By Ben Sumner
May 12, 1997- July 20, 1997
It had been ten years since Randy Garnier set foot a public library, and the first thing he noticed was how much it had changed. The endless rows of index card files were replaced with dozens of computers on partitioned desks. Eight-foot high shelves still lined the room, but everything seemed so much more organized. The books were cramped together with little empty space except in places where someone pulled one out. Randy remembered how dusty the shelves used to be and how the books were so scattered that he could never find the ones he was looking for. Several librarians sat behind the counter, stamping the return dates on not only books, but videos and CDs. As for the people themselves, they looked the same as before; all intellectuals, those who would rather be reading than anything else in the world.
Randy, 25, lived a mile down the road, in the small blue-collar town of Needsville, Maryland. Though he had loving parents who taught him right from wrong, adolescent rebellion went full force. His peers did drugs, and they eventually helped him get hooked. During his high school years, he smoked up all the money he made at his part time jobs. After being fired from a nursery when he was caught stealing fertilizer to grow marijuana, he couldn’t find anyone else to hire him, so he began stealing. When he got really desperate, he would take cash from his parents, right out of his mother’s pocketbook which she left on the kitchen table, or his dad’s wallet as it sat on the night stand while he showered. Rarely would he take all of it, though, because that would be too obvious, and he didn’t want them to kick him out.
Eventually, his parents did notice their money disappearing and approached him about it. Sometimes he would pay them back, if he had any left over, and other times he was so burnt out he would completely deny it. Soon enough his parents started hiding their money so he couldn’t steal any. His mother even got a lock for her jewelry box.
Then came the summer of 93′, when he discovered heroin. He never thought he would do that drug because needles scared him. Just the thought of the thin point poking the soft barriers of his skin into those blue veins made him cringe. By that time it didn’t phase him. Like most drug users, he started off small and used occasionally, working his way to the big time stuff he never thought he would do. He could poke those needles in all day, just like he were shaving or combing his hair.
Being the smart drug user, he stopped poking the needles in his arm so his parents wouldn’t notice the tracks. He moved on to other parts of his body, like his tongue and between his toes.
When John and Ellen Garnier tearfully kicked him out of the house, the same day a forged check for $300 came back in the mail in their son’s sloppy handwriting, Randy knew it was over.
Slurring his words from the sore tongue, he told his parents to fuck off, then he ran out of the house, straight to the liquor store with a butterfly knife that he stole from a friend. The clerk recognized Randy because he went there a few times a week. As Randy shoved the knife up to the clerk’s face, he found himself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
He fell to the floor crying, right in the middle of the store, knocking over a shelf of bubble gum and other assorted candy. The clerk called the sheriff and he took Randy to the station.
Only hours after his parents kicked him out, the phone rang at the Garnier household.
“Randy, we’re not bailing you out anymore.”
“I’m so sorry dad,” he cried.
“There’s nothing else we can do. Take it like a man, Randy. We’ll be here for you when you get out and get cleaned up. Do what’s right.”
He served 11 months of a one-year sentence in Everwood, a local rehabilitation prison. What he didn’t know was that his parents met with his public defender and paid for a half-assed defense so he’d get the longest sentence possible – for his own benefit, of course.
In prison, they tested Randy’s urine every other day, but he wasn’t used to peeing in front of others. Even after chugging down several liters of water, it would still take him three hours before he could fill a cup. One day, the guards threatened to throw him into solitary confinement for taking so long.
It took a couple of weeks, but Randy was soon able to pee on command, like that schoolyard kid who could burp the alphabet whenever asked. Randy almost felt proud of that newly-acquired skill.
Even in a rehabilitation prison, Randy frequently came across someone who had a fingernail-portion of coke, a pinch of herb to stick in a cigarette or a half-hit of acid. He felt physically tempted to do them but resisted the temptation, feeling like a sweaty, dry-mouthed man in the dessert denying himself water.
Nearly a year passed before he returned home, clean and sober. He moved back into his parent’s house, the same bedroom in which he grew up, the same multi-colored ABC-123 wallpaper his mother never replaced from his childhood.
After several heart-to-heart talks, the family agreed on a plan. First thing in the morning, he had to search for a job. In Needsville, places were always accepting applications, and they never seemed to be too picky about who they hired if you were willing to do demeaning work for little pay. Also, as a condition of his parole, he attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the community center.
