Hello all, here’s a little sneak peek (a whole chapter just for you!) while you wait for your ebook downloads on release day: 10 July 2015. Happy reading and thanks for stopping by – Drea
After Franci had gone back to her own shop, Sarah began to make a list of things she might need for Ricky. She’d never had an outsider stay in the flat above the shop, nor had her parents from what she could remember. Ricky was family, but that didn’t really make him an insider. She had enough linens for him. She could add a little more meat to the grocery order, but being a teenager maybe Ricky would prefer to go out in town and devour some junk food. At least that would get him away from the book shop for a while.
Sarah made a note to add more manly magazines to her next order in the hopes they would keep Ricky entertained and out of trouble when he was in the shop. She couldn’t let him wander around the city by himself all the time, especially after what Richard had said he’d done to get into trouble. Trouble. Great. Would Ricky be trouble? Was he no longer the sweet little boy who used to love listening to her stories? Locks. Maybe I should get some more padlocks, Sarah thought. She wrote the word down just before she sighed and dropped her head into her hands.
The scrape sound of footsteps against the wood floor approached and Sarah heard the phlegmy garbled voice of Mr. Wexton as he passed by the counter. “Nothing new. Let me know if you get anything new in Sarah,” he said dejectedly followed by the jingle of the shop door bell as he opened it to leave.
Without looking up, Sarah yelled through her hands, “Will do, Mr. Wexton.” She heard the shop door slam shut and let out a long loud sigh now that the shop was free of customers. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“It’s Monday,” came a deep wholesome voice that she would know anywhere, causing the tiny hairs on the back of her neck to stand up.
Sarah slowly lifted her head from her hands and peered first at a black leather belt on grey uniform slacks, then up a wide and solid chest pressed firmly to the green polo shirt which covered it. She tilted her eyes up the rest of the way, past the Adam’s apple in the center of a tanned muscular neck, to the firm square jaw and supple lower lip of the most handsome smile she’d ever seen. Sarah locked eyes with the light green ones above Henry Teager’s very masculine and seemingly unbreakable nose. How can his nose even seem muscular, she thought.
Henry’s dark brown hair was cut close at the sides. The length on top was long enough that it arched just slightly from the part above one eye over to where it lulled on his head above the other. He had that all-American boyish look, minus any of the overzealous grease a teenager would glob through such beautiful hair. Henry smiled down at her, the corner of his mouth higher on one side, always in the shape of a happy, innocent smirk.
“Hello, Henry.” Sarah wondered why her voice suddenly sounded like that of a little girl’s and cleared her throat.
“Rough day already? It’s only eleven.”
“Ha, tell me about it.”
Henry lifted a clipboard off the top box of the pile stacked on his hand truck and set in on the counter for Sarah to sign. She looked around the counter for her pen.
“How are you today, Henry?”
“I’m great. Beautiful weather. Not too hot yet.” Easy for you to say, you didn’t have Franci’s coffee, Sarah thought as she scribbled her name on the invoice. “And I’m on my favorite street on my route, so I can’t complain.”
Sarah chuckled and glanced up at him for a brief moment, until she saw his eyes were still looking directly at her. “What did we do to receive that honor?”
Henry leaned on the hand truck and propped one of his thick legs up on the foot rest. The stance made Sarah worry that he wouldn’t be leaving any time soon and in her current emotional state she didn’t think she could quite handle Henry’s presence for as long as he usually stayed in the shop.
“I love Blinney Lane. You know that. The people are so friendly, some of the best people you’ll ever meet,” Henry smiled and glanced out the window then back to Sarah. She smiled at that comment thinking of her friends on Blinney Lane. “I get the most unique orders here due to the specialty shops. It sure breaks up the monotony of my day from the basic office material delivery type of supplies. Heck, the distributor I work for sells stuff I didn’t know we could get or even existed if it weren’t for the Blinney shops. I don’t know. I think I just love how nothing seems to change here. You can always count on Blinney Lane even though the rest of the world moves on around it.”
