and found it did not mean much to him anymore. 

He had given so much to it. He had been repaid, handsomely, in many ways. A glance in a mirror, something he assiduously avoided, reflected how much it had taken away. He saw an athlete who had continued in the game too long. 

“I never took the vow, Annirosa.”

She cocked her head and looked at him curiously.

“The VOP. The Bookseller’s Vow of Poverty. Did I ask you to?”

She shook her head no.

“Good. You needn’t be an impoverished bookseller. You should leave and seek your fortune. I am my own company. And the animals are enough to keep loneliness at bay.”

Annirosa cast her eyes downward.

“And, anyway, these books all speak volumes. Hah!”

He paused.

“I could close the store to customers. They so often get in the way.” he mused aloud. “But then how would I get fresh stock?”

He straightened and looked at her.

“Books are like oxygen, Annirosa. You simply cannot rebreathe the same ones over and over.”

“You want me to leave?”

“No. But I think you should. For your own good. The magic is gone here. I’ve taught you all I know.”

“What is really wrong? I can reach out to Althea. Or Barbara. ”

Mathilda leapt onto the sales counter and pushed her nose under the bookseller’s hands that were suspended above the keyboard on the laptop.

Setanta clicked his nails across the black and white tiles then moved behind the counter. He whined softly, flopped to the floor and looked balefully up at the bookseller. 

He did not answer. 

She rose to her full height—a full eight inches shorter than he—and faced him.

“I have come to like it here. I have another life. You know that. I could return to them. Perhaps one day I must. But I like it here. The mission. You have taught me well. I have come to learn that these books…” 

She turned and surveyed the seemingly endless aisles of books that began across from the sales counter stretched away until the physics, the law of perspective, made them merge into… forever.

She took a deep breath and counted. “…That these books are not dead; not just paper and cloth, but living things. When one is opened, the reader never knows where they will be taken.”

“Yes. Taken.”

“I like it here. This has become my home.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I needed to hear that.”

“And, I have never felt—what I feel—about any human the way I feel about you.” She took a deep breath and let out a muffled sob. “I am proud of you.”

The bookseller was taken aback. Annirosa was not the kind of… well, “person” is not exactly it. Annirosa was not one to speak in broken sentences. Nor was she given to emotion.

“I’m glad to hear that. I needed to hear that. I was concerned that what I have given you might be an unwanted burden. I’ve worked with the lawyer. I know he’s not your favorite person, but he has helped us out on occasion. And though he doesn’t advertise, he loves books. Miniature books of all things. He doesn’t want anyone to know for some reason. So, I have worked for him, quietly, for many years.”

“I never…”

“I’ve had him draw up papers. If anything happens to me, then everything goes to you. He didn’t feel I should include a cat and a dog. He thought that might detract from the, uh, gravity of the document. He doesn’t know their special, uh, talents. And anyway, they both have ‘forever’ homes elsewhere. I understand Setanta’s exile from Ireland ended some time ago.”

The dog whined softly and looked up at him balefully.

“And Mathilda would be in charge wherever she went. Even if she went back to—where, exactly, did you come from?”

The cat rose and stretched. She cocked her left hind leg into the air and began gnawing on it nonchalantly.

“Well, perhaps this place IS their forever home. Yours, too. Whatever forever means. I think the three of you know, but you’ve never told. Perhaps you can’t.”

The three of them looked at him. I bet no one knows that a cat can have tears well in her eyes. A dog too. The bookseller never thought he’d see a tear on Annirosa’s cheek.

“I… it’s all too much. I’ve got to go.”

He turned and walked into his office, pulling the door closed behind him. The ring hung from a pin pushed into the cork board above his desk. For so long, it had been just a plain golden band, but then sometime back, it had changed. It was perhaps five autumns ago. (It could never have been eleven, could it?) He had found he was holding it between his thumb and forefinger, when he realized that a clear stone had appeared on it. He’d had no memory of wearing it or of it having taken him anywhere.

“Where did the jewel come from? It was never there before. It looks like an angel’s tear turned to crystal.”

Now he had it once again between his thumb and forefinger. He took no moment of contemplation. He heard Mathilda thump to the floor outside his office. He heard Setanta’s nails on the tile as the giant dog rose and headed toward the office. He heard a soft sob from Annirosa, but no footsteps were coming toward him. 

