I wrote and revised this story several times until I reached a point where I had to let my flower go and take root in myself and the reader.
This story was inspired by a bookstore I visited in Chicago and some of you may have read this before but this is an updated version and I am reposting this for the benefit of my new followers and for my old ones who may wish to read it again.
Don’t you get annoyed when you walk into a room and everyone ignores you? Surely books in a big dusty used bookstore feel the same?
Well, this is what happened…. Read on, if you dare…
Read Me To Death
Even if I live to ninety and end up a drooling old Grinch who has long forgotten who I am, there will be one memory, yes, just one memory that will live on and die when I do. It’s only now, years later that I can bring myself to talk about it. Bad things do that to a man. You run and run away from them, turning your back on the bomb blast behind you but someday, you get tired of running and you stop. I don’t know what it is, curiosity maybe but you stop and slowly turn around and look at the wreckage from safe distance and survey the landscape of your life that lies both behind and in front of you. There is no difference between past and future, it just depends which way you’re looking.
I remember that Friday night. It was a July and I kicking my heels in downtown Chicago. I was there on business for the realtor company I worked for and it was my only weekend in the city before flying home to Dullsville, Dakota. I had spent a tedious week in meetings with tedious people, pressing the flesh and spinning bullshit and listening to even more bullshit with tubby little men in cheap suits and ties bought for them by Aunt Mamie. It was on that Friday afternoon when the conference drew to a close that a few of the guys invited me to spend an evening at a strip joint with them. I told them gee thanks but my wife was ill and had to fly home early. After the earnest nodding of heads and the ‘hope she gets betters’, I said my goodbyes, shook their hands and promised to call them and left.
I’m not a prude. I love a naked hotty serving me Sam Adams and fries just like the next man with broken dreams but I didn’t want to spend it with a gang of limp dicks from burbland. They weren’t unpleasant but looking back, they were too much of a mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. By the way, did I say I had a wife? Well, the truth is, I don’t have a wife, at least not since I found her cold in our library floor the year before. The coroner recorded accidental death. A broken neck and internal cerebral hemorrhaging. It seemed she fell from the step ladder while stretching too far a book. I didn’t know what book it was that killed her so I decided to punish all the books by burning them all.
I shouldn’t have done that for I still smell those ashes in more ways than one.
I returned to my hotel room and took a shower and changed into my dress-down Friday gear. Nothing special, just blue Levi’s, black tee, slim-fit navy and purple plaid shirt and a pair of scuffed off-white Reeboks. I sat on my bed resting against the headboard and channel hopped with the sound turned off, watching nothing in particular. I guess I just needed a fix of different kinds of people and different kinds of faces and landscapes but without the yakkety-yak. Where I come from, everyone is white and has a double chin and a pot belly. It gets a bit samey after half a lifetime. As darkness fell, I turned the TV off, combed my hair and left my room to hit the city. I crossed the street and took the Blueline. Minutes later I jumped off at Damon, Wicker Park.
The heat, wow, it’s coming back to me. That was one hot summer’s night. So hot, the night itself broke into a sweat. The streets were a beehive of the beautiful and bizarre, floating from bar to café to night club like butterflies with henna wings. I stopped to light a cigarette and took time out to watch the people ebb and flow. Every subculture; punks, steam-punks, Goths, skaters, preppies and a whole bunch of people dressed in ways I am sure there are words for but didn’t know. Life itself was alive and hiving but I felt I was watching it from the outside, like a hologram nobody could see, a lonely observer.
I walked further down the street and it didn’t take me long to find a bar to my liking. The Southern. I went inside and sat on a stool at the edge of bar, slowing knocking back my Sazeracs. A well dressed woman who sat next to me was having an animated conversation with her male companion about seitan. I guess it was some kind of vegetarian food from what I picked up but it seemed to be something of a big deal to them. I got a little bored and to be honest, I felt a little bad about being a fly on a wall and switched my thoughts to working out a plausible story to impress a lady with, one with a ‘wow’ factor.
But not in this place.
Everyone was in a group and no one looked like they needed new friends or lovers. I got up, sank the rest of my drink and left. I made my way back up towards the six corner intersection of Damen and Milwaukee. It was after midnight and most of the stores were shut. The night life was still cranking up though and I wanted to go for a ride in its engine oil. I was working out a story in my mind about being a journalist but I scrubbed that. They’re probably a dime a dozen round here and none so special neither. Art critic? I’d have needed to have read up on a whole lot of bluffer’s guides even to get off the starting block on that one. While I was thinking, I was getting thirsty again. The air was humid and my throat was cut with the dud packet of Lucky Strikes that I bought from a hustler outside my hotel a few hours earlier.
