My short story, The Book That Couldn’t be Put Down was published last year in Mason County Writes. I offer it here to read at your leisure.
The Book That Couldn’t Be Put Down
It began so innocently.
Kellum Buchman, who frequented library sales, rummage sales, Goodwill, thrift stores, used book stores, any outlet for cheap books, was considered a bookworm by sneering lowbrows, considered a booklover by loving family, and Kellum, who was browsing for books at a yard sale when it happened, considered himself, without snobbery, a bibliophile. Then it happened.
It was such a simple act. Picking up a book he noticed on a table full of well-worn books, old magazines and postcards, something he or anyone has done hundreds of times. It was an old book, one with a leather cover, thick with crisp pages; excellent condition really. Holding the book in his left hand he read the copyright page. A first edition from 1909 from a writer he had not heard of, not that it mattered to Kellum.
He decided to buy it and was switching the book from his left hand to his right, when he noticed something odd. He looked up to see if anyone noticed. The person in charge of the yard sale was sitting in her aluminum framed patio chair not looking at him, but chatting with another woman, both as old as most of the books and magazines on the table. Other bargain hunters were scanning flower pots, bowls, silverware, and other human detritus, once key components of a life, now either trash or collectibles depending on one’s sensibility.
Still looking around him, Kellum tried pulling the book off his left hand. It would not come free though his left hand was flat against the back cover. He turned around, his back to customers, and quickly put out his left arm, palm up; but the book did not drop, simply falling open like a spread out accordion.
Turning around he drew the book to his chest, trying his best to act nonchalant. He intended to buy more books, but considered the inherent problem. What if another book he picked up with his right hand . . . no, it could not be chanced. He walked up to the woman in the aluminum chair and paid $2 for the book and hurried off.
Back in his apartment, bookcases on four walls surrounded a much faded, well-trod on Oriental rug. A green swiveling comfy chair, the arms of which were no longer green where the hand would rest, but stained brown from human contact over how many years sat in the epicenter of the rug with a 1950ish floor lamp placed near the chair for optimum reading. Standing near the lamp Kellum once again raised his left arm and tried to shake loose the book and once again it would not fall. He tried to pry up the book at the corners, peaking to see if there was some type of Super-Dooper gloopy glue that was causing this unnatural act. He found nothing to indicate why the book was stuck to his left palm.
He tried to think of what do to. Could smearing butter or grease break the hold? He didn’t see how as neither could get between his hand and the book cover. Hot water? Besides damaging the book he didn’t think it would work, after all how hot should the water be? Boiling? No, that was not the answer. Take a knife and slowly slide the blade between fingers and book to see if he could edge his fingers away. He had a box cutter, but ruled that out as being too sharp and would no doubt cut away his skin. He got a pocket knife and tried to pry the book away by sliding the knife near the bottom of his hand, but though he could, with some trouble mind you, get the knife slightly between book and skin, going any further proved fruitless.
Then an idea struck him. He bent over, his left palm facing down, the book resting on the floor. He then placed each foot on either side of his palm, the feet resting on the edges of the book, and then pushed down with his feet while trying to straighten his back. Smart plan, but high hopes turned to frustration as the desired effect did not come close to success.
Kellum sat in his old green swivel chair, his head tilted back, stared at the ceiling. He just sat and stared, thinking of nothing, pretending what happened was not real, but a dream. He was using deniability as a method to calm his nerves, come to a peace in which the answer would come to him without thinking. No need to panic, no need to overthink. Relax and let the answer come to you.
An hour or so later he woke up. The book was still there. No dream and no answer. Having a book attached to your hand presents problems. He realized this when he had to use the bathroom. Now I will not tell you what he was doing as in either case you can imagine for yourself the problems he encountered. It was, of course, awkward. Not to mention time consuming.
And naturally making dinner or any meal was also problematic. He was for all intent and purpose a one armed man. But one who forgot that at times and tried to do something, but the book would knock off a glass onto the floor, shattering into small pieces, presenting yet another problem. At least a normal one armed man does not have the weight of a large 1909 leather-bound thick book pulling at you. It forced him many times to bring the book to his chest like a professor walking with his books to class, hugging them so they would not escape.
Showering was out of the question; bathing being a reasonable alternative, he was able to come clean without too much distress.
But these were the least of his problems. The larger one being he would have to call in sick tomorrow for how could he go to work and do his job as surgical tech, sterilizing medical instruments and assisting in surgery. And for how many days would he have to do it?
Naturally he thought of going to a doctor, he knew many of them. They of course called him a bookworm and other related indignities, though of course intellectually he knew bookworm was not an insult, but emotionally he felt the way his coworkers used the word, it seemed to be insulting. Going to them would make him the object of intense ridicule.