“Hrmph,” Sarah scoffed lightly at her private opinions on why Blinney Lane couldn’t change. Henry was an outsider. What did he know? However, Sarah wouldn’t have it any other way. Henry was her dream of the joy of the outside world – the one book she had never read, but could write and rewrite as she wanted. “Well, change is coming tomorrow, whether we’re ready for it or not.”
Henry looked at her quizzically. “Barnes and Noble moving in?”
She smiled, “No. Worse, I think. My teenage nephew is coming to stay with me for the summer.”
“Yeah. Little Ricky. Well, I guess he’s not that little any more. Gosh, I haven’t seen him in three years. He’s seventeen now,” she winced at the proclamation.
Henry let out a deep chuckle. “Yeah, that could be worse. I can’t imagine being seventeen and spending my summer in a bookstore.”
“Hey, what happened to loving this place?”
Henry blushed. A man who blushes, wow. How could someone so machismo in appearance be so shy and kind, Sarah wondered. She let herself stare directly at his face then for the first time since he had walked into the store.
“Oh, I didn’t mean any disrespect. I just meant I spent my summers outside playing ball and swimming. If I hadn’t been so busy dreaming about being a pro-athlete I probably would have been hanging around in here throwing glances at Richard’s little sister,” he ended with a wink. Sarah cast her eyes quickly back down to the clipboard at the comment. “I guess I didn’t do anything very productive…is what I meant to say,” Henry’s tone softened as he cleared his throat. Sarah let out a soft laugh in response.
Henry brought his foot back to the floor from the hand truck and grabbed the clip board. He wheeled the hand truck to the end of the counter and slid the stack of boxes onto the floor, leaving enough room for Sarah when she needed to get by. He looked at her for a moment, neither of them saying anything, and then he swallowed. “Well, uh, need me to order anything for Ricky?”
“Yes, actually,” Sarah grabbed her list.
“Some Playboys and Def Leppard albums?” Henry smirked and reached for the list.
“Def Leppard? What do kids even listen to now? God, you just made us sound old, I think,” Sarah turned towards him with her list. She couldn’t help but wonder if the graze of his fingers on hers as he took her note was deliberate.
“We’re not that old, Sarah,” the softness in his voice was simply cruel combined with his looks.
He shouldn’t be allowed around women, she noted to herself. Sarah’s breath caught in her throat, not knowing what to do or say when he acted in this peculiar way. Henry was consistently friendly and complimentary by nature, but every so often Sarah got the impression his compliments were specifically intended to remind her that she was a woman, and he was a man. As if I need that reminder, she swallowed a lump in her throat. The shop bell chimed like a savior.
“Hi Sarah!” A thin, blue-eyed teenage girl with dirty-blonde hair waved with one hand, the other gripping her embroidered back pack. She had a ruffled jean skirt on and bright horizontally striped knee socks to further contrast her ever-cute little Boho appearance.
“Good morning, Shelby,” Sarah smiled in relief at the distraction. The slim little gal walked happily by with a bounce over to one of the chairs where the young couple had been earlier, and tossed her book bag down with familiarity. Shelby dropped down into the chair and let her striped-clad legs bounce up in the air with the motion, and then her Converse shoes tapped back to the floor. Sarah looked back at Henry, who had also seen Shelby walk in.
Henry looked back from Shelby to Sarah and muttered with seriousness, “Okay, scratch the Playboys. Good luck.”
“Hrmph, that girl’s sixteen going on P.H.D. I doubt she’ll even notice him.”
Later that night, Sarah locked the door to the shop behind Mary Millville and Franci after they came over from across the street upon locking up their own shops. They settled themselves down onto the old, olive toned sofa in the reading nook as Sarah pulled the window shades of the shop down and turned out the main lights. She walked over and sat in one of the chairs across from the ladies, eyeing the basket Mary held in her lap. “Okay, what’ve you got?”
Mary Millville was a former blonde, going grey in spite of the age-defying concoctions she could whip up at her own shop, Scents and Suds. Mary claimed she let it go grey since she didn’t have the face or figure a fifty-something woman would need to still look good as a blonde.