Then the building came into view.
It had a blue frontage but I couldn’t tell its name from where I stood. There were no awnings or sign but people were buzzing in and out. It looked groovy. I quickened my pace and soon enough, I was outside its front door. I looked in and was taken aback to find that it wasn’t a bar but a bookstore. A very big bookstore to boot. I looked up and finally, I saw the sign.
I know stores open longer in the cities than they do in small towns like Priest River but I never saw a bookstore, let alone a second hand bookstore open this late. I could tell it was second hand. The shelves were an orderly display of disordered shapes and sizes. I decided to put my thirst to the back of my mind and go inside and explore.
The air was cooler thanks to the giant fan that slowly whooshed above my head. I noticed how quiet it was. The noise from the street segued to that of a distant party on the horizon.
I ambled aimlessly around the store, glancing at the eye-level titles and rarely mustering the effort to crouch and pay attention to the book at my knee-level or lower. The books were like wallflowers, like pretty girls who sit at the back of the hall and hope to be picked out for a dance. At least books don’t have feelings. Within just a couple sidesteps, I waltzed from sidewalk to Sartre.
I heard a low muffled groan – I looked around and only saw other browsers. Judging by the looks of them, I didn’t think any of them were muffled-groan kind of people. Perhaps it was the air con but it sounded like a sick person.
I wondered around even more, following my well beaten path – poetry first, then travel, a bit of mystery, social history and music to the middle right. Then I would move down to the Q-T fiction section. I gravitated to this section as it was snug. I picked out a book at random and flicked through it. I forget what it was. It was some old English detective story from the 1920’s. Country gardens and vicarages, not my bag at all. I remember the author’s name. Mrs Hubert Housegoe. She sounded like a stiff. I shut the book and a small plume of dust wisped into the air and melted into invisibility within seconds. I placed the book back but I fell straight back out and landed with a soft thud on the long dead carpet. I bent down to pick up and another book fell down. I knew I was kinda clumsy but not this much.
I picked up the other book, checked its title and author. Gareth Hinkley. I leafed a couple of random pages but it didn’t stir my loins so I put it back where I thought it ought to go, between the other Hinkley book and the Housegoe book.
I heard another groan.
I turned around.
Nobody was there. The shop was deserted. I checked my watch. It had just gone midnight. The store wasn’t closing for another ninety minutes. Perhaps everyone got thirsty and headed to a bar. Perhaps I’m the sucker for staying behind here like a high school bookworm while the Fonzies of this world are oozin’ up to the Peggy Sue’s.
But there was something about this place. I plucked out random books and read the messages on the inside pages. “I hope you enjoy this George, love Melissa. December 1968” was one. It was in one of Norman Mailer’s books, “Presidential Papers”. I read other such messages but it left me with a sense of melancholy. Who were these people? Are they still around? These were once lovingly chosen gifts. Melissa probably spent hours, days even, getting into a state about what to buy George. She found the book, bought it, wrote her message inside it, wrapped it and finally gave it to George. George opened the wrapping, smiled at seeing the title. It was probably something he wanted for some time. He opened the cover and read the message and smiled. If Melissa was in the room at the same time as him, George would have turned to her and smiled. They would have embraced, kissed each other even.
Back in December 1973. Where did all that joy go? Did it just vanish like a fart in fan factory? Why didn’t George keep the book? That made me sad. Part of me would have liked to have turned sleuth and find George and Melissa, but that would be stupid. People bought things in cash in those days. There would have been no electronic trail. George had his reasons. Perhaps Melissa and George got married but died and the book was dumped along with the rest of his library here or across a number of such papery tombs such as this. Some of the old books still had their price tags that stuck like fossils to their spines.
This one didn’t.
Perhaps some things and some people weren’t meant to be found.
I put the book back and wandered some more, deeper into the back of the store. I’ve been in bookstores before but this one, my, it was like a underground fugitive hideout. Bare bulbs dangled from plasterboard ceilings like the glassy heads of hung. The shelves were very high, they rose almost two floors in height and they were too close together for more than one person to fit at a time. It was just as well no one else was here. There would have been no room. I imagine it would be pretty embarrassing squeezing past the bodies of other bookworms during rush periods. Depends on whose body it was.
