“Remnants” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

There was half an hour to spare and the rain had picked up. Steve thought about ducking into a cafe and passing the time there, but there wasn’t a good wi-fi signal and it was four quid for a cup of coffee. The wind howled and gnawed at him. He scanned the high street. Betting shop. Cafe. Clothes shop. Cafe. Abandoned shell. Cafe.

Then, salvation. The bright expanse of the chain bookshop beckoned to him. Fond memories flashed through Steve’s mind. Those halcyon days where he’d lose himself in these temples to literature every couple of weeks. With a stifled laugh and a whisky-warm glow of nostalgia, he rushed inside.

The new book smell hung heavy in the air. Row upon row of pristine covers stared back at him. Each one featured either a muted neutral design that would go well with modern interior design trends or a single striking image that would look good in a tiny online thumbnail.

Whatever. He thought. Don’t judge a book by its cover. There were, after all, better things to judge a book by. Genre for starters. So, with that wisdom in mind, he slid past a shelf of literary novels – all of which proudly carried stickers proclaiming them winners of various awards. For half a second, he wondered if there were more awards than authors. A book with three stickers on it confirmed his theory.

As he turned the corner, the shelf shook. A 900-page boulder crashed down mere inches from his head, clipping his shoulder and fluttering to the ground like a wounded bat. Ignoring the throbbing ache in his shoulder, Steve glanced around. No-one had seen it. Good. He knelt down and picked up the doorstopper. Winner of Britain’s foremost literary award. Figures.

Carefully sliding the book back onto the shelf, Steve resumed his search. A grey cliff face of gritty crime thrillers stared back at him. The crushing uniformity of it was only broken up by the occasional moody blue rectangle. He continued his quest.

The garish primary colours of the childrens’ section told him that he’d drifted off course. As Steve turned away, his eyes fixed on a multicoloured mosaic of spines. The titles sounded suitably dramatic. Steve’s eyes lit up. He reached for one of them. Sci-fi & Fantasy? He looked at the book cover. It contained a picture of a sullen teenager staring into the distance. Nope. Young Adult fiction.

He continued his search, giving the “Travel” and “Mind, Body & Spirit” sections a wide berth. His eyes fixed on three bookshelves wedged into a tiny corner. Above them, the words “Sci-fi & Fantasy” smiled at him. He rushed over to them. There were interesting books here – an assortment of classics, both past and present. After ten minutes of searching, he selected a couple of interesting titles. But, there was more to find. Where was it?

Steve kept walking. He passed a pastel rampart of romance novels before almost crashing into a random table of books. When he glanced down, he saw that it was filled with popular bestsellers. 3 for the price of 2! 70% off! He didn’t recognise a single title on the table. He kept looking.

For a second, Steve’s eyes lit up again. In a forgotten corner, a single sliver of darkness stood out. A solitary rectangle of gloomy, heavy spines. With a smile spreading across his face, he rushed over to it. Finally.

As he got closer, his heart sank. Above the shelves, the word “History” glowered at him. He turned away. It had to be somewhere.

The voice startled him: ‘Are you looking for something?’

Steve spun around. A bearded guy in a staff T-shirt stared back at him. Steve smiled: ‘Yes, I’m looking for the “Horror” section.’

The guy stared at him blankly: ‘Er… There might be a few Stephen King books in the general fiction section.’

Steve’s face went pale. He should have expected it. But, when he trawled his memories, there was always a horror shelf. Even when it was just a token row of books that was one-third Stephen King, one-third paranormal romance and one-third Victorian classics, it had always been there.

It wasn’t right. A bookshop without a horror shelf. Something in Steve’s mind began to come loose. Had he been gone too long? Was there no place in this trendy modern age for the simple joy of a blood-spattered paperback about giant flesh-eating rats? It wasn’t right! Steve started hyperventilating. His eyes bulged. His head ached. The guy took a step backwards and shielded his face.

What happened next never made the papers. It was overshadowed by the cataclysmic shock of an offensive celebrity tweet. Within days, the cleaning staff had finally managed to scrub Steve’s stubborn brain matter out of the carpets. The manager had returned the damaged books to the publisher. The police had issued an incident number. Life went on.

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