A somber mood filled the bookstore as people shuffled about, their faces reflected the ambiance like mirrors, and I, Adhemar le Fey, felt as if I were a part of a funeral procession. I sat in the backroom behind Mary’s desk, my eyes upon customers as they browsed shelves. Mary stood behind the cash register, answering questions but taking little money. Few purchased books. Instead they huddled in despondent groups.
I wondered if they felt my angst, or if everybody in the world felt gloomy, as a cloud blocked the sun and the business shrouded in shadows. I realized my hand rested on the message from the Seelie Court, and I flinched. I unrolled it and read again for the tenth time:
To Consigliore Adhemar le Fey, banished from the Dreaming by Shal-la-Bal, Queen of the Seelie Court:
You were sentenced to Earth to consume that which you most loathed: books. Denied your powers, you found sustenance only in books, and food and water did not nourish you. It was to be a sentence of punishment.
However, it has been discovered that you have learned the joy of reading, of consuming books. Henceforth, you will return to the Seelie Court tomorrow to regain your former status as Consigliore to Earth, inducing love within mortals, making them fall in love with each other. Be forewarned: if you seduce mortal women again—which brought on your banishment to Earth and subsequent consumption of books—you will be sent to the dungeon for eternity.
The Seelie Court
The queen’s ring sealed the broken wax. I rolled the scroll and smirked. I’d learned my lesson, but not because of punishment. I’d learned what true love was from Shakespeare and Ayn Rand and other authors, but more importantly I’d learned what true love was from the mortal behind the register, Mary—my sweet Mary—whom I now must leave. She wiped a tear from her eye and sniffed while taking a customer’s money. The book being purchased was “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus.” I shook my head and closed the door.
“One final book,” I whispered, my eyes absorbing the backroom’s gloom and bookcases filled with novels. “What shall I pick?”
I looked at Mary’s pile stacked beside the desk on the floor. On top was a book called “The Collection” by Bentley Little, an anthology of the author’s short stories. I sat and opened the paperback on the desk, wished I could forget everything and lose myself in the words, forget the pain and sorrow from having already said goodbye to Mary, from knowing I would spend one last night with her… the final night’s stand.
As I read, tears fell and wet the pages. Goodbyes meant nothing to me before Mary, but now… I understood what it meant to be human, to love with abandon. I valued the good and weighed the bad, much like a mortal.
Yes, final goodbyes are like death, I mused. Like funeral processions.
“The Collection” was, well… a collection of Bentley Little’s short stories. Although it seemed he had a formula for most his stories, I found each story was the work of a master. I fed on the terror lurking within those pages, and I delighted in the fact that the author relished taking ordinary objects, events or people such as “The Mailman,” “The Pond,” or, “The Show” and making them into instruments of horror. Who, I felt while finishing “The Potato,” could take an ordinary vegetable—if potatoes were, indeed, vegetables—and transform them into objects of terror? I marveled at such stories as “The Potato,” and my personal favorite, “Comes the Bad Time” about mysterious messages and images that materialize in tomatoes grown in the characters’ backyards.
Another fantastic quality in Bentley Little’s stories was his ability to create suspense, an unerring trajectory of characters toward their own demise, even with the full knowledge that they could very well die, yet realistically pulling the reader into the characters’ minds so that the readers experienced the pull, the thrill of the hunt for the unknown, understood what it was like to stab a mystery and attempt to nail it to the wall before it choked the life from you.
One such story did just that: “The Murmurous Haunt of Flies.” In it a cluster of shacks on a farm lives like a real character (such is Bentley’s writing skill), a mysterious force taunting the main character and his wife, Jan, as they visit a grandparent’s farm. Based on the title of a poem by Keats, this is, perhaps, the best story in Little’s book, delivering more than terror and dread; it reveals the inexplicable force of nature within humanity that propels them onward in the face of certain demise and danger, showing the strength of a man’s curiosity at the possible cost of his own life… or wife.
When I finished the book, I realized I wasn’t satisfied, not like usual. Not because the book wasn’t good. It was fantastic, one of the best collections of short stories I have ever read. But something was missing… or soon would be.
I walked to the backroom’s door, opened it. The bookstore was now closed, empty save for the stifled sobs of Mary counting money at the register. She looked up.
“Oh, Adhemar. Do you really have to go tomorrow?”
I closed the distance between us, stepped around the counter, and felt my heart beat against hers as twenty dollars bills wafted to the floor. Instead of answering, I kissed her hard, trying to smother her pain with my tears.
The next morning I left a goodbye note on the bed beside Mary, the love of my life. It would mean my death to stay, to go against Queen Shal-la-Bal’s demands, but that wasn’t much of a concern to me. It could possibly endanger Mary, my precious, and that was something I could not bear to do. My heart forbade it.
