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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. January's Theme: "Path"
Volume 4 Issue 2 ISSN# 1708-3265
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The Bookshop
Chapter Three

by Jennifer Kusz

Just joined in? Haven't read the entire story? Well, if you missed it, here's a link to Part One - Part Two

Shivering, Jenny trudged along the riverside in her bare feet, carrying the heavy, sodden leather boots by her side. The morning sun did little to warm the chill which had settled in her body, a body lean and strong with no insulation to protect from winter's bite. Her clothes were still wet, sticking to her skin and failing completely to provide relief from cold air and wind. She had removed the leather cord from her hair and strands fell shamelessly about her face, whipping her cheeks and stinging them. She no longer praised the earth in a state of sheer joy, now cursing her ill luck of having been tossed into this late season with no cloak and little cloth. Thanks a lot Grandpa! Come on, there has to be a road or a village somewhere, give me a sign, anything! Teeth chattering, toes numb, fingers tired and blue, Jenny forced herself to continue, making the decision to turn away from the river and venture into the trees in hopes of finding a road.

Soon she heard the faint sound of voices, shouts and laughter in the distance. Friend or foe, she wondered. A seed of warning planted itself in her throat, a warning she promptly ignored when the scent of cooked meat found her nostrils. Hunger and cold prompted one foot forward, and then the other, until the voices materialized into a group of men sitting around a fire, chewing on meat and drinking ale and howling in laughter at crude jokes. One man turned to Jenny as she stumbled into the clearing.

"Captain! What'd you get yerself into this time?" he shouted. The circle of men hooted and jeered in response. Captain? I'm a captain? Captain of what? "Old lady throw ye out again, Johnny?" another man hollered. Old lady? Wife or mother?

"John, hey John!" the first man shouted with a trace of worry. Jenny stumbled and tripped, falling into the circle. The men split like the Red Sea that Moses parted, no one making an attempt to break her fall. She felt jarring, sharp pain, and then the world went dark.

Dusty light, distant muttering, whispers. Rough wool on naked skin, a cloak or blanket. Aching muscles, throbbing head. Panic. Jenny turned her head from side to side, trying to survey her surroundings. Men slept around a fire pit of ember and ash, the fire having gone out hours earlier. Some were awake, talking quietly over a cold breakfast of dried meat and bread. The ground was damp and a frosty chill hung low in the morning air.

Remembering little, but fully aware that her body was bruised and her clothes had been removed, Jenny rashly concluded that every one of these men must have had his way with her in the night. Anger, fear and grief burned her insides, tears pricked the corner of each eye. Afraid to move, Jenny lay frozen on the ground, shivering and stricken with the thought that her pure, innocent body, a body that had never known the touch of a man, had been defiled. She pulled her arms around herself, hugging in self-comfort, trying not to weep. Momentarily pacified, curiosity replaced delirium and woe. The body she embraced was unfamiliar, alien. Solid muscle, thick arms, broad shoulders, hard and flat chest - it was not the body of a young woman. Slowly, the strange occurrences of the previous day trickled back into Jenny's memory and she nearly laughed in relief. Instead she groaned, a man's groan, deep and gruff.

"He's awake," someone hissed nearby.

Jenny lifted her aching head and saw that every man in camp had turned to look at her. Or rather, at Captain John, the man she had metamorphosed into. The one closest arose, filled a tin plate with meat and bread and came to kneel by her side.

"Hey John."

"Hey," Jenny replied in her new voice.

"You up for some breakfast?"

The mention of food sent an immediate signal to Jenny's brain, reminding her that she hadn't eaten recently and was famished. She sat up too eagerly and a wave of dizziness and pain washed over her. She clasped her head and groaned.

"Take your time, John. You had quite a spill last night, from what I've heard." the man next to her stated.

"From what you heard?" Jenny questioned.

"I was on the road last night, didn't reach camp 'til this mornin'."


After a few moments of silence, the man spoke again, quietly. "I saw her yesterday. On the road."

"Saw her?"

"Yeah. She was with that Thomas. He had a mean face on him. She had the look of a broken horse on her, John." He said this with sad foreboding, as if it were almost a warning. There seemed an intimacy between these two men, this nameless fellow and John. All the other men kept their distance in the sober light of morning. The jesting that had gone on last night had faded with the stars and moon. This man was the only one who seemed to dare approach Captain John, even in his miserable, wounded and hungry state.

"You ready to eat?"