Mary was also convinced that the historical dresses she wore to cater towards the theme of Blinney Lane’s shops went well with her gracefully aging appearance. She opined that grey hair indicated wisdom, and thus customers were more likely to trust her and her products. She sat on Sarah’s couch now in one of her ruffle-collared dresses with an empire waist, which was hidden under the large barrel shape of her bulky bosom. The long billowy skirt of Mary’s dress was covered in the front by a traditional linen apron with a large bow tied in the back above her big rump. Her lace-up black boots peeked out from under the dress hem along with her underskirts. That’s got to be hot as hell in the summer, Sarah thought.
There wasn’t any type of written or spoken agreement amongst the shop owners on Blinney Lane in regards to uniforms. Those who chose to dress in garb reminiscent of the past did as they chose. Sarah preferred the Marlene Dietrich look of suspenders and long-sleeved dress shirts with slacks. She felt it held up the 1930s era for the district and gave her a clerk-like appearance, as Allister’s was originally a print shop when her first ancestor built the place. She was just grateful they could get away wearing unusual clothing since many of the shop owner’s on the little cul-de-sac had physical abnormalities they’d rather hide. Mary for instance, would never be caught wearing an open-back anything. The marks on her back were far too prominent for her to feel comfortable revealing them in public, thus the reason she likely stuck with her full-backed haughty old colonial style gowns.
“Sarah, first off, I have to say…and without any disrespect to you of course, my dear, but your brother is being most irresponsible with his son,” Mary frowned and gestured with a halting sign of her hand to accentuate her point. Here it comes, Sarah thought. Mary was a loud woman with plump cheeks and jowls that made her face appear similar to that of a bulldog, ironically fitting her personality. Springy curls bounced around her face as she nodded with each point she firmly made. Mary was a thoughtful voice of reason and wisdom in the district and knew the history of Blinney Lane the best of all its residents with the exception of maybe Franci. When she spoke everyone listened, even if they’d heard it before. The dignity with which Mary carried herself was a way of the old, and her gracefulness and propriety commanded an audience. “To come and put this on you and the community is simply inconsiderate to the very fabric of…of,” she paused to look at a nervous Franci beside her. Franci just nodded in anticipation for what Mary would come up with. “of our society here.”
“I know that Mary,” Sarah offered delicately.
“And I know you know that, Sarah, which is why I would never consider you had anything to do with this…this unfortunate arrangement,” Mary added compassionately. Franci just smiled and nodded at Sarah.
In spite of being some twenty-plus years Mary’s junior, Mary treated Sarah with the utmost respect. Sarah assumed this was due, in part, to the responsible way she had always carried herself, and the rest to Mary’s respect for the part the Allister family had played in the history of Blinney Lane. As Mary fretted on about the impending arrival of Ricky, Sarah silently reminisced on the story of her ancestors.
During the late 17th century, as a witchcraft-mania swept through Salem, a young woman named Agatha Blinney was condemned to death by the local villagers who lived on what was now called “Blinney Lane.” The villagers discovered that Agatha had become the lover of their local cobbler, Nathan Nurscher, who happened to be a married man. The only plausible explanation for a married man with four children to behave so sinfully at that time was that the uncommonly beautiful Agatha must have used witchcraft to lure him under her spell. It didn’t help that several other wives in the village were quite jealous of the young lady as well as having husbands who were dismayed to find they hadn’t been chosen as the object of the woman’s designs.
Controlled by their enraged hysteria, Agatha’s neighbors pulled her from her home, where they subdued her wrists and ankles with rope. The party of angered men and women grew as they dragged her down the street, all the while screaming their accusation that she was a witch for “seducing” a married man. Agatha cried out denials to the charge, as the villagers brought her to the end of the street in front of Nurscher’s cobbler shop, where a lone tree stood. They tied her to the trunk and someone began to whip her as the sky cracked thunder and a heavy rain began to fall, taking Agatha’s streaming blood down the street with the flooding water. When the local magistrate finally arrived, he knew there was no turning back the incensed crowd and he approved the girl’s execution. Agatha was untied briefly enough to allow a rope to be thrown over a branch of the tree and to speak her last words as a noose was placed around her neck.
