A magician coerces a cranky siren to sell him a book.
The bookstore was old and small and filled with the odors of wine and charred keratin. Shelves stuffed tight with old, sweet-smelling books stood against the walls like gills, a small breeze from the open window in the back fluttering stray papers through them now and then. The magician Imetti Yakkeh thumbed the latch of the front door and heaved with his shoulder, opening just enough of a gap to let his slender figure slip through before the hinges creaked and the door slammed shut, disturbing the icy silence that separated the store from the street. “Ket,” he called lazily, “I need a book.”
On a podium in the center of the store, a mass of feathers stirred, and the wrinkled, bald head and neck of a vulture emerged from it, eyes narrowed. “Of course you need a book. That’s the problem with you.” His breath burbled with phlegm, but his voice made no sound—his words rumbled directly in the mind of the magician.
Yakkeh smiled playfully, sashaying up the short staircase with a flourish of his citrus-colored robes. “Come now, that’s no way to treat a loyal customer. Haven’t I so faithfully paid for your books for all these years?”
“It’s not the problem of paying for them,” Ket growled. “It’s what you do with them afterwards.”
“But they’re my property after I pay. What should you care what happens to them?” Yakkeh traced the spine of a book on one of the haphazard stacks that were scattered around the store, some nearly brushing the ceiling, some blocking the aisles.
“I run this bookstore because I happen to like books. Your treatment of them encourages me to refuse you service.” Ket shook the sleep out of his feathers, sending a few floating to the ground.
Yakkeh twitched his fingers, and one feather twisted and tumbled and slipped between the pages of a heavy book. “Are you sure? I happen to be very, very desperate.”
Ket scoffed. “Your combusting desk can stay lopsided. I will sell you nothing.”
“Well.” Yakkeh clicked his tongue. “Looks like I got that mousedeer for nothing, then.” He pulled a Chihuahua-sized ungulate out from beneath his robes, dangling it temptingly by its back legs.
Ket choked, but covered up with a loud clearing of his throat. “What a degrading attempt at temptation,” he said. “I am not some simpleminded beast who can be flattered with victuals.” All the same, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the mousedeer.
“Oh, really?” Yakkeh said, fake disappointment in his voice. He turned to face the door. “Then I guess you wouldn’t be flattered by an... aye-aye?” He allowed himself a smirk as another fit of choking erupted from Ket’s throat.
“I-I doubt that you’d even have access to one,” Ket stammered.
“I have my connections. But I think you’ve made it clear that you’re not interested. Looks like I’ll have to just give this to Kyt.”
Ket bristled. “Don’t waste such things on that brainless philistine!”
Yakkeh tucked the mousedeer back into his robes and turned to Ket again. “Well, I’ve got to give these to someone. I’m not going to let them just rot; they cost me good money.”
“Then give them to me.”
“Not so fast. I’d go broke if I were that generous. I’ll need something in return... say, one of your fine books.”
Ket glowered at the magician. “Show me the aye-aye.”
Yakkeh waggled a finger. “I know how you enjoy your beckoning spells. Honestly, I thought you’d up and take the mousedeer.”
There was a long silence as Ket clenched his talons on the podium, secretly tasting the air for the distinct aroma of aye-aye. Finally, he grumbled, “What kind of book?”
Yakkeh clapped his hands together, delighted. “I knew you’d see things my way eventually.”
“And I’ll see your way out soon enough. What kind of book?”
Yakkeh sauntered up to the podium and leaned an elbow on it. “I need the biggest one you’ve got. A real doorstop.”
Ket sneered. “Stocking up on lifts for the combusting desk?”
“My desk is stable for now.” He waved his hand dismissively. “And no harm will come to this book. You have my word.”
“Your word is about as good as a snake’s, I’ve learned.”
“Aye-aye,” Yakkeh sang.
A low rumble came from Ket’s throat as he begrudgingly lifted a wing, halfway bald from all his molting, and crooked it at one of the rows of bookshelves behind him. A tome two feet thick drifted about as gracefully as a walrus through the air and landed uncomfortably close to Yakkeh’s foot with a hollow thud.
“An Extensive History of the Pompous Bastard,” Yakkeh read the cover aloud. “Do I smell an implication?”
“It’s the largest book I have,” Ket shrugged smugly, and snuggled his wings back close to his body.
“In that case, dear siren, keep the change.” In a single motion, Yakkeh dumped the mousedeer, a pouch of coins, and the promised aye-aye on the podium next to Ket, and then bent down and stuffed the book into his robes, though it showed as little sign of its presence beneath the folds as the carcasses had.
“You got what you came for. Out,” Ket demanded.
“Eager to get to your victuals?”
“Of course, of course, I’m going.” Yakkeh held a hand up and descended the stairs backwards, carefully gripping the handrail.
The old siren glared at him. “And don’t expect to get any more books from me.”
The magician yanked on the handle, cracking the door open to the noisy street. “We’ll just have to see, Ket, now won’t we?” There was another heavy slam and then the silence again.
Ket’s eyes shifted from the offerings on the podium to the feather that Yakkeh had slipped into a book--he craned his neck to see the title: Dear Greed. He considered this for a moment. Then, “Oh, do I smell an implication?!” he mocked, and swept the carcasses and purse to the floor. He glared at them as they lay there for a few moments until the aroma from them drifted its way back up into his nostrils. He gritted his beak to steel himself, but only managed to put off resisting for a few moments longer before he begrudgingly beckoned them back onto the podium, fuming all the while that the “stupid magician knows that there’s no ice in this bookstore" and "I’ll have to close it for half an hour to get these home like last time.”