In a world of pretty things, used bookstores were the most beautiful of them all. They were always full to the brim with interesting objects and words that everyone ignored because they were too blinded by the other things that glittered and sparkled and distracted them from the treasure right in front of their eyes. It wasn’t the most eye catching, but for those who wandered inside, they were sure to find the most wonderful discoveries. To make a long story short, the Limitless Fantasy bookshop was a cluttered mess and its cashier looked perfectly in place behind the counter. Thick rimmed glasses perched on his nose and his shaggy, ruddy brown hair was pushed out of his face by a hairband that looked as worn as his faded t-shirt and jeans. Around his neck was a nametag with the name Sam written in thick bold Sharpie and under that in neat, tiny script was a single word: everything.
“Delivery!” Sam glanced up, green eyes lighting up as the front door opened and a girl shuffled inside, just barely avoiding a stack of books up to her chest as she set a large box on the counter.
“Was wondering when you would get here Gina.” Sam said with relief in his voice as he pulled out a box cutter from his pocket, slicing the tape open easily.
“Hey! You’re not supposed to open it before signing Sam!” Gina huffed, shoving a clipboard into his face, squishing his nose against the paper delivery slip.
“Okay, okay. Stop it!” Sam cried, pulling it away from his face and fumbling around the counter for a pen before finding one stuffed in a cup filled with plastic flowers and spoons and signing his name quickly, “There you go. Can I open it now?” he continued teasingly as he popped the box open anyway.
Gina shook her head, snatching the clipboard out of his hands, “I can’t imagine what you and your dad keep ordering that I am here every week. I hope it’s new clothes. You’re looking shabby again… Need to bring by some of Luke’s things again?”
Sam shook his head, reaching into his package to pull out a stack of neatly bound books with a smile, “No, it’s fine Gina. We have enough clothes as it is…”
“It’s not fine though. You look like you’re homeless you know.”“So does half of this town!”
“I don’t care about the rest of this town, I care about you!”
Sam stopped unloading the box and glanced at Gina with a frown, “You always do this you know. I hate it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just want to see you take care of yourself. I know your dad’s been busy and…well, we’re worried about you. Both of you.” Gina pressed, licking her lips as she leaned across the counter at Sam, “You can always stay at our place for a little bit if you need to.”
“Can’t do that.”
“Don’t tell me you still believe in all that luck talk your dad spews…”
“Of course I do!” Sam snapped, crossing his arms, “I’m not leaving that house though. Not until we know…”Gina opened her mouth to say something when the bells above the door jingled, causing both Sam and her to look at the entrance where a woman stood, glancing between the two of them, a tiny smile on her lips. She looked out of place among the shabby shelves and worn walls with her neatly tailored jacket and fitted pencil skirt. Her blond hair looked brilliantly white, even in the dim lighting of the bookstore and her high heels made her thin frame take up the entire doorway. Sam swallowed at the sight of her, not even for her beauty; the commanding air she held around her was enough to make him straighten himself and wish he had taken Gina’s offer for a change of clothes.
“Am I interrupting something?"
“..not at all. I was just leaving,” Gina quickly told the other woman, picking her clipboard up again, glancing at Sam quickly, “Just think about what I said, okay?” Were her last words as the woman stepped aside, letting her leave.
“I’m sorry about that. If it was a private matter I can leave – “
“No. No, it’s fine. Welcome to Limitless Fantasy! What can I help you find today?”
The woman looked Sam up and down for a moment before looking around, her green gaze scanning the crowded entrance way. Sam reached up, adjusting his glasses nervously as she took another step inside without a word and suddenly felt self-conscious about everything. The state of the store was a mess. Books were piled carelessly wherever there weren’t shelves and even when there were containers, the novels were haphazardly strewn around. On top of all that, a thick layer of dust coated everything – the floor, the counter tops, the walls; it was all an allergies worst nightmare.
“I can feel a lot of love in this store.”
“This store,” the stranger said, finally turning to Sam again, “I feel a great deal love from it. In these walls breathe life and in these books there is hope. You truly love this place and these things, correct,” A pause, “Sam?”
“W-wha – I mean…yes! My father bought this place right after I was born and he loved working here. Now that he has another job though I’m taking his place m’am.” Sam explained, wetting his lips nervously as the woman smiled again. Something about that smile made Sam’s blood run cold. It wasn’t a happy smile. It was the smile of a hunter who had found their prey.