Agatha eyed the villagers coldly, as she shivered from the pain of her wounds being stung by the pouring rain. “My only sin was giving my love to a man who took it, but wouldn’t claim it. Take from me my soul, but I leave you my heartache!” She cried out before the stool was kicked out from under her feet causing her to fall and her neck to snap.
The next morning, weeping and wailing could be heard from within many of the buildings on Blinney Lane as inhabitants awoke to find people dead in their beds. It was later determined that anyone who had walked through the rainwater, tainted with Agatha’s blood, did not awake the next day. Other peculiar things began to happen and the villagers soon realized they had not damned Agatha Blinney, but rather had damned themselves with the curse she left behind.
Nathan Nurscher saw the untimely death of his wife and three daughters in the months after Agatha’s hanging. One day, a woman ran screaming from his shop that she felt like nails were being driven into her feet after trying on a new pair of shoes. Nurscher suggested the villagers hold a festival to honor Blinney’s memory hoping the tribute would help to change his foul luck. He even made a new pair of boots to wear for the occasion. That night, as the fiddlers played, the neighbors couldn’t believe their eyes as the usually serious and stoic Nurscher spun, twirled, and kicked in time with the music. “It’s not me! I’m not doing it! It’s her. It must be her!” Nathan had cried. Sometimes at night, that same pair of old boots are still known to dance on their own. At his wits’ end with the surprises of the curse, Nurscher made a proposition to the Allister family who had also been as plagued by the curse as him.
When the rain had washed down the street the day Agatha Blinney died, it pooled in a low spot right outside Allister’s print shop where the cul-de-sac met the main road. No one doubted that this was the reason why the Allisters were plagued with so many more peculiar phenomenon in their shop than others on the little street. The Allisters agreed to Nathan Nurscher’s proposition that their daughter marry his son, Wilbur, when the two came of age. The union was arranged in the hopes that the pledged faithfulness of the pair would serve to honor Agatha Blinney and luckily diminish the strength of the curse. Durley Allister had already lost one child to the bloodied waters and was willing to try anything to protect what remained of his family.
Sarah shuddered at the thought of having to live during those early days of the curse. How had the residents endured unexplainable deaths, books that suddenly came to life, and all the other occurrences that had been documented once the Blinney Council was formed? While living on Blinney Lane was precarious, at least now it was fairly peaceful and free of violent circumstances if the “rules” were followed. Sarah sighed, “The rules.” Another Allister showing up on Blinney Lane didn’t seem like playing safely by the rules. It had bothered her all day and sent her mind worrying if Ricky’s arrival would shift the curse off-balance. Acknowledging this, Sarah didn’t begrudge how Mary sat nervously before her now, delicately warning her of her shared concerns.
“In order to respect the…history of Blinney Lane, we want to avoid any blundering that an uneducated outsider might unintentionally bring.” Mary raised her voice at the word “unintentionally,” and Sarah had to try not to laugh. She knew Mary was trying to address Agatha directly, the curse, or what-have you that if Ricky did something wrong it wouldn’t be a deliberate attempt to invoke Agatha’s wrath. “Which is why, Sarah, I’ve brought you something as Francis has requested of me.”
“Yes, Mary, thank you,” Sarah waited patiently, hands between her knees and watched to see what Mary would retrieve from the old wicker basket on her lap.
Mary pulled out a large glass jar that contained a dark creamy liquid and handed it to her. Sarah studied the jar and shifted it gently back and forth. She’d seen jars explode in Mary’s shop before if they weren’t handled carefully. Luckily, effects like that usually only occurred in the presence of Blinney Lane residents and not the unsuspecting public.
“Have him wash his hair with that and he can use it like a body soap as well. You should be able to funnel it into a less conspicuous bottle when he’s not looking,” Mary dug through the basket as she spoke.
“Mary, is there any way you can make it…not so brown looking?” Sarah hesitated.
