I walked into the Southwest Book Trader and was nearly knocked on my ass by the smell of one hundred thousand used books; they were stacked everywhere. That many books seem to sweat when they’re all in one place. They create a musk of their own that wraps around you like a musty trench coat. The Southwest Book Trader is an old house in downtown Durango, Colorado that’s been converted into a used bookstore, but it’s a bit more than that. I walked through the rooms looking for an old book by David Eddings, and it took almost a half hour to find it. But the fact that they had an old first edition, with yellowed and dog eared pages, is a testament to the depth of selection through which I swam. I’m not a big man, and I barely fit between the overflowing bookcases and pyramids of print. I laughed at one point, after I realized I was in what used to be the kitchen, because I could see the kitchen sink faucet protruding out from a stack of books on politics. I checked the price on my first edition, two whole dollars, and then walked up front to find the owner.
I found him up front wearing a fly fishing vest and a hat that would’ve made Indiana Jones jealous. He was in his late fifties and sitting at the cash register. I could only see his head and part of his torso because books were stacked all around him; it was like he had built a fort out of paperbacks. He didn’t look up so I spoke first. Our conversation went a bit like this:
Me: “Damn. This is one hell of a cool collection.”
Him: “No it’s not. I have a warehouse that’s filled to the ceiling. I have over one million books and it’s a sickness. Don’t compliment something you don’t understand.”
Him: “Did you find what you were looking for?”
I reached over the moat of his book fort and handed him my Eddings first edition. We started talking. The conversation ended up lasting for an hour. I told him that I was a published author and shared a few of my more malcontented opinions vis-à-vis fifty shades of bullshit and sparkly vampires, and we became friends. This man who hoards books and doesn’t make eye contact is one of my new favorite people.
My only caveat with the whole experience is that when he looked at the book I was buying, he smirked and said something under his breath about “escapist literature.” He said that he had read everything in the realm of SciFi and Fantasy until his late teens, and then he had turned his back on the genre. He gave up on escapist literature and has only read nonfiction since.
In case you’re wondering, “escapist literature” is a style of writing, usually centered on alternate realities chock-full of swords and sorcery, into which a reader can submerge themselves thereby escaping from reality. Frankly, I’ve never read any fiction that didn’t offer a bit of escapism, but whatever; that’s an argument for a different time.
Have you ever wondered why nerds delve so deeply into their interests? Have you ever wondered why there are scores of fans who bounce from convention to convention in a never ending nerdgasm? I’ve met a few that escape so entirely from reality via fandom that they’re fluent in Klingon. Seriously; they actually speak the shit. And I get it. They’ve found this different universe that accepts them as loyal fans. They can read book after book that glorify outcast protagonists who can defeat the bullies of the world with wizardry. In these books of escapist literature, it doesn’t matter if you’re portly or pallid or a pariah walking amongst the pretty people; if they fuck with you, you could always conjure a ball of fire or set your ray gun to stun and deal with the bastards.
I like to tell myself that I like escapist literature for a different reason. You know, it’s because I have an acute imagination. It’s because I read these books and fully create these universes in my mind and simply enjoy them as an observer. Yeah, that’s it. It has nothing to do with the fact that they help me separate myself from a nearly debilitating anxiety that dogs my steps like a shadow. I swear. And who knows, maybe my new favorite person who hoards books and doesn’t make eye contact came to grips with his need for escapist literature at a young age. Maybe he was ashamed of that need, and then threw himself into nonfiction and warehouses filled to the rafters with other people’s writing. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction. It’s usually depressing and ugly, and it usually brings me right back to that place from which I was originally trying to escape: reality.
The first author I’ve chosen to feature in this third segment is Brian Sanner. He’s a badass scientist who’s currently working on his PhD so he can someday build a bionic suit that’ll allow him to shoot lightning out of his hands. Honestly.
When the wind shivered through the trees, their limbs rattled like the bones of the watchmen huddled against the gatehouse wall. Winter is a miserable time to wear armor. The metal inhales the cold and breathes it back more intense than before. Layers of leather and fur help at first exposure, but the cold is insidious and constant and without end. It twists and tickles its way through the layers and sets there, solidly, like a press.
On a night like this, when breath steamed and frosted in beards, it was no wonder the guards stayed close to their torches, spears propped against the palisade while they hid their hands beneath crude cloaks of stitched animal hide.
The wind sighed again, sliding layers of dry snow crystals over the hard, icy roadway beneath. This road led west,
along the windswept hills that, in the warmer seasons, would be populated by scraggly tufts of grass and jagged rock, home to the small creatures that burrowed in such, and the larger that preyed upon them. Men were few and scattered in those hills. The land was too poor for those with honest intentions to bother. The hills were home to jackals and highwaymen, and there was little to tell the two apart.
The building was nothing more than a trading post. A pit stop along the road. Far enough out that most would stop here. Miserable enough that they would soon move on. There was not much to be had here, but here was a place that anything was worth having. Close enough to nowhere that even a ramshackle roof was better than none, and a stout wall between a man and the darkness was a welcome relief.
This night was too cold for highwaymen or peddlers either one. So why have two guards on the gate of a six-foot palisade that a half-dozen determined men could overcome in an hour?
