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‘Do you have an Active Reader card?’ Douglas smiled across the cash desk at the pretty young woman as she plopped a pile of paperbacks onto the cash desk.
Her brow creased as she looked at him a moment, then she spied the plastic blue card hanging around his neck on a thin chain – on the card were the words Active Reader, and the NOBLE BOOKS logo of a lion sitting atop a stack of books – and recognition filled her eyes.
‘Oh, the discount card. Of course. I always carry it with me.’ She dug into her wallet and produced the blue NOBLE BOOKS Active Reader card.
Douglas took her card, swiped it through the machine, and then scanned in her books. As he lifted each paperback over the scanner he glanced quickly at the title and author. She has good taste in dark literature, he thought, recognizing some of the titles by Clegg, Campbell, Little and Clarke.
‘Oh,’ Douglas said. ‘The Darkest Part of the Woods. That’s a good one. I just finished reading it myself.’
She smiled at him. ‘I love all of Campbell’s writing. Both the novels and the short fiction.’
‘UK’s finest horror author.’
She nodded enthusiastically.
He pointed at the next book in her pile. ‘So, have you read other books by this author?’
‘Carol Weekes? Oh yes, I’ve read a couple of hers. She’s becoming one of my favourites.’
He grinned proudly. ‘Her writing is a real gift to the horror genre.’
The girl nodded, her blonde curly hair bouncing as he continued to scan the books in. Between books, he kept glancing back up at her, noticing the soft blue of her eyes with the subtle green tint. Not only was she very attractive, with sparkling brilliant eyes, but she was also a lover of books and of horror.
That old familiar nervous tingling flitted about his stomach, and he found himself tongue tied, unsure of what to say next. Attractive women didn’t do that to him, but an attractive woman with sparkling eyes who loved to read horror sent him into a tailspin.
At the end of the transaction, he announced the total, she paid it, and he handed her the books in a NOBLE BOOKS bag and wished her a fond farewell. As she said goodbye and walked away from the cash desk, Douglas keyed in the code that would reprint the last receipt and then slid the ‘Next Cashier’ sign onto the desk in front of his register.
‘Carrie,’ Douglas said to the pimply-faced teen working two registers to his left, ‘I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.’ With that said he tore off the duplicated receipt and walked away against the background of the Friday night bustling crowd of avid readers, browsers and coffee house regulars.
Closing the door to leave the sounds of the crowd behind him, he glanced down at the receipt. The top of it read: Active Reader Member: 5552 7958. Douglas fiddled with his NOBLE BOOKS tie and sat down at the computer. He entered the general access password, and then flipped around on the drop-down menu desktop environment until he highlighted the CUSTOMER menu. He pressed the ENTER key, then typed the management level password which brought him to the customer database. He typed ‘old’ in the command line, and a small window opened, allowing him to enter an eight-digit NOBLE BOOKS Active Reader number.
He entered: 5552 7958.
After a moment, a name, address and phone number appeared on the screen.
‘Kim Meadows,’ Douglas said, reading the customer’s name aloud. Then his eyes scanned down to the part of the screen which showed, in detail, all of this particular customer’s purchases. The titles, the quantity, the time of day, and how she paid for each purchase. Of course, the database didn’t yet include the books she had just purchased. That information was only updated once per day on a national level, once the store closed and the computer uploaded that information to the main database at the NOBLE BOOKS support office.
He scrolled down the huge listing of books she had purchased, at both this location of NOBLE BOOKS and the various locations in other parts of the state, mumbling to himself, ‘You’re quite the active reader, Ms. Meadows.’ There was a long listing of horror titles, along with thrillers and mysteries. It appeared that Ms. Meadows favoured intense, thriller-type reading. It was no wonder she became a fan of Carol Weekes’ novels. Carol Weekes was one of a select few authors that Douglas just had to collect every single format in. She was a talented thriller-horror writer who had worked her way up through the small press and onto the tail end of the bestseller lists. Her precise description of details was matched only by her ability to aggressively hammer out characters and a plot that begged you to read for more. From the time he discovered her first novel Walter’s Crossing, Douglas had been a genuine and eager fan, collecting all of her works, no matter if they were small press releases or big publishing house titles. Finally, after a couple pages of listings he found a few titles by Carol Weekes.
And there, one of the first purchases Kim Meadows had made on her card almost two years ago, at the other NOBLE BOOKS location in the city, was the title he’d been looking for: It Creeps up on You.
‘Excellent,’ Douglas said, smiling and spinning the office chair around. It Creeps up on You was a collection of stories Carol Weekes had published mid-way through her career. It contained a selection of previously unpublished works alongside stories that had seen print decades earlier. It was, in Douglas’s opinion, the ultimate collection that could be known as the essence of Weekes’ writing career, illustrating her as a wicked mystic of the written word. It contained stories filled with hope, horror, laughter, bitter darkness and believable characters. Sure, the title story and some of the others included were stories that Weekes had penned with other authors, but these collaborations only illustrated her unique ability to mesh her own incredible storytelling voice with various other writing talents
Douglas punched the button that would print the screen he was on.
‘My collection can now become complete,’ he said, and a warm fuzzy feeling filled his chest the same way the tingling had filled his stomach when he had been looking Kim Meadows in the eye.
Kim Meadows sat curled in a big comfy chair by the window with a down-filled quilt pulled over her. One foot, dressed in a knee-high white sock, dangled out from under the quilt, resting just above where her cat Ginger lay sleeping. On the table beside her sat a steaming mug of lemon tea. Roxy Music’s Avalon unobtrusively filled the room from the stereo across the room that was dwarfed by huge overflowing bookcases on either side.
