The ninth story in the Winter Prose Competition 2011 series.
The Book Reading
"...and Arctac was once more reminded of his inhumanity,” finished Salisbury Frood. He looked up from his stained and spotted manuscript to the faces of his captive audience, who were arranged in a loose half circle around the stool upon which he perched. The plate glass windows behind his back were arrayed with posters advertising the book reading, next to sheaves of Stephan Kong novels. The store, a reputable bookseller, was empty, with the entirety of its patrons assembled at the reading. Salisbury beamed at them.
“You,” he asked a woman in the front. “What’s your name?”
“N-Nell,” she answered.
“No need to be a Nervous Nellie!” He laughed, proud of his wit. He could understand her anxiety; it wasn’t everyday one encountered a talented writer such as himself. He exposed her to a smile which he hoped would be disarming, yet engaging. “What did you think of Arctac and his quest for the elusive Dragon’s Tooth?”
Nell seemed to be at a loss of words, but when he raised his hand in encouragement, courage found her. “W-well, it seems Arctac tries hard to be good, and--” She looked at the windows, where a commotion was building, then at Salisbury who smiled and nodded vigorously. “--and I thought the root canal scene was r-really interesting.”
“Hey! I’m glad you think so! Arctac is the ultimate anti-hero. The sort of wolf man you love to hate.” Salisbury chuckled and pushed his horn-rimmed glasses up his blunt nose. He scratched at the Superman emblem on his shirt and adjusted his bulk on his seat.
He was in an exuberant mood. He felt just as he did the day he had seen Star Wars for the first time in the theater. He was perplexed his guests at the reading didn’t share the sentiment. He shrugged. The book was dark, very dark, and it was bound to affect the mood of its readers. He would need to be proactive. Arctac and the Dragon’s Tooth was a labor of love, a compilation numbering a decade, and he wanted his readers to enjoy it as much as he enjoyed writing it.
“Nell, my dear,” he gently prodded with another gesture, “do you think Arctac truly loved the warrior princess Kymooshiji?”
“Uh, the way you described her, she’s so pretty. Um, it was funny when, uh, she...” Nell’s eyes once more diverted to the windows. A slight keening filled the air. Something was happening outside. “...s-she put the...”
Salisbury turned around to see the night filled with red and blue fissures of lights. An artist had to fight for his art. Arctac and the Dragon’s Tooth was rejected by countless publishers before the opportunity had presented itself. Now he had his book reading and an audience for exposure. Sometimes a man just had to go and grab what the universe found itself fit to give. He watched the uniformed police officers taking position around the storefront.
A megaphone pushed sound into the store. “Mr. Frood, drop your weapon and come out with your hands raised!”
He stepped over the bound form of the internationally acclaimed author Stephan Kong and fired a round into the ceiling.