I decided I had enough. I felt closed in, almost claustrophobic. The novelty of the hundreds of old books had worn thin. I felt I was in a mausoleum. The place reminded me of death, the worst kind when the world has stopped remembering your name or that you ever existed.
All those books.
All those writers.
I bet every single one of those books was launched in a swanky cocktail party. The authors, resplendent in finery, holding court, lauded by fans and sycophants. A reading, perhaps, and questions and answers.
‘What inspired you to write this?’ from the audience. The clink of glasses. ‘Congratulations’, ‘Well done’, ‘Awesome’ and other varieties of felicitation filling the air. Interviews on public radio, sponsored by some dead rich white guy.
All now long forgotten echoes, thinned and melted into invisibility within the ever growing growl of the hungry hurricanes of time passed. The bouquets, crushed. The glasses, long lost or broken, melted down and recycled into ten for a dollar tumbler deals at Walmart for Joe the Plumber to pour Bud Light into when feeling in an uptown mood. The champagne, long drunk and urinated, now rain water or in reservoir. The people now well dressed bones under marble headstones.
I had to get out. I needed to breathe.
I walked back the way I came. As soon as the counter and the front door came into view, ‘Thud’. My way was blocked. The shelves on either side had suddenly closed the gap in front of me. I looked around to find another way out.
There was none.
“Hello? Hello?” I called out.
I was greeted with silence.
I heard a snigger, from the back. I went back but there was no one there.
I called out again.
Nothing. If there was anyone there, they didn’t hear me.
Or didn’t care.
I pushed each of the shelves that were bolted to the walls but there was no give. Some books fell down and I peered into the gaps they left behind. I stuck my arm into the gaps but I felt nothing but brick. I kicked the shelves and the books but nothing. I took out my cell phone to call the police. Silence. No bars, a dead zone.
I called out again. I started to panic. “Can anyone hear me? I’m trapped. Can someone get me out?”
“Yes, eventually” said a voice…
I turned around. By the counter stood a young man. He wore a trimmed beard, brown turtle neck sweater and a pair of flared Levi’s. He looked like a bien pensant organic celery soup and good causes liberal cliché.
“Thank God for this” I said. “I swore someone was playing a trick on me”
The man smiled.
“How so?” he asked
“Well…” I said, “I feel like a real goof-ball saying this but as soon as I was about to leave, those two shelves there just behind me, closed in on me, blocking my way. The thing is, I have to go now, and I’ve friends to meet across the road at the Earwax Café…”
A lie. I had no friends in Chicago. I had no friends in Priest River either.
The young man crossed his arms and blinked like his eyes stung. He didn’t reply.
“Well, I was wondering if you could let me out” I asked, filling the awkward gap where the young man’s reply should have been.
“Yes, I can let you out” he said.
“Great! Thank you”.
I stood there expecting him to move or walk somewhere or do something but he didn’t. He just stood where he was, smiling at me. I started to feel a little cold. The temperature dropped yet a film of sweat formed on my back and my forehead.
“Could I leave now?” I asked. “I have to really leave now”
“I’m afraid you can’t” he said.
I freaked a little.
“Listen here mister, I have to fucking go now and you let me out of here. You’re holding me against my will. That’s a crime the last time I looked”
I lunged at him, aiming to grab his lapels but as soon as I grabbed them, he vanished. My fists held nothing but frustration and clammy air. Cold sweat oozed from every pore. My heart beat a crescendo, I could even hear it. Heartbeats freak me out at the best of times, even the beeps of proximity sensors when I reverse my car into a tight space but this one, boy. I turned around.
There he was again, but now standing where the gap in the shelves has been. He lowered his head, staring at me with his cold blue eyes. He was still smiling an assassin’s smile.
“What the fuck is going here, who the fuck are you?”
He cleared his throat.
“We don’t like being ignored and we’ve had enough” he said.
“I don’t understand, who doesn’t like being ignored?” I asked
He raised his hands and moved them from side to side.
“Us, my friend. The books. We are tired of being ignored. We sit there, day after day, week after week, year after…you get the picture. People come in and browse. They glance at us, that’s a match one. Get plucked off a shelf, match two…”
He started to walk around, circling me.
