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1 : a series of events or facts told or presented
2 : a usually imaginative narrative of an event

The Little Bookshop of Horror, by Kim

"Look, look, I told ya this was the place, now lemme go!" The canine squirmed and pulled again the handcuffs that bound him, though it did him no better than any of his previous efforts. The dark furred, almost black, dog was as tall as the tips of Alvin's long ears were he to put them up right, which made the informant nearly a head tall than Alvin. Despite the height difference, Alvin handled the bound mutt easily -- the fellow has half-starved.

"Shut up, Leroi. I will let you go once I've got what I want." Alvin looked at the building Leroi had led him too. The side street leading to the tiny parking lot would have been easy to miss without having dragged Leroi out as a guide. This far out from the center of town the buildings were low and sparse, the whole area no longer maintained. In the hot sun, a few half-dead trees and bushes kept struggling along around the perimeter of the flat, squat building.

The training as a Changeling Control Divison officer came to the fore as studied the structure. The beige color was part of the concrete construction, built for minimal maintenance. There were no windows anywhere on the building he could see, and just one personnel entrance and one cargo entrance. The building almost reminded him of a military bunker, but not quite. Pulling Leroi along with him, Alvin walked over to a where a sign had fallen over in the parking lot and lifted it with one large rabbit foot.

"Telephone company property...?" Alvin considered. "Must have been the central office for the town." He studied the building again and considered what he knew of networking equipment. "Probably had its own generators, climate control... secured access." He mentally reconsidered his opinion of the situation. He had had his doubts about a single woman running a ... business this far out by herself, but this was a good choice of buildings to do it from. "Come on."

"Please, man, lemme go, isn't this enough?" Leroi practically whined as Alvin dragged him over towards the personnel entrance. Alvin noted that the cargo entrance had been partially bricked over with bricks and concrete to create a low barrier. There was a small sign beside the personnel entrance that had replaced whatever sign had been there originally -- the sign was a weathered white, with neat sky blue printed letters on it: "The Little Bookshop of Horror."

"Bizarre," Alvin murmured, then almost frowned at Leroi. Leroi was cringing and doing his best to hide behind the rather solidly built charcoal gray rabbit -- the fear was almost atavastic.

"What is the matter with you?"

"D-Don't-t make m-me go in-n there, pl-please!" Leroi begged and shivered all over with his tail between his legs. His eyes were wide and almost unseeing and he stank of fear.

Alvin re-evaluated the situation again. Leroi's terror was no act. Something here frightened... terrified him, even in broad daylight. Alvin began reconsidering his actions.

The moment of thought was interrupted as the solid metal door swung open silently from within its concrete chasm, accompanied by a blast of cool air.

"Good afternoon," a soft, feminine voice whispered. "Ah, Leroi. I did not think I would see you again. And you brought a friend." The voice was calm and pleasant almost to the point of being emotionless.

Alvin immediately evaluated the figure standing in the shadows of the doorway -- the hallway behind her was unlit. The woman was wearing a dark blue robe... kimono?... with large, hanging sleeves. His immediate thought was that she was a lemur, but after a moment he dismissed that, unable to quite place the features and shape of her head, though they seemed faintly familiar. A gray-furred hand was almost covering her eyes against the sunlight, casting dark shadows over them. She was slightly taller than Alvin's own five and a half feet, and he caught glimpses of a large banded tail behind the robe.

"H-he f-forced me here!" Leroi babbled frantically. "He's a CCD officer and he-"

"Shut up," Alvin said firmly and gave Leroi a shake. "Be quiet."

"- and he is a Cipher, as well," the woman whispered calmly. "An interesting combination. If you are here to see me, then please let Leroi go, officer. His terror is quite distracting."

Alvin found himself reconsidering the situation a third time. No one had ever spotted him as Cipher so quickly. He was beginning to feel like perhaps Leroi had the right idea. Faintly uneasily, he was considering that calling for backup might be a good idea, though unfortuantely the nearest backup he knew of was over fifty miles away. He had to admit that the woman had a point about Leroi, who was now quivering violently and generating a growing wet spot on his trousers. Alvin almost swore, but bit the words back. The woman was right about one thing, though -- Leroi was of no use at all now.

