Part1 of “The Book Shop” a Modern Gothic Short Story

Here is the small excerpt from a story that I’m working on now. It will be published on Amazon and other Book Sites at the end of January 2016

 

The snow began to fall at 6.30 pm, it hadn’t been forecast. Julia stretched out her hand and felt the coolness of the snow flakes falling into her palm. She stood outside her second hand book shop in Riemann Strasse and watched a group of children playing. The were scraping up small hand fulls of snow and showering each other with cloud bursts of whiteness.

House doors opened and blocks of yellow light spread into the street as people came and went. She shivered, and pushed up the collar on her jacket. A man passed. His crunching steps fading as the dark figure turned a corner.

Julia walked up the steps to the front door then searched for her keys, checking pockets and then bag but she found nothing. She tried the door but it was locked. She must have the keys – she always had them in her bag. She walked back down the steps and stood on the street again. She turned circles in the snow, staring at her own damp footsteps from a few moments ago. In one of her imprints she saw a sparkle of metal. She bent down and picked up the bunch of keys. Her keys. Cold and wet as if they had been in the snow for hours. ‘How could they have fallen?’ she thought.

As she walked up the steps again the lights inside the shop flickered and for a moment she could see the interior, then it was dark again. She assumed it was the weather affecting the cables.

She had to shove hard against the door until it came away from its bad fittings and swung into the darkness. She stamped the snow from her shoes and went inside. The old book shop didn’t have a light switch close to the door. Somebody, years ago, had fitted a switch in the middle of the wall behind the desk, so every evening when she opened the shop she would have to edge her way into the darkness towards where she knew the switch was located.

The trouble was that the floor was always covered in piles of old books. She could never remember where they were. She shuffled her feet until she felt the tap of a book against her shoe and then she changed direction and edged farther along towards where she hoped she would find the desk. When she did bump into the desk she stopped shuffling and gripped the edge with one hand and then extended the other hand out into the darkness.

She grasped about, moving her arm like a crane, her fingers wiggled in the darkness but she found nothing. She shifted her feet slightly and stretched her arm into the blackness of her book shop. Then she touched something, it was wet and cold. She rubbed her fingers together and felt the moisture from the smooth flat object between her fingers. Her eyes widened in an attempt to see what was in front of her. She saw nothing, of course. Julia searched the dark air and finally found the familiar rough lines of painted brickwork. She ran her fingers along to the right and her hand bumped into the light switch. She flicked it quickly. The room lit up. There were a few moments of flickering light and Julia looked around the room then back at the wall. She breathed out loudly. A large photograph was stuck to the wall. She could make out the subject in the photo as a young woman lying on a bed.

Julia looked across the room and saw the book shelves and the coffee table. Piles of second hand books, some of them had slipped from the table to the floor. There was a gap in the shelf. She was sure that books had been removed.

She looked at the photograph on the wall in front of her. Julia had never seen it before, it was sepia toned and obviously very old. The corners curled outwards and there was a small rip on one side.

The woman in the photo was lying on a metal framed bed in a very small room. The walls of the room were raw brickwork with one tiny window. A dim light with no source could be seen through the window. It was the woman’s expression that concerned Julia, the woman appeared to be a model posing for the photographer, her body was relaxed but her face was contorted with fear.

Julia stepped closer to the photograph and inspected its elements. The bed was a hospital bed, the room looked derelict and the window, she realised, was broken. Julia could discern the small fragments of glass that jutted out from the bottom of the frame. Then she saw small shards on the bed next to the woman’s legs. The woman, thought Julia, was in shock after the window had suddenly broken. There was something else in the window. It frightened Julia.

The photo may have been placed there by her employee, Mary. She didn’t want disturbing images in her book shop. She touched the photograph, it was damp and cold. Her finger traced a line through the moisture and stopped next to the area with the window. She looked more closely at the window and saw something, a shape, maybe a bird sitting in the dim light. No, it wasn’t a bird. It was a hand holding something metal. There was a small glint of light – a blade. Julia could now see the form of a blade protruding from between the fingers.

Julia decided to leave the photograph were it was and when Mary arrived she would tell her to take it down.

Julia went to a pile of books on the floor and picked them up. The smooth covers were colder than the room’s temperature. She frowned at the idea but then thought that Mary had probably brought the books earlier. They were cold, she imagined, because Mary had carried them along the snowy street and then left again in a hurry.

Julia put them onto the table, amongst the other piles of books. She knew that she meant for them to be shelved later but they would probably stay on the table until a customer bought them.
Julia went to the desk and then switched on the computer. The monitor gave out a high pitched whine and the screen turned blue with a welcome logo, then it brightened into a glare. She searched for her book file. She wanted to enter the titles of the books that Mary had left on the floor. She clicked her way through the files and then opened the book list that she kept. She picked up a pad and pen and then rounded the desk to walk to the book table. The books were lying on the floor again. She stopped, looked down at the pile of paperbacks, her mouth open and her pen and paper held stiffly in her left hand. She was confused. The books were in exactly the same position as before. Julia tried to think back. She had moved them, she was sure. Her mind played back to the images of her placing the pile of cold books on the table – or had she imagined doing that? It confused her.

A scream came from the street. Julia looked outside and saw a man walking past the group of playing children. The scream turned to a laugh then the group began to giggle. A boy cried loudly, the children broke away and began to run along the street, the crying boy limped as he tried to keep up. Then the street became silent. Julia walked to the window and looked out. The street was empty. Several of the lamps were out so the opposite side of the street was in darkness. Julia peered into the shadow and saw something moving. She couldn’t figure out what she was looking at – a cat or dog, maybe. But, it seemed to be moving slowly and in circles, staying in the area where the children had been playing. Snow flakes obscured her view and it was too dark to make out exactly if the figure was an animal or a human being. She turned and walked back to the books…