So he called in sick, again and again and again, until he was told not to come in any more. He never left his apartment except to take trash out and only in the middle of the night. He ordered home delivery of his groceries, telling the store to place them outside the door, knock, and then leave. He paid online and always tipped. He paid all bills online, declined to accept any invitations from family or what few friends he had to go anywhere. He had become a recluse.
Then things took a hopeful turn.
One night he took out the trash and a young girl noticed him struggling with the garbage bag, the book hugging the bag. He put the trash in the can and turned and saw the girl.
“You can’t put the book down, can you?” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“No matter what you do, the book will not let go of you; the book is stuck on your hand.”
“How did you know? Have you been spying on me?”
“No. The same thing happened to me.”
“But you have no book now. What happened, I mean how did you get rid of the book?”
“Have you read the book?” she asked.
“No . . . I mean I . . . wait . . . your smiling. That’s it! You mean all I have to do is read the book and it will leave me.”
“It worked for me. Think about it. When you read a book you get involved with characters, their stories, it can consume you, staying with the story until it is over, then there is the come down after the reading when everything returns to normal, the story fades away as another story in another book takes its place. Read the book, finish the story, and life will return to normal. The story wants you, needs you as much as you need it, for a story needs readers as much as readers need a story, so the book is insisting on being read and you will be one with the book until it is finished.”
“It’s so simple,” he said. “The answer was obvious, it was in front of me all this time and I couldn’t see it. God, I feel stupid and me a reader. I guess I got mad at the book and blamed it or something. I read other books, not easy, as I’m sure you know, but . . . there the book was and I hadn’t even bothered to read it. Thank you. I’m glad I met you.” He looked at the book on his hand, smiled, and then looked up at the girl. She was gone. I didn’t get her name he thought. In fact he had never seen her before. Maybe she was a new tenant in the building.
Back in his apartment he started to read the book, got distracted thinking about the girl, about 19 or so, maybe older, her dark shoulder length hair, her suggestive smile-thought he thought that he might be projecting her smile as suggestive to flatter himself-but she did have cute dimples.
He shook off his memory of her and restarted his reading, getting involved in the characters and the story. The book was nearly 600 pages so could not be read in one night, or in two. As much as he wanted to finish the story, to let the book fall way, to get back to a normal life, he felt it could not be rushed. Each book, each story, had to be savored like a gourmet meal; letting the flavor come to you, slowly chewing it all, taking it all in bit by bit.
Over the next couple of days as he got further into the story he noticed a change. It was not any loosening of the book, but a change in his skin. It started that first night, the night he met the girl when taking out his garbage. His skin color was yellowing ever so slightly and it got progressively yellower and dryer each day. Naturally it worried him, interfered with his concentration of the story, as he continually went to the bathroom mirror to check his skin. He also noticed it was not just his arms, but his legs, his face, his chest, in fact his entire body color was changing the more he read.
On the third day looking at his skin while sitting in his green comfy chair on the faded oriental rug he realized what the skin looked like, realized as he rubbed his right arm over his left arm above the book. His skin was like parchment, in both color and feel. Was the book poisoned or something? The girl never told me about this? Did it happen to her? He never noticed as she stood mostly in shadow near the trash cans. In fact, he thought, I didn’t get a good look at her at all.
Then he could no longer read, feeling that, in fact, reading was making things worse, that the more he read the more his skin was turning into parchment. But that was not the case as going without reading for a day his color did not change. In fact, after not reading, his hair was turning to what can best be described as papyrus. And his eyes; his eyes, once hazel, now looked like white pulp.
Then things got worse.
On the fourth or fifth day, he could not remember which, as he could not sleep and lost track of time, he noticed writing on the parchment of his skin. In sentences winding around his arm beginning at the wrist and moving upward, he saw the words appear as if someone were writing on his skin. He looked at his legs and saw the same, sentences being written as he watched. His chest the same. He hugged the book to his chest and tried running to the bathroom to check his face, but he could not run as the front of his body was changing. The shirt was becoming a hard cardboard like material, the same on his back. He could not make it to the bathroom. The book was not done with him. It was not that the book could not be put down; the book would not let him go. They were becoming as one.
A week later a young girl with shoulder length dark hair walked into Kellum’s apartment. She looked in very room and did not see him. She saw a large book on the floor between a large green comfy chair with worn down arm rests stained from years of human contact and the bathroom. She squatted down and looked at the large leather bound book and smiled. She did not touch it.
Other weird stories by your host are found in these two E- books on Amazon