He pushed the ring onto his right ring finger, and the universe began to spin. Lights flashed, and he felt he was falling from a great height. Or was he soaring? The atmosphere or whatever it was he was traveling through was screaming like a train wreck.

Then all was darkness.

Then all was light.

He turned and looked and saw his body was behind him. It was falling further and further behind every moment that passed.

He tried to scream, but he had no mouth. No breath. Only a vision of hurtling through a terrifying ether.

Then there was sand far below. It came closer and closer. He saw the sea lapping onto the sand. 

Then his spirit struck the earth and was spreading onto the sand like spilled wine onto a plain table cloth.

There was a thump, and he saw his body splayed onto the beach next to him. Then his spirit was sucked back into his body. The beach was no longer stained.

He lay there. His face was pressed into the sand. 

At first he couldn’t breathe. Then he gasped. Choked. Gasped and wheezed as his lungs learned to breathe once again.

When he was able, he summoned enough strength to push himself onto his hands and knees.

He raised his head to look around. All he saw was sand and sea.

“There was nothing on my desk. Therefore the ring took me to Nowhere,” he thought.

He looked down at his right hand, and the ring glowed softly on his ring finger.

The only sound was the soft lapping of low waves rolling onto the sand.

He got his feet under him and rose and slowly turned round. 

The sea stretched infinitely before him. Behind him, the beach turned into a limitless desert of sand.

“Well, I wonder what this is all about?” he thought, wondering if there was some lesson he was supposed to learn from this.

He looked out to the sea. 

“Should I go right or left?”

He chose left and began walking along the shore.

Nothing changed. The view was the same before him and behind.

After a while, he began counting his steps—more to pass the time than anything.

“1003, 1004, 1005…”

He wondered how many thousands he had taken before he had started counting.

He turned and looked back. His footprints now stretched infinitely behind him. That is, if infinity is the distance you can see until your footprints vanish.

“How far, I wonder?” he thought “Until… anything changes? Or is this forever?”

It was then that he noticed there was no sun in the sky. This world was just alight as if it was noon.

He lost count of his steps and started again.

“2331, 2332, 2333…”

“Maybe I should have gone in the other direction.”

Then, far ahead he saw a small movement on the horizon. He could not discern what it was, only that there was finally something to break the monotonous flat landscape. And that it was moving.

“5679, 5680, 5681…”

As he got closer, he sensed it was a small mammal, but he still could not make out its species. 

Closer. Closer.


It was a brown and white retriever mutt. Thigh high. Dead for three decades. 


The dog heard and began sprinting toward him. The gap closed and when they reached one another, the bookseller dropped to his knees, and the little dog leapt at him, licking his face and bouncing against his body.

The man wrapped his arms around the dog and squeezed.

Tears poured down his face. Joy. Surprise. 

And memories of a life long ago when things were… greener. When it was spring.

“I don’t understand, buddy, but it is so wonderful to see you.”

The dog was spinning around in tight circles before him in pure joy.

And the bookseller was joyful, too.

And then the question came to him: “What is this all about?”

“Baggins, where are we, buddy? How did you get here?”

The joyful hound leapt at him a few more times and then turned and began trotting away along the shore from whence he had come.

“Baggins! Wait for me, buddy.”

The bookseller brushed the tears from his cheeks and stepped briskly after the dog.. 

They walked and walked. The dog sometimes seven paces ahead, sometimes nineteen. 

Having his old friend ahead of him once again energized the man. The steps passed as if they were nothing. There was no sense of time. No sense of weariness. Just movement seemingly gaining nothing. Going nowhere—except forward.

Then the dog stopped. Barked happily a few times. He looked back and then turned and ran up the beach at full speed.

Soon he was out of sight. 

The man, disheartened, trudged after him. 

“I wonder what that was all about?”

Then, far ahead, the tiny figure reappeared and came sprinting back. The bookseller picked up his pace to meet him. 

When they met again, the dog was happily agitated. He spun around. Dashed away a few steps and then returned. Dashed and returned. Dashed and returned.

Then, far ahead, he saw a break in the beach. As they got closer, he could see it was a river flowing across the desert and into the sea.

Closer. Closer. 

Then he could see it was too wide and deep to cross.

Baggins ran ahead and thirstily drank. 

