A twist on self-publishing
The backstreets of Manchester had never been easy to negotiate and to be honest if you didn’t know what you were looking for you would have easily missed it. The shop had a plain frontage with the remnants of a bargain sticker that had long since been removed. Inside it smelled of sandalwood and something more familiar but somehow unobtainable. It was filled with curious objects that looked like they had been tipped out from old toy boxes or rescued from a dead hoarder’s house. Everything was arranged in multiples of similar origin and stacked neatly into the available space. The only thing that looked worth selling was a pristine collection of books that filled one of the walls.
A heavy velvet curtain was drawn across a long thin room just behind a very large and very old, oak desk. It was ornately carved with a form of tapestry, depicting what appeared to be some kind of a story, a story of a child swimming with fishes, climbing mountains and journeying through dense forests, there was more, much more but every time a piece came in to focus it shifted into something else.
On the right side of the room, behind the curtain, there were hundreds small beech wood drawers, each one locked and only identifiable by a symbol etched into the front panel.
On the left side of the room, a shelf with brightly coloured glass bottles each one seeming to contain a liquid and a gas. Hanging under the desk was a huge key ring, one for each of the drawers.
A cloaked lady with dry, bleached hair and a face that moved in wrinkles was standing just behind the curtain holding a silver candelabra with three candles, she whispered something in old Romany into one of the open drawers, it rattled and slammed shut, extinguishing one of the flames. As it went out, a small bottle at the far end of the room glowed with a bright green light. The cloaked lady looked towards the light without turning her head and smiled.
A young girl had entered the shop, pretending she was only stepping in to get out of the rain. She lifted a hand as though requesting to speak, before thumping it down on a brass bell that had an ink written note, cello taped to the desk in front of it, it read, please ring for attention.
“Is it ready”? she shouted into the closed curtain, then took a step back as it opened in an instant. “your early” the lady said in a stern voice. “yeah I know but it’s raining, and it has been nearly an hour”
“Wait there and don’t touch anything” the lady’s wrinkles moved as if to smile but her face didn’t follow as she returned behind the curtain to collect the glass vial she had been working on. She used a small pipet to sample a single drop from the liquid and dripped it into the corner of her right eye. emotions seem to sweep over her in an instant she was laughing and crying at the same time, “oh yes it’s ready”, she said under her breath, already walking back to the young girl.
Are you sure you want this she asked her, with almost no interest in hearing the reply. The girl didn’t wait to exchange pleasantries, she snatched the vial and swallowed the contents in one mouthful. “What now she asked what’s next? seeming almost irritated by the pace of the exchange she leaned forward placing her hands on the desk.
Its surface shimmered, billions of tiny lights spread through her fingers up into her arms, it began to absorb her. Slowly at first but the more she struggled the more it moved within her, the grain twisting amongst each cell, devouring her body like army ants her limbs and torso folded into the wood, fully absorbed, she had gone. The ornate carving was the only thing that had changed, its tapestry no longer showed a girl swimming with fishes, it was blank.
The shopkeeper, almost oblivious to what had happened, placed her hand on top of the desk and began to drum her fingers, fissures of light sparked beneath the click of each falling nail until the solid top opened as if it was a liquid. The book that surfaced was taken quickly and dried off with a cloth that she hung beside the keys. Once dry she placed it under a bell jar and moved efficiently onto her next task.
She thumbed through the pages of an old address book and settled on a name she tapped twice, Yes, she said out loud, she will be interested. She picked up the receiver and dialled the number in the book.
“Hello, I’m calling from the bookstore, I thought you might be interested in a new arrival”
The person on the other end of the phone paused holding her breath, the shopkeeper could almost hear her teeth breaking the skin of her bottom lip before she said, I’m on my way.
As the shopkeeper slowly replaced the receiver, the carvings on the desk started to re-appear but this time they depicted a much darker story.