October Frights Short Story

October Frights 2022 Part II

Oct 11, 2022

The 2022 October Frights tour is underway! And be sure to check out everyone on the tour: https://afstewart.ca/october-frights-blog-hop-participants/


On to the story. It's Part II of Spirit of Alchemy

The clear evening carried fall’s crispness as I took to walking six blocks to Arcane Oddities, Fastred’s shop. It was one of those places you had to know existed to even look for it, much less find it. And it had an essence that if it didn’t want to be found, it could hide itself, not that I’d had such a problem, but rumors abounded.

What had once been a five-story-tall department store was now apartments, all except the top floor. The doorman, Mr. Henley, nodded and held the door as I slipped him a twenty. Only one of the elevators went to the top floor, and it only arrived if called by Henley, or one the other two doormen. It had taken some time to figure out their system, and it seemingly served the shop well. The lift doors opened with a chime, and it was if I were stepping back in time itself. The doors ambled closed, and soon the box began to amble upwards.

When the doors reopened, it dumped me out into a small, familiar lobby. An ancient table supporting a bouquet of fresh flowers, and a lone, wide, dark wooden doorway with fading gold letters advertising Arcane Oddities – enter at your own risk.

I knocked, and opened the heavy oak door, and was greeted with the warm earthy scent of old books, a hint of vanilla an spices reminding me I needed more tea. A labyrinth of wooden shelves covered every available space, seemingly an endless maze of books and artifacts.

Fastred looked like he could be the only man on earth older than I, and for all I knew, he was. He sat perched on his stool behind a small counter. A little over five feet tall, and a small paunch, a shock of wild white hair atop his head, he looked up from what he was doing and pushed his thick glasses up to the bridge of his nose. In an accent reminiscent of old Europe, he said, “Enzio. Good to see you. Are you early, or late this evening? The old one being ornery?”

“He was arguing with himself a little earlier than usual, so I decided to come down a little earlier than usual.” I walked over, placed the box on the counter, and leaned against it. “Things are a little quiet in here.”

Fastred shrugged, nudging his hands into the air. “I am an old man, how much excitement do I need?”

“Customers?” Enzio grinned.

Returning a knowing grin, the shopkeeper pointed to the labyrinth. “There are always a few people shopping about. There are more than a few that haven’t come out from the stacks in years. It’s you that needs a little excitement. That Miss Andersen that comes in asks about you all the time.”

Enzio flushed, “She is quite lovely, but I don’t know I’d have much to offer. Besides, what would I do with the old man? I can only leave him to his own devices for so long before I come home to hell to pay.”

“You can bring him by for a visit. It’s been far too long. Who knows, he might get lost with some of the other haunts in the back.”

“Tempting. I’ll give it some thought.” Enzio tapped on the counter. “What prize are you holding for me? I’ve been trembling with anticipation.”

“The impatience of the young.” Fastred reached under the counter and pulled out something wrapped in linen, placing it on the counter. With a few deft movements, a book lay unwrapped.

Enzio gasped, a leather bound book not much smaller than the cigar box spread before him. Gold leaf and dried skin flaked from the cover. In Middle Gaelic, the title read The travels of Brother Oilioll among the fair folk. “You found it?”

“The original. The one and only.” Fastred leaned back, folding his arms over his chest. “I thought the lead I had was for one of the twenty copies, but nope, I stumbled on the copy.”

“I cannot begin to thank you. I’ll let Daniel know, and please deliver it.”

“Of course, as soon as the payment hits, it will be in your hands. Tomorrow then?”

Enzio nodded, barely able to stop grinning.

“Have you brought me something?” Fastred glanced at the box resting between my hands.

“I thought you might like to look at a little something.” I opened the lid, allowing him to look inside.

It was the bookseller’s turn to not reveal his real level of excitement. “Is that real? May I?”

Enzio nodded, and watched the old man gingerly remove the book in cotton gloves. “Where do you get this? I thought these were a myth from the old days in Paris. You wouldn’t believe what some of my collectors would pay for this.”

“A gift from a friend, many years ago. And no, not for sale.”

“Too bad.” Fastred flipped through a few pages. “Must be one hell of a friend. I see it’s even signed. There may have been what, twenty copies? Thirty? The shop that printed these was known for small runs of esoteric works.”

I stifled a laugh. The evening Horace passed out hundreds of copies from the case he clutched to his chest, to anyone he knew or had sat with over the years, by the end of the night most littered the streets like flyers for an exhibition. For all I knew, this was the only remaining copy. I’d often thought seeing his work, and that he’d probably scraped for years to pay for the print run, trash dumped in the streets broke him. He’d disappeared after that night.

I’d wished to see him one more time, if he’d been able to see the world as I had that night, he’d have recognized it for what it was. A microcosm of the world. Clueless people pretending to be wise, and discarding the very thing that might give them one piece of wisdom, or at least set them on that path. “No idea. I find myself drawn back to these pages now and again, even though they were, not so studied. In my opinion, of course.”

“Rumor said that they had unlocked the great secret of the original Great Work.” Fastred sniffed, I could see he was reading through the notes and observations. I could almost smell the steam engine in his mind being stoked as he began to troll for information. We’d played this game may times, giving each other tidbits, some good, some foul. “Who do you think Brûlante was anyway? One of the old greats?”

“No, just the ramblings of an artist, who couldn’t find his way.” Enzio sighed. “The translations are poor at best, and the notes are… creative interpretation. I have found no great secret, other than the writings of a madman whose passions outran his knowledge.”

“If he were sane, he wouldn’t have been chasing the great work. In this business, we are all a bit mad.”

“I cannot argue with you on that.”

Fastred closed the cover and returned the book to the box. The old bookseller screwed up his face in thought. “I normally would not disclose such a thing, but you should know someone has been inquiring about Offredus – any works or artifacts.”

A knot formed in my gut. I’d felt something had changed, but something was always changing. That was the way of the great work. “Who?”

Fastred removed his glasses and began to clean them with an old handkerchief. “Can’t say. I haven’t met him, just a few phone calls. Started a few months back.”

“Do you have a name? A way to reach him perhaps?”

“No. Unfortunately not. Are you looking to sell some of your collection?” He slipped his glasses back in place. “I am happy to broker such a transaction.”

“I’m sure you are.” I closed the lid on the cigar box, and tucked it under my arm. “I would be willing to acquire anything they might have, though. How would you reach them?”

“He calls me. Once a week, or so. Sounds young, a bit posh.” The shopkeeper wrapped up my new book, and slipped it under the counter. “But educated in the work. Not to be taken lightly.”

 “Thanks as always. I look forward to receiving the package tomorrow.” I nodded. Someone looking for us could be troublesome. I turned and moved for the door, pausing as I turned the handle. Looking back, “And if you hear anything, see if you can find out what they want. I will make it worth the time.”

Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow for Part III!

See you tomorrow for Part II, and check out the rest of the tour!

See you tomorrow for Part II, and check out the rest of the tour!

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And there's some giveaways at: https://storyoriginapp.com/to/oyHMogF.