A Christmas Gift
To quote one of my favorite Christmas movies, "A Miracle On 34th St.", "Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind...". A frame of mind I keep all year round. The season is magical. I believe in that magic still to this day just as I still believe in Santa Claus. And to add a quote from another movie, "The bell still rings for those who believe" (Polar Express) and I still hear them as clear today as I did when I was younger. I have never stopped believing in what the season is all about.
Allow me to be a little more specific, I believe in St. Nicholas, who was a actual person, performed miracles, and is the inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was one who was a follower of God and gave selflessly to help all others.
Though I am no where close to St. Nicholas, I do believe in giving. I have come to find more joy, happiness, and fulfillment during this time of the year by living by the old adage, "Tis better to give, than to receive."
Over the past few year's on St. Nicholas Day, I have given away copies of my books to random readers of mine as a way to say 'Thank-you' for your support. This year, I decided to do something a bit different. A gift that everyone can enjoy.
In this blog is one of the short stories from my upcoming novel "30 Storeys"which I hope to have published sometime in late 2022. I don't want to give away too much about the book at this time. But I will say even though this is a collection of short stories, they are only but a slice of the main story.
Thank you all for your support as it is appreciated more than you know. And A Very Merry Christmas to you all!
Without any further delay, from the upcoming novel, "30 Storeys" I present my gift to all of you the story I call..."Till Books Do Us Part"...
A deal with Death always has a catch. Trust me on this. I have first-hand knowledge.
I was cleaning my office on a sunny Sunday afternoon where I own a modest collection of books. Two hundred twenty-three exactly. At least once a month, I remove the books from the shelves to dust. Before I return the books to their proper place, they also get a thorough swifter dusting. Even though they don’t get too dusty, I take good care of them.
While I was cleaning, I came to realize, would I be able to read all of them before I died? It is possible. But since I am always adding to my collection, it seemed impossible.
As I gave it some more study, the doorbell rang. “Great. Right in the middle of shelf,” I said to myself.
I was going to ignore it when the doorbell rang again. “Alright, I’m coming for Christ’s sake,” I yelled, putting the book I had just finished back on the shelf and then went to answer the door.
When I opened the door, a tall gentleman, somewhat hunched over, shrouded in a black cloak with the hood up so you couldn’t see his face, stood before me.
“A little warm for this type of clothing, don’t you think?” I asked him.
“I’m quite comfortable, thank you,” he responded.
“Glad to hear it. You realize Halloween is still a couple of months off?”
“Yes, this is true,” he answered. “This has nothing to do with Halloween.”
“Well, that’s a relief. What can I do for you? I’m sorry, but I didn’t get your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t give it, Jackson.”
“How do you know my name, but I know not yours?” I asked him.
“Don’t be silly, Jackson. You are aware of who I am,” he said as he extended his hand.
I accepted it to shake it. It is stone cold, weathered. As I shook it, he tells me, “I… am Death.”
I’ve heard the phrase ‘when Death comes knocking’ but never took it literally.
“Right,” I told the cloaked figure as I attempted to release my grip.
I found it impossible as I look at my hand turn purple, and an icy feeling creep up my arm.
Death spoke, “Like so many, Jackson, you do not understand until your eyes see. Your body feels. Do you understand now?”
“I see your point, sir. If it is my time, will you do me the courtesy and allow me to finish my chore? Allow me to die in my office where I go to find comfort?”
“This, I can do,” answers Death.
“Then please, come in,” says Jackson.
Death releases his grip and enters Jackson’s home. Jackson closes the door and returns to his office to finish his task.
Death enters the office and lowers his hood.
Jackson observes Death has white hair strung out like Doc Brown from Back To The Future. His face is scrunchy, a cross between The Tall Man from Phantasm and The Crypt Keeper. Never a delightful combination.
Jackson goes on finishing the shelf he is on as Death peruses the titles of the books on the shelves.
“An impressive collection,” says Death. “Quite an ensemble. Almost every Stephen King, a favorite of mine as well. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, very classy. Rowling, Gabaldon, Hubbard, Martin, with a mix of politics from Limbaugh, Hannity, and O’Reilly. Very nice choices. I see you also picked up a couple from Richard Chizmar. Loved Chasing The Boogeyman. I hoped he was writing about me. Wait, that’s a spoiler. And what collection isn’t complete without Poe! I loved when I got a hold of him! Exquisite!”
“Thank you… I guess,” says Jackson. “I was pondering before whether I could read them all before, I die before you rang. Guess you answered that question by showing up at my door.”
Death raises an eyebrow with interest, “That sounds like an interesting proposition, Jackson.”
He is silent for what seems like hours, then asks, “How many books do you read in a year?”
Jackson ponders Death’s question. “I would say about six per year. With the time I have, I average a book every couple of months.”
“And you have two hundred twenty-three on these shelves.”
“That is correct. With another six coming in the next few months.”
“So, would it be accurate to state you would have around two hundred forty by year’s end?”
“That would be an accurate assessment. Since I am always purchasing new ones.”
“As any good book connoisseur would,” comments Death.
“I figure it would take me another forty-two years to read them all, including those I have on order.”
Death scratches his chin and asks, “And how many of what you own have you read?”
“Forty-three of them,” answers Jackson.
Death laughs. “You are so typical, Jackson. Keep buying more books with the intention you will read them one day, and one day never comes. I like this challenge.”
“Challenge?” asks Jackson.
“Yes. I have a little proposition for you. Do you accept it?”
With no understanding of what he’s getting himself into, Jackson answers, “If I get to live, then yes, I accept. What is this proposition you propose?”