When the man got closer he knelt on the shore, cupped his hand and sipped. The water was sweet with no hint of salt.

He drank his fill.

“What now, buddy?”

The dog came and bounced against him and then sprinted off upriver. He stopped. Returned most of the way. Turned and sprinted away again. 

“Hold on, Baggins! Don’t disappear on me!”

He stayed in sight as the bookseller walked. And walked. And walked. 

The light never changed. Neither brighter or darker. The river flowing beside him made only a constant and uniform hushing sound. The view on the other side was no different. Sand. Endless sand. 

He was never tired. Nor was he hungry. He drank from the river only because he was able. And he thought he should.

He turned and saw that the ocean was now out of view. He could only see the riverbank with his footsteps and the dog’s going back until they were too small and distant to see. 

The view ahead continued unbroken until far ahead, a shape appeared on the river’s edge. As they got closer, it revealed itself to be a rowboat. Wooden. Old. Seemingly handmade.

Baggins trotted ahead and leapt in. 

When the man arrived, he assessed it. There were two oars and oar locks. Its bow was in the sand on the shore. Over half was in the water. The bottom of the boat was dry. 

There really was no choice. To continue walking would only take them deeper into the limitless, featureless sand. 

Cross here? Or row downstream—back the way they’d just come—to the sea. Row to the other side and continue along the shore. 

That seemed the only option. 

He pushed the craft into the water and leapt aboard, clambering awkwardly over the gunwales and onto the bench. He raised the oars and set them in the water. Baggins came to him and curled up at his feet. The bookseller rubbed behind his ears, and the dog pressed against him with the love they’d always shared. Tears welled up at this impossible reunion that in reality felt so natural.

He rowed a bit but then sensed the river would carry him as fast as he needed to go. He shipped the oars and let the current carry them. 

The man wasn’t tired, but with the smooth current carrying them effortlessly and his old dog at his feet, he fell into a reverie. 

He felt it was several decades ago. The bookshop was full of gentle magic. Newly created magic.

“Priscilla will be waiting,” was the thought that came to mind. 

He felt Baggins put his head into his lap.

“Those times should never have ended, Baggins.” 

The man reached down and scratched the brown and white fur on his dog’s back. Baggins made a soft whining sound of happiness and longing.

He didn’t know how much time really passed, but he lived for years on the slow, silent boat ride. 

The spell was broken with the soft sea sound of water lapping on the shore ahead.

He put the oars in the water and pushed harder on the starboard side. That turned the boat toward the far shore.

The bow struck the sandy shore with a soft crunch. 

Baggins leapt out happily. Prancing and capering. 

The bookseller clambered awkwardly over the bow. He pulled the boat up onto shore enough that it wouldn’t drift to the sea. 

Then he stood on the sandy shore and assessed the situation. 

That flat dun world was only defined by the seashore and the river.

Baggins came and stood on his hind legs and pressed his front paws against the man’s chest.

“Good boy! Where are we? What’s next? Do you know?”

His eyes conveyed that he knew only love. 

Then he dropped down and began trotting toward the seashore only a couple hundred yards away.

The bookseller followed and turned left along the strand. 

And walked. And walked. 

Why didn’t he simply remove the ring? If the past was any indication, he would just reappear where he’d last put it on.

At his desk. In his office. 

He held his hand up high into the air. The bookseller gazed at the ring upon his finger with its jewel glittering with its own light.

“No. This time it is different.”

Baggins had noticed he’d stopped and trotted back to him. 

As the man stood still gazing at his hand held high into the air, the dog circled round his legs.

“Ok. We go on.” I said to his questioning gaze. “Andiamo!”

Steps. Endless steps. 

But it was not monotonous. He felt it was a necessary passage he was making.

Sometime on—perhaps 18,000 paces or 22,000 paces—he noticed something on the ground not too far ahead. He could not discern what it was, only that it was something different in the infinite uniformity of the sands to the left and ahead.

Baggins was staying close now. He walked beside his friend. His four legs matched the pace of the man’s two.

They came closer to the object, and the man could see it was a book. The rectangular object was buried in the sand to the upper board. Leather. Eighteenth century. Tooled gilding swirled all over the cover.

When they came to it, they stopped. The bookseller dropped to his knees and pushed the fingers of both hands into the sand on either side of the book. He lifted it up and out of the sand. It was undamaged. He shook the sand off and finished by brushing it from the spine and fore, top and bottom edges. It wasn’t damp, and despite its proximity to the sea, it appeared as though it had not spent time outdoors.

