It's the first Wednesday of the month. Time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Check out Alex J. Cavanaugh's brain child and join in the fun by clicking HERE!
I'm submitting my horror short, Bookshop to my first major writing contest through grad school. This is exposing and nerve racking. Bookshop, is four thousand words and fifteen pages. I've decided to post the first bit here, so that it's out there. It takes away some of the dread, in theory anyway.
If you don't want to read, no worries, but can any of you old pro's offer suggestions on submitting a competitive piece? Hope you're all having a good week!
They say it’s the little things that count. I say it’s the little things that make us feel human. I’m no longer disfigured and can go back to work. My skin is no longer oily and my hair no longer greasy. I was so sick for the last five days I couldn’t properly wash myself, all I could manage was splash around in my bathtub. Now that I’m showered, my long hair freshly washed and legs shaved, I feel human again.
Sunshine fills the street as I step out of my house on Valencia where I rent a chilly room in an in an old Victorian. My space heater barely makes a dent in the cold due to its high ceilings. My body thaws in the morning sun causing me to breathe a sigh of relief on my walk to the bus stop.
Once I grab a seat, I feel under my throat for my swollen glands. They’re tender to the touch but no longer visible. Still, I wont be able to work my night job for at least a few more days. As a Go-go dancer I do burlesque shows for Tech parties, Speakeasies and Noir Festivals with my dance troupe, Ménage a Trois. The pay is great, but inconsistent.
The silver chimes dance as I walk into Dark Compass Bookstore. I get a chill down my spine every time those bells chime. After I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, I was stuck working temp jobs in legal aid while I looked for a job as a bookseller. I was astounded at how hard it was. For me to get a fulltime job at one of San Francisco’s historical literary landmarks, a bookseller and six other candidates waiting in line for the job opening had to die.
My favorite is Redwood Books, which opened in 1851. The interior side panels of the building, as well as the ornate built in floor to ceiling bookshelves, are hand crafted out of beautiful warm Redwood. I handed my resume and cover letter to the bookstore manager, Larry two months ago. I’ve been showing up ever since. Finally, one evening, Larry approaches me.
“You’re in here every other day around this time. Don’t you have a home?”
It’s true. I’m in Redwood Bookstore from six thirty to eight o’clock nearly every night spending what little extra money I had on paperbacks or hardcovers that were on sale.
“I know you applied for a fulltime position, but we could use a part-time bookseller on weekends. You want to come here as much as you already do and get paid?”
Yes, I do. But I really need a fulltime job and I need at least one evening a week to do my gigs with, Ménage a Trois and the rest of the time to focus on my writing. I reluctantly turn it down.
Fast forward to the day I discover Dark Compass Books. This day, on my way to work I receive a phone call from an attorney I support who instructs me to turn around and meet a client down in South Bay. With no forewarning I have no time to plan for traffic. I’m going to be late. I’m going to be yelled at. I’m going to say something snarky again and my boss will hint at firing me, again. Moral at an all time low, instead of hoping back on the freeway I decide to head home to the Mission. I’d think up an excuse to give the office later.
It’s nine a.m. After I find a place to park I walk down a side street that is kitty corned to an alleyway I’d never noticed before. On Valencia cars honk, twenty and thirty some-thing-year-olds mill about thrift stores and dive bars at all hours of the day and night, cabs weave in and out of lanes stagnating traffic and bicyclists cut through it all. But, on this narrow side street the tight nit buildings block the noise and it’s quiet, almost desolate. You can hear the soft echoing of foot falls down the narrow street from someone so far away you can’t see them.
I lock my car doors and spot a strange black and white checkered awning halfway down the narrow street. I walk towards it until I can make out the sign in the front, Dark Compass Bookshop. I had done a canvass search of all the bookstores in my area. How had this one escaped me?
Bells chime as I walk through the door. The store in the old building is an organizational nightmare, and sells both new and used books. Some books are kept behind a locked glass cabinet. A few look ancient. Each one has some kind of obscure symbol on their spines. Fiction is crammed together tightly. Hardcovers and paperbacks are shoved in together side by side. Science, Biography and Psychology consists of about twenty shelves next to Metaphysics which probably fills fifty. The small store is stocked to capacity. Book-stacks can be seen from the back. They are piled so high they could topple at the slightest tremor.
