Years of working in a bookstore have taught me that readers, like books, cannot be judged solely by appearances. Nonetheless, there are times when someone enters and I immediately know: This person does not belong among books. This was the case a few nights ago. A young man in what I took to be a fraternity jacket stumbled through the front door. He was clearly intoxicated; his first remark – shouted, of course – was, “Pumpkin-spiced beer, old man! Yeah!”
I ignored him, hoping that he would realize quickly that this was a bookstore, and we did not serve alcohol of any kind, let alone pumpkin beer.
He began to wander around, and I decided that the simplest course of action would be to let boredom take its toll, at which point he would surely leave. He staggered upstairs for a while, and occasionally I could hear him yelling random nonsense. I, meanwhile, opened a favorite book – The Illustrated Man – and was soon lost in Ray Bradbury’s beautiful and haunting prose. I might have forgotten about him entirely, had I not heard a sudden peal of loud, drunken laughter. It did not come from upstairs: No, it came from the basement. He had evidently made his way back down the stairs, and had continued on the basement. Had I left the door unlocked again?
“Nothing down there is for sale,” I shouted. To be fair, yes, there were books in the basement – several crates, in fact – but they were mostly odd volumes that I’d gathered from estate sales and auctions. Many, I had never even opened.
There was another fit of laughter, and a sudden shout: “Whore licks!”
“YEEAAAAAH I wanna go to Whore Licks University!”
I stood there, Bradbury still in my hand, utterly and completely baffled. Whore Lick? What on earth was the drunken fool shouting about?
“Open sesame! Open up, baby!” he shouted.
I sighed and closed the book. As I did, I suddenly realized: Horlicks University. There was, down in the basement, a crate from Horlicks University. I had been meaning to open it, but I had never gotten around to it. It was sealed with heavy chains, and it had been gathering dust for ages.
There was a loud crashing sound, and then a noise that sounded like chains, falling to the floor.
He surely hadn’t managed to open it, had he? I suddenly realized that I’d never actually looked to if the old locks on the chains were even latched. Had he unsealed it?
Then, suddenly, there was another sound: A loud, horrible sound that I cannot quite describe. It seemed to be a combination of things, like a scream, and a growl, and a very loud crunching sound… and then, nothing. Silence.
I waited for a moment. What had happened?
Reluctantly, I realized that I would need to go downstairs and, more likely than not, carry the drunken fool up and back to whatever frat party he had come from. I started toward the stairs, then realized that the Bradbury book was still open on the counter. I had a sudden fear that someone might show up and try to buy it. I didn’t want to go through the awkward conversation that always ensues when someone tries to buy a book that I don’t want to sell. Better, I realized, to put the book away. I took it into my office, and locked it away in my desk.
When I emerged from the office I realized that the front door was slightly ajar. Had the young man fled? Or had he not closed it when he had entered?
I went to the stairway and headed cautiously toward the basement. There was no sign of the young man. At first glance, it looked as though nothing had changed. Then, I noticed that the chains that had secured the large crate were on the floor.
There was also a large, dark red stain on the front of the crate. Had that been there before? I couldn’t recall.
No matter, I thought. The important thing was that the man was now gone.
For a moment, I considered opening the crate to examine its contents; after all, it had been there for years, and I still didn’t know what was in it. There was, however, the matter of that unfinished Bradbury book, tucked away in my office. The crate, I decided, could wait. I put the chains back in place, just to ensure that its contents would be safe, should some other errant stranger would venture into the basement.
As I went back upstairs, I closed the basement door behind me. For a moment, I considered writing out a little sign, something along the lines of “Nothing For Sale Here. Stay Out.”
Making a sign, however, would take time that could instead be spent reading, and I desperately wanted to return to my book.
I did, however, find the time to walk over to the front door, close it, and lock it. It was best, I thought, to not risk another interruption.
what's it like being a twin? share some insight, please! ❤️