Sometimes a book just sucks you in. Everything around you disappears. The characters become friends, family, lovers. Putting the book down almost leaves you with a bad case of separation anxiety, and you read voraciously until the ink bleeds into the background of the page and everything starts to take a greenish hue.
You know what I’m talking about. You and I have quite a few things in common. We’ve both been there. Except… I’ve gone beyond that point, past that threshold, so to speak. Maybe one day, you will too. You see, it’s not only the reader who hungers for the story. It’s also the book that hungers for the person reading it. Not all books of course. Just some of them.
Look at him shuffle, his head hanging forward like a carrot dangling from a fishing pole. His name is Claude. He works as a clerk at a rundown haberdashery a couple of blocks down the road from the bookshop. He’s come close enough a couple of times; enough for me to get a “feel” for him. Guy’s a no-lifer. All he’s got is his shitty day job, his collection of action figures that nobody cares for and nobody’s around to see anyway, and books. Yes… Claude loves books. I see how his dull, cadaver-like eyes light up whenever he walks into the bookshop, his fingers running across the old, cracked spines of books that have seen more use than Louise’s little purse of pleasures.
Claude comes to life in his books. Everything he owns is a sorry attempt to cling to a life that was never his in the first place. Because Claude hasn’t had a great life. Not even a decent one for that matter. You can tell by the way he comports himself, that the guy’s been on the receiving end of a life’s worth of beatings, the kind of which either turn you into a criminal, or into a shambling carcass with zero self-esteem. In Claude’s case, it’s the latter.
Mind you, it’s not like the guy didn’t try. He was even in a heavy metal band at one point, would you believe it? And he’s had at least one girlfriend, although it might have been a case of misplaced pity on her side. But of course, none of it lasted. It never will, because the guy’s dead inside; been dead inside long ago. Only the books breathe some semblance of life into him, and it’s only a matter of time before he picks up the book. I know it.
You know, I almost feel sorry for Claude. Or rather, if that part of me still existed, I might. At least compassion. Dunno, I don’t quite remember how either of those things feel. The only thing I feel now, is appetite. Or rather, hunger. The kind of hunger that feels as if a big ball of steel were lodged on your stomach. The kind that lets you think of nothing else. Your sense of smell is heightened as you pick up every scent surrounding you; your body desperately seeking the telltale aroma bearing the promise of your next meal. It’s the kind of hunger you feel in your whole body; the kind that makes you almost nauseous, firing up the acids in your stomach in desperate anticipation for sustenance. Claude… where are you today? Won’t you visit my little bookshop?
I haven’t seen Claude in a couple of days. But… here he comes!
Weird. He’s just shuffled past the display without as much as a sidelong glance. Seems to be in a rush. He’s headed for the flower stall on the other side of the road. What’s he…oh… I get it. Guy’s got a date. Or maybe he’s hoping to impress a girl enough to get a date. Not get laid, mind you. Just a touch of human affection. Maybe even just a hug. You see, Claude is hungry too. His whole life he’s been deprived of even the slightest touch of human affection. Well, when he was younger he got plenty of attention; except it was the wrong kind of attention, the kind that comes attached to the end of a leather belt. But now, not even that. His colleagues regard him with little more than suspicion and a touch of disgust. At this point, for Claude, any kind of attention would be a life giver. Any kind of connection would be better than this limbo he’s been dumped in.
But, get a date? No dice buddy. You’re better off giving it up. Return to your books. I’m waiting. Patiently. Eagerly.
I knew this was gonna happen. Claude… Claude… Claude… what could you ever hope to offer a girl? That’s right, nothing. You’re a failure, a shambling shell filled with nothing but self-disdain and bad memories. Nobody will ever love you. Nobody will ever wrap you in a warm embrace. Your only hope is to bury yourself in the stories you love so much; those same stories that breathe life into the hollow carcass that you are.
Come Claude. I see you inching closer to my shelf, reaching out, eyes wide with wonder and curiosity. My spine tingles as your fingers brush across my front cover. You feel it too don’t you, Claude. Take me with you. I have marvels for you. And I promise you, you will never again feel pain and sorrow.
His worries are gone now. Claude is content. It might be a few weeks before they find his husk, sucked dry from the inside, seated in an old leather armchair with a heavy, leather bound tome in hand. His face, dried up, skin pulled taut, seems almost serene. His eyelids, curled back, give him a look of awe and wonder. Truth be told, he seemed almost happy as I consumed him. There’s usually quite a bit of screaming and struggling. But not Claude. No, Claude is happy now, here with me.
Did you enjoy this story? Check out the behind the scenes article to find out what was going through my head when I wrote it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter so that I can let you know as soon as I release other stories!