All Kinds of Books

By Jonathan Crimmins 

His birth name was Roderick Myers, but most people knew him as “The Book Man.”  He had neither wife nor family, only a great love of books.  It was this great love that kept him obtaining and hoarding as many books as he could.  He haunted libraries, bookstores and various sales in order to get as many bargains and discards as he could.  He had owned several bookstores in the past, but they were all shut down due to the sheer amount of merchandise he had.  The great stacks upon stacks of books and overloaded shelves threatened to topple over at any minute and the vast amount of paper presented a massive fire hazard.  Despite the stores being closed and his business license being revoked, the book man found a way around it.  He secreted his entire stock to an old house he had purchased just outside the heavily-wooded city limits.  There was even a broken-down car parked nearby, filled with books whose covers had been faded by constant exposure to sunlight.  The authorities never went out that far and only true book aficionados would find their way to his door by word of mouth.  His retirement funds and the sale of rare tomes were enough to keep his secret business afloat with so few customers.  He had even sold his own home and moved into the old house in order to save money and live the bibliophile’s dream of being surrounded by reading material.

It was 8:00 on a Friday night and the book man stood by the front door, stroking his long gray beard and waiting.  Earlier that day, he had received a call from a potential buyer inquiring if he possessed a certain rare book.  Upon being told that the book was “in stock,” the interested party excitedly requested, no, demanded an appointment that very night.  The book man was so caught up with the intensity of the man on the other end of the phone that he had forgotten to get his name.  As for the book itself, it had been obtained by pure chance.  He had purchased it at an estate sale many years ago, failing to realize his acquisition was not what it seemed until the false covering had fallen off when he arrived back home. 

It was an old, large book bound in some strange type of light-hued leather, the wrinkles on which formed intricate, chaotic designs that he swore changed each time he looked at it.  The only other notable things about the cover were the rusty, time-worn clasps and corner bosses.  He had tried reading it, but soon gave up after finding that the entirety of the text was rendered in some kind of strange script, like a cross between stereotypical “Oriental” characters and text from the undecipherable Voynich manuscript.  The nightmarish pictures around which the text was written also deterred him from attempting to decipher his mysterious acquisition.  While he was content to dump it into the “Occult” section, along with other strange books like Freeman Williams’ Forever Evil:  The Reign of Yog-Kothag and Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned, his pet cat Shakespeare was fascinated with it.  When he had first brought it home, Shakespeare’s eyes widened and the cat circled around the room, getting closer and closer to the book without it ever leaving the feline’s sight.  No matter where it was placed, Shakespeare would track it down and stare at it for hours upon end.  The book man had to wonder if trace amounts of catnip were present in the book’s rusty reddish-brown ink.  Perhaps this was why, even as old age limited his mobility, Shakespeare had dragged himself in front of the book’s location just before he passed on.

While he was reflecting on this, the client suddenly appeared out of the shadows.  The book man was taken aback, as he had not heard any vehicle approach or any footsteps.  His visitor was only a few inches taller than he and was clad entirely in black.  The most striking aspects of his outfit were the leather gloves and hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, presumably to guard against the cold October night air.  The sweatshirt seemed to be a little too large for its wearer, as it hung baggily over his frame.  Although obscured by darkness and a low-hanging fringe of brown hair, some facial features could be seen.  He appeared to be in his thirties and had bags under his eyes, the tell-tale sign of sleep deprivation.  He then asked, with the same unusual, somewhat stilted cadence present during their earlier telephone conversation, “You are… the man of books?”  “Indeed I am,” replied the book man, “I’ve got all kinds of books here.”  “I only want one book…THE BOOK…” said the potential buyer as he came up the front steps.

The book man led his customer into the house, leading him through the thin, mazelike pathway of the remaining floor space that was not taken up by books.  They lay in massive piles, stood packed in boxes and were stacked on shelves of all sizes.  Spider webs and a thin layer of dust covered everything.  The sole source of light in the house came from a series of bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling of each room.  Going through several rooms and passing by a mound of old Sutter Kane paperbacks, they had reached the “Occult” section, located towards the back of the house.   “Are you sure I can’t interest you in anything else?  I’ve got all kinds of books similar to the one you’re looking for” said the book man, gesturing towards the Montague Summers translation of Malleus Maleficarum, the witch-hunting manual of the Inquistion, and the complete works of 1970s occult researcher Benjamin Breeg.  “Already have those,” came the terse reply.  Shrugging, the book man removed the requested tome from its resting place and handed it to his guest.  What little he could see of the visitor’s eyes lit up upon sighting the book.  The customer immediately fished a pair of stamp tongs, the traditional tool of philatelists, out of a pants pocket and used it to leaf through the books’ pages.  Clearly, this was a man who had much experience with handling old books.  “Yesss…a truly grand grimoire,” he murmured with approval.

“It’s a good thing you used those tweezers instead of removing your gloves, ‘cause that book is always cold to the touch,” said the book man.  “It’s as if it had just been taken from a room with the air conditioning cranked all the way up or somethin’.  Must be some missing insulation or a draft nearby.”  The stranger did not reply.  Instead, he continued to inspect the book.  The book man grew uneasy, hoping that the man would hurry up and buy the book so he wouldn’t have to deal with this odd fellow any longer.  Several moments later, he indicated that he was satisfied with its condition and was ready to purchase it.  Pleased with this, the book man said to follow him back to the register, heading back down the pathway. 

He accidentally hit a hanging light, sending it swinging back towards his customer.  As the book man quickly turned around to ask if the light had struck him, he saw a sight that almost stopped his heart.  He had turned at just the right moment to see the swinging bulb reveal the details previously hidden by the darkness of the hood.  The man’s “face” was just a cleverly-constructed mask.  Even more horrifying was the revelation about the discoloration under the eyes:  They weren’t bags caused by a lack of sleep; they were a layer of makeup which had been crudely smeared on to disguise the unearthly pallor of the wearer’s skin!

Sensing his shock, the stranger drew a blade from his sweatshirt’s front pocket.  It was a rough-hewn knife made from the blackest obsidian the book man had ever seen, with the handle tightly wrapped in thin, cordlike strands of the same odd-colored leather the book was bound in.  It had some similarities to the prismatic blades he had once seen in an issue of National Geographic devoted to Mesoamerican civilizations.  Its shape and construction conjured up images of ancient practitioners of a long-forgotten religion sacrificing people atop massive stone altars under the light of a full moon.  The book man was amazed he was able to notice such details in this kind of situation; it was if time itself had slowed to a crawl.  Before he could react, the being before him lunged forward and slashed his throat.   The book man’s hands rose instinctively, uselessly in an attempt to stop the bleeding, leaving his chest an easy target.  The blade pierced his flesh numerous times, making him fall gurgling backwards into a towering pile of books.  The last thing his dying eyes saw were a mass of books falling over him. 

His rotting corpse was not discovered until several months later...