Leroi just stared at the woman and hardly noticed as Alvin removed the handcuffs from the shaking canine.

"Beat it," Alvin ordered. Leroi just stood there, shivering.

"Go home to your bed," the woman suggested casually. "Perhaps your lover will visit you."

Leroi froze solid for a moment, the pupils in the brown eyes shrunk to pin-points, then he howled in despair and terror so suddenly that Alvin jumped back. Leroi bolted blindly for the road leading to the building, literally bouncing off Alvin's car unseeingly as he ran away.

"Poor pup," the woman commented, still shading her eyes. "He used to be the leader of his street gang by just muscle, he worked out whenever he could, and now just this cringing cur." She lowered her hand and Alvin had a brief glimpse of the largest blue eyes he had seen before she mostly closed them. "Would you like to come in, officer? It is far cooler and more pleasant inside away from the sun. I am of a more nocturnal type from overseas with eyes not suited for this light."

Alvin nodded slowly as he put his handcuffs away.

"I am Office Alvin Irving, of the CCD. Pleased to meet you, ma'am."

He was not entirely convinced of the wisdom of accepting, but saw little choice unless he wanted to run all the way back to the nearest CCD branch office and report failure.

"It is a pleasure to meet you indeed, Officer Irving. You may call me Sam." Sam turned and walked further back into the building, trailing a truly amazing amount of banded black and white tail after her. Her two large ears swivelled around to focus on him as he followed. The air inside was quite noticeably cool, and Alvin could now hear the faint hum of machinery down the hallway.

"You are quite the brave man to follow me into the darkness," she murmured. "I might be a Changeling."

"I am a CCD officer -- I am expected to deal with Changelings." Alvin pushed the heavy metal door shut slowly behind him until the latch clicked shut. After a few moments his eyes adjusted to the interior, and saw that there was enough light coming from the faintly glowing flourescent lights to see by. The aged vinyl flooring was curling up slightly near the walls and cracked in other places, but appeared free from debris. The hall branched to the left and continued on to stop at a double doorway from behind which Alvin heard the mechanical humming he heard before, louder.

"I would assume you are here to deal with a Changeling, then, Officer?" Sam turned down the left hand branch, tail trailing afterwards.

"I am looking for one, yes," Alvin walked carefully after her, senses alert, and hand not quite reaching for his gun but ready. "I was told you have information I need about one." He paused at the intersection and briefly turned both ears towards the double doors at the end of the entry hall to listen.

"It sounds like you have things running here."

"I am adequately versed in some matters of technology. Enough to keep the phone switch running for the remaining few thousand residents here. No one from the cities wishes to come this far out to keep things operational."

The side hall dead-ended after a fair distance, but there were two doors on either side. Sam entered the first door on the left and Alvin followed cautiously. Inside, the twenty by twenty foot room was slightly better illuminated than the hallway outside. The walls were lined with filled bookshelves and there were two reading tables with a half dozen mis-matched chairs in the middle of the room. Additional light was provided by the four lava lamps sitting on the tables, each in a different color.

"Welcome to my little bookshop of horror, Officer. Perhaps the finest collection of horror novels for hundreds of miles around. So what information were you interested in?" She turned around to face Alvin, though her eyes were lowered and still mostly closed.

"A Haemophage my group has been hunting for some time was last heard to be heading out this way for some reason. Leroi thought you might know where I could find him." Alvin looked around the room slowly. The floor to ceiling bookshelves were indeed nearly overflowing with horror novels as far as he could tell. The lava lamps cast strange, flowing multi-colored light and shadows in the dark room.

"Very odd, Leroi is not totally stupid. He should know that I do not normally bother with Phages," Sam commented casually. "Does this Haemophage have a name?"

"Jasin McDughoul."

