Just a Book
“Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well.”
- Robin Sharma
It’s a warm spring day when she leaves the house. Luckily, it’s the weekend, and she has nothing else to do but travel to her beloved safe haven: the bookstore. She waltzes down the sidewalk and weaves through the languid crowds before she recognizes the wooden sign.
It has been freshly painted in hopes of attracting newcomers during this incessant rise of technology and the continuous fall of crisp, atavistic paper. The door, on the other hand, shows the store’s true seniority in the creaky hinges and faintly peeling, green paint that looks more like black after years in the sun. Despite the coming and going of coffee shops and restaurants and boutique clothing stores, the bookstore remains unwavering like the remnants of a long battle waged against the digital age.
She whirls through the door and is immediately entranced by the faint tinkle of the bell attached to the door and the smell of bookbinding glue. She is enraptured all over again by the allure of books, and her curiosity launches her deep into the aisles. With one finger gently dragging across spines and both eyes skimming titles, she searches for something to catch her eye.
“Read that one. And that one. Didn’t like that one. Loved that one,” she murmurs quietly under her breath as memories of the books flit across her mind like pages flipping within files. It’s fun and charming and makes her smile like a child in a candy store as she waits to find a book to snag her attention. Despite remaining true to her philosophy of not “judging a book by its cover,” she knows that she has guiltily betrayed her belief many times and refuses to admit that this time is no different.
Her finger pauses over a new novel. She’s sure that she hasn’t seen it before in the store nor any review or summary. It’s not just new. It’s unreviewed. New-new. Like unchartered land or undiscovered findings, the prospect of reading a book first hooks her interest like a burr. She quickly snatches the book off of the old shelves as though she is a thief stealing a precious gem. Her stomach tingles in glee as her insatiable curiosity skips giddily.
Zigzagging down the shelves, she finds the nook built for avid readers who couldn’t wait to go home to begin their latest adventure. She impatiently sinks into a plush armchair and curls in comfortably before flipping the book around. She promptly examines the summary and discovers that the book is a mystery and a psychological thriller of sorts. It sounds slightly cliched, but the nagging feeling of newness revives itself with an eager vengeance. Without a second thought, she plunges into the story and delves through the pages.
She enters the world of words that float off of the sheets as her favorite words wink up at her. Words like “exhilarating” and “iniquitous” and even “peanut” (the so-called Pluto of her treasured words for its lack of length and syllables in comparison to other sophisticated words while being charming nonetheless).
Themes and motifs glide into her thoughts like Sticky Notes that tack themselves onto a board for later reference. Foreshadowing tickles and Personification soars while Irony giggles and Character Arcs grin victoriously.
She nearly jumps out of the chair when a clerk gently taps her shoulder and informs her that the store will be closing soon. She takes the hint and unfolds herself back into reality. Returning the book to its place on the shelf, she adds another Sticky Note to her mental corkboard to come back again and finish the story. As she strolls out of the quaint store, she is brimming with anticipation for the ending and practically salivating for the inevitable twist.
As she returns home, she realizes how dark it’s gotten since she spent the day in the store, and the night’s blanket of darkness reminds her of the novel’s setting. The hairs on the back of her neck prick up as she recounts that yes, this is eerily familiar to the book, albeit missing a serial killer with an axe behind her. The wind howls promisingly, and she whips around at a sound behind her. She chastises herself that “it’s just a book” and wonders distantly whether she should steer away from thrillers from now on.
She scoffs at her immature fear and shoves her concern away like a scolded child. What harm can a few pages of words do? It’s just ink on a page, after all. Shrugging, she silences her conjecture-based thoughts and continues down the street.
As she passes the shops and reaches the stretch of sidewalk between the town and the neighborhood, she glances at the bushes. First, she applauds the author for creating such a rich setting that she can envision the story anywhere. Next, the worry creeps back in as she could have sworn that she saw something gleaming in the dark. Something metallic. She ventures off of the safety of the sidewalk to check and mostly to assuage her fear when she finds that the metal she saw was just a lone fire hydrant.
The confidence in her mocks the fear, “What? Can’t handle a few scary chapters?” She strides away when she hears footsteps coming out of the bushes. The confident part is silent now– the unspoken “I told you so” lingers in her mind and makes her feel like the scolded child. She slowly turns around, feeling very cliched, and finds nothing. This time, however, she’s experienced enough not to let her guard down just yet. And she’s proved right on this one when she turns back to face the road and really does see metal glittering under the streetlamps. She sees the person holding it, too, and for a split second, she hesitates like a deer in headlights until the person raises the axe like an executioner. Now, just like the book’s protagonist, she bolts down the street.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows that the person is following her and that she should have run home instead of to the bookstore. And also in this part of her mind, she hopes, “Please let the store still be open.” Yet, like any good chase, when she reaches the store, she finds the windows darkened and the building void of salvation. She angrily bangs on her beloved door, but the peeling paint is no longer charming and quaint. Instead, it looks like splinters jutting out like vertical stalagmites. She feels betrayed by this bookstore, and she wants to cry at its perfidy.
The low, raspy breathing of her pursuer slices through the warm summer air, and the metal behind her almost hums in anticipation. She can taste defeat like spoiled milk, and it washes over her in a wave of failure. She has lost and as she turns around to face the victor, her confidence falters. But there is no time to summon it back.
She can picture the blood staining the cement of the sidewalk, the gore spilled onto the street and the lifeless corpse that her murder will leave in its wake. She can imagine the picturesque headline and how all of her fellow readers will envision their favorite horror novel materialized before them. It would be almost comical how their beloved scenes have come to life before their beloved stores. “What are the odds?” hums through her head like the buzz of a crowd. All of this flashes through her mind before-
The clerk gently taps her shoulder as she shudders awake. The book falls to the floor, discarded and unfinished. She soothingly reminds herself that it’s just a book. Nothing to fear. She considers buying it, just to feel a semblance of control and authority over the cause of her nightmares. Instead, she hands it to the clerk, who informs her that the store is closing, and strides out.
As the night air envelops her and washes away the remnants of her dream, she shoves her hands into the comfort of pockets and returns home. She does not glance at the bushes or cautiously peep over her shoulder. Instead, she keeps her eyes forward and continues walking. But, she does miss the gleam behind her and the matching pair of eyes. Watching. Waiting.
“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”
- Edgar Allan Poe