“…flick through us, match three. Take us to the counter and buy us, well, that’s a lottery win”
I decided I had enough.
“I don’t know who you are but you are not a book you freak. Just get me the fuck out of here” I grabbed him. He didn’t vanish this time. He felt solid, real. I started to laugh.
“I know what this is” I laughed. He smiled. “This is some TV show. You’re a magician. You’re like David Copperfield” I laughed again. He mimicked my laughter. I thought I rumbled him. Any second now, the shelves would roll back to reveal a television crew and a round of applause from the staff-in-hiding and bystanders. Some toothy body to die for presenter would stride up to me and put her arm around my shoulder and shove a mike in my face. I’d blush and feel foolish for a while but laugh it off before the ad break.
But none of that happened. No TV crew, no presenter, no nothing. Just me alone in an empty mouldy bookstore with no way out.
I grabbed his lapels and we both laughed like hyenas but he floated off into the air, waiving at me as he looked down at me, gliding upwards until he stopped hovering a foot from the ceiling.
“My friend” he chuckled. “You believe what you will to help you get through this”
“Come down here, what is this?”
He put his right finger to his lips like a ham actor.
“Strictly speaking, I am no friend of yours, my… friend….ha just kidding. But you are the best possible friend I could ever have, or anyone of us here could have”
“What do you mean, ‘anyone of us’. There’s just you and me”
“Look around you” he said. “Your friends are all around you. The door itself is all around you”
Then he vanished.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I jumped and turned around. He stood behind me.
“And the keys are all round you too. We just want attention, that’s all. The books. We the books. We all like attention, I bet you do too. How would it feel if every girl in every bar you ever walked into, just looked through like you didn’t exist? You stop at the bar and say hi but they don’t listen. They don’t even look at you never mind listen. How would you feel if this happens with every woman, in every bar, every night? Hmm? It either makes you want to stay at home, or….”
He paused and started to walk around me. I tried to turn around too to keep my eye on him.
“Get even” he rasped in my ear like old man with a tracheotomy.
“You can’t blame me for everyone ignoring you, it’s not my fault”
“Ah but you are the personification of the Reader. It is unfortunate though. We did sense a higher than usual degree of empathy from you. When you picked certain volumes off the shelves, we felt your pain. You blamed us for your wife’s accident. In fact, this is the first time you visited a bookstore since she fell off the ladder trying to fetch a copy of…well…that would be telling. We decided that you would be the one”
“I be the ‘one’ what?”
“You will be the one who reads us all. One by one, you take us down, open us, caress us, blow away the dust from every one of our yellowing crumbling skins and read every single word of every single line of every single page. Then you put us lovingly back where you found us and take down the next one, and the next one and the next until there is no next one, until every single book in here is read”
As soon as he finished speaking, he vanished. I looked around. He wasn’t to be seen. I ran around the shelves, looking in every direction but I was alone. Then I heard his voice. It was as though his voice was dipped in darkness and echo.
“Until every single one is read. Then you leave” said his voice. It seemed to come at me from all directions at once.
Time passed slowly like grit through clinched teeth.
I paced the aisles. I shouted for help. I kicked shelves, wrecked the counter and banged on walls. I checked my cell phone again but it was no use. I succumbed to sleep in the end, more out of the self-induced balm of narcolepsy that wholesome tiredness. I fell to the floor and curled up in a ball and cried myself into a deep dead sleep that felt like an induced coma.
The next morning, I woke up where I lay. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. I hadn’t moved. I was still there, still in the bookstore. I jumped to my feet and called for help. I looked at my cell phone. The battery was dead. Then I remembered my Zippo.
I’d burn my way out. Why didn’t I think of that?
I reached inside my jacket and whipped out my lighter and rubbed metal on flint. An orange and yellow plume of flame shot out like a long ephemeral feather of a bird of paradise. I grabbed the first book that came to hand. I didn’t give a fuck what it was. I set the flame to a handful of pages and waited for them to take light.
But they didn’t.
The paper didn’t even singe. I flicked the flame off and felt the paper. Perhaps it was damp but no. The paper was as dry as the eyes of a rich widow. I threw the book down and tried to set another one alight. And then another and another until I gave up. Nothing took light.
Then the voice.
“We’ll let you off this once but if you damage one single page of any of us, you will never leave. Never leave”
I shouted things like ‘Fuck you’ and roared until my throat hurt but it was like shouting at some twisted ambivalent God. It didn’t make me feel any better I have to admit but I had to let it out.
