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An Old Book
"She was running blindly through the dark hallways, searching for an exit when…"
A loud pang of thunder rings through the air, igniting the real world until I realize that I’m not in the abandoned house on Main. But, to be honest, the ancient city bus I am on isn’t exactly stunning. The crusty spot on the empty, geometrically patterned velour seat next to me does not suggest good fortune, either, and I’ve been eyeing it reproachfully since I got on.
Taking a deep breath to calm my quickened pulse, I smooth down the tan paper page and begin reading again.
"…an exit when the rickety hall light flickered on. It glowed a dull yellow color onto the white walls, and it illuminated a hall empty of everything but a door. Her curiosity raged against her fear, and before she knew it, her hand was on the knob, the door screaming open…"
“Stop on West Clinton,” the bus driver says to the few lingerers left. “End of my shift. Next bus’ll be here in fifteen minutes.” His voice is scratchy and worn (much like his evening stubble), as if every night his voice has grown even more tired of muttering the utilitarian phrase for minimum wage.
I cautiously walk down the aisle, being sure not to look at the lady to my right in an olive green shawl and hole-y jeans. Every night she asks for money. And every night I have to say—
“Excuse me, miss, but you don’t happen to have any change on you, do ya?”
“No, ma’am. I’m afraid I’m all out.”
I duck my head as quickly as possible, but there’s no way to miss her skeleton of a frame, draped in such large clothing. The look on her face isn’t angry, but more disappointed.
As soon as I step off, I can feel the rain hitting my head and seeping through to my scalp. Too late, I pull my hoodie up and continue reading as I walk across the empty street.
"…the door screaming open to show a small room lit only by a single candle…"
The words fall from my hands as my book lands on the pavement.
Before I even have the chance to think of picking it up, a frail hand is grasped around the spine, a toothpick of a finger marking my page.
“Lucky it landed like it did. Or else, I’m ‘fraid all the ink woulda smeared.”
I silently take the book from the lady, and then yank it to my chest like a child. I instantly regret it as a shadow of dejection crosses her face, lit clearly by the flickering streetlight. Every wrinkle on her skin is visible. Along with every scar and every memory and every time someone had said no.
“Hold on a second,” I say to her and I dig in my bag until I find what I’m looking for. As I hand her the glass bottle, she graciously thanks me until I have to insist on leaving.
I return to my book, but I have to squint to read as the rain begins to send the ink bleeding into itself.
"…a single candle illuminating something I can’t quite make out. Inching closer, I let out a blood-curdling scream. It didn’t stop for minutes as I tried to grasp the fact that I was seeing a…"
I try to work out the next word, but it’s useless. The storm has turned my book page into a black and white watercolor, nothing but art now.
The green street sign for Park Circle is straight ahead, its reflectors brightened by the headlights of a passing car. That’s my cue.
The driveway is dark as I walk up, but I can see the big black hulking structure ahead enough to know where to go. As soon as I make it to the garage door, the automatic lights catch me and flicker on so that I can type the pass code into the opener. As the doors noisily open, and I curse myself for not remembering to grease them, I fumble for my keys and get the side door open. Then I shut the garage door again, closing me inside.
“Hey dad,” I call as I walk in through the kitchen.
The den is dark, but there is a single light coming from our small TV. I inch closer so that I’m near enough for him to see. His thick arm is hanging over the armrest of his recliner, an empty bottle dangling from his hand. There are three others on the coffee table.
I take the five glass bottles and set them on the table, quickly turning away, trying to escape upstairs, but suddenly I stop cold.
“I thought I asked for a six pack.”
His voice does not ring disappointment, but anger.
I suddenly figure out what the next word in my book is.