The next morning his mother gave him his old black leather wallet, sticking in $5 for lunch. He looked through it, remembering several of the things that he had kept in the multiple pockets. There was a picture of his late black lab, Heath. There was his student identification from the eleventh grade. There was even a coupon to the barbershop which had expired six years earlier. Also a library card.
He went to the backyard shed and wheeled out the rusty BMX bike he had been given for his twelfth birthday. It had a chain with a key-lock – and the key – wrapped around the seat. Missing was the baseball card he once put in the spokes, though the dried tape which held it in place was still wrapped around the peeling paint. Surprisingly, the tires hadn’t lost much air over the years.
Skipping the adult video shops and the old nursery he used to work at, he rode to several fast-food restaurants and filled out applications. He really didn’t want to work in any of those places but he knew he had little choice, and wanted to start paying back his parents as quickly as possible. They said he only owed them a grand, which was generous considering it should have been a lot more.
When he came to the end of Route 3, right before it turned into and endless stretch of agriculture, he turned and headed back toward the center of town, looking for something – anything – to do instead of going back home. He coulld have spent the rest of the day filling out applications, but he didn’t feel like doing that, either. One of those restaurants would call him back, he figured, and then he would have a job.
Then he came upon the library, a block away from the sheriff’s office.
Scanning the shelves, he saw several subjects but none peaked his interest. He wished they had, because then he would have had more to read and more to learn, but he wasn’t about to waste his time on stuff he didn’t understand and that would put him to sleep anyway. He realized there was nothing he could do about that. If everyone was fascinated by every subject that a library could hold, there would be a lot more people in there. He continued searching, knowing there was something he would eventually find interesting.
In prison, he made it a priority to read books about overcoming drug problems. But he was clean now, and didn’t want to waste any more time on those books. He didn’t even want to continue attending NA meetings with people telling their sob-stories about how they ruined their life with drugs and alcohol.
Now he wanted to read something else, something fascinating and something that would move him. Not another self-help book on overcoming drug problems, or even a fiction novel that would ultimately suck.
Basically, he had no clue as to what he wanted to read, nor did he know if it existed.
He looked at the rows of books, pondering how many there were, and just how many he would actually have interest in reading. Probably more than I think, he thought, also wondering if each individual book on the shelves had been read. He pulled a few out and noticed the blank white strip on the back. Some dude writes a book that gets published and eventually winds up in the libraries, and no one reads the damn thing!
He paid no attention to what section he was in; fiction, non-fiction, young adult – not really caring. On a search for anything it mattered not where he looked, as long as he looked everywhere. The cover had to be catchy. He knew he wasn’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but he didn’t feel like flipping through several pages just to see if it was something he was interested in reading.
Squatting at the corner of the back shelf furthest from the entrance, he looked to see what kind of books were buried there. The Torah. Next to it was the extended version, the Tanakh, and the Christian version, the Holy Bible. Then came the Koran, along with other religious books that he had never heard of. They were mainly books without authors, without original copyright dates or publishers.
They were all lined together on the bottom shelf in the far right corner. Randy pulled each one out and flipped through a few pages before returning it, wondering how so many people could be moved by these books that sometimes contradicted each other.
He pulled out the Holy Bible and flipped through, not looking too much at the individual words but the overall pages. In jail, he skimmed it. The inmates had one in their cells. Every now and then he’d pick it up and read where his eyes landed.
“Shelah begot Eber. Eber begot Peleg. Peleg begot Reu. Reu begot Serug. Serug begot Nahor…” Oh who gives a damn! He thought.
As he went to stick it back in, he noticed, instead of the white wall behind it, another book. Pulling out the Koran and the Tanakh, he took the book that was hidden behind the others. Then he returned the other books to their proper places, lining them in the same order.
Holding the book in both hands, he looked at the black hard-back cover, seeing threads hanging off the binding. It had no sticker lined with stamped dates for return, nor did it have stamped across the stacked pages “Property of Needsville library.” In fading gold letters it read The Arisal.
Never heard of this, he thought, and would have put it right back in there if it hadn’t sent chills up his spine. If it sucks, I’ll put it back.
Sitting in an empty cubicle, he read the title again. The Arisal. He opened the cover to the first page.
