by JT Quinn
Despite being limited by what I am, I’ve experienced just enough of Baron von Bierstadt’s estate, hidden in the Bavarian Alps, to know that it is a curious mixture of nineteenth century Imperial furniture and exotic pieces from Turkey and North Africa. Several bedrooms with glass doors open onto balconies and hidden gardens; formal salons offer large cushions and divans along the walls; a spice-laden kitchen, a dark library overflowing with books from all over the world. Baron von Bierstadt was overly magnanimous in hiring foreign nationals, although his cultural understanding of them would be considered patronizing at best. He acted as a petty, local despot who schemed to ruin families and debase lives for his own amusement. His varied appetites were large and vulgar; his collections border on hording. The great hall is decorated with dozens of animal head trophies including the last known Sardinian lynx. He killed for sport regularly, occasionally wounding one of his emigrant workers ‘by accident’.
His friends delighted in his boldness, much to the horror of those looking on from beyond confines of the estate walls. Upon occasion, a friend of his would disappear mysteriously. Mind you, such disappearances were not mysterious to me, but I am not inclined to volunteer information.
The Baron himself went missing almost a year ago, in 1910, simply missing, no trace of foul play, no future sightings, just gone. I know what had happened, but no one even questioned me. He was last seen going into his precious library. In the subsequent investigation, I was unceremoniously pushed aside, not a thought given to my proximity or any possibility of my involvement.
The local polizei half-heartedly poked about, putting off the Baroness with delicately worded suggestions that he had wondered off for an extended visit with a new friend. The Baroness, a silly woman even in the kindest of descriptions, accepted this for a time, but eventually decided to call in, as she put it, ‘a proper city detective’.
He got no further with the locals except for arresting an ancient woman who kept raving in a Berber dialect, “They never left! There is evil here!” The charge of disturbing the peace was dropped once she settled on repeated mumbling, “To understand, you must read the truth! They never left.”
I, one of the Baron’s newer acquisitions, was overlooked, put aside like others of my kind.
Do I sound angry? Perhaps I am. I was born of anger…and passion. I am the product of an unholy alliance between a bookbinder’s wife and a sorcerer in a far off land. She had started out with such promise–a real beauty with significant artistic talent who had been married off to the prosperous bookbinder for a price. The bookbinder treated his young wife as a servant that he paid in brutality at the end of each day.
The sorcerer for his part brought her solace and healing late at night, in return for her varied and refined skills, those not used sufficiently in the family business. The Old Man’s charm and allure were irresistible, so he always claimed; she was spellbound. He got all that he wanted from her. Their time together was brief by design, although the woman was unaware of that fact.
He returned to her late in the night after some time away. She presented me to him proudly. Snatching me from her arms, he informed her that his plans for me did not include her. I can only surmise that she stayed with her husband with some appropriate excuses made.
I neither care about nor mourn my origins. I simply do that for which I have been made. And so I lie in wait, biding my time, anticipating my next opportunity.
* * *
Indeed, an opportunity has presented itself. He is a young stranger, perhaps he will be the new Baron once everyone decides to move on. Each evening, this young stranger comes to choose one of us. I know nothing of him, and yet…
Pick me. Please, please, pick me, I plead silently as his hands brush along each of our exposed spines. I ache hungrily for this opportunity. His eyes linger on each one of us, gazing leisurely, deciding which one of us to choose for that evening. I’ve waited so long, so long. Choose me, I hope.
After what seems an eternity, he does. Those to my immediate right and left offer some resistance, but I let him pull me toward him with one elegant, manly hand. I am slim of volume, but eye-catching in my binding. His free hand runs down the entirety of my front then turns me around to stroke my backside gently. He cradles me gently in his arms as we move as one to the couch.
He gazes directly at me, ready to dive in, but holds off. His fingers dally on the gold that adorns my outer features. He relishes teasing himself and me at the same time, touching, exploring, soothing. Suddenly, he buries his face against me, inhaling deeply. His nose consumes my leather-scented musk greedily as if he knows what will happen next. I know differently. He has no idea what is in store. Enter me. I dare you, I whisper noiselessly.
He settles in, holding me firmly on his lap. Even he is surprised by the gasp that escapes his throat as he opens me up.
No one ever expects to see gilding on a frontispiece, much less the tiny, hand-painted figures decorating my dedication page. My table of contents is clearly laid out with highlights for each illustration page.
The story begins simply enough. There’s a maiden, a hero, and just a hint of their not-quite-insurmountable woes. By page two, I pull my victim in. He is held by my power, a power he does not yet comprehend. He tumbles into me. By the time he realizes what is happening, he will be unable to release himself from me. A bead of his sweat drops. It is luscious, salty. I consume him completely, devouring him, like the others before him.
But this time, it is different. This time, he is an innocent, not one of the old Baron’s dubious friends fallen out of his favor, just a booklover who had some Turkish coffee after dinner. Poor, sweet, delicious boy.
◊ ◊ ◊
JT Quinn’s Gramma Mayme told her to “bloom where you’re planted” when she was little (JT, not Mayme). As life bounced her about, JT has had to do just that. A few of her short stories and commentary have been published (Under the Rose by Norilana Press, Scribes Valley anthologies 4 years running, and This Is Terrible by ADBooks). She, a mathematician by degree, is currently working on a MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in which she impetuously enrolled “for an external goal” after she and her husband became empty-nesters and moved to another state in the same week.
9 thoughts on “Voracious Reader”
Another very creative piece, eerily fanciful. A couple of thoughts: The title doesn’t quite work–it is not the reader that is voracious. I would suggest moving the description of the library close to the end of the first paragraph–in theinterests of fair play. I would drop one or both of the “please” in the pick me plea and maybe the “I hope” at the end of the plea–our volume knows full well how attractive she is. Actually yummy! But turn about. Good work!
Gee, I remember having “Readers.”
You are absolutely right. That popped into my head later. But maybe the confusion could be avoided. How about just “Voracious?”
Well, my thought was to be both intentionally ambiguous and still dropping a hint from the beginning. Thank you for calling me to economy and mindfulness. It used to be called “In the Library on Baron von Bierstadt’s Estate,” a riff on those longer titles like “From the Crazy, Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” or “The Curious Incident in the Dog in the Night-time.” Then, I thought, hey, this is flash fiction.
I really enjoyed this.
I enjoyed the conclusion.
Oh, if only this was possible! It might be the ideal exit, choosing the book you would like to devour you, or just a nice vacation if the book was prone to upchucking.
I am definitely reading a sequel now. Thanks, Kelly.