I had to leave my precious mortal.
I sealed the note with tears, and before dawn’s light I left the apartment over her bookstore, careful not to jingle the bell hanging at the front door. I stood beneath the sign reading “Mary’s Bookstore,” and walked toward the location detailed in the scroll. After ten miles, I entered a dark alley where shadows coiled. Above a side entrance to a brick building I could barely discern a sign in the dim light: “The World of Myth’s Torture Chamber.” I hesitated, but when I thought of Mary and the danger she would be in if I disobeyed the summons, if I remained with her, I pulled the door wide and entered with boldness born of love.
Inside, I found myself in a small room with a small group of mortals, and I heard someone mention John Miller and felt my spine crawl. Something was wrong, but I did not know what. Not yet. I mixed as best I could with the mortals. One man spoke, the leader, and I heard someone say his name was Steve Bolin. An electric chair sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by the gathering, and I understood the torture chamber belonged to “The Myth Master,” also known as Kevin Adams. He did the interviews for “The World of Myth,” and he was present as well. This gathering was to celebrate their last issue together as a team of professional editors and staff for “The World of Myth.”
“Myth Master is just Kevin Adam’s pseudonym to make the interviews more fun,” Marieta Hunsford, the assistant editor, told me. “He interviewed me once, but in the interview it comes across as torture. Readers love it.”
“How can torture be fun?”
“You tell me, John.”
Who is John? I wondered.
Her words burned, and for some inexplicable reason they terrified me, as if she’d just told me they planned to strap me in the electric chair and shock me until death. The name John, an ordinary enough name for mortals, filled me with dread.
“What’s the matter?”
Terror swarmed my senses and I turned to run, blinded by the shock and pain that assaulted me, along with the epiphany and revelation of what I was and who my creator was: John. I realized I was nothing more than a creation, a figment of John’s imagination. I hadn’t been summoned by the Seelie Court; I’d been summoned by Steve Bolin via John for one last story. But what was I? A Fey from the Dreaming as I’d believed? No! Images flooded my mind, shattering my illusions with truth.
“What’s wrong, John?” Steve asked. “We’re here to have fun for our last issue, but you look like you’re about to be tortured yourself.”
John stood next to the door where I had just been out to leave, to escape in terror. Now I looked out through John’s eyes from within his mind, and I knew in that moment what I really was. A Fey? A mythological creature? Yes, but more than that, I discovered. I wasn’t even alive. I was a figment of John Miller’s imagination, a being of John’s creation to help bring interest to his book reviews in “The World of Myth.”
All I consisted of was a mortal’s imagination, brain chemicals mixing around firing synapses and neural transmitters. Instead of flesh and blood I consisted of thought and imagination.
I was dead.
And Mary? She didn’t exist, either. Not in reality.
Somewhere inside John Miller’s mind I still existed. How long did I have before I completely disappeared, before I faded from view? After the last issue of “The World of Myth” came out? Would Mary disappear, too? I wept thinking of her fading from existence.
“This is the last issue,” I heard Steve Bolin’s voice. “After this issue, your columns will be no more.”
How much time? I didn’t know. I shouted Mary’s name, because I knew she was somewhere deep inside John Miller’s mind, just as I was, struggling against the darkness that pressed in upon us. I ran in an ebony void screaming for my lover.
“Adhemar,” I heard her voice from far away. “Adhemar, it’s dark and I’m scared.”
“Mary,” I called.
Everything turned black. I felt nothing, except for “The Collection.” But it wasn’t Bentley Little’s collection I felt now; it was “The World of Myth’s” collection. I felt the pull and nostalgia-laden stories the writers and editors spoke of in Kevin Adam’s torture chamber where interviews happened. I heard behind-the-scene tales about stories and poems and articles. I heard about the online magazine’s forum and comments and how forces beyond their control had ended the magazine, and I identified because forces beyond my control were ending my life, decimating my relationship with Mary.
And then I knew no more, until I bled out of John Miller like inky blood onto the web pages of this damned book review. I tried to hold onto Mary, but I couldn’t find her. I tried to hold onto my life, but it eluded me. The only thing I could grasp, in my final moments as John Miller wrote this book review, was Bentley Little’s “The Collection,” and so I dwindled down to nothing with but the terror of Little’s stories to hold onto.
And then I became a scream, a nightmare in the night, a night terror to ravage children. I am now a dream, a shade existing inside the minds of others to haunt their sleep.
Sometimes, in a mortal’s dreams, I now hear Mary’s voice from far away. I try to find her, but I can’t. “The World of Myth” has had its last issue. So many dreams and hopes are gone, lost to me now.
I am not the only one to feel this way.
Goodbye, Mary. I’ll love you always.
Adhemar le Fey