Mary frowned, knowingly, “No, dear. Believe me, I’ve tried. Just tell him it’s some new expensive exotic thing from…oh, who’s that fellow? Calvin Clean or something?”
“Klein,” Franci smiled.
“Klein. It’s Calvin Klein.”
“Yes. Yes, that’s what I said,” Mary waved Franci off with her hand and squinted at the label on a small salve tube she pulled from her basket. “It’ll protect him from any harm as best we can hope. Now this,” she handed the tube to Sarah, “is for his teeth. Being a teenager and foreign to our ways here, we can just assume he’ll probably say something…well, things that might be unpleasant to…to say in such a place as this.” Mary, frustrated for words, just nodded to Sarah hoping she understood her meaning.
“Yes, I understand.” Sarah started to open the cap, “May I?” She knew little of potions and pastes or their power; books were her specialty. She wasn’t sure if this particular creation was harmful to anyone that it wasn’t intended for, and wanted to make sure Mary approved.
“Yes. Yes, you can open it. These are both safe to you, Sarah. I made sure of that.”
Sarah unscrewed the cap and sniffed the paste. “Oohf, it smells like citronella.” The paste was yellow and waxy in consistency.
Franci giggled, but stopped when Mary shot her a dark look. “Well, it won’t keep the mosquitoes away if that’s what you’re thinking,” Mary arched a brow.
Sarah grazed her index finger across the top of the tube to catch a small dab of the paste. She tapped her tongue with that finger and then grimaced. “Ugh! Mary…it tastes like citronella.”
“Hrmph. You know what citronella tastes like?” Mary straightened up her proud back.
“I do,” Franci peered knowingly over her bifocals. At that, Mary rolled her eyes.
“Don’t you have something to offer, Miss Know-it-all?” Mary asked Franci.
Franci reached into her pocket and pulled out a cellophane baggie of grey powder. She tossed it at Sarah and it landed in her lap. “Just mix that up like an Arab or Greek coffee. Remember how to make those?” Sarah nodded. “It’ll make him feel a little warm, which is the downside since it’s getting hotter out, but the heat means its working because it’s giving off protection.”
Sarah opened the cellophane baggie and sniffed the powder. She sneezed immediately and eyes burned. Good lord, she thought, it’s like cayenne pepper!
“Got a bit of a kick to it, doesn’t it?” Franci grinned and swung her arm in front of her, fist clenched.
“Mary. Franci. I’m so grateful to the both of you for doing this for me, but…I mean, what if I can’t get him to use any of this stuff. No offense,” she held her hand out to accentuate her gratitude, “I mean, he’s a teenager. I’m not his mother and he hasn’t seen me in three years. I can’t make him use poop-brown shampoo, citronella toothpaste, and drink…jalapeno tea.”
Mary’s features softened and she stood up, smoothing down the wrinkles of her dress. She smiled and approached Sarah, where she cupped the young woman’s chin lovingly in her soft hand. In spite of all Mary’s displays of strict seriousness, she was all heart. She was like a protective old aunt to Sarah, and had been since Sarah’s mother died some fifteen years ago. “Sarah, you’re right. He is a teenager. Which means you’re the adult, so just remind him of that. You’re the boss.”
Sarah forced a smiled and squeezed Mary’s hand as she looked up into her dark brown eyes. That was easy for Mary to say. Mary had a daughter, Valerie. The two argued often, but when Mary wanted something done or had a point to make, she got that motherly tone and Valerie inevitably complied. Mary had years of practice. Valerie was twenty-six years old. Sarah had never commanded children in her life, only playfully entertained the children of customers who came into her shop. “What if he doesn’t want a boss, Mary?”
Mary let her hand drop from Sarah’s chin and readjusted the basket handle in the crook of her arm. “Well, then we go with plan B.” Mary nodded to Franci that it was time to leave and they headed towards the door.
“What’s plan B?” Sarah asked as she unlocked the shop door.
