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SHORT STORIES

Stubborn leaves cling to branches against the cold wind blowing from the mountains. Sarah stands in the middle of the tree-lined road, staring at the old bookstore. MadBooks Unlimited stands resolute in the old neighborhood, its name etched in crimson and gold lettering on the storefront glass.

 

A chill runs up her spine despite the navy peacoat and wool scarf wrapped close to her neck. The nip has nothing to do with autumn blowing in off the Rockies, nor the leaden skies hanging low over the century-old bungalows. No, the dread she feels is as undeniable as the cemetery bones at the end of the lane.

Cornsilk hair whisks about her eyes as she looks up and down the road for anyone who might recognize her. It's been three years. There shouldn't be anyone who knows her now.

She crosses the street, blinking back watery eyes and sniffing back a runny nose. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. She pulls her scarf closer to her chin, thinking about the pig of a man she needs to see. The one who had been there when it happened. The strange man on the third floor. Coming here was what she had always dreaded, reliving that day and... Peter.

The three-story red brick building seems to lean eastward, bloated with words, clauses, opinions, facts and fiction. First editions, rare books, and law publications. MadBooks is primordial. Once a bordello, it had served as a saloon, housed struggling families, and been a moth-eaten flophouse before turning into a bookstore.

She stops at the steps, holding the cold handrail, and remembers that day. MadBooks had been there for her as a law student. The hours in the stacks, alone, pushing to be that successful legal scholar, a clean puritanical disciple of the law. How long had it been? Half a dozen years or so?

She hesitates, almost turning back in fear. But remembering how she had succumbed to fear back then, and how she had endured it, she ventures on. That was the day she realized law wasn't for her. And Peter... He hadn't deserved it either.

She wipes her nose and looks back down the tree-lined street to the dead end. Something she had done all her life. Looking over her shoulder to see if she could see it. The animal deep inside her. Her ubiquitous deviant. The one that still licked her underbelly and massaged her flame, encouraging defection from sterling to swirling whenever self-indulgence rode over her sense of integrity. On that day, the deviant won.

 

Now there it stands, looking down on her in her upscale wardrobe. The old monument to deprivation stands pig-headedly, daring her to penetrate its bowels.

"Norton." Sarah groans at the pencil-necked nerd hunched over at the info desk. "Still here after all these years?"

"Crap," he mutters with a high-shouldered toss in flamboyant perfection, barely bothering to look up. "Figured you'd died." His dig is meant to hurt as he flings himself back to the laptop.

"Lennie in?"

Working on a neck pimple the size of Guam, he offers an upward middle-finger gesture. "Third floor," he mumbles at his computer screen.

She whispers, just soft enough, "Still a creep after all these years, I see."

Norton peeks out from under goth horn rims, fondles his scrotum, and gapes at the backside of the jeans gliding past. He licks the corner of his lips and shoves a finger up at her ass climbing the steep stairs. "Still a bitch," he mumbles just soft enough.

The century-old building isn't just ancient. The old gal is more than the dust harbored in the pinched stairway, more than the creaky sway-back oak floors. She's enduring her years with brick and beams coated and recoated with awful memories chipped and marred, reviled and loved. She's a whore soaked with human stain, tragedy, titillation, wretched fertilizations with hapless consequences.

Sarah climbs step by creaky step. The past emerges, tendrils snatching at her flesh, touching, clutching at her vulnerability, winding through her belly up into her throat. Whispering unintelligible yearnings and promises of uncertainty to come. Remembrances long forgotten oozing back into focus.

She coughs at the second landing. Clutching her chest, she makes her way up the worn oak railing higher into the dusty old mess of a building.

Panting, she reaches the 3rd-floor landing and that famous sign on the doorway students had revered for years, still there. She trembles.

 

LAW BOOKS / PUBLICATIONS

FOR THE CRIMINALLY INSANE

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

 

Close Door Behind You

 

Sarah pushes through to a spacious room. A narrow hallway leads to what had been bedrooms but now are stacks with volumes of cases dedicated to the defense and prosecution of unspeakable crimes. Dark maniacal murders defined in disturbing detail.

It's cold and stuffy. She pulls her scarf closer. Somewhere an air filter hums softly. The third floor is clearly organized and clean, a stark contrast to the jumbled stacks managed by the creep downstairs.

"Lennie," she calls out. "Lennie, you in here?"

Out steps a massive round body hunched forward in overalls. Large eyes in a face mottled and blotchy squint in her direction. He shuffles closer, peering over the top of round spectacles perched on a bubble nose. Tufts of white hair frame long hairy ears. He licks his lips when he recognizes who stands before him.

"Sarah, my darling." He folds hands at his chest. “I’m sorry, my dear. But I guess that doesn’t change things, does it? Will you use the same knife again? Or I?

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