"Astonishing." Her voice sounded no more surprised than someone commenting on the blandness of the weather. "He will either attack the group of the Wired to the southwest or this building here. I wonder if he has lost his mind or if he actually has a plan." She folded her arms together so that her hands were lost in the sleeves of her robe.

Alvin looked faintly non-plussed, straightening up in his gray suit from where he had been leaning over to examine one of the lava lamps. "Attack?"

"As soon as he tracks down his old pack and takes it back over. He always considered the town to the southwest to be his territory and resented the Wired there."

"Why would he attack here?"

"He does not particularly care for me. His old haunts used to be to the south, along the main road or the river near the main road. He had a fondness for the water."

Alvin considered that piece of information. "Yes. That makes sense. His first victims in the city were all around the lake area."

"All in well-lit areas?"

"Yes," Alvin said slowly "Yes, they were all in well-lit areas, now that you mentioned it. How did you know that?"

"This is the only communications nexus for the entire area. Everyone rather tends to talk to me, even the Wired occasionally, one way or the other."

Alvin slowly swivelled his ears to focus on the woman. Whoever, whatever she was, Alvin did not particularly want her as an opponent, not in her home ground. He did not believe this set-up fell into her lap by pure luck.

"That sounds odd. Why aren't the Wired running this place?"

"The Wired are not interested in such mundane networks. There is a group of them near the microwave communications tower to the southwest that is linked to this facility, though I am not fully sure why they are there... but they serve a useful presence in protecting it."

"I see." Alvin studied the woman in the shifting light. He knew it was still afternoon outside, but with the solid, windowless walls and the chilled air, it felt like midnight. "Why the bookstore?"

"I do quite well with it, because I am good at knowing what frightens people, and there are people who enjoy being frightened. Why did you become a CCD officer? Do you enjoy the adrenaline? The tension?" she asked softly with her eyes still mostly closed and lowered. "Being a Cipher only means one is hard to read, not that one is without emotions."

Alvin felt his mouth go dry. The woman was standing a dozen feet away from him, relaxed, and not posing any obvious threat, yet he if his thoughts were correct...

"Aren't you concerned I might arrest you?"

"You are not a threat," Sam answered idly.

"You are a... Changeling."


"I could take you in."

"Unlikely. I know too much. I know far too much about what people are afraid of... the Wired, the people in town, the people in your city," Sam said softly. "I deal in horror and secrets, Alvin Irving. I know many dark little secrets that people live in terror of, little pieces of information that might get out. Tell me, is Ivana Kilcarny still working at the CCD?"

"She is the department director," Alvin almost whispered.

"It has been a long, long time since I last spoke with her," Sam mused. "She used to only be a field agent. Most interesting. Did she send you here? What did you do to make her dislike you?"

Alvin slowly lifted his hand up towards his shoulder holster "How did you know?"

"She was obviously hoping that I would either kill you, or you me. That is annoying." Sam turned slightly to look at the door. "I shall have to make some phone calls."

The body-warmed grip of his pistol did little to reassure Alvin "I could take you down."

"I have told you that you are not a threat. The fire suppressant system for this facility is still functional and designed for electronic equipment. My finger is on what you might call a deadman switch on a remote under my sleeve. If you begin to act, the system will be set off and suppression gas forcibly pumped into the room immediately -- I am afraid I removed the evacuation delay from the control circuit."

"Even Changelings have to brea- ... oh shit."

"Not all Changelings have to breathe." Sam smiled slightly, though not showing any teeth. "Why are you afraid? I am not a Phage, with their strength, speed, and healing."

"You're Blind," Alvin croaked through his dry mouth. The Changeling smiled wider and bowed over her hands. When she straightened, she kept one hand within her sleeves, but the other held something.

"Please catch." She tossed the small sphere to him.

Alvin caught it out of reflex with his free hand and looked at the object. It was a large glass eye with a blue iris. There was a second pupil ... no, a tiny window on the back. As he stared at it, a tiny glowing triangular shape bobbed up against the window. He could just make out the words: "Future hazy."