He turned the page.
“Do you really want to know?” it read, centered on the page with crusty stuff all over the paper. Gross.
He went to turn the page and pulled back, feeling the sting of a paper cut on his thumb. As old as the book was, he wondered how the paper was still that sharp, and not dull after so many years.
“Dammit.” He squeezed his thumb, watching the blood drop from the cut, hitting the book, right under the ‘k’ in ‘know.’ He wiped it on his black T-shirt.
“Do you really want to know?” Randy read that over a few times, wondering what it meant, seeing the drop of blood with small splatters on the page. Now I’m forever a part of it, he thought. Right there with that other crust.
He tried to turn the page, but it was stuck, like the pages of a new magazine clinging together. He licked his finger and tried turning, but the page wouldn’t turn, as if they were glued together.
“Do you really want to know?”
Randy read it once more. It seemed like more than letters on the page, but a voice asking him the question. Each time he read it he could hear a voice other than his own, some deep, cryptic announcer in the back of his head like Vincent Price on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
“Yes,” he whispered so no one else in the library could hear, just as the rules stated on the sign – “Quiet, please.”
He turned the page.
On the top, in type-written letters, it read . . . “In the beginning . . .”
He closed the book, keeping his hand on the page, looking at the cover again. “The Arisal,” it read, and not “The Holy Bible.”
He read until five that evening, without so much as looking outside the wooden cubicle for any reason at all, leaning back to yawn only a few times.
Pulling his library card out of his wallet, Randy walked up to the counter, where a large bearded man in his fifties sat in a wheelchair, reading a periodical. His name tag read “George Svolzekov.”
“Can I borrow this?” Randy asked the librarian, putting the book on the table.
Eyes peering over his back-rimmed reading glasses, the man stared at the book Randy wanted to borrow. A moment passed and he still looked, reading the title.
“Well, can I borrow it?”
The man looked at Randy, frowning beneath his thick, grey facial hair.
“Where did you get that book?” he asked with a Russian accent, speaking like a father to a son who found a pornographic magazine.
“In the religious section in the far corner.”
“You can’t borrow that.”
“Why not?” Randy wanted to ask ‘Why the hell not?’ but thought better of it.
“Some books in this library are to stay here. They’re not for borrowing.”
“Like which ones?” Randy asked, pulling the book away, holding it under his arm.
“Reference,” the man said, still looking over his reading glasses.
“This wasn’t in reference.”
“All those books over there are to stay here. How many people do you think borrow the Holy Bible?”
“Do you know if I can buy this somewhere?”
“Why don’t you check with your book store?” Randy felt like jumping over the counter and punching the man, breaking his reading glasses and making him bleed.
“All right. I’ll check.”
“You can leave it here.”
“I’m not finished,” Randy said, walking away with the book. The library closed at seven, so he had two more hours to read.
“Don’t try stealing that book!” the man yelled as Randy walked into the back. People looked at him suspiciously, that being something they would normally witness in a convenience store with a bunch of kids running around. He couldn’t steal the book without getting caught. There was a security system that beeped loudly if a book wasn’t made immune to it by that thing the librarian slid it through. Randy didn’t see a security strip of any sort on the book, but he didn’t want to take that chance. There were security cameras facing the doors and he had nothing to carry the book in, unless he stuck it down his shorts. He wasn’t going to try that again. He once got caught shoplifting after sticking a bag of chips down his pants. When the cashier caught him, the seal broke and the chips crumbled down the legs. His mother found ripple cut sour cream-and-onion chips while doing the laundry. That happened when he was 15.
Embarrassed, Randy turned down the aisle and went into the back. Instead of putting the book back where he found it, he stuck it to the left behind some religious encyclopedias. He pulled a few of them out, noticing that they had a white strip for return date stamping. There were no stamps. Why would they lend these out and not the other books? he wondered. He slid the book behind the religious encyclopedias, covering it fully behind the shelf.
Then he walked back to the front. George looked at him suspiciously, right over his reading glasses.
“Hey buddy,” Randy began. “You wanna search me on my way out?”
“Don’t talk smart with me, young man, or you’ll never borrow a book in this library again.”
Randy approached him, standing right in front of the counter where the man sat in his wheelchair. “Don’t accuse me of stealing again,” Randy said.