“Such devotion…I like it. Your fantasy section?”
“Wait a minute. Were you…testing me?”
“Hardly,” The woman said simply, crossing her arms over her chest, “I would just rather know where exactly my books are coming from. I hate people who don’t have any passion.”
Sam paused for a moment before pointing through a doorway, “That’s our fantasy room. It used to be organized by author but now it’s just…find whatever you’d like. Are you looking for something specific?”
“You could say that.” She retorted calmly, stepping over a pile of books with grace as she disappeared into the other room. Sam stood there furrowing his brow as he watched the woman leave the crowded main hallway into the cramped backroom. She was a weird one for sure. Sam dealt with those daily – from the people passing time from the sandwich shop next door to the homeless who needed a moment from the cold. Day in, day out, it was the same sort of people. Though something was different with this woman compared to the rest; the way she held herself – it was a way that said ‘I am better than you, and I know it’. Those were the weirdest people of them all.
Sam blinked and looked forward, his mysterious customer standing before him with a thick tome on the counter. Instantly he knew which book it was from the faded, cracked leather and the musty smell that wafted off its faded pages like the dust it had gathered on the shelf, “’Archive of Dragons and Evolution of Its Mother Tongues’? We’ve had this thing forever… Hope you give it a good home.”
The woman smiled, the pale red of her lipstick cracking as she did so, “I have a friend who is interested. Trying to prove a point, even though she knows she’s wrong.”
He laughed nervously, picking up the heavy compendium, “It’ll be one-thirty. Bag?”
She sighed and patted herself down, but not before pushing her blond hair over her ear, pearl studs appearing in the dim bookshop light, “Quite expensive, even for a ratty place like this.”
Sam pointed at a sign on the counter with his elbow as he began to wrap the book with paper, “Every sale is negotiable but this is a pretty old almanac, on top of that we had to get it rebound at some point because the leather was falling apart. It’s lengthy too, and the only one we’ve even seen. One-thirty is cheap, if you consider its value otherwise.” He ignored the ‘ratty’ comment as he put the thick tome in a paper bag, watching the woman with his own turquoise gaze.
She blinked at him. He blinked back. There was a moment of tension before the blond reached into her sleeve, pulling out a number of bills and handing them to Sam as he traded the bag over the counter. Her hunters smile returned as she wrapped her perfectly manicured fingers around the bag handles and pulled the item close to her.
“You’ve been an excellent help.”
Then she was out the door in the same way she came in: quiet, quickly and with only a jingle for the door-top bell. Sam released the breath he was holding and slumped over the countertop, “People like that really scare the shit out of me.”
He glanced up, adjusting his glasses as the cuckoo clock on the opposite wall came into view. A quarter to three – he still had another three hours of standing there until he could go home. Sighing, Sam pulled himself upright and wandered out from the behind the counter, shuffling past a pile of novels that looked like Jenga and disappeared behind a curtain separating the rest of the shop from his counter. The majority of the shop was separated into small rooms, like the one the mysterious customer had entered and each had their own name above the doorway. The fantasy room had said Le Guin and every other room followed the same suit; plus, there were decorations to match. The theme connecting them all together was that they all were in states of disarray. Some had books stacked on their shelves in nonsensical orders and others had no books on the shelves at all. One room filled with self-help manuals had all of its texts situated around a single armchair and another of national park guides had everything in boxes. Then again, it wasn’t Sam’s job to help them find what they were looking for, just attempted to organize. If they really wanted something new to read, they had the ability to find it themselves. But he had to fill the time before closing, so quietly Sam pulled the curtain closed on the doorway and began picking up after discarded mysteries until six.
