James Kidd

The December Featured Writer is James Kidd

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james kidd

by James Kidd

After the divorce and the settlement, Jim moved to a small apartment not far from where he once lived. His kids visited, but not often, and he had long stretches of time to himself. Free time was something he once wished for, but now he had it in gross abundance.

One afternoon, he got to thinking about all the books he once owned, about the books that really stood out, the books that blazed in his memory like a childhood friend, and he thought about how to get his hands on some of those books again.

It was easier than he’d imagined. He flipped open his lap top, typed in Used Books, his web browser added, Near Me, and up popped Harold Posner’s Used Books. Jim liked the name. It reminded him of all the second-hand book shops that were everywhere in New York City back when he lived there. There were dozens and dozens of them, stores, stalls, books by the mile, and most books could be had for the price of a coffee. Not bad when you thought about it.

After a few minutes, he had placed four old friends in his online cart. The total was 36 bucks (free shipping to boot) and they’d be at his door in just five business days. He did the quick math. 36 bucks isn’t much to most people, but to a middle-aged divorced man with three kids and a sluggish start to a second career, 36 bucks came dearly. But he really felt he wanted, no needed, these books.

He hit the purchase button, held his breath as the beachball on his computer screen whirled and whirled until his payment was accepted. He’d eat soup for a week if he had to just to see those books in his house again. But, he couldn’t help but to worry: Had he changed so much over the years that he wouldn’t recognize his old friends?

A few days later, he had a rather humiliating day at work. He drove home in a kick the dog, fuck the world attitude until he saw the package leaning against the back door. The other Jim, as he liked to call his past, would have stopped at a bar and gladly have emptied his wallet there. But the new Jim, who he was struggling to be, made a decision each night not to drink and awoke grateful each morning.

It was pretty amazing how a plain brown box with a handwritten label could change his day. The script was refined, confident with just enough embellishment to make him smile. Words on paper always had that effect on him. He bound up the stairs leaving the shit sandwich of a day on the back porch where it belonged.

He opened the box, and smelled the musty old library smell. Inside was this note:

Hi, and thank you for purchasing from Harold Posner’s Used Books. Before you dig in to your new treasure trove, please remember, these are previously owned books. Some volumes may show considerable wear, others may have some markings on the inside, but all the magic is still there.

Jim slipped the first book out and was immediately transported to his younger days. He held the book with a reverence reserved for something holy. The jacket was pristine; he could hardly believe it. He remembered reading this for the first time back when he was a rudderless kid at college.

He cradled the book in his hand, and it opened with the stiffness of a brand-new edition. The first page was stark white and on the top-right corner was a doodle: a red circle, with some kind of curly-cue mark within and an arrow wrapped around it. 

“I don’t remember this,” Jim put on his glasses to get a better look. Wow, he thought, and knew it hadn’t been the printer’s work, but that of a past reader. Amazing, actually, how precise, and gorgeously compact this little emblem was.

There was another one on the second page, but slightly different. The arrow had shifted around the circumference just a bit, the squiggle in the circle had changed shape, it looked like some kind of alphabet, but he couldn’t be sure. He thumbed a few pages, and like an old cartoon, the emblem in the corner came to life. Jim felt a sudden electricity to the air, like something might happen. He slowly put the book down.

“That was weird.”

He grabbed a diet soda from the refrigerator as he made his way to his old chair, the one the kids joked smelled like a million old beer farts and dog breath, and they were probably right. But the chair gave into him like nothing else ever had. He collapsed back into the chair and let the momentum lift his legs so he could swing them onto the ottoman with a bit of middle-aged flourish, and then opened the book.

The title page had an inscription: Dear Faithful Reader, what does your heart want? Flip the pages and find out.

Jim stared out across his small living room and let his gaze fall out the window. It was nightfall. Long shadows were becoming full dark. “What does my heart want?” He asked aloud. He had no idea. He reopened the book and stared at the cover page. Flip the pages and find out.

He put his thumb to the pages and like before, the little icon moved fluidly. It had a mesmerizing quality about it.  The air gained a certain density and his hair prickled in some kind of anticipation. There was an energy building, building, in search of a release. Jim didn’t move. The pages whipped past his thumb, the circle cartooned some conjurers meaning to the ethereal. And then, nothing happened. 

Jim snapped the book shut and laughed out loud. “Oh, boy. You really had me there for a minute,” he said to the book. “Man, I’m either gullible or hopeful.”

He belted out a laugh. “God, that felt good.” He hadn’t laughed in so long that it’s richness was recognized and not taken for granted.