The second author I’ve chosen to feature is Mary A. Fox. She lives in England, with her husband and her four children. She is an avid reader who started writing her own stories when she was twelve years old, inspired by a middle school teacher who ran writing workshops. Most of Mary’s stories are set on the wild Atlantic North coast of the picturesque county, Cornwall, in the South-West of the UK. Mary is the author of five novels in the Porth Kerensa series and a handful of flash fiction stories. Her work can be found on www.wattpad.com/mezmerised
The Running Girl
Back home they called me the running girl. Some of them called me Forrest, but mostly I was known as the running girl. When I ran past them every evening some cheered me and some jeered me. None of them asked me my name and no one cared why I ran, which suited me fine. After a while they didn’t even notice me anymore. I became part of the background. I was invisible to them.
One day I disappeared altogether.
I often wondered, on my frequent attempts to get back, if any of them ever noticed my disappearance. If eventually, somebody said, “What do you think happened to the running girl? Where do you think she went?”
They won’t believe me if I make it home and tell people what happened to me. They will look at me as if I am crazy and probably lock me up in a padded cell.
Anyway it’s a moot point because I can’t find my way back. Lord knows, I’ve tried.
I was running and I stumbled. My toe caught in a pothole as I jogged up the coast road and I fell. But it wasn’t a simple fall. It was as if something reached through a rip in time and space and pulled me from my reality into theirs. The air around me shimmered, crackled and sizzled. The oxygen seemed to be dragged from my lungs and the brightest light I’ve ever seen dazzled me as I sprawled headlong into the unrelenting darkness behind the light.
And I screamed.
I could try and document the months after my fall, but I’m not a wordsmith and I don’t have the vocabulary to tell you how confused and lost I felt for a long time afterwards. It took me months to truly believe I was irreversibly trapped out of my own time and reality. I spent every day looking for my way back, but I couldn’t find it. It was as if whatever had ripped a wound in the fabric of the world healed instantly behind me, leaving me stranded.
I am a visitor from the future, living before my lifetime.
David doesn’t like it when I call myself a visitor. He says I have been here for two years and I should accept that it’s my home now. We don’t talk much about where I came from and we’ve never told anyone else that I literally fell out of thin air into his arms. He told the villagers he found me on the beach, unconscious and washed up from a shipwreck, and he rescued me. Sometimes I wonder if he pretends to himself that’s what really happened, simply to retain some sanity. Has he convinced himself that I truly am flotsam?
He told me once that he used to walk the coast road every night in the hope he would see me, the shimmering ghostly woman who haunted the road he lived on, running with the wind streaming through my long brown hair. He said I shone when I ran; that I was translucent like a beautiful wild running spirit and he couldn’t get me out of his mind. He said I captivated him and every night, when he watched me, he wished that I was real, until one day I was. I told him he sounded mad.
He said, “You’re convinced you’re from 2006, and I watched a ghost appear solid and real out of thin air. We’re both mad.”
Then he made love to me again.
I ran every evening for the first two years, desperately trying to find the way back to my own time. I retraced my steps until I thought it really would drive me mad as I hopelessly searched for the time chasm I had fallen through. I wept when I ran and David stood, in our small garden, watching me jog and cry. He stood with tears in his own eyes, waiting for me to come back and when I was too tired to run anymore he would wrap his mother’s shawl around my shoulders and lead me gently indoors.
He soothed me and he cared for me. He adored me and one day I realised I had fallen again.
David is kind and gentle. He loves me and he keeps me safe and calm in a world I still don’t feel a part of, despite the passing of the years. He’s even asked me to marry him. Maybe he thinks it will be enough to give me some ties here. Perhaps he hopes it will stop me trying to run away from here. I lost myself in
1849 and I found the love of my life.
But will it be enough?
I suppose one day soon I’ll marry him. Especially when I tell him I’m going to have our baby. I should tell him, but I still haven’t got my own head around it. I’m going to have a child over one hundred years before I’ve even been born. Perhaps I will name our child Paradox.
It’s unlikely now that I’ll ever go back, even if I found a way. David found the only way to stop me running.
But until he knows, I’ll carry on with my lonely jogging up the coast road still looking for my way home; running forever, like a DVD left on repeat.
The villagers call me the running girl. They don’t know why I run and they don’t care. David cares though. David cares too much; he always has. Sometimes I look at him and I believe his obsession with the shimmering, running spirit girl he watched every night is what pulled me here in the first place. He calls it Fate…something that was meant to be because it transcended time. I think his yearning for the ghostly girl grew so strong that he managed to drag me across time and space into his own reality.
I think he believes it too.
I still run sometimes. When David is working out in the fields and our daughter, Anne sleeps. I don’t run for very long though, and I tell myself I’m only keeping fit.
This is my home now.
Kim shook her head at Regan’s suggestion they walk home. “The coast road is haunted. There’s no way I’m walking up there at this time of night.”
“What are you talking about?” Regan scoffed, laughing. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Ever since that girl disappeared into thin air, people have seen her running along the road she went missing on,” Kim replied seriously. “Don’t you remember it? About seven years ago a jogger vanished. They say she haunts that stretch of road between Padstow and Porth Kerensa and now she’s doomed to jog down the lonely coast road forever more.”
Emmy smiled at Kim. “You know there hasn’t been a sighting for a couple of years now.” She sighed. “Poor girl, no one ever found out what happened to her. It was as if she simply vanished from the face of the earth, never to be seen again.”
“Except for her ghost,” Kim replied, shivering.
“What was her name?” Regan was sombre now, feeling guilty that she had mocked Kim.
“I can’t remember her name,” Kim replied, sadly. “But the press called her The Running Girl.”