“Why shouldn’t I? You are the Garnier kid.”
Randy couldn’t believe it. He felt like jumping over the counter and pummeling the man. Instead, he came to his senses and said, “I’m free and I deserve to be treated like anyone else who walks in here.”
How the fuck does this crazy Ruskie know who I am? he thought, wanting to ask but knowing it would do no good. He knew the community newspaper may have printed an attempted armed-robbery report the year before with his name in it. But his mug shot probably didn’t come with it, so he had no clue how George knew who he was.
Walking out of the library, Randy took a deep breath. He unchained his bike from the rack and rode home, feeling more like a child than a 25-year-old. Twelve years old when I got this thing . . . 25 now and still needing it. Damn me.
. . .
“Randy, Burger Hut called,” his mom greeted him at the door. “And where have you been all this time?”
“The library,” he said, pulling his bike up to the front porch, leaning it against the rail.
“The library?” she asked, not really believing him but wanting to.
“Yeah. I filled out some applications this morning and had some time to kill.” He entered the house with her.
“You didn’t get a book?” she asked.
“No, the book I was reading was reference so I couldn’t borrow it.” Randy half-lied. That book wasn’t reference, though he couldn’t borrow it. Neither is The Holy Bible for that matter, he thought.
Trying to make a good impression, he handed his mother the five dollars that she had given him that morning.
“You didn’t eat?” she asked, kind of surprised. Even if he didn’t eat she didn’t expect him to give back the money.
“Nope. Wasn’t hungry. You said Burger Hut called?”
“Yeah. They wanted to know if you can come in for an interview tomorrow. I told them you could.”
“Okay. What time?”
“Two-thirty,” she said. They sat down together as a family and ate dinner, just like they did years before when he was sober.
. . .
The library opened at 9 a.m., but Randy didn’t realize that until he got there at 11. Since he had time to kill before the interview, he decided to spend it reading.
“You again, Garnier?” Randy walked through the turnstile, seeing the same fat man with the reading glasses sitting behind the table.
“Yeah,” Randy said.
“Where’d you put that book?” he asked.
“What book?” Randy smirked.
“You know what I’m talking about,” he said.
“Why don’t you check the shelves? I found it pretty easily.”
George mumbled something but Randy ignored him as he walked to the back.
Making sure no one was looking, Randy removed the religious encyclopedias, reached under the back of the shelf and grabbed the book. Luckily George could not see Randy from that angle, otherwise he would find the book for sure.
Sitting in the furthest cubicle from the counter, Randy started reading. There were no page numbers so he had to take a moment and flip through to find the paragraph where he had left off. He didn’t have a book mark or anything to stick in there, but that didn’t bother him. He remembered having a few book marks when he was a kid, the kind sold for a dollar which had some thread tied to the end. When he couldn’t find a book mark, he would do the old corner-page-fold. Because he was an impatient reader years before, and couldn’t read more than a few pages at one sitting, half the book would have fold-marks, most on the top of the page, some on the bottom, depending on the paragraph where he left off. He did not fold this book.
He read for the next couple of hours, not even taking his eyes off the pages to watch a bug land on his arm. Coming to a break in the paragraph, he looked at his watch, and practically jumped out of his seat.
2:30. Taking the book, running to the back of the library, he shoved it over the religious encyclopedias, letting it fall behind the shelf. Then he ran out, passing George.
Pedaling as fast as he could, he made it to Burger Hut about ten minutes later.
He chained his bike to the rail and walked in, praying everything would work out though he was late.
Luckily, Burger Hut was still busy when he got there, so the interview didn’t start until three.
It wasn’t much of an interview. They asked him when he could start. Immediately. How many hours he could work. All of them. Be here at 2 p.m. in two days.
. . .
The next day, Saturday, Randy got to the library as soon as they opened the doors. He even got to see George Svolzekov struggle to wheel himself in.
“Garnier, where’s that book?” he asked as Randy entered.
“Beats me,” Randy said, shrugging his shoulders. “I put it back on the cart and they put it away.”
“I’ll find it. You can’t hide it forever.” George didn’t go behind the counter as he usually did. Instead, he wheeled himself around the floor, trying to keep Randy within his view.
Son of a bitch, Randy thought. With the Russian’s eyes on him, he headed straight for the fiction section and browsed the shelves.
