On the metaphysical side.
On the metaphysical side.
art by Ramos Fumes
In a small Pennsylvania town lives Heather Lockhart. Partial owner of Lockhart books, a small book store near the center of the town of Hooper. Times were hard for her mother after the death of her father in a car accident one year ago. To help her mother, Heather left college, where she was planning on a business major, and took a job and partial ownership of the family business. There wasn't much she could be taught about the book business, having grown up in it. Heather worked diligently through her grief while her mother had a much more difficult time. In time her mother was able to put the pieces back together and become once again a full time partner to the book store.
The Book Store - A brief history
Lockhart's Books, est. 1910 by Jonus James Lockhart. Jonus was born in 1889 in Pennsylvania to English immigrants. Jonus had no formal schooling, but knew how to read, write and do arithmetic as he was taught by his mother who was educated. In 1902, at 12 yrs old Jonus had a job working for a local book merchant named Patrick O'Mera. Patrick was one of the few Irish immigrants in the area that wasn't an indentured servant. As the Irish typically didn't get along with the English, young Jonus wasn't treated well by the shrewd Irish business man. Jonus endured Patrick's verbal abuse as he stocked, sorted books and tended to customers. In time Patrick gained a strong trust and friendship with Jonus. When Jonus was just turning nineteen years old; the Irishman, who was up in years, fell ill. Getting sleep when he could, Jonus tended to the dying Irishman and maintained the book store. In his last few minutes Patrick spoke to Jonus. "I remember when ya started workin' fer me, a wee lad, but a pompous little shite you were". Patrick took a couple of breaths and continues "No matter how bad I mouthed you, you wouldn't quit". Patrick took a few more raspy breaths and went on "You've become me most trusted lad, me best friend, and me only family...” After a short coughing spell, the Irishman retrieved some folded papers from his nightstand and handed them to Jonus. "The store is yours now, take good care of her." Jonus, fumbling for something to say finally spat "I don't know what to say...".”Say you'll do it ya blatherskite" the surly old man retorted. "I'll do it" Jonus said in a quiet voice. "That's a good lad" the Irishman said as he drifted off to sleep. Jonus sat there for a few minutes then said "I'll never let it close". The words Jonus uttered fell on deaf ears because the old man had died. A year after the death of Patrick O'Mera, Jonus removed the sign for the store which was simply titled "Book Store". The store was reestablished as "Lockhart’s Books" in 1910. Jonus was true to his old Irish friend. He maintained the store as the Irishman had and passed the deed to the store down the family line.
Heather really enjoyed the job that she helped carry; more than that she loved the town that she lived in. Hooper wasn't a bustling industrious city, but it wasn't a one horse town either. It definitely had its charm. It is now autumn and the streets are riddled with gold and brown leaves brought by the brisk wind. Heather rides her bike to work every day. Partly because they live close to the book store and partly she didn't really like the idea of driving after her father died in a car accident. Although she didn't have anything to do with it, she still feels uncomfortable. "Good exercise", as she would justify it when asked why she didn't drive.
Heather wakes up every day at five-thirty to get ready for her day. After her morning shower she goes through a routine of fixing her shoulder length golden locks. She tries several styles before she gives up and pulls a pony tail through the adjusting loop of a ball cap. The same look as yesterday, the day before, and the day before that. She pulls on a pair of jeans and throws on a sweater then stands in front of the mirror. Being five foot seven inches tall, weighing 122 pounds, Heather was happy with her figure but always thought that she could stand to lose a pound or two.
After finishing with the mirror routine, she grabs her back pack, throws her breakfast in it with some odds and ends and heads out to the garage to grab her bike; a Schwinn beach cruiser from the 70s that her dad found at a second hand shop for her just a few years ago. The bike was a deep burgundy with white pin stripes down the frame, complete with silver shiny wheel fenders. The bike was her most prized possession being that it was a personal gift from her father. In some strange way, Heather felt closer to her father when she rode it around town. After a moment of random thought, she throws the pack on her back and sets out for work.