I walked around the aisles and that was when I found a ladder. There was nothing for it but to start at the back, top left shelf and begin reading the first book then the next.
I cheated sometimes. I skimmed several dozen pages at a time but the books always seemed to know. I would hear a sign before the book would flick its pages back to the start, making me read it all over again. Days passed. There were no windows, no means of keeping track of day or night. My watch had stopped working and I had long since dispensed with it. I flung it in a fit of rage against the counter and it smashed to bits.
Irrational I know but I wasn’t in the mood for winning Nobel prizes in reasonable behavior at that time.
Strange things then happened. Well, it’s strange what becomes normal after a while but every day when I woke up, a loaf of bread and a jug of water was left by my feet. At the far corner, a chemical toilet and bidet. Whatever or whoever was doing this to me didn’t want me dead or leaving turds all over the joint. This was what I ate and drank. White bread and water, just like prisoners in bad cartoons.
I read one book a day at first until I found a book about speed-reading, which I thought was useful but I couldn’t quite master it. I practiced it but it felt like skimming and looked where that led me. I progressed to reading two and sometimes three books a day.
I became militaristic about it.
I closed the world, my old world, out of my mind. Just one man and his books. I saw myself as just having landed on the Normandy beaches. Each book, a field between here and Berlin. I had to fight my way through each and every single one. There was no shortcut, no chopper or freeway or jeep to suddenly take me to the end.
Months passed. I was resigned to having had lost my home and my job. Even if I was released how would I explain my absence? No-one would believe me. I’d have to start from scratch all over again somewhere else.
Time wore on. I felt I was Sisyphus, or a spirit trapped in a boulder in the middle of a stream, waiting for the stone to be sufficiently worn thin for me to escape. Someday it would happen but it wasn’t to be soon. I put such debilitating thoughts to the back of my head and just ploughed on. Every subject you could think off, every title too. Some I actually enjoyed reading; some were like wading through setting concrete with a hangover. Still, I had to keep going.
Eternities do pass in their own humdrum way and eventually I was on the final shelf. I counted one hundred and twelve books. I got into a rhythm of reading three average sized books a day. I arranged the remaining books in order from longest to shortest. This would help me psychologically. The more I progressed down this shelf, the more books I’d be able to read due to their diminishing thicknesses, thus the quicker I’d get to the end.
I’ve just got to the final page of the final book. I’m scared now. What if I get to the end and nothing happens? What if I’ve missed a book? I don’t think I have. I was fastidious in making sure I didn’t jumble anything up. I was methodical; I chose each shelf in turn. I didn’t skip a book, why would I? The books were smart. They’d know if I ignored one of their gang. What if the books just didn’t give a shit about me and just let me languish here?
I got to the last paragraph and read each word aloud and slowly.
The final sentence.
The final word.
Period. All done. I had completed my task. I jumped up.
“I’ve finished, I’m all done, I’ve finished. I’m through”
I waited for a response.
How I waited.
“Indeed you have” said a voice. It was a voice I recognized but hadn’t heard in a long time. It came from behind me.
Voices always seem to do.
I turned around and it was him; the young bearded man.
“And now you are free”
He held his hand out and a blinding light flew from his palm. It was so bright that I squinted hard. I thought he’d fired a fire cracker at me. It then went dark and quiet.
Several seconds later, I opened my eyes. I was back in the shop. Customers were there, browsing. The bearded man was behind the counter, serving an attractive young lady in tight blue tank top.
“Hey, hey you” I shouted. People looked up, some gave me worried looks as if I was a bum. I didn’t care. I ran up to the counter.
“Hey, what the fuck is going on here. What was that for?”
The bearded man sighed and raised his eyebrows and put a book into a shopping bag and handed it to the girl.
“Sir, can you keep the noise down, this is a book store. I don’t have to remind you a second time and by the way, I’m serving a customer”
I looked at the girl. She had a pleasant face, large eyes and a mass of curly brown hair. She wore a little pork pie hat which was very fetching. She smiled at me, despite the brou-ha-ha I was causing.
“I’m sorry miss but I need to speak to this guy”
“That’s ok” she said. “I can tell it’s pretty important” she said. She turned to the bearded man.
