Hal Duncan, the juggernaut responsible for Ink and Vellum, is storybusking. Go help him out–he’s a great writer. And in solidarity with him, here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m working on, The Book Murderer. If you like what you read, go donate something to Hal.
On one of his most recent missions, the Book Murderer had driven inland to a local community college, to steal the novel rough draft and notes from an old mole of a professor. The Book Murderer called this practice “source-snuffing.” Of late, the Book Murderer wanted more and more to see his nemesis in its pre-natal, natal, and juvenile forms. To better understand, that he might destroy faster and more furiously, and perhaps one day learn the ancient arts of killing books near the point of conception. It was a dream, but everyone needed something to aspire to.
The Book Murderer called the professor “Linda Hunt” because she resembled a slightly taller version of the actor. Linda Hunt, beloved by her credulous and no doubt illiterate students, had published what many reviewers considered one good novel back in the 1970s, entitled Gormus the Imposter. She had then spent the rest of her life tunneling through the dirt, blind and querulous. The Book Murderer had read about the professor in the city’s weekly rag, a broadsheet of no particular reputation that he held by the corners to avoid the noxious ink. “For the past twenty-five years, amongst some false-starts, I have been working on a new novel entitled Sojourns Amongst the Blind Men of the Interior.” The reporter noted that the manuscript was some 2,000 pages thus far and a photograph confirmed this fact, showing the professor sitting at her desk nearly devoured by the stack of pages upon her blotter. The manuscript clearly had many revisions scrawled upon its pages, and Linda Hunt admitted ruefully that she had not had time to create a copy of her changes.
The heist itself went well—ski mask to project his identity; dull time on campus with most students away; professor out of his office; quick lock-pick—but things became more complicated in the parking lot. Linda Hunt, showing an unexpected proclivity for both detective work and quick action (or perhaps it was luck) tracked the Book Murderer down before he could get to his car. There came a sudden explosive curse from his left, and a rush of air indicating something ferocious descending, and a bull rush by the old mole sent the Book Murderer with a surprised oof flying to the ground—“It felt as if a refrigerator had fallen on top of me”—while, as if a dream or a bad movie, the manuscript—bound to an almost mummy-like extent with rubber bands—slowly thudded to the asphalt, skoshing onto one side like a listing ocean liner some seven or eight feet away from him. Driven by some odd instinct that was not self-preservation, the Book Murderer twisted around and leapt upon the manuscript.
Lunging on top of him, the professor rained down all the caged ferocity of fifty badgers upon the Book Murderer, “attempting to beat the living shit out of me,” as the Book Murderer later told the lush named Maria in a grave tone, she with her head plonked down on the bar surface, blonde hair sprawling out over her face. “I struggled hard, but this person was possessed, I tell you, and had the strength of one hundred badgers. Her hands were like huge mallets tenderizing my poor flesh.”
He had had flailed woundedly across his back with his left arm in a feeble attempt to fight back, the other desperate to keep his ski mask on while he bloated out his belly to keep the manuscript safe beneath him. Meanwhile, the professor boxed his ears, pulled the hair on the back of his neck, and punched him in the sides, roaring “No one takes my sojourn away from me! No one! Not a fucking soul! Takes! My! Novel! From! Me! Do you hear?!” The pummeling was, to be honest, as much startling as damaging, but it still hurt and he had no effective defense, nor any way to rise without giving up the manuscript.
After a short while, feeling as if he were in a small boat being buffeted by wind and rising waves, the Book Murderer clenched his stomach, stopped fighting, pulled the manuscript out from under him, and shoved it to the side. “Take it! Take the damn thing if it means so much to you, you asshole,” the Book Murderer said.
The professor, teetering, lifted her manuscript off the asphalt, embraced it, and as now heavily breathing Book Murderer rolled over onto his back spat upon him before stalking off, seemingly as diminutive as ever.
“Don’t you know who I am, Linda Hunt?” the Book Murderer screamed after her, to the amusement of the couple of freshman who were the only ones loitering in the parking lot. “Don’t you know I’m the Book Murderer. And how the fuck did you get so fucking strong?!”
“You could be the goddamn Pope of Siberia and I wouldn’t care!” the professor shouted over her shoulder. “Leave my book alone, you philistine. Ever come back here and I’ll kill you!”
“There are laws against threats in this city! I can have you arrested!” the Book Murderer howled after her, but received no reply.
Wiping off the professor’s spit, pungent with the unexpected stench of chewing tobacco, the Book Murderer made his escape. He suffered an enduring bafflement, however, over the days as his wounds healed and the bruises on the back of his head and sides of his face faded to yellow. The manuscript, from what he’d glimpsed of it on his way out, was awful: turgid, long, and weighed down by a pendulous, too thick ending. Why would the professor care so much about it? At least one person other than the author had read part of it.
“But the worst of it had nothing to do with the book,” the Book Murderer said to the now snoring Maria slumped next to him at the Bullheaded as he downed a shot of Caol Ila, cask strength. This was not information he could share with a conscious person, and he even waited until the bartender had gone in back for more ice and the television was especially blarey with idiot sports. “It came from the feeling I was being watched by some fucking shadow. I had the distinct impression of some asshole staring at me intently from one of the cars. I felt it even more acutely as I drove off, but I could see no one—not even the suggestion of a fart in the breeze. Now, what do you think of that? What, exactly, should I think of that?”
What he did not say is that noticing this shadow, this ghost, this potential eavesdropping fiend, had given him a slight frisson of unexpected energy and curiosity.
This worried the Book Murderer greatly.