Mary studied her descent of the stairs as she stood in the doorway. Everyone on the street knew the Allister’s shop had received the plethora of the curse’s power due to that dark red pool that had seeped into the ground out front so long ago. To this day, Mary was so superstitious of the thought that she gathered up her skirts to bound over the front steps each time she passed. Mary took that very action just then. She jumped and steadied herself on the cobblestone street at the bottom of the steps and wheezed. Mary primped her curls and called over her shoulder, “We give him an acne outbreak and tell him that stuff is the only cure.”
Sarah locked the door after Franci and Mary left. She flipped the switch for the remaining lights to the shop, and then walked past the elbow-high shelves towards the back of the store.
The shop had a split-level structure and there was a wide set of three stairs leading to the upper level against the wall just beyond the store counter. An ornate wooden balcony rail jutted out to the left of the stairs and stopped at a dividing wall that hid the majority of this level from the customers. The front side of the wall served as more book display shelving, while the back side of this partition held yet another set of book-filled shelves. Beyond that were even more ceiling-high shelves in rows. This portion of the shop looked like an archaic library, all of its shelves filled with antique and out-of-print books and manuscripts. Very few customers were ever allowed back here.
Sarah stood on the landing at the top of the three stairs and looked up the next staircase that led to her living quarters, the place she had lived her entire life like many Allisters before her. Just as she reached to place her hand on the next stair railing, she stopped and turned her head towards the last row of book shelves, where a glowing light emitted through the darkness of the room.
Sarah walked slowly around the stair case and past the other four bookshelves until she reached the final shelf against the back wall of the building. She felt a damp coolness waft against her face like a chilly night breeze and acknowledged the feeling of an internal pull. It made her feel as though her insides were aching to lunge forward.
There on the last shelf, behind iron padlocked bars, behind thick glass cabinet doors, five thick, leather bound books appeared to glow under the light of the yellow lamps. Each sat slanted back on display stands, basking ominously under the light.
Sarah stared at the books and watched as a drop of water slowly fell from the bottom of one of them and ran down the base of the inside of the cabinet. She heard a thin trickle sound and she noticed a tiny thread of water along the bottom crevice of the cabinet shelf. The water slowly dribbled towards the center of the shelf, which angled slightly downward in the center to a small silver drain hole. A knot formed in Sarah’s throat as she gazed over the books and she noted with her discerning eye the minuscule bits of dew which clung to their seams.
“You know he’s coming, don’t you?” She whispered to the glass.
Sarah listened to her breath and the trickle of the drain. The lights in the case were heat lamps, intended to dry the weeping books as much as possible, but all Sarah could feel was a cold chill emanating from the cabinet.
“Please don’t hurt him. Don’t take him. You have me,” she pleaded and looked at the books. Just then, Sarah heard a clink noise and felt something brush against the skin on her hand just above her wrist.
Sarah looked down at the leather cuff bracelet. All of the charms attached to it dangled in their usual places, except for one – one that wasn’t really a charm, but rather an old metal key. It flipped upward against Sarah’s arm and shook, then came down and stopped perpendicular to where her arm hung limply at her side like it was pointing at the case. The key pointed in the direction of the book farthest to the right. Sarah looked from the key to the fading words across the book’s cover, The Lands of Farwin Wood. “No,” she whispered forcefully and pushed the key back down with her other hand. “I told you. I’m never coming back.
A large drop of water seeped out between the page bottoms of The Lands of Farwin Woodand landed on the metal base of the bookshelf with an echoing plop, and then another. Sarah pursed her lips. She knew it wasn’t Agatha Blinney answering her plea. It was simply the devious power of Agatha’s curse at work. It had a mind of its own. The curse certainly knew something was coming. It sensed the impending presence of another Allister, one of the descendants of the first villagers. The curse had to feed something with this new burst of extra energy, unfortunately for Sarah it appeared to be feeding the “Weeping Books,” as her family had come to call them. She should have suspected this would happen. It was her brother’s son who was coming after all. Why wouldn’t the book that had nearly killed Richard awaken with the arrival of his only child?
**The Weeping Books Of Blinney Lane, ebook edition, is currently on sale for 2.99 on Amazon