“Well, look at this, Baggins. A book on the beach. And a good one, too.”

He held it out, facing down, to the attentive dog.

“Milton. Paradise Lost. 1667.”

The bookseller stood and carefully let it open in his right hand.

“Tall quarto, Baggins. A fine edition to find lying in the sand in another world. No provenance though. Would my description be: ‘Discovered whilst walking on the beach with my long gone hound?’”

The dog sat looking up at him and wagged his long furry tail. It made a feathery pattern in the sand. 

The bookseller dropped and sat cross-legged on the ground. He let the book fall open in his lap but not more than 45 degrees, lest there be stress on the hinges. He turned the pages past the title and dedication pages.

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful
Seat, Sing Heav’nly Muse…

He read them aloud to the attentive hound. 

“What do you think, buddy? Is that where we are? Or where we are headed? Or is that where we’ve come from and we just didn’t know better?”

The dog emitted a soft whine.

“Noncommittal, eh? Well, I’m just happy for your company.”

After some more reading, he rose.

He bent and gently set the book on the sand.

“I think it belongs here, Baggins. Perhaps as some kind of border marker. Anyway, I couldn’t carry it forever—or however far it is that we are going.”

 Then they continued along the shore.

The dog. The man. 

They walked and walked and walked.

The view never changed. Endless footsteps and paw prints behind. An unbroken, featureless, unmarked wasteland of sand ahead.

Then far ahead, he saw a change. On the distant horizon, there was a dark line. It began at the sea and stretched inland a short distance. Only there, at the limit of sight, was the world changed.

“Finally, something different. Let’s go see what’s up there, Baggins.”

They both picked up their pace. He began counting again.

“9877, 9878, 9879…”

“21453, 21454, 21455…”

And there it was—a few hundred yards ahead. A rectangular black void. Darkness delineating a box. It was as if the inside of a long room—with its light out—was turned inside out. But the darkness rose to the sky some 50 feet. From its side at the sea’s edge to the far end of the land side, it appeared to be about 150 feet. 

“A box of darkness, Baggins. What do you think it is?”

It was in the shape of a box. A kind of massive shoebox.

They pressed on until they stood before it. He leaned forward but could not see into it. 

Baggins sat patiently next to the bookseller.

“Shall we go in?”

The dog wagged his tail and left a feathery mark on the sand.

The bookseller reached his left hand forward and then put it into the dark. His hand disappeared. Then his forearm up to his elbow. He pulled it out and inspected it. All was normal.

“Is it a void?”

Baggins gave a soft urgent whine, as he was wont to do when he needed to go out. Was he signaling a need to go in?

He looked at his hand, and the ring glowed softly. The jewel embedded in it seemed alive with a tiny bit of icy diamond-like light.

“The only way past it is through it,” he thought. It was impossible to go round it. One side went all the way to the sea. Instinct told him if he tried to cross round the desert side, the wall would keep growing in that direction. An endless black wall.

Then somewhere beyond the soft lapping of the sea, he thought he heard music. Distant. Indistinct. It was as if it was far down in a valley or high up on a hill. 

Was it from inside the box? Or beyond it?

Whispering music. Comforting sounds. 

Baggins was up now. His black wet nose was inches away from the wall. 

What was the music? It was too far away, too indistinct to tell. The man thought he heard teases of phrases from old familiars. But as soon as he thought he might parse what it was, a new fraction of a melody would take its place.

Then there was a distant whistle from up ahead. A yearning call barely audible. Like someone calling a dog.

Baggins heard it, too. He became agitated, shaking his entire body with excitement. 

No, it was need. 

The dog looked up at the man, and the man gave him a barely perceptible nod. That was enough. The dog dashed in. His nose, ears, haunches, flanks and hips all disappeared. He paused with his tail still in view. It was wagging merrily, joyfully, ecstatically. And then it, too, disappeared.

“If I’ve sent him to his doom, it is a happy doom,” the bookseller thought, peering at the void and seeing nothing but a seemingly impenetrable wall.