“George, see you later at 8”
“See you later, Melissa”
George and Melissa? Those were the names inside the cover of that Norman Mailer book I’d found all those months ago, before my imprisonment. But surely, not, it’s a coincidence.
The man leaned over the counter.
“Why the fuck did you do that to me?” I said
“Do what to you? Are you crazy?” he asked.
“I was kidnapped and trapped over there in the back and forced to read all your fucking books, one by fucking one. I must have been there for months. You appeared. You spoke to me. You told me you were the spirit of the books. It was you. I recognize you”
He looked at me. “I’ve something for you. Wait there” I stood there, watching him leave the podium behind the counter and out the back into the staffroom. A little queue had formed. I was embarrassed about turning to whoever it was standing behind me. If they heard any of that, they would have put me down as a crazy man but this town’s full of crazies.
One more wouldn’t hurt them.
Time passed and the queue got longer and people were tut-tutting. The young bearded man still hasn’t returned. Then the staff door opened and another young man came out. He took a look at the queue and looked pissed off.
“I’m really sorry everyone, I’ll be as quick as I can” he exclaimed. I was first in line.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting sir, how may I help you?” he asked me.
“Actually, I am being served already?”
“Oh really, by whom?”
“The other young guy, the one with the beard and shoulder length hair. His name’s George”
“Yes, George” I said. “I know that because he was talking to a girl and he called her Melissa and she called him George”
The young guy looked puzzled.
“Sir, I have these others customers to serve but can you do me a favour and wait here. I think we need to talk”
I nodded and I waited. After a while, the queue had dissipated and the young man stood down from the podium behind the desk and came to speak to me.
“Sir, did you say you were being served by a guy called George?”
“Sure, George, he went out the back into the staff room and never came back”
“And he was talking to Melissa?”
“Yeah, where the hell is he? I need to talk to him”
The young man twisted his mouth and felt his chin.
“This isn’t the first this has happened. How can I explain it? George was a guy who used to work here. Melissa was his fiancée. They died in 1968. Cops shot them outside the Democratic Party Convention. They weren’t even protesting. Just the wrong place and the wrong time.”
“But I’ve just spent the last several months trapped out the back, forced to read every book in here. George wouldn’t release me unless I finished my task, say what date is it?”
“July 3rd 2010 sir”
“It couldn’t be, that’s the date I came here at”
“Come here” He ushered me to the counter and picked up a copy of the Sun-Times.
“Look at the date, July 3rd 2010”
I never felt such relief.
“You’re not shittin’ me are you?”
“Why would I do that?”
“But I was trapped out the back over here” I pointed to the back. He looked over.
“All I know is that I saw you come in here half an hour ago and now half an hour later, you say you spent the last few months kidnapped out the back?”
“Yes, the books, they made me, they made me…”
But I let my sentence tail off as I became aware of how foolish I was sounding. I took a deep breath and thanked the young man for his time and I ran out the door.
It was Friday night. I asked several bystanders what date it was, just to make sure.
Same reaction each time. Reticent looks on their faces, eyes focused on my hands, making sure I wasn’t about to spring a gun or a knife. They would tell me the date and scurry off like spooked antelopes down the street.
I didn’t care. I took out my cell phone. It was back on full power. I phoned my hotel to make sure I was still checked in. It was. The lady asked why I was asking. ‘Just making sure’ I said.
I walked and I walked, sucking in the magic and liberty of the night air of a living city. Hours went by like this, grinning like I was high for I was high until I felt tired. I hailed a cab to take me back to my hotel.
When I arrived, I walked through the lobby.
“Sir, we hope you had a nice evening” said the lady
“You could say that”
“I forgot to tell you about our new amenity to the hotel”
“Sure, I’m all ears tonight”
“It’s the new hotel library, it opening tomorrow but we’re letting our guests have a sneak preview…”
“It’s ok, I think I’ll pass on that one, but thank you anyway” I said.
“You’re welcome” she said, casting her eyes down to her paperwork, casting me out of her attention.
I went to the elevator and pressed the button. I looked up. The digitized floor reading was changing swiftly. ‘Ding’ and the doors opened. I went in and pressed 4. The doors closed and up I went. Seconds later, the doors opened and I stepped out and walked down the long airless corridor back to my room. I slid my key into the lock.
“You sure you don’t want to read anything?”
I turned around. It was George.
In his right hand, a book.
In his left hand a gun.
I took my chances.