She was enraptured in the paperback she had picked up earlier in the week, a thriller by author Michael Slade. She’d never read Slade before, but had caught sight of a display that told her if she liked Tami Hoag, she might also like Michael Slade. She was so enthralled in the novel that she didn’t hear the front door to her apartment unlatch itself. Nor did she hear the door slowly open and close.
The only indication that something strange was going on would have been when Ginger sat up for a moment, tilted her head, sniffed the air, then put her head back down on her paws.
With her nose buried in the paperback, and not noticing Ginger, Kim continued to read.
She didn’t notice the shadow cast upon the wall to her left, nor did she hear the quiet footsteps approaching her from behind.
She did, however, feel the tip of the blade as it sunk softly into the side of her neck, producing a thin stream of blood.
She turned her head to see a face she recognized but couldn’t quite place.
Douglas smiled at her. ‘I need you to tell me something,’ he said.
‘Have you read everything you bought by Carol Weekes?’
Her eyes widened as she realized where she recognized him from.
She nodded vigorously.
‘Have you read It Creeps up on You?’
She nodded again.
‘All of it?’
She grimaced and coughed a small bubble of blood between her lips.
‘Did you read all of it?’
She nodded and he pulled the blade across her throat.
She gurgled something unintelligible and dropped the paperback onto her lap.
A fresh stream of crimson flowed down her chest and onto the paperback as Douglas felt himself harden in anticipation. He sighed. He hadn’t read a Michael Slade novel yet. Too bad, he thought vaguely. This particular one had been ruined. But it looked intriguing. Perhaps the next day he would seek out a clean, unbloodied copy off the store shelves and give it a read.
He sighed aloud and then proceeded to get what he had come for.
Ginger let out a soft mewling and sauntered off to the bedroom.
Returning to his home, Douglas poured himself a tall glass of scotch with slivers of thin ice and proceeded to head upstairs into his den. It was time to add his latest addition to the collection.
He stood in the entranceway to the den, flicked on a switch and admired how the tiny display lights he’d installed cast a soft glow onto the covers of his eclectic first edition anthology collection. Even more exciting was the small glass display case filled with formaldehyde resting in front of each book. Several of the display cases – the ones in front of Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Alan Poe, Alone with the Horrors by Ramsey Campbell, A Good, Secret Place by Richard Laymon, Death Drives A Semi by Edo van Belkom and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – had something floating in them already, but the one in front of Carol Weekes’ It Creeps up on You was empty.
Douglas stepped forward, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the plastic baggie containing Kim Meadows’ eyeballs. Gingerly, he lifted them out of the baggie and placed them in the formaldehyde of the glass case in front of the book.
Then he smiled a vacant smile as he stood there and sighed, thinking about the years of effort and patience that had brought this collection together. As the memories ran through his head, he inadvertently felt himself hardening again. The excitement began to dwindle as he realized that, with his collection complete, he was again at another crossroads.
What would he collect next?
This is not the time to think about that, he told himself, and went back to admiring his collection in a twisted devotion.
After a few minutes of appreciating the completeness that his new addition added to the collection and sipping at his scotch, he flicked the lights off and left the room. From the den, he wandered over to the guest bedroom and stood there in the doorway. From the darkness within he could make out the shape of his mother who lay in the bed.
As he stood looking at her he could almost hear the quiet snore-like breaths she used to make when she was alive and sleeping. The dimness of the room prevented him from being able to see her waxy-plastic like skin and the fact that her chest was not rising and falling with breath. Taxidermy was a wonderfully useful craft, but the human skin just didn’t hold up the way animal pelts did.
His eyes began to mist over, thinking about the tragedy that had befallen the woman her entire life and how she fought back so valiantly, constantly challenging destiny. It was such a shame that she had lost her sight when Douglas had been so young. Since he was a child and could put together the words ‘See Jack Run’ she had asked that he read to her. He had quickly become an avid reader, reading her anything from the daily paper to the pocket books he could pick up at the corner store for a mere dime. Even though the traditional roles had been reversed, reading to his mother had been one of the few pleasures Douglas had known.
So when she’d died, almost five years ago, he couldn’t do without reading to her.
And as he’d grown his taste in fiction had taken a darker turn.
Perhaps it was reading such things that gave him the idea, but he found that performing some tasks taken from books on taxidermy meant that he could keep his mother with him longer, and share with her even more of the books he loved to read.
The thought of it all made him long for the comfort he’d felt when he recalled one of his very first memories. He was a child, very young and had been troubled in the night. His mother, still able to see – this memory took place before she lost her vision – crawled into bed with him with a storybook and read to him until he relaxed and fell asleep again.
He was tired and hadn’t planned on doing any reading tonight, but the feeling of insecurity, wondering what he would do now that his collection was complete, was just too strong. Decisively, he turned, and went back to his den to retrieve the newly acquired eyeballs and the Weekes collection.
Then he returned to his mother’s bedroom and flicked on the light to reveal the dead body of a woman who, except for the waxen facial features and the vacant eye sockets, appeared to be sleeping. He gently inserted Kim’s eyeballs into the empty eye sockets of his mother’s face, slipped beneath the covers to cuddle up beside her, and thumbed the book open to its first page.
‘It Creeps up on You,’ he read to her in a
soft, almost motherly voice, ‘By Carol Weekes.’
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