The distant music whispered. A soundtrack like disparate bits of familiar cloth sewn together end to end. Was that a bit of a favorite shirt, a patch of well worn blue jeans, a sweatshirt worn til cuff and collar were frayed? All familiar threads, but not clear enough nor complete enough to know the clothing from which they came. But the tantalizing sounds brought comfort to him. He wanted to be closer. He wanted to hear and know the music better. 

He tentatively reached to the box once again. He put a forefinger to the wall and its tip disappeared inside.

Suddenly, Baggins burst forth in all his glory. The newly young dog capered in a circle, doing a dance of joy for his human friend. 

“All good, eh, Baggins?” 

The dog snuffled and smiled a toothy smile. He raised his two front paws and put them on the man’s hip bones. His happy eyes seemed beckoning.

“Ok. Let’s go.”

The dog understood and dashed into and through the black wall again.

The bookseller followed and was plunged in darkness. His first thought was to turn and go back out to the sand. But the music was just a bit clearer. A few notes followed by a few different. A kind of endless name-that-tune. But he did not recognize any, though all were familiar; all somehow part of the fabric of his life. 

The sound came from far ahead and above. Or, no, it was far ahead and somehow far below.

All was blackness. He sensed a limitless abyss below him. An endless black heaven above. And black void in every other direction. 

He did not know what he stood upon. Not hard. Not soft. Would a misstep send him down into the endless emptiness he sensed below?

The faint music—like a melodic whisper on the wind. That was all that gave him direction. 

That and Baggins’ occasional panting when the dog returned periodically from whatever he was exploring.

“He must be able to smell me.”

The dog brushed against his leg, and he reached down and tousled his head and then squeezed the loose skin on his neck—an action Baggins always seemed to enjoy very much. 

He responded with a soft whine of happiness and satisfaction.

And then he was off again, his breathing and panting disappearing in the all black distance. His paws and nails made no sound on the surface he ran upon. 

The bookseller walked in the dark, a little hesitant, feeling the abyss below and infinite blackness about and all around. But he never came upon any obstacles or drops.

Just steps.

Only the sound; the music constantly confusing yet appealing to him. Always somewhere up ahead but never getting louder or closer.

How long did he walk? It was timeless. How far? It seemed endless.

Baggins had been gone a long while when the bookseller heard him returning. The dog was making the same panting noise, but this time it was a bit muffled. The dog finally reached the bookseller, and the bookseller reached down to pet him. The dog pushed something at him—something in his mouth. The man bent and put both hands on the dog’s head and then toward his mouth. It was unmistakable. The dog had a hardcover book in his mouth. The man gently pulled the book from the animal’s jaws. It was a fairly thick hardcover book. Leather. He had his phone in his pocket. Of course there was no signal. But the flashlight feature worked. He had tried it just after entering the box but all it revealed was empty blackness above, below and all around. The little ball of light encircling him extended about 11 feet before petering out into nothing. Aiming it downward, he saw there was no floor he stood upon, just… nothing. The light had shone down past his feet into the same blackness all around him. He had turned off the phone, concerned that though this place seemed timeless, the battery might not have an endless charge. It didn’t help him, anyway. 

He turned it on and aimed it at the book. 

Paradise Lost.

A first edition. Was it the same book he had left back on the beach?

The bookseller raised it to his face and breathed in the scent. The space otherwise had no smells. Only the occasional dog smells when Baggins was close and an occasional whiff of himself.

The smell of old paper and leather and… time. Long, long time.

He scanned the opening lines and found the words. What he had sought his whole life and always found wanting.

What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support…

“Where’d you get this, Baggins? We left this behind many miles ago.”

The dog only responded with a soft whine and a hint of impatience.

“Lead on, boy. I’ll follow.”

He put the book under his arm and followed the dog.

They walked in darkness for hours. Days. Weeks. 

Who knows. 

Time meant nothing.

Only a lot of steps. One doesn’t know if it has been thousands or tens of thousands. One batch ends. Another begins.

And there was no tiredness. No boredom. Just movement forward.

Or was it forward? It could be in circles. But the music seemed to be coming from one direction.

And the book had to have come from somewhere.

Then there was a dot of light far ahead. His pace quickened. Baggins returned and walked by his side. 

The light got bigger. Then it became more defined. 

It was a four-paned window. A wave of familiarity washed over him. He knew this window from long ago.

It was the bookshop—as it was early on when it was first growing and filled with love. 

Closer. Closer. 