Once the cuckoo-clock in the main room chimed, Sam wiped his hands on his apron and looked around feeling a little proud. Granted the room was still a disaster, but more of a controller chaos now. Enough so that as Sam took his apron off and pulled his coat on he felt as if the day wasn’t a total waste of time. Leaving the store and locking the door, all Sam had to do to go home was walk around the corner. The apartment complex he lived in, before it was remodeled and advertised as up and coming housing for bright eyed college grads, was once the cheapest housing around. How his father was able to talk the landlord into letting them pay the same rent he had paid nearly ten years ago, Sam would never know. In fact…he didn’t even know how they were still able to by …
“Hey Matthew.” Sam greeted the doorman with a half-smile as he slid his key into the lock. The doorman nodded at him in silence and Sam shrugged as she entered the silent building with only the door slamming shut behind him as any indication that he had entered. The entrance hall was always empty. Sam didn’t even know the other neighbors; in fact, for the longest time he used to think that he and his father were the only residents in the building before he began listening to the walls. As he trudged across the barren hall, Sam could hear the soft sound of a piano playing on the floor above and the whistle of a kettle as it finished boiling. In the upper depths of the building, someone was trampling around and carrying something behind them. New resident, Sam figured as he slipped his key into his mailbox and opened it with a frown.
“Dad…” Sam muttered under his breath as he saw a handful of letters squashed against the back of the box. Carefully, the brunette reached inside and grabbed them. At first glance, the stack of letters looked like the usual final notice bills he was used to seeing but as he counted the days of the month off in his mind… “ It’s too early…” he muttered, looking down at the pile of envelopes suspiciously.
The paper that bound whatever the letters were looked old and worn, like parchment but the feeling between Sam’s fingers was much smoother than that. Turning one of them over, Sam’s green eyes scanned the cover to read the name printed neatly on the cover in bright red ink: Samuel Marshall Cadman the First. His father. Flipped through the letters, all of them had the same print scrawled across them and all had the same address and name with no return address. Swallowing hard, Sam turned and began to climb the stairs, turning one of the envelopes over in his hands. The back was just as blank as the front and provided no clue as to who had sent the stack of letters. The only thing there was a wax seal that kept the envelope tightly bound. Running his thumb over the miniscule blotch, Sam shuddered as began taking the steps two at a time in a rush.
It took Sam no time at all to reach the top floor of the building where his apartment sat alone and he jammed the key into the lock, scattering the parcels in his arms across the carpet. Sam ignored them and fumbled with the door until the lock clicked open. He hesitated a moment, pushing his glasses up his nose with a sharp inhale. An unfamiliar scent stung his throat, causing his stomach to lurch as he slowly swung the front door open. Only when Sam saw the scene before him could he identify the acrid tang that made his head swim: blood.
Sam’s eyes fluttered as the scent of vomit mingled with the stench of human matter that hung all around him. He could hardly take in the scene in front of him and squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that when he opened them again it would disappear but the smell brought him back to reality and Sam forced himself to stare at the bleeding body of his father that lay collapsed in the front hall.
Fear gripped Sam, keeping him held to the floor as he tried to breathe evenly. Everywhere he looked, the scene only got worse. The once pearly white carpet was beginning to turn brown in some places as blood dried and broken sharps of glass and porcelain littered the floor as broken lamps lay in heaps. The chairs had been overturned, as if someone had tried to use them as a blockade at one point but their valiant effort had gone to waste. The worst of it was the body itself.
Sam glanced at his father, heaving himself halfway upright before he felt his stomach twist. His father’s legs were splayed in different directions and one of his arms was twisted at an awkward angle. He was missing some of his teeth and his ashen skin was turning purple in some places. The worst was the gaping hole in the back of his skull and the expression of horror that was still splayed across his face, twisting his features into an almost unrecognizable entity. Sam could have sworn he saw piece of brain and bone littering the hallway but forced himself to think about something else; anything besides his father lying dead before him.
“Pol…ice…” Sam whispered hoarsely to himself, reaching messily into his pockets to try and find his cell.
“There will be no need for that.” A voice snapped and Sam stiffened, bracing himself to be the next victim before he suddenly saw a platoon of feet march past him. Looking up, Sam wheezed at the number of people entering his apartment; their faces covered and bodies covered in armor.
“..SWAT?” Sam managed to groan as a soft clicking approached him and a set of heels appeared in his view. Glancing up, Sam’s eyes widened as he scrambled to sit up, “Y-you!”
The blond woman from the bookshop stood over him, brow arched as her lips curled into a smirk, “Yes. Me. And I was almost hoping I’d find an innocent today. Killing your own father though? That’s low, even for a human.” She stated with a wave of her hand as the armor clad group began to spread their search, moving into the other rooms.
“…m-me? I didn’t do this!” Sam gasped, covering his mouth as he inhaled the scent of death again.