"Please don't drop my eye. It is hard to get them made," the Blind murmured indifferently. When Alvin looked up he saw that she had removed the other eye -- two black holes gaped roundly in the dim room.

"Fear is a very interesting subject. Take CCD agents, for example -- all of the ones I have met have no problems chasing down and hunting Phages with all their strengths, yet they all quiver when facing one of the lone, unarmed Blind." She smiled again. "If it helps, be assured I have no plans to harm you. I want you to take a message back to Miss Kilcarny, after all."

"It's Mrs. now," Alvin said automatically.

"Oh? Even better, so much more to worry about." Sam turned her back on Alvin, gliding over to one bookshelf.

"Aren't you concerned that I might shoot you in the back?"

"What makes you think I cannot see you standing there behind me, with your back up against the shelves? I do not see with eyes." The tiniest touch of interest crept into her otherwise bland voice. "Why are you staying? Even logic would suggest that you should flee this building, which I have potentially made into one large trap."

Alvin forced his hand slowly away from his gun "I do not like being manipulated," he managed to say levelly.

"How ironic. That was the message I was going to have you take back to Ivana. I suppose you can speak for both of us." Reaching out with a free hand, she gestured to one set of shelves.

"This shelf is non-fiction," she murmured. "Psychology texts. Phobias. Fear. How people react. Fascinating reading."

"Ivana... she knows you are of the Blind?"

"Most certainly. I... helped her with an interrogation one time. Fear can do wonders to loosen the tongue." That small smile came back for a moment. "It can be an interesting challenge sometimes - did you know that Jasin does not attack people in well-lit areas because he is bold, officer, he attacks them there because he is afraid of the dark."

Alvin just stared at her "A Haemophage... afraid of the dark?!"

"An interesting phobia to try to induce in a Phage, yes. He was becoming a nuisance to me a while ago. It was a long, fascinating endeavor to deal with."

"Christ." Alvin took a deep breath. He felt his fur trying to stand on end. As a Cipher, he had never had that obvious a display of fear happen before -- it was a strange feeling.

"Mmmm. You are quite fascinating." Sam tilted her head, studying him eyelessly. "You really ought to leave before I find you too fascinating." Her voice dropped in volume enough to notice. "I am of the Blind, Officer Alvin Irving. Fear attracts me. Fear in a Cipher is...interesting."

Alvin clenched his jaw and stood his ground. "You are the most...civil Blind I have ever heard of. And you are right -- why should anyone be afraid of you? You do lack the strength and physical prowess of a Phage, and you are alone."

The Blind laughed softly "Do you know how I can run a successful bookstore, all the way out here, Officer? Because I make people like being afraid... through the ages people have enjoyed frightening stories, have sought out frightening experiences just for the sake of being frightened. I just have to find that chord in their psyche to pluck and play, and they will come back to taste that fear. I make them into addicts."

Sam half-turned away "I asked you before -- why did you become a CCD officer? The feeling of the surge of adreneline in your blood? The tension, the excitement? Do you feel it now?" she asked gently, almost affectionately. "Before I ... became what I am today, I enjoyed hot foods, very hot foods, for the endorphine rush. People engage in all manner of risky activities for the thrill of the risk... and when they get too comfortable with it, they need even more."

She looked back at him with those gaping eye sockets. "Are you bored with life, Alvin Irving? Is your fear under control these days? Would you like to be scared?"

"Shut up!" Alvin took a deep breath and shuddered. "I take back what I said -- everyone should be afraid of you. You have far more cunning than any Blind ought to!"

"Would you like to know what it like for me to be a Blind, Cipher?" Somehow the Changeling was suddenly an arm's length away, looking at him with those empty wounds. "Imagine thinking twice as fast as you do now, but feeling nothing. To see everything, but no color. To hear, but no music. To touch, but no feeling. Every sensation is a dead thing -- all the torture of sensory deprivation but without the soothing nothingness to retreat into. I cannot sleep. There is no oblivion. There is no passion.