Heather's Bike - A brief history
When Heather was sixteen years old, the family had fallen on financial hardship. Heather was well aware of the difficult time it was and volunteered her time after school to the book store. At that time Heather would walk home from the store instead of having her parents drop her off, in order to save gas. One afternoon, Heather left the store for the day and instead of turning toward home she opted to cross the street. Something at "Martha's Bargain Shopper", a second hand store, had caught her eye. Peering out the window of the book store Heather's father Michael watched his daughter for a moment. He couldn't hear what was being said, but he could see Heather in front of Martha's talking to one of the employees and gesturing toward a bicycle that was in front of the store with a "For Sale" sign mounted to it. After a few gestures and nods Michael watched Heather walk away toward home. When Heather was long out of sight Michael yelled back to his wife "Carol, could you mind the front for a few minutes?" "Yea, no problem" was her reply from the back. Michael left the store and went over to Martha's. Upon arriving, the clerk said "Hey Mike, how can I help you?" Michael replied "My daughter was just here, I think that she might be interested in the bike out front." "That she is" said the clerk. "That's Martha's old bike and she won't let it go for less than $150.00". "Damn!" Michael said under his breath. About that moment Martha, the owner of the store and the bike, walked in. "Hey Michael, how ya doing?" the elderly woman asked. "I'm making it, just checking out that bike out front" Michael said back. "Ah, the beach cruiser" Martha said. "Is there any way you can come down on your price?" Michael asked needfully. "Nope, sorry. 150 firm" the elderly woman said. "Say Michael, you got the third Richard Gnik book in stock?" she then asked. "Why yes, the third, fourth, and fifth," he replied. "I started reading them last month, and now I can't seem to put them down," she went on to say. Michael thought for a minute, then asked "Do you prefer hardback or paperback?" "Why hardback of course" she said quickly. "I'll tell you what" he started "I'll give you the third, fourth, fifth, and the next release on hardback...for the beach cruiser."
Heather rides into town to her second home, Lockhart Books. The book store, while kind of a small place, had everything that you could want. Every genre was covered from horror to romance; from science fact to occult mysticism. The morning routine was the usual. Heather unlocks the door, enters then locks it behind her as they weren't due to open till 7:00 am. Checking the time Heather notes that she has roughly 40 minutes till the doors needed to be unlocked again. Quickly Heather puts on a pot of coffee to brew, for her and her customers, and starts some music. Today she would go with Mozart. Her father taught her that classical music was a good choice for a place like this. Easy music would relax the customers and they would shop longer.
Heather, after doing the coffee and music bit, prepared a cash drawer for sales. Her mother Carol was due in about 7:30 am. With ten minutes to go before unlocking the door, Heather took a quick look around the store to make sure that everything was in its place. The book store had such a cozy feel to it. Heather often wondered how the place had such a great vibe. Walking down the aisles of dark varnish wooden shelves, which were built in on the wall side, she squares books up to be more presentable. The lighting of the store was just right for reading, not too dim to cause eye strain, but not overbearing either. She checked the sliding ladders that were set on tracks for the tall shelves on the wall to make sure that they rolled freely. With a beep from her watch she realized that it was time to open up.
After unlocking the door and putting out the "Open" sign, Heather retired behind the counter and began jotting notes down for the inventory that would take place after closing. At 7:30 on the dot the door opens and Carol, her mother walks in. "Good morning Heather" says Carol as she closes the door behind her. "Morning mom" Heather replies. "Whacha doin?" Carol asks as she eyes Heather's notes. "Ah, just putting down some notes for the inventory tonight" says Heather. "Geez, is it that time already?" Carol inquired to which Heather simply replied "yup". Carol took her leave and went to the small office in the back. "Is the coffee ready yet?" came a yell from the office. "Should be" Heather yelled back.
The day progressed slowly; customer traffic was sporadic at best. Heather normally preferred a busy day, but since she was going to be working late she didn't mind so much. She spent most of the day in idle conversation with her mother about future promotions for the store. The new Richard Gnik book was due in a couple of weeks and they needed to be on top of the incoming stock. Richard Gnik was their current best seller, a repeat offender for the region’s best seller list. The readers of Hooper always had theirs preordered. A lot of the people genuinely liked his books, and just a few others bought his books because he lived the next town over. It was their way of "knowing" the local celebrity. Heather’s day continued well after closing the store up for the night. Sorting through current stock, making sure that every book is accounted for.
Heather slowly roused from her sleep, groggy and confused. She peered at her alarm clock wondering why it didn’t wake her up earlier. The clock’s digital display was dark. “Crap!” she thought. “The power must have gone out last night”. Unable to completely shake the sleep from her head she stumbled out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. After completing her routine it was to the kitchen for food then out the door on her cruiser.
