[8FOLD][REPOST] Template #2 (revised)

Jamie Rosen jamie.rosen at sunlife.com
Thu Mar 23 17:38:39 PST 2006

This version is slightly revised; a couple of spelling errors have been
fixed, and the name of the church has been changed.

................................................. "...I oftentimes find

................................................. myself possessed...
................................................. "...by the poetry of
................................................. city."

The book shop was dusty and ill-lit, not at all as it had been
represented over the Internet. But that didn't matter to Billy -- it
was his, now, and the dust and poor lighting only added to its
character. The trunk his father had bequeathed to him fit perfectly
with the decor, and he decided that, once he had sorted out its
contents, the trunk itself would remain here on display.

He turned the sign in the front door to 'Open' and sat down behind the
counter. As time passed and no customers came in, he began to flip
through the journal he had taken from the trunk.

|-October 3rd, 1943
| The war drags on at an interminable pace. For all that
|we are supposedly advanced beyond the confines of normal
|man, my allies and I seem to make no great difference in
|the course of events -- we are all too human in the long
| I saw Michael die yesterday. We had been partners almost
|since the war began. And now he's dead. It didn't matter
|that he could lift a jeep, or bend the barrel of a Panzer
|tank in a knot. The mine still tore him to pieces.

Billy shut the book and grimaced. He didn't like violence, not *real*
violence, even if it happened sixty years before and to a man he'd
never met. He was curious as to who exactly Michael had been, but
decided to flip back earlier in the journal and see if there was
something less disturbing to be read.

|-February 24, 1939
| I do believe I have determined the extent of this gift
|I have been given. I do not have time to write down in
|detail my thoughts, but I shall be doing more reading in
|an effort to expand my range.

The bell above the door to the shop drew his attention. "Can I help
you?" he asked, glancing up at his store's first customer.

"Yes," she said. "I'm looking for a book..." Recognition struck them
both at the same time. "Billy?"


A smile spread across her face. "Oh my God. Billy! It is you! What are
you doing back in town?"

"This is my shop, now. What about you?"

"I live over in Merrickville, but this is on my route -- I work for an
insurance agent in town. I actually just started last month. This is so

She was, if anything, more beautiful than she had been when they'd been
dating in high school, at least in his eyes. Neither of them had made a
run at Homecoming King or Queen, but that hadn't mattered then, and it
damn sure didn't matter now. Maybe...

"So, what book are you looking for?" he asked to highjack his train of
thought back to the real world. "I haven't had the chance to do a
complete inventory, I'm afraid."

"Oh, right." She reached into her handbag and pulled out a notepad.
"It's called... _The Philosophers of Uqbar_. I don't think it's in
print anymore..."

He opened the ledger he had purchased for just such requests. "If
you'll spell it for me," he said, "I'll keep my eyes peeled for it, and
give you a call if I see a copy."

"Sure." She spelled the title for him and gave him her phone number,
and then surprised him by taking the direct approach. "Would you like
to have dinner on Saturday? There's a great restaurant just down the
street from here, they keep really limited hours but it's worth it."

He almost didn't know how to react. Almost. "Sure, I'd love to. Why
don't we meet here, say at seven?"

"Make it seven-thirty. They aren't open at seven on Saturday."

"Sounds good. Seven-thiry it is. And I'll keep my eyes peeled for _The

"Thanks." She checked her watch. "Oh, I've got to go. I'll see you


And just like that, he had equalled the number of dates he'd had while
living on the West Coast.


Before Saturday came along, however, Billy still had to deal with the
rest of the week.

On Tuesday, the man who visited him at the store was a broad-featured,
uniformed police officer, about Billy's age, named Dan Laurie. He
parked his car in an alley beside the building because the cross street
Myriad Books was on was too narrow to allow parking.

"Have you had any furthter contact with the man who threatened you on
Friday?" Officer Laurie asked.


"Well, I just wanted to check in with you and let you know that we're
still looking for him, so you have nothing to worry about."

"That's good to hear." He wasn't really sure if he meant it or not,
because he just didn't know how these things were handled. Two weeks
ago, he'd been working in a half-assed job on the other side of the
continent and thinking of visiting his parents in the spring. Now his
whole life had been uprooted, turned over, and shaken loose, and he was
left trying desperately to hang onto what was left. It was all he could
do to remember when to smile and when to frown.

"Well, we'll keep you informed, Mr. Kidman, and please do contact us if
you hear anything further from the man who threatened you."

After Officer Laurie had left, Billy wondered if the words he'd heard
were exactly the words that had been said. It sounded right -- sounded
like innumerable television shows and movies, comic books and novels --
so it was close enough in his book.

