Surveying Acres One Last Time

Before the bell over the door could sound its final knell, his withered hand accepted the flashlight the clerk offered without dragging her nose away from the heady aroma of aging paper emanating from the brittle pages of the hardcover open on the countertop.

Decades of sweating palms had left the once shiny metal flashlight as cloudy and gray as the pregnant sky, whose water broke as he shuffled into fiction. Its flickering beam augmented the watery winter light filtering through the twin skylights as he followed the red arrows on the floor past the spot where they diverged from the greens. Mystery.

A head heavy with unwritten sequels dragged his body down into the question mark punctuating a sentence that the younger man captured in the dust jacket’s faded photo, despite his studied look of profundity, could never answer during their weekly face-to-face. Why didn’t anyone buy the damned thing?

He’d even autographed it, borrowed a stub of a pencil from the clerk and added his inscrutable scrawl to the flyleaf below the price handwritten by the bookstore’s founder, whose own final chapter had been written almost a decade ago.

But today’s routine inspection of the splintered crate that once held Forget-Me-Not Oranges straightened him into an exclamation point. It was gone!

Relinquishing the light at the counter, he missed the clerk’s sly smile as she noted his growing resemblance to the author on the dust jacket she had carefully tucked away before taking up the hardcover.

“Surveying Acres One Last Time” was originally published in the flash-fiction collection Book by Authors in 2006.

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