Unable to fall back to sleep, I thought I would finally open my Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I just read the first chapter…thought I would share it here. I’ve been so disappointed by this year’s efforts . I’m going to try to work with what I got, though. Out of nowhere I decided my YA novel would be a horror this year. From that bad decision, it went downhill from there.
Anyway…here’s chapter 1…which I need to edit. Just trying to motivate myself to write. To edit…
My first clue should have been the honking big bells hanging off the front door. Only geezers use those things. They have them on the door in case they drop dead of old age and boredom or something. Someone accidentally comes into their store, the bells crash all over the place and they’re brought back to life.
Anyway, I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could go back to that first day and look at that piece-of-crap-falling-apart bookstore and not want to go inside. Curiosity don’t only kill cats, dude. That bookstore was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
When I opened the door, I got a hot rush of mold and old wood and old pages and ancient leather. Man, it was just too good.
I’m a book addict. There. I said it. That was my downfall. And, the older the better. Give me an old book and I’m in nirvana. Mr. Clancy says I’m a dying breed. I may be seventeen and stupid, but even I know books will be around long after the apocalypse hits. Yep, books and cockroaches.
I walked inside and the first thing I saw was the old white cat sprawled on the hardwood floor. He stretched inside a thin shaft of sunlight coming in the front window. Spreading away from—or drifting towards—the dirty old thing was a line of dust motes. It looked like both the cat and the motes were fighting for the light.
The cat lifted an eye in my direction long enough to telepathically say, ‘don’t fuck with me, I’m busy here’.
There were eight rows of thick wooden shelves, all filled with books that looked older than Great-Gram Imogene. If that’s even possible. Old bat’s like seventy-six, or something. She loses teeth every day. They just drop out of her skull like her gums are melting. Seriously.
I went right to the first shelf and started looking at all the books. I guess I should say I kind of caress books when I’m in bookstores. I like to touch their spines and just get all up in that. It kind of connects me to the writers, right.
Anyway, I was kind of spooked out right away. What bookstore isn’t like jammed packed with colour? Everywhere I looked, there were only about two colours…brown and black. And with all the dust motes floating around wherever the sunlight hit, it kind of looked like there was a low-lying fog throughout the store. When I’m fishin’ with Dad, low-lying fog is a good thing. Shopping in a bookstore? Not so much.
I had my hand on an old smacked-down mud-dragged copy of a Russian classic—The Brothers Karamazov—when I heard a rumbling throat clearing that sounded like stones in a washing machine or a cat stuck up in a car engine when the ignition gets turned over. It was something you don’t like hearing and would do anything to un-hear.
I’ve never heard a death-rattle, but Dad jokes around enough about them that I’m pretty sure something behind me had just made one.
“That’d be a good pick, right there, son.” The hairs up my arms reached away and I clenched my head into my neck like a turtle, only I couldn’t make my head disappear down inside my shell. His voice was way worse than his throat-clearing. The cat agreed. It snarled at the old man like he wasn’t its friggin’ owner, or something.
Just as I was about to tell him I already read The Bros Kara, my eye caught something shiny. You have to understand, in a store as dull as that one it was almost a eureka moment to discover something that stood out. The old man, who was not quite in my line of vision yet, was already objecting to the book I hadn’t yet picked up.
As my hand reached out to grab the spine—anything shiny in the dull dark ocean of books, dust and derelicts—he stepped between me and it.
“You don’t want that one, son.”
Who tells a kid that? Of course it automatically became the only thing within a twelve block radius I wanted. And I still hadn’t seen the title. Like the ninja that I am, I deeked around him and made a grab for the shiny-shiny.
“Ooh!” I said. “The Book of Dreams! Sounds awesome. Is this like the Tibetan one?”
“Young man,” he said. “I’m going to have to ask you not to touch that particular book.”
My hand was already on the gold spine. As I moved to haul it out of its slot on the shelf, though, the old man’s hand engulfed mine. My first sighting. A hand as white as bone and, well, bony. And cold. The hair standing up on my arms was now electrically standing up. I felt the ice course through me, like his touch was actually lowering my body temperature.
But I’m a kid who likes his books, right. And I was in a bookstore where the shelves were filled with books. And who the hell was this old coot to tell me what books I can or cannot touch? It was for sale, dude. If it was on the shelf in plain view—in a bookstore—it was for sale. End of story.
I wrenched myself away from that grip and stepped away from the shelf with the book in hand.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Ethan,” the old man said as he turned and walked back to the counter at the front of the store. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Just know that some books opened can’t be unopened.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I said. Now I was feeling brave. I won the standoff. I had the book in my hand. Dude was too weird. As I watched his back move up the thin aisle, I saw that he was impossibly tall and skinny. Like a basketball player who had just returned from a vacation at that Auschwitz concentration camp, or something. Like, he should be dead skinny.
His black suit was three sizes too big and filled with dust. He had an aura of dust about him that struggled and mingled with the dust motes that filled up all the empty spaces in the store. Dude was totally creeping me out.
I turned my back on Lurch and made to crack open the gold cover. My heart raced, like I needed to see what was inside.
“You read the title wrong too, son. Take another look. It’s The Book of YOUR Dreams.”
I stopped what I was doing and returned my gaze to the cover. The Book of Your Dreams. Huh? I couldn’t figure out how I had read that wrong. I was certain it had said The Book of Dreams.
I should have piqued then. Something wasn’t right. Between Lurch and his pissy cat and the dust motes and the book, I should have just got my shit out of Dodge. But I was intrigued. Like I said, I’m a bibliophile. And that book was calling my name.