The window was suspended in the blackness. But it was set at the height it had been a lifetime ago. 

He was drawn to it and looked through. 

Rows of bookcases. Some stacks on the floor, waiting to be shelved. 

He raised his hands and pressed them against the glass. He yearned to be inside. The warm light and the muted colors of thousands of book spines. 

He saw a shadow cross an aisle deep in the room. Then it crossed back. There was the shadow of a skirt, then. Ankle-length and flowing. It swung as the shadow turned. It raised at the back a few inches as the shadow bent. It rose a bit at the front when the shadow reached up.

The shadow left and returned. 

“There’s a lamp at the end of that aisle. She’s stocking the poetry shelves.” The bookseller recognized the scene. 

He couldn’t resist. He tapped at the window. At first softly. Then more firmly. 

The shadow stopped moving. It bent as if setting books on the floor. And then it disappeared around the end of the aisle.

He let out a sob and pressed his palms against the glass. The window was fixed in the blackness. It couldn’t be opened or raised.

Then, a crack of light some yards to his right. The crack widened as if it was a door opening. 

He moved down the wall toward it as it opened fully.

He stepped inside.

“I’m home,” he said softly.

“And about time. I thought I heard someone banging on the window.”


It was she. Holding the door open to let him in.

It was she as she had been decades ago, when they were building the bookstore dream into reality. 

No longer a long-dead memory.

“Well, no one else would be in here after hours. I was just straightening up some aisles. You have been gone ever so long.”


“Do not stand there and let all the darkness in.”

“I brought you a book.” 

He held it out to her.

“This is wondrous. This must go into our collection.”

He crossed the threshold from the darkness into the warm light. Baggins dashed in as Priscilla pushed the door of darkness closed. She set the book on the small inlaid table against the wall. It was actually a music box.

He stepped to her, and they embraced. He felt her hair against his cheek; a feeling he never thought he would know again.

“I’m home,” his lips mouthed silently.

“Of course you are. I have been waiting. We have books to shelve.”

He separated from her and turned and stepped to the nearest bookcases. He put his right hand to the spines of the old cloth-bound books. It was the literature section. He drew his hand across the spines—one after the other. 

“Tac, tac, tac, tac, tac…” There was a soft touching sound as his hand went from from spine to spine. At the touch of each, the jewel in the ring twinkled like a star in the heavens.

The room slowly darkened. All became black but for the blue white star on his finger.

“You’ve never changed,” he spoke to the shelves. “The same today as a lifetime ago.”

A voice spoke. It was as if the wall of books was speaking with one voice. It was a woman’s voice. Oh so familiar but unheard for so long:

“I have gone with thee and been thy guide, in thy most need I have been by thy side.”


“Our journey has come thus far. Would you stay and be at peace? Part of me will remain. Rest. Rest. Read and handle the books of eternity, for eternity. ‘A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.’”

“And… ?”

“She will be with you. Side by side in this, the best place and the best time.”

“And… ?”

“Baggins, too.”

“And… ?”

“We will be with you.”

The lights rose to reveal the glowing warmth that reflected off the masterpiece of man’s endeavors. The book. It can hold fire and rain, sea and sun, earth and the heavens, love and death. It will release the same story and comfort each time you open it. 

Priscilla stepped to his side. Baggins wedged himself between them.

“There are boxes of books piled against the counter that we should go through. And we should go to Rosa’s for dinner. Let us dress nicely and pretend we are wealthy booksellers out on the town.”

“And… ?”

“We will come home warm and satisfied and full of happiness. Then bed. For there is tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow… ”

“And… ?”

“We can open any one of our books. Their words will take us places we have never dreamed of; worlds and peoples known only to those pages.”

“You’ve waited a long time for me, Priscilla.”

“The chapters were always interesting and the story flew by. Now comes our time; time to write our endless story. It will be… heaven.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and stepped away to arms’ length. Her eyes were the blue of a cloudless spring sky. 

She opened them and now they were the deep purplish blue of the first violet to open on the lawn in spring.

He looked deeply into them, and then they were the translucence of the aquamarine beryl gemstone.

Then he understood where and when he was.

The bookseller slipped the ring off his finger. He rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. He dropped it, and it fell to the floor. It fell through the floor and into the endless abyss below. He knew then there was no going back. 

Only going forward.

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