The place is a death trap. One good earthquake and patrons will be buried under thousands of titles pinned at the mercy of any loose wire. An electric spark near an old piece of parchment can light the place up like a tinderbox.
A moving stack of books comes towards me, then past me. An old woman in a black skirt, black tights and black wedge heels wearing a cranberry shawl draped over her shoulders sets the heavy stack on the front counter with a sigh and twists her long grey hair.
“Can I help you find something?” the old woman asks.
“Actually, I’m looking for a job. Can I leave a cover letter and resume?” I ask. I can’t keep my lack luster frown from sagging down my mouth. The likelihood of the store needing a hand from someone under seventy is doubtful. People clearly worked and died here.
“Yes, of course. What hours are you looking for?” the woman asks.
I don’t know what to say. She didn’t ask why I’m looking for a low paying job at a bookstore, which is the first question most bookstore managers ask.
“I’m a writer and I’ve published a few short stories and essays. I’d like to quit my paralegal job, but I need something fulltime,” I say.
This demand was the deal breaker.
“Perfect. When can you start?”
And this is where I begin working for Elaina. I love it. The hours are great and she pays under the table.
The entire store is odd. Elaina is techno phobic and refuses to use computers. The organizational layout is similar to the librarian loved Dewey system, but the layout groups books by subject rather than ISBN numbers and uses colored stickers to highlight contemporary, popular categories, and displays most books by their covers as opposed to spines. Some books take me ages to find. With most of our costumers, it’s hard to tell if they’re going to be the impatient kind or join in the treasure hunt. The system is a nightmare for anyone trying to find a specific book that doesn’t fit into an obvious category.
“You’ll see most of our customers are regulars. We don’t advertise. We prefer to keep to ourselves,” says Elaina.
As long I’m not trying to help a customer who’s looming over me, I love cross-referencing books in the old bookstore and hunting down dusty titles. Our customer base consists of collectors who mostly look for hard to find esoteric titles having to do with Metaphysics and/or Philosophy. Both subjects I’m not particularly familiar with, but when it comes to anything to have to do with books I’m a quick study.
The customers that float through the store come across as trendy with either the distinction of a pedigree education or just incredibly eccentric. The men wear black bell-bottoms, collared shirts, blazers and chunky shoes. The women typically wear the same, but maybe a instead of bell-bottoms and long black skirt. They are so similarly dressed, anywhere else it would raise an eyebrow, but this is San Francisco. They keep mostly to themselves.
After one week Elaina gives me a key and I begin opening the store in the morning. Our store is the bottom floor of a two story Edwardian where Elaina lives in the back and our stock room takes up the upstairs. As far as I know, Elaina does all the buying and receiving. We don’t have a public bathroom and Elaina’s back house is the only downstairs portion with plumbing. To use the restroom I would have to go up the dark creaking stairs.
Each time I make my way to the back bathroom past piles of books dust and spider webs. Upstairs it’s always dark and it feels like a dozen pairs of eyes are watching you. The bathroom in the back consists of an eagle claw foot porcelain naked tub with no curtain, a wobbly toilet and a bronze dirty oval mirror. When I look into it through the grime, it’s as if someone beside myself looks back at me.
I get used to restocking the popular titles right away. Titles like, Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Mystical Occult Ideas and Invocation of Elder Gods, History of the Rosicrucian’s, various Masonic texts, anything by Aleister Crowley, A.E. Waite and Madame Blavatsky.
A tall, thin pale man wearing all black with dark eyes, close cropped dark hair and a black trim mustache and sharp goatee the color of shoe polish approaches me as he enters the store.
“I’m looking for a book by Aleister Crowley. It’s called Moon Child. A new edition just came out, but I’m looking for the original first edition printed in 1929 by Mandrake Press,” says the young man.
-if I don't win, to be continued...