Crap, crap, crap, crap . . . He couldn’t believe how so much meaningless material got published. He looked at the entire fiction section, scowling. Then he looked at the non-fiction section, knowing so much of it was not completely true, yet listed under non-fiction. Stuff that people perceived as the truth . . . premises to humanity but falsities beyond what they could see.
George hung around a section nearby, pretending to sort books.
“George?” A lady librarian called from him from behind the counter. Are you going to do these files?”
With an angry look on his face, George wheeled himself back to the counter. He moved slow, like a turtle crossing the street. His pudgy arms shook as they pushed the wheels forward, moving an inch at a time. He looked back, trying to get whatever glimpse of Randy he could.
Picking up a few books at random, Randy decided it was safer to bring them along to cover up the one he was reading, in case George rolled up behind him.
When he saw George sitting behind the counter, Randy headed straight for the back, relieved to find his book where he had left it. He wished he could borrow it, but knew there was no way of getting it out. The alarm would sound and the security cameras would film him. Even worse, the librarian knew who he was, and could easily find out where he lived. He kept picturing himself grabbing the book and sprinting through the turnstile and through the glass doors. He would hold the book over his head, hoping the alarm, two black boxes which stood shoulder-high, would not sound. In case the turnstile locked because the alarm sounded, he would jump over it like a hurdle. Then he would hide out for a few days and finish it, reading all day and night until his eyes scanned every last word, understanding what they meant, devoting the entire book to memory.
But then he wasn’t sure what he would do. After much thought he realized that he wouldn’t want that book back in the library. It didn’t belong there, and that was probably why George didn’t want him reading it. Randy briefly considered, if he did steal it, to return late at night and stick it through the return slot so it could fall upon the other crap books. No. If he was going to take that book out those doors, it could not return.
Taking the book to the same cubicle, Randy began reading, keeping a few other books nearby so he could easily cover it up.
For the rest of the day he did nothing but read. Nothing to worry about, except George rolling up behind him and sticking a knife in the back of his neck. George had that look on his face.
. . .
Before he knew it, one of the lady librarians announced over the loud speaker that the library was about to close. Taking his books with him, Randy began to put them away.
Another librarian, an older lady who weighed almost 300 pounds, approached him as he slid one of the books onto the shelf.
“Don’t worry about that, hon. We’ll take care of putting them away.”
Randy turned toward her, nervously. “Okay,” he said.
“Just put them on that cart right there.”
Randy did, holding onto The Arisal. Then he walked toward the back, making sure George wasn’t looking.
“Hon, the library is about to close,” she said.
“I know. I’ll be right back.” Randy walked to the next aisle where she couldn’t see. He stuck it behind a copy of a Sherlock Holmes book.
Sherlock Holmes. A man who used deductive reasoning to find the truth. Randy strolled to the back and walked around, trying to throw off George if he was attempting to look.
At the end of the aisle, the lady raised her voice. “Hon! We’re closing!”
“Coming!” Randy jogged straight toward her.
On the way out, George eyed him, looking as if he wanted to bite his head off. Randy smirked at George’s scowl, then exited.
The first thing Randy noticed was the empty bike rack. “Shit!” he screamed. Turning around toward the entrance, he attempted to enter, only to find that the doors were locked. Inside, he saw George smile. “Damn it!” He walked over to the bike rack, not even finding his chain lying in shatters. “Who the hell would steal an old piece of shit bike?”
Randy didn’t even have the money to call home for a ride, and he wasn’t going to collect-call his parents. Looking for change around the sidewalk by the light of the street lamps, he saw nothing but grass growing out of the cracks.
There was nothing left for him to do but walk home.
. . .
Randy was hesitant to report the theft to the sherif’s office because they knew him too well, but his father did immediately, though neither of them expected that to amount to anything. Regardless, Randy’s parents were proud of him for spending so many hours at the library. He never went to college, and barely graduated from high school, so they found it exciting that he spent so much time reading.
Randy fell comfortably into his routine. Go to work when scheduled, go to the N.A. meetings, and spend the rest of the time at the library, doing everything he could to keep that book away from George or anyone else.
