Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sample Sunday: Excerpt from "Visions of Reality" in Crimeucopia-Say It Again

Back a month ago, Mysterious Ink Press released the anthology, Crimeucopia-Say It Again. The book includes my short story, Visions of Reality. The story is based on an idea I came up with while working at Bookstop back in the late 80s. I thought I would give you a small sample of the tale today. If you like what you read, and I hope you do, you can get the book from Mysterious Press Ink, Amazon, and other vendors.






“Look, John, I just want you to shelve the product.” Mr. Phillpots, the store manager, pointed with his black pen, jabbing the air for emphasis as he added, “A book is a book. Nothing more. No deep meanings. Just get them out there. Got it?"

“Books aren’t a product like a sack of potatoes, Mr. Phillpots. They mean much more. All books aren’t equal. Some of that stuff is just trash.”

This was a losing proposition because the man had no soul. How do you explain such a concept to a non-book lover?  It was hopeless, and instead of being a good and loyal yes man, I had tilted at the windmill again.

In annoyance, Phillpots tossed the pen down on the desk and rocked back in his expensive orthopedic chair.  A chair that he wouldn't need if he actually did something useful and worked the sales floor like the rest of us. The money saved could have been used to fix the aging air conditioning system that was losing the ongoing war with the brutal Texas summer heat. After staring at me for what seemed forever, he started shaking his head like I was a bad dog that had made a mess on the carpet.

“Listen, I know you’ve been having,” his pudgy fingers made the obligatory quotation marks, “some emotional problems lately.” He paused for a moment, his beady little eyes gauging my reaction. My face burned in embarrassment and I shifted slightly in the chair. Phillpots lowered his voice in an attempt to be comforting and supportive; reminding me of how my calls to the employee hotline had been handled. “It’s okay, really. I’ve thought for a long time you needed help. I’m very glad you’re getting it. So, let’s make this simple.” He paused and then did that stupid little nod he always did right before he issued one of his edicts. “While you’re here at work, I just want you to do what you’re told. Just put the product on the shelf. Don’t think about it. The books aren't alive or anything. They are just product. They can’t hurt you at all. All you have to do is put the books on the shelf. Just do it.”

The room spun and then steadied shakily as I realized he knew about me seeing the doctor. He probably knew all about the dreams and everything else. My life was not my own or private.

When the dreams started I tried to ignore them. That just made everything worse. They got more and more vivid, so real that it was as if I was living them. Then something happened and I started seeing things when I was awake—or, at least, when I thought I was awake. I wasn't sure anymore when I was awake and when I was asleep. Everyone else swore they didn’t see what I did.

Finally, my primary doctor had insurance approval and sent me to a therapist. I didn’t get better. I just quit talking to people about what I saw. They all thought I was crazy. Why give them proof?

Everything was supposed to be covered by patient/doctor confidentiality. If Phillpots knew, who else did?  It would have been cheaper to advertise my mental state in the paper.

“Well?” he asked.

Oh, great. Not only was I classified as a nut job in his mind and no doubt by now in the employee records, but now he also knew I hadn’t been listening. Playing for time, I shrugged.

“Well, okay then.”

Phillpots shifted through his papers, picked up his pen, and went back to work.  After about half a minute or so, he stopped and stared at me. He blinked twice as if he thought his beady little eyes were lying to him. He pulled off his glasses and leaned forward, being sure to make eye contact just like the employee manual said on page nine. His voice was angry calm but one could hear the traces of New England in it which always came through when he was stressed.

Moving to Texas had been a culture shock in more ways than one for him. I wasn't sure if it was because Texas wasn't as it was portrayed in the media, or that those of us who were native Texans saw the world differently than a transplanted Yankee. Sometimes I felt a little sorry for him. Those moments were fleeting and far between, as I had been called into his office way too often since he took over seven weeks ago. The man certainly did like to hear himself talk.

“So, John, go out there and shelve Romance and Horror. Alphabetize them while you’re at it. You’re one of the few people I’ve got who can read and knows the alphabet. Such a rarity here. Remember to police and face out any title that has four copies or more. Not three. Four.” He tried for a half-smile that once again reminded me of a constipated rat with a load of cheese. “Make it look good out there.”

I stiffened in my seat and swallowed hard. He knew how I felt about those books. There was something wrong with them. They had a power over me. I gulped for air and tried to speak, but he wasn’t going to give me the chance.

“Do it or quit,” boomed Phillpots. "Get out of here and decide while you work."

Quitting wasn’t an option.  I nodded and got myself together enough to rise from the chair and stumble out of his office, pulling the door shut behind me. Kathy was waiting outside in the short hallway. She smirked at me while I moved by her. I wondered how much she had overheard and then realized it really didn’t matter because she did all the records for him.

Horror and Romance—the twin seducers—and I had to shelve them. It was as if those books spoke to me, pulling me in. The therapist said there was a simple explanation. I was disassociating from the real world or some such nonsense. The answer was, of course, medication. Take the little happy pill and all would be fine. I hadn’t noticed any difference. Maybe I needed the large-sized happy pill.


Kevin R. Tipple ©2024

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