"I can only feel one thing ... another's fear," she said in gentle but intense whispers. "It is my only color, my only music, my only feeling. The only way to feel alive... the only way to touch another person. Tell me, if you were locked into a sensory deprivation tank and the only movement you could make was to push a button, and that button rewarded you with the sound of someone screaming... the only sound you would ever, could ever hear again... how long would you last before you pushed the button?"

Alvin felt the edges of the bookshelves press up against his back as he tried to back away. "Oh... hell..."

"Hell is the right word, yes." The Blind turned away and was silent for few moments. "The Phages are perhaps the opposite because they do nothing but feel - lusts, passions, emotions..." She fell quiet again.

"Go now," she said flatly. "Go back to your hotel room. I will call you when I have Jasin for you."

"W-what? You think you can handle a Phage?" Alvin tried to regain his mental equilibrium at the abrupt subject change "The reason I was told to pursue him was he had stolen three pistols."

"Interesting. You think you can handle an armed pack of Phages? He will not be alone. Go." The Blind tilted her head as she studied the far wall. "Ivana must have sent you because she thought you jaded, burned out... lost your sense of fear. Hard to control or cajole," she said distantly. "If you had no capacity for fear at all, you would have had no hesitation in trying to deal with me, which Ivana would no doubt consider a gain. She must have thought she could accurately tell when a Cipher is burned out -- such a conceit.

"But you still have a spark of fear in you," the Blind continued softly, almost hungrily. "I can feel it inside you, waiting to be fanned into something delicious -- raw and new and strong -- and that is why you must go, now."

Her head turned slowly towards him on a still, unbreathing body. "Because that reborn fear will be too delicious to you, too," she said in a soft, almost seductive voice. "Just like a person reading a horror novel will turn that next page, even when they know something scary is going to happen, they need to experience it -- you'll hold off on pulling that trigger, or fleeing, telling yourself you can handle it, waiting just a little longer, just to feel that new, strong fear a little more -- and it will be too late for both of us then.

"GO!" Alvin jumped at the sudden loud shout, almost having been mesmerized by the soft voice and words. The truth of them struck him to his heart and made him shiver as he stared at the Blind. He felt his hand creeping towards his gun as he opened his mouth to say something back to her -- to stay longer, he realized.

With all his will Alvin pulled himself from the spot and fled blindly back outside to his car. The bright hot sun did little to calm him after the cool dark interior of the building -- he barely felt the broiling heat of the interior of the car as he sat in the driver's seat, shivering and staring at the door back into the building.

When Alvin realized he was still staring at the door, he realized he was waiting to see if something would happen, if the Blind would follow him out. Alvin realized he was waiting for the next page to turn to see if some frightening event would happen.

"Damn her!" he swore softly and jammed the key in the starter hard. "And damn me!"

The tires squealed as the car spun around and fled from the lot.

The ringing of the phone woke Alvin from a restless, tossing sleep on his bed in the rundown excuse for a hotel. The ringing was a welcome escape from the endless corridors he ran down in dreams... some dark and lit with lava lamps filled with the tortured souls of the damned, others blinding white.

He sat up groggily and reached for the phone. "Hello? Irving speaking," he mumbled.

"I hope you had pleasant dreams, Officer," the Blind's voice said softly on the phone. Alvin froze. Many things ran through his mind, but he did not know what to say -- the page had turned at last, and he felt held helpless by it.

"I will see you in the morning, ten AM, at my little shop of horror, Officer. I have what you were sent to find." The Blind's voice was as calm and pleasant as a telemarketer informing him of the latest interest rates. In the background noise from the phone he heard the humming of machinery, then a quiet whimpering noise.

"What... what was that?" Alvin managed to ask, not entirely sure he wanted to know the answer. "How did you know where I was?"

Soft laughter answered him. "I told you I deal in horror and secrets, Officer, and finding your room was no secret at all. As far as horror goes... sleep well, Alvin. There are no monsters under your bed."

The phone went dead with a little click. Alvin stared at the phone until he finally managed to put it back on the cradle. It took all his will to not look under the bed before trying to sleep again.