The ride to work was a strange one, very still. No kids out playing, no traffic, not even a breeze…just still. As Heather approached the store she takes notice of an old bum across the street with a cardboard sign tucked under his arm. “Bums give me the creeps” she thought as she looked around and there was no one else around to be generous to him. Heather arrives at the book store a few moments later, leans her bike against the wall and goes for the door. She smacks her face against the glass of the door when it refuses to open. “What the hell!” she thinks while rubbing her head. “What the hell time is it anyway” she wonders while checking her watch. Looking at her watch she sees that the hands are resting at 12:25. “That can’t be right” she thought. Upon closer inspection she sees that the second hand isn’t ticking. Without giving it a second thought she starts banging on the door. “HEY! It’s me, let me in!” she yelled to no avail. The store remained dark and the door locked.
Heather turned to grab her bike but instead was face to face with the bum she saw across the street. Heather was immediately overcome with uncontrollable fear and yelled “NOOO!” and in a blink she turned and ran as he reached for her. Running as fast as her legs would carry her she zipped around corners, through alleys and over garbage cans without one thought of looking back. As soon as reason crept into her head she went for the first door that she saw. Slamming the door behind her she braced her back against it trying to catch her breath. “OH MY GOD! WHO WAS THAT GUY!?” was all she could think over and over.
"Hello??" says an elderly voice in the distance. Heather looks around but can't figure out what shop she is in, it's dimly lit and looks more like an old house. "Is someone there?" the elderly voice says again, only closer. "Uh…yeah, hi" Heather says back in a shaky voice. The old woman comes into Heather's sight. She looks to be in her mid 80s about 5 ft tall, and kind of skinny. "Welcome" the old woman says to Heather. Heather looks around a little confused then finally asks "What is this place, I don't think that I've ever been here before". The old woman replies "Oh, of course not, my shop is easily missed, but people seem to always find their way here when they need to." "Come back here with me, I have just what you need," the old woman says then motions Heather to follow her. Heather follows the old woman around a series of dim corners to a door. They walk into what looks like a small library, but the strangest library that Heather has ever been in. There are no corners, a perfectly round room. Not a very big room either, maybe 15 ft across. In the middle of the room are a small round table, two chairs, and tea set up...for two. Heather looks around at the book shelves which are completely full with various titles. She looks up to see how tall the shelves are and they disappear into the darkness, they might as well go on forever. "Have a seat dear," the old woman insists. Heather sits in the chair across from the old woman. The old woman prepares a cup of tea and slides it across the table. "There you go Heather," she says. "Thank you...wait, how did you know my name? I haven't told you yet," she inquires. "I know a lot of things" the old woman states. "Who are you running from?" the old woman asks. "Some old bum that scar-" Heather starts to say but is cut off with a stern "That is no bum, think back to what you saw."
Thinking back, Heather begins to remember seeing things that she didn't know that she had seen. The bum seemed “off” because not just his hair was gray, but he was gray. Still though, there was something else, smoke seemed to emanate from his nose and mouth even though he wasn't smoking. Heather tells the old woman everything that she can remember while they drink their tea. "Who is he?" Heather asks. "You have to come to terms with who he is on your own" the old woman says back. "What does that mean" Heather says shortly. "Just know this" the old woman says. "Greg isn't just a name". "Sure, whatever" Heather says frustrated. "I think that I'll go now". At that she walks out the way she came in. The old woman continues to rest in her chair sipping her tea when a voice comes from the darkness. “Why must they fear me?” the voice asks. “You must understand young one, the transition is a mortal’s greatest fear and you become what they fear the most”. “They will always run first”. “Only when they accept the transition will they see your true form”. “The last collector had trouble understanding it too,” she explained to the voice.
Before leaving the strange old lady’s building Heather noticed a sign next to the door on the way out. She didn’t think much of it except that it was written in Latin. Thinking back to her high school years Heather smiled a little. She remembered how her parents told her despite her objections that she would learn an additional language while in school. The joke was on them as she chose a dead language. As she was about to round the corner out of sight from the strange old lady’s place she turned to look at the building because it seemed strange to her that she would not know of that place as she lived in this town her whole life. When she looked all she was staring at was an empty lot.
Heather poked her head around a corner and looked down the street. About three blocks away she could see her bike still leaned against the wall of Lockhart’s Books. Still, there is not a soul around which continued to make her uneasy; however, there was no sign of the old bum either. Cautiously she made her way to the book store to collect her bike. Heather grabbed her bike and started to ride but made it about a half a block when she noticed that one of the TVs in the electronic store had flipped on…just one of the nine that were in the window display. She stopped and watched for a moment. Although she couldn’t hear what was happening she could tell that she was watching the news. They keep showing some guy who looks strangely familiar and a wrecked truck. Further footage showed a nighttime scene with cop cars and ambulances. Heather watched as two medics from the news report load a gurney into the back of an ambulance. The person on the gurney was completely covered with a white sheet. “It must be that guy” she thought.