“I will grant you your desire. You will live until you read everything you have on these shelves. I will also permit those that are coming. In addition, I give you one year to add to your collection. When the year’s up, your collection is complete. No more purchases or additions. Also, from this moment on, you must read six books a year and under no circumstances may you read any book you have already read. These are my terms. Do you accept them?”
Jackson considers the terms Death has given to him. He questions, “What about books that are released after that year?”
“So long as you ordered them during that year’s grace period, I will accept them, but no others. So, Suntup Editions would fall under this category.”
“Then I accept your gracious proposition,” says Jackson as he shakes Death’s hand, sealing the deal.
“This is going to be interesting,” says Death as he pulls an hourglass from his cloak. “Your year starts now, Jackson. When the sand runs out, so does your book buy.”
Death pulls his hood back over his head, “Enjoy your reading, Jackson,” he says as he goes to leave.
Until next we meet, Jackson echoes hauntingly throughout the room as Death disappears.
Jackson wastes little time over the next year adding to his collection. He purchases the latest works from the authors he’s been collecting; every Suntup Edition that’s announced; classic literature he’s always wanted; and others that pique his interest when he spots them averaging three new books a week.
He also honors his reading agreement.
When the sands of the hourglass run dry a year later, he has read his required six books, putting his total read to forty-six of the now three hundred ninety-eight titles in his collection.
Take away the forty-six he has read, and the six a year he needs to continue to read to live up to Death’s proposition, Jackson figures it’ll be at least another sixty to seventy years before he sees Death’s ugly mug again.
That’s a deal. He’ll be well over a hundred when that happens. Reading to stay alive. It’s a great thing. So, Jackson thought.
What Death counts on is a concept called temptation. Jackson didn’t factor this in his decision making. I mean, let’s face facts. If he could reread the books he read before making the deal with Death, it adds five, six, or more years to his life.
Now, that is a great idea. But how to do it? Jackson comes up with the answer without thinking of the consequences. After finishing NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, Jackson picks up Stephen King’s The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel.
Jackson sits down to read the book. As he does, the room grows dark and cold. The book in his hand disintegrates, turning to dust. It blows away in the icy breeze as Death appears before him.
“I thought we agreed, Jackson, that we would not reread previous books already read,” states Death.
“If you wish to get technical, I am not rereading a previous book,” Jackson tells Death.
“Please enlighten me,” says Death. “You have read The Green Mile, have you not?”
“Yes, and no. I have read The Green Mile as the serial novels as they came out. Six individual books of which I have read. This is the complete serial novel. Though the same story an individual book I have not read.”
Death stands silent. He can’t believe that Jackson outwitted him on this. But one doesn’t cheat Death without consequences.
“Clever,” he tells Jackson. “Are you still on pace with your reading goal for this coming year?”
“Yes, I am, as per our arrangement,” answers Jackson.
Death looks over the collection that Jackson assembled over his year. He tells Jackson, “I’ll permit this indiscretion this time. I warn you, don’t do it again. You said you were on pace for your six this year?”
“Yes,” says Jackson.
“Magnificent,” says Death. He turns to leave, telling Jackson, “Perhaps you should pick it up a bit. For being too clever!”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Oh, yes, Jackson. I know you will,” Death says to him and disappears from the room.
Jackson didn’t pick up on Death’s cryptic message. It didn’t become apparent to him until a month later.
He notices he’d been reading more than usual. In the last two weeks alone, Jackson had read four books. Two weren’t very long. Just around two hundred pages. However, the other two Jackson selected were thousand-page monsters.
Death has also made sure that Jackson wouldn’t attempt a reread. Once Jackson finished a book, he notices its ghost like. It looks like it’s on the shelf, but when he goes to touch it, his hand passes through it.
Jackson’s reading continues at a sped-up pace. A scary one at that.
Four books every two weeks became eight. Eight became sixteen in the following month. It reaches the point to where the following month Jackson is reading a book per day and at a speed reader’s pace.
With all that reading, Jackson thought he may forget what he read. That isn’t the case. He remembers everything he read, still works, and sleeps, to his surprise. How he isn’t sure.
All Jackson knew was he couldn’t make himself slow down or stop.
A year later, Jackson closes the cover of the last book to read. He goes to place it on the shelf and finds Death in his path.
“Why, Jackson, so nice to see you. What did you choose for your last book?” asks Death.
“Later by Stephen King,” replies Jackson.
“What a fitting title to leave on,” says Death as he tells Jackson, “It is time. Shall we go?”
Jackson complains, “It’s only been three years since we made the deal! I added to the collection! This conversation should not occur for at least sixty years.”
“Yes, that is true,” says Death as he explains, “Except for the fact you tried to cheat me. I don’t take kindly to those sorts of things. However, Jackson, even though you thought you were being clever, I accepted your explanation, and I upheld my end of the bargain.”
“How!” snaps Jackson.
“Jackson, I informed you I would not come to claim you till you had read every book in your collection. I even allowed you to add to it. Give you a sporting chance. You did just that. You read every single book. I just increased your habit a bit.”
“A bit! It was more than that, Death!”
Death smiles. He tells Jackson, “A good book hooks you right from the start. It draws you in. The world around you vanishes so you won’t stop reading it. Doesn’t matter the length of the book, you read it in no time. Jackson, in three years you have read three hundred and ninety-eight books. We should call Guinness, but I digress. In what you’ve read, you learned; lived multiple lives; and visited places you could only dream of. I would call that a wonderful and full life.”
Before Jackson can say anything else, Death touches him on the forehead, and he falls to the floor. As he loses consciousness and dies, Jackson realizes Death’s words ring true.
He has lived a full life, even without his books.
Death also granted his dying wish; he allowed Jackson to die among them.
Copyright 2021 Krow Writer.