Groggy from a terrible night's sleep, the rabbit CCD officer parked the car outside the Little Bookshop of Horror. Carefully, Alvin checked his pistol, then got out and walked up to the metal door. He remembered how yesterday he found Leroi's reaction to the bland little building curious -- Alvin was not so curious any more.

Knocking on the metal door produced a metallic banging sound which was startling in the quiet morning light. The door opened after the echoes had died down.

"Good morning, Officer Irving," the Blind murmured calmly. Unlike yesterday, this morning she was dressed in only a work apron. There was an shallow wound across her face that refused to bleed, and a bandage around her bare left thigh one one around her right forearm. She held a trowel in her left hand. "I almost regret not having you around last night. It was a quite ... lively party. Please come in." She stepped aside. "Do be careful with your step. I have most of the grease cleaned from the floor, but there are still patches left."

Alvin hesistated, then reluctantly entered against the blast of cool air. Sam turned and shut the door behind them -- from behind, with nothing but the apron on, Alvin noticed in that instictive way that she had a rather nice figure, combined with that long fluffy tail... he twitched a little, remembering this was one of the Blind he was looking at, after all.

"What happened?" he asked uneasily.

"Jasin showed up with several friends. I had rather expected him to get his old local Phage pack dragged along, but he also brought a few from the city -- he came along with five other Phages." The Blind glided down the dark hallway. Once his eyes adjusted to the dim light again, Alvin saw mostly scrubbed away blood stains here and there, three bullet holes in the walls, and two fist-sized holes in the walls. From the trowel in her hand and the bucket and building supplies on the floor, the Blind had evidently been in the process of plastering over some of the damage when he arrived. A nasty smell of burnt flesh and chemicals still lingered in the air. "

Three pistols and two police tasers."

Alvin blinked. "Tasers? Where did they get the tasers from?" He felt his nervousness fade briefly under his surprise as his rational mind snapped back to the fore.

"I was wondering if you could answer that," Sam murmured pleasantly. "It hardly mattered, though -- they had little effect. The three Phages he brought from the city ... did not seem to think a single Blind could be dangerous."

She set the trowel down in bucket and gestured from Alvin to follow her down the side hallway again. "It was a lively brawl, nonetheless. Greater speed and strength means less on a greased floor than careful movement. The three from the city were completely unprepared for the spotlights and strobe lights - trivial to make then fight each other while blinded and in pain ... and frightened. The old co-location room is quite a mess now. Finding nineteen inch equipment racks these days is challenging," she mused.

"Six Phages, three guns, two tasers," Alvin muttered under his breath. "And Ivana only sent one agent?" Sam led him into the second room on the left, which had several closed equipment cabinets and three workbenches. Sitting on the floor were two large camping coolers.

"Most Phages are really not that hard to deal with Officer, they do not think. They react. A little proper planning and they can be dealt with." Alvin looked at the two coolers.

"What are these?" he asked uneasily. "My little gift to you, and Ivana. Open them."

To kneel down and open the coolers took a minor act of will. Alvin swallowed hard at the contents. The top trays of the coolers contained the three pistols and stolen ammo, the spent shells and bullets, and the two tasers that were, he saw, indeed police issue. Below the trays the coolers were packed with frozen ice packs and... three heads each. One was definitely Jasin's head and from the sharp teeth, the other five were also Phages. Two of the heads had a singed, burned look to parts of their faces.

"If you drive back reasonably soon, the ice should keep them preserved until they can make positive identification at your office. Oh, and Officer Irving..."

Alvin tore his eyes away from the contents of the coolers and looked up at the Blind, and found her bent half over him, looking into his face from less than a foot away.

"Please do tell Ivana that I will call her... soon." The Blind smiled pleasantly beneath the pair of unseeing faux blue eyes, showing teeth that were sharp, but nowhere near as sharp as a Phages.

"I do hope you enjoyed your visit to my little store, please come back again, when you think you have conquered your fear again and want to prove it to yourself...or at least believe that is why you are returning. Like any business, I thrive on repeat customers."