Looking back on my life objectively, it was working out beyond my expectations. My divorce was finalized (again), and the third major book of my Grime series had just been published. Best Buy had just given me a fifty-cent-per-hour pay raise, my divorce attorney had gotten his last payment, and with luck, I would meet a seductive fan at my book signing.
Those were my upbeat thoughts as I steered my barely running, beat-up blue Toyota Corolla toward my future on that chilly Saturday morning. I had no idea what was about to happen to me. I had no idea that people like her were even possible. I had no idea how very much my life was about to change.
The bookstore was in a rundown 1950s mall in Sandy, a small town outside my hometown of Portland, Oregon. The description my iPhone gave me for Island Books was “the best bookshop in Sandy.” It turned out to be the only bookstore in Sandy, and it needed major fumigation. The shop was typical of the bookstores where I’d been peddling books on weekends. This was by far the smallest bookstore I had been to, but admittedly, it did have a cozy feel. It even had an old-fashioned mechanical cash register that made a “ding” sound when the keys were pressed.
The manager seemed pleasant enough, and he had a small, rickety table for signing books. Next to the table were three big piles of my books, and I was eager to sell them. I asked him if there was a good place to eat, as I was committed to the all-day event. Small-time (or, as I like to think, up-and-coming) authors like me had to wait out the entire day, whereas major authors had a four-hour window and a line around the block. I ate breakfast at a greasy spoon and went back to the table that had been set up for me. When the store opened at 10:00 a.m., there was actually a line of people. It was exciting to see that so many people were interested in me and, of course, my fantastic work! I began preparing, by practicing my signature to make sure it was legible.
As soon as the door opened, all the people went straight to the used-book section. Saturday was “half off used books” day, and the manager had just unloaded a pile of new inventory. During the day, a few people came by my table, and some were actually fans of my books, or at least they knew the characters’ names. Some asked me questions related to the book: How did I think up the plot, what was my inspiration, was there ever going to be a fourth book, why was it set in England, what was the deal with spell number eleven?
Some asked me totally unrelated questions: Whom did I vote for in the last election for president, what did I think about the TV show Ren & Stimpy, did I live near Tom Clancy (apparently, all authors live on the same block; did they not know that he passed away?), what kind of music did I listen to when I wrote, and most of all, what did I think of their town?
I tried to answer their questions as best I could with enthusiasm, humility, and kindness. As I had done this before, I took great care to learn about their town beforehand. Book fans love it when you have a connection to them. The reality was that it was all an act, and I didn’t care about the people or the town of Sandy. My goal was to sell as many books as possible. To that end, I was going to tell them exactly what I thought they wanted to hear.
The day wore on, and it was getting close to closing time. I certainly hadn’t met any book fans who were even remotely interesting. At all of my other book signings, there were rewards. I had met many fascinating people and had gotten many new book ideas. However, the low turnout and dismal sales made this an uneventful day with no bonuses. I was happy when the store was about to close and my day could come to an end.
I was chatting with an older woman who was questioning me about the main character, Mitch Williams, in my first book, Grime: The Big Hate, when a woman walked up behind her. When the older woman was finished grilling me about why Mitch hadn’t made better life choices, she left, seemingly unsatisfied.
The new woman immediately grabbed my attention. She had a completely wild look about her that flowed from head to toe, yet her appearance came across as completely refined and sophisticated. She had jet-black, crinkly hair that flew freely in every direction, yet it was neat and presentable, like a controlled explosion. At first I thought it was a prop wig, but I looked closely, and it was her real hair. Her face was well worn with crazy lines seemingly in the wrong places, but somehow this all worked together to form a perfect presentation.
She wore no makeup; her face had a wild, natural-beauty quality. Someone had done less-than-perfect work on her nose, which looked like it had been broken a few times. Her ears also had had some budget-surgeon work. Her lips were thin but flush, and formed what could be considered a daunting smile.
The most striking thing about her was her eyes. They were soft brown in color, but they had a piercing quality. I’ll remember those intense, arrow-shooting eyes for the rest of my life.
Her clothing could best be described as unorthodox, with a Sax-Fifth-Avenue-meets-1800s-Europe look. She was wearing a dark blue, custom-tailored shirt with real gold buttons that contained sparkling blue jewels. Her trim, conservative gray skirt was made out of a material that looked like silk but had a strange sheen to it, with a pattern that complemented the look perfectly. There were no seams in her skirt, or the seams were so fine that I couldn’t see them. Her tan shoes had a stylish, comfortable look, and I could tell they were pricey.
Her hands were slightly bony, but well-kept, with fantastic, perfectly manicured nails. She had a remarkably trim, slightly muscular figure of approximately five-feet-four-inches with zero body fat.
Everything about her was a mishmash that would stand out in any crowd yet worked to perfection. The word “attractive” didn’t describe her, but her whole figure was over-the-top stunning. This woman was an enigma, and I didn’t know what to make of her.
I was trying to take in everything that was “her” when I realized that some time had passed and I should say something. Her arms were clasped tightly around my latest book, Grime: At the End. For some reason, even though my book had only been on sale for a month, her copy looked to be thirty years old. I stammered like a frightened pupil in front the teacher. “I see you have a copy of my latest book. Would you like me to . . . ?” She squinted a bit, and stared deeply into me. Really deep! Deeper than I knew a person could possibly stare. The effect made me feel naked, afraid, and alone. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t move my fingers, cough, or even blink. I became aware that a chill was going up my spine. I felt like I could no longer breathe or move.
I’ve never been so terrified in my thirty-one years. She continued to stare while I could do nothing to stop her. Then she flashed a wicked smile, and said in a wicked voice, “You will do.”
I didn’t know how to respond or even what had was happening. What would I do? Was I in danger? Who was this person? Was she crazy? What did she want with me? What should I do now? I didn’t have the answers to these basic questions. I still couldn’t move, and my natural instinct was to scream, but I couldn’t. The only thing I knew was that I was completely terrified. The woman abruptly broke off her stare, turned, and walked away. She took each step with exquisite precision, almost like a gymnast during a precision routine.
My shirt was sticking to my body from an uncontrollable cold sweat. Finally, I was able to take a long, slow, deep breath. Eventually, the manager noticed my frozen expression of horror and walked over to me. I asked him if he had ever seen this woman in his store before. He replied with a shrug, “No, but sometimes the crazy ones turn up at our book signings. It is part of the job. As an author, you should know that.”
I somehow managed to walk into the grubby bathroom that smelled like years of cigarette smoke. I locked the door and splashed water on my face. I looked into the mirror, and a terrified person looked back at me. It took me a while to calm down and regain my composure. I tried to convince myself that this was the price of fame.
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