He shook his head. It was going to be one of *those* days, apparently.
Turning the sign in the front to 'Closed', he locked up and went
upstairs to rest his head and maybe take a nap. The travel was still
taking its toll on him, along with everything else.

He woke up a couple of hours later, while it was still light outside,
and went back downstairs to open the store again. While he was
upstairs, someone had slipped a paper, folded in half, under the door.
He opened it and read:

| Do you feel lost?| Confused? Alone? |
|                --+--                |
| Don't know which | way to turn? Or  |
| who to turn to?  | We can help. The |
| LORD can help.   | 23 Chapel Street |
|                                     |
| Please join our group at the Church |
| of St. John of God on Sunday for an |
| information session and bake sale.  |
|                 3 pm                |
|   All proceeds go to the Church's   |
|    social work in the community.    |

Shrugging, he stuffed the paper into his pants pocket. He had other
things to think about right now.


On Wednesday, he made a few long-distance phone calls and sent off a
few e-mails to his far-flung contacts, putting out some feelers about
_The Philosophers of Uqbar_, and came up mostly empty, with some
stammering and much bewilderment. It wasn't until that evening that one
of his longer shots, an old school friend he had barely kept in touch
with and who now lived in Buenos Aires, of all places, got back to him
with a solid lead:

\\ It is always a pleasure to hear from you. How is life
\\up North treating you? Myself, I cannot complain; the
\\climate is ideal for my health, and I oftentimes find
\\myself possessed by the poetry of the city.
\\ Your questions intrigues me for a number of reasons.
\\First, because of the connections between it and my
\\life. Uqbar, you may not realize, was first mentioned
\\in the work of Jorge Luis Borges, Buenos Aires'
\\favourite son. To the best of my knowledge, there has
\\never been a book published by the title _The
\\Philosophers of Uqbar|, but it may be a simple matter
\\of mistranslation. If anyone would know, it would be
\\Miss Amelia de Fuerza Guerrera. She is without a doubt
\\the foremost expert on such miscellany. Here is her
\\e-mail address:

He jotted the address down on a scrap of paper, then shut the computer
down for the night. His apartment above the shop was cleane dup enough
now that he didn't have to make the admittedly short trek back to his
parents' -- his *mother's* house in the cold anymore, but he did it
anyway. She had been very insistent about making him dinner one last
time before he moved out again. Old habits were often very hard to kill

During the day it had been unseasonably warm, hovering just above
freezing, but as night had fallen so had the temperature, and the
melted snow had refrozen treacherously into ice that coated both street
and sidewalk. His trip took almost twice as long as usual, because he
was extra careful not to slip and fall.

Just as he was about to mount the stairs to his mother's house, his
cellphone rang, a muffled but jarring outburst in the otherwise quiet
winter landscape.

He steadied himself against the railing. "Hello?"

"Hello, Mr. Kidman?" It was a woman's voice on the other end, slightly


"My name is Consuela de Fuerza Guerrera," the voice went on. "A mutual
acquaintance tells me you might want to speak to my sister."

"Um, okay. Well--"

"She will be visiting your store tomorrow afternoon."

"Oh! Well, okay."

"We will see you then. Goodbye."


He hit 'end' and paused where he was. What the heck was that about? He
knew what it was *about*, literally -- the e-mail he'd gotten from his
friend in Argentina -- but why was this woman going to be visiting him
tomorrow? He'd sort of figured she was in South America too, with a
name like that, or at least Mexico, but there was no way she'd trek all
the way up here in one day if that were the case. Well, whatever the
case, he had to give both her and his friend credit -- apparently they
were quite willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in this
regard. He'd have to take a look around the shop after dinner and see
if they had any of Borges' books, so he could get a better idea of what
this was about, and maybe be able to talk somewhat intelligently about
it during dinner with Rebecca on Saturday.

That, at least, brought a smile to his face.

Inside, it was warm and his glasses fogged. His mother was standing in
the kitchen, stirring a pot on the stove.

"I was starting to think you weren't coming," she said.

"It's slippery out there."

"Well, come sit down. It's all ready."

He sat down at the table in the dining room, and she brought out two
plates of spaghetti.

"How's your apartment?" she asked.

"Messy. But it's nice. And you can't beat the commute."

She laughed. "Well, you know you're always welcome to come over for

"Mom, I *am* over for dinner."

"I know, I know."

He looked at his plate, piled high with spaghetti and meatballs the
size of baby's fists, then at hers, which was almost bare. "Aren't you

"I've got some. I'm just not all that hungry."

He opened his mouth, but said nothing, instead shovelling in a forkful
of pasta. She could make her own decisions. "This is good."

"Thank you." She was poking at the food with her fork, not actually
eating any of it. "Have you thought about your father's--"

"Please. Not right now."