I spotted a chair at the end of the aisle and took the book over to it. I sat down and opened the book.
He just called you Ethan.
“Hey,” I said. “How did you know my name?”
“If you haven’t looked inside that book yet, you can still leave it be and pick another. You still have prerogative on your side, Ethan.”
Talk about creeping the hell out of a kid.
“How the hell do you know my name?”
But I didn’t wait for an answer. None of the alarm bells were ringing in my head. Or at least not properly. He had suggested a forbiddenness about that book and I was never one to take to that kind of shit very gently. I dove into the book.
After turning the first few pages, though, I began to lose interest. They were empty and a rotten smell emanated from them. Like that book hadn’t been opened for decades and all the badness that had ever lived in the ancient bookstore had come to rest within this one book’s yellowed pages.
“It stinks,” I said more to myself than to the man, who now seemed too far away to carry an actual conversation with him. Like I would have wanted to. He gave creeps a bad name. “Why does it smell so bad?”
But he was listening. From the front of the store, he said, “That’s a question you really have to ask yourself, young man. You have things to hide in that little head of yours? You have things to be ashamed of? You sure that smell ain’t coming from the inside? Skunk smells his own stink first, Ethan.”
I stood up and walked towards him, book in hand.
“Stop saying my name. How do you know who I am anyway?”
“I’m just saying that book knows you better than I do. I’m just a silly old man who tried to warn you not to dance with the devil. Now you’re dancing, young man. Now you’re dancing.”
Talk about weirdness.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I put the book on the counter and kept thumbing through its empty yellow pages. “You trying to scare me? Who put you up to this anyway?”
The bells on the door rang. And not just a little bit. It was like somebody had taken them off the door and slammed them into it. And then stomped on them for good measure. I swung around to see who had come in, but the doorway was empty. Nobody there.
I jumped as something brushed against my ankle. Then I felt like an idiot, because when I looked down it was only the stupid pissed off cat wrapping itself around me. Someone needed to be pet. Guaranteed petting was not something that old man would ever do.
When I reached down to pet the cat, though, it hissed and snapped at my finger. Bitch drew blood with its dirty stinking fangs.
“You wanna watch out for Lilith. She’d sooner eat ya than look atcha. Clean that out before it gets infected. Cats are filthy creatures.”
I sucked at the cut and rolled my eyes at Lurch.
“Gee, thanks, dude. First you try to stop me from buying a book, then your cat bites me and then you try to freak me out about rabies or some shit. Customer service in this store is tripping.”
“You have bigger problems than an old cat bite, Ethan. You let some stuff in and you let some stuff out when you done opened that book. I warned you. I’ll say it again.”
“What do you mean? It’s just an empty book filled with empty pages. That stink like shitty bad breath or something.”
“No. It’s out now. Your book is never empty. It’s the Book of Your Dreams. They there. You just have to see—”
“Fuck off,” I said as I pushed the book away from me. Cutting him off mid-sentence didn’t mean anything. I still got the gist of it. The pages in front of me were filled with words. He was right. I just had to see. And there they were, line after line after line of words.
“Can’t leave it now.”
“What the hell? I’m out of here. You’re a freaky old man. I don’t know how you did it. I actually don’t give a shit how you did it. I’m out.”
I made for the door. But the old man came out from behind the counter with a book bag in hand. He was sliding the gold book into the bag as he made his way between me and the door.
I looked into his face for the first time. Ever see one of those skeletal people in horror movies? You know the ones. They’re not dead, but they’re so skinny and frail and grey and white that you just know they’re gonna keel over in the next ten minutes and start eating brains or something. Dude was like that. Hollow cheeks. Empty eyes that looked just as dusty as his black suit. His lips were slits of white, just gashes in his face. I thought about screaming but knew the sound of it in that dank store would terrify the hell out of me. So I muffled it. I ate the scream like I never ate a scream before in my life.
There I was. Right in front of the door. With Lurch standing between me and it. I wasn’t getting through him. Just as I knew he was scrawny and near death, I also knew he’d be like frigging Gibraltar. A man of steel. Something in my head and my heart told me not to mess with him.
He reached toward me and I thought for a second that he might kill me. But I noticed that it was the hand with the bagged book in it that came out to meet me.
“Here you go,” he said. “You can’t leave without your new purchase.”
“I ain’t buying that piece of shit. Get it away from me.”
“Son, it’s already paid for. It’s yours. Bought and paid for. Told you not to open it. They usually don’t listen, Ethan. Not usually. In recent memory, I only remember one boy taking heed of my words and putting that book back on the shelf. Since you ain’t him, you bought this book. Now take it.”
He nudged the book into my belly, pushing it against me like he was attempting to break the skin and lodge it in my abdomen.
I backed off and pushed back. “I don’t want it.”
“Take it and go, young man. You stopped playing with choice when you opened it. Take it. And go.”
His eyes burned so hard into me that I did the only thing I could think of to do. I reached a hand toward his and grabbed hold of the book.
“There you go. Now get.”
“You’re a crazy old man,” I said. I know. Lame-assed, right.
“Maybe so. But I don’t dance with devils, Ethan. I leave that to my customers. Now take the book you wanted so badly and be gone from here. It’s time I close up shop for the day.”
He stepped aside and allowed me to leave. I felt like I was in a dream state. Fuzz filled up around me and swallowed up anything sane that was left of the moment. I was on the other side of the door. I could hear the muffled ringing of the bells on the inside, but as I looked in I couldn’t see the old man or his cat. I stepped away from the door, looked at the bag in my hands with the old book in it and felt my shoulders slump in defeat.
“Shit. I don’t want this stupid book.”