"Yeah." Jenny sat up on the hard ground and accepted the plate of food. She tried to eat slowly, but hunger won the battle and the plate was empty within minutes.

"When was the last time you ate?"

Jenny shrugged. "Day before yesterday, I think?"

"You think? Where you been?"

"Uh, I - I don't know."

"You must've hit your head damn hard, man! Either that or you been somewhere you don't want us to know about."

"Honestly, I don't remember," Jenny insisted, perhaps a little too forcefully.

"Alright, alright! I'll believe ya! But remember, there ain't nothin' you can't tell your brother Jack about!"

"Brother," Jenny mumbled.

"You do remember that we're brothers, right?" Jack asked with puzzlement and concern.

"Maybe I did hit my head too hard." Jenny lowered herself back down on the ground, burying her face into the scratchy woolen cloak and groaned. She felt Jack slap his hand gently on her back before rising.

"I'll grab your clothes," he said and walked away.

Darkness took her again. Visions melted into dreams, dreams spilled into more dreams, a series of waterfalls ending in one nightmarish drop to the rushing river below. Images floated past: bruised and bloodied women with auburn hair riding atop emaciated horses into the river, drowning in apathetic sorrow; a man's face, twisted with fury and rage, dagger leaving his outstretched hand and embedding itself in Jenny's own liver with deadly force. An endless maze of books unfurling like a scroll, all of them emptied of their stories. Jenny searched frantically, winding through the maze, calling out a name she did not recognize, tearing through the books to find one, just one, with words. Gracie glided past, her delicate yet lithe body seeming to float just above the ground. Her gentle gaze brushed Jenny's cheek like a feather, ever so briefly, and then the dog vanished. Jenny panicked. She ran through the maze, masculine hands outstretched, feminine voice screaming. A pair of monstrous paws appeared, like those of a great lion. They grasped her shoulders, digging into her skin and shaking her violently. She heard her name, a familiar voice calling her name. "Open your eyes," another voice, a softer voice, beckoned. Jenny obeyed.

Shelves of books and a fire-framed face materialized before her. Jack and the men were gone. The fire was gone. The nightmare was gone. She was back in the bookshop, sinking into the deep cushion of the corner chair. Had it all been a dream?


"Your boss came here looking for you and he couldn't wake you up, so he called me. You were moaning and shaking your head, I've been trying to wake you up for five minutes! Jenny, you're burning up! You must have a fever, come on, let's get you to the doctor." Manic, Lila tried to pull Jenny out of the chair. Jenny resisted and yanked her hand away. Disoriented, she fumbled for the book and when her fingers found it, she sighed in relief. Flipping through the pages, she saw that the words stopped on page 58. The last sentence read, "Jack sauntered away from his brother, half-worried and bitter that he should be forgotten even in the grip of amnesia." She read the sentence half-aloud.

"What? Jenny, close the book. We're going to the doctor," Lila pressed, grabbing her wrist. "Lila, I'm fine, I just feel a little woozy. I have to get to work." Jenny tried to stand, but her legs bucked and she fell back into the hungry mouth of the chair. Head still pounding, she reached back and found the tender lump hidden behind her ponytail. So it wasn't a dream.

"You're not going anywhere like that, except to the doctor and to bed!"

"I don't need a doctor. It's probably the flu or something, let's just go home."

"Okay, but I'm taking your temperature and if it's over a hundred then I'm taking you in."

"Yes, mother."

"Your mother would be glad to know that you're being taken care of, seeing as you don't take care of yourself. Now come on, I'll carry you home if I have to."

Once home, Jenny curled up under the covers, the book tucked safely beneath her pillow. She checked the pages after leaving the shop and once again, all the pages were empty, the words having vanished completely as if they had never existed except in her dreams.

Please return next issue for Chapter Four!

Jennifer is happily married to a wonderful woman, Lisa. Theirs is a union of true, deep, respectful love… the kind we all dream about. Of course we mustn't forget… their beautiful little fur-family! Her two cats - Max and Hazel, dogs - Daisy (and Queenie, who is frolicking in puppy-heaven), rats Gloria, Fifi, Charlie, Tobey, Abby and Allie. Her hamster - Poohbear and aquatic-turtles Maximus and S.A.M.

Jennifer is embarking on a new career as a Behavioral Analyst and also works part time at a group home providing care to persons with physical and developmental disabilities.

She is also a writer and poet with a passion for the written word since childhood. Jennifer's poetry has been featured in The Prologue, an annual publication of the University of WI, River Falls, Body Mind Spirit Magazine and here at TSM.

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