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Mystery Fiction

I imagined you were old, not because of the husky voice you may have, neither because of the deep lines that may cross the skin on your hand; I was just guessing, just dreaming.

The shadow hiding your face, an old face, was slightly growing and slightly shrinking before your nose, as your thumb fumbled through hundreds of yellowish pages.

It was not the same one, I knew it. "Except for the size,” you said, “except for that, they are different.” But they were old, and your nose was between them, between old pages of ancient paper books; and this told me you were as ancient as your bookshop was.

In my dream you took one book from the shelves, brushed its yellowish cover from dust and cobwebs and talked to the customer who was not there. No one entered that door, never did and never will. You told the imaginary client, the one you called ‘reader,’ that among those pages lived the knights of the past and stood the castles of other worlds.

‘The Door,’ reads the sign on the entrance; never was a name less appropriate, unless you changed it to ‘The Closed Door,’ as in fact no one ever crossed it.

You looked upset; the ‘reader’ vanished from your mind without buying any book. “Another one is about to come, you will see, this time they will buy,” you said, and in five minutes’ time, the five minutes that run in dreams, someone was in the bookshop. A lady, a young lady you stole from her night dream; never mind, she was there. She wore a white short nightgown, and she wondered where she was.

“And who I am, you may also wonder,” you spoke to her. “I am the last one.”

 

I imagined you as an old man, I said, but a last-old-man is sad to hear about.

“The last one to keep the door open, young lady. Unless…”

She stood silent.

“Unless you buy one of those books. Another door will open, a younger one, and will stay open until you keep it so.”

She came from your mind, you knew it, old man; she did not cross the door separating your ancient bookshop from the rest of the world. Dream by dream I knew more about you. I knew that were are the last bookseller of ‘The Door,’ the ancient bookshop that was not a bookshop; in fact it was a jail. You were not a bookseller; you were a guard, a guardian of thousands and thousands of knights and kings and princes and dragons and witches and fairies and wizards and queens and elves and dwarfs and sheriffs and… Somebody, you named them 'writers,' trapped all of them there, caging their lives and stories in cells made from paper. And you guarded them.

Well, no, not really. In one dream, one of those you stole me from my sleepy nights, you said your role was not to guard the bookshop's inhabitants; it was something else you had been appointed to, it was to keep The Door open. You were old, but not enough to forget that The Door had to be crossed and crossed again, day and night, night and day; not by imaginary ‘readers’ coming from your mind and vanishing into it, you were not old enough to forget this neither. ‘Readers’ in flesh and bones they had to be. Dozens of books among the readers’ arms had to cross The Door, the gate connecting the past worlds to my world. These were the creatures you were supposed to deal with. You had to sell the past. Well, selling is not the most appropriate word, since your books were always displayed with a symbolic price, in fact all is symbolic, old man.

But to understand this, let me…

Restart? Wake up?

Let me wake up from the dream, yes.

 

Good morning old man. I knew you were old because the smell of decay surrounded you, the smell of time that did not come back and that did not go away from me, since once I saw you, when I crossed The Door. You were brushing yellowish pages from moths, weren't you? No, no, no, you were not. You were eating those moths, one by one.

How many horrid things have you done in order to...

“To preserve the past?”-

“If you put it that way, yeah, old man, how many?”-

“Why did you cross The Door? Why didn't you come from my mind, like the others?”-

Why, why, why? Because The Door had to be crossed; somebody had to do it.

 

I took some of your prisoners with me.

Together we exited the old bookshop’s Door, leaving the old times behind us, leaving you. King Arthur and his knights, and Merlin the magician entered my world.

But The Door, you should have kept it open, this was your duty. Someone else will come, someone else will follow the smell of the things that slowly get rotten, and will find you and your secret, old man. You were not old, your soul was, you knew it.

 

In my world King Arthur became the king of the kings, and all nations sat at a round table; no one prevailing, everyone leading under his wisdom.

Marlin became a scientist, and among his students some won the prize for peace.

The knights became soldiers, and war spread all over the world. They fought with honor, wisdom, and courtesy, but blood did not cease to run.

 

I came back to you, old man, crossing the door again. This time you were not brushing old covers from dust and cobwebs. This time you were trying to hide something, climbing your old body on a woody ladder, on the highest shelf, where you kept the books that nobody wants to read. This time it was a book that no one must read. I saw it before, when you called me from my dreams; ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ was its title.

I heard you saying, ‘what turns bad, turns well too; but what turns well, turns bad too.’ At that time, I did not understand.

Now I do, I think I do understand. None of your books had to leave the bookshop; you loved them all, and you wanted to keep them for you. Not really.

What about fear, old man? What about you were not old enough, or even not ever born, to know how to face fear? The power caged in those pages; ‘it might be destructive,’ you thought. Ancient knowledge and never-aging imagination can destabilize the world, this is what you feared the most.

“I was not about to hide ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ from you.”-

“Were you training your trembling legs, old man? Your daily sportive activity? –

“I was about to hand it over to you. People fear knowledge, and they fear imagination even more. I do not; I have a different opinion. When  you came here, when you crossed The Door, only you and no one else ever did, I wanted you to spread Imagination over your world.”

That was the last time I saw you, old man, and the first time I really saw your face, young man; the face of a knight from the past. You crossed The Door, riding a white horse.




July 16, 2022 10:42

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6 comments

John Werner
16:12 Jun 25, 2023

As a former bookseller, now older, I really loved everything about this. You transported me back to my own old bookshop and how important it was for me to pass along all the fantastic stories I'd found. Beautifully done!

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12:26 Jun 26, 2023

Thank you so much, John!

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Kelly Sibley
22:20 Nov 01, 2022

Hi Santina That was very poetic in form. I loved the concept of the book keeper...reader.

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17:29 Nov 03, 2022

Hi Kelly, I enjoy so much places surrounded by books, ancient library, old style bookshops. Always thought of librarians as priviledged people. And thank you so much for reading and commenting my story! I' ve enjoyed a lot once of yours, too.

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Peter Naughton
00:53 Aug 03, 2022

This is new. I really love the concept of the bookseller being a guard of thousands of kings and knights and princes and dragons! Brilliant and it opens up the possibility of time travel and other things. Great, I loved it.

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12:10 Aug 03, 2022

Actually I got inspired by an article written years ago by Oriana Fallaci, a brillant Italian journalist and writer. She wrote about the itinerant booksellers from the past, and she told: ' ancient knights are carried by their luggages...' And I found it extremely beautiful, and got the idea about the bookseller for this short story, and also for a novel I currently work on. I m happy you enjoyed the story. And thanks for the comment.

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