"I'm sorry. It's just..."

He looked down at his plate. Tightness rose in his chest and throat.

"I'm sorry," she repeated. He could hear tears threaten in her voice.

"No, it's okay. It's just something I haven't really felt up to
thinking about... There's been a lot to handle this week."

"Of course. I'm sorry, Billy." She picked up her plate and went back
into the kitchen, returning with a pile almost as large as his own.
"I'm starving," she admitted, chuckling.

He relaxed, and felt the tightness in his chest receding.

"Mmm!" she exclaimed, her mouth full. "It *is* good!"

That made two things that brought a smile to his face.


The woman who came into his shop on Thursday afternoon looked to have
just as much Middle Eastern blood in her as Latin American. Her
features had that slightly angular, slightly rounded edge to them; her
hair was jet black, and her skin a smooth, pale café au lait. She was
beautiful, and even in the face of the need for heavy winter clothing,
she was both graceful and sophisticated in appearance.

"Mr. William Kidman?" she asked, the slightest hint of an accent to her


"I am Amelia di Fuerza Guerrera. You spoke with my sister yesterday, I

"I did." He came out from behind the counter. "Thank you for coming on
such short notice."

She waved her hand dismissively. "It was nothing." Her eyes roamed the
bookshop, taking it in. "I understand you have an interest in _The
Philosophers of Uqbar_?"

"Yes. It's for a customer of mine -- an old friend, actually. She was
looking for a copy."

"I see. Well, it always intrigues me to hear of someone with similar
interests to myself. Did she mention why she was looking for it?"

He shook his head. "No, not really."

A slight, almost mocking smile seemed to play at her lips, if only for
a moment. "And are you at all familiar with the subject yourself, Mr.

"No, I'm afraid I'm not."

This time she really did smile, albeit goodnaturedly. "That does not
surprise me," she said. "_The Philosophers of Uqbar_ is a fictitious
book. Uqbar itself was invented by Borges, who wrote a story about a
group of writers who invented a world so thoroughly it began to
supplant our own."

He chuckled. "Sounds like a comic book I read once."

"That would not surprise me.

"So the book _The Philosophers of Uqbar_ was invented," she went on,
"after the fact, by another writer looking to build on what Borges had
created. Like the tome in the original story, it is a very thorough
book. Not as far-reaching, of course, nor as powerful, but an
impressive display of the imagination at work."

He nodded. "I see."

"Unfortunately, I have seen only one copy of the book in my life. But I
would be most interested to speak with this friend of yours about it."

"How long will you be in town?"

"My schedule is... flexible. It is one of the benefits of being me."


By Friday morning word must have gotten around that Myriad Books had
reopened, because he had a slow but steady stream of customers
filtering in and out of the shop. Most were either browsers or
compulsive book-buyers, the kind that would visit the store several
times a month, each time leaving with something they couldn't be
bothered to buy the last time. Billy knew the type because he was one
himself; he could recognize the way they moved between the shelves,
picking up a book, putting it down, picking it up again, thinking for a
while, talking to themselves, trying to justify adding another title to
the list of hundreds of unread books at home. After all, that was what
had spurred him to buy the bookstore in the first place: the
opportunity to surround himself with unread books without having to
feel guilty about it.

But one of the men to come into the store was unlike any of the other
visitors. Scruffy, with unkempt hair and three days of patchy growth on
his face, he was dressed in clothes that didn't fit quite right --
innumerable layers of ripped and torn-up clothes that revealed a new
layer through a new hole with every movement. His eyes were bloodshot,
almost a solid red in the corners, and he seemed to look at everything
but Billy when he spoke.

"I need to see Dotty," he said.

"I'm sorry?" Billy asked.

"Dotty! Dotty! I need to see her. Dorothy. I need to see Dotty!"

Dorothy... that was the name of the woman from whom he had both the
shop. "I'm sorry," Billy said. "Dorothy doesn't work here anymore."

"I need to see Dotty! Dotty!" He was yelling, and Billy suddenly became
painfully, frighteningly aware that they were alone in the shop. The
madman began to spin, screaming at the top of his lungs. "Dotty! Dotty!
The red coats are coming! I need to see Dotty! Dotty! Dotty!" Billy was
backing away, slowly reaching for the phone, when the man collapsed in
a heap on the floor, unmoving.

Concern got the better of fear and Billy moved forward, tentatively, to
check on him. The stranger lay curled in the fetal position, lids
half-closed over rapidly twitching eyes and a thread of spittle
connecting his lips to his arm. At first Billy thought his lips were
moving soundlessly, but then he realized that he was speaking --
whispering, softly.

"The red coats are coming."



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