Just before she was going to ride off the screen on the TV went black…not off, just black. Slowly the corners of the screen began to turn a weird gray/white combination. The gray slowly formed a circle on the screen with the black in the middle. The black circle continued to shrink until Heather realized that it was an eye that she was looking at. Soon she could see the whole eye, then both eyes…devoid of color. As the face of the bum formed on the screen that same fear took hold of Heather “SHIT!” she yelled and she immediately dropped her bike and started running again.
“RUN!” was all she could think “RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!” Heather ran and didn’t stop till she got back to her house. She came to a jog and then stopped as she got in her driveway. Still gasping for breath she made her way through the front door. The door closed behind her and in a blink she was standing in the alley staring at the empty lot where the strange old lady’s place was. Looking around confused and frantic she backed up to the wall of the building behind her, sat down and began to cry. “What is happening to me?” she sobbed to herself.
Heather put her head to her tucked knees and buried her face in her arms. With a slap something landed on the ground next to her feet. Peering down she sees the sign that was next to the door of the old lady’s place. Raising her head she notices the old lady standing there in front of her. Standing there she was silhouetted by the sun, but it was her. “Read it” the old lady told Heather. Still distraught and confused all she could say was “what?” “Go on then, read it” the old lady repeated. Wiping the tears from her eyes and face Heather looked at the Latin sign which read:
“Grim Messor Umquam Grinning
always smiling nunquam sinningon
hunt parumper vegetus novus soul
whose tunc in list
only messor teneo”.
“What does it mean?” Heather asked. “You tell me” the old lady replied. Heather stared at the sign and slowly the words made sense to her.
“Grim Reaper Ever Grinning
always smiling never sinning
on the hunt for a fresh new soul
who's next on the list
only the reaper knows
Slowly Heather got to her feet, only once she was standing the old lady was gone. The sign was gone too.
Heather walked aimlessly. As she rounded corners she would occasionally see the bum holding up the sign that he had tucked under his arm earlier. The sign simply said G.R.E.G. She continued to walk and the bum would still appear in random places holding his sign…keeping his distance. Before she knew where she was she was standing in front of the electronics store where she had seen the strange newscast. There at her feet was her bike. Bent twisted and crushed was her bike. As she looked at mangled bike a tear escaped her left eye and ran down her cheek. Heather continued to walk. The words continued to play over and over in her head as she walked.
“What do they mean though?” she kept asking herself. As she tried to recall the entire message she would get interrupted with an image of the bum holding his sign. “Grim Reaper Ever Grinning…” is all she could remember now. Then it hit her that the first letter of the four words was capitalized. Then she would see his sign G.R.E.G. “No!...he can’t be…I can’t be…”. The world that didn’t make sense. The old lady’s place that never was. Her mangled bike. “What happened?” Heather sobbed to herself.
Heather sat down on the curb in disbelief. As she sat there she noticed that the old bum was standing across the street. He watched her and she him. The bum let go of his sign and it seemed to drift in slow motion to the ground. He steps off the curb into the street to approach her. His steps are slow but purposeful. Heather sat and stared at him as he grew closer. His clothes were ragged, his face worn beneath his scraggly salt and pepper hair…all in shades of gray. The smoke that emitted from his mouth and nostrils never seemed to form a trail behind him, it was just there.
Before long, the gray man was standing right there in front of Heather. She looked up with her tear laden face. He looked down at her. He wasn’t really grinning though. His expression was one of sorrow and remorse. He slowly extended his hand and waited for her to return the gesture. In final acceptance she reached up and grabbed his hand. As soon as their hands clasped around each other Heather was hit with a flash of memories. Riding her bike home after the inventory. There was a dog in the street about one hundred feet ahead of her. Over the hill she could see lights from an oncoming vehicle…a truck…driving too fast. The truck crested the hill in the path of the dog. In a last second effort to miss the dog the truck swerved into Heather's path. The next memory is the driver of the truck holding the mangled Heather on the side of the road telling her to hold on, the ambulance is on the way. The face of the driver was the last thing the living Heather ever saw. Snapping out of the flash Heather was standing in the street holding the hand of the gray man…only he wasn’t gray anymore.