A Best Seller
By Helena McAuley
How slowly a day can pass in the cold and the rain. At least, in my bookshop, it is warm and dry. Music seeps, cracked and distorted, from my old broken gramophone, and the coffee pot bubbles cheerfully to itself. I lick my finger and turn the yellowed pages of my most recent acquisition; careful not to touch the letters directly. That would be most unfortunate.
The bell heralds a young man’s entry. He doesn’t seem like my usual clientele. He shakes the raindrops from his hair like a sodden dog and peers up at me through shame-filled eyes. At my returning with a flat stare, he gives a tight smile.
“Hey, sorry, mate. Just trying to keep out of the rain.”
After a moment, I smile a well-practiced avuncular smile. “Not a problem. Care to browse while you wait out the squall?”
He peruses the stakes under my watchful eyes, half-heartedly inspecting the various volumes under my curatorship; large, small, leather-bound, illuminated, photocopied, hand scribed. No two manuscripts are alike. And yet, they all have one commonality. Each holds an irretractable curse. That is my stock and trade. That is what people pay good money for.
But not this man. This man is barely glancing at the spines of my poor charges. I shrug and return my attention to the Corpus Homunculum; a dandy little book that I have coveted for quite some time. I suspect it, and its malign calligraphy, will fetch a good price from the right buyer. I already have two or three of my regular customers in mind.
“Hey.” The young man’s voice pulls me from my reveries. “Why’s this one locked?”
“Mostly likely because it’s dangerous,” I call back, my words compressed by my chin in my hand.
There is a moment of silence from the stacks. “Why would it be dangerous?”
With a sigh I set the tome aside and follow him into the stacks.
“Because, my good young man, these are some of the finest cursed items to ever grace the Earth,” I tell him. “Be it from avenging angels, cavorting demons, djin, wizards, or unfortunately lost souls, my books all hold a grave curse.
“That one in your hands, for instance,” I indicate the small volume with a wave of my hand, “Is the Allurement Transmorgris. It holds, trapped within, a beautiful maiden, untouched by time for the term of her imprisonment. Whomever reads of this book will release her, and she will fall madly in love with the first person she sets eyes upon, as if struck from cupid’s bow itself.”
There is a leer to his lips as he smiles at me. “A maiden, you say?”
I look at him over my glasses, and again he is cowed by my stare. His lips purse. His brow puckers.
“It’s twelve-dollars,” I say.
He considers my offer. “Yeah, alright,” he concedes. “It’ll be a laugh.”
The beneficent smile returns to my face. “Of course.”
I ring up the sale, then locate and provide him with the key. He glances through the large windows—still raining. He lowers his backpack and shrugs.
“May as well do it here. If you don’t mind,” he adds.
I smile again. “Not at all.” Honestly, it is preferred.
He turns the key, and is wholly unprepared for what happens next.
In a flash of light and a puff of pungent smoke a raven-haired young woman of impeccable beauty appears before him; dazed and confused. The young man’s eyes widen, suitably impressed, before a second flash of light claims him and he dwindles, shrinking as he tumbles into the book.
With a sound like a thunderclap, the latch slams shut. The key tinkles to the floor.
“Wha—” the maiden stammers. “Where am I?”
“On the High Street, my dear! Good day!” I usher her from my store and into the rain before she can turn her eyes to be and become besotted, the most burdensome part of this curse. The last time a poor blighter to be released from the book it took me eight months to be rid of them. I don’t need the additional burden.
Ignoring her damp cries of shock and confusion, I pick up the book and carefully return it to the shelf. The Allurement Transmorgris. Gets them ever time.
It’s my best seller.
About the Author:
Helena McAuley is a lifetime recipient of the Premier’s Speculative Fiction Award for Literary Incompetence.
This is, of course, a joke. Helena has never received an award, and the Premier won’t answer her texts.
And yet, she continues to write mostly contemporary fantasy, with some sci-fi or supernatural or feudally stuff thrown in for good measure. To everyone’s surprise, she’s even been published in Deadset Press’s Zodiac anthologies.
She can be found twitting and instafied under @thathmc.