“That’s what they all say. However, we got a tip today saying that the smuggler and his son would be lost to us if we didn’t take action and, well, I have my smuggler here…but the son is still alive. How do you explain that?” The blond woman continued with an icy calm tone, her green gaze boring holes into Sam’s face.
Looking anywhere besides her face and his father’s corpse, Sam tried to think of answer, but his mind only whirled with more questions. Smuggler? What was she talking about? His dad was an office worker! Was this about drugs? Why did he have to die? Was he being setup to take the blame? Sam shook his head quickly, shooting the woman a cold glare, “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m being framed! You have to believe me!”
“Perhaps you are… Or you’re just a very, very good actor. It wouldn’t surprise me. You had me fooled back at the bookstore. Sweet, innocent, little human boy just making his way – perhaps I’m growing soft…” the woman muttered half to herself, half to Sam who still sat in front of her, stunned. Suddenly a burly figure clad in black called out to the woman in a language Sam couldn’t recognize and they talked briefly. Sam was left to look between them in shock as his gaze traveled to where the burly figures companions were moving boxes out of a room.
“That’s….dad’s room…” Sam whispered in disbelief, trying to push himself to stand before he felt something knock him back to the floor.
“You aren’t moving,” the woman snapped icily, pressing he heel against his face to keep him against the floor.
“Cyarocya. We’ve found it.” Another voice called and the woman turned in the direction of the voice, nodding once.
“Bring it with us. The Board will need to examine it; see if it’s the real stuff.” Cyarocya ordered, pointing to the door where the black clad group began marching out; their raid seemingly finished.
“What are you going to do with him?”
Cyarocya glanced down at Sam under her shoe, musing for a moment as she watched him before lifting her foot and kneeling down beside him. Sam felt a hand tangle painfully in his hair as his face was pulled away from the floor. Suddenly the blond woman’s face was inches from his own and she was watching his face with an unreadable expression of her own, “Well, he’s a criminal. And you know how we deal with criminals, don’t you, Ysamir?”
“Put them to death, Miss Cyarocya.”
Death?! Sam’s eyes flew to Cyarocya’s face and he shook his head wildly, “Are you mad?! I didn’t do anything! There’s no evidence I did anything wrong!” Sam shouted, struggling against the grip on his head, “I demand a lawyer! I demand someone….anyone! You can’t just do this!”
“Actually,” Cyarocya began, grip loosening on his hair before Sam felt a fist crash into his face, a crack signaling that more than just his glasses broke, “I can do whatever I please. That’s the best thing about this job, little ignorant human. Is that when the victim’s have nothing to lose, there is only one choice for them.”
Sam whimpered as blood dribbled from his nose which he tenderly touched only to find it to be broken. Pushing himself up, Sam gave his best look of defiance toward the woman, spitting blood out of his mouth before finally speaking, “Why .. w – why are you doing this to me? Why did this have to happen to me?! Why are you being so cruel?!?!” Sam shouted, glaring defiantly at Cyarocya.
A stunned silence fell in the room and the man in black all looked at Sam, or their gaze traveled over Cyarocya who stood over Sam. Her gaze was unreadable and after a minute, she knelt back down, running a nail down the length of Sam’s cheek without an expression on her pale face. He felt her hand snake around the back of his neck, her other hand joining it and what was coming dawned upon him; he had seen too many action movies to not know. He just hadn’t expected it to hurt this much.
The feeling of Cyarocya’s knee smashing into his stomach racked over his entire body all the air in his lungs expelling at such a rate he felt dizzy. Doubling over, Sam wanted to hold his stomach and cradle himself in attempt to soothe his now aching innards, but he felt something suddenly restrain his arms behind his back so all he could do was whimper into the floor. He heard Cyarocya chuckle somewhere above him.
“You want someone to blame? Well do not take your anger out on me. I am only here following orders. So why don’t you go and cry to your made up God instead? It is not like They can hear you anyway…” Cyarocya told him as Sam looked up blearily watching her turn and walk out of the apartment, her heels clicking in the distance.
“Make the arrangements with the Board. It’s obvious we’ll need a trial for his actions no matter what.” Sam barley heard her last words and opened his mouth to protest, but everything went suddenly dark and the last thing Sam felt was something blunt hitting in the back of his head before his mind was also consumed by the darkness.