Jim looked at the cover of the book. In this light the cover looked illuminated like some mythic text. The air around him still had that strange charge of energy that he imagined might discharge in a painful arc of static electricity. He opened the book and read the cover page again. Turn the pages and find out. He pressed his palm to the page and when he did, it felt as if a gentle hand from within the book had met his. His hand snapped back, and he stared at the page, but it was just a page, and to make sure, he rubbed his palm across it again.

He started reading, and remembering.

Within minutes it not only felt like the day had caught up to him, but had surpassed him.  He rubbed his eyes. Just a few more pages he thought and looked down to where he was reading. The page, for a quick second, swam before him, and he could have sworn the words had looked like a woman turning her head, but when he blinked again, the words had taken their usual linear order. 

He stared at the page and gripped the edges of the book. He resumed reading. In the story, Immaculata, the witch who would release the four horsemen, opened her cloak to the young man fighting her. Its lining caught the light, and a dazzling symphony of moving colors, like shadow dancers on silk, defied reality. 

“What does your heart wish?” Immaculata asked. The man before her couldn’t answer. “Then come,” she beckoned.

Jim’s heart jumped in his chest as a woman’s hand emerged from the depths of the words. The page bulged, and then her hand broke the surface, like a casual swimmer’s stroke. She reached up and cradled the back of his head, gently guiding his face closer to the book. “Jim,” she said almost breathlessly, “Jim, I need you to join me. Be part of the story.”

The room around him faded away. The book lay open in his lap, but within the book was a reality defying depth. Dark clouds roiled as smothered flashes of lightning lit up an infinite expanse around her.

Behind him, he sensed the air about to discharge, then he registered the fragmentary blue flash that initiated somewhere behind him. He peered into the eyes of the woman emerging from the pages. “Immaculata,” he murmured, reaching for her. His hand entered the page and within it was a desert’s scorching heat. A dry wind stung his skin and he could smell the acrid stench of a long gone fire.

“Yes,” she said, “yes.”

As she leaned back, her eyes shone like the very devil’s, and she smiled triumphantly. She slowly parted the folds of her cloak, the colors danced hypnotically, rhythmically, like Joseph’s fabled garment, pulling Jim like a moth to a flame. He stretched his arm farther and as he took hold of her, the air around him swirled with a skin searing fury. Immaculata snaked her fingers about his wrist and pulled him toward her.

Jim slipped into the book with a natural ease, joining her, leaving his body behind. 

Immaculata wrapped her arms about him, pressing her body to his, and she whispered in his ear, “You’re the first visitor we’ve had in years.” Her breath, soft lips, and body pressed against his were enticing, erasing years of longing and loneliness as she murmured, “It’s like we were forgotten, left to vanquish, and fade into non-existence.”

“Who could forget this story, this place?”

“You’d be surprised, Jim.  But that’s going to change now. Look.”

She turned him by the shoulders, and he faced the rift in the page. He saw his own dead body sitting there with both hands locked in a hang-on-for-dear-life grip on the book, holding it open, his head was slumped forward and a curtain of hair circled his face. His chin lay upon his chest, but he was not relaxed. This has not been a quiet surrender. His eyes were sprung wide open, blindly staring as if they’d just witnessed an unforgettable horror, his teeth were clenched and his lips, now bluish, were pulled back in rictus grin of pure primal agony.

Jim stared out at himself in utter disbelief. There’s no way he can be seeing this. His eyes, his mind are all back there, on the other side of the rift. How?

From behind him, Immaculata wrapped her arms around his neck like a lover, she put her chin on his shoulder, “When they find you like that, you will live on forever in the whispers of Urban Legend, and the curious people will find us, too. You will never be forgotten, Jim. Never. And now, neither will we.” 

“No, not like this.”

“Oh, yes. They’ll say you died of fright reading this story. The rumors will circulate and countless others will come.” She ran a finger through his hair, “And some of those that come, will have to die just like you.”

And with a wave of her hand the rift in the page began to close, Jim struggled against her, screaming wildly, “No, no, no!” his arms and legs thrashed against her embrace, but he had no more physical strength than a wisp of smoke.

The rift became narrow, and he struggled to move his face into the light until it was gone, plummeting Jim into an abyss of eternal darkness.

James Kidd received his MFA from The New School’s Graduate Writing Program and has had stories published in Blood Moon Rising, Flashes in the Dark and The Horror Zine. His journalism has appeared in several national magazines and newspapers.