The first week of work he was in training, learning the basics and what he had to do. Flipping burgers and dunking fries into hot grease wasn’t the most mind-boggling of jobs, and Randy wondered why he could never handle it before. I was a punk kid, he thought. It wasn’t hard, I was just lazy. Right after work, which ended at 5, he would walk straight to the library, in his pink stripped shirt with the name tag. He started bringing a change of clothes so he wouldn’t attract attention, though the library regulars weren’t exactly the most fashionable people.
Two weeks later, he brought home his first paycheck. Then he remembered why he didn’t like to work in those burger joints. Six dollars an hour wasn’t all that much to struggle for, and it was even less years earlier. The check went straight to his parents. His mother gave him $70, which was meant to last him until the next paycheck. Five dollars a day.
A second after he counted the money that she gave him, he held steady, not sure what to say. He could have screamed at her, insisting that she give him more. He could have spoken rationally, asking her if he was supposed to live the rest of his life handing over his check and getting only $5 a day. He briefly considered giving her all of the money and saying he didn’t need it, since he had no expenses. He even thought of working another two weeks, taking the next check and running away from home. There was nothing his parents could do. He didn’t have to pay them back, and they sure weren’t going to take him to court.
Randy stood there with three twenties and a ten in his hand, and kept his mouth shut.
“Listen, this will only go on until you pay us back fully, so it should only take a few months. But we’ll also set some money aside for you so you can have enough to move out. But if you find a better job, we may change that.”
Randy had no idea part of the plan was for them to set aside some of his own money only to give it back. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“We weren’t sure how much you’d be making,” she said.
Randy walked away, throwing the money under his bed.
. . .
Each day, when the library closed, Randy wanted to look over at the librarians and tell them to fuck off so he could continue reading. He even started checking out books, trying to make George think that he had lost interest in The Arisal. When George noticed him borrowing “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,“ John Grisham novels and other nonsense, he knew better than to think Randy forgot about the book. Regardless, Randy had to make his parents sure that he had been doing a lot of reading. Every time he told them he was at the library or at a meeting, he could have easily been anywhere else, smoking or shooting up the $70 he made every two weeks.
Meanwhile, George had not given him too much trouble. All of the librarians knew Randy as the man who sat down and read all day, but there were a few others – mostly retired men and women, who came to the library and stayed for hours. Randy was expected to be there just like anyone on the schedule, sometimes staying longer than some of the librarians. Regardless, he knew that George could do nothing to get that book. The man was in a wheelchair and had a permanent position behind the desk, helping customers, filing papers and collecting the small change for overdue books.
Toward the end of the book Randy found himself more hooked than he was when he had picked it up for the first time. When he read it the first time he wanted to see what it would say next. The second time he wanted even more. When he got the job at Burger Hut he found himself thinking about it the whole time, wanting to get back into that library and continue to read. It’s my new drug, he thought. Every second his eyes weren’t locked on those crumbling pages he felt withdraw.
“Almost done, George,” Randy said as he walked out the door.
“Either you’re a slow reader or it’s a lot longer this time,” George said. “Wait for me outside.”
And Randy did. There was nothing else George could do to prevent him from finishing the book, so he would at least let the old man speak.
Outside, in the early evening moonlight, Randy waited in the parking lot as George wheeled himself out.
“So, what do you plan on doing with it when you’re done?” George asked.
“Nothing I can do but hide it, right? Can’t steal it without getting caught, right?”
George smirked. “I see it hasn’t taken an extreme affect yet.”
Randy stood there, confused. “What?”
“You think I was always in a wheel chair?”
“I don’t know.” Actually, Randy thought he was in a wheel chair because his legs couldn’t hold his fat ass. He was surprised the wheel chair held.
“I have to warn you, and I should have a while ago. I lost my ability to walk soon after I finished that book.”
“Let me tell you why. About ten years ago my father had a stroke and had to be moved into a hospital. While cleaning out his house, I found the book in a drawer by his bed. I was working here at the time, and I got so hooked on the reading it that I brought it to work with me. I finished it one afternoon and left it on the counter while I went to the bathroom. Came back and it was gone. I nearly lost my mind trying to find it. I was searching everywhere, through the books on the counter, in the book return, even on the shelves.”
“So your aging father had a stroke. That’s pretty typical, George.”
“Let me finish, Garnier, I’m trying to warn you. When I got home, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about that book. In the morning, after tossing around in my bed all night, I fell down the stairs. Can’t walk any more, as you can see.”
“It’s a coincidence.” He probably rolled down the stairs and his legs got smashed underneath.
“A few weeks later a librarian named Harold Jovenosky told me he found the book. He said he would give it back as soon as he finished. I was angry but there wasn’t anything I could do. He thought it was a library book. The following week he got in a car accident and some glass shards cut up his eyes. He was blind. Don’t tell me that’s a coincidence.”
George cringed, upset that he wasn’t getting through. “Don’t you see? My father had a stroke! I can’t walk! He can’t see! It’s the price we had to pay for reading that book! Who knows what will happen to you? When you found the book I wanted it back, but I knew you were hooked and wouldn’t let me touch it. I’m trying to save you!”
“Save me from what? I just got out of jail and now work at Burger Hut. My mother gives me five dollars a day from my own paycheck. I have to walk everywhere because someone stole my bike from right over there. So you think this conversation will prevent me from finishing the book?”
“I hope it will.” George spoke calmly, a way that Randy had not heard speak before.
“I’ll be here in the morning.” Randy walked toward the street, on his way home, leaving George to sit in the middle of the parking lot by himself.
. . .
Randy waited by the doors at 8:30. As soon as they opened at 9, he walked as fast as he could over to the cookbook section where he hid The Arisal behind a zucchini book on the bottom shelf.
His eyes moved faster, scanning his finger across every word. It all made sense . . . never would he have to re-read a sentence or even a word.
It took him until 6:45 that evening to finish. As he read the last word, he stared at it for a few seconds, then turned the page. It was blank. So was the next and the next. A few pages later came the cover. He shut it, sitting there, staring at the front cover, looking at the title, staring in disbelief.
Standing up, holding the book in his hands, he sprinted from the cubicle to the front, seeing George look up as he leaped over the turnstile, stiff-arming the glass door as he fled. No alarm sounded. George sighed.
. . .
That night he didn’t go home. Instead he sat on the dock of an abandoned warehouse on the south side of town, the same place he used to, until the cops started cruising around because of the drug dealers and users. He killed a bottle of St. Ide’s before he tied the rubber band around his left arm and poked the needle in.
The book sat on his lap.
. . .
John Garnier called Burger Hut, asking if his son was working late.
“He quit three days ago,” the manager said.
“John!” Ellen came downstairs, holding an empty bag with rubber bands, a needle and a burnt spoon.
. . .
A car drove down the empty road. His sight was a bit fuzzy so it wasn’t until the car pulled into the parking lot when he noticed it was a police cruiser.
The lights shined onto him.
He stood, running into the alley between the two warehouses.
“Freeze!” The officer yelled as he stepped out of the car. Randy dropped the needle on the ground beneath the dock.
The alley led to a dead end. Randy and the officer knew it, but the officer didn’t pursue. “Dispatch, I’m in the south side’s industrial area. I have a suspect who just disappeared into an alley and I need some back up.”
. . .
Randy stood at the dead end brick wall, the only light provided by the security lamp on top of the building.
Again, he looked at the book, holding it in his hands above his head, staring at the dimmed golden title, The Arisal. He cried, face burning red, nose stuffing up, tears wetting his cheeks.
“Dammit! Damn this!”
He knew what was not good, knowledge that, though true, would not benefit anyone for any reason, but only pain them to know. He sacrificed himself – know everything but have his soul stripped. No one could discuss – they had to read for themselves. No skeptics. Instant believers, knowers, witnesses . . .
Randy held the book with the binding up, pages dividing downward. He flicked the switch of his Bic lighter, spreading them along the paper, not wanting to but knowing he had to, the last bit of sense he had. The paper crumbled, moving quickly from the ends to the binding, black smoke rising and ashes hovering around him like swarms of flies.
At the same time he felt the pain – the same burning pain that the book felt. His temperature rose, shooting up so high he felt like he sat in a burning fireplace. Falling onto the concrete, he felt the boiling sweat drip down his face and body. The book landed on the hard-cover binding, the gold lettering of The Arisal facing toward him, burning.
. . .
“What the hell is this?” the officer asked himself. He walked around the area after the ambulance took away the drug addict. Heroin overdose, pronounced dead at the hospital.
“The Arisal . . . Interesting.”