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TITLE: Vellum and Green Vitriol
GENRE: fantasy, adventure
WORD COUNT: 67,251
SUMMARY: A lonely grimoire searches for family in an alternate 1920s Britain.
With the storm clouds spitting overhead, Green Alley didn't look very green. Rather, it was a pitch dark maw surrounded by dirty buildings and paved with pitted cobblestones filling up with muddy rain. Hesitation allowed a gust of wind to tug at my umbrella. Firming my grip on the handle, I decided to move.
The only indication that Parrish Books existed was a few wooden steps leading up to a door which had probably seen fresh green paint some time in the last century. A small tarnished plaque was mounted to the right and faint light emanated from the small window panes on the top half of the door. I tugged on the handle and pushed. A small bell on the threshold tinkled at my entrance.
I managed to shake my umbrella closed and stepped inside. Dim electrical lighting hung like flat demented fireflies from the ceiling. Dark wood shelves lined a small room—each crammed with books, leather-bound and paper-bound. All old and well used. The smell of musty tomes permeated the air. I imagined that it was what I would have smelled like if I had not been walking on two legs.
A counter sat in the left corner, laden with more books, a lamp with a hideous shade the color of molding olives, and a white-haired man bent over doing accounting. He did not look up even as I squelched across the floor to pretend to examine the nearest shelf. Beyond the counter was an archway to the rest of the shop—the back room, I guessed—that was either a kitchen or a storage room. As I slowly sidled my way toward the proprietor, I noticed another customer in the opposite corner of the shop—a dark-haired man in a tweed jacket deeply absorbed in what looked like a heavy reference book. An unkempt professor, I assumed, and turned my attention back to the old man.
Finally at the counter, I cleared my throat. "Mr. Parrish?"
Pen continued scratching on paper. "How may I help you, Miss?"
"I am quite hopeful that you can. I've been directed here by an acquaintance of mine. He told me that you would know something about a particular book that I have been trying to find for my research."
"What book is this?"
"The Liber Tutelarum."
The pen stopped and a trembling hand set it down on paper. Curiously, I watched the old man raise his head and meet my eyes with a rheumy blue gaze. "Who is your acquaintance?" His voice hid a nervous energy. Or Parrish was just annoyed because he needed to go to the water closet at the moment. Even after all these years, I sometimes still found it hard to distinguish human emotion. I took it as a good sign that the old man did not just tell me no.
"Professor Wallace at the Institute. I work as his research assistant. He's on a short sabbatical, currently, so I am working on a pet project of mine. There was this small sect of monks in the thirteenth century who had dedicated themselves to copying some texts..."
Parrish slashed a hand in the air to cut me off. "Tell your professor that he is misinformed. I know of no such book. Parrish Books specializes in first editions of epic poetry—preferably from the eighteenth century. If you're looking for a book written by a monk, go to a church."
"Not all books copies by monks have remained in church libraries," I argued. "Even if you have never come across the book that I am looking for, perhaps you have some idea, some acquaintance of yours who I could ask."
"I know no one."
"Mr. Parrish." I straightened and looked down my nose at him. I knew the expression combined with the short-brimmed cloche hat on my head had the effect of rendering the opposing person into a contrite mess. "That is impossible. All antiquarian booksellers have their sources. Otherwise, how would they get any of their stock?"
A faint chuckle had me reflexively whipping my head around to glare at the offending person. The other customer was peering up from the book he was browsing with evil amusement. "You'll never get anything out of Parrish," he told me ominously.
I turned my attention back to the bookseller. "Surely you have a colleague who knows something of thirteenth century literature," I said, attempting to sweeten my tone.
It didn't work.
"Do I have to repeat myself? I. Know. No. One. Now, Miss, either take a look at some of the fine copies of love poetry on that shelf or go away."
"That's a fine way to treat a potential customer." His hostile attitude intrigued me. Obviously he had something to hide. "Do I look like I'm looking for love poetry?"
"Bah. You're probably one of those suffragettes," the old man sniffed.
With one more glance at the interior of the bookshop, I decided on a strategic retreat, for now. Parrish would probably clam up further if I were to forcefully pursue my inquiries. "Pardon me, then. Good day."
The bookseller ignored me.
I let out a breath and squelched back towards the entrance. But before I could open the door, it slammed open, striking me on the shoulder. Unbalanced, I stumbled back and tripped over a small footstool.