Tag Archives: fiction

Grimoire

The following is a story written in response to a Twitter prompt for #GrimList2019. Today’s prompt was Grimoire. I had a lot of fun writing this and may use it as a jumping off point for this year’s NaNoWriMo, since I’m still not sure what I want to do. I could take this in a few different directions. Enjoy!

 

The day after I was let go from my job, my best friend took the day off to indulge in some shopping therapy with me. She had a talent for finding unique local shops, and after I’d helped her pick out two pairs of shoes, a scarf, and a set of Halloween mixing bowls, she drove us out to a family-owned winery with a gift shop.

“We went shopping to cheer you up,” Charlotte said, “but I’m the only who’s bought anything.”

“It’s cheering me up to keep my money.”

“I know your weakness. Look at this.” Hands full with a bottle of wine in each, she nodded toward the table of leather-bound books.

I picked one up. Each was about five by eight inches and less than an inch thick. The pages had deckled edges and were sewn to leather covers.

“Those are made entirely by hand.”

I turned in the direction of the voice. The shop owner, a woman with long silver hair and an apron, smiled at me.

“They’re beautiful,” I said.

“My husband tanned the leather for the covers, and I made the paper using pulp from one of our trees that had been struck down by lightning.”

A bell above the door chimed, and she turned away to greet the new customers.

I turned the book over to look at the price. “Forty dollars,” I whispered to Charlotte.

“You pay for the craftsmanship.”

“What would I even draw in this?” I asked, laughing at the absurdity of spending so much on a book when I had so many unused or half-finished sketchbooks at home. “It’s too beautiful for any of my scribbles.”

“Think of it this way,” Charlotte said. “You’re not throwing money away on another sketchbook you don’t need, but investing in a local business.”

“I’m not in a position to be splurging.”

“Take it out of your severance pay and pretend your check is just that much less. Come on. You can’t go home empty handed.”

“Oh, all right. Maybe it’ll serve as inspiration. I’ll flip through these beautiful pages while I’m waiting for hiring managers to call me and dreaming about how I should have followed my heart and majored in something useful like art rather than something unpredictable like business.”

“That’s the attitude.” Before I could change my mind, she led the way to the register.

At my house that night, we made dinner and drank both bottles of wine while watching favorite movies. Rather than drive home, Charlotte spent the night. In the morning, she left me a partial pot of coffee and a note signed with a smiley face.

It was Friday. I decided to start my job hunt bright and early on Monday and allow myself a long weekend to decompress with some art. After breakfast, I took my second cup of coffee to the spare bedroom I’d turned into a studio.

The notebook sat on my drawing table. The handmade paper was thicker than most. Maybe I could fill the book with a decent collection of drawings. The book could have a theme, rather than the mess my sketchbooks usually became, filled with marginalia like song titles and grocery lists.

I opened the cover to count the pages. The first one had writing on it.

It looked like a recipe, written in ornate handwriting by what I guessed to be a fountain pen. The strokes of the letters were uneven, indicating changes in pressure. I recognized few of the ingredients, presuming the rest to be alternate names for herbs. More confusing were the lines of verse written on the bottom of the page. My limited foreign language skills were no help.

As I turned the pages, each had writing in a similar style, unintelligible to me. I could invest in a local business in exchange for a fancy sketchbook, but no way would I spend $40 on something that was useless to me. I got dressed and drove out to the winery either to return the book or exchange it for a clean one.

Although it was the first time I’d ever been to the winery, I drove past it a few times a month whenever I went out of town. While I’d never had the best sense of direction, I wasn’t likely to get lost on such a familiar road.

When I’d driven up and down the stretch of highway for two hours with no sign of it, I knew something was wrong. Turning into the nearest gas station, I tried to use GPS to find directions. No winery showed up on the map and I couldn’t remember the name. Charlotte would probably be going on her lunch break soon, so I texted her to call me.

“What’s the name of that winery we went to yesterday?” I asked when she called. “That notebook I bought has writing in it. I was trying to return it, but I can’t find the place.”

“Uh… what are you talking about? We didn’t go to a winery.”

“What are you talking about? Of course we did. That’s where you bought the wine.”

“No, we bought that at the grocery store. You’re not driving around, are you? You drank more than I did last night. I think you should take it easy today.”

I eyed the book laying in the passenger seat with my purse. “Yeah, okay,” I said absently and hung up after I promised to call her late that night.

Unsure of my own memory or senses, I picked up the book. The leather felt warm in my hands. I wondered what kind of creature it had come from.

A soft breathy sound came from the book. “Open me. Read me. Use me.”

 

Like Someone’s Listening to Me

The following is an excerpt from my novel The Famulus. It introduces Aberdeen, the main character, as she discusses books with her coworker, Sebastian.

***

Aberdeen Scotland had missed her appointed “Orientation to Life” session or been placed in the wrong metaphysical homeroom in that strange wonderland where all the young souls hung out before birth. Whatever it was, she was sure everyone else had been born with some kind of innate sense that instructed them how to make friends and convince others they were someone good to dance with or hire for a job or buy a drink for and basically just how to get along in life. She was lacking in something, although she didn’t know what.

It was a rainy Thursday afternoon in October, and she was working at the Buy Back counter of Reads & Rereads, a used-book store in Kilkenny, Indiana. Despite the self-pitying nature of her thoughts, she was having a good day. A customer had just brought in four large boxes of books to sell back, and it would take no stalling on her part to make the processing of the new inventory last until it was time to leave for the day. Pricing and organizing the books was Aberdeen’s favorite task at her job. She liked giving each book individual attention, like they were stray pets taken in and she was giving them the only love and care they might receive for days or weeks at a time.

“I’d like to just toss the whole lot,” said Sebastian, her shift manager and one of her favorite coworkers. A long-haired graduate student, Sebastian had developed a following online due to a series of scathing yet hilarious book reviews he wrote. He not only read more than Aberdeen had time for, but he was the only person in her circle of acquaintances, small as it was, who shared her hobby of writing fiction.

“How can you say something like that?” She exaggerated her outrage by hugging a book to her chest but put it down again when she smelled the combination of stale cigarette smoke and basement mustiness.

“I don’t have time for trash,” Sebastian said. “If something’s not relevant or important, I’m not going to read it.”

He had a long face that always made Aberdeen feel like she was talking to a horse that had been anthropomorphized into a human. Even his hair, longer and fuller than hers, reminded her of a wild mane, which he never subjected to a hair tie or even the confinement of being tucked behind his ears.

“That’s personal preference. There could still be a handful of people, or even just one person, to whom that book could make a difference.”

He squinted one eye at her, giving her a look she had come to know too well from him. His expression implied she should have been smarter than what she was presenting. It had taken months, but she’d finally learned not to take him too seriously.

That look was the reason she would never ask him for a critique of her writing. She knew it wasn’t up to his standards. His characters were all dark, tortured, and psychologically unstable and didn’t do much besides get drunk and sleep with each other, while hers learned powers of teleportation, stole artwork, and went on the kind of cringe-worthy first dates she was sure she would have, although they could laugh about their shortcomings and fall in love despite doing everything wrong.

He held up one of the books. “If a story about a cardboard, alpha male, super spy rescuing what looks like a beauty pageant winner—if this cover illustration is to be believed—is going to ‘make a difference’ to someone,”—he made air quotes with his free hand—“then I’m willing to bet there’s another book out there that will do the same job.”

“So, you support the practice of books going out of print?”

“Of course. If libraries didn’t occasionally weed out their collections, they would run out of shelf space. And information becomes outdated and inaccurate, so who’s to say the same thing can’t happen with fiction, so it’s no longer relevant to anyone in the modern world? Besides, even as it is, there’s no shortage of books to be read.”

“You would just wipe out the life’s work of some poor author.” She tried to pour all her disdain into her tone, but she couldn’t be sure he would pick up on her disapproval. Or that he would care.

“It’s nothing personal. But not every book can be a classic. Far fewer deserve it than those people give the name to these days. You have to decide what kind of mark you want to make on the world.”

“But who decides what’s a classic and what isn’t?”

“There are medical doctors to tell you what’s healthy to eat, and there are liberal arts doctors, PhDs, to tell you what’s healthy to read. And it’s not always what’s best-selling, either. So much of what’s popular these days is classless and all-around bad writing.”

“There’s got to be a better way. That sounds unfair.”

“Unfair to whom? Do you realize there are books in this store that have been here longer than I’ve worked here? No one wants them.”

“Maybe they just haven’t found their audience.”

She thought of the last book for which she had rushed through dinner to get back to reading—an installment in a cozy mystery series set in Scotland. Despite her geographical name, Aberdeen had never been even close to Scotland and knew hardly anything about it other than what she’d picked up in books or on TV. That series, self-published by a Scottish author who wrote about settings familiar to her and created quirky characters who lightened the page with their friendly banter and their love for investigating murders, had served the purpose of combatting loneliness by inviting Aberdeen into a world as real as only a book could make it.

She doubted there was even one thing about the series to meet Sebastian’s standards.

“It’s like people,” she continued, her argument fueled by his obstinacy. “It’s just so hard to meet people who relate to the same things I do or are interested in the same things I am.”

“Like what?” he asked. “What are you interested in that no one else is?”

“Me.” She’d been fishing for laughter, which he gave her, but she meant what she said. “Sometimes books are all I have. I’m serious. I can’t figure people out, and that puts so much pressure on me to be around anyone. I never know what I can say to keep them from mentally tuning out because they don’t connect with me. When I read, it’s like someone saying to me, ‘Hey, I think those things, too.’ And when I write, it’s almost like someone’s listening to me, even if no one ever reads it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“You just want someone to listen to you? What do you think I’m doing now?”

She refused to smile at his joke. “But if you think about it, you’re being paid for your time right now.”

“But not by you.”

“Doesn’t matter. You can’t honestly tell me you think we would hang out if we didn’t work together. If we were really friends, we would have already made plans to go out for drinks sometime.”

She regretted saying that, not because she was worried she would offend him, but because she didn’t want him to challenge her and make the suggestion she said he never made. As much as she liked talking to Sebastian at work, having to sustain a conversation with him over an hour without customers or other work-related tasks to distract them